Betws-Y-Coed – happy hols

I needed a holiday. I only discovered how much I needed some time off once I was actually off work when I could almost feel my sanity and well-being return after a particularly hard summer of racing, training and a really busy time at work. It was one of the best family holidays we’ve ever had. Loads of ace adventures, laughs and not too many rainy days to dampen our spirits (and a good job because when it rains the caravan roof appears to leak a bit – out with the mastic gun…).

We took a bike each, me, Deb and Michael and we also took the trailer so that the girls could lord it in that whilst I ‘powered’ them up some Snowdonian forest roads.

We went to the summit of Snowdon too, again using the trailer with the ‘stroller’ attachment. Unsurprisingly it was really hard work pushing 2 children in what was effectively a big-wheeled double pushchair all the way to the top and then back down again but I did get a fair amount of ‘fair play’ and ‘well done’ comments from other walkers which was nice. Not too many called me an idiot anyway 😉

Aside from that, I also got some nice training rides in, both Penmachno loops and the Marin trail were scorched around in the early mornings so that I was back in time for a bacon-based breakfast. I also discovered that whilst out running, wet slate needs to be treated with respect (ow!).

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Sleepless in the Saddle 2010

Seemingly unable to remember as far back as last April when I was beaten almost to a pulp after riding the Enduro 6 for six hours on the rock-hard course of Catton Park, I entered Sleepless in the Saddle just 3 weeks ago, somehow convinced that my good form this year would mean that I’d be ok squeezing in another 24 hour race into the small gap between races that I’d (for me) meticulously planned back in the winter.

The run at the start of the race went very well, I knew I was well within the top 3, perhaps the top 2 at the end of the first lap but literally from that point on things started to go wobbly. This very same course back in the spring was super-hardpacked and covered in ruts and bumps, many of which were scars from the wet conditions of 2007 and 2008. This time around the course was baked even harder due to the dry summer and each lap was pounding my wrists and lower back, every washboard descent rattling the bike to the edge of control. I was reaching for the ibuprofen just 3 hours into the race, I was feeling like I did after 16 hours at Mayhem already – how was I going to feel after 24? My back was now impeding my ability to put any power down, especially on the climbs and by the time I was halfway around lap 5 I was starting to consider a retirement.

I sat in our fantastic trackside pit gazebo grotto and podered my next move. 20 minutes and some painkillers later I swapped bikes for a change of position and cracked on with my 6th lap. By now I’d dropped down to god-knows-what position but if I could just find a smooth line through at least some of the rutted sections I might stand a chance of getting back towards the front. Granted, a rigid bike does present some obvious limitations but it rocked last weekend all the way across Wales, it was fantastic at Mountain Mayhem, Gisburn and all the other races I’ve ridden it in…the state of this course though is a different matter. I can’t say this about any other race venue I’ve been to but I’m sure the lads with full suspension (or even a suspension fork) were finding it easier. All I had to do was work out a smoother line….

I wasn’t going to happen. it was getting worse. I was having trouble gripping the bars and I was forgetting what ‘sitting down’ felt like. Painkillers were having no effect on my back pain and I knew I was just going to end up in the same agony that I experienced towards the end of UK24.

I decided to cut my losses, train hard this week instead of recovering and preserve my fitness for the Kielder 100, the 3 Peaks and Dusk Til Dawn later this year. Dejectedly, I left the course and had a shower.

Dave was having similar problems, dropping out of the race soon afterwards having been in the lead for 4 hours. So not a great weekend for Team JMC / Ragley. We had a good laugh afterwards though and nobody is a robot – no-one can be awesome all the time 😉

In other news, bloody well done to Amy who totally dominated the female solo race with a 20-lap win, 4 laps in front of second place.

The epic story of the weekend however belongs to Mike Hall – I manned his pit around midnight for a while and he was looking good in 3rd place. By the morning, he had overtaken the guy in second. With a shade over an hour to go until the end of the race he took a gamble and went for the win. He would either have remained in second place, taken the win, or completely exploded due to the extra effort needed to attack the guy in front…. heroically he attacked, blew up spectacularly and ended up a mashed-up, rolling-eyed mess in his tent, 30 minutes before then end, effectively recording a DNF. Eleven out of ten for effort. Death or glory. Now that was Awesome.

Trans Cambrian Way – job’s a good un

We’d attempted to ride the entire Trans Cambrian Way in a day earlier this year, naively expecting there to be sufficient waymarking for us to navigate the route with minimal checking of the map – we were wrong. So with the benefit of experience (and some superb technology in the form of the Memory Map Adventurer 2800 that Dave had treated himself to), we embarked on our second attempt at successfully riding the whole of the route in a single day, with the possibility of beating John Houlihan’s record.

The now-customary Daft Ride early start of something like 4am kicked my head in as usual as I ate a large fruit-based breakfast whilst drinking caffeine-laced beverages during the 120 mile car journey to Machynlleth where Dave and I would meet, transfer his bike and some food, etc to my car before leaving his car there and then driving another 50 miles to the start of the route in Knighton.

After car park faffing, we set off around 9:30am, only half an hour behind our intended schedule and reacquainted ourselves with the silly-steep grass climb out of Knighton. Quite soon we were referring to the whizz-bang GPS device and it was more than justifying Dave’s expense 😉 as we were quickly putting things right when we went slightly off course.

3 and a bit hours later (including non-riding time for opening gates, etc) we’d completed ‘day one’ and arrived in Rhayader. IMBA suggest that the route is a 3-day ride so throughout this post I will refer to the three sections of the route as days one to three.

Pressing on along easier cycle lanes for a few miles, the going gradually got tougher again as we arrived at Claerwen Reservoir. The bridleway follows the bank of the reservoir, and out of every inlet along its length making  onward progress seem much slower as we followed the convoluted path gradually westwards.

The headwind was making things seem more difficult compared to our much faster pace along this section during our first attempt at the route. Despite this, we were soon speeding away from the reservoir, save for a few more brief map/gps/gate/food stops and on towards the scene of one of the major wrong turnings last time. We successfully avoided the village of Ysbty Ystwyth, which was good as I think I’ve convinced myself that it’s some kind of village of the damned. Apologies if you live there, but the last time I was there it was at least 10 degrees colder, much darker and significantly wetter than anywhere else I’d been that day. Oh, and I was lost at the time which probably didn’t help.

More climbing, descending, opening gates, checking the GPS, checking the map, consuming Shot Bloks, energy bars and sweets followed, the route punctuated by several large hub-deep puddles, stream crossings, what seemed like river crossings, one memorable singletrack downhill that we thought was the climax of the ride but wasn’t and a few steep, slippery and sometimes terrifying slate descents that always seemed to be right next to a yawning chasm full of rocks, sheep, more flowing water and probably certain death.

Mostly though the route comprises of rocky fireroads, grassy climbs and narrow rutted sheep tracks. Oh, and poo. Lots of poo. I’ve never been covered in so much poo in all my life. Actually I might have been covered in a lot of poo occasionally when I was a baby I suppose..but still, there was a lot of sheep and cow dung lying around in the middle of Wales.

‘Day 2’ was definitely harder than day 1, but still we completed that in a matter of hours and pressed on with what I thought was going to be the straightforward matter of the shorter, less hilly ‘day 3’ section of the route. It wasn’t more straightforward, mainly because we’d not made it this far on our last attempt and thus had to check the map more often – the waymarking was sometimes very good indeed, but at other times it simply didn’t exist – and our expectation of the route being somehow easier was very wide of the mark. More climbing, more scary descending, more road sections into the wind, more poo. Oh, and rain.

Seeing the massive rain cloud that shrouded the hills before us did give us prior warning of the soaking that we were about to receive and to be fair, we’d been very lucky with the weather up until now. But what a soaking. Eventually we had to stop and dig out waterproof jackets from our packs, the warmth immediately putting smiles back on our faces…well almost.

‘This is the final descent then’ seemed to be the catchphrase of the next couple of hours –  unfortunately the final descent was often far from the final descent, it would be followed by another climb.. or another wrong turn (that was signposted as the ‘right’ way!)..eventually though we did arrive at the final descent down to the road where we would reach Dovey Junction train station and the end of our ride, 12 hours and 10 minutes after we’d left the start of the route at the train station in Knighton, the whole width of Wales having passed under our wheels. Our actual riding time was 9 hours 51 minutes, so the previous record of 12:25 has been well and truly beaten.

We each congratulated each other, ate some sweets to celebrate (were you expecting us to have cigars?) then back to the car which if you remember, we’d left in Machynlleth earlier in the day, food scoffed, clothes changed, then back to Knighton to where we’d left my car at the start of the ride. More faffing, a quick natter about plans for Sleepless in the Saddle next week then off we went our separate ways. By now it had gone midnight.

Had some unexpected extra ‘fun’ in the form of driving through the middle of crowds of drunken revellers in the road and my first visit to McDonalds for 10 or so years. When did Maccy D’s start opening for 24 hours? Not that I was complaining.

Arrived home at 3am :-/