Wednesday 5 September 2012

Severn & Estuary 200 (Cheltenham)

Tuesday saw me complete the Severn & Estuary 200 audax with my cousin Aid. This was a great event that started and finished in Cheltenham. The official route spread over 202k, but with the variations I added, we covered 135 miles. The suggested route is shown in the map below. We roughly followed the map in a clockwise direction.
We took the organisers (Steve P)  advice and started the event from Moorend Park Road. Steve said we could start 'Chez Moi', which I think meant from 'his house'. My French ain't that great, so we started near his house and parked on the road. In fact, we were directly opposite the surgery which doubled as emergency services! I took a photo of our bikes against the surgery sign believing Steve would accept this as a suitable start proof and then we headed off (at about 7:40 a.m.)
We started out on a bright sunny day (although there was a nip in the air) following a relatively busy A46. This road was quite amazing though as it kept getting higher and higher and offered fantastic views to both the left and right. This event scored no hilly (AAA) points but climbs were aplenty and the first climb was here, right near the start. The climbs were soon rewarded with butt clenching descents. A particularly fast butt clenching descent took us through the very pretty place of Painswick. The voices in my head remarked that this indeed would be painful if we were cycling in the opposing direction. After such a lovely descent, I had problems with the route sheet destructions and had gotten us momentarily lost. A local provided directions (we had missed a turn and were about 6 miles from our first control). We were faced with a choice - onwards with technical directions or turn around and climb a big hill. We climbed the hill. And boy, what a big hill this was. A beastly 14% hill that switched here and there. We gritted our teeth and made the climb (a car hadn't and was precariously perched upright amongst some trees). Once at the top we had reason to smile again - we had just conquered a big hill and were now rewarded with a super zoomy descent right into Wotton-Under-Edge, our first stop control.

The fantastic views had disappeared some-what during the second stage and it had become quite overcast. After an initial downhill, the roller coaster style roads had become less common place too. This was a mostly flat (though undulating all the same) section. We hit a cycle path after passing through Wickwar and Chipping Sodbury but we were only on this path for about 200 metres. We passed through several strangely named places including Pucklechurch which made me chuckle. Just before we reached the control in Keynsham we were awarded with a nice descent and the sun had come back out. Awesome!

Stage 3 was a real short section. We only had to cycle some 12 k's to get from Keynsham to Chew Magna. I remember cycling through here on previous audax events. This control was like the others in that a nice descent took us there. Chew Magna itself was a strange place, it was very rural and had standing stones to mark entry and exit into the place. Once in the centre of Chew Magna a few shops appeared but it soon became quite rural once again. A random chap from the previous control had said 'Oooh Chew Magna, terrible for traffic there'. This random chap was clearly a loon!
Somewhere near to or from Chew Magna was these rather weird reservoir pools. That's what Aid said they were anyway. Well, he actually said they were rice paddy's before changing to his final decided answer.
I think all this recent long distance cycling had messed with Aid's head. We continued on our way and passed through Winsford before following directions to Hobbs Lane. We had a battle in this lane with several million triffids!
We won the battle and continued to Wraxhall ready for our next battle. This next battle was in the form of Wraxall Hill. This was a big nasty hill that essentially went up! We climbed to the top and then not long after had a super fast descent (notice the patten forming here) down Naish Hill. This hill led to a place called Clapton in Gordano. Am sure if we cycled this anti-clockwise, we'd be clapped out in Gordano. A swift right turn took us into Portishead, our next control.

We didn't even scan the High Street in Portishead. The first cafe we saw was where we stopped and ate. Hunger pangs had gotten hold of both of us. As is our style, we had a bumper English breakfast, at a very reasonable price of £4. Delicious! We had hot drinks too before pressing on.

On leaving this cafe in Portishead we felt great. We had eaten! We were about half way through our adventure. The sun was shining bright (we both had burned a little). And we cycled up Harbour Road, woo hoo, we had cycled to the sea! Aid was really chuffed he had cycled past signs for Weston. On we carried, following the route sheet provided by Steve P. The directions took us through an estate and onto what was essentially single track. Pleased I had cyclo-cross wheels. Am not sure what Aid was thinking as he followed this, the National Cycle Network (NCN) route 26. After a short stretch we passed some red cranes and loads and loads of cars all neatly parked in a (where else?!) car park. These were the self same car parks and vehicles that grab my attention whilst driving over the Avonmouth Bridge on trips to Weston and the like. Wow, we were really here! How cool is that?! Continuing on this NCN26 route we joined the old Railway Avon Cycleway. Adrian really felt he was a chuffer!
Once we went through the under-pass we were blessed with great views of the Avonmouth Bridge. It felt kinda funny knowing that we were to cross over this real soon. I momentarily thought back to my LEJOG trips when I crossed this same bridge a few years back.
Before crossing the bridge we had a brief respite. I felt like a spanner, but it's important to get tooled up if you're named 'Tim Taylor'. (Pun)
During our respite I consulted the route sheet. In a unique manner (certainly to me) Steve P had given numerous multi-choice options. It appeared that we could have left Portishead and not touched the NCN26 route at all - however, we would have to had cycled up St Georges Hill. I think I made the best decision. I didn't consult Aid...
After scenting our mark, we set sail for the bridge.This truly was an awesome bridge and a pleasure to cross. Quite exquisite.
Once off the bridge we continued to race towards and through Aust. We really were racing as we had a tail wind that pushed us forward. As we were flying by we caught sight of the Severn Bridge.
In fact, we caught sight of the Severn Bridge and the Severn Bridge. That might sounded confusing, but there were actually 2 Severn Bridges. The one pictured above is the New Severn Bridge and this is the bridge we thought we were going to cross. I have crossed that bridge several times on various audax rides. It soon appeared we were not going to cross this bridge at all as we cycled straight past it. However, we made our way to the Old Severn Bridge and crossed it! This was an awesome bridge too and the first time that I had crossed it. Am sure it wont be the last! 
It was fun crossing the bridge and it seemed to stretch for miles. Miles of smiles! Once off the bridge we passed a big welcome to Wales sign and reached Cheptsow our control point. The High Street was reached by bombing down hill and passing through a pretty arch. There was a pretty funky chip shop here too. We didn't have chips, we had chocolate purchased from a previous stop.
From Chepstow, we had 2 route choices. The first choice involved passing Tintern and the second choice would cross the River Wye. I let Aid choose here, but warned him about the major steep hills by Tintern Abbey. As it turned out, we took neither option because my navigational skills encountered problem. We had agreed to follow the second option but in the end we took a DIY route following through Tutshill and St Briavals. This was a relatively hilly section and made more difficult by the beating sun, but no worries - we were having fun! To reach the control we had to climb. So climb we did and reached Coleford the penultimate control.
I lied and told Aid that the last stage would involve just a little climb and then lots of down hill to the end. I didn't mean to lie, it's just that I had gotten us lost again. Well, I hadn't really gotten us lost as I knew where we were and where we were going, but I had taken us off route. This meant that the little climb I had warned Aid about, turned into a big fat nasty lung busting climb. Worse still, this climb didn't take us to this really fancy garage in Cinderford that sold those delicious nourishment shakes that I so badly wanted. Oh well. Another climb (or possibly two) and we reached Little Dean. This was great because now the route switched to the much awaited down hill stretches. We really did have some fast descents along some quite zoomy roads. We took a few additional stops to eat junk and drink liquids (I was on the look out for nourishment drinks but that didn't materialise). At one stop, I fixed my helmet and rear lights as it was starting to get dark and we continued on our way. Aid was sporting his new Lezyne light which he totally rates. We followed signs for Tewkesbury before following those for Cheltenham to take us off the main roads for a spell. This worked great and after only about 5k we were Cheltenham bound. We reached Cheltenham shortly after but had not yet reached the arrivee. The arrivee was not marked on my route sheet. Luckily my iPhone provided the necessary gps required to take us to the arrivee. Was awesome to finish this great ride and nice to 'come home' to a welcoming party - Aid's ma and Pa and his son Tom were at the arrivee to congratulate him on being such a wonderful audax cyclist! Rightly so, we had cycled 135 miles!

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