The meeting point at the start of the ride.
As an athlete, I was up early and had overnight oats with Greek yoghurt and berries.
Chairman Ray (Royal Leamington Spa Cycling Club) was found scoffing a Maccies at 6.15am on the Queensway. Very happy he was to.
The start point for the Warwickshire Ring, the 100 miles of towpath around the County was just the other side of the water at Fords island (if you are too young to remember, or from out of town, Morrison’s Roundabout).
The 5 of us knew we knew we wouldn’t be back here for hours. Ian Haigh organised the event. Steve Charlton, Ray Holder and I ride with Ian on the RLSCC
Wednesday social MTB group. Paul Cartwright and I rode on the road during lockdown under the pairs rule, had been getting the miles in and breezed the Rapha A Day in Hell event, I snuck him on to the ride (he was buying a mountain bike at the time).
Affectionally known as the Bone Shaker by the Canal and Riverside Trust, Chairman Ray leads our
challenge organiser Ian up the slope. We are 2 and 1/2 hours in to the challenge and getting in to
Birmingham after leaving Leamington, passing through Warwick, Hatton, Shrewley, and Knowle. The
towpaths but for one or two soft deep holes so far had been fairly good going, not bad considering
the amount of rain we had come down in the week before hand. Overall assent for the day was just
over 1000 feet, considering the 105 miles, as you could guess for a towpath, not much climbing.
Pro’s and Con’s for no hills, no additional effort required but no downhill for recovery, riding the
towpath is relentless pedalling.
The urban landscape of Birmingham was good fun, slippery when wet but fast rolling danger time on
the brick faced path. Interesting dark tunnels and great walls of graffiti. The bright colours of my bike
finding its natural home.
Leaving Birmingham towards the north, passing Aston, Aston University Engineering building and following the path of the M6 we passed by Star City. A strange feeling being underneath the M6 and between huge concrete columns for a while.
It wasn’t raining yet and we didn’t need the shelter but bordering the marvel that is the M6 Spaghetti Junction is lush green country side, unnoticed if travelling at 70 miles per hour on the road above us, I was taken aback just a bit. I was also thinking, “haven’t we done well to get this far in a short three and a half hours”. I expressed my thoughts out loud and had tempted fate.
Roadie Paul sporting club colours and a new mountain bike
on the towpath heading towards Tamworth and Fazeley.
We came across many obstacles requiring a dismount, the
obstacle here to stop unwanted traffic using the towpath
along with an old shopping trolley fished from the cut. We
came across several old metal piles, the aftermath of the
magnet fishing. A few old bikes along the way, I was
banned from checking them over for spare parts.
The only fishing, we saw going on were the Zander anglers, the guys that walk down the towpath with a small bag and spinning rod. We actually saw a guy with a good catch, he had foot long Pike by the gills, it looked a fine specimen with a decent mouth full of thorny teeth. I looked in to its mouth with dread.
Between Tamworth and Nuneaton, it happened. A piece of glass or flint had cut through my rear tyre. Most of us were running tubeless tyres and these are great where thorns are concerned, really reliable and hardly get a flat from a thorn. The cut in the tyre was at least 10mm, the sealant had no chance of working. There was nothing for it but to clean out the tyre and fit a tube, I knew this would be the first of several, I knew this was going to be painful now.
The weather turned. We had been lucky so far and had only experienced a few light showers but by 4pm we started getting in to heavy rain. Waterproof jackets had to come out of the packs. At least the ruck sack was lighter and more comfortable. The towpath between Ansty / Coventry and Rugby was shocking, at least 3” deep mud for miles. Energy sapping. The rain was coming in and occasional stops under main road bridges were called for, the one above probably under the M6 again near Stretton.
Closer to home, not only had the pace dropped off, people were starting to feel the mileage but the
towpaths had been maintained. The hedges had been cut back to allow better access, the towpath was nice and wide, we were not forced to the “edge”, no swimming today. The towpath had been cut back leaving thorny twigs on the floor for miles and miles between Hillmorton, Shuckburgh and Napton. This was hell, at one point I fixed a puncture to get another within a half mile, literally within two minutes of riding. By the end of the day and within the last 30 miles I had 6 punctures (fixing just 5 of them). Chairman Ray was on 4 punctures (fixing just 3 of them).
The day for me ended with a slow puncture at Offchurch. So close
to home, there was no way I could face another tube swap. A
quick bit of air in the rear, head down and pedal – fast.
Considering I had 100 miles on the legs and had ridden these local
towpaths for a few years on Strava, I wasn’t surprised to get a few
PR’s. Leamington had obviously had some rain in the day and I was
travelling too fast to consider dodging puddles, I accepted the
drenching. I looked a right state at the end of the ride.
Chairman Ray couldn’t face fixing another puncture, he walked in
the last couple of miles and came home with Steve in tow at
10pm, just about half an hour later. I was getting cold but oblivious
to it at the time, completely elated to finish the challenge with the
four mates I started with.
Chairman Ray by the way holds hero status. He completed the ride on a single speed bike. Steve holds hero status having only recorded a 51-mile ride in the past. Ian dug deep in the last 20
miles and found the hero within himself to get this done, I think he felt the mileage the most. Roadie Paul joined the dark side, an official MTB hero. Me; Julian Harding, hero, you have never seen so many punctures repaired on one ride without complaint.
In the end we met Ian’s target (just about). We averaged almost 10mph and achieved the ride in 10 ó hours moving time. Overall, we took 16 hours. Ray has to accept that last ó hour walking time but I accept 1ó hours of repair time. Ian budgeted between 14 and 16 hours, well planned Ian.
Thank you to Julian Harding for writing the report