"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Peace Statue 180k - June 12th, 2021

For my 5th and penultimate iron-distance training ride I decided to head off in a direction I hadn't travelled for a while - westwards into Wales. Wales had been effectively "closed" for much of 2020 and 2021 but with lockdown easing both sides of the border, there was nothing to stop me from making a pilgrimage to the Peace Statue on Cardiff Bay. That would have made a 150k ride so I threw in some loops on the levels to make up the distance.

All through my training I had been struggling to ride the pace I'd hoped for, until the summer came and my accumulated effort and mileage began to pay off. I set out on this one aiming for 16mph officially but hoping to realise 17mph if I could. The wind was very light and from the west and the sun was shining. I was out the door by shortly after seven and feeling fairly well recovered from the Cotswold 113 (and a 4k swim the day before the ride). Of course I was expecting residual fatigue from both of those efforts to hit me at some stage, but I had plenty of calories packed on the bike to keep me moving and stop me hitting the proverbial wall. Having had a few frustrations from trying to follow GPS routes on my phone (running out of charge at crucial moments!) I decided to improvise this one and find the route as I went.

Once over the bridge I took the A48 for quite some distance, with a vague intention of heading south to the Magor Marshes to make a long route into Cardiff covering lots of flat miles. I took the turning for Pum Lon and found myself on surprisingly narrow, twisty and hilly lanes through a landscape of scattered copses and low hills. It was gorgeous and serene in the moring sunlight and apart from one delivery van I saw no vehicles at all. The lanes brought me to Magor and I improvised a route on more back-roads on to the steelworks road, which was busy but fast heading into Newport. I had forgotten my way around the town but followed a few other riders with mixed results. There were stops and starts and phone-checks and eventually I ended up in Duffryn heading for the Wentloog levels. These were familiar roads from 12 years ago, last time I trained for iron distance, but of course much had changed. I saw a sign for a cycle route heading west to Marshfield and took it, pleased to see it was straight, smooth tarmac and heading my way. Soon it deteriorated to dusty gravel and I cursed my decision, remembering how the Strawberry Line path had clogged up my derailleur with grit from the same kind of surface. It got worse and soon I was riding very lumpy gravel, but it didn't last long and soon I was able to go directly south and joing up with the Peterstone Road. I'm starting to develop a "never trust a cyclepath" mentality which is a bit unfortunate as so many of them are wonderful and people work hard & campaign hard to establish them. If only the signs could tell you what surface was in store before you commit to the route?

The Wentloog Road meant quick miles and good progress, all the way to the post-industrial underbelly of Cardiff where I hit a horrendous traffic queue on the approach to the docks. I was able to get round some of it but the road was so clogged on both sides that it delayed me quite a while and also convinced me to find an alternative route home - which proved to be another unwise decision!

Relief came as the jam cleared on the approach to Cardiff Bay and soon I was riding towards the Norwegian Church and the object of my quest, the Dreamer of Peace Statue. I have had several great meditations here and it's a very special place for me, so I paused for a few minutes to hold the torch and try to identify with the peace the statue undoubtedly embodies. Sadly, surprisingly, it just wasn't happening. For some reason I was clearly "unreceptive" which was disappointing as although I was mainly there for the ride - the pilgrimage as important as the goal - I had been looking forward to my moment of peace. I stayed a little longer, stepped back a few yards and meditated on the statue in profile from the side and then I started to feel it - the connection. It was only for a few moments but the tangible peace came through and I had received what I had come all those miles to receive. Thirst quenched, I set off for the return journey with a half-baked idea of an alternative route to the jammed-up docks still forming even as I rode up Bute Street. Now it's not always a good idea to head off with such vague ideas of where you are going. Sometimes it works. This time it didn't.

Finding the route out of town through Splott was easy enough and then I got on to the Newport Road which I expected to get me back on the Wentloog Road, somewhere further out of town than the awful jam. Now because I lived in Cardiff and rode these roads regularly for six years, I must have got overconfident in how well I knew the route. Instead of heading out of town on the docks road towards Peterstone I ended up on the hectic dual carriageway going north to join the A48M. I thought I might be able to get over the A48 and into the city streets to work my way east and then head south to St Mellons but at the roundabout my only options were the M-road or Llanedeyrn which is  bit of a maze. I had no choice really so rode up into Llandedeyrn and tried to google my way out. I found a cycle route that would get me across the M-road and out to St Mellons so I followed it only to find it led onto a very unused-looking concrete path over a bridge - I followed it hoping I'd soon be back on the road but it got narrower and rougher and deeper into the woods and then finally became a dirt trail. I kept going but soon the dirt was hard-core and dried mud which I couldn't ride on so I had to walk the bike. I eventually came to the end, which sadly was tunnel back into Llanedeyrn a few yards from where I had started! It's hard not to let these things frustrate you when all you want is the open road, but the world presents you with unsafe highways or unrideable surfaces. I am starting to see the appeal of gravel bikes!

I rode north instead out of Llandedeyrn which meant some extra miles and hills into Cyncoed but from there I was able to get back over the highway and eventually to St Mellons, thanks to another gamble on a cycle route which this time paid off. It was relief to be back on the A48 and cruising towards Newport - once there I found a reasonable way through the town and on to the steelworks road again, then made up the mileage I needed with some loops around the levels near Magor. I rode a beautiful road down to the cafe I had read about at Goldcliff- it turned out to be little more than someone's home with a bit of lazy lawn laid out for tables and drinks served out of the back door. I had to queue for a little while but I got a cold coke that make it worth the effort. It was a quiet and secluded spot which I was sharing with a handful of cyclists and bikers plus a few walkers who were ambling down to the seawall to look at the view. I decided to stay focussed on the ride and as soon as I had my drink, with the much-needed combination of caffeine and glucose inside me, I was back on the road and working hard to maintain the pace I was aiming for.

By the time I got to the foot of the long drag up to Chepstow I was on 16.6mph and desperate to keep up at least 16, so I was giving it all I'd got on the climbs so as not to lose pace. It was very hot by now and I  was seriously sweating to stay on target. I reached the top with the average still on 16.5 and knew I had only one more serious climb to do (in Almondsbury) so all should be well. I stopped for a minute or three at the Peace Plaque by the Severn Bridge, as I still try to go there and meditate (even if it is just a minute or two) every single month, then I was back in the saddle and pushing myself all the way back. My average speed dipped down to 16.3 but I wrestled it back to 16.6 with a surge into Bristol on the A38 to finish. That's about my target pace for Ironbourne so with 5 180-km rides down and just one to go I seem to be arriving at race readiness. I just hope the course is easy to follow and I don't get myself lost on the day!


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