Wanting to do an Audax UK Super Randonneur series to qualify for PBP, and also wanting to do a ‘landmark’ ride, Mark Rigby’s “Mae Mr Pickwick yn mynd i chwilio am ddreigiau a chwedlau (Clasurol)” (Mr Pickwick goes in search of Dragons and Legend (Classic)) fitted the bill perfectly. A good 600km ride around Wales with a smidgen of climbing (9500m) thrown in for good measure. Also promised an overnight stop, which is good as North Wales isn’t awash with Travelodges!
A very wet drive down to Tewkesbury didn’t indicate the greatest conditions for the next 2 days on the bike. I was wearing my winter boots and had also packed my mountain Gore-Tex shell as a backup if things got too bad. As it turned out, the weather was the least of concerns.
Having tried various carrying options, and being short of cash for much else than some poundland bungee cords I decided to strap a dry bag to the rack:
Alpkit fuel pod up front holding wallet, brevet card, phone and battery pack for the Edge 800. A tool bucket in one water bottle holder and a large bottle in the other.
Stage 1 was a fast group run out to Monmouth, service wasn’t looking great at the Wetherspoons so looking at the brevet card decided to bounce it and get some good at LLandovery in 50km. Anyone who knows Wales will spot the obvious mistake there. It was 50km to the next info control, but 100km to LLandovery. So there may have been a bit of bonking on that section.
And boy did I seem to be struggling. The Garmin was claiming 3% slopes and I was into the granny end of the gears, not looking good as we hadn’t got to the real climbing yet! By the time we got to the West End Cafe at LLandovery I was seriously concerned about getting round. Full veggie fry up ordered and I started looking up train times for getting back to Tewkesbury. Thankfully due to the lack of rural trains the next one wasn’t for another 5 hours. So I decided I might as well give riding round Llyn Brianne a go, and if it all got too much I could always turn round and catch the train.
Thankfully, falling in with a couple of other riders who I knew can climb I worked out that I was climbing as normal, and the garmin was at fault. Didn’t mean my legs weren’t hurting, but at least I felt I was capable again.
Pics from around Llyn Brianne:
Soon the famous phone box on the Tregaron Mountain road hoved into view and we were back on familiar roads from Yr Ellenydd. At least until we went past the turning for the Elan valley for a change (I normally have to stop at that point!) and on to Devil’s Bridge. Bit of confusion over controls here, but eventually found somewhere with food and a stamp, which is all you really want in the end.
Fun and games working out where I was heading after this, but eventually got on the right track and headed for Nant-y-Moch. Fell in with a local rider around here so was good to here a bit more about the area, plus had someone else to scramble up to the info control by the dam! A cracking descent down a terraced road to Tal-y-Bont finished off a fine section (would have loved to take a picture, but SPEED!), so Google will have to provide:
Now came some long steady climbs up through Machynlleth and Cross Foxes before turning towards the sea and Barmouth. And here I got to do something I’ve wanted to do for years, ride across Barmouth Bridge:
Shame there was no train at the time, but that would have required planning. AUK control here, so soup, rice pudding and lots of jelly babies.
Sorted out lights and some night kit here, which is when I discovered why you shouldn’t use a lightweight dry bag for what I was using it for:
Oh well, no choice but to bungee it back on and head off into the night. Nice ride along the coast to Harlech before turning inland and upwards. A sharp kick up just after leaving the A487 came out of nowhere and led to a quick deployment of the backup 24″ gear. But then onwards through the forests. Lovely riding through these, but the tunnel of light from the BT10 was no match for my old B&M Cyo, must get a dynohub front wheel sorted out for the new bike. After a confusing Info Control in Beddgelert we started climbing again in earnest. Climbing a large pass in the dark is an interesting experience. All you have is a small pool of light in front of you, and if you’re lucky a small winking red light off up in the distance of another rider. Though in this case we also had a party at a community centre blinking away. The drop from Capel Curig was good fun, great surface, no big corners and no traffic, so off the brakes for a while. Soon rolling into Llanwrst and bed, or rather the floor down the side of the bed!
2 hours later and it was time to get back out (it now being 04:00). I mean, we’d done 390km over some tough mountain roads, now we have 17 hours to ride 210km, come on, how hard was this going to be?
Instantly the style of the roads changed. We were into small choppy lanes. Lots of very sharp climbs and descents that had you on the brakes or hugging tyre channels in the gravel. We went over the Hirnant Pass (where I was shown up as a gentleman on fixed just waltzed away from me as I chugged 34×32 up and over). Things were taking a turn for the worse, and the porridge and coffee from Llanwrst were wearing off. Luckily I spotted a cafe with a load of Audax appropriate bikes outside and joined them for a cooked breakfast.
Back to slogging over the lanes to Aberhafesp (I never did learn to pronounce that properly) for a second breakfast. After that beasting leaving with only an hour in hand it was starting to dawn that the 2nd day of this ride was key.
Once more unto the hills we went, with a veritable Everest out of Knighton to Anchor, and then misery for me as I misread my Garmin and thought it was flat to Leominster for the next control, then realised there was a climb out of Newton to look forward to, plus a shortage of fluids. Quick stop at a Spar sorted one of those out, didn’t have any of those in frame motors the pro peleton are using thought. Still, every mile down was a mile closer to the end.
Wetherspoons control in Leominster, so more fuel taken on board. The next stage was audax flat, so feeling more confident about getting back in in time. Nicely tapping out the miles back when my rear gear cable decided to snap! Great, 2 options 34×12 or 50×12, neither of which are amazing gear ratios for me with a couple of hills coming up and 570km in the legs. Discovering that my new 105 STIs had a different cable routing to my old ones meant I couldn’t replace at the side of the road. So picking something in the middle of the block, favouring climbing over speed, a fixed derailleur was jerry rigged by fixing the cable behind my rack and we were off again.
Easy riding now. And with 10km to go, the usual euphoria came back and the pace upped itself. Rolled into Arrivee with 2 hours to spare. Stuffed my face, stared into space and then bundled into the car and got driven back home.
Apart from the gear cable the only other ‘breakages’ were some minor abrasions on my undercarriage and a very painful left ankle, mostly due to wearing ‘boots’ rather than shoes for the duration.
All in all a great 38 hours of type 2 fun. We certainly got to see some stunning parts of Wales, and the fact that it was stunning in the mirk and gloom shows just how great it was. Already planning a week of riding in North Wales for the summer