Having a Welsh father and a Welsh name, owning a passport and living so close to the border you’d have thought I’d have explored Wales more than a few fleeting visits whilst scuba diving and the odd club run, but I simply hadn’t.
At the end of last year, reviewing where I had cycled I thought I should perhaps pay more attention to this foreign land, having only visited once through 2013.
Simon agreed to meet up again for the ride to the start at Bulwark Community Centre, same time, same place as a few weeks ago for the Brevet Cymru. I went to bed at 20:00 and fell asleep somewhere around midnight, the more I tried to sleep the more frustrated I became. 03:00 came all to quickly, I had not prepped my middle of the night feast, but managed to get out of bed on the first alarm which gave me plenty of time to fill my face. I met upstream again, I didn’t bother stopping just in case the same bobbies passed again.
We took a steady ride out to cross the border, warming as the sun broke. Simon filling me with stories of his previous successes of the Bryan Chapman Memorial. I wish I had the history that these guys have, but we all have to start somewhere.
Now on my fourth audax and feeling a little more familiar with the routine, I picked up my Brévet card, filled it in properly had some cake and a tea then loitered in the car park, meeting various people that I’d made contact with through Strava including a couple of other Transcontinental Race entries…. I guess this is where we size each other up?
I set off swiftly, getting ahead of the bulge, my mission for this ride was to move swiftly, no faffing at controls and to make good progress on my own. Realising 20 or so miles up the road that I’d left my mp3 player charging at home I was optimistically hopeful for radio signal to keep me company. I got stuck in a few bunches, but managed to break free from them after putting in some efforts, eventually riding solo. I caught up with Mike Hall, we talked a little about his upcoming TransAm race and came to some sort of unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t draft, leapfrogging each other to the first control at Bronylls Honey Cafe.
I managed to neck a coffee and a bit of cake in about 15 minutes, setting off as the first of the bulge started to arrive, things were going to plan. Mike had set of a minute or so ahead of me, it offered a good incentive to keep the pace up and to try to keep him in my sights. Rhayder was the first place where I had a choice of routes, either the hills and beauty of the Elan Valley or the standard route along the River Wye on the faster A44, as my pace had been relatively quick, I decided to stay with the quick option, also missing out the option of Nant-Y-Moch , I can come back and take a tour some other time.
The control at Tre’r Ddôl was again swift, water bottles filled, pockets filled with sausages and cereal bars, a can of some horrible energy drink and a piece of homebake flapjack eaten and I was off, 135 miles done and a short 35 mile leg to the next control at Kings Youth Hostel Dolgellau, I was still feeling fresh.
The Youth Hostel served as a hub for the Northern loop, those that had left kit at Chepstow could be repatriated, take a shower, collect clothing, drop clothing off etc. I had packed pretty much all my TCR kit; sleeping bag, bivvi, mattress, clothes, first aid kit and light weight kitchen sink to give me a real feel of how I’ll get on in a few months time, this stayed with me for the duration. Soup was served followed by fruit cocktail and a little bit of a relax before setting off for Snowdonia,
Just 5 miles down the road I had a moment, for some reason I didn’t trust my GPS and was reading the route sheet, I knew I had to go North and cross a bridge in to Barmouth, having passed a road that went in the right direction and not seeing another I retraced my route, soon realising as I was passed by a few audaxers that I was originally going the right way! Finding the correct road, I spent about 5 minutes trying to find my way on to the cycle path to Barmouth Bridge!
After stopping to take a few photos, sorting the general directions out in my head, I crossed Barmouth centre, narrowly avoiding a crash with a pedestrian who stepped out in front of me.
On to Snowdonia, I was still a little confused in my head as to whether I was going the right way, I knew I was heading North, for some reason, tiredness, I was uncertain I was going the right way until I got to the enforced traffic convoy which had been noted on the start notes. The climb up Pen-Y-Pass looks intimidating with the visible switch back, but it was a relatively easy climb, but cool and windy at the top where I met Adam who was busy layering up for the descent.
This out of the way, on to the Menai Bridge.
After a jacket potato, a few sandwiches, cake, biscuits and a few more sandwiches I set off South bound, back to Kings along a flatter route, passing a few audaxers heading North and the guys on a tandem (chapeau). Darkness fell. Occasionally I would catch glimpse of a red blinky light up ahead which would serve as a little motivation to put some effort in, if only for the company.
I arrived at Kings after climbing the comedy 20% drive way for the second time. Refuelled with soup, pasta, fruit salad and a chocolate bar, I was given my 3 hour bed until 02:30. Maximising the slot by only removing shoes, helmet and gloves, I was glad to be the first in to that bunk. I can only appologise to the guy that jumped straight in after me.
Leaving Kings was tough, I was still sleepy and the temperature wasnt the forecast 9-11C but somewhere around 5C. The temperature continued to drop through the night, I hadnt packed particularly warm, at one stage I was tempted to get the bivi and sleeping bag out and sleep until it warmed, I wished for inclines and hated the declines, shivering, I stopped to put my tool kit rubber gloves on as an extra layer, but they prevented me fitting my cycle gloves on, whilst faffing, Adam arrived. The company took my mind off the temperature and as the sun started to rise we rolled in to the control at Aberhafesp, opening the door to the wonderful smell of bacon 🙂
Dolfor’s switch backs to the highest point of the ride (1500ft) were next, the climb was nice and steady, the peak marking 330miles and meant down hill for the next 120 miles.
Adam and I rode together, mixing miles of talking and the occasional hard effort until the control at Weobley, the final few miles seemed to take ages as we crossed through the lanes of Herefordshire. The final control being a small local supermarket. I was served by two surprised ladies, they had been impressed by all the cyclists regailing tales of cycling around Wales for days, but were a little concerned that there were 140 hungry cyclists up the road and that they hadn’t stocked up on water, sandwiches, pies or ice cream, all of which I consciously only bought one each of.
Final stretch, Adam, another guy and I set off around the same time, the other guy put on a pace whilst I ate a bag of cashews nuts, we soon caught him up, where he stated he wasn’t racing us and just had a train to catch from Chepstow at 15:00, £65 being the main incentive. We took hard turns on the front, knocking out over 20mph for good stretches. I burnt way too many matches, Adam dropped off to a more sensible pace and I retired to a pub for a pint.
I was knackered, but the Coke did the trick for all of 5 miles, where I was hit with the sudden urge to sleep, so, pulling up at a gate post on the busy A4137 at about 13:30 on a beautiful sunny Sunday, I set my head down and caught 20 minutes sleep (picture pinched from Googles).
It did the trick, refreshed, I wobbled off down the road, motivated by the thought of more sleep. Once on Monmouth roads, places became familiar from earlier rides of the year, passing Tintern and the final climb back to Chepstow lifted my spirits, home, well, another 100km, but close enough. On arrival, I ate some more bacon, relaxed, talking to those that I had shared some of the previous days adventure with.
My brother, Barry came and met me on the Severn Bridge riding back to Avonmouth with me, it was good to see him, however the plonker had set off for a 40mile ride in the 25c heat without a drink, I gave him one of my bottles as we split company.
I finished at home on 442 miles, having climbed and descended the equivalent height (28’800ft) of Everest in less than 2 days, I took a shower, ate some more, relaxed and as it was a nice evening went for a bike ride 🙂
The excellently organised Bryan Chapman Memorial made for my fourth ride this year through Wales, covering somewhere around 1200 miles in total. Theres still more to be discovered…
Thanks to Ritchie Tout and all the volunteers for manning the controls, serving food, smiles and sanity throughout the weekend.