Monday, October 12, 2020

The BB200 2020 Dodging

I sent one Last message, closed Ms Teams, took my headset off and closed the laptop, unplugged the power and turned off the big screen. I grabbed my bag and the bucket of toys standing at the top of the stairs - a tent in a bag, a selection of other bike bags, a stove, two part-used canisters and pot noodles and some random straps & bungees.

My own kit was all on the bike but from my own first race experience, I remembered that something is better than nothing when it comes to being prepared. It wasn't my first race any more but Landslide's. We had exchanged packing lists and his reminded me to bring my gaiters. I suggested his paddling flip flops should stay at home (remember when I used to carry flip flops)? I arrived at their door and asked H, "Can Chris come out to play?" then we chatted about her weekend plans with 2 boys. They were off to Hathersage pool and I was a bit jealous.

With little fuss we were on the road then stopped at an obscure Italian somewhere in the midlands for a meal. Chris was navigating down dark, twisty country lanes - avoiding diversions after recent flooding - and then we spilled into a Ludlow Travelodge. Unloading bikes, I definitely should have realised I had too much stuff. We faffed with bikes and food till midnight. Unlike my usual palatial Travelodge suites we had nothing but a double bed so I slept on the floor on my thermarest, adaptation for the night ahead.

The 5am alarm was too early but we were ready to depart from our chosen lay by next to the Fforest Inn at 7. 20am, before I realised my ride was far too comfortable. We retraced so I could pump up my tyres with the track pump and it was 7: 25 when we finally started - happy with the 5 minute turnaround and I now had a well oiled chain too.

I'd told L he was to ride on at his own speed. I'm slower but more determined so I didn't want a grumpy boy shadowing me at 4am. He wasn't ready to let me go just yet and we stayed together side by side until we hit some decent off road.

I'd struggled to find the thin wool socks I'd brought, planning to wear them under my waterproof socks for warmth. Instead I'd switched to bamboo ones which were ok but wouldn't be as warm. As soon as I noticed my wool socks sitting at the top of my food bag I swore under my breath. I tallied it up - too much food, extra socks, 3 pairs of gloves, I was still wearing my buff, so 2 of those, the extra food I'd stuffed in at the last moment in blind panic. No wonder I felt heavy.

• • •

To hide my disappointment with myself I sent Chris on ahead whilst I had a pee in the grass and metaphorically kicked myself. I put on the gaiters for extra splash protection and instantly felt better without the pressure of someone else's pace.

My saddle had been changed for the ride - its angle wasn't exactly perfect. As I set off across the field behind an ever-diminishing Chris I knew I'd have to sort that out later but at least my feet were behaving.

The trails were wet, the rivers and streamers swollen and muddy puddles threatened to steal my front wheel but it wasn't * actually * raining and I kept all but a bit of grit out of my boots until the first river crossing when my foot slipped off a tussock and I got icy water down a waterproof sock.

It quickly became apparent just how much cooler bamboo is as a material and my one wet foot was uncomfortably cold. I was rather dismayed, having extolled the benefits of Bridgedale Waterproof socks to so many: when you inevitably do get wet feet; at least the water warms up in the sock and you end up with warm wet feet.

The whole situation was exacerbated by the frequent crashing of my Garmin which has both become ultra- sensitive to off-course meanders, (Off route could be so much as crossing the track to avoid a puddle or setting my bike to one side to open a gate).  Although it is not set to recalculate my route, the second I go off course it tries its best to direct me back onto the route. Because I ride off road, it inevitably confuses itself into a crash calculating the easiest way to get me from one geophysical location to another on roads that just don't exist. Divide by zero anyone?) 

When I dropped off a steep lane onto an old drovers road lined with slabs of rock that formed curbs, the moment was right for a feed stop. I sourced a dry rock and breathed in the autumn colours as well as my first delicious sandwiches of the ride. After restarting the Garmin yet again I considered my average speed. On good ground that is tricky but familiar I can usually manage a moving average of 10km/hr. 

When I count sleep stops it re-sets my average to around 6km/h. Over a 200km course this has resulted in times of 50 hours (Braunton), 36 hrs (BB 200-2019 & 6 hrs sleep), 29 hrs Peak200 60 mins sleep.

My average speed was already only 8 and I hadn't even hit the big climbs or the food stops yet.

• • •

An hour later I was in Hay on Wye. On arriving at Hay I instinctively turned right in search of toilets and maybe a convenient street cafe but cars ruled the roost and women in camel coats and fur hats walked with men in chinos and wax jackets and I felt out of place. The Garmin had crashed so I retraced my line out of town while it re-booted and found myself a bus stop where I could sit down, out of any showers or breeze, change my socks and consume some of the weight I was carrying before my first Brecon crossing.

• • •

Given the half hour I spent there, the Garmin recovered most of my data points. I'd been relying on the spot tracker to back it up but at Hay I decided to risk using my spare Garmin to track my ride, just sticking to the big one with the proper maps on to navigate. This was a brilliant call and gave me the confidence to just ride on through the vagrant wobbles and crashes of the device on my bars (not me).

I rode up the charming Dingle and out across fields and woodlands to eventually find another sheltered spot for a pee. There were some lovely flat grassy areas here for a Bivvy and I almost thought we should have done the route from South to North except we agreed we wanted to finish on some of the 'easier' terrain at the North of the course.

The trail eventually emerged into the tourist hotspot of Hay Bluff.


Landslide would later tell me his heart burst here - not from the effort but from the beauty of the hill with Red kites circling overhead. I turned to take a picture of the bluff and looked back over England, laid out before me and my heart burst with regret as I realised I had missed the ice cream van.

Going along the bluff was at first hard then eased off at a paved section where erosion protection had been put in place. People were appearing all around me and it just didn't seem right, nothing like a bear bones event. Sure enough, the Garmin had crashed so I re-traced my line while it loaded, finally noticing the vague sheep / pony track that petered out through the long, yellowed tussocky grass, around an actual landslide.  I heard the people I'd nearly met on the path above me exclaim, "*that*, on a bike?" 

Then there was more pony track before adjoining the descent where I retrieved Landslide's flipflops from a bog.

A few scrambles were required on my part for the rocky descent but I later settled into a mash down the hill ready for the next stages of puddle dodging and riding up some seriously steep lanes and hill tracks - often needing to get off and push the heavy load. It's tough to sit on my sofa and wonder how 7 hours between lunch and dinner disappeared without recollection.

• • •

Significant events were lacking, it was all just fucking hard. A few farmyards seemed mostly unoccupied except for a Jack Russel that came out to see me off. I understand I was quite lucky in this respect.

I saw either a Parakeet or a green woodpecker near Abergavenny as I passed "that hill", the one that represents the fact that I'm almost in Abergavenny in the cyclo cross calendar.

The"steep lanes and tracks" in my pace notes yielded one memorable churchyard where the porch beckoned me in, despite it being too early to sleep. My remaining sandwich, some crisps and chocolate were consumed lay on my back, on a stone slab, head on my rucsac, knees propped up to drain the gunk from my muscles. I may have had a short snooze.


At the end of the steep lanes and tracks though, the ride entered the forests again and headed toward the hills with led to the next resupply at Crickhowel.  More lanes then another ominous start up a dirt track. The extra weight of Landslide's flip flops started to weigh me down and every time I dismounted and remounted I banged my leg on them and cursed.

The dirt track took me into a forest meaning I missed any sunset there might've been. Instead, the trees just gradually got darker.

A steep climb straight up at 90 degrees to the contours had me immediately off the bike and pushing, then soon after, flopping into the pine needles on my sit mat to finally consume fruit pastels - my first proper junk food of the trip. I looked at my Garmin. Average speed had slipped to 7 km/hr and I still hadn't had any big rest stops.

• • •

Never more had the rules of "just keep moving" and "do what you can while on the bike" been more critical. Still, I needed my time sitting in the pine needles for a while and as the twittering of songbirds subsided into the occasional caw from a crow and a twoot from an owl, I did the math. A 36 hour finish (not out-of-time) would require 5.1km/h average.

• • •

I could still see the turn off and as I chewed through a strawberry fruit pastel, another Boner nearly overshot the turn, enchanted, as I had been, by the appearance of a building (I'd even questioned if it might've been a pub). "Up here" I called out. The rider pushed up to where I was sat, "Obviously I've ridden it all this far" he said. "I just thought I'd have a walk". He introduced himself as Andy with a gloved fist bump. Huh! Me too. It was really nice to talk to another person and I suddenly realised the buzzz I got from the first human physical interaction with a stranger in months. (in retrospect Ive had a sports massage but somehow didn't get the same tingle there).

We had a good moan about how hard the course was and cursed Stu for this climb. Andy set off ahead whilst I dug out my dynamo light cable, fully aware that it wouldn't get enough power off the hike a bike to illuminate yet. There was still just enough daylight penetrating through the branches for me to see where to put my feet.

• • •

After what seemed like an eternity, I was still only a third of the way.

After what still seemed like an eternity, I was still only half way up but an uneasy misty orb was materialising through the trees, like *this* is where all the other riders had been hanging out all day.

The rider was Steve (Large?) on his 300 attempt. We empathised about how hard it had been then burst out of the climb onto a forest road to ride (moment of glory) side by side to the gate towards the open moorland.

Apparently my coat's reflective tabs left Steve thinking he was being faced off by a stag in the trees as they looked like two eyes glowing in the dark.

I couldn't hold the pace long enough to maintain conversation and dropped off only to find the 2 boys chatting in the gateway. Now knowing I was truly against the clock to finish and expecting to ride through the night to do so, I chided them, "c 'mon lads, lemme through that gate, I've no time to spare!"

Steve set-off first to chase 300k as me and Andy were thankful to have a guide for a short distance. The moor was tussocky and heathery like the Peak. Awkward but mostly rideable. The best bit was when we lost our guide-because he had dropped off the edge out of view. Good - because we knew the descent was finally upon us. Andy bounded off into the distance,although I got a bit of a boost from just watching his light, knowing I was on track and seeing where he came a cropper in the wheel-thieving puddles.

I'm always a little more cautious of the maps and regularly slow to tap the Garmin screen to check that I've not gone off course so we entered the final descent together as Andy had overshot the turn into the woods and had to retrace his steps. He was soon lost to me again... until the Chippy in Crickhowel.

We spent a half hour eating chips sitting on the windowsill talking about bikes like teenagers. He bought me a tea - how lovely. I stocked up on one fizzy sugarey drink and drank another and we discussed our strategies. He was carrying minimal kit with a plan to ride through the night. I was planning on sleeping but who knows when, where or for how long. He asked if I had enough food. That was an easy one - too much! He noted there was another village over the hill with a pub where he'd be having a shandy. I discounted it as I can't drink and race and didn't want to "waste" the time stopping.

He proudly informed me the next climb was 370m which got me shirty as I'd rather not know and my ex- husband used to give me those spoilers all the time but as I set off I thought, I wonder if we climb 370m, or if we just climb * to * 370m? At least my rucsac was refreshingly light, it must have been all the food I had eaten, plus I was wearing all the clothes from my stationary half hour. I looked at the Garmin. Fuck. Average speed: 6 km/hr.

The hill was not awful. It was a relatively major road so had been built for HGVs. At 9pm it had boy racers on but they used the road space and there was no conflict. It was long - the full 370m - but not steep so I could ride the whole thing. I span up it and occasionally flipped up the gears to stand up for a bit. The problem was, I was sweating and got really thirsty and then I drained the last of my water. Damn. Of course that's why my rucsac was light.

I soldiered on a bit then asked myself why I was dying of thirst while carrying around a can of Fanta.

I pulled into a driveway to a managed forest and sat on the dry tarmac to drink my can, my face pointed skywards, I admired millions of twinkling stars and for that moment with the milky way, the traffic stopped and all I could hear was the trickling stream in the valley below my feet.

Over the top I descended like a stone to Llan-something and went in search of Andy and that pub.

The route skirted the village, taking the first left straight out of it so I had to use the OS map to find my way. Inside, friendly faces behind perspex screens brought me a coffee and some chocolate. I shared my concern that our last stop cost me 1 km/hr I filled my water in the washrooms. Dared I say it, there was only "the Gap" to go and then...

"we were on to easier terrain". we dared utter the words.

"No doubt I will see you again," said Andy." Sometime in the middle of the night when I have a sit down and stop to cry for my mummy". Deal.

We headed back into the forest for a while, leading over to Tal y Bont reservoir.  My pace notes restored back to my brain even if my Garmin didn't and I remembered the turns I'd reccied on the map, steering my bike along the trails, down gnarly descents and "tracks" that were nothing more than flattened stretches of grass with trees either side. Reassuringly there weren't just Chris's tyre tracks but 2 other distinct sets of tracks- one fat, one skinny (kudos). I rolled through a carpark previously ID'd in my notes as a potential bivi spot but it was too early for me to stop and that felt good. 

A little commentary here: so I had almost expected to see Landslide in Hay on Wye. He rides faster than me but not a lot so I did think our paths would cross at re-supply.

• • •

I also wondered if I'd see him later. As his first event, he (like me on my first event) planned to get a somewhat reasonable sleep and just finish within the time limit. I had been hoping for a different coloured badge and a sub 30hr finish but without really making many changes to enable that, (taking less shit with me for a lighter ride but a less comfortable-if any-stop), still seemed to be on for scraping through. Of course there was the dwindling hope that I'd speed up on easier terrain on day 2. (my second day is always notoriously shit and slow).

In the pub, Andy and I had discussed the easier terrain in the last 50km - less climbing per km, open moorland tracks except for one long steep climb that was - at least - on the road.

So I had expected to see Landslide's camp by the trail as I passed. I knew he wanted to make the woods before the Gap in time to do the long climb into sunrise and he also had his eye on some shelters on the mountain itself for an excellent sunrise vista in the right conditions.

Andy, on the other hand was chasing 24 hours. He'd started 3 hours later than us so, if I was down on my 30hr schedule, he definitely was down on a 24hrs schedule.

I really didn't expect to see Andy again but still, as I climbed the bridleway up towards Pen y Fan, a little red light blinked high on the hillside ahead. In the beautiful peace of the mountains, the twinkling stars and, later, the gusting winds, I felt distantly connected to at least 2 other human beings, knowing Landslide was snoozing somewhere below. And because I am me, I quietly congratulated myself on gaining a place in the race - if it had been a race.

• • •

After the third gate there's a track to a farm building where people and torches were milling about. One torch approached. I'd not yet turned my exposure light on and had been enjoying just enough glow from my dynamo to see my way without stumbling.

"Hello" Called out a voice. There was a friendly chat about what was going on. "A few mates we're all doing the same route but all at different times". "Oh, cool. Erm, can I ask a favour?".

It was on the tip of my tongue. It was 00:30 on Sunday morning. I'd been riding for 17 hours and my light was dying. "No not really".

It was right there on the tip of my tongue, waiting to roll off. I took the cautious line "What's that then?"

I was expecting a harsh tone, a "stop cycling past my fucking house at midnight", I expected. However, this guy was really concerned.

• • •

They were 2 outdoor leaders (D of E / Scouts, I can't remember) and were waiting for their kids who were over an hour late coming off the mountain. Even more so as they'd been expecting to watch the head torches circumnavigate the clear dark valley for some time first. They had no phone signal where they were parked at the rendezvous so were going to retreat to the main carpark in hope of getting a signal and asked me to keep an eye out and if necessary send comms if the kids needed help or just let them know to walk on down the valley to find their car.

Despite my dwindling light I was happy to do so though slightly disappointed that no one had paper + pen and I had to ditch my rucsac, find my phone and turn it on to take their phone numbers.

When they started to give me the phone number for the lead hiker I had to cut it short. I was getting cold and my brain wasn't up for this. and I can't see my phone screen in my distance glasses at the best of times.

So this is how I spent the whole of the traverse of the biggest, most majestic climb of the route - with my head torch around my neck, staring at the reflections on the mountainside trying to tell the difference between sheep, rabbits or was it the dwindling head torch of a lost boy scout?

In reality, except for the sheep and the bunnies, there was only me and Andy's dwindling red blip in the distance now. I still rejoiced when it disappeared and I knew the downhill was in sight.

The final piece de resistance was the breeze on the summit.

At one point I thought I saw a bivi pitched in the lee of a rock bluff as I stopped to pull on my thick gloves and an extra baselayer but on inspection it was just a shiny rock.

The next valley opened up with the sight of Andy's red light about 2 miles below and a distant fire burning.

The fire distracted me a few times and I almost crashed as I wondered if it was circled by desperate boy scouts singing songs and downing Stella until I came to my senses and decided it was probably a farmer burning English tourists.

• • •

I didn't just feel like I was on the home straight, I was. Maybe I would go sub-30 hours. I made a pact with myself only to check my average speed at the end of long, blinding descents in order to maintain motivation. I was back up to 6.5km/h.

Somewhere after this descent is the visitor centre which a lot of people considered using as a convenient stop. There's a tap but the caf is not open till 10am. Far too much time. I carried on, making my final checks for boy Scouts until I decided it was too far out to hike.

• • •

In hindsight I should have checked in with the leaders but I had no news and I didn't want to jeopardise my own 'warmth' or batteries to fumble with my phone again... and time!

The bridleways here were jumbled and confusing in the dark. Without much light, I generally followed the pink line on my Garmin whilst intermittently finding a track between horse fields and stately homes. In one field a horse charged, suddenly startled by my light. Whether towards me or away-from, I couldn't tell until a split second later when I was still alive, conscious, upright and in no pain.

I thanked it for the adrenaline rush.

• • •

Another public parking area passed in the darkness but I was still awake enough to plough on so I did, knowing that soon I would need to stop just to eat something. It was, after all 6 hours since dinner. How the fuck did that happen? Unfortunately my pace notes indicated nothing more than a series of unimpressive exposed graveyards and a village hall with a tarmac carpark, a porch but a house neighbour in close proximity.

Finally I rolled through a village onto the A40. In my rush to scribble down the petrol station in my pace notes I had completely overlooked the 2* audax hotel (bus stop) across the road. Like all audax hotels that look twee with the presence of ivy growing through the roof, the reality is the mould and moss growing up the walls so the concrete floor is a bit damp and covered in glass shards.

I'd been feeling guilty about not sending a text about the lost boy Scouts so I pulled out my phone and switched it on. Dang it was 3:30am. How did that happen? Still, I didn't like an un-turned stone and reasoned that a scout leader no longer looking for his scouts would have his phone off or on silent at 3:30 am. It was, after all, only 3 hours since he asked a favour at an already unsociable hour.

At first I just lay on the bench to eat my peanut butter sandwich. The crusts were a bit dry so I laid those in my lap for later emergencies. When I woke up from a micro kip, scattering peanut butter crusts everywhere, I decided I was best off having a sleep here so I blew up my mat and pillow, stripped off my waterproof socks and left them on the bench inside out to dry and climbed into my quilt to dry the merino socks off with warmth (I hoped). I'd already decided I would see how my body and brain perform on minimum rest - given this was a one-night event.  I did it before in excellent conditions on the Peak 200 but it'd be interesting to try in cooler climes. 

I set my alarm for 25 minutes time, hoping to wake before my body stiffened up and before my mind had a chance to go into deep sleep, but enough rest to persuade it we had been to sleep for hours. In theory, it's 20 minutes time but I knew I'd spend 5 minutes settling down and gawping at the stars. I wasn't wrong. They were stunning. Also, a couple of road tankers screamed past in the darkness but I remained un­noticed and if any more traffic passed, I slept through it.

At 4:15 I hit the snooze button but thankfully woke again and reapplied my findings from the Travelodge - there's nothing like packing away a sleep bag and air mattress to warm you up. That and an effing big hill. Of course, around the corner was a much better bus stop and a bonafide campsite. I'd even have given the bus stop 3* for its view over the village green instead of the A40 but that's just typical.

My timing was surprisingly perfect. I was coherent through the hill climb. I looked at the map and concluded that the sunrise would appear to my right and then soon convinced myself that the sky was indeed lightening.

It was pretty cold but the upward movement helped me cope. I hit moorland as the first hints of gold appeared in the sky. Black turned to purple. Ochre lines arrived and when the sun did peep between 2 black clouds it illuminated the undersides of the billowing cumulus fog that had risen off Peny Fan over night. I hoped landslide was looking at it, not in it.


• • •

It's a good job the dawn was impressive because the Garmin crashed and blipped multiple times as I crossed from sheep trod to track and back trying to follow the map. Back down the hill and then onto *that* climb that we had looked at on the Garmin screen in the pub 8 hours ago. At least it's on a road, except now the dozies were starting to set in. A lady washing her car asked me if there was a race on. "Just a bunch of mates out on the same course... bla bla".

"I'm so impressed, knowing what this turns into wow!". I stared ominously at the "no through road" sign. I thought it was all road from here! I nodded, said I was tired but I'll just keep going.

• • •

It wasn't so long. I slogged over loose rock, rode through red mud up to my hubs and waded cautiously around bogs (I'd given up on wet waterproof socks and put my dry merino's into only-slightly-damp boots). The presence of a tiny tarn told me this wasn't "The big one" and my tall climb was still to come.

After its initial cattle grid, I could see most of the climb in its enormity so I stopped to remove my warm layers and gloves and eat a faux English breakfast of re-fried beans and saucisson. I lay down to eat again and a steady stream of passing dog walkers did an excellent job of preventing me drifting off into the land of nod. Then it was time to push and eat skittles in the hope that the sugar and E- Numbers would give me the energy boost to keep going.

I stopped at least 4 times to take a micro-kip, standing, leaning on the handlebars with my head on my forearm. Once, I toppled towards the bike and had to throw some shapes to avoid tumbling over it.

Near the top was a grit bin, a lovely big Welsh grit bin. I draipsed across it diagonally, my head resting on the top tube of my bike, helmet peak crunched into my saddle. I turned my wrists towards the warming sun and slept for about 10 minutes. It was amazing.

• • •

A passing car woke me up and I rode out of the climb in confidence, passing the beautiful turn by the quarry at the top then descending through the mine workings below, thanking the dog walkers who waited (a bit too long) to social distance properly from a passing, tired, Trep.

My pleasure at being in Builth Wells was overwhelming. So overwhelming I walked through the empty never-changing 4-way traffic lights and cast all sustainable independent cafes aside in pursuit of the pure unadulterated calorific value of Burger king. It was the right call.

• • •

I locked the bike, got a table, did the Loo then ordered burger, fries, liquid sugar and coffee and sauces for extra sugar and to aid digestion. I got to my table to devour my food and focus my brain on one thing only. "Excuse me. Are you a Walker?". An elderly couple. He was being friendly but I'd just locked my bike to the railing right outside the window from them. I already resented them for sitting in my seat.

"No,That's my bike outside"! I stuck my burger in my mouth.

"Just one more thing"... My shoulders visibly sagged.

"What's that blue tube for?" I didn't need to give him a death store, his wife did it for me.

• • •

I spat burger about in the least Covid-correct socially responsible way." It's a drinking tube - hands free water" I said. Then mumbled "It's vodka really". Then remembered This joke goes down better in the lifts at ski resorts in the Alps." I don't think so!" snorted his wife. I hope she was referring to my slight figure, not the horrifying notion that I should try and steer a heavy bike whilst pissed.

They finally left me in peace, inhaling coffee. Freshly fuelled and caffeinated I had one more interaction to navigate. A little boy on a MTB wanted to know what all the "extra bits" were on my bike. While I explained to dad that it wasn't "one of them bikes that does 60 miles an hour," I tried to engage with the little boy who was particularly captivated by the brooks saddle and jones bars.

• • •

The fuel worked and I set off like a rocket dispensing with many climbs I would previously have been walking, now riding with gusto and even some power in my legs.

Lord knows what goes into BK burgers but it felt like cocaine! (Whatever that feels like). For a while it felt like a little extra on every climb would take me gradually earlier to my arrival at the finish. I was up to 6 Km/hr again after my descent to Builth Wells.

What I wasn't expecting was any more offroad. I kinda knew it was there but after Andy said *that* climb was on the road, I'd put any more puddles to the back of my mind.

• • •

This offroad added insult to injury. First there was the bridleway of turnips. It's impossible to ride near turnips. Forget baby head boulders. Turnips are the solid stools of the devil.

Then there were 5 gates in 50 metres. Each more complicat­ed and evil than the next and stuck in the long grass. I searched desperately for the tyre tracks of my comrades and yes, they were still there in the dewey gas and the occasional mud splash and then there was the plantation.

Tree plantations are my most despised terrain.Tree roots that will slice your leg, branches that slide your crutch (your bike) away from underneath you or trip you up with its shattered splintered bark before you fall, twisting your ankle on another sunken stump. I jabbed at my Garmin screen, begging it to tell me I was off route now - when I needed it most! but no, that pink line ploughed on straight through the middle of the choss.

Thankfully it was only short lived and I carried on my way, everything relatively easy from here.

The last remaining bridleway was a chore more than anything. Streams and puddle dodging (for some reason it was important to finish with dry feet). I'd done all this already, I just wanted to stop now. I wanted that road back to the van - it was flat - right?

• • •

It ran straight west to east so in my head it was flat. Far from it. From the last byway the A44 undulated. Subarus roared and nervous old men pottered by and I just plodded on up. It wasn't so bad but it was rude and then there was a corner and a downhill and another corner and like a big surprise, my own van sitting innocently in a lay by.

I'm a Mancunian and so the first thing you do is stop the Garmin and clock the time then check for smashed windows-nothing. Then you park your bike where you intend to lock it with a big fucking lock while you sleep like the dead until your mate arrives. Then you check for a parking ticket. Nothing.

• • •

I sat in the van for a while. I'd felt cold and exposed since leaving Builth so it was good to be out of the elements. I did my best to get into warm comfy clothes then blew up a thermarest found a pillow and wrapped myself in a dry robe and a blanket. I'd closed my eyes for 10 minutes when Landslide arrived.

Waving goodbye to sleep recovery I shared in his joy at finishing his first event in a respectable 34 hours with 5 hours sleep. I snoozed whilst he dressed "for dinner" and we drove 50m down the road to the Fforest Inn.

They apologised for a limited menu, having being eaten out of many of their options but we didn't mind. After all, we largely knew who had eaten it.

• • •

Much to our joy, Andy arrived along with 2 friends who had also kept Landslide company yesterday.

It's a shame we didn't have the opportunity to catch up further but a 4 hour drive lay ahead inclusive of motorway services sleep stops to compliment the micro kips of earlier in the day. The last stop being only 40 miles from home when my motorway speed dropped sufficiently to warrant us stopping so I was capable of driving at 70 again. I threw Landslide out of the car at home as another driver waited patiently for us to unload the bike then I went home and poured myself into a shower at midnight.

• • •

Wrap up

I know I could have done this ride faster with less weight on board.

I carried a ridiculous quantity of food so this is me packing my / fears. Burger king demonstrated just how slow I go when I'm empty and ironically none of the food I was carrying was cutting it - from salty carbs to sugar or protein. I think I might need to start carrying potato products. Is there such thing as potato deficiency?

• • •

But I am immensely pleased to have completed the ride at all, given the elevations, difficult terrain and impen­ding doom of Lockdown II. Whilst I could have rested for 3 hours and still got a green badge, I enjoyed the peace and solitude of the night & if I can sit-out and enjoy the stars without freezing, I call those excellent conditions. After a few dark moments of thinking I might jack it all in, I spoke with Andy back at the pub. He had been 6 hours slower than previous years. 6 hours off my time is something I'd be very proud of. Getting in the same time as Andy's mates & Landslide, I realise I can now do this stuff at the same pace as at least some of the boys-which is a massive improvement, even if I do have to ride through the night to do it. I'm no longer sneaking in by the skin of my teeth.

• • •

Most importantly except for the occasional pedal- mash, saddle bruises (I never did adjust it) and few dark moments like the 5 gates in 50 metres and the turnips, I completely enjoyed it. I missed the camaraderie, friendship and cake of a group start but was more than thankful for the opportunity to ride in an area much further south in Wales than I have ventured for approximately 20 years and the Brecon were more strikingly beautiful than I remember them.

Since I finished this ride the Welsh borders have closed to visitors. I feel lucky to have 'risked' the forecast and followed a seriously wet weekend with soft conditions hungover from the week before. Lucky because it paid off: played for and won. I very much hope the situation is resolved soon so more people can get out there and finish this absolute beast of a ride.

• • •

Whatever you do though, don't forget your head torch and don't pack too many snacks.

Trepid Explorer made it into work by 9 am Monday morning but then, it was only up the stairs. She fell asleep once during her safety meeting.

Landslide is recovering well and has mostly managed to get his kids to school on time.

The boy scouts were found safe and well in the woods somewhere near Landslide's overnight bivi spot.

The flip flops were re-lost somewhere on the hike a bike in the woods - keep an eye out for them.  Finders keepers, or return them to Landslide.


Lars Henning said...

Haha, highly amusing. I'm glad I am not the only one to make playful remarks to silly questions when I am hangry and exhausted! On second thought, vodka might have actually helped!

Trepid Explorer said...

Next time I'm thinking of responding, "the Borg does not appreciate your question.