The Gravelton

After a few weeks of panic training the day came yesterday to ride 100 miles around Birmingham, mostly offroad. What a day.

I was genuinely nervous about it this week. I’d been endlessly debating which bike to take and in the end opted for my alloy gravel bike because 1. I didn’t really have time to get my carbon bike ready and 2. I couldn’t be arsed. Three days away in Cardiff, Bristol and Mansfield + 16 trains Wed, Thurs and Fri wasn’t the best prep. I did my last ride on Wed with tired legs and then rested up. I wanted to get a leg loosener in beforehand but it didn’t happen so I just crossed my fingers and hoped I would recover.

my ride for the day

I got up at 6am. The weather was nippy but the forecast was fantastic. Wall to wall sunshine. Coffee and breakfast done I loaded up my pockets, donned my gilet, slipped on some arm warmers and headed out to the start just before 7am. It was about 6km from home. I took it easy and was remarkably well up for it.

a beautiful morning

There wasn’t anyone at the start. I hung around for a couple of minutes and took a couple of photos and then decided to crack on about 7.15am. Touring mode engaged, I just settled into a nice pace along the first canal section, just soft pedalling and rolling the gear over, enjoying the sights and sounds. The legs felt good.

I was pleased to get into Brum early as the section from Selly Oak can get busy with students walking and running and the shitheads that hang about around canals would probably be asleep too LOL. I hadn’t seen a soul on a bike so far.

Out of town and I was on new trails. I’d never ridden the canal out to Spaghetti Junction before. It was great with a fun downhill lock section. I nearly took the wrong turn at Spaghetti and then the next section of canal was flat and fast. This section seemed to go on forever. I kept trying to do the maths where it was in relation to the roads and questioned the Garmin but it was fine.

Pipe Hayes Park and Newhall Valley Park were beginning to get busy. My bell came in useful although some pedestrians are just deaf, dumb or stupid. They don’t look, they just step one way or the other and I’m expected to know which way they are going. Luckily no accidents despite one lady screaming as I passed. Mad.

Sutton Park seemed over too soon. Because of the length of the ride and where it was on the ride I couldn’t route much more than straight through. The Parkrun was on. Never seen one before and nice to see the volunteers really encouraging the runners.

Out of the park and it was the longest road section to Aldridge. I was worried it could be busy with traffic but the surface was good and it didn’t seem as long as I’d plotted on the map.

The access to the next canal was well hidden just off a pub car park which gave way, for me, to one of the best parts of the route. A quiet, twisty canal towpath with a nice surface. Along here I picked up a fellow rider Marc and we rode together until Cannock Chase.

Marc, my ride buddy to Cannock Chase

The canal ended at Chasewater and then we took the path around the lake. The sun was beating down now and it was obviously going to be a long, hot day in the saddle. Chasewater done, we picked up a cycle path that ran parallel to the main road before it ended and we had to do a quick section through the houses to begin Gentleshaw Common which was another good find. A solid gravel climb with the best views of the day so far.

You could tell the general gradient was up as we neared the Chase. A quick road section after the common and we were in. Nice wide gravel tracks and one bitch of a climb got me upto the highest point. At the Tackeroo campsite I caught up with the Gorilla CC gang and my friends Paul and Jo. Hadn’t seen them in ages. I refilled my bottle, group photo done and we did the rest of the Chase together including seeing a wonderful herd of deer jumping across the trail in front of us. Quite a sight.

My original plan was to stop at Slipslade Lodge cafe but I was enjoying the group and feeling ok so I carried on. In the back of my mind I was thinking I would regret that decision later on.

The re-route through Bednall onto a bridleway was better than a busy road and we got some intriguing looks from a herd of cows on the way as we lifted our bikes over the gates to join them. The end of the bridleway wasn’t easy. High gates to get your bike over and barbed wire. The farmer needs a slap. Anyway, down some steps and we were on the canal now heading home.

The first part was fine but the group got a puncture and I decided to carry on, with a plan to stop and eat somewhere. The first section was fine but after Penkridge the grassy canal towpath was horrific. Rock hard with big impacts battering the shit out of my arms and palms. It seemed to go on forever. I kept telling myself let some air out of your tyres but I couldn’t bring my self to stop. I was in the zone. Thankfully as I neared Wolverhampton it improved significantly then the route took me on the South Staffs Railway path. A disused railway line. The first part had been resurfaced and was great and then got quite gloopy in the most shaded places but being arrow straight was a bit of a headfuck.

In Wombourne, the route flicked back onto the canal and took me down to Kinver. The Vine Pub on the canalside was rammed. The surface is ok here as it’s quite popular with walkers and cyclists. Not too many today though, they must have been in the pub.

I hadn’t stopped yet and I was conscious I needed to eat as I could pop at any moment. The legs felt ok. Awesome one minute, ropey the next but I decided to just keep ticking the miles off and see what happened.

As I climbed back towards Stourbridge my hips, shoulders, knees, arms, everything was aching and I was conscious the sting in the tail wasn’t far off now but before that on one narrow bridleway I got caught behind three girls walking their horses. Bless em they did eventually pull over on a wider section and let me pass.

horse walkies = trail jam

Onto Clent and the first of the climbs. I went the way the route should have gone and my Garmin complained. I’d wrongly took the route up a gradient so steep it was unrideable. I could have gone round but decided to play it by the book so I walked 50m up it cursing and dripping until the gradient eased and I was able to ride the rest over the top. Ooo the legs and hips hurt now.

The next hill was Walton Hill. Another steep fucker. In my head I knew I had this one and the next one and the worst was over. I grovelled up in my 40×40 gear and enjoyed the breeze over the top but the descent down the Waltonberg was horrific. My hands and arms were dead.

A nice shaded, freewheeling descent gave way to Winwood Heath Rd, a 1-in-4 road climb. I just slapped it in first gear again and rolled the gear over as easily as I could. I didn’t care how long it took and it wasn’t as bad I thought. No tinges of expected cramp either.

a nice distraction on a 25% climb

I stopped at Waseley cafe at the foot of the hill and rushed down a can of Pepsi and a delicious piece of Carrot Cake. I just had to get something inside me despite being so late in the ride. The climb was slow because it’s on grass but not too steep or too long. The worst was now over.

After a bumpy descent I picked up the Donkey Path and then the penultimate climb upto the top of the Lickeys. Here I caught a couple of riders on the descent who had started in Sutton Coldfield. I directed them up the final climb and I was away. The sugar had kicked in and I was on a second wind.

I negotiated the crowds by the Lickey Cafe and blasted my way to Barnt Green for the last bridleway descent to the pub and done.

I thought I’d take 7-8 hrs and it took 9. Almost 10hrs on the bike with the ride to the start/finish and back.

Baked, battered but smiling. I had a pint and then had to rush home and get showered and changed to go out with some friends for the night.

the bags under my eyes tell a story!

Overall I was quite chuffed with my day. My pacing was perfect. I finished. I met some friends and the weather was fantastic. The perfect antidote to a busy week of work.

Well done everyone that rode. It doesn’t matter if you did all or some of it. You got into the spirit of it and you are now an official Graveltonian.

how did I get on Leaderboards?

8 thoughts on “The Gravelton

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