Day 18 – Knowle to Exford, including Challacombe and Exmoor Forest 100 climbs

Tuesday 13th March

The sun was shining and I took the opportunity to check over my bike, after greasing the moving parts I sat down. I said to my host Sally, “I’ll just check the tyres before I set off”,  no sooner had I said this I put my gloved hand on one of my front tyres and pulled out a massive thorn, followed by the hiss of air. I was quite pleased I had noticed this where I had access to a floor pump. Puncture practice in the sunshine!

I was mentally prepared to attempt two of the 100 climbs. This was not directly on my route and I would have to do a loop and descend down to Woolacombe to come back up the other side. I was not ready or warmed up for the climb over the ridge to get to this point! Having read up on the climb I didn’t fancy attempting it with all of my bags so I tentatively hid them round a corner along a track, I couldn’t find a suitable bush to hide them behind! I kept my valuables on me and figured that no-one would want my bags of washing.

Although I’d not long had breakfast I stopped in a shop at the bottom to stock up on supplies and ate two chocolate croissants, one was supposed to be saved for later but I got a bit carried away. The climb started gently and then kicked up to and stayed at 18 percent for the majority of it, the Garmin increased to 20 a couple of times but I didn’t come across the 25 percent max section, this could have been due to choosing my line carefully on the road, I mostly hugged the right hand side and luckily the few cars that passed understood this. I was given thumbs up and a few looks of shock that I was attempting this on a recumbent trike.

With the sun shining slippery patches were few and far between so my back wheel gripped well and I spun up very comfortably. Don’t get me wrong it was hard work but I didn’t regret my attempt at any point. When I got to the top I couldn’t have been prouder of myself! It was a relief to find my bags where I left them and I congratulated myself with a bread roll, chocolate bar and packet of crisps – I was more ravenous than usual and the healthy bananas I was carrying didn’t seem appealing at that moment in time.

I now needed to get on as I had spent most of my morning cycling 7 miles. I headed towards Lynmouth where I had arranged to meet Tom. On my way I came across a couple more steep climbs and then a railway station in the middle of nowhere. Woody Bay is part of the old Lynton and Barnstable steam railway and now only runs as a tourist train to the next village. Whilst investigating I found a small tea room next to the ticket office and stopped for a quick cup of tea and shortbread.

I reached Lynmouth down a 25 percent gradient, the run off areas as I descended didn’t give me too much confidence. I can’t imagine that any cyclists live in this small harbour village with very steep gradients on the roads out to the the East and West. We would be taking a steadier road out over Exmoor to where I was staying for the evening. The hotels and bnbs on this stretch of coastline were far dearer than my budget so I found a Youth Hostel in Exford the other side of the moor. I had an hour to wait for Tom which I spent in a pub on the small pedestrianised high street The Village Inn, again I was hungry and had scampi and chips!

Tom turned up and we stayed and chatted for a while before attempting the climb. Tom runs Freetrike Rehab Cycling – an outreach service on adapted bikes and trikes to suit each individual, he also does test rides and sells the best available trikes, bikes and tandems. The work he does to get others cycling is fantastic, he is very passionate and very knowledgable. He turned up on his ICE Sprint which he had geared similarly to mine in order to cycle together up the hill.

Instead of calling them ‘recumbent trikes’ which is quite an alien phrase, Tom calls them expedition trikes which I love. I will forever describe my trike as this as it seems a perfectly suited description for the vehicle that is enabling me to have my adventure and to inspire others.

The climb out of the village over Exmoor was beautiful, it was gentle enough to spin up and chat the whole way, talking to Tom was just as exhilarating as the scenery!

I was supposed to cycle on downhill to the hostel and Tom back to his van, but I wasn’t going to let Tom have all the fun by himself so we both descended back down and put our trikes in the van and Tom drove me to the hostel where I had yet more food and pudding! I said goodbye to Tom and with a full stomach was ready for bed!

I walked into my room in the hostel and my throat immediately swelled up, air fresheners has been placed everywhere on every windowsill. I couldn’t even manage to get to my bags that Tom had helped put in my room earlier. I went back over to the hotel that manage the hostel and told them my predicament. Whilst they decided what to do I asked them to get my bags for me and most importantly my epipens. For the first time on my trip I was scared, scared I was going to go into anaphylaxis, scared that this could end my trip. I put on all of my warm clothes and sat on my bags outside as far away from chemicals as possible.

The hotel kindly found me a room inside the hotel void of any air fresheners. I was still feeling swollen and fragile, I took all of my antihistamines and some steroids in the hope that I would feel better in the morning.

I won’t make you wait until tomorrow to find out I was absolutely fine when I woke up, perfectly ready for my rest day, but it had brought home to me that I am still vulnerable and I do need to be careful.

4 Replies to “Day 18 – Knowle to Exford, including Challacombe and Exmoor Forest 100 climbs”

  1. Unfortunate end to what sounds like s great day hope you enjoyed the rest an wake raring to go in the morning

  2. Hi Natalie, following your progress exciting stuff, will be at Bristol side of Severn bridge to escort you over and onto Newport. Have your contact number. If you have time is it possible you can txt me your eta on Saturday at bridge.all the best rob

  3. Unfortunately work got in the way when I could have joined you as you travelled through my area (just south of Salisbury), I heard about you on the news and have followed your efforts with much interest.
    Despite the weather, you seem to be tracking on with dogged determination, so impressive!
    Your blog is brilliant, it must be hard work to write after a hard day in the saddle so well done for all your efforts (I for one will forgive you when you can’t write up a day).
    Enjoy the ride, remember it doesn’t get easier, it just get faster!

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