Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wild Wales Challenge Madness

There are days when the alarm rings at 6.15 and it doesn't annoy me so much. Those are the days that I am on holiday and there are important things to be done. It is best when those things are not work on my house but they are epic bike rides.

Efficiently fed and caffeined-up we headed for Bala leisure centre and queued to get our start-time signed before cycling into the Welsh mizzle.

The beginning of our ride was reccied on Saturday, along the quiet side of Bala Lake (or Llynn Tegid as the Welsh prefer to call it). By the time we got to the turn-off for the hills, the mizzle had stopped and the sun was set in to shine all day (through gaps in the cloud as only it does in Wales).

We soon turned off the main A494 towards the harder terrain of the Trawsffynydd Mountain Road. As the slope steepened we stood on the pedals, then started to strain then finally resorted to walking. I don't mind telling you this since the grade was 14%, it had been going on for over a mile and there were 80-odd miles to go. I had deliberately elected to ride this event on my higher geared lightweight racing bike that I will use for the 3 Peaks next month. TSK did suggest it would be easier to do the Wild Wales on the heavier 'Lovely' with the lower gear ratios... and he was right. I had, however, argued that anything I couldn't ride up could be run up with the race bike. Therefore, confirming my confidence in my ability to complete the 3 Peaks in September and ply me with excellent training opportunity and the knowledge I could sit on my new £64, 9g saddle for the desired time period.

All across Trawsffynydd mountain, stretches of 10% - 14% road reared their ugly slopes as we progressed doggedly along. I am happy to report that I rode up all of them, short and sharp as they were.

Finally, in a long, open stretch of moorland the descent away came into view with the occasional gate and cattle-grid just to make it interesting.


The long descent finally dropped back into forest. Descending away from other riders, as is the way of Trep, I drew up to a gate being closed by a farmer. As they set off up the hill, I called out, "car" to any of my companions on their way down the narrow lane. I opened the gate to let myself through and could hear shouting back up the hill. I stood for a moment, gate in hand, trying to figure out what the men in the landrover were yelling. Turns out it was, "shut the fucking gate". I took the time to say a frustrated, "Give me a chance!" in my best sarcastic girlie voice before feigning a closed gate and waiting to open it for TSK and the others following-on close behind. All before, I must add, finally closing the gate once and for all. Apparently the herd of invisible cows did not escape as a result of my courteous act.

Further into the woodland lanes, an oncoming MTB rider found himself facing the Shall-remain-nameless CC, aiming to power past me. On the tight road, the poor bloke nearly wheelied into the bushes, stil clipped in. Whilst I worried for his safety and the event's reputation, the shall-remain-nameless CC seemed content to yell, "learn to ride" at the unsuspecting member of the public. Rarely has an entire group of my companions stirred such annoyance in me but I suspect pack behaviour was somewhat to blame so I kept my mouth shut..

Into the feeding station at Llanelltyd for a chat with the man wearing an "Etape" jersey. 160km followed by the Alpe d'Huez climb... and all before the Tour de France entourage arrives to finish the day... though that's another year for us, it's still nice to hear someone else recommend it..

We are ahead of cut-off time by 2 hours but still leave control quickly so we don't seize-up. A short stretch of smooth main road then over the wooden slatted river-bridge, tolls paid by our entry fee. The impending mass of Cadair Idris ahead told us that more climbing was on the menu. A promising start, then into a massive sharp left turn, the text in the instructions giving the clue, "left turn up sharp hill signposted Youth Hostel". TSK, following what instructions I choose to divulge to him, was in the wrong gear and struggled valiantly to stay on and find the right gear. After two punishing switch-backs on a 17% hill, both of us were on our feet again. This time I decided to stick to my promises and started to jog, keeping the loud-mouths from the Shall-remain-nameless CC bemusedly riding along beside me at a runner's pace, heaving and hauling, yet desperately still on their bikes. It is my silent revenge for earlier.

Up on the moor again and my friend Mary catches up for a chat. A boy wearing a polka-dot king of the mountains jersey calls, "coming through" and, ever the mule, Mary follows the boy, passing him back. I'm not saying Mary's an ass but honestly, he asked for it. It would be rude and cruel for me to divulge his nickname for the day on air.

Lunch is in Barmouth after we cross via the rail/footbride and queue to pay our £1 toll. We bump into a man we met on the "Hills & Plains of Cheshire" Audax in July. We find a sandwich shop serving hot pork, apple sauce, gravy & stuffing baguettes and find it is just the job.

Traffic is frayed between Barmouth and Tan-Y-Bont but everyone survives the patience-test with nothing more than a few beepen car horns. Who khew holiday Sundays were so important? The instruction to, "climb steadily" fell on deaf ears and unclipped cleats as we again faced lengthy and steep climbs. Finally the gradient relented to testingly rideable as we dug into reserves that would eventually bring us out further up the busy coast-road.

Looking tired but sunny just outside Tal-Y-Bont.

Our regular meetings with fast-groups and slower ones confirms our status as the tortoises of the event. With my route-sheet close to hand I regularly confirm the directions to riders who could otherwise go faster.

The return to the main road at sea level is incident-free as the grass-middled winding lanes roll over contours like the Andrex puppy has been at work in the countryside.

The main-road at sea level brings a 3 mile respite before the turn at the Magnox Hydro station sinposted, "pony trecking". The irony is not lost on me as the road rockets to 20% incline and in desperation I call out, "find me a pony!" before I get off and walk again.

The engineering porn on display is hard to resist though and I find myself singing, "turbines to the right of me, pipelines to the left, here I am, stuck in the middle with a bunch of sweaty men". I conclude I am a sweaty walking-woman then all 6 of the folk walking with me are gob-smacked to see a lone rider litterally zoom past us. I was too stoopified to think, "I'll have what he's having".

At the bottom of the climb into Gelililydden

At the top of that climb was the beautiful village of Gelililydden and it's lovely village hall with bikes stacked outside and a man signing forms and tea and cakes on offer. TSK was contented. We have never been so far ahead of schedule and had such time to spare. I was more nervous about not having peed sice 10am and setting off asap so I could keep the legs moving and guzzle more water en route. Mary passed me again as the song, "ooh ah just a little-bit, ooh ah, a little bit more" were echoing through my head and we discussed the 'whys?' of us doing this and how good it feels when we stop. After she rode away from me, I didn't see Mary again so she was obviously even keener than I to make it stop.

Our final obstacle of the day was the previously mentioned, Trawsffyndd mountain road. If only I'd realised earlier in the day that this was my road home, I might've paid more attention. If I'd paid more attention though, I might not have carried on, knowing that I would have to retrace those steps. As it was, we constantly debated which of the slopes ahead would see us off our bikes and walking again. Miraculously I found myself riding past many of my male peers as they pushed their bikes along.

One man from the Cheshire CC proclaimed, "I'm just bushed now." We had a chat about our mileage since he'd accidentally reset his pooter (and when you're that tired, no one is good at maths). The conclusion that we were close to 3 miles from the next turn spurred all of us on as we realised it must be nigh-on downhill all the way.

As he rolled by on the downhill he proclaimed, "this is the bit about cycling I love". He promptly tumbled head-over-handlebars, legs flying, off the road and into a grassy bog. Scaring the living daylights out of me, I left my bike at the side of the road to show my location, with the man now out of sight of the road. TSK was then scared shitless when he saw me stumbling around in the undergrowth. As 6 other people on the mountain assumed I had crashed, I guess it was my dignity that was most badly damaged.

Our tumbling friend was fine. He was lucky not to land on a rock and suffered no more than dented pride and the spoils of nature (sheep poo) on his top, under his bag, on his hands, on me. He did what was best and got back on the bike. After a brief spell of us molly-coddling him, he joined similarly speedy old hooligans in a much faster descent than we cared for.

Once down the scary road/tractor-trail the main A459 beckoned us back into Bala. I swear they moved Bala. We rolled along at a fair pace. With a tail wind, TSK was satisfied to have legitimately used every gear he had on his bike. On old dude passed us wearing a very 80's sweat-band on his head. He was closely followed by another old dude wearing similarly 80's day-glo cap and socks, muttering, "owwwh! I suppose I'll have to go after him..." and promptly sprinted to catch up. A team of Manchester riders raced by in chain-gang formation and as I mock-copied their style I found myself lifting our pace ever so slightly and, I am pleased to report, catching up to the 80's old-boys.

All that served to pass the time to the finish line, a glorious 10 hours, 92 miles and 2707m of climbing since we started.

5 comments:

bigcat said...

Well done trepid! Your blog really brought it home and i can only say the same was a well enjoyed day btw you said shall remain nameless cc -dont suppose they hailed from anywhere near liverpool?>:-) not that i would claim to be one of them of course!

Andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trepid Explorer said...

Mouthy Scousers? Never

Just a Girl said...

I winced when I read the distance at the end even though it sounded like a cool sort of way to spend the day.

Silver Lining said...

You go girl! And you should name and shame - it's the only way they'll learn :-)