Monday, 25 March 2013

A Very Wintry Exmoor

Before deciding to take a bit of a training break and before getting all unfit and not riding my bike for months, I had booked a cottage in Exmoor for a training weekend. It was a chance for Wimbleballers to scout out the course and for anyone else to come and play in the hills. I had imagined a long weekend of spring sunshine, hours in the saddle and the great company of friends. One out of three ain't bad!

The forecast was grim. We had already decided on Thursday evening that Friday probably wouldn't be a bike day. Heavy, persistent rain confirmed our suspicions as we peeked woefully out of the window on Friday morning. Refusing to be down-heartened, an alternative plan was made; we would do a recce of the bike course in the car and stop by at the lake en route for a run.

The track around the lake didn't disappoint, despite circumnavigating the water's edge, it still managed to cut sharply up and down. Weeks of dodgy weather had reduced the surface to mush and within the first mile we were all covered. As soon as the shock of freezing muck and the sudden rocketing of heart rate had subsided, we were all having a jolly marvelous time. It was the perfect antidote to a very rainy day.

A deviation down the signposted "Rugged Lake Path" had us meandering through the woods at an adverse camber on a narrow trail, skirting precariously close to the edge of the lake. Susan had estimated (using the highly accurate 'measuring with fingers' technique) that the route would be around six miles, a good push for the two of us given our current state of endurance and a fun pootle for Ruth, our resident duracell bunny. At six miles it was very apparent that we were still on the wrong side of the lake; another couple of miles of bog-trudging and we eventually hit some tarmac. We arrived at the car cold, wet and completely knackered but elated, a run of just over 9 miles had us feeling like we were 1-0 up on Exmoor.

The next day we did manage to get out on the bike course. I was dreading the 3.5 mile climb out of Timberscombe but a heavy fog was a good enough distraction, it's quite incredible how much less a hill hurts when you can't see it. I was doing my best to give my bike buddies the full guided tour and after a tentative descent down the steep, scary, bendy road (does anyone know if that one has a proper name?!), Susan asked hopefully, "So is this next bit all hills?". "This bit isn't really a hill", I replied, "It's just not down.. or flat". She nodded, knowingly. The ride was tough but thoroughly enjoyable, even though it felt like much harder work than last time.

After a quick, lunchtime recovery, Nicky (our other resident duracell bunny/mountain goat) joined Ruth and I for a jaunt out along the coastal path from Minehead. The path ascends rapidly and it wasn't long before my running became an energetic hike. It wasn't too long before the others came back for me and we began the descent. Now, running downhill, I can do. Descending on a soft, muddy trail filled me with pure joy and we finished off flying down a tarmac footpath with sharp switchbacks. It was so much fun I very nearly contemplated going back up and doing it all over again but Morrisons and it's hot meat counter were calling out to me, calling sweet BBQ rib nothings.

It had been an exhausting day. My mind had forgotten how unfit my body was and I decided to stay off the bike the next day in favour of something a little lower in intensity. The plan was to have a leisurely hike up to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point in Exmoor. Easy!

The start of the walk was delayed as we undertook a last minute rescue mission for Ruth, who had bravely attempted to go out cycling only to find herself atop the hill surrounded by an ice rink. We should have realised as we went to get her that clearly it was very cold, very foggy and and very icy on higher ground and that perhaps heading up to the roof of the moor was not the best plan... but we didn't.

After the very brisk but pleasant first couple of miles across muddy tracks, we turned onto a rocky path and encountered two walkers who were turning back. "It's too icy", the man said "I've nearly gone over four times already". We dismissed them, triathletes are a far hardier breed and we thought we would be just fine. The fog was thickening as we went up and visibility gradually decreased to around 30m. The path did become quite treacherous so we trod carefully on the edges and tried to get as much traction as possible from the grassy bits and the bracken. Our eyes and noses were streaming from the bitter wind when finally, we were upon the cairn at the top. The views were definitely not spectacular. Fortunately though, we had a flask of tea, some cereal bars and a cadburys creme egg, so all was not lost. Susan needed a wee and decided she would just go far enough that she was hidden by the fog. In a very unlikely moment of sheer brilliance, as she exposed her buttocks to the elements, a group of about ten very lively middle-aged walkers emerged out of nowhere to witness her in the act. Suffice to say they were highly amused, particularly the men. I think it was the highlight of their day. I think it may have been the highlight of ours too, maybe not Susan's.

The walk back down was fraught with concentration as we all tried to avoid slipping in the thick ice. Our little jaunt up the Beacon had been more akin to a winter mountaineering trip and it was a relief to get back to the cottage where tea and cake awaited us.

The weekend certainly wasn't what I had expected but it was full of fun adventures and did a good job of rekindling the cycling and running fire. Thanks ladies for a fabulous time.

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