Between Two Stools: Sam Weller’s Day Trip To Wochma 2014

In the days before the second Blacksheep event of the year, the weather provided much cause for discussion. The forecasts variously promised ice, snow, torrential downpours and gale-force winds. Some suggested that this might create some photogenic moments as we crossed the M48 bridge with a side wind gusting to 60mph. Several riders heard of the impending sky-tantrum and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. To be honest, if it had been as bad as the early predictions, I probably would’ve gone back to bed. By Friday night the outlook was much less apocalyptic and in the morning things were dry and before long, bright.

In trying to get as much sleep as possible, I arrived at the start a bit late. By the time I’d done my usual pre-ride faffing, the main groups had disappeared. They were probably only 5 minutes ahead of me, but with the side/headwind I knew catching them would be really hard. I had a vague plan to make sure I was part of a group during the full-on headwind section from Wormelow to Chepstow. So I worked to catch up.

The elisive James Gillies riding fixed.

The elusive James Gillies riding fixed.

First I caught up with Wobbly, who was riding at a much more sensible pace than me. I hung around for a brief chat before pushing on. It wasn’t long before the sun came up and contrary to expectations, we would actually see it and enjoy some good views.

The fast pace turned with my heart rate regularly in zone 4 was probably a mistake. I managed to catch up with a faster group: Jo, Peter and David at the Wormelow control, but only managed to gasp a greeting before they moved off.

Looking back on hills from the Monmouthshire border.

Looking back on hills from the Monmouthshire border.

Now I was tired and without a group to share the wind. Next time I will get out of bed a little earlier. Another tip for the anti-blunder checklist.

The climbs were tough and the descents not much better with the headwind, but the scenery only got better as we rode into Monmouth and down the Wye valley through Tintern.

Bridge at Monmouth

Bridge at Monmouth

Fortunately, the route had been planned for this time of year and very few large puddles were encountered.

The Wye Valley with flood plains.

The Wye Valley with flood plains.

Somewhere down the Wye valley I managed to catch a ride with Bairdy and co, which was a great relief.

More of the Wye valley.

More of the Wye valley.

In Chepstow I chatted with a few other riders, and had a couple of cakes as my kit dried on the radiator. Refreshed, I set off feeling new strength in my legs. Those cakes must’ve done the job, I was flying along! As I turned a corner I soon realised that this wasn’t as a result of some new-found wonder-cake, but the tailwind that I’d been waiting for all morning.

North (leeward) side of M48 bridge and river Severn.

North (leeward) side of M48 bridge and river Severn.

Fortunately on the North side of the bridge the cycle track is wide and somewhat sheltered by the raised roadway. Having been apprehensive about this I relaxed and even hopped a small ramp at the far end of the bridge, just as the carriageway lowered and a huge gust of wind threw me sideways. I only just regained control in time to fit through the narrow gate and off the bridge. I expect if I check my Strava log I’ll see a bit of a jump in my HR there!

Malmesbury high street.

Malmesbury high street.

The rest of the ride was comparatively easy, plenty of climbing, but with legs that weren’t worn out from the constant battle against the wind. Several flatter sections were delightfully fast as the road aligned with the prevailing wind.

I didn’t see any other riders after Chepstow, but I’m sure many of them will have been grinning at the effortless speed the wind provided. It may have been a lonely end to the ride, but it was still enjoyable. I caught a spot of rain toward the end of the day, but many more hours of sunshine. Pretty good weather for February and another great route.

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