Up early, did all of the leave the house all alone admin and cracked on. A bright sunny day no less!
113 miles to kill, I was around 18 years old the last time I did this journey, with my brother on iron framed, steel wheeled “racing bikes” with Sturmey Archer hub gears. It had taken us 12 hours!
I wanted to get through Kidderminster before the traffic kicked off, the ring road there can be pretty dicey having pedalled it recently. Mission accomplished no cars at all, then the toughest climb of the journey, thankfully very early in. The climb out of Kidderminster, past Shatterford, towards Bridgenorth. While it did seem to go on forever and have more false summits than I recalled, it didn’t pose much of a challenge. Get in an easy gear and spin. It did seem the only hazard was going to be motorbikes. While the vast majority were riding sensibly there were a very small few who I had no doubt I’d see again probably being scraped off the tarmac and into a body bag. I’m a motorcyclist myself and I can assure you they were being very carefree with their existence!
The next stage of the journey that was of some concern to me was the climb out of the Severn Valley towards Moreville, but it was early in the journey and again I seemed to get up it no problems at all. Things were looking good!
I chose to stop about 32 miles in for my jam sandwiches and a good drink, again the motorbikes whizzing past me while I was eating were starting to worry me, a group of about a dozen roared past, all the bikes were litre sports bikes, Kwaks, Yammys, Susies and a Ducati, absolutely flying, and this is on a twisty turny B road. The other thing bugging me was a cheeky little head wind, just strong enough to be noticed and to be an impedance.
Onwards then, the next stop I’d scheduled in was at Churchstoke to meet my folks for lunch as they were driving from Tywyn to Birmingham Airport to fly out for their cruise. I was looking forward to that. I don’t see them enough!
It was through Craven Arms a small market town in Shropshire then turn off towards Newtown which would take me through Churchstoke for the lunch stop. This was a drag, Churchstoke didn’t seem to getting any nearer, but the bonus was the scenery, Long Mynd was looking good as was the surrounding hills of the Marches.
At last Churchstoke. I parked up to wait and was immediately taken up in conversation by a fellow cyclist riding a Tourer with panniers. He was clearly a regular cyclist as he was built like one. Not an ex rugby player trying to be a cyclist like me. Then when he told me used his bike a trailer and panniers to move house due to a divorce, I knew I was definitely speaking to a hard core pedaller. He seemed to be impressed with my journey and was keen to know how it was going and how a big lad like me was coping with the trip. He then spied my Crud Roadracers and was very interested to know how they were in general use, not only was he interested he started to dismantle them to see how they worked! A bit cheeky I thought, but he stuck them back ok so know harm done.
He went on his way and I got a phone call off Mom saying they were late and not even in Newtown yet, so the unanimous decision was that I cracked on. I had a sandwich and a bottle of Lucozade, refilled my water bottles and set off. 10 minutes down the road they passed me! Obviously Mom’s renowned sense of direction was operating at its usual lack of efficiency!
A bit down the road after seeing Mom and Dad drive past I stopped at the “Welcome to Wales” sign for a piccie, and a cyclist stopped to ask if I was ok and needed assistance, he is visible in the photo if you look down the road, he was absolutely gob smacked when he got the answer to the question “How far are you going today?” That chuffed me a bit!
This was when the ride got hard, the trip to Newtown up Kerry Ridge was not great, but it was paid back in a brilliant descent into Newtown. That was my best speed, that of 42mph. The cars kept a respectable distance behind me and didn’t try to overtake, which was nice.
Newtown was rammed, loads of traffic lights with caravans, campervans and cars all heading home. All going nowhere fast. Not me, I was up the middle of the road and through the hold ups in no time. I was tired now though.
The stretch out of Newtown to Talerddig (dd in Welsh is pronounced th) was horrible, I had to stop at Caersws for quick 10 minutes rest and a drink. It was a steady climb to Talerddig and this was when my morale started to take a bit of a hit. I was always thinking about calling wifey for a lift, getting a taxi a bus or even a train. On Bank Holiday Monday, yeah right! But I kept turning those fat old legs.
I eventually, (after what seemed like and age), got to the Dyfi River. I vividly remember taking time out with my brother by the side of this river at this very spot back in the 80s, so it seemed right to uphold the tradition and do the same. I needed the rest. Just chilling out here was the right thing to do. A whole water bottle was quaffed and I enjoyed watching the Trout swimming below me and wished there was a way to carry my fishing tackle on my bike.
By now at about a 100 miles in my legs were starting to cramp, my calves mainly but my Hams also were letting me know of their presence at regular intervals. I got to thinking that pedalling a 113 miles for a 46 year old fat bloke who weighs between 16 – 17 stone wasn’t such a good idea. But I knew now I would see it through. It was the estuary road from Machynlleth to Aberdyfi with the last little haul up the side of the estuary. Granny ring, lowest gear was the order of the day as I churned up it at 8mph, I was now running on instinct. Legs turn, let’s get there. Footage below of the Estuary part of the ride.
Aberdyfi was looking good, but it was heaving with Bank Holiday tourists, again the bike was the way through. 4 miles to go, coastal headwind, rolling topography wasn’t the best way to finish, I was officially in bits, then I saw Tywyn looking very close, but I knew it wasn’t as close as it seemed, another 15 minutes, the longest of my life was needed to finish.
Turn left at the Talyllyn Railway, a freewheel down the road and my pain was at end. What an epic.
According to my Cycle computer the stats were as follows:
Distance 114.83 miles
Ride time 7 hours 49 minutes 43 seconds
Average speed 14.6 mph
Fastest speed 42.9mph
It was funny, I had to really think about the journey after the event as I’m struggling to remember details. It all in retrospect seemed to fly by without incident, but clearly that’s the mind playing tricks! But, I doubt with my current circumstances that I’ll ever do that kind of distance again. A real milestone for me.
I had a bit of a broken night’s sleep due to cramp in the legs, I did stretch off yesterday when I came back and hydrated and ate well, but it seemed the distance I’d done had had a bit of a negative effect on me. Yeah, no shit…
I decided that a recovery ride was the order of the day, I knew a pretty flat route around the Dysinni Estuary, through Bryncrug and around Bird Rock. I’d guessed it would roughly be about 9 – 10 miles. Wrong. 15 miles of beautiful pedalling through the lanes of Gwynedd later and I was back at the folk’s bungalow.
Again the sun was out and all was right with the world, a really enjoyable ride. Wifey did comment on what happened to the half an hour pedal? But it was worth the hour out as it did me a power of good.
The rest of the day was spent on the beach, Fay and Dan in the sea body boarding and me and wifey chilling out, taking the rays and generally monging out, wonderful.
Wifey has just produced a wonderful chicken curry for tea and we’re settling down to a nice bottle of vino now the Spawn of Satan is in bed, I could get used to holidays!
Back on the beach this morning, down at Broadwater. Kids doing kids stuff, adults chilling again! Works for me.
The afternoon was spent at the bungalow sunbathing in the garden as the kids were all beached out. I got some serious Ipod time in. A rarity for me these days.
A good day!
Tomorrow the mountains are calling and I’ll answer them! Via my Marin of course…
Day 3 MTB ride…
This pedal over the mountains behind Machynlleth and Aberdyfi was the personal target that I’d set myself since I started this fat to thin by bike thing back in June last year. If you read my first Blog I said about getting back into Snowdonia, this was the route I had in mind while writing that. For me it was a really big deal, a kind of marker of progress and a small insight into my biking and fitness future. Forget about the 2 road 100s and other road miles, they’re about getting fitter, I’m a MTBer, this is what I’m about.
I’d last pedalled this exact same route back in 2000 with my mate Wilksee and it was my last “proper” MTB ride on proper mountains. I knew it was a big deal as there were some crippling ascents and very technical surfaces to negotiate. Was I fit enough? Last time it had nearly done for me, would the last year of towpath bashing, city commuting and English Hills be enough to prepare me for Snowdonia?
There was a nice little warm up on the road to get to the start of the trail behind Bryncrug. I started climbing at about 0700hrs. I knew that there was an hour and 15 minutes of off road climbing to get to the top. This was on rocky, muddy, flooded and Landrover rutted trails too. Maybe I was being over ambitious. I’m not that far off 47 years old and am still obese. The first 10 minutes were murder! What was I doing?
I resolved that I was going to pedal it all, even if I kept stopping for a rest. At least it would give me plenty of photo opportunities and to take in the stunning scenery. Of which there was plenty. Southern Snowdonia is a bit of a secret in MTB circles (outside of trail centres like Coed – y – Brenin which is not too far away), it hasn’t got the rugged grandeur or gigantic elevation of the North, but it is just as challenging and as full of natural unspoilt beauty. I ain’t really a trail centre person anyway, I like wilderness and solitude.
The route just went up and up and up. It got rockier and rockier and rockier. It was tougher than I remembered, or was it age and unfitness? I did take plenty of pictures (read have a rest) and really took it steady, I couldn’t have gone any quicker anyway!
Just when I thought the trail couldn’t get any steeper or rockier, it got steeper and rockier, I tried to pedal it, I really did, but I just ran of skill and spun out on a wet rocky surface and toppled over, I couldn’t get back on and pedal again despite 3 failed attempts so my “pedal all of it” resolution went crashing back down the valley and I walked until the trail got easier. I consoled myself with the thought that if I recalled correctly me and Wilksee walked this bit 10 years ago too. footage of the pedal below.
By this time I was well above the tree line and the sun was just starting to peek up past the mountain ahead and I knew that once the light flooded down the valley behind me then there would be a truly staggering sight. I wasn’t wrong. The myriad shades of green, the purple heather and varying shades of grey on the granite outcrops, all with Cardigan Bay as a beautiful blue grey background took my breath away. This was a sandwich stop if ever I saw one. With just a couple of curious sheep for company I had my breakfast and a good guzzle from my Camelbak.
Blatant nick below from Bruce at Coastrider fame…
Now I knew that ahead it was for this trail, fairly level, but this was when the flooded paths started to come into play. By flooded I meant above the hubs flooded and with the bottom of the “river” totally invisible, rocks or tyre sucking mud could be lurking there just waiting to catch you out.
As you only get wet once, then you may as well get it over with, I rode the first flood of about 30 metres without any dramas, just with the inevitable soaking, so what, it was warm and sunny, enjoy the cooling water I say!
After about 4 or 5 of these “rivers” to negotiate the downhill started, granite outcrops, shale, streams crossing the trail and mud all to be ridden before the bottom down by the village of Pennal. But the “rivers” had one last booby trap for me.
After the first descent the trail levelled out and the longest “river” so far was in front of me. For some reason I didn’t like the look of this one so I tried to find a route around, there wasn’t one, so man up Chapman and get on with it!
I took a run at it, kept in a reasonably easy gear to keep spinning and just work my way through, then the path below my front tyre dropped and I was caught in water as deep as the front wheel in very cloying mud! I tried to keep going but I hadn’t got the strength to turn the pedals the mud was that sticky. I ground to a halt and toppled sideways to my left. I’m sure it would have looked very funny to anyone watching, but as I’d guessed, I was the only person up here, I hadn’t seen a soul since I rode off the main road at Bryn Crug. I dragged myself out of the water along with my bike which was being held onto by the mud and just waded to the end of the “river”, what a bugger! No harm done though.
The next descent was the real yahoo though, over a firm surface of gravel, ruts, berms on the bends and errant sheep! It was fabulous fun, although very knackering, as anyone who has done a very fast lengthy off road descent will tell you. Out of the saddle, feet level, arms and legs as human suspension, (the best kind) and concentrating very hard on the trail in front. I even got in a few small jumps over some small boulders, what a blast. It was just as well I had front disc brakes as there was a closed farm gate just around a bend that I hadn’t remembered! That could have been interesting with V brakes!
Onto the lane now, the first mountain stage over, but what a lane! A full on downhill to Pennal that got me to 45 mph on my full suss Marin. And that was just coasting!
A small bit of main road then off to the next crippling ascent to the Bearded Lake. It started off on tarmac and a local guy who I said good morning to, laughed at me when I said I was going to the Bearded Lake and shouted at me to “get in your lowest gear now!”
I was disconcerted by that for some reason as I couldn’t remember this bit of the ride from 10 years ago at all. Ah well I’ll soon find out! Just around the bend I saw what the local guy had meant. A tarmac wall stretched out before me, and some local wag had made a sign saying “first gear” and nailed it to a wrecked trailer. I could have done with a gear lower than first gear, although I pedalled this bit, it was at the mind numbingly slow speed of 3mph, I’m sure I could have walked it quicker. I was delighted to see a gate ahead as that meant I could stop this agonising battle with the tarmac wall.
Through the gate and it was now a forestry section, again uphill but at least I could see where the tree line ended which meant the trail would only get harder.
(The picture above is a bit of rock with a hoof shaped cut out in it. Local legend has it that King Arthur and his horse left the print when he was riding across the valley from the mountain of Cadar Idris during some battle or other).
It did get harder, added on to the fact that the sun was really starting to come in to effect and again I had second thoughts as to the wisdom of me doing this ride just over a year on from being 22 stones 4Ibs! But the top of this particular climb was nearly in view. As were the panoramas over the Dyfi Estuary and south down the coast line past Borth, Aberystwyth, Newquay and beyond. To the North the Lleyn Peninsular was easily visible as were the Mountains of Northern Snowdonia all preceded by my area’s largest mountain that of Cadir Idris. Just magnificent. And this is why I love wilderness Mountain Biking. And this is why this route is so close to my heart, it has everything you could want out of MTBing in Britain. Ok at 20 miles it isn’t the longest, but with a bit of map reading you can lengthen it or shorten it easily to suit your fitness, ability or time constraints. Perfect.
What can I say? The general wisdom is that every great ride should end with a screaming descent, and this route has it in spades, from the farm at the top of the valley all the way down into Aberdyfi, you don’t have to pedal much at all and with Cardigan Bay spreading out in front it’s one for the memory banks. Ok, I lied a bit about the finish as I had a road pedal of 4 miles to Tywyn, but Aberdyfi is a good place to finish with its Tea Shops, pubs and cafes, plus a terrific sea view I always classed the ride as finishing there.
So, I’m back pedalling in the mountains after a 10 year gap. What a waste. If ever I knew why I wanted to get fit, and why I hated myself while I wasn’t, then this ride just underlines everything. It wasn’t fast, at just under 4 hours and with my off, it certainly wasn’t technically accomplished but I’m back as full on MTBer.
When I sat at the top having my sandwiches and soaking in the view I again tried to think why I stopped pedalling and again, even with the inspiration of the mountains, I failed to find one. It’s quite emotional actually, (well for me) that all I could think of while surrounded by Wales in all its glory was what might have been. How many times would I have pedalled this route if hadn’t been for my morbid obesity, what other routes, maybe even better than this one, have I missed and may never see when I was young enough to really enjoy them?
All I can do in reality is just crack on and make up for lost time on my bike. Maybe I’ll never find the answers I’m looking for, but up there in the mountains is a good a place as any to find them. Up the top of another Snowdonia Mountain there may lie my epiphany.
When I returned from my pedal I abluted had a sarnie and a coffee and me and the family got our arses down to the Talyllyn Railway. It’s a narrow guage railway, an ex slate quarry route and one of the “great little trains of Wales.” Conveniently it’s just a 5 minute walk from my folk’s bungalow.
We decided to do the whole route to Nant Gwernol and back. Stopping at the village of Abergwynolwyn below the final station for a pint or 3 of real ale at the appropriately named Railway pub and let the kids do their stuff over the swing park while we enjoyed the general ambiance. Nice.
At the appointed hour we jumped on the last train home, back in time for tea and tea and medals. The tea in this case was an Indian take away. The one promised dodgy grub session of the holiday. And it was great. Just for the record I had a mixed kebab, a chilli chicken balti with a garlic naan bread, oh, and a popadom or 2!
A bit of a quiet day today, retail therapy for the females in Aberystwyth, then getting some post MTB ride admin done (bike cleaning) and spending a couple of hours on the beach.
A bit of grocery shopping in Tywyn this morning, plus a bit of homemade ice cream at the Porthgwyn Stores, then crabbing in Aberdyfi in the afternoon. Dan and Fay caught loads.
It was something we used to do as a family when I was a kid. Get a fishing line, some fat from the butchers up Copperhill Street, tie it to a piece of slate, then chuck it in and drag them up! You never get one big enough to keep and eat, but the kids (and parents) love it! Me and my brother used spend many an hour there as lads crabbing. Just brilliant. It proves simple is best.
Drove round to the other side of Broadwater to go hunting for mussels for the starter for Sunday dinner, loads of rock pools to explore, got enough for a half decent portion each!
Weather is typical Welsh weather today, very windy, very wet. It’s the wind down to home tomorrow, start packing, start rebuilding Mom and Dad’s place from the cruel attentions of the Spawn of Satan and generally get home type admin done.
Probably bimble around Tywyn’s Monday Market today if it’s on. Can’t quite remember when it stops during the holiday season. It might be a last minute alternative plan and we’ll blast around Corris Craft Centre so the girls can get pressies.
Weather rained today for the first time too. Can’t moan though.
Get packing, get tidying, get rebuilding, then set off home at 1700hrs after a photo session at Aberdyfi…