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  • 03/10/2022 - Going coastal

    When the World Championships are done and dusted, comes the realisation that the season is all but over. We’ve raced or done our big events or challenge rides, maybe quite a few of them. The best of the weather and the party is over, but we still have all the strength and fitness we’ve built up through the summer. All revved up and nowhere to go. What to do, what to do?

    Road trip!

    Well, off-road trip. I decided to take myself and my hard won vigor on Cycling UK’s new off-road route in Kent, the Cantii Way. And, no, I still don’t know how to pronounce Cantii. This route is 150 miles and is mostly traffic-free and mainly on the coast. Pretty, pretty flat. I knew this would not be as technically challenging as the King Alfred’s Way, which I‘d ridden last year, and that suited me down to the ground. I wanted mellow. And mellow is more or less what I got. Well, what we got.

    I planned this a few months back. Regular View from Here readers will have worked out by now that I am something of a planner. This was the perfect ride to get to spend some real-life time with my former colleague Benjamin. We’d worked together for 6 months in the lockdowns. When we weren’t working at getting more people cycling, we were talking about cycling. We just had to get on bikes together.

    Planning. It’s half the fun for me. What kit will I take with? What size tyres should I use? Fenders or no fenders? Benjamin was happy for me to create a schedule with all the rest stops at 15-20 mile intervals. I'd researched that they were top rated or at least decent looking and checked their opening times. I maybe went a little bit too far by creating a pacing predictor, so that we could see the likely arrival time at each rest stop according to a range of average speeds. Clearly I’m spending too much time on Excel in my day job.

    We were riding this in two days from Ashford, clockwise. The train from St Pancras to Ashford International is just 35 minutes or so away and you are straight onto the route. And we were on the route, but going south not north. Oops. An extra mile there. I went with 35mm tyres and mudguards and soon got to have that choice tested with the roughest part of the route. It was only a short section and 35mm proved to be a sound choice joining the Crab and Winkle Way that links Canterbury to Whitstable. From Whistable onwards, we were on the coast almost the whole way to Dover.

    It was sunny, blue sky above, blue sea to our left and we were riding the promenades. Traffic-free, but not pedestrian-free, so we couldn’t blast it. We didn’t want to. Stopping at spots like Reculver, you want to take them in and enjoy them fully. And I always want to chat to whoever is about. Why? (A) I just like meeting people and (B) I often learn something about where I am.

    Aside from pedestrian and dog dodging, riding along beside the beaches, harbours and seagulls brought another challenge. Wind. And it was always a headwind. I know it wasn’t crazy windy by the standards of how it can be on the Kent coast, but it was constant. Benjamin couldn’t care less. In fact, he liked it. He’d lived on the Isle of Thanet and he attacked the wind at every opportunity. The wheelsucker in me was delighted. Go, Benjamin!

    We sped on towards Broadstairs, where we planned to catch up with a mutual colleague, Patrick. He rode out towards us and escorted us to the Bandstand Café on the front. This seemed like a good choice from my internet scouting. There was a clue in bandstand which I hadn’t considered. There was a performer crooning and playing keyboards over backing tracks. A little sign against his keyboards proclaimed “Nostalgia.” And that’s what we got, perfect for the elderly clientele gathered. It all seemed to fit for purpose until he went a bridge too far and took on Desmond Decker’s The Israelites. With this track it was time for these Israelites to make our exodus from Broadstairs.

    We landed at our B&B in Dover – yes, B&B, I’m not ready for bike-camping – and chilled out a little before heading to a pub to refuel. I’d picked out The White Horse which served Beaverton beers and good-looking food. The walls and ceilings were covered in graffiti - names, times and dates. It took us about half an hour and half a pint to work out what this odd decor was all about. Channel swimmers. The big clue was E-F ad F-E. England-France and France-England. Some teams, some solo. One solo swimmer had E-F-E next to a 27 hour time. Zoinks. That is a lot of swimming. It was amazing to be surrounded by all that endeavour. I felt pretty done in after more than 80 miles of fully loaded riding, but wow, 27 hours. Benjamin had to Google the longest solo swim – 77 miles unaided. That must be about 50 hours in the water. The Oregon Quacks team tickled me, as my wife is from Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon. Their sports teams are all called Oregon Ducks.

    Did I mention the 80 miles fully loaded? I slept hard. And getting up was hard. There was some muscle soreness. After a generous cooked breakfast we got going and the soreness melted away. After climbing out of Dover, we are routed on the hills behind Folkstone. It’s only 500ft above sea level, but it affords some good views of the town, such as it is. The route stays scenic until you approach Dungeness. Bleak doesn’t come close to describing it. Marsh to one side and the nuclear power station on the other. Our rest stop was appropriately named End of the Line. It was a good time to stop because it hammered down while we ate.

    The rain cleared bang on cue for the end of our scheduled stop and we ploughed on towards Rye, aware that a significant amount of rain had been forecast for the rest of the day. We passed the power station, but the coastal view didn’t open out until we reached Camber Sands. There was a considerable military area and then an industrial area. We escaped this to enter the Romney Marshes, which have an atmosphere all of their own. I was feeling in good shape, stronger as the ride went on. I even, and this is all true, took the wind for a good long stretch to Rye and pushed the pace.

    If you don’t know Rye, well, you should. It is a stunning historic town and I’d picked out the Cobbled Café for our afternoon tea. Assam, actually, and I paired it with Victoria sponge. Tea was delightful, but also paired with a downpour. We checked all our weather apps, forecasts and it looked like downpour would continue for at least the next two hours. We called it and took the train from Rye. That made it an even 50-mile day. Decent enough. I did head to the station feeling somewhat interrupted. I had more, I was growing into this ride, but 2 hours in heavy rain would not be fun. That was it, all done.

    A few learning points for me:

    • I thought I’d overpacked, especially at the 50 mile mark on Day 1, when I felt like I was dragging a juggernaut along. However, I used or wore everything I brought with the exception of one thing.
    • I didn’t eat all the bars and gels I had. I always make a point of packing enough food to be totally independent, but this is far from a wilderness ride. From Whitstable round the coast to Ramsgate there are a slew of cafes on the promenade. And slew of loos, too.
    • There are no easy days when you are fully loaded
    • On a related note, taking a mini convenience lock is worthwhile for your loo stops
    • 35mm tyres were fine for this ride. There are one or two really rough sections, but if you can weather these, you’ll get the benefit on the majority of this route. Not sure if I'd do OK going any narrower in the rough for my personal comfort levels
    • There are two (very slightly different) versions of this route, one takes in Margate and the Isle of Thanet, the other cuts out Thanet and add a loop to Winchelsea. You could actually combine the two - it only adds 10 miles
    • The off-road section in the run in to Dover is unnecessary. It takes you away from the speedy tarmac descent into the town and instead offers you a track with three of four joy killing gates, just when you want an easy life
    • I like chatting to strangers, but when they say "I really am a rubbish photographer," I should believe them and carry on with a selfie
    • And finally, however tired you may seem after a day’s ride, don’t underestimate your body’s ability to bounce back the next day