"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Cambrian 1k 100km 2.5 AAA Audax - November 2017
Missing the cut off time of 8 hours when I last attempted this ride a few weeks ago had been a blow to my aspiration of hitting 20,000m of climbing in hilly Audax rides (20xAAA points in other words) by the end of the year, but more significantly it had made me ask questions about my fitness and commitment. Much older guys than me ride these courses and hit the cut off so why had I failed by a full 30 minutes? The post mortem (courtesy of google maps etc) made me realise I had taken a much longer course than the shortest possible route and been delayed by the congested cycle paths but that still left me feeling I hadn't pushed myself hard enough when it counted. There was only one thing for it - go back and do it again and this time finish in under 8 hours!
I drove over to Maesteg on 18th November into ever increasing rain. It was cold too, around 6 degrees (not that cold in the scheme of things but the high passes would be colder and the Autumn had been fairly mild so it felt cold by comparison). I had a goretex jacket, a helly under my jersey, neoprene gloves, firewall tights and neoprene overshoes. I felt well prepared, but that feeling can be an illusion when reality gets involved in the form of wild mountain weather! I had a plan though, and a routesheet, which I hadn't really had last time. I was determined to nail it.
After some faffing around in Maesteg getting a proper receipt with my start time and location on it, I was underway at 8.28 after a tub of instant porridge eaten in the free car park. I was riding in steady rain with a mild breeze at my back and soon the water had penetrated my overshoes and tights. My hands were cool but not yet uncomfortably cold. When the climb up to Croeserw started I was glad of the lift in body temperature! I found the turning on my home made routesheet to cut the corner off and descend to the road that led through Blaengwynfi and the long haul up to Bwlch y Clawdd. As I tapped it out I got colder and wetter but I felt I was making steady progress. At the top I felt very chilly in the exposed uplands of the Bwlch and there was no time to look at the view let alone take a photo. It would mostly have been a photo of the inside of a cloud anyway. Descending I felt colder still and cursed my lack of preparation - should have brought a second jacket or at least one of my gilets to wear inside the goretex. Oh well, a lession for next time. I began to think about stopping at a shop to buy another layer - pretty desperate thoughts in stage 1 of 6. Finally I was racing down the descent into Treorchy and looking to a cashpoint as a control. The advice slip showed I was on 1 hour ten minutes - definitely on target. I was cold though (had I mentioned that?) and wasted no time in getting my gloves back on and riding through town towards the Rhigos road.
Just like last time I made good progress up the Rhigos, feeling warm again from the climbing and exhilarated by the mountain views. The rain had slackened off but now began to lash down again as I descended under the brooding outline of Craig Y Llyn. I was glad I'd put new brake pads on - the descent was quick and wet. In Hirwaun I began to think about a cafe stop and wondered when I would see a place to eat and dry out. At the same time I was eager to waste no time. It's always a trade off - missing those food stops can make you slow to a crawl later on. I forced various snacks down even though eating was already hard work because of the effort levels. It's tough getting a veggie sausage roll down your throat when your mouth is dry and your heart rate it us - it's like eating a cardboard box. Chunks of cliff bar and mars bar and a go ahead bar from the Hirwaun Stores were easier but still left me slightly queasy. I clocked out of Hirwaun at around 2 hours. All good.
The ride to Aberdare was easy, brisk and cold. Less rain here but I was sodden already. Maerdy Mountain was 16% and challenging but I was up and over without any crises. The cash machine inside the Shop and Save store was a nice control (indoor cash machines are great - gloves off and fingers able to tap the keys in the warm and out of the wind - brief respite) then I was munching bars again on the descent to the river before the climb back over Maerdy Mountain with the check in time around 3 hours. Roughly half way (although the last of the 6 legs would be the longest and the one with the most climbing as I knew from last month).
Next came a chilly (but dry) ride down the valley from Aberdare to Abercwmboi and then the control at Mountain Ash. I was cold and hungry and needed the loo too so I was hoping for a cafe at the next control. I hit a queue of traffic and overtook down the outside in my haste to cover more distance. Mountain Ash has no sign to announce itself so at first I wasn't sure I'd arrived. I whipped out my phone and pulled up Google Maps to check. Yes, Mountain Ash all right. I turned up the slope to join the hight street hoping for a classic valleys cafe to appear out of the murk but there was only a tiny shop. The receipt was ok though and a crunchie had to suffice for lunch. Around 4 hours down now and lots of fatigue in the legs - not from distance (hadn't covered that much) but from the relentless ups and downs.
My routesheet was vague here and I'd gone wildly wrong in October so again I got the phone out and on to the handlebars with the GPS showing me the route into the Forest. This was the most beautiful and peaceful section - red-gold Autumn forest, towering trees and the silence of the mountains only broken by occasion cars passing me on the way up, then down, then up again to St Gwynno's church. The magical scenery made up for the hard grind up the hills. A sharp bend heralded the descent into Ferndale and I locked the bike up outside a cafe with about 5 hours gone. While queueing I realised there was no loo in the cafe so I tried the one a few doors down - same story. They told me there was a public one 50 yards away though so I ordered beans on toast and a hot chocolate and rode up to it while I was waiting. By now I was very cold and very wet and moderately tired but my efforts at forcing food down had paid off and there was still enough fuel in my legs to keep me going. I ate the beans on toast much more quickly than I should and felt a bit rough leaving - they also couldn't do receipts so there was another cashpoint stop before I rolled down through Tylerstown and on to the steep ascent over the ridge to Ystrad. That warmed me up but I felt heavy and a little nauseous after the fast feed. Last leg of the day now though...
From Ystrad I took the wrong turn (brain starting to fade out now) but it made little difference as I knew I would rejoin my planned route soon enough - that happened as expected at Ton Pentre and I was reassured that I still had a good grasp of the route in my mind. The climb to the Bwlch began as I rode out of Ton Pentre and I was down in a crawler gear almost straight away. Tired now. The mountains loomed majestically out of the low cloud and the road to the pass looked impossibly far above me but I tapped out the intervening distance at my slow and steady pace and found myself on the switchbacks. I was wondering if I could finish in 7 hours when I left Ferndale but that idea had evaporated and all I cared about was 8 hours which was virtually assured. The climb went on and on the switchback section I hit nasty, rainy headwinds that sapped my strength. At the junction I told myself I had done the hard part but the right turn towards Maesteg brought stronger headwinds, horizontal rain and a feeling of being cold and exposed. This was the crux of the ride - the longest climb coming in the last session of the day. It was a proper test and I was taking it one turn of the pedals at a time. After aeons of effort the top came - here I was riding in the thick of a cloud and everything was wet through, including my brain. The descent to Blaengwynfi was cold but as I came out of the cloud it got drier and easier. One more climb to go and I expected it to be hard but manageable. I saw a left turn for Ty Nant Lane and remembered that was a shortcut up to Croeserw, much better than heading down to the main junction just before Treorchy, so I got the phone out again to check I was right (tired brain not 100% reliable). Google agreed so I headed up the quiet road with grass down the middle and connected with the A road at the top. The climb had not been that testing after all.
Rolling down into Maesteg I had one final challenge left which was clocking in and staying warm in the process. 3 cash machines were there on the right of the street so I headed over - only one was working. I tried twice to get a receipt out of it but only got error messages and my card spat back out at me. I rode on and found another - this time it worked and I clocked off at 7.06 hours. Victory!
I was pleased to have stuck to my task and stayed focussed all day, with the reward of a finish well inside the target. If this ride was done on BR rules with a 7 hour cut off that would be hard going - I'd back myself to do it in the summer but the additional faffing and fatigue of rain and cold would make it a hard ride in the dark half of the year.
I got my jacket off and put a tarp from my boot over the drivers seat before I started the drive home. With the heater on full blast I still didn't warm up until I was at the Severn Bridge, where I forced myself out in the rain to get sodden once again visiting the Sri Chinmoy Peace Bridge plaque. It seemed only right to offer a moment of gratitude at one my special places and it was worth getting wet for. Back home a warm house and a washing machine and Kokila's apple pie revived me. Just.
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