Wessex SR part 3 - The Porkers 400

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Having done the first 2 parts of the Wessex Series a month ago (write up here ), I was both very excited and very worried about the Porkers 400.  Excited as this ride has a reputation as one of the most rewarding rides in the UK and worried as it is also seen as the hardest ride of the series. The Hard-Boiled 300 has destroyed me - it was very difficult indeed, so could I cope with 400km of it?  I was worried that I might not.  And then 6-7 days pretty much off the bike with a cold and cough had me really concerned.  I was getting over it, but had a bit of a cough that concerned me.  I threw caution to the wind - most other rides I might have considered DNSing - but this is unique.  The Series (probably) won't run as a calendar event again for many years (if ever) and I would also have to ride the Porkers as a perm this season to finish my Wessex SR (and not have the comforts of village hall controls etc.).

Anyway, on a hot sunny day, I found myself hanging out at the docks with a load of scantily clad men.

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It really was a warm weekend in store.  Unusually for a bank holiday, large parts of the country were bathed in sunshine.

The ride starts at 2pm, which is quite unusual.  I believe the reason is all tied to the classic audax weekend of riding the Brevet Cymru 400 on the Saturday, riding from Chepstow to Poole, and then starting the Porkers at 2pm!  There were a handful (5 I think) of riders who had ridden the Brevet Cymru the day before, but they had all elected to drive, or be driven between the 2 events.  An incredible achievement nonetheless - riding 800km in a long weekend with around 11000m of climbing.  Needless to say, most of those attempting this feet are in another league of riding to most of us - these are the real fast boys (most of them had ridden the BC in around 18 hours).

At 2pm, Shawn the organiser sent us on our way.  The first 30 or so km were fantastic fun - huge peleton flying along the lanes two-by-two.  It did feel like a real boy's own adventure as we headed off into the hills (sadly, no ladies on the ride, which is unusual even on the tougher stuff like this).

As the climbs started getting a bit bigger, the peleton split a little and everyone settled into their pace.  We were heading roughly south-west towards Portland Bill and there was a noticeable headwind troubling us.  As is often the case, I'd fallen in with the AC Hackney boys - they ride at a pace similar to mine, and they are a great bunch of boys with endless capacity for cheap innuendos and farting to keep themselves entertained.  Two of them were on their first 400s, Jordan and Adam, a brave choice for a first 400, so massive respect to them both.  Justin has ridden the permanent versions of the Wessex Series (some rides multiple times), so is a good source of knowledge on these rides.  He suggested that we would be best to not stop at the first control (The Lobster Pot cafe on Portland Bill), but to stop at a little supermarket around 5km beforehand.  The weather was superb, it was a bank holiday, the whole world would be there and service was likely to be slow.  Turned out to be a good call.  As we turned onto Portland Bill, the headwind was now strong enough to make the legs hurt.  The first long hill of the ride over the top of the bill was punctuated by a stop at the supermarket for snacks and drinks (and an ICE CREAM for me! Yum!).  Justin was cracking the whip, wanting to build up a decent time buffer before the real hills - so it was a quick stop before grunting our way over the rest of the hill and dropping (very slowly into the wind) down to the control - where things were busy for sure!  Lots of people out enjoying the sunshine.  We'd already built a handy time buffer of just around 1 and a half hours - but it was a quick stop to fill bottles, have a quick drink etc.

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Off we went into section 2 which we knew was where the ride really started to get going in terms of hills.  Sections 2 and 3 would lead us to our westmost point at West Buckland.  The beauty of the rides being events is that the organiser is less constrained in where our controls are placed.  The permanent version has a control at Taunton Dean service station - not the most glamorous location!

The first real climb came around 90km in up to Hardy's Monument - the problem with these monuments is they put them on top of big hills so they can be seen for miles around.  That means for ages you are cycling along and you just know that you have to go all the way up there.  A stiff climb for sure.

A couple more lumps and bumps and we were in Beaminster for our next control.  Most of us elected to do another supermarket raid and sat out enjoying the last of the sunshine - though it was now chilling off slightly and promising to be a cool night, so most of us also started putting on extra layers etc.

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This leg was reported to be the hardest, so we pushed on as hard as we could..

This section was, as promised, hard - things got hillier and hillier.  It was also getting noticeably chillier as we headed towards West Buckland.  We stuck reasonably together until the hills.  I picked up a chap on a carbon bike with a tiny saddle bag. He looked a strong rider, but hadn't considered the need to be able to read his routesheet when it got dark - so was struggling a little with navigation.  He was having to stop at each junction and wait for someone (usually me) to come along for direction!  Hopefully he'll remember a headtorch next time!

Eventually we reached the control at West Buckland - and how superb it was.  165km in and a delicious cup of tea and a plate of pasta and veggie chilli - amazing.  And the cake selection - I struggled to try a piece of all of them  - I really did try though!

The Hackney boys were a bit spread out and arrived in dribs and drabs into the hall - I wanted to carry on, so headed out solo for the next section - again, a lumpy one.  I headed off into the night - I love night riding solo when the weather's decent - it really is a chance to escape everything.  One great climb, I had that most feared sight on an audax - a couple of wobbling red lights way above me in the distance - again, a sign that you are going to be heading upwards soon!

Things all went a bit wrong as I dropped down to Corscombe (our control at 165km).  I was supposed to take the second left to drop down to the control on the left.  But, following my GPS (my fault entirely as I wrote the route on it) I took the first left and dropped into Corscombe.  No control.  Not where the routesheet was suggesting it was.  OK - Corscombe is a small place.  I'll just cruise up and down the high street and find the village hall - they'll be a sign somewhere.  I did a couple of runs along the one street in Corscombe to what I thought was the edge of the village - nothing.  I waited at the bottom of the hill for a few minutes - the Hackney boys couldn't be far behind me?  Nothing.  Tried to get data signal on my phone to look on Google maps etc. - nothing.

I took another run up and down the road - trying each of the little side streets - nothing.

By now, I was getting pretty annoyed.  Corscombe isn't big - why can't I see any cyclists or a village hall?  Am I really in Corscombe (my GPS was showing me that I was).

Eventually, I sat down with the route sheet and the GPS map - ah ha!  The second left dropped down further past where I'd cycled to - I must have missed  the road/hall by metres.

I must have lost half an hour cycling up and down Corscombe - my sense of humour was close to failure.  It is the single worst navigational cock up I have ever made in audax.  The Hackney boys were there - they'd assumed I had already been and gone so were pretty amused to see me arrive long after them!

Up until that point things had been going very well - I'd ridden the first 200km (with over 3000m of ascent) in around 10.5 hours - that was pretty good going for me.

I made it a quick stop at that control - quick cuppa and a bit of cake.  I was angry I'd lost time etc. (the reality of course was that I had plenty of time in hand still).  I headed out again into the night.

More hills.

There were some lights behind me on the hills - it was the Hackney boys - so I slowed and they caught up.

Dawn was just starting to break.  It was pretty chilly - especially in the dips.  There was some freezing fog about.  One amazing climb (Bulbarrow??) we looked down over what felt like the whole of Wessex looking at it covered in a layer of mist like the sea, with small islands poking out of it.  Just incredible.

A whopping great descent to Winterbourne Whitechurch and another village hall control.

Bacon and egg sandwiches - lovely thankyou!

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The sun was now truly up and it really was shaping up to be a glorious day.  This photo (from one of the Hackney boys - I think Jordan?) must have been taken around that time

(me following Justin)

Unfortunately, I was suffering the dozies a little.  My pace dropped off and I knew I needed some sleep.  A quick 10 minute nap in a field gateway seemed to sort me out.

I was reasonably solo now.  More cracking climbs, including up to Alfred's Tower - another one where you see where you need to be for a very long time!

It was getting really warm.  I stupidly hadn't put a short sleeved jersey in the bag - so was riding in a long sleeved top - it wasn't too bad, but I would have been happier in a lighter jersey.  Silly mistake.

The next control was truly magical - a camper van in a car park next to a lovely lake.  Bacon sandwiches on the barbecue, soup, tea, wonderful ginger cake.  It was great - we knew we'd broken the back of the ride - we had a comparitivly flatter 80km to go, plenty of time to do it and the sun was shining.  At this point I must quote Daniele from his post on the forums about the ride:

If I had to explain to a martian what happiness is, I would take a snapshot of that camper van at the last control, the people seating there having a chat and a laugh interspersed by delicious food, and the general atmosphere in it.

I think that sums it up beautifully!  The spread of riders wasn't that huge - so some of the fast boys (who had slept for a couple of hours it should be pointed out!) were at the control along with us slower riders.  It was brilliant and really appreciated.  I could probably have sat there all day and drunk tea!

It was around 10am - so 7 hours to do the 80km - never count your chickens etc., but I reckon it was in the bag.

This leg was long at 80km, but was fairly benign.  The Hackney boys were on a mission and headed off before me.  I left just as a jolly bunch of 5 arrived (not quite the back markers, but towards it) containing Toby, Mel K and a few other faces clearly enjoying themselves.

After about 20km, there was a quick succession of three sharp climbs - hard work with the tiring legs.  At the top of the final one was LadyVet (who'd stamped our cards at Portland the day before).  She had millionaire's shortbread to share - so I had to stop and have a chat for 5 minutes.  40km to go and I knew that really was about it for the hills.

As we finally turned towards Poole, that headwind was there again - not as strong, but with nearly 400km in the legs, I felt it.

On the outskirts of Poole, I joined up with Daniele and John and we rode the last few km together - always weird when you've had 380km of lanes and no traffic to suddenly be in a seaside town in bank holiday mood!

And then we reached the end - cards stamped, congratulations offered.  To the pub next for a post ride debrief!

Lots of pink skin as riders who hadn't put on suncream suffered - I got away with it as I did use suncream - slightly pink knuckles on my right hand though - missed a bit!

So, how do I feel about the ride now?  Amazing - really amazing.  It was one of the best rides ever.  The weather, the scenery, the company, the food - everything was pretty close to a perfect audax experience.  It was hard, yes, but not as hard as I feared.  The Hard Boiled had ruined me - it's very short sharp climbing on challenging lanes had been very difficult.  The Porkers had plenty of climbing - but considerably longer climbs on better lanes.  It was wonderful, it really was.  Massive thanks to Shawn and all of his helpers who gave up their time (and for many, their sleep!) to look after us.  I am now really looking forward to the Brimstone 600 - the final ride towards the fabled Wessex SR!

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As usual - Strava stuff here - http://app.strava.com/activities/52765090