Isle of Wight Randonnee, April 2023

Time to hit the road again.

The plan was to start 2023 steady, keep the miles down and concentrate on my shoulder and back injuries. I figured if I could get those sorted, the rest would follow.

By the end of January, with the help of a 110km club reliability ride I was already up to 1000km. How that happened, I’m still not sure.

Then suddenly February arrived the temperature lifted, and it felt like spring, lighter clothing, and speed lifting, this was too good to be true. Then as we entered March, we realised it was too good to be true. That had to be the wettest March I can remember, plus I picked up a chest infection which lasted well into a wet and cold April.

In the two weeks leading up to the Isle of Wight trip I did a 167km trip with Michiel, which turned out to be a recce trip for the following week, where I joined Michiel again on one of his “homemade” 200km Audax trips. This helped get some strong hours in the legs, which meant IoW would be more fun than hard work.

Still taking it “easy”, by the time I got to the Isle of Wight, I had 4000km under my belt, and a back that was now recovered and a shoulder with much more movement, if not totally recovered. I think the daily workout has helped tremendously and it will be part of my weekly training now, if I am to keep my old skeleton working.

So, why the Isle of Wight? Well, back in the beginning of February, Michiel, who I rode a couple of big rides with last year had spotted the IoW Randonnee, a 100km spin around the island, which seemed like a great idea. We would also be joined by Rob, who also rode the long rides last year. A bit of a reunion.

29th April

Michiel picked me up and we loaded the bike on his car, then picked up Rob on our way to the M1. These guys are definitely my big-mile buddies, having done Hunstanton and Dunwich with them in 2022. Both have been doing a 200km Audax rides every month since then, throughout the winter, great respect!

The journey down was straight forward, someone, who will remain nameless, had booked a room for us in Southampton, not too far from the ferry. On arrival at the ‘hotel’ our faces said everything… we jumped back in the car and headed for one of the big chain hotels near the port, in this case Ibis Budget. There, we secured a couple of clean rooms, where we were confident that we would not be killed in our sleep, plus the bikes were safe in the room.

30th April

A 05:45 alarm got me out of bed, washed dressed and out by 06:30, then a gentle spin along the front got us in the queue for the 07:30 ferry to Cowes.

The idea was to ride the route at Party Pace, so a full breakfast was purchased to fill the tank, and we had planned our lunch stop at the halfway point. Finding a seat was a bit tricky, as everyone had the same idea, but the struggle was worth it for a full fry-up. A rare treat.

The weather forecast was really good for the day, but as we approached Cowes it was really misty, but hopefully this would burn off, once the sun got some heat in it.

A short roll off the ferry and into a car park where we had our entry number taken and the ride was on. We started with a gentle climb out of Cowes heading southeast through Whippingham and within 30 minutes we were at our first checkpoint in Wooton.

The checkpoints were very simple, with a number of large QR codes mounted at each location. This one was in a sports field complete with food stalls and toilets, all very well organised. Here I picked up the nice enamel participation badge.

The next checkpoint was Benbridge, this took a further one hour and twenty minutes, with a little coffee stop along the way. The temperature was now getting up to about 15oc and the sun was out. We were also managing a nice party pace of 20kph, giving us time to enjoy the views and soak up the experience.

By 10:35 we were in Bembridge, inside a sports complex. We scanned the QR code with the app we had all downloaded, then a green confirmation dot meant you’re good to go.

We got back on the road, now heading southwest, towards the bigger hills. As we approach Godshill (bit of a giveaway) the road started to climb more seriously and the casualties were all over the roads, trying to keep forward momentum, at only 40km in.

At this point we swing south, heading towards Wroxhall and finally Ventnor, checkpoint #3. The checkpoint was at the Ventnor Ruby Club, a cracking spot with a great view of the see from the cliff top. Thankfully, it sits on the top road, not down by the sea, as the climb back out of Ventnor is a whopper.

Three down by mid-day, next stop lunch. We had chosen the Wight Mouse Inn at Chale for lunch about 10km and one long climb away. After the climb there is always a good descent, and at the bottom of this one Chale. Rob swung off to visit his father who lives on the IoW, while we refuelled. Party pace 21kph, so far, nice!

When Rob re-joined us, we set off on the final leg. By this time, it had started to cloud over and feel quite cold. Michiel was the only one of us that had trusted the forecast and worn shorts, no leg warmers. We noticed this after we set off, Michiel leading, and the party pace suddenly disappeared as he needed to keep warm.

Now heading northwest towards Yatford and Brighstone the terrain was reasonably flat/rolling, so keeping the pace up was fine, and I think there was a bit of a tail wind. It got a bit lumpier towards Brookgreen, then we hit Military Road, a long steady double peak climb, with stunning views of the coast to the south, then a swoop down to Freshwater Bay.

Freshwater was the location of checkpoint #4, and we were directed through the town to the Early Years Centre to scan the code and buy tickets for the floating bridge back at Cowes.

As we came out of Freshwater there were signs pointing in two directions, left and straight on. We chose straight on, past the Red Lion and in about 250m we realised we had chosen the off-road route. We were in a group of other guys that had made the same choice as us, but were nowhere near as happy as we were, blaming each other for making the mistake. Such a laugh. This route would take us on a gravel path down the side of the Western Yar for 3km to Yarmouth, where we re-joined the road route.

The final stage took us inland for a while, rolling up and down, nothing serious, but all very scenic and quiet for bank holiday Sunday. I’m beginning to really enjoy this place.

As we approach Cowes from the west there are a lot of rolling climbs, all starting to increase in gradient until you get into West Cowes where there are two cracking short, 15% plus climbs which takes its toll on a few people as we weave our way through and drop onto the sea front leading to the floating bridge.

By the time we hit the queue for the floating bridge there is, if you believe the signage, around 200 cyclists waiting to cross. We take our place in the line at which point Rob brings out some of the most amazing homemade flapjack he had picked up during his family visit. Just what we needed to top-up the tanks.

Party pace? Well, that seems to have gone out of the window since lunch as the final 55km had be covered at 25kmh. but we were warm now, so that’s a result.

We managed to get on the second floating bridge, so the queue system was working well.

The bridge dropped us 100m from the final checkpoint, where we had started at 08.50 this morning. A final scan of the QR code and the lads managed to buy an enamel badge to remember the day by.

We rolled out of the checkpoint and back into another queue, this time the ferry back to Southampton. Our timing was perfect and by 17:30 we were floating back out into the Solent and back to the car.

The cost of the Ibis had included 24 hours of parking which was idea, as we got back with ten minutes to spare. 🙂

In all, it was an amazing weekend, with great company and I felt privileged to have been invited. It’s nice to get a little adventure like this under the belt, it’s just a shame it’s taken until the end of April for the weather to be good enough.

In total 106km and 1420m of climbing


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