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

Cambrian 1g 100k / 1.5 AAA Audax - South Wales- Jan 12th 2019

This was a beautiful ride - the weather may have been dull and chilly, but fresh from my trip to Portugal I was in high spirits and reasonably fit. It wasn't bike-fitness though, as I'd had very few hours on the bike since my last Audax in December. The Christmas period had seen me out running, finding my feet on the climbing wall, swimming (briefly) in the Atlantic and hiking trails in the Algarve. That meant I was fit enough, but not sure how the legs would handle a 6 or 7 hour ride with plenty of climbing.

Coming out of the station at Chepstow I spotted a supermarket straight away which meant an easy control courtesy of a cashpoint - that confirmed my start time as 7.58 and then I was off through Chepstow's ancient stone arch and climbing out of town with big views out to my right across the old town and the Wye valley. I came out at a familiar roundabout and a quick right-then-left brought me on to the B road to Devauden. There was light drizzle, not enough to bother me though, and I felt that I was making decent progress upwards on to the high ground between the Usk and the Wye. My vague routesheet was enough to give me a reasonable sense of which turns to take and I had the phone on my handlebars ready to use google as a backup whenever there was doubt - which was quite a few times!

The lanes out to Raglan were proper rural and dead quiet - apart from the bleating of some extremely early lambs who gathered in a gateway to look me over for a few moments before heading back to their ewes for a feed. I took a quick video of them to whatsapp to Kokila, seeing as she was stuck in town for most of the day.

Raglan felt ancient and quiet - the mini market where I bought a coffee for proof-of-passage was the hub of what little activity there was, with plenty of locals popping in for papers (the latest in the endless saga of Brexit was plastered over all the front pages). I balanced the coffee on my saddle while I was unlocking the bike and soon spilt the whole lot on the pavement. Oh well, it was more for the receipt than the caffeine that I'd bought it.

Onwards through the Usk Valley turned into Upwards as I came through Llanover - here I crossed the main road on to narrow lanes with a thick growth of grass down the middle and totally a totally broken surface at the edges, so there was a strip a foot or so wide that was actually rideable. I rode up and up through beechwoods and then pine forest, thick with the resinous scent of the trees and and with the strip of grass in the road replaced briefly by a strip of dried-out fallen pine needles. It felt scandinavian. There was no traffic at all.

The climb led out on to open hillside and I realised I had ridden this way before - it was the long and steep ascent of the flank of the Blorenge that I'd tackled as part of the Blaenavon Triathlon around ten years ago. It was nice to emerge on to proper welsh mountainside with all the shades of russet and green, racken and tussock grass. Down the other side I found myself in Cwmavon then took the road t Varteg and down to the bottom of another memorable climb - The British. This crazy road is like a farm track in places and is missing a decent surface for most of it's length. It was a hard grind on a bumpy road and at one point I almost wiped out when my wheels span on the wet cattle grid - but I stayed upright and wound my way to the top. Then it was down, down the steeper than the steepest descent to the back end of Brynithel. This was my half way point and I'd been out for around three and a quarter hours - kind of on schedule.

A quick stop at the post office to buy a drink for 34p was all I needed for proof of passage then I was tanking down the valley on the Crumlin Road to Pontypool. This part of the ride was the same as my previous outing on this Audax, but most of the route through Raglan and out to Brynithel had been totally different - with only the control towns mandatory you can repeat these rides without covering all the same roads, which keeps them fresh. 

I came through Pontypool on a straight and easy road called The Highway and the turnings to Sluvad were easy to find. Google was giving me various options but instead of the fastest I took the one across the dam of the Llandegfedd Reservoir - a good choice. There were endless ups and downs but nothing too taxing and after enjoying the views across the lake and down the valley I soon found myself in Usk. Usually I stop here for a drink at the Cafe with the charming garden on the right as you come into town, but this time I just grabbed two veggie sausage rolls from the artisan bakery with my bike leaning outside - no time to lose. Munching as I went I crossed the Usk Valley again feeling good after around 4 and a half hours in the saddle, lapping up the views and preparing myself for a climb I knew well from several previous audax outings. Soon the 16% climb sign came into view and I downed my bottle of liquid honey in preparation. It seemed to work - the climb was manageable (it's a long one) and my legs felt good on the smaller hills around Shirenewton and Mounton. That last one brought me up alongside an old stone wall to the very edge of Chepstow where I checked in at another cashpoint to finish the ride in around 6:10. Job done.

From the arrivee I rolled slowly down to the Severn Bridge and up to the Sri Chinmoy Peace Bridge plaque where I met up with Kokila - it was cold once off the bike so we didn't stay long - just a few minutes of meditation at this spot where Sri Chinmoy held a Peace Meditation back in 1991, then it was time to get home and get warm.

That's the half way point of my Audax year - 6 AAA rides down and 6 to go. This is my third attempt at completing the series so lets hope it's third time lucky!


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