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

ATGIG Century Ride AUDAX - August 2023 - Filton - Brynmawr - Filton

We had been hoping to field a team for this one, but on the day I was the sole Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team member rolling up to the shelter outside Nandos at Filton Abbey Wood. I love it when I get to take part in a "local" event and with this one starting around 500m from my house I was able to get a decent breakfast in, faff around with my bike then arrive loads earlier than I needed without needing to drive or get a train. Simples. All around the globe, others were getting a ride in as part of Sri Chinmoy 27 Hours of Cycling. My contribution was almost exactly 9 hours.

I had planned to ride my Tri Bike, to practice the tough climbs and descents ahead of Helvellyn next month, but I couldn't get my clip-on mudguards to play the game so I went on Blue Bike. To be honest, that's the tool for the job, the chosen instrument, being built for long days, hard climbs and bad roads. All of those applied. There were quite a few there for the 200km roll out and briefing, around 13 of us for the Century Ride who went off next. The initial route was an unfamiliar way out of town, along Brook Way and then out past Aztec West where it was business as usual, road I knew well, until we turned down Hollow Road. I say "we", but I seemed to be one of only a few who took that turn, most just making their own route down Sundays Hill or Fern Hill. I was following a GPS Track so it was easy to stick strictly to the red line.

By the time I reached the bridge and crossed in blustery breeze and sunshine, I was riding solo, aware of around 3 riders up ahead of me who had gone off with a high degree of confidence and enthusiasm. I always find the bridge inpiring (it is, after all, the Sri Chinmoy Peace Bridge) and daunting (those sidewinds around the towers can be more than a little unsettling).

From Chepstow we climbed through Itton and the route then went down a steep hill on a rough road, with swirling drizzle and not much in the way of visibility. You didn't need to be able to see very far to drink in the beauty of the scenery though - it was exquisitely lush and green after a month of rain, the lanes leading us through ancient woodlands on a surface that clearly hadn't had any attention in a very long time. After a staggered crossroads, the first epic climb of the day unfolded, a really tricky grind up a winding lane weaving between potholes and fallen fragments of ash and hazel. My reward for conquering this challenging ascent was a nervy downhill, where I was glad of the thick tyres and disc brakes. I was still soloing as far as Usk where I caught the 2 riders ahead of me and we made a grupetto of three for most of the rest of the ride.

At LLandegfedd we rode over the barrage, with views of the hill country mirrored in the waters of the reservoir, then a big climb where I passed a rider weaving all over the road led to Pontypool and a hunt for the first control. We found it - the Boatyard aka the Tea Barge, serving an amazing cheese toasty that was more cheese than toasty (a rare experience). It went down a treat with a cup of tea and fortified by that sports nutrition we went off into the driving rain for an ascent of the cycleways to Blaenavon. It was kind of mesmeric riding the traffic-free pavement through the trees and occasionally out into open country. Having no traffic to contend with gave us a chance to chat and exchange near death experience stories, among other things! I also picked up top tips for a cycling tour of the Loire Valley. Who knows, maybe one day?

The scenery around Blaenavon was a great reward for the effort and we heard, but couldn't see, the steam train shuffling back and forth by the mine museum.



The second control was an Info at Brynmawr and after that the return leg began, mostly downs but plenty of steep ups too, on a hard-to-follow succession of lanes and paths. The info control at Swffryd eluded me, but I know that others struggled with it too so I don't feel so bad. I was still looking around for the elusive Spar when a back-on-yourself turn came up on my GPS app and one of my co-riders announced his Garmin had "gone purple" meaning a big climb was coming. It was definitely a steepy, a really slow and tough ascent, a ramp of a road up through the trees on to a ridge above Pontypool. That was exactly what I'd come for though - hills and scenery - so I remembered to enjoy it between the deep gasps for breath.

Rain came and went, so did Pontypool where the same control cafe had stopped serving hot food but were able to serve up amazing cake, cappucino and a can of sugary drink for my bottle to help me with the sting in the tail that was still to come. Round the other side of the reservoir this time, we got a new set of views on the lumpy lanes, then it was a short stop in Usk for the final Info question and a nervous approach to Wentwood on the lanes that led out of town past Usk prison. The hill loomed ahead, a forested wall, a deciduous cliff, but we were equal to it and prevailed to reach the top. I had done it before and recognised the approach of the final bend, over the lip of the escarpment, marking the end of the tough part and the beginning of a succession of rolling hills back to the bridge. We parted ways as we crossed the Wye and it was every man for himself back to Filton.

This is a gorgeous course, one that would make a great solo challenge or DIY. It gave me the climbing and descending practice I was after too - who knows, I might ride the Triathlon on Blue Bike? A weather-dependent choice perhaps. Anyway, a great day out in the hills, a lovely ride, viva Audax!

Sacred Steps Home