After what seemed forever, Darkmoor 2017 finally arrived, and everything was looking good. Even the weather was cooperating, with very light, broken cloud cover, mild temperature and little to no wind.
As per usual, I was early at Cap’n Jaspers, feeling slightly apprehensive and hoping at least one other person would be crazy enough to join me on the ride.
Still recovering from injury that resulted in me riding far less, I was also wondering how my calf muscle would hold up, and whether my fitness was sufficient to get me round the new 100 mile route.
Usually, I’d simply ride the 11 miles from home to the starting point, then afterwards cycle back home, but in view of my less-than-stellar fitness, and earlier injury, I drove to near the start.
The first rider who turned up was Matt, who’d casually cycled the almost 50 miles from Exeter, and who was still making his mind up whether or not to cycle back to Exeter afterwards! Oh, and his idea of casual cycling more accurately matches most people’s idea of rather quick.
Slowly other riders started appearing, either on their own, or in groups. Two riders from The Falmouth Wheelers club had casually cycled up from Helston. That’s around 70 miles cycling, just to get to the start!
Now some may scoff, as they said they’ll be peeling off at Okehampton, some 40-odd miles into the ride, but from there, they still had around another 70 miles to cycle back. Like Matt, they are audaxers – Audax is long distance cycling – and this just served to highlight just how hard average audaxers tend to be.
Dan and Max, who last year went on a 3 500 mile cycle tour through Europe just to escape riding Darkmoor didn’t have any valid excuse this year, and were both raring to go. Paul, a rider from the same club as me, also turned up. Paul’s idea of a slow pace is usually my idea of going very fast.
Ross and his dad were doing the ride (as usual) and were joined by a friend of theirs. A number of others also joined, and in total, 13 riders left Cap’n Jaspers.
My plans were quite clear: I was going to stop for a pint at The Skylark, the pub in the village of Clearbrook. When we got to Clearbrook, three more cyclists were waiting for us: Karen, David and Jeremy. Most of us went into the pub for a drink, while Ross, his dad and their friend cycled on.
The first real climb was the one out of Tavistock, and that spread the group out a bit. I heard someone was well behind, so I stopped and waited. Unfortunately, I’d miscounted, and there was nobody behind, so I had to ride at quite a pace to catch up with everyone again. Not my brightest moment!
A rider (I believe he was called Jan?) said the pace was too fast for him, and said he was happy to plod along on his own. Jeremy, who had friends from afar visiting, and had less than 5 hours sleep the night before, said that he’ll have to peel off and hed back, so our numbers were reduced by two.
A few bumps later, we rode through Lydford (it seemed there were still people in the pub, but we didn’t stop) and the mostly flat Granite Way allowed us to make good progress. Soon enough we rode through Okehampton, where sadly we were not entertained by a lonesome fat drunk, shouting that we needed to get a life, as what happened a few years ago.
The two audax riders from Helston turned back at Okehampton, reducing our group to nine.
The man doing the graveyard shift at the 24-hour petrol station outside Okehampton by now are used to a bunch of crazy cyclists paying him a visit at stupid-o-clock once per year, and didn’t even bat an eye when we rolled in to put their coffee machine to productive use.
Soon enough we passed through Moretonhampstead, the halfway mark for the route. Those of use who knew the route, also knew of the climb out of Moretonhampstead, as well as the Three Steps that lay ahead. Paul and Matt, as well as another rider on a Pinarello said they’ll ride on, at a far faster pace (did I mention they are rather quick?) so we said our goodbyes. And with that, our group was reduced even more.
Much huffing and puffing later, we finally saw the mast on North Hessary tor, just outside Princetown. The cloud cover was very thin and broken, so we were often rewarded with bursts of bright moonlight.
David was suffering a bit – quite unusual for him – and that meant we stopped more often. My calf muscle had been softly moaning for a while, so I was grateful for stops, although I knew I’d regret it later, once the midge bites started making themselves known.
At one stop, just before the climb into Princetown, even David was forced to ride on, as the midges were simply eating us alive! Next year I will certainly invest in Smidge – apparently the only product that wards off midges!
In Princetown, we found Matt waiting for us again. We had as long a rest stop as the midges would allow, before setting off for Dousland. From Princetown, there are really only two climbs that matter: the one out of Devil’s Elbow and the one up Peak Hill. If you go fast enough on the descent to Devil’s Elbow, you almost don’t have to pedal on the climb that follows, so that’s exactly what I did.
Those that know the road won’t think much of this, but I feel it’s a great way to demonstrate the effectiveness of my dynamo lights: they’re bright enough to allow me to safely descent at 30mph in the dark. Darkmoor 2017 was my first all-night ride using dynamo lights, and if I liked them before, I now absolutely LOVE them!
At various times during the ride, people were discussing battery life of this particular light versus that one. I didn’t join in – I just smugly smiled, knowing I’m not limited by battery capacity.
The descent from Peak Hill is where I set my personal speed record of 53mph during the 2014 Dartmoor Classic. On this ride, I only managed 40mph. By now it was getting lighter, although quite a segment of road before Dousland was dark, as the road is enclosed by tress overhead.
At the top of Peak Hill I’d already told the group that I didn’t think my calf muscle would hold up if I rode the full 100 mile route, and that I intended to simply continue straight down the Plym Valley instead. After short deliberation, everyone else agreed to do the same. Max was the exception – he wanted to do the full route, but reluctantly decided to stick with the majority.
Slowly, riders began to peel off and by the time we reached Coypool, there were just four of us left. Cycling in along Embankment Road, Dan and Max peeled off towards Mutley, leaving only Matt and I to ride on to Cap’n Jaspers. We arrived at Jaspers at 05h50 and waited. They were meant to open at 06h00, but when they were still closed at 06h05, I looked at my phone and saw the nearest MacDonald’s was open, so we rode there instead.
Having had breakfast, Matt phoned his wife for a lift, and we said our goodbyes. I cycled back to my van, loaded the bike, and drove back home.
Later I would learn that I’d apparently driven past Ross, his dad and their friend. I saw some cyclists, but wasn’t paying any attention to the identity of those riders, so I never even realised.
In the end, I rode exactly 15 miles. Yes, it was disappointing that I wasn’t physically able to do the full 100 mile route. In the end, nobody actually followed the whole 100 mile route, something I need to bear in mind for next year. Still, over the past year I’d learned the hard way that overdoing it only results in further injury, so I’m glad I was wise enough to cut my ride short. Trust me, wisdom isn’t something I’m renowned for!
And that’s it! Darkmoor done and dusted for the 4th year running, and I’m already looking at dates for Darkmoor 2018. In 2018, I’m planning on riding the Dunwich Dynamo – the all-night ride that started it all – which is usually on full moon in July. That means Darkmoor 2018 will need to shift back to June, to avoid clashing with the Dynamo.
Hopefully you’ll join us next year!