Episode 17:- Across Wales & Back In A Weekend – pt1

Welsh sheep. Typical of the sights you see during the Bryan Chapman memorial ride.

04:48 on Saturday, 19 May 2018 Bryan Chapman Memorial

  • Distance:- 610.73km
  • Moving Time:-29:42:38
  • Elevation:- 8,488m
  • Estimated Avg Power:- 137W
  • Energy Output:-14,600kJ
  • Average Speed:- 20.6km/h
  • Max Speed:- 79.2km/h
  • Elapsed Time:- 40:30:04
Bryan Chapman route
Bryan Chapman route map

#RideForSohoKids

#Bryan Chapman Memorial

I survived. I made it round… but it had to start somewhere…

It was a glossy promo video that hooked me. Hard men and hard women on beautiful artisan racing bicycles powering through the rugged Welsh countryside, suffering horrendously in adverse conditions, while looking suitably pained and weathered. Could I do this? Could I ride across Wales from south to north and back again, all within a 40-hour window? I so want to be like these chiselled warriors when I grow up…

Making it public

A two-day-long bike ride is not easy to commit to, let alone schedule. For a while, I’d repeatedly threatened to do a charity bike ride someday; only to be told, ‘Stop talking and do it!’ So, at a get-together in Soho Parish, my children’s primary school, inspiration struck. I came out with it, much to the astonishment of everyone, including my bemused life partner. I announced I would ride across Wales and back in a weekend to raise money for Soho Parish School.

Ride for Soho kids fundraising poster.
Ride For Soho Kids

This would kill two birds with one stone: fulfill my dream of being a hard man, while at the same time do a charity bike ride. #WinWin. I needed to organize a little before I could start asking for sponsors. So, I strung together a few words, and with help from talented friends and came up with a flyer and a poster. Finally, I set up a giving page. Even the hashtag was obvious: #RideForSohoKids. It was game on!

The Bryan Chapman Memorial sees me riding my bike 373 Miles (600km) across Wales from south to north and back again taking in Snowdonia in 40 hours. The route requires I push my bike up 8000+ meters or over 5 Miles skyward; almost the height of Everest.

Excerpt from text promoting the #RideForSohoKids cause

What makes you think you can do it?

Over the years, I’ve become very different from the teen I used to be. Apparently, with time passing, you rely more on ‘slow-twitch muscles.’ This means I’m now more suited to longer endurance riding. My weakness is that I’m almost useless at going uphill! The highest elevation I’ve climbed in a single ride to date is around 14 thousand feet. During this 300+ miler, I will be climbing twice that amount; a real challenge for me.

There is no easy fix when it comes to preparing for this epic. Riding your bike lots is essential.

This ride is a ‘thing’ in the ultra-endurance cycling community. Scheduled early in the year to test early-season fitness, it’s an unsupported solo ride targeting avid cyclists looking to stretch their limitations. The story goes that whenever Welsh cyclist Bryan Chapman wanted to have something special done to his bike, he used to ride across Wales from south to north to visit the one bike mechanic he could trust for the work. According to the best intel, this was the route he took. Since his passing, people undertake this ride as a tribute to him.

The decision was made by my loved ones that I would drive the car from London to the start at the Severn Bridge, despite me planning to ride there.

I figured having one of my cycling buddies do this alongside me might provide some essential moral support. So, I posted encouraging noises on ‘the internet of cycling things’. A few foolhardy souls in my ‘circles’ mumbled that they would consider it. In the end, only Alex, a reliable ride buddy of old, was serious about taking on the challenge. So, we made plans.

Chapman training and prep

There is no easy fix when it comes to preparing for this epic. Riding your bike lots is key. Doing so over several months and years, as I have, is also beneficial. Not being a natural climber, I decided to incorporate a little hill climb training on Swain’s Lane, the only hill in London near me. I religiously stuck to it for several weeks but suspect it wasn’t all that helpful…

  • The brute that's Swain's Lane in London.
  • View taken on Swain's Lane during my Bryan Chapman training.
  • Nursery as you crest Swain's.
  • Swain's Lane cemetery gates where I did hill reps in preparation the Bryan Chapman Memorial
  • Front door of designer house on Swains Lane.
  • The Flask, for post Bryan Chapman training respite.

Knowing yourself; what to eat and drink, how to take rest, being familiar with your bike, clothing, and equipment — is vital. Researching what you’re getting yourself into and heeding the advice of those who have achieved it before is a good idea as well. One of the tips was to carry an ’emergency space blanket’, which led to me spending countless hours scouring central London, only to end up paying over the top for a ‘two for one’ deal on a couple of tiny packets of chrome-finished, folded material that weighed next to nothing. And I’m very glad I did. I wonder if Bryan Chapman himself went to all this trouble? Better safe than sorry!

Eventually, I drive into the car park at 10:30pm instead of 8pm and pull on the handbrake outside the guest house.

Being vegan and knowing I was headed for remote areas, I felt it would be wise to prepare some backup ride food to take with me. I had trialled some homemade raw food bars – flax seeds, oats and a handful of sultanas whizzed in a blender, then pressed and cut into shapes to create tasty, fresh, sweet, high-protein, and high-carb energy bars. So, I knocked some up in case I got stuck.

The Severn bridge from the window of The Old Ferry guest house before the Bryan Chapman Memorial.
The Severn bridge from the window of The Old Ferry guest house.

The decision was made by my loved ones that I would drive the car from London to the start at the Severn Bridge, despite me planning to ride there. For most of us, if you have the space, you’ll fill it. Being no different from most, I shoved a backpack together with far too much other stuff into that cavernous boot space — I actually took a large can of oil and a tube of grease!!!! :-o. I’d never do that normally! I also took a sleeping bag to grab some shut-eye in the car, then fueled up with the petrol I needed, and was off…

Getting to the start (of the Bryan Chapman) on time

It’s the Friday evening before the 6am start and I had been late in setting off. Earlier we confirmed we’d meet in The Old Ferry guest house car park. I had planned to grab some sleep in the car somewhere near the guest house, which Alex had booked himself into, then ride 6 miles with him in the morning to the official route start and see how things unfolded.

It was with much relief and not a little amusement that I found Alex sitting in the car park calmly smoking his final cigarette before bed. I know, don’t ask!

The usually reliable Google maps had almost guided me to Wales, when it went completely AWOL. I missed the M48 turnoff to Chepstow and practically drove into Cardiff before pulling over at a petrol station to find the mobile data to the phone had somehow switched itself off. This left me so behind schedule that I became worried I was jeopardising Alex’s challenge, by keeping him up late and denying him sleep. Once I’d managed to sort out my phone and reconnect the mobile data, I could communicate with him, get directions and find my way to the Old Ferry rendezvous; fittingly located at the very base of the old Severn Bridge. Eventually, I drove into the car park at 10:30pm instead of 8pm and pulled on the handbrake outside the guest house.

According to a sign on the approach road I was still in England, despite being on the Welsh side of the bridge! Who knew? It was with much relief and not a little amusement that I found Alex sitting in the car park calmly smoking his final cigarette before bed. I know, don’t ask!

Alex has welcome news. He’s arranged to park the car for the weekend as part of his room rate! He also tells me we can share the room, as it’s a double anyway! Result! So, I have a pee then we both bed down without much ceremony. Alex uses a meditation recording to help him drop off, which also helps me to get an essential 6 hour snooze.

We wake up at 4:30, kit up, then go to the car to grab my bike from the boot. I drop the wheels into my frame, throw my overnight stuff in the back and lock the car before pedalling off to the starting point at the Bulwark Community Centre, Chepstow; where some 50 or so other riders have gathered to face the beast that is the Bryan Chapman…

Part 2 of 3 to follow…

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