5. Elevation

So, I suppose this is where the long-distance training or experience began.

When we were kids, my Mum and Dad used to take us to a cottage in Wales for our holidays. It was a working farm, so there was plenty to explore for me and my two brothers. A trip was planned this year to visit the farm for one last time (since it was going up for sale soon), and see how our kids enjoyed it, reminisce, drink and eat too much.

As soon as I heard about it I was thinking of riding somewhere new; the terrain, exploring, and the mountains! Up until then, I rarely rode outside of my commute, so this was a golden opportunity to explore somewhere new and experience something much lumpier than my usual rides.

The trouble with riding mostly in Essex and London is that there are no real hills to speak of, let alone mountains. The Transcontinental Race has lots of mountains so it would be a good idea to try a bit more climbing than I am used to (which isn’t much).

Yep, its rough around the edges, but we like it.

First of all it was off to find a bike rack for the car, which is a task in itself since there are gazillions of them, it seems. I eventually bought one for my make and model of car and hitched the bike to the car, but it was not perfect, the hooks on the bottom straps were the wrong shape, which was very annoying after all the searching! With a bit of adjustment, it was good enough, I hoped. Cue many miles hooning down the motorway at 70mph and looking in the mirror, saying: “has that moved?”

So, we made it there with nothing falling off, meeting the rest of family there.

There was much faffing to be done with the Garmin, since I hadn’t put the maps on it before leaving. Who knows why; I mean, why didn’t I do it? The cottage had no WiFi, and only a tiny bit of 3G if you stood in the right spot, with the moon in the right place, etc.

In the end, it was down to the library in Llandovery, about a 30 minute drive away, with my Garmin, leads and other stuff, to borrow one of their PCs. With the map loaded, I was ready to go since I had been organised enough to plan the route beforehand.

Two days later, I set off at about one pm (later than I wanted to, as usual). It was a crisp day with blue skies and I headed off down the small, steep lane that runs outside of the cottage and north to Twynllanan. The road was rough in places, with very steep downhill sections and loose gravel, so I took care until I hit the main road about 5km later.

From there, I was able to up the pace to something nearer my usual speed and I really enjoyed the wider road that led north into Llandovery, a community and market town about 20km from the cottage. Its a nice town, with pleasant places to stop and eat but I needed to press on, and anyway, I wasn’t even an hour into my ride.

The pretty market town of Llandovery.

The big difference that I noticed straight away about cycling in Wales was how patient the drivers were in comparision to those in London. They’d wait a good distance back before overtaking whilst giving plenty of room as they passed, and they were never waiting long due to the fact that the roads are so much less congested there; it’s very easy to overtake. Maybe this is why they are so laid back there, they never really feel they are being held up. Drivers in London see everything as an obstacle, apart from themselves. There was only one close pass, and sadly this was by a 40 ton lorry.

20 km in and some de-layering was in order. It was getting hot, so off came the long sleeved jersey and it was on with the short sleeved one. Also, it was time for a banana.

I continued north and then turned Southwest and made my way through Halfway, Trecastle and Sennybridge, on my way to the Brecon Beacons, where I turned south and enjoyed some climbing and the magnificent scenery! At around 60km, I raided my bag for food, while I sat on a log at the side of the road and just drank in the view.

After about 70km in and nearly 4 hours, the Garmin sputtered and died. It just froze up and there was nothing that I could do with it. There was no other option but to reboot it, which is what I did. Thankfully, I was able to start the route again and pick up where I had left off, so there was no chance of losing my way but the entire first part of the ride was gone, it seemed.

I was a bit dejected, I’m childish like that, I had been really looking forward to pawing over the data later on.

The route swung west just south of Penderyn, along the A465 Heads of The Valley Road. I didn’t like it, it was a dual carrigeway with fast moving vehicles that passed with a whoosh. I was happy to turn off at Glyn-neath 7km later, heading north east for Brynamman, where I would point myself north for Llanddeusant and the last 25km or so home.

The road out of Glyn-neath was testing. My poor London legs were beginning to feel the strain and the day’s gradients were starting to punish them. I pushed on up the 10km of mostly steep climb along the Inter Valley Road and enjoyed the next 15km of largely downhill and flat sections.

Next up was a climb that I would not forget, as I peeled off of the A4069 at Brynammon, and right onto the A4068 and on to the aptly named “Mountain Road”. It was only 6km of climbing but the gradient was a steep one and it was starting to get cold as the evening drew in.

I have 2 rules:

  1. Don’t stop, just use your lowest gear.
  2. If you really need to stop, then do so, but never push the bike; you have to ride.

Sadly, I didn’t manage to stick to rule one, I was just too tired and getting too cold, but I did manage to stick to rule two. With two 30 second stops on the way up, I made it, stopping once more to add some layers, since the descent was bound be a chilly one.

The last few metres to the summit at the end of this unforgiving climb.

Its funny, I relished the decsent ahead as here I was, layering up just like the ultra-distance cyclists report doing in their blogs. I was going down a real mountain, in the cold. Go, me!

Seven kilometers of downhill enjoyment ensued as I scanned the road for dangers; pot holes, gravel, uneven surfaces, stray wildlife – all these things can pose real danger when you’re hurtling along at 60km/h, with only lycra to protect you. Of course, Lycra will not protect you.

The Glorious Descent!

Minutes later, I was at the base of the other side of the climb. That left one very short and sharp climb home of about 2km. No need to stop on that one as I ground my way up it in low gears.

After 123km and nearly 1,000m of climbing, I was home. So that was another bit of progression toward longer distances. It was a bit more experience for me: unfamiliar surroundings and terrain, not getting lost, decent route planning (overall), and mountains, actual mountains.

All in all, it was a beautiful day. The weather was good, the other road users excellent and I enjoyed my time in the mountains. The only thing that spoiled it was the Garmin, but I kept the file and manged to fix it months later using FitFileTools, an excellent, free (but feel free to drop them a tip), service for manipulating .fit files. Bravo, lads!

123.4km; 5:23:47 moving time; 925m climbed.

The next entry will be about my introduction to the world of Audax.

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