Before I get into this I feel I need to explain that although I had a camera with me I didn’t take a single picture. I was just so concentrated on riding that a natural point to snap a picture never really came up. All the pictures you see here are either from other riders or creative commons images.
The day didn’t quite start out how I intended. Breakfast was good at the hotel in Newtown and I felt like I had checked out and started making my way to Pennant with plenty of time. The problem was I didn’t really count on getting lost. When looking at the map a couple of days before it didn’t seem like there was enough roads in the area to get lost on but some how I managed it. I arrived without plenty of time to get myself sorted and was still building my bike and getting the bags strapped on when the shout of “Go” went up and the pack pulled out of the field. This was a bit disappointing to be honest and actually I do feel like I missed out on one of the “things” of the ride. I was quite looking forward to initial ride out from the start but sadly it wasn’t to be. From what I could tell I was actually the last person out of the field, leaving 10mins late.
I decided that trying to catch up was probably a sensible thing to do. Although I was aiming to do the route as quick as I could I was never going to be at the sharp end, so I didn’t really want to ride the whole thing on my own. I put the power down deciding that making hay while the sun shone would be the best way forward. Of course this is Wales… in October… so the sun was definitely not shining but I was feeling fresh and being overcast it was about perfect temperature. It wasn’t to long until I started seeing other riders up ahead and after a while longer I was passing the back markers and making my way into the field. This made me feel a lot better; that I was now back in the race again so to speak so I touched it down a gear and began pacing at a more sensible speed.
The first 30 miles or so went past without to much incident and it was great to get a good wack of miles done at a decent pace. Towards the end of this was the first time I started riding with Andy and we chatted for a while until Carnau. This was the first significant challenge in my view. There was quite a bit of hike-a-bike and very little trail to speak of which also made navigation part of the challenge. In the day light however it wasn’t to bad and I can only imagine the nightmare this must have been in the previous 2 events where riders were getting to this section during the night. It was here I had my only real crash of the day. It was actually after the worst of it and I was back riding, heading down towards the gate that took you off the open top section and back on to the fire roads. As I descended one of the few bits where there was some mud to ride on in the rough shape of a trail I didn’t notice the bog in time and my front wheel sank causing a pretty rapid decrease in speed. I flew over the handle bars, thankfully landing in said bog which was pretty soft. No harm done other than the ribbing I got from the few guys that were behind me. 🙂 Unfortunately just as we left Carnau behind, Andy snapped a chain and in the spirit of racing we all rode on…After clearing the Devil’s staircase which was the steepest road climb on the route we headed into the only section that I recognised towards Doethie Valley. This is a very lose and steepish climb that I think is probably etched into the memory of any one who has had the pleasure. Ty’ n cornel hostel is just beyond this and was the first of my planned stops. I filled up with water and took 10mins to eat, rearrange food out of my back pack and into the feed bag as well as stretch and generally gave myself a breather. After a bit of banter with the soldiers that were staying here using it as a base for manoeuvres, a few of us were ready to leave when Andy appeared again.
At this stage 3 of us left together, myself, Mark and Gabriel. We pressed on and after dropping Mark on one of the climbs, Andy caught us up and we stuck together for the remainder of the ride. We decided that riding in a group was going to be best for all of us, especially with only 90mins or so of day light left. Strata Florida was pretty wet and it was certainly a good thing that we got this done just before we needed to get the lights on. The descent towards Pontrhydfendigaid was fast and done in that horrible half light at dusk where your lights don’t seem to do much but it’s probably best to still have them on. It was around this time that the first bout of rain started. It wasn’t to bad though and I wasn’t feeling it soaking through my wind proof jacket so I pressed on without trying to swap into my waterproof.
The track around Claerwen Reservoir was in pretty good condition meaning we could maintain a good pace. It was nice to fly along for a while at this point getting some more miles done relatively easily. The only incident along here was coming across a rather large white bull stood right in the middle of the trail. We stopped for a moment and evaluated what to do. Gabe started ringing his bell (not a euphemism) and the big bugger decided to start moving out of a our way. It reminded of several situations I have been in before with ramblers…
We negotiated the steep rocky descent through Llanerchi Wood and crossed Caban-coch Reservoir, taking the cycle way that runs along Garreg-ddur and stopping for water in the car park at the end of Penygarreg. Gabe was having a few stomach issues at this point, probably due to gels he wasn’t used to. After a brief stop and some real food we continued towards the Roman settlement. We have been warned that navigation here was going to be difficult and that there was actually a choice of routes; either the shorter south route that even in day light was invisible or the longer north route that was denoted by some bent grass. We took the north route which actually turned out to be a whole lot easier than I had been expecting.
There then seemed like quite a long section of road which looking at the map was not actually as long as it seemed. It was during this part of the ride that I had my only real low point. I was starting to drift off the back of Andy and Gabe and both of my knees were really painful. I decided that as long as I could see their rear lights on the road that I would not try to hang on to them and would just keep peddling in my own private bubble of pain. Eventually I got through the worst of it and I could see them gradually getting closer as we reached Esgair Ychion woods. We passed close to the Nant Rhys Bothy which is currently being refurbished almost taking a wrong turn here but thankfully we only missed the turn off by 50 yards or so.
After this however came the hardest stretch of the whole route. There were a couple of crazy steep grass banks that felt more like climbing out of a ravine than following a bridle way. It was incredibly difficult to pull/push the bike at this point. After 16-17 hours in the saddle my arms and shoulders were pretty tired. Even after these 2 incredible difficult pushes there was some really nasty tussocky bridle way that did it’s best to try to rip the bike from your grip at every opportunity. This last 12 miles took about 3 hours to do but fortunately I stayed positive through out, so although difficult it wasn’t as soul destroying as it could have been. Eventually we were through this and back on the bike riding the final fire roads descents back to Pennant.
My Garmin said that time elapsed was 20hours 22mins although I left 10mins late so my official time should have been 20hours 32mins. It seems to have been recorded as 20 hours 35mins.
Looking at the stats afterwards I was astounded to see a non-moving time of 4 hours 40mins! Clearly this had a huge impact on the final completion time so in future I will be making sure that stops are really kept to an absolute minimum as this is obviously where I lost the most time. I think that my rushing to get going didn’t help here as I just chucked a load of stuff in my back pack at the start and didn’t really have my feed bags sorted out until the first stop at Ty’ n cornel. This stop was then longer than really needed and I had been trying to fish stuff out the bag on the way before hand.
I was pretty happy with all my kit and leaving the saddle bag behind was certainly a good idea as I simply didn’t need it. I took a waterproof which I ultimatly didn’t wear as the water resistant wind proof I had on was enough. This was touch and go though and taking the water proof was probably still the right decision. The Northwave boots and seal skins did a great job of keeping my feet warm and dry. It was only the last but one river crossing that finally made my feet wet and that was due to it being deep enough to go over the top of the boot. My new 3/4 bibs were great as well being very comfortable and keeping my knees warm.
I was happy with how my body held up generally. My quads, hamstrings and back were basically fine for the whole thing and actually I think I probably could have pushed a little harder than did when looking back on it. My wrists did start to ache some but as long as I kept changing hand position and using my bar ends this went away. The one part of me that didn’t hold up well was my knees. I have never had any knee problems from riding the bike so to have to deal the levels of pain that I was at some points was a surprise. It has taken somewhere in the region of 10 days for my knees to recover, far longer than any muscular recovery has taken. I have worn some knee supports on my commute and have found that they have seemingly helped, so in future for long rides I may try them out.
Overall this was a great ride that I really enjoyed. I would like to thank Gabe “Mountain baker” and Andy “Chicken kegs” for the good company in the latter half. I learnt a lot about endurance riding and I think this was a great event to start with as I doubt there are many events in the UK with this level of challenge. The thing I’m most happy with is how it has made me re-evaluate what it is I’m capable of doing on a bike.