With Chase the Sun off the menu, Sally and I had a free weekend so we decided to go and see my parents in North Wales. Of course, never to miss an opportunity I decided to ride up and had planned a decent but tough 200km route using a mix of back roads where possible.
The forecast came good after so much rain and I set out early with the aim of getting there after lunch. Sadly leaving so early meant I got caught up in rush hour and despite using the back roads to Belbroughton I still had idiots in cars. Idiot #1 was in Clent. I was riding down a lane and I was out in the middle avoiding a badly pot-holed section. I was aware of car right up my arse and as he revved up to overtake I had to pull out further in front and point and shout at him to wait rather than force his way past. Why? and just for a few seconds.
I got over the Kiddy road at Hagley without incident. Just stationary traffic. I don’t know why people do it. Down through Stakenbridge and Churchill. This road is a rat-run and you can feel the hate with the cars revving behind waiting to overtake. I stumbled upon a whole field of wild poppies which I had stop and take a pic of.
Again I crossed the A449 without incident and turned right in Caunsall and onto Kinver. The weather was perfect. Cool and sunny. Climbing out of Kinver car moron #2 overtook. I was passing a line of parked cars on the left and yes I was going slow. The car behind clearly got impatient and forced his way through so close I slammed his wing mirror without even needing to stretch. I was incensed but I never caught him to ‘…have a word’.
All was going well up over Gospel Ash past Bobbington Airport and then the wind got up. I got onto the Rabbit Run towards Sutton Maddock and I could feel a tasty headwind making things harder. I put it down to be on an exposed stretch. It was warming up nicely. I even saw a heat shimmer on the road. I was getting warm and wanted to ditch my gilet so as the Wrekin and chimney from the Ironbridge power station came into view, I decided I’d stop there.
Sutton Maddock done, a quick half mile of A road to Telford to deal with then a left and up and over before a steep drop into the Severn gorge. The river was high but not flooding. Its a nice road that runs parallel to the river.
I stopped in Ironbridge and had a break and something to eat. Took a couple of pics before carrying on. I got down the road and felt something was wrong and realised I left my glasses on the bench! A quick u-turn to retrieve them. I got a confused look by a guy sat outside a coffee shop as I went past him backwards and forwards three times.
The road to Shrewsbury was grippy. I’ve raced it a few times. Chipped road surface, holes, up and down constantly and the wind was up and in my face. It wasn’t going anywhere and it was harder than it needed to be with so far to go.
In Atcham I’d planned to cut across to Cross Hands so I could avoid the A5 but the lane was closed due to flooding. I think the river had gone down but I didn’t want to waste time checking, I decided to just ride across the A5 roundabout and pick it up later on. As I rode out of Atcham I caught a couple of cyclists that looked like they were on an event and I could see more ahead. As I approached the A5 junction a check point appeared. A colleague at work had mentioned he thought the Wolvo – Aberdovey Charity ride was on so I guessed it was that. So I was in amongst it for a few miles through Shrewsbury that skirted the town. I originally wanted to go through the park but the chances of flooding put me off that idea. I got onto the old A5 Holyhead road to Bicton Heath and got held up at some lights. I was sat there for three cycles of lights until a car pulled up behind and allowed them to change ffs. Despite all the painted cycle lanes, no one gives a shit about cyclists. I was in a box too.
I got on to the A5 and stayed on the shared path rather than chance the road. I needed to cross and found a gap and shot across straight back into the lanes. Traffic-free, quiet, loads better.
These were lanes I’d come back on my Wales tour last year. Some were really narrow and broken, grass in the middle but some were wide, well surfaced and a treat to ride.
I stopped in Maesbury for a photo and the Garmin said 100km. Half way done.
I cracked on into Oswestry and the wind was just blowing hard square into my face. It was getting harder but you wouldn’t know looking at the trees.
Lunch beckoned in Llangollen but I had a serious bit of climbing to do first. After a long drag out of town, there was long descent down into the Chirk Valley before a left up the valley which was real slog.
I stopped just before the climb in Pontfadog to expel some liquid ballast (piss). 400m and a sharp right and I was on the hill. I engaged my lowest gear (36×28) and on the first part, it was fine but the road kicked up and up and hit at least 20%. I was overgeared. I didn’t want to push to hard to save energy so I just rolled the gear over as lightly as possible. Bitch of climb with, ironically, a flat hairpin. I eventually topped out to a great view across the Dee valley. I started the descent to lunch and my brakes (carbon wheels) were proper screaming from the heat. I stopped and they were hot. Tyres were warm too. I didn’t want to blow out but I decided to carry on down the remaider of the decsent and not use my brakes (much) lol.
Llangollen was busy. The sun was out so I was able to sit outside a tea room and fill my face with a panini and chips. I was tired. I’d burned some matches riding over the last climb and the hard part was yet to come.
By the end of my lunch the sun had gone in so I kept my arm warmers on. Over the river and left and onto a back lane which followed the river on the opposite side of the valley to the A5.
The wind was getting worse and as I passed a sports club, the flags blowing horizontal served as a reminder of how hard it was blowing. Another grippy road constantly up and down made going hard but the views were stunning.
Sadly the road ran out and at Corwen I had to rejoin the A5 and a mile long traffic jam. I picked my way around and through the cars and found it was just because of the traffic lights after the bridge. Lights done, the traffic thinned and it wasn’t too bad but the wind was a killer and was really sapping the life out of me. I was beginning to feel all of the climbs and the wind was bring me to standstill with some gusts. A sign said Betws-y-coed 21 miles. A quick calc meant 35 miles to go. My original plan was to take a right at Cerrigydrudion and take on more climbs up past Llyn Brenig and take in a loop across the mountains but my will and my legs were done. I was also conscious of the time.
I stopped at Cerrigydrudion and took on some food and had a think. It was blowing hard. Right went up and a possible cross tailwind. Ahead straight down the A5. A big descent to Betws and then a steady valley road with a mile long climb right at the end. Decision made I cracked on the A5. The wind just made it like riding through treacle. I just kept saying to myself …’just keep pedalling’. I just concentrated on ticking off the miles.
Betws-y-coed done, 13 miles left. 110 miles done. Any other time, its a fast road to Llanwrst. Gently downhill but it just felt like one long, straight drag uphill. So hard.
Llanwrst done. 7 miles left. The valley road narrows now and the road was busy but I didn’t mind when I got the benefit of the cars coming past. After the painful rollers past Tal-y-Cafyn I faced the final climb up past Bodnant Garden. On any normal day its a steady gradient, nothing too bad but today, will broken, legs gone, head gone, it was a first gear epic. I willed myself not to stop and topped out at after 7hrs of riding. I was cooked.
The descent to my folks house was a welcome rest but I realised I was 2km short of 200. Part of me just wanted to stop but I just carried on past down into Glan Conwy village for a km. Did a U-turn and rode back. 200km done.
There are not many times I get off a bike and just stand there, haunched over, unable to speak but today was one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done.