“Our plan was to recce a circular 200km route around Exmoor – a ‘DIY Permanent’ – that we had curated to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Audax Altitude Award (AAA) which was established on the Exmoor 200 Audax back in 1986. Following airy chats about planning a Weekender together, our touring collective of: Mike from Boneshaker Magasine; Will from Brother Cycles; Danny from Always Riding; and Harry and Stefan from Pannier had been waiting in the wings for a while, so it was great to finally ride together. The five of us hadn’t booked any accommodation; we’d just hit the road and see what happened…”
“My cycling ‘career’ has taken me all over the UK; there are few things I enjoy more than heading off to explore this island of ours by bike. Yes, the mountain roads of Switzerland are stunning and the never-ending sunshine in Italy is fantastic, but I find that all too straightforward. Given the choice I’d choose a rough gravel farm track and the famous British drizzle every time. Nothing great ever came from being comfortable; our unreliable weather and tough conditions just make the pint at the end of the day all the more rewarding.
Looking back, that is what this trip was all about – a bunch of travelling cyclists coming together to celebrate cycling in Britain and the hardships that come with it. To me Audax rides are a mythical underworld of the cycling community – small groups of hardened cyclists putting themselves through 100’s of kilometres of cycling, often in gritty winter conditions, with very little reward at the end of it. For some reason it’s something I’ve always wanted to have a crack at, so to do a 200km route over our time constraints of a couple of days was a good teaser; knowing I’d need to do this route within 12 hours on an official Audax ride.
Unsurprisingly the weather threw everything it had at us during our days on Exmoor. From the start we had to battle with strong headwinds, rain storms and a sea mist that rolled in, sapping all warmth from our bodies. As a result our plans pretty much changed from the start; we didn’t hit our distance targets to reach roughly-planned camp spots. But rather than let it get us down we simply adapted as we went, took the hard times on the chin and enjoyed the occasional tea and beer stops all the more for it!
I won’t pretend that we all loved every minute of it. There were few smiles as we pushed through the rain on day one, our legs already aching after only 20 miles of riding. However it was once we accepted the fact that our original plans would change, that the good weather we thought we’d catch would never materialise, once we stopped checking our distances and instead started living in the moment on the road that we were able to really enjoy the experience.
Things rarely go to plan on a winter tour like this, however that’s exactly what is so special: the small country pub at the Tarr Steps who took us in when darkness halted our progress; the eerie crossing of the moorlands cloaked in a heavy mist; and the endless process of drying our socks and gloves in pubs and tea rooms along the way. All experiences that we had not planned for but that came together to make a truly memorable weekend. For me this is cycling in Britain at its best. It’s cold, tough and totally unpredictable, but wouldn’t it be boring if everything went to plan…”
Below are some photos from the weekend – head to Pannier.cc to see the full set and read a full write up on the trip.