Cycling from Oxford to the south coast

Mars bars and ponies

The early hours of August bank holiday 2015 saw me and two friends from the bike workshop meet in the centre of Oxford to go for a ride. To the south coast.

The route was stolen from the Dorset Dash which runs overnight each year on the summer solstice, and I found the route on Strava. It was just over 100 miles, and I’d only started road cycling properly at the end of July. I was a little apprehensive.

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The route. Not that far, eh?

We made a diverse team: me on my Ridgeback Velocity hybrid, Karen on her Brodie tourer with a pannier, and Calista on her Specialized road bike.

I wasn’t really sure what I needed to take with me for the ride, but some anxious googling the night before (always dangerous) saw me stuff my jersey pockets and saddle bag with:

  • Phone
  • ID
  • Cash and debit card
  • CTC (now Cycling UK) membership card
  • Railcard
  • Hand pump
  • Spare inner tube
  • Tyre levers
  • Multi-tool
  • An Endura pak-a-jak (waterproof that stuffs into a sack the size of a can of coke…but squishier)
  • A baselayer
  • Clif bars (white chocolate and macadamia nut flavour, obviously)
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A few hills then downhill to the sea!

Our navigation was as diverse as our bikes. None of us had fancy garmins that would direct us seamlessly to the sea. We had printed out step by step directions, and I had the strava route on my phone, so whenever we stopped I’d have a quick check to make sure we weren’t accidentally on the way to London. It actually worked surprisingly well.

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Stretch & fueling. Food choices: oats and rice balls

We weren’t aiming to smash any records, and it happened to be my birthday so every now and then we stopped for cake. We averaged about 13mph, except up one notable hill to get up onto the North Wessex Downs which saw us slow to the pace of a snail moving through treacle.

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I can see my house from here!

We stopped in Marlborough for brunch at a pub which kindly let us wheel our bikes through to the back garden. Karen insisted that when not cycling we keep our legs raised as much as possible to let them rest – cue us sprawling out across pub garden chairs, legs in the air. The (moto)biker gang next to us didn’t look very impressed.

I had pancakes, half lemonade-half orange juice (which apparently is a thing, but I’d never had it before) and a mars bar. And took another mars bar for the road. I like mars bars.

Re-fueled, we carried on our journey south.

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Smiles over hills

My worries about the distance were unsubstantiated, and with frequent cake stops and chatting as we rode, the miles raced by.

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Bikes resting as we ate more cake

We paused in Amesbury to fill our water bottles at a pub. Well, Karen ran inside with our bottles and used her Canadian charms on the barman.

In the afternoon we stopped for cake in Salisbury (and some proper food too this time). I’d never been to Salisbury before, but the cake made a good impression.

We straddled the edge of the New Forest, with some nice windy roads. This took slightly longer than planned as Karen was very excited that there were wild ponies in the New Forest so we had to stop and say hello a few times.

This was the only time our off-the-cuff navigation failed – the signposts ran out. And our run of good weather ran out and it started raining. Hard. AND as it was a bank holiday the last train home was somewhat earlier than we had thought (yeah…we should have thought about that). After some hasty google-mapping whilst trying not to get touchscreens wet (difficult), we found the right road.

We sped up.

As we were spinning along, waterproofs on, head down, I was thinking of who I knew around Bournemouth if we ended up missing the train. One of my boss’ lived in the New Forest – what would they think if I turned up with two other drowned rats seeking respite? Employee of the month? Did that hostel we passed in Salisbury have rooms? On a bank holiday?

Furtively glancing at watches, we knew we wouldn’t make it to the beach and back to the train station in time, so we headed straight to Christ Church station.

We made the last train home by 8 minutes.

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Relieved, happy, and tired!

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