Episode 18:- Across Wales And Back In A Weekend – pt2

Bryan Chapman Memorial – pt2 of 3

04:48 on Saturday, 19 May 2018 Forest of Dean, England

  • 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

#RideForSohoKids

#BryanChapmanMemorial
#BrianChapmanMemorial

The Bryan Chapman grands departs

And we’re off. It’s 6 am. Our small group of riders stick together, keeping a fairly steady pace through the little town of Usk and on towards Abergavenny. A couple of years previously, I’d cycled here from London to climb the infamous Tumble, so I had a pretty good recollection of the place.

Fighting the locals

We rolled through Abergavenny without stopping. We were still taking advantage of the group’s comforting slipstream effect when, not long after leaving the town, the group was faced with a bizarre road rage incident from a frustrated driver. A car accelerated to overtake our ever-dwindling bunch, and as it drew alongside us, the passenger leaned out through the window and shouted “You’re so effing selfish”. Then, without warning, the driver abruptly veered in front of the group and braked violently, causing one female cyclist at the front to crash into the back of the car.

I had a cup of tea and some homemade berry, pecan and walnut flapjack, which was truly ‘to die for’, before getting back in the saddle and pushing on.

Fortunately, she and her bike were relatively unharmed, having slowed sufficiently before the impact. There were more than enough people at the scene, including her boyfriend, to handle the situation. So, those who were not needed, pressed on. This split the group and shortly afterwards it was each to their own.

The first pit stop

The first planned stop was a lovely isolated pub called The Honey Cafe at Bronllys. It’s designated as the first Bryan Chapman ‘waypoint’. You have to pass through several of these waypoints as part of the route.

I’d already climbed 5000 feet of elevation, and it was only midday; the perfect time for lunch.

This one came around 45 miles from the start. It was really comforting to see the girl, who had crashed, arrive together with her partner shortly after me. I had a cup of tea and some homemade berry, pecan and walnut flapjack, which was truly ‘to die for’, before getting back in the saddle and pushing on.

  • First rest stop on the Bryan Chapman 600km ultra dike ride
  • First stop on the Bryan Chapman ultra endurance ride
  • Countryside at the first stop on the Bryan Chapman endurance ride

Onwards

The views of the Welsh countryside in the sunshine were so stunning, they nearly made this city boy’s eyes bleed. The breathtaking scenery also provided a brilliant distraction from the ride, which was still mostly ahead of us.

Wales is renowned for having loads of sheep in the fields. It was lambing season, and to see such tiny, cute lambs so close to the road, baying encouragement as I rolled by, was strangely motivating!

The fact that we had the necessary tools and skills between the two of us to somehow put it all back together seemed to be an act of divine intervention.

The uphill miles rolled by fairly effortlessly until the second waypoint at the market town of Llanidloes, a mere 39 miles from Bronllys. I’d already climbed 5000 feet of elevation, and it was only midday; the perfect time for lunch. Breaking a long journey up into smaller chunks can be a useful mental approach to covering big distances. I had done about a quarter of the trip and was feeling OK. A nice cuppa with soya milk and a decent plate of beans on toast at The Cobblers Tea Room made for a decent vegan feast. Next stop: Dolgellau.

  • Cobblers Cafe in Llanidloes on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Outside the Cobblers Cafe in Llanidloes on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Town hall in Llanidloes after our lunch stop during the Bryan Chapman ride
  • Llanidloes high street after our lunch stop during the Bryan Chapman ride

Disaster strikes

We were only minutes down the road when I heard a sickening crunching sound. I looked behind me, and there was Alex on the side of the road with his bike, which had literally collapsed underneath him! He painted a sorry picture, holding his back wheel, as he stared in disbelief at the tangled mess of gears and chain on the floor… There was no way I was going to ride off and abandon my mate… This was the first of many times that I questioned whether I would make the distance. The fact that we had the necessary tools and skills between the two of us to somehow put it all back together seemed to be an act of divine intervention. Alex was crippled but not out. So we carried on tapping out the miles together…

… And onwards

Now in mid-Wales, the temperature had risen to sweltering and the climbing made for some serious overheating. As luck would have it, when arriving at the breathtaking magnificent Clywedog Reservoir, there was a viewing ‘pull-off’ with an ice cream van conveniently parked up.

My pace had slowed, and I was badly in need of a decent 30 min break to rest the legs and pull myself together.

An orange-flavoured Callipo ice lolly seemed the perfect choice. My core temperature was now so high that I chomped it down like a tepid sausage on a stick. It hardly touched the sides. It did the trick though, so I saddled up for another push, the next target being Kings Youth Hostel near Dolgella, but not before my legs started to cramp…

  • Clywedog Reservoir viewpoint on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Clywedog Reservoir viewpoint on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Clywedog Reservoir viewpoint on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Clywedog Reservoir viewpoint on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Clywedog Reservoir viewpoint on the Bryan Chapman route

The first trip to the Bryan Chapman hurt locker

… The 40 or so miles to the next ‘waypoint’ passed pretty uneventfully, aside from managing my cramping thighs, which continued to make life excruciatingly painful. I was starting to feel the onset of fatigue, and the Youth Hostel we were aiming for couldn’t come soon enough.

  • Cadair viewpoint approach on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Cadair viewpoint on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Near Dolgellau on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Near Dolgellau on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Near Dolgellau on the Bryan Chapman route
  • Near Dolgellau on the Bryan Chapman route

Before getting to Cross Foxes Inn on the A487 to Forge at a place called Mach Loop on the side of the Penygader peak.

My pace had slowed, and I was badly in need of a decent 30 min break to rest the legs and pull myself together. The hostel itself is concealed several miles off the main road, the junction for which is marked by a blind bend that ramps up to a terrifyingly steep gradient. It literally stops you in your tracks. There I was, stuck in the wrong gear, at a standstill. I barely got going again, only to be faced with the prospect of a massive amount of climbing to reach the rest spot. Oh, the cruel irony.

A dropped chain became a twisted chain, which would not pass through the derailleur or stay in gear.

After about 30 or 40 mins stretched out on the grass in front of the Youth hostel, it was time to get back on the road. Alex and I re-join the main road at around 7:00 p.m. We were now headed towards Barmouth.

These shots are of the road to Barmouth Beach over an estuary crossed by a rickety wooden bridge. Night was falling.

The road ahead.

The next 55-mile section, following much of the coast, was one of the longest so far. It ended at another ‘waypoint’ under the Menai bridge; significant in that this marked the Bryan Chapman’s ‘halfway’ point! The latter half of this section was mostly in the dark. For a while, I enjoyed some ‘flat-ish’ riding. Progress was good. Then, when I came to Penrhyndeudraeth (I think – sleep deprivation was starting to bite), I became a little lost before getting back on route and turning left into a blind corner,

So why I bothered to look for shelter only to end up on the smelly floor of an outside toilet at the back of a petrol station under my emergency £1 space blanket, I’ll never know!!

where I was faced with a vertical wall pretending to be a road. A dropped chain became a twisted chain, which would not pass through the derailleur or stay in gear. Again, I was facing a DNF (‘Did Not Finish’). Had this been the case, it would have been the first time ever that I hadn’t completed a ride that I set out on. Thankfully, and in a huge part to the encouragement from Alex, I managed to remove the twisted links, which meant I lost a couple of gears for the remaining 300 km.

#LifesLittleChallenges

The distance and climbing began to bite. Before getting to the Menai Bridge approach, there was one large climb to conquer. It’s always overwhelming to see a road miles away in the distance snaking up skyward, particularly when you know this is the path you are committed to. At the top is a landmark, where you are required to find a particular piece of information. You need to take note of it to prove that you passed through this checkpoint. On the way up, I have a vague memory of stopping off at an isolated pub for a sugary orange juice. It had become harder for me to take on solid food. The fight was really on. When we arrived at the summit, I took a well-earned “comfort break”, while Alex gathered the evidence we needed. Then we enjoyed a long fast descent that lasted several miles.

The world was waking as I sped out of Snowdonia, and back to the Youth Hostel near Dolgellau.

To say I was beginning to lose it was an understatement. I was starting to doze off while riding. 10 miles out from the Menai Bridge, I was so cooked, I had to stop! When you’re this tired, you can sleep literally anywhere—sitting on a bench, lying by the roadside, even standing up! So why I bothered to look for shelter only to end up on the smelly floor of an outside toilet at the back of a petrol station under my emergency £1 space blanket, I’ll never know!! 20 mins later, I was up and feeling a little more human. This gave me just enough puff for the last stretch before the Menai ‘waypoint’, where I instantly crashed on the floor under another space blanket.

Homeward bound

I got all of 40 mins very broken kip, I think. It was then “simply” (rofl) a matter of throwing my leg over the saddle and setting off through Snowdonia back to where it all began. At this point, I honestly didn’t expect to make it. The prospect of riding that distance all over again and surviving all those hills and mountains I’d climbed only hours earlier felt like pure fantasy. All I thought was, ‘Get back on the bike and pedal one stroke at a time’. Blindly, I did just that, and it wasn’t long before I passed the garage where I’d taken refuge earlier. That must have been enough motivation for me to keep going.

Although the air was still relatively cool, it was such a gloriously sunny morning, and the temperature – rising!

The peak of Snowdon was just visible in the dim light of night. At this time in the morning, the temperature had fallen to around 4 deg C. Add in some damp, mist and the windchill whilst belting down a 5-mile descent at a speed touching 50mph and my fingers froze. Seeing me struggle to pull on my gloves by the roadside for several minutes without success would have been a pitiful sight. In my blasted state, thankfully it didn’t feel long before I could hear the beginnings of the early morning chorus.

The world was waking as I sped out of Snowdonia, and back to the Youth Hostel near Dolgellau. After a night of riding, a new day tends to bring a new lease of life and energy, such that the idea that I might make it began to creep back into my thoughts.

Again, in reverse

The Youth Hostel ‘waypoint’ is undeniably a lovely spot set back from the main road in a wooded area. That 5-mile series of climbs though, makes it one of the cruellest, steepest, and punchiest sections of the whole ride. Oh, the irony, I thought – for the second time! Here, I managed to get just over 4 hours of rest in the early morning light before the final leg.

  • Kings Youth Hostel Dolgellau. The return leg of the Bryan Chapman ride
  • Kings Youth Hostel Dolgellau. The return leg of the Bryan Chapman ride
  • Kings Youth Hostel Dolgellau. The return leg of the Bryan Chapman ride

Getting there!!

It was about 10 am on the Sunday when we arrived at Mallyd after leaving Kings Youth Hostel. We decided to pull over for some respite at a pub there called the Brigands Inn. Another orange juice was all the nutrition I could manage to shovel down. Eating solid food had become impossible. Although the air was still relatively cool, it was such a gloriously sunny morning, and the temperature – rising!

Outside the Brigands Inn, Mallyd

We reach the penultimate official milestone, a village hall in Aberhafesp, after around 40 miles from the previous ‘waypoint’, but only after waiting patiently for a herd of sheep to cross the road as we approached. It’s now around midday, with almost 100 miles left to ride.

Encouraged again by Alex, the only sensible solution was to carry on with my chain skipping.

During the following 31 miles to the Herb Garden Cafe back at Llandrindod, it was a question of tapping out the pedal strokes. This leg was pretty uneventful, aside from another massive Welsh hill! We decided to add this to the route as the more direct road was thought to be less safe. Wales is teaming with motorbikes that scream past you along the rolling, mostly free minor roads at speeds of 100 mph making your heart skip a beat. A bit of an oddity. This road saw us reach an altitude of 1500 feet, the reward for which was a fun, speedy descent into Llandrindod at 3 pm. A final toilet stop, a 20 min power nap, and a water refill saw us take on the last 61 miles of The Bryan Chapman…

On my last legs

Those 61 miles felt like one of the longest sections. A couple of relentless hills are the only hurdles to jump before sweeping down to sea level and the finish. Somewhere, not long after Abergavenny, it happened again. The chain came off and got twisted for a second time. This time, I couldn’t take out another link. There was not enough chain left after having removed links previously. The clock was ticking, and the cutoff was looming. Encouraged again by Alex, the only sensible solution was to carry on with my chain skipping. This made progress slow – and annoying. Only one big hill left!

Crossing the Bryan Chapman finish line

How, I don’t really know, but some hours later, just as I crested that hill, I caught sight of the Severn Bridge far in the distance below, where this whole thing began. OMG, that was a sight for sore eyes. A seminal moment. Something to savour and relish. Then, before you knew it, it was over, as unceremoniously as it all began. We’d completed the Bryan Chapman Memorial Ultra-Endurance Ride!!!

  • Back at Chepstow having completed the Bryan Chapman Memorial ultra ride

There was still a 6-mile ride back to the car. Before that, a hot meal was desperately needed. I couldn’t force down any dry food, but maybe a hot Chinese stir-fry veg dish would go in. I badly needed something! Thankfully, there was an open takeout just around the corner. I stopped my tracking app on the phone and gently rode the last few miles back to the car, which was still dutifully sitting there where I left it. I removed my bike wheels so I could shove the bike in the boot, swapped my cycling shoes for trainers, and curled up for some sleep in the front seat before driving back home the next day.

Would I ride The Bryan Chapman again? …Of course, I would!

Part 3 ‘The Aftermath’ is to follow…

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