Well that was an adventure!
Many thanks to Ritchie and the legion of helpers, not just for all the food and patience, but for keeping and returning the kit I sleepily forgot after the BC!
I opted for lots of shortcuts from the recommended route, even though most of them meant more climbing. On my own through Devauden and Raglan, after which I met others and followed a friendly Dulwich chap through Abergavenny. Take the scenic quieter road through Boughrood? Boughrood not to! Very impressed by the service at the Honey Cafe. They were ready for us! Took the left at Rhyader, long slow climb through the Elan valley, legs starting to ache now, but loved every minute of it. Zipping down the other side I heard a flap-flap-flap and thought “Oh what bit of my clothing/bag has got loose now?” I turned around to check and saw I was being followed by a helicopter. Ah. Loved the road and green valleys through to Devil’s bridge, the climb was a bit of a grind, but what a wonderful road surface. After Devil’s bridge another wonderful view into the valley to the right, before plunging into it and back onto the main route towards Aberystwyth. Immediately beset by cars, about 1/3rd of them passing way too close, one bloke yelled something out of the window. I couldn’t make it out, but I guess it wasn’t “Allez-vous”. I forgot to do Bairdy’s big smile and wave, but will try that next time.
At Tre’r ddol, another helping of beans with a veggie breakfast, possibly not a good idea as my stomach got grumpy. Went slowly for a bit and it seemed to settle down. Kept seeing the same faces, but was basically doing my own thing and riding alone most of the time. Got hot and bothered on the climb after Tal-y-llyn (another great view), encouraged to see I wasn’t the only one. The traffic was queuing behind us with a lorry struggling to overtake. Gave them a wave of thanks for their patience. At King’s I nearly missed the sharp little left turning, then was in the wrong gear for the steep climb to the YHA (yes, it’s my first time there). I really needed some food, but my stomach was still negotiating with the cooked breakfast from 2 hours earlier, so I only managed the soup and a little cake. Nice to chat with a couple of people as much of the day had been lonely.
Set off again on my own taking the shortest possible route to Menai. I know the coast route is beautiful, but I was in a just-get-round mood and besides I’ll be seeing it again in 3 weeks on another 600. So I slowly ground up the A470 thinking about how great it would be to come down it later. At Maentwrog I took another hilly shortcut through Rhyd. That was the 1:6 hill, but not for long. Soon I was passing deep little wooded valleys and could hear and sometimes see streams running below. Later I rode alongside a secluded little lake surrounded by trees. I had completely missed this a year ago when I’d ridden this road as it was in the dark. Feeling lazy, I took the left at Beddgelert. It may not have been Pen-y-pass, but the scenery was still stunning. By now I was feeling really rough, it was partly the relentless climb, plus it felt like the food I’d eaten earlier hadn’t really got through, so was hindering me instead of helping. The last bit to Menai bridge was a bit of a slog, then after a brief stretch on a shady cycle path I took a wrong turn and plunged down to the harbour. Nice to look at, but I had to climb back up for the bridge. Hospitality at Menai was wonderful and the rice pudding went down nicely. I often think I might bounce a control, but when I get there I often stay for a bit.
Happily I met up with a chap from Swindon called Allan and we decided to ride back to King’s together. A bit of company in the dark seemed like a good thing. I was chilly when I set off so had trouble keeping up until I warmed up. We hugely enjoyed the descent back into Beddgelert which Allan called “the best descent of the day” and there was some competition! He was also keen to do my hilly detour through Rhyd and leapt out of the saddle as the hill started. I warned him that it went on for at least ten minutes. We relaxed a little and got to the top still able to chat and saw the lights of (probably) Porthmadog to our right. I took the lead for the descent, both of us again grateful for my cheap but bright cree headlight. We were starting to get cold now, but knew there was, yes, another long climb ahead, so agreed to stop at the top to put on jackets, shoe covers, etc. That turned out to be the right plan. As we stopped in a layby a police car pulled up and asked us the now-familiar “What’s with all the cyclists?” question. He seemed happy enough with our response, scribbled Audax on his hand and we went on our way. In spite of all the extra layers we did get a bit cold. But it was gentle enough to keep pedalling which helped. Back at King’s we were ready for the turning and in the right gear this time. The climb seemed particularly cruel at that time of night with nearly 400km done, but we made it. I tried a bit more food but didn’t really feel hungry. What felt really good was a proper shower after which I was ready for bed.
However, when our room was woken up only 1.5 hours later we were all pretty grumpy, having been hoping for 3 hours. At first we thought it was raining, but it was actually just the babbling of the stream nearby. I forced down a little toast and cereal and sat around until it got light, hoping I’d feel refreshed at some point. After a couple of hours of nibbling I persuaded myself to get moving. It wasn’t raining much, the sky wasn’t black anymore and James Blair was just setting off. We chatted for a bit, then as the rain got real I stopped to put my jacket on. I slightly regret not using the waterproof trousers I carried all the way around, but I was concerned about overheating on the upcoming climb and I didn’t want to stop again in a few moments to take them off. Funny how you end up in these silly dilemmas about apparently-trivial clothing choices.
We were caught by Allan and there was much to-and-fro on the climbs and due to the aforementioned clothing faff. The highlight of this section for me was the descent after Cross Foxes. Steep at first, but what a long run-out. Amazing. I was a bit cautious in the wet, but it was great fun! I took my next little detour through Pandy. The first bit was steep-up-and-down gravel as promised, but when I got to the top it was wide, smooth and straight for several miles and I soon picked up speed. I’d lost touch with the others by this point, so I’m not sure whether it was faster, but I was just happy to get off the main road. The rest of the way to Aberhafesp seemed to drag on and I was feeling both hungry and full at the same time. Service at the school was friendly and had some food. Stomach was now in a really bad mood, so I decided to wait for a bit. Resting my head on the table I fell asleep. Not sure how long for, but when I looked up there were different people around me. I noticed rougher road surfaces as we re-entered England and arrived at Weobley, where I bought some anti-acid tablets and an ice-cream. Much better! The painful burps stopped and within an hour my energy had come back. It was as if I’d finally digested the last 24 hours-worth of food. I’m pretty sure that’s not possible, but that’s how it felt. Maybe it helped that the sun was coming out and the weather just kept getting better.
The climb from Dolfor was long and tedious, but very much worth it for the tailwind across the top and another glorious descent, minding the hairpins, carrying the momentum pretty much all the way into Knighton. I’d been doubting my last shortcut, up Lanshay lane to the Spaceguard Centre, but I was now in a much better mood, so went for it. I sweated quite a bit and maybe it slowed me down more than going around, but I’m glad I did it.
From then things got better. Sure, my back side was sore and my legs were a bit achy, but I felt somehow more energetic than before. I didn’t exactly fly up the Llancloudy climb, but I was a minute and a half quicker than a 200km ride last year. But then there was Tintern. Probably no harder than previous climbs, but I’d kind of had enough and just wanted to get back. A nice descent, but by now I’d been spoiled by Wales. On the outskirts of Chepstow I misread the routesheet and made, I think, my only wrong turn. I should’ve known better as I did roughly know where I was going. Not much time lost, but was a bit annoyed at myself.
Lovely relaxing in the garden of the Bulwark centre at the end. Thanks again to the organisers and many helpers and to all who kept me company along the way. A day later I’m just about starting to look forward to the next ride…