Before leaving home, I had been given a mission by my cycling club chairman: to recce the Island and note its suitability as a possible club destination.
Renowned for its network of cycle trails, I was keen to get out on the bike and put them to the test. But, having taken my road bike with a particular training schedule in mind, my first journey of the holiday was out on the great open road.
HOLEY ROADS, BATMAN!
The first thing that was apparent was the poor state of the roads; and I was more occupied with dodging the potholes than taking in the beautiful scenery. As I cycled along, various parts of the bike (and probably me) were creaking, and I wondered what damage I might be doing, not only to my trusty two-wheeled steed, but to my backside.
It wasn’t long before I bumped into a fellow cyclist. He’d moved to the IOW six months ago and yet he still didn’t know his way round all the trails and roads – which is surprising, given that the Island is so small. But it does mean you’d never get bored there.
ON THE TRIATHLON PATH
We did a few miles together before going our separate ways, then another chap shot past on his bike and I ‘put my feet down’ and caught him up. He was training for the IOW triathlon; and it turned out that we were actually on the triathlon course. He was timing himself over the course and I wondered whether I was putting him off, cycling alongside him chatting with no effort while he looked like he was struggling quite a bit. (We cyclists have to massage our egos any way we can!) After a few more miles, he thought he might have taken the wrong route (or perhaps he needed an excuse to get rid of me by this time), and we parted company.
SOME SERIOUS CYCLING
On my way back, I saw some serious-looking cyclists coming the other way. And, being a congenial chap, I waved – only to be completely ignored by all of them. There are just some cyclists who are so serious that they don’t have time for such trivial matters as greeting fellow pedallers. Although, give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they were visually impaired.
By the time I got back to Cycling HQ (the campervan), I’d done a nice 25‑mile-or-so circuit of the S.W. corner of theIsland, all the while bathed in glorious sunshine.
Near catastrophe struck in the afternoon when we went for a drive to Freshwater Bay on the south coast. We’d just visited some caves and I wound my way back along the rocks to the beach. As I took a step off the very last rock, I slipped, crashed to the ground and bruised my thigh.
Thankfully, my ‘soigneur’ was around to give me the appropriate sympathy, but it was enough to lay me off the bike (and, thus, my training schedule) for a few days, and I only got back on the bike again on our last day to do a gentle, 13‑mile ride.
At first glance, we’d had a few setbacks to our plans. When we arrived, Alannah’s bike tyre was flat with what looked like a valve problem. Then came the leg-bruising. But, the upshot of it all was the fact that I could take a break from my ‘relentless’ training schedule and we could both go out for a few easy walks together instead. And, as a Cycling Widow, Alannah often misses out on such simple times spent together (you can guess who wrote that bit, can’t you?)
Our campsite reception furnished us with a list of cycle trails, which we’ve kept to pass on to my club. However, if the trails I went along (fromYarmouth on the S.W. coast, making my way to Tennyson Down) are anything to go by, my feeling is that these are much more suited to the ‘average’ holiday cyclist.
For the training cyclist who wants to get some consistent miles in, the trails seemed unsuitable, given that pedestrians, horses, and other leisure cyclists use them. Respecting other trail users means that it wouldn’t really be appropriate to go bombing past – yet going with the flow of ‘traffic’ would make it much too stop-start a journey.
As I’ve mentioned, many of the main roads are riddled with potholes and patches, as well as undetectable dips which can take you somewhat by surprise. Although there are some spectacular views around (most notably from Military Road, which stretches along the south coast), as far as recommendations go for my club, I’ve come across some better-maintained roads in Dorset, which aren’t too busy and provide the cyclist with some lovely scenery.