Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Clwydian

I had no great record hopes for the Clwydian.  Finally after stretching the limits of my tolerance for distance, endurance and sleep deprivation and making it all work around an increasingly incredibly busy job, I finally felt the weight lifted this month.

All I had to do was get around.  It's just that "around" had 3000m of up and down in too.

I'd done no specific training for a while except the 3 Peaks cyclocross and some short 'cross races and one 100km day out to Curborough where a friend had commented on my flat shoes.  As I was explaining to her how much I liked them because they were comfy, I suddenly started to wonder if they had anything to do with my increasingly stiff calves and hamstrings so with only 2 weeks since the 3 Peaks I hoped I was adequately rested and I took a risk and bought some new shoes whilst working away in Scunthorpe.

In the run up to Saturday I did a few short evening rides to keep moving before the big little day.  Then disaster struck and my customer needed me to write them a document in 24 hours and so on Thursday night I worked until midnight and on Friday I left Scunthorpe at 6pm and drove to North Wales.  One Travelodge was unrecognisable from the other and when they put me in the same room it started to feel like a home from home.  After dinner in a Chinese restaurant I bedded down to listen to the torrential rain, howling winds and lashing branches and wondered what on earth I was doing there.  The short answer: By the time I thought about cancelling, it was too late at the hotel.

There were only 3 riders in the carpark in the morning.  They directed me to another building which was the control and as I realised I had parked in the pay and display carpark, I hopped back in the van and drove around to the free one off the main road.  They were so close they could have been the same space but this carpark was almost full - on account of being totally free.  I mean if I was going to be unsure about finishing, I sure as hell wasn't spending £3.50 on the parking space.

I bought a flapjack and then got ready as slowly as possible.  With a promise of the rain clearing late morning, I decided the longer I put it off the better.  Despite prevarication, I led out the final group of 6 riders, a few choosing to do the shorter route instead.  Within a few miles, another Lauf forked rider passed as well as the lead pair.  That left me, "Brum" from the midlands and a couple of guys from Halifax.

After about 10 minutes we started to climb.  Brum came past me and then we all rolled downhill towards Bala.  I had a momentary feeling that my rear tyre was running a little low and a minor coronary when I realised I didn't know if I had my pump or not.  I resolved to stop near Bala to check.  We were to ride around the whole lake but if I didn't have a pump, I'd probably pop into Bala to get one first before continuing my day - just in case.

As I descended the hill climb we'd just come over, spray from my tyres soaked my overshoes.  I was pretty pleased though that the water didn't seem to penetrate and chuffed with my new waterproof trousers which were getting a testing and seemed to be doing a remarkable job of keeping the water out.

As soon as I stopped I realised it was all an illusion as my feet squelched around in my wet shoes.  I should have known better.  I plunged my soaking hands into the bottom of my saddlebag and after some rooting around, finally laid my hands on my pump.  The contents of my bag were now damp but at least I knew I had security.

On the minor road side of Bala lake the rain streamed down, the stream ran across the road in rivers where it should have gone underneath it and eventually the inevitable flood happened.  I was into it before I realised and the water sprayed off my wheel and hit me square in the knees as my feet pedalled on regardless under the water.    Freakish gusts of warm breeze dropped down from the hills though and kept me relatively warm - in fact too warm at times.

Climbing out the other side I felt grotesquely sick as the water cascaded past me at the same speed as I was moving, giving the optical illusion that - despite my effort - I was stationary on the bike.  I had to stare at a gate post to make sure I was making progress and stop my stomach turning.

Once settled, I ate a banana, pocketed the skin and Halifax passed me a few moments later and we chatted until we reached the first control at 30km.  I took a quick snapshot of the answer to the info control whilst they had a faff.  Now on a nice straight road, I started raiding the bar bags for food and demolished an apple.  I had a chat with Halifax about the lack of food on this ride with the conclusion that you "gotta get it while you can" which nearly had me stopped in Bala.  Many of the rides I'd done this year seemed a little sparse on food - or the feeds didn't come when I wanted them.  Perhaps it was my weird metabolism.

Still, I pushed on - like everyone else - in Bala as I had plenty of food on board.  Then I peeled off back into the lovely valleys.  I'd ridden my 'cross bike here in glorious sunshine a few years ago but now it was just wet and wild.  By the time I reached the Crafty Cook Cafe I melted at the invitation to get the pancakes on and demolished two with bacon and maple syrup at 11:30.  The pancakes were bubbly and light but I'm not sure how ride-enhancing that sugar rush was but it made me feel better in between stripping off sodden waterproofs and wringing out my socks and gloves into the toilet bowl in the washrooms.

Americano polished off, I set away towards Ruthin in anticipation of lunch.  Halifax were faffing when I turned the wrong way then retraced my steps to find everyone back together for a brief moment before the weather started again.  Halifax went ahead and Brum and I started swapping places with him passing me on long hills and me getting my own back on steeper ones and not using my brakes on descents.  He had a faff whilst I rolled past in Ruthin.  The wind had been behind us and now I was battling harder into it to dispense of it sooner and I cruised past the control as I knew the answer.

Loggerheads was the next eat control but at 88km it was well after "lunchtime" when we arrived.  Halifax was eating apple pie and Brum joined them.  I went for a more filling-looking vegan shepherd's pie and started to wonder if I'd be able to leave my waterproof trousers off finally.

A lanky boy took my order, managed to concentrate just long enough to take my money then promptly forgot all about me.

After a lot of chatting Brum left me to waiting for my pie - or chasing up my pie.

Lanky boy's chubby mate told me, "it was just coming" then ran into the kitchen obviously to put the pie in the microwave.  I carved pieces off mash that tasted like smash without butter that had been microwaved.  At least the quorn mince and red wine sauce tasted nice with the beetroot but the delay left a bitter taste  in my mouth.

I wanted to set off at a sprint to get my time back but it was still raining so I had layers to put on, wrung my socks out again and chased down Brum who had said he hoped he'd see me again.

There were 3 info controls ahead and I was heading into familiar territory from some time working in North Wales.

In spite of trying to make back some time with spirited effort, I still found myself climbing over fences into a field to rescue a toppled sheep.  I tried to ride past without paying attention but couldn't leave a stupid animal to its fate of getting eaten alive because the stupid bastard couldn't right itself.  Thankfully, the sight of a lumbering woman in orange approaching across the field helped the sheep find the incentive to right itself and I only had three fences to climb back over to get away.

I was a bit frustrated and a bit peckish so I raided the bags for something to eat.  A packet of haribo sours presented themselves and I can't tell you how much my taste buds appreciated that.

I got a move on finally, collecting the name of a pub in Rosemor and a random street name in the middle of nowhere.

Next was 146km and a phone number to collect from a box.  Although I had been watching out for it for some time, the phone box was at the bottom of a descent and on the exit of a bend so I didn't notice it as I passed and crossed the narrow hump-back bridge (are you getting how difficult it was to spot?)

A lovely old couple on the hill climb cheered me up the other side and I basked in the glory until I realised what I'd done.

Thoughts crossed my mind of just continuing and getting the answer off the others but then I might not see them again - so behind was I.  That would leave me bargaining with the organisers to validate my 11th ride of 12 or worse still, waving goodbye to the month of rest I had planned before number 12, trying to get another boring, flat ride done.

My diligence got the better of me and I retraced my route to the phone box, spent a moment explaining to the old couple why I'd walked into a phone box with a smartphone then walked straight back out again.  Photo record of the info control, the lady understood immediately, "Oh, you're recording the number to prove you've been here".

At Tremeirchen it had finally stopped raining.  At 4pm (so much for clearing from 10am).  I lent my bike against a wall and took my waterproof legs off.  Within seconds a small car full to the brim of bearded farmers pulled alongside slowly giving me the smiling thumbs-up to make sure I was OK.  I smiled and waved back, despite the sit down on the wall being uncomfortably welcome.

30 minutes later I was at the seafront in Abergele, tired and had been dreaming of a slice of lemon drizzle cake for about 45 minutes.  As I went over the cobbled bridge that crosses the railway, my back tyre snicked in between cobblestones and felt uncomfortably deflated.  I locked up my bike, dropped my brevet card in the hurricane winds, swore a lot, realised the door was locked then swore some more until a sweet girl approached asking me if I needed my brevet card signed.  After nearly begging to be let in the cafe then realising she was not the owner but the organiser's daughter, I took myself down the road to another seafront greasy spoon / chip shop for the cup of tea and invested in a bag of skittles.  If Haribo could make me ride fast, I hoped Skittles would get me back over the hill.

I sat and drank my tea whilst the arcade clinked and whirred and chattered behind me. Whispy old men with flat caps drank instant coffee with ladies who washed their drinks down with fag smoke, blue rinse catching the breeze.  I enjoyed 20 minutes out of the rain before hauling myself back into it.

I retraced my route to a turnoff in town, my tyre feeling even worse bumping over those cobbles again.  It was a big road with a fair amount of traffic on it and I wasn't enjoying myself at all.  I decided to get the pump out and try inflating the tyre a bit more.  One squeeze of it left me feeling a little ill again, it was really low.  I had flash-backs to the 600 and battling with constant punctures to get back.  The tyre was old-ish.  Worn a bit but not worn through although it did have some serious holes in it.  It was suffering the same symptoms as during the 600.  Slow deflation such that any sudden trauma caused a puncture.

I connected the pump but every time I put something in, the needle dropped back down to practically nothing.  I had only had 20 psi in.  As I was inflating it, Halifax rode past and stopped to check I was OK.  I was a bit frazzled and asked if they had a decent pump though (understandably) they were worried about getting back in time and obviously eager to continue on.  We all concluded that it would probably be fine and sure enough the pressure was starting to build.  They had had a puncture themselves but more substantially, had spent an hour in the MacDonalds in town enjoying hot food and decent coffee.  I had just ridden up the hill on a packet of mini Cheddars.  I was a bit jealous but not too worried as I knew I still had plenty of food on board.

On the way back I got to watch the sun set from underneath the cloud over the Mersey Estuary, the Liver Building prominent on the skyline of the 'Pool.  Both rear lights went on to make me noticeable to sun-blinded drivers and not much later the front light joined it as I sketched my way across the moor in the very blustery wind.  Despite all the healthy choices I had on board, either partially eaten or unopened, the arrival of 8pm saw me reaching for the Skittles.  Pangs of delight coursed through my mouth.  So tasty!  It didn't help that I'd run out of water but my mouth watered and it seemed as good as a drink of water.  I gobbled them down.

When I reached the tops, great gusts of wind blew me and the bike sideways and I had to time glances at the Garmin to make sure I didn't get hit with a gust that would take me into the ditch.  I got one wrong and had to slam my brakes on as the front wheel careered towards a drop off next to a tussock of grass.

The rain started again but I couldn't feel any cold.  In fact, my legs felt exactly the same as they had when I was wearing my waterproofs.  It was still warm but bloody hell, it was hard.  Steep climbs had me stomping on the pedals, out of the saddle yet down the drops to minimise the effect of the wind on my body.  Growling helped blast through the stalemate between a stalled rider and the wind, wrenching myself over the top of the 30% grade.

Allegedly it was 20km downhill to the finish.  I mean, I knew that was probably a fib but still, I'd been thinking about it since 30km to go - 10k up, 20k down.  The 5k up, 20k down.

All the down hill did not come at once.  I was still disappointed, even though I knew it wouldn't all come at once.  Some false flats got in the way, a few rises and then I was down in the valley, looking at the light glow of Corwen and I hauled myself over the bridge, the river now twice as wide as it was when I left and I felt glad I had left my van in the top car park.

After a quick stop to figure out which of the pubs in the tiny Welsh town was the control, I rolled up, locked my bike to the elegant two-seater Iron smoking shelter complete with Cleamtis.  Brum was walking out as I was arriving and called back into the pub, "She's here, she's made it!"  Much commotion ensued as Halifax had reported they didn't think I would make it so the organiser was rushing out in his van to see if I wanted a lift to the finish.

I ignored the slightly cheeky under-estimation of my ability, giving the benefit of doubt.  The last time they saw me I was swearing at my pump, hearing jealously of their feed, knowing nothing of the feast I had on board.

Inside the pub, ale and crisps were on offer.  I passed on the ale, stuck with the crisps and a box of pineapple juice that had been there since the 80's plus a pint of water.  I'd not drunk anything since 8:30pm and now it was 9:38.  30 minutes to spare.

Still warm but noticeably damp and smelly, I left the bartender to his banter and walked my bike over to the Mercu.  The easy bit was over.  Getting changed out of wet kit in a van before driving home was going to be a challenge.  I pretty much left everything I had on the tops of the Welsh hills.  I stopped at 11pm at Chester services and slept for 2 hours before rejoining the motorway and listening to the Asian Network very loud for the next 2 hours back to Sheffield.  It was 3:30 am when I got to bed.

Still, October, done.  11/12.