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

Cambrian 1k 100km 2.5 AAA Audax - October 2017

In my quest for AAA points and with the days beginning to shorten, I opted for a 100k route with no less than 2.5 AAA points thrown in – more climbing even that my birthday ride in the Lake District when I had tackled Wrynose and Hardknott passes and a few other Lakeland climbs thrown in for good measure.

My previous attempt at one of the Cambrian series had been dogged by navigation difficulties so I took a print out of the google directions as well as having the google map in my phone. The weather was mild and damp when I rocked up in Ferndale and had the usual malarkey of clocking in delayed by a lack of any paper in the cash machine – oh well, best queue up in Greggs and get a pastie for later. Once that was sorted I was on the road at 8.30 ish and breezing down out of Ferndale to the foot of the first climb.

I knew the day would be all ups and downs and very little flat so it was no surprise to be right down in the lowest gears from the off. I had very little training behind me but I felt strong enough and although google was playing up already and I had to keep checking my routesheet (wads of paper in a plastic bag – not great preparation) I was soon in Ystrad looking for the second ascent. This proved to be a true mountain ride, out into bleak upland terrain, silent in the mist apart from the whistling of the wind around me and the bike. I climbed onwards and upwards right into the silent cloud, untroubled by traffic and alone on the road.

Down the other side of Bwlch Y Clawdd I had more routefinding hassle – google was sending me a circuitous route on cycleways that delayed me a bit, but in the end I descended into Maesteg and soon found a café where beans on toast, tea and lemonade left me with change from a fiver. That’s another thing I love about south Wales! Fuelled and ready to go I again found the route leading me up a strange way out of town and on to cycleways and B roads before I was back on the main route back the way I had come. From this side the climb was tough but once over it and descending to Treorchy I was glad I’d stopped and eaten early to avoid hitting the wall later. The scenery was breathtaking – especially descending out of the cloud to views across the northern fringe of the Valleys.

Treorchy always seems a lively and happy place when I ride through and this was no exception. I queued up for a balance at the cash machine which actually did have paper – then readied myself for the Rhigos. Somehow I was up and over and into Hirwaun in under an hour, but a glance at my watch showed me I had been out a very long time already, the out-and-back to Maesteg having been extremely time consuming. It dawned on me that I hadn’t checked the cut off time for the route, but then again I had never missed a cutoff.

From the shop in Hirwaun (chocolate cake for a quid) I followed the GPS again and found myself on an old tramway towards Aberdare, then on to steep streets and a long and sapping climb towards Maerdy. This was a road I hadn’t ridden before so I had no idea if Maerdy was a hilltop town or a valley town. As it turned out, after I had crawled up the climb there was a long plateau before a sharp but straight descent to the rather bleak valley head town. The helpful guy in the corner shop had a cash machine that gave proper receipts even though his till didn’t and after a twix to power me back over the same hill I had just traversed I was back in the saddle. It was easier from this side (or was that just a result of the twix?).

In Aberdare I took a right along the cycleway and then had to descent a farm track to rejoin the road. Mountain bike territory for sure, but as it was only 50 yards or so I didn’t mind tackling that on my road machine. I would avoid bringing my racing bike up here though….

Endless route checking and struggling to follow cycle tracks ensued – I found the route leading me all the way to Pontypridd and then a maze of cycle tracks back up through the valleys to Ferndale where I clocked in, tired but satisfied, in 8.30. Unbelievably long for a 100k! I had missed the cutoff by no less than 90 minutes. How had it happened?

The post mortem took me a while but once I checked the google route on my computer the reason dawned. I had google on my phone set to “cycling” and so it kept changing the route to cycleways that led me miles and miles off route. Loaded on the PC that same google route was direct – mostly A and B roads with only that one short section of cycleway around Aberdare.

So, I failed dismally on navigation and have probably knackered my chances of hitting the 20 AAA points by year end that I was aiming for. Having never failed at an Audax before I signed up for another attempt in November as soon as I got the chance and quizzed the organiser about the cutoff time and the route options. Colin was very helpful, getting back to me straight away to confirm 8 hours dead is the limit and the route choice is pretty open. I've put together a basic route sheet using mostly A and B roads but the odd lane here and there - I think I'll keep those cycleways to a minimum as there are always delays as you negotiate the endless twists and turns through the towns and villages. I'll be starting from Maesteg too which I think looks the best option....

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