Every delightful story – and this may or may not be one – begins with some sort of peril. This tall tale is no different.
In the build up to Tour de Moor, both my daughter – my riding partner for the event – and I have been feeling a bit under the weather. The cold that had felt like it was just around the corner for a few weeks finally turned up on the Thursday before the ride. My daughter had also been feeling off for most of the week. However, a few early nights (for us both) and a ‘kill or cure’ run for me on Saturday afternoon meant we were feeling fresh and ready to go on Sunday morning.
I love cycling with the family, it also helps that both the kids love a day out on the bike. Those long summer days going exploring new horizons, with a rucksack full of food and hearts full of adventure. I had been waiting what feels like an age for them to become old enough to do this kind of thing, and this year is the year.
Sunday morning arrived, and big bowls of porridge were eagerly eaten. We arrive a little later than had been planned, but fortunately it wasn’t a problem.
Finally, we are off. The first stretch was quite stressful. The combination of and excited 9-year-old and a load of keen cyclists most trying to squeeze passed through any hint of a gap. Eventually I manage to manoeuvre her to the left-hand side of the road, which alleviates the stress a fair bit. This first 4 and a half kilometres are a blur of lanes and mostly rolling downhill. This didn’t go entirely without a hitch. While trying to use her hydration bladder, her foot slipped off the pedal causing her to slip onto the top tube of her bike. Amazingly she somehow manages not to go straight over the handlebars, and rolled into the grass verge. After a bit of a moment, we decide that maybe we should stop to drink rather than try to drink on the move, just to be on the safe side.
Shortly after we get moving again we leave the road and enter the estate of Buckland Abbey. After several hundred pairs of wheels have already been through the surface was quite tricky. The imperfect combination of hard packed tracks covered in a layer of primeval ooze – the kind of surface that makes it feel like you have about as in control of your rear wheel as you do a 2-year-old with a sugar habit.
Thankfully this stops before we begin to descend, by now the surface has changed to drier, stonier dual track. As we drop down through the woods, we take a tight lefthander. Just as we exit the corner Rhiannon’s bike disappears from underneath her, dumping her to the ground right in front of me with an almighty thud. I grab handfuls of brakes and stop just before adding the insult of being run over by her dad to the injury of a quick reintroduction to the floor. After a cuddle and a quick check to make sure she is ok, we decide that the inside line of a blind corner is not the best place to be, so gingerly we continue down the hill and stop again a little further on for more cuddles and a bit of time to compose ourselves.
For a while the surface consists of churned grassy paths – which neither of us have the traction for. This section makes for a frustrating cycle of ride, lose traction, and walk for a bit, then repeat. Thankfully for Rhiannon’s morale we are by no means the only ones. My stand out memory from this section however, is when Rhiannon almost lost her shit with a guy in front of her. As she was making a great go at climbing a slimy grassy hill – and almost at the top – the guy just ahead of her simply gives up and stops right in the middle of the track, leaving her no option but to stop too. I honestly think that if she had the expletives in her vocabulary she would have unleashed them in a verbal wave of frustration.
Thankfully the slippery grass soon subsides, giving way to gravel and then tarmac as we continue to climb out of the National Trust grounds. Once back on the road we continue to climb back towards the start. The climb lasts for around 4 km – at its steepest to begin with before easing off to a false flat and by the top it’s time for a quick stop for a drink and something to eat.
Once were going again its across the common, before we join the Plym Valley cycle route – a cycle path we know well. As we ride along, chatting away happily knowing we don’t need to worry about approaching cars, it really is a lovely way to spend with your child. This bubble is burst a few minutes later. As we come towards a gate with a gap to one side – big enough to cycle through single file – I let Rhiannon go ahead. A middle-aged bloke (note I refuse to refer to him as a cyclist) gets to the gate just before Rhiannon, steams though then barks “Keep left!” – despite giving him enough space. “Don’t be a dick!” is my instant retort. It’s a statement that I stand by. Its that kind of thing that could have really rocked her confidence, but luckily it was over quickly and she didn’t really take on board what had happened. Dick!
We are back off the cycle route, and going back up hill, before very much longer. And what a hill it is, rearing up at over 10% from the off. I give Rhiannon a helping hand for as long as I can, but the combination of my front wheel becoming weightless and the nasty noises the back end of my bike begins to make means I have to stop. To her credit she keeps grinding her way up for a further 100 metres or more before her cadence slows and she has to put her foot down. We walk to a left hander where the gradient eases a bit, and stop so I can assess the noise. Oh a broken spoke. Great! With not much else to do about it, I wrap the broken spoke around its neighbour and say a little prayer to the velo gods.
While we are stopped I text my wife to let her know we are about 5Km from the finish, in the meantime Rhiannon is back on her bike and off up the hill – I really need to buy that girl a polka dot jersey, she is just relentless. Shortly after I catch her we break out from the tree cover and the gradient drops off to a false flat, at which point we stop for a drink and a couple of Haribo.
We cruise along the rolling roads until we reach the point at which the two routes split. We take the left-hand turn, and back towards the race village. As we descend for the final time, I am impressed by her road craft. We are behind another group of cyclists and after I let her know there is a car behind us, she lets the gap in front get a bit bigger allowing the car to leap frog us rather than try to pass the whole group in one go.
That leaves the final climb to be negotiated, which she does with aplomb. We cross the main road and turn to the event village. As we get closer to the end, the smile begins to spread across her face. The sense of achievement beings to surface, enhanced by the encouragement and praise she continues to get as we approach the end.
I really want to express my thanks to the other riders who took part in the Tour de Moor. The encouragement my daughter got throughout the day really made the difference to her, and to me. When the going, mostly the climbing, got tough there was always a chirpy well done to lift her spirits. For that thank you.