I won’t spend much time explaining the journey to Holyhead on Friday. Partly because we did not all travel together, and partly because some it just didn’t make a lot of sense.
Six of us set off after work from Oxford station. The train was very busy and we were unable to sit together but I think it’s fair to say that wherever we sat in the carriage we would have been able to hear some ‘interesting’ drunken conversation. Sorry, he wasn’t drunk, he was travelling. Apparently, that’s what ‘travelling’ does to you.
Arriving in Coventry we quickly left the train and headed for the next one, only to find that we had been rejoined by the not-drunk man. He sat a few seats away and made an important phone call. Apparently we’re at war. I’m not sure who with but he was certain that we are at war. Or maybe he’s at war with the person on the other end of the phone who couldn’t understand the difference between drunk and ‘travelling’. Either way, I thought it important to tell you in case you were as confused as me.
On the following train it was much quieter and we settled down to the usual reading/crosswords/thinking about war, and the journey was fairly uneventful. We arrived in Holyhead to hear woes of fresh fish still being frozen and therefore off the menu. It was a sad story, but we are at war you know.
3 hours 44 minutes on the bike
Average speed 14.8mph
It was a pleasant start to our weekend with only 55 miles to cycle and most of those were flat(ish). Everyone was in high spirits and we managed to travel at least half a mile before our first incident of the day – Nik fell off at a kerb as we cycled to Morrisons for breakfast. If only we had realised then what an eventful journey lay ahead of us.
Luckily at breakfast the only low point came as they ran out of cereals but these were soon topped up in time for everyone to grab what they wanted and stuff their faces. And then we were ready for the challenge. We made it out of Holyhead before the next incident. This time Greg had two punctures, getting his quota in early. The rest of us decided to apply a ‘survival of the fittest’ rule and head off in the direction of Betwys Coed. We were soon rejoined by Lesley and Greg, and then almost as quickly lost them again with other members of the group, just ahead of the first stop.
Those of us brave souls who made it to the food stop were in for even more excitement as Ben’s toilet trip turned into a scene from ‘when peeing outdoors goes bad’ as he was chased out of the bushes by bees. Suddenly nobody else needed to pee.
We continued on toward the Llanberis Pass. There were beautiful mountain views as we climbed slowly (or not so slowly if you’re Dan/Nik/Lesley/Greg/Graham) up towards the next stop at the Pen y Pass car park. Those of us that had made it to the first stop were not feeling too bad and stopped in the car park to ponder the whereabouts of the van and generally loiter and shiver. Eventually we were joined by the missing members of the group who had been travelling somewhere near the A5 and were now in serious need of food, as Jacque very quickly pointed out upon her arrival. Luckily we had stopped near a café so a few cuppas were drunk, cake and chips eaten, and eventually I became less blue. Still no van so we headed onwards and downwards only to find the van eagerly awaiting us at the bottom of the hill with lots of wonderful food laid out. Another stop, hoorah!
Whilst munching on all sorts of bad and fattening things (the best kinds of food) we heard how our paramedic had managed to cut her own finger whilst preparing our sandwiches. Luckily she also dealt with the injury herself, as the only person qualified for this sort of thing.
Following the cold and wet food stop it was decided that the spa at the hotel was much more welcoming than a walk up Snowdon and so we continued. Our route led us along a fairly flat route, and then a 20% hill appeared out of nowhere. There was no run up, just a turning after a give way. Having been at the back I approached the hill to find people coming back down the hill towards me to change into a more appropriate gear and then turn around and try again. I too had a bit of a false start and was left behind with Denise. As I tried again she cycled past me very slowly, talking to herself. ‘Keep pushing, just a bit more…’ until she was in front of me and ever so slowly falling to the left. Luckily there was a wall to grab onto and she unclipped her feet at the last second. I think we walked the rest.
The road continued to be fairly narrow and undulating. Again, I was at the back of the group and at one point caught up with everyone to find them all stopped and staring downward. Apparently ‘down’ was the direction we needed to take but nobody wanted to be first. It was a bit like ‘Oblivion’ at Alton Towers – vertically down and then a bend so you couldn’t see what was at the bottom. One person went and, like sheep, we all followed. There were a few more hills of a similar vain and my brakes were well used by the end. I was glad to see that we came out into a town and our accommodation was just down the road.
Arriving at around 3.30p.m. left plenty of time to get into holiday mode, grab the swimming gear and towels and head down to the spa. Lovely. Some people had already been and gone, while others took the opportunity for an afternoon nap. The rest of us wore ourselves out by splashing around in the pool, playing with the floats, and having a bit of a competition to see who could sit on the float cross-legged (probably a rather pointless competition but Dan was very determined not to be beaten by a float, I suppose it’s the principal of the matter). The Jacuzzi was nice, the steam room was nice, and we then went out for a lovely dinner. What a nice day.
Awards for the day go to:
Ben – best bee sting dance
Dan – most determined to sit cross-legged on a float
Ian – newest (and most colourful) shirt
Mark – loudest snoring on previous night
Denise – most determination whilst cycling and most motivating speech
8 hours 12 minutes in the saddle
Average speed 12.2mph
An early start for our longest day. Dan organised his puncture to coincide with everyone else pumping up their tyres, getting ready and generally faffing. Denise was apparently having some trouble getting her leg over. Meanwhile Jacque, Marisa and Linda wisely decided to set off early to follow a slightly different route along the main road. The rest of us, including Denise who had somehow manoeuvred herself onto the saddle, headed upwards, and down a bit, then up some more, and then up a bit more again, through some mud, up again, through some cow sh*t, over a few slugs, down a bit and then up – or something like that. Two hours of cycling later and we’d cycled about 9 miles.
We met up with Jacque, Marisa and Linda who looked like they’d been waiting a while and we set off up some more hills. As we headed up through the Welsh hills the weather became wetter and windier. We cycled paths previously uncycled, or at least very rarely, judging by the panic of the cattle and sheep whenever we went past them. It was very lovely countryside, Hannah even stopped to watch the sheep dog being trained (it was just a coincidence that this was on yet another hill we needed to climb).
We reached our first food stop around lunch time. Our support crew had been waiting for a long time on a cold, wet hill, and we were possibly not as polite as we could have been upon our arrival – food first, talk later. We huddled around the van for warmth whilst stuffing in as much food as possible and waiting for others to arrive. Rachel and Julie had had the genius idea of bringing a flask of tea – it was the best tea ever!
After the food stop the hill continued upwards for what seemed like a long time and then… down! Finally we could get speed up and use a little less energy. The view was beautiful, but wet. We could see the rain blowing across the road in front of us and feel it on our faces. I started to think about what a great thing it was to be out in the elements, but then I looked to my right and saw the vertical drop. Suddenly I felt the need to pay more attention to where I was headed in order to avoid being blown of the side of mountain to meet a certain death. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.
The next part of the ride has become something of a blur. However, I do remember that Marisa fell off her bike at a give way junction and was writhing around on the floor for a bit before we realised she couldn’t get up and someone had to remove the bike from between her legs. Shortly afterwards Denise fell off, also at a junction but she managed to get up off the floor much more quickly. At some point later in the day Graham also fell off, making it a hat-trick. There were also a lot of punctures, too many to count but most of them Nik’s.
As we travelled on towards Herefordshire it became apparent that Hannah was unable to unclip from her pedals, or at least not quickly enough. A new measure was put in place whereby somebody had to catch her when she needed to stop and she could somehow detach herself from the bike whilst holding on to said person. Amazingly she did not fall off, or at least not that I know of.
Late in the day, we were still trudging onwards. Lesley was worried we wouldn’t make it before dark and so Dan changed the route. Unfortunately, nobody told Nik’s satnav and so some of us headed up a fairly steep hill as per the original route while others blissfully skirted around the bottom of the hill. We ended up in the same place for another food stop and then set off as one group again. We were tiring by this point and in need of dinner. Following closely behind Nik a piece of mud flicked up onto my upper lip to give me a Hitler moustache but even that didn’t get much of a giggle from me as dinner was calling. And then finally, we saw Julie on the horizon – we’d made it!
If I had to sum up the day in a few words it would be: hills, wind, rain, hills, falling off, punctures, hills (ok so that’s more than a few).
Lesley’s words at dinner were: lost in ecstasy, collide in Wales, complete fruitloop – no idea what it means, maybe it’s code for something?
Awards for the day go to:
Linda – soldiering on with a bad knee
Derek – responsible for most slug deaths
Marisa – best fall
Jacque – telling it how it really is
Hannah – most attached to her bike
Dan – most timely puncture
Nik – most punctures incurred by one cyclist
6 hours 33 minutes on the bike
Average speed 13.3mph
Lesley kindly allowed us a bit of a lie-in the following day and we left half an hour later. Everyone was still up and about nice and early (although probably not as early as Linda and Derek) and was giving their bike a bit of tlc, including Mark who had suddenly thought it might be a good idea if all of his gears worked unlike the previous days where he spent a lot of time cycling back down a hill to change gear before taking a second attempt at the climb. The sun even managed to come out as we prepared to set off.
It was promised that the day’s route would be much easier, practically flat, and this promise was repeated throughout the day, particularly following or prior to yet another hill. The support crew were eager to ensure we had enough stops following our exhausting hilly 100 miles and it wasn’t long before we saw them for a quick food stop. Heading off again afterwards there was suddenly a crash and some shouting heard at the back of the group. It wasn’t clear what had happened but Greg appeared to have another puncture and Lesley’s rear wheel was extremely buckled. A few quick repairs later and we were on the way again.
The next ‘official’ food stop was in Ledbury where the town was closed for some kind of festival. Lesley decided that her bike needed a bit more tlc as she had been unable to keep up at the back of the group. The removal of a couple of brake blocks did the trick – who needs brakes anyway. It seems that the possibility of not being able to stop was preferable to giving in to the comforts of the van. Luckily ‘not stopping’ didn’t appear to be a problem for Lesley and we continued homeward.
Not wanting to be outdone, Nik ensured he had a few more punctures throughout the day and then broke his gears for good measure. Graham also had a puncture or two, and a bad knee – which did result in a ride in the van for a short time. At the following stop we yet again promised no hills and Graham got back on the bike, cycled a mile or two and was then faced with a hill. Who were we trying to kid?
As we approached Stow on the Wold some of us began to slow due to tiredness. But not Jacque. Suddenly she had a surge of energy knowing that home was just down the road – about 45 miles down the road but down the road nonetheless. It was difficult to tell by this stage who was in front or behind as we all spread out on the rolling hills. Occasionally I couldn’t see anybody in front of me and that is not always a good thing. Too much time alone allows you to ask yourself silly questions such as ‘why I am I doing this?’. I suppose the answer is ‘because it’s fun really’. And it was. We all made it back to Eynsham in one piece (although the same cannot be said of all our bikes). We had a wonderful support crew waiting for us and even a welcoming home party – what more could a very, very tired cyclist ask for?
Awards for the day go to:
Larry – for not getting into the van even though he thought he would need to when he signed up
Tich – for letting us use the most welcome van in Wales and England
Lesley – most broken bike (although Nik tried to steal this award away from her)
Greg – for being so laid back he was freewheeling up the hills
Graham – maintaining his King of the Mountains title despite an injured knee
Overall awards to:
Lesley for organising such a wonderful (and cheap!) trip
Nik and Dan for giving us direction
Julie for all the driving and feeding
Rachel for feeding us, and for best pictures taken of knackered cyclists.
And because the report wouldn’t be the same without a few pictures…