The Devil is in the Dartmoor
A rider reborn.
The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor. When all the stars are aligned and you interrupt the spirits on a desolate road somewhere in the middle of nowhere, legend says a phantom pair of hands appear on yours as they grip your car steering wheel, tearing you off the road Johnny Hoogerland style - Dartmoor, Devon.
Despite this fearful tale, I have started attacking what can only be described as the insanely hilly aforementioned Dartmoor since I moved here some 27 months back. Pete the phantom rider (where has he gone?) aka the beast, thunder thighs is back on the bike and is slowly becoming someone I thought I was not. A half decent climber. Maybe. Perhaps. Give it time!
Devon was an interesting move for me, the chance to redux, reboot, go again. Never say never I decided to go. Ten years ago I was living in East coast Australia and in 2011 I spent some time in Memphis singing at an Elvis Presley convention, so deepest Devon is positively around the corner, though a world away from Bristol which now seems akin to London for pace.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the topography and terrain here which, despite being a mere 1.25 or so hours on from the Mendips via a car, is somewhat harder to ride - until your body and brain adjust.
After moving down I spent the best part of 2014 off the bike, a sabbatical l if you will. A second redundancy in 12 months put paid to my dream bike, which was sold to pay the bills, but at the end of the year I secured a decent bike and started plodding some miles out. I carved out a nice flat loop along the coastal path from Exminster to Dawlish and Teignmouth with an about turn and then a nice bimble back into Exeter for coffee if required, which aside from crossing one main road is effectively traffic free, though the odd dog and pram pusher need to be handled with care.
Then I met James. 24 years old. Fast legs and natural talent on a bike, with the bravado and talk of someone 20 years my junior. Week by week, he coaxed me, eeked me out onto the bike, like two little boys, tempting me with the horrifying delights of Dartmoor. Lumpy at best. Up and down, up and down, up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. There is no real respite. Either climbing or descending - a different beast to the ‘up and across’ of the Mendip Meccas such as Burrington, Cheddar, or Brockley Combe.
But, as they say in Belgium, it does ‘bring you on’. Incredibly we can climb an average 17,000 - 20,000 feet per 300 miles logged which is good going in any bike rider’s world, climber or not.
The hills are there if you want them - there is very little flat. My front door to Barnstaple and back is a nice 90 miler when the wind permits. The road from Exeter to Tiverton is a serious multiple up,up,up test with the way back featuring on the Exeter Wheelers’ time trial for some respite from gravity. I still have my rugby player’s legs and body so it never gets any easier and I am a few years older than when Le Sportif ran its opening gambit back in 2010, and thus wiser, enjoying a compact chainset and a dinner plate cassette.
The crux of it is I am enjoying my bike riding again, I have re-conquered the fear of the hill (on the whole) and randomly enjoy riding Dartmoor, a real life Mordor at times. Calm and still at bottom, windy at the top, dry at the top and wet at the bottom, no two days are the same. It is quite bizarre. I am positively loving the tempo climb to Moretonhampstead via a crossroads and cake stop which can lead you any which way you want.
20 minutes from the legendary Haytor - a walk in the park compared to Ebbor Gorge, Cheddar’s lesser known evil twin, but ride up it into a head wind and it’ll rip your legs off and sink your morale.
Best of all, I have yet to see the devilish digits clasped upon my handlebars, descending at speed - but it turns out I am the pale rider caked in sun tan lotion ghosting the delights of Devon from bottom to top. Roasting sunshine from March ‘til October, roads folding away like silk ribbons from ‘moor to sea’ as we descend full gas, rediscovering the joy of bike riding.
For those of you reading in black and white, I remain as handsome as ever, just older. In the words of Johnny Cash “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel”. There is nothing quite like a road bike to remind oneself that they can indeed feel the hurt and as long as that is the case I will not be retiring just yet.
Next time I’ll you about the hurt of the colossal Mamhead hill and the huge climb out of Honiton and the sheer madness of Peak Hill at Sidmouth. There. are. simply. no. words. Belgian or otherwise.