During lockdown, Tom discovered a sign for National Cycle Network Route 3. Intrigued, he did some research and decided he'd give it a go. No stranger to a challenge, he set himself the epic goal of cycling from Land's End to Bristol in 24 hours. Here's Tom's story.
As a university student and a competitive cyclist, the introduction of lockdown due to the novel coronavirus swiftly resulted in a lot more free time, yet little in the way of goals to guide me.
I was, however, lucky to have my health and whilst out on my bike in the depths of Cornwall, I noticed a sign for the ‘National Cycle Network route 3’.
Planning the route
A little research later, I found the route starts at Land’s End, England’s most westerly point.
It zigzags from coast to coast covering Cornish seaside towns, the wilds of Exmoor, Somerset canal paths and everything in between.
A friend started fundraising through cycling to raise money to provide disadvantaged children with WiFi access during lockdown and beyond.
So I decided that when restrictions allowed, I would set myself the challenge to cycle the route within 24 hours.
And so the adventure began
I took my opportunity at the end of June. The weather was cool and there was the possibility of rain, but the wind was in the right direction and the daylight hours were long.
I was dropped off at Land’s End by my brother, ready to start riding at 4am.
The rest of the family were roped in for support and they would be meeting me at points along the route to help keep me fuelled, carry emergency spares and allow social distancing to be maintained.
Tom started his mammoth 24-hour cycling adventure at 4 am in Land's End.
The first section of the route I knew well, though the darkness did put a new spin on things like the sound of the surf breaking somewhere beneath me as I pedalled along the top of Sennen Cove.
I was then riding through the lanes and the deserted Penzance seafront. We then switched over to the North Coast where a dedicated friend got up early to join me for the first section of the ride.
Tackling tough inclines along the way
After getting a bit of a move on to make it to King Harry Ferry we were onto the Roseland peninsula.
It's arguably the toughest roads on the route consisting of hilly lanes and pretty fishing villages, before climbing through the town of St Austell and then onto Bodmin to join the Camel Trail.
Thankfully with the wind behind me, climbing onto Bodmin moor wasn’t too much trouble and with 100 miles done, I met my family to refuel at the former RAF station at Davidstow Moor (also a previous Formula 1 venue!).
It was then time to descend towards Cornwall’s North coast and the picturesque but savagely steep climb of Millook Haven (0.4 miles at 15% gradient with ramps up to 30%!).
A quick restock at Bude marking the end of the Cornish Way and we were into Devon.
Facing challenges head-on
The next highlight was joining the Tarka trail at Petrockstow – a traffic-free mostly tarmacked bike path lasting 30 miles and all the way into Barnstaple.
However, the following section was perhaps the most daunting.
With just over half the miles done (160) it was time to climb onto and over Exmoor.
My bike computer chose this moment to run out of battery, which was less than ideal since some of the Exmoor hedgerows were doing their best to cover the usually well-placed route markers.
The ride provided many stunning views along the way, like here in Millook.
Rewarded by stunning views of the countryside as the route skirted along the top of Exmoor, I was able to push on and was soon covering the lumpy lanes into Tiverton before riding the dusty canal paths up to Taunton.
Approaching Bridgewater I started to lose the light and as it got darker, not helped by the thick cloud cover, I realised my bike lights weren’t up to the job.
It wasn’t possible to see where I was going whilst keeping an eye out for potholes on the Somerset droves.
Thankfully the roads were once again deserted and the family were able to drive behind me in the van, providing ample lighting for me to climb over the Mendips, across the Chew Valley Reservoir and finally, into the lit-up roads of Bristol.
The end of the road
I rolled into Bristol Temple Meads station at 1:11 am, 21 hours and 17 minutes after starting the previous morning with a riding time of 19 hours.
Proud of my achievement and pleased to have been able to complete the ride for a good cause, I climbed into the van to be driven almost back to the start by my poor parents, without whom, this ride would not have been possible and for which I am truly grateful.
Tom finished his ride in 21 hours and 17 minutes, with a riding time of 19 hours. Well done, Tom!
My tips to anyone attempting something similar
I worked out where I would be at each major town using a fast and slow predicted time.
I also waited until I had the most daylight to complete the challenge in and made sure the weather was right.
It’s also important to make sure the terrain is suitable for your equipment – this route was just about suitable for my road bike.
2. Plan your stops
Linked to route planning, find places along the route where you can stop and refuel.
I drank approximately 6 litres of water and ate almost 10,000 calories during this ride!
3. Make sure you can get support
I was extremely fortunate to have the support I had during this ride, but if this is not possible, make sure there are points along the route where you can get support if needed.
Also, use a tracking app so people can follow your progress especially if you’re a long way from home.
4. Carry spares
You never know what will happen to your equipment so it’s best to prepare as completely as possible.
I carried with me my usual spares but in the van, I had my toolbox, spare wheels ready to go and a spare chain.
5. Get in the right headspace
Arguably the most important factor in challenges of this length is your mindset.
I set this challenge as my goal, used the charity aspect as motivation and met friends along the way to help keep me going.
There are always going to be low points, especially around the halfway mark where you are so far in, yet still have so far to go. Stay positive, enjoy the ride and the finish will come before you know it.