Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bodyboarding and Big Hills

The last time we went to Devon for a little holiday, it was absolutely freezing cold and we sat in a still sea getting hypothermic praying for some waves to arrive. They didn't. We ditched the sea and found a carvery instead with a very generous chef who succumbed to our wily, female ways as we flirted outrageously in return for seconds.

This time around though, my luck has changed. Not only has my week in Devon coincided with the actual start of what appears to be summer, but the waves have been decent too. I decided to give bodyboarding a go, it's not something I'd ever done before and seemed to require far less in the way of skill than surfing. Not only that but the board is easier to carry to the beach. I was sold.

Bodyboarding matches my skill-set and general attitude to sporty activities very well: jump in head first, hold on and hope for the best. The exercise bit only really comes in as you have to keep getting yourself back out past the waves again. It's such brilliant fun though, and when you do get it wrong you still get wiped out like a proper surfer and spun around under the water.

It doesn't matter that bodyboarding isn't a particularly arduous physical activity because there is plenty to do around here that is arduous. Fresh from my 1000 miles in May challenge, and still surgically attached to my bicycle, I checked out some local routes with fellow pedalling enthusiast, Jane.

The view back down the hill
In three rides we managed to find what were probably the biggest, most menacing hills in the whole of Devon. Whilst trying to avoid the main roads, we found ourselves going up and down super steep single track stuff. Some of the descents were trickier than going up, with grass and gravel in the road, sharp bends and rough road surfaces. We dropped into Woolacombe down the most enormous pothole-filled road and enjoyed a brief moment of calm along the seafront before the road rose up sharply on the other side. The hill just kept going up and around each corner it steepened. As we hit the hardest section, climbing into Mortehoe, overly-bronzed pensioners cheered us on enthusiastically from cafes and willed us to the top. We recovered for a few minutes where it f
lattened out and debated whether or not now was a suitable time for an ice cream. We both decided that it was not; there would be a high risk of ice cream regurgitation should we come across another, similar hill too soon.

To our utter dismay, when we returned home we realised that the Strava segment for that hill ended about 100m further along from where we had stopped. Mortified doesn't even come close.

I plotted another route, and tried my very hardest to make it a flattish one. I told Jane it was a flatter one too, and it was, sort of. The first 5 miles or so were anyway. It's impossible to avoid the hills here, they get everywhere. Not only that but I can't resist a chevron on the map. One chevron is a 14-20% gradient: hard, but cycle-able. Two chevrons is described as " Over 20%", that could be anything. The surprise just adds to the excitement. I sneaked one in towards the end of our route and as we zoomed down a glorious, long, smooth road I caught a glimpse of what lay ahead. The road looked impossibly steep and we'd be hitting it from a standing start as a junction stopped us in our tracks.

Impossible to resist...
It was a narrow road, grass grew down the centre. It was obviously not well-used. There was no gradient sign, we concluded that they didn't make them in that size. Within twenty seconds I was in my lowest gear and I was blowing, a car came the other way and - thankfully - stopped to let me past. I tried to say thank-you but it may have just come out as an inaudible gasp, he did clap though. The road banked to the right and I struggled to keep the front wheel down. My lungs were bursting and I really didn't think I could keep momentum for much longer. I tried to zigzag but gravel in the road made that even harder than just pedalling straight up. Just at the moment I thought I wouldn't make it, the gradient eased. It was just enough to power through to the top. When I did reach the top though I couldn't stop, haunted by the previous Strava disaster I  kept pushing, cycling another half a kilometre before daring to stop. Over-cautious, maybe, but 100% worth it for the QOM!

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