Harlech is the forgotten place.
Or so we were told by our host as we were packing to leave. After a slap up breakfast and a small back twinge it was time to load up the bikes and depart.
But not without fixing that puncture first.
Removing the lovely Veloflex Master tyre I couldn't find any debris in the carcass to suggest something remaining, however there was no denying the lack of air in the second inner tube so far. A second glance showed that the tyre itself had holed and there was a little protrusion from the carcass that appeared to be causing the tiny slow punctures. I applied a couple of patches to the inner of the tyre to cover the hole and then fitted my remaining spare tube. This one was a thicker and larger 23/28 so should provide a better chance of keeping the air in.
Tyre back on, wheel in and luggage on. Bottles are all filled, let's roll out.
So why is Harlech the forgotten place? It's really rather beautiful up there, and I would recommend it to anyone. It just seems to be one of those places you have to want to get to as a destination, rather than happening across it.
Anyway, the sun is shining againg and it's time to top up those odd cycling tans.
So where is the bike shop?
Plenty of cafés and general tourist convenience shops but no bike shop yet. As we were abandoning hope and consigning it to the list of shops-that-no-longer-are I spotted it. Tucked into what appeared to be an old car workshop there was a bike hire shop. This had to be it. Peering into the dark and cool interior we were greeted by the proprietor.
'Can I help you lads?'
'Yes mate, have you got any 700 x 25 tyres please?'
sucking of air through teeth...
After a rummage on overhead racks I was presented with a Sri Lankan special. 700 x 28 and £12.95 to you, sir.
Best get it fitted then, the original plan of buying a modern folding tyre and packing it along in case the problem recurred having now been consigned to the bin of nice ideas.
So, for the second time that morning I removed the old tyre, and fitted the fresh, heavy, stiff and other end of the spectrum in quality tyre. The shopkeep kindly inflated it for me and as he removed the pump there was that annoying hiss that signals air is not remaining where it should inside the tube.
'You've pinched it' he says.
'Not likely' says I, 'I pushed it on with my fingers.'
Off the tyre comes again, worryingly leaving some of the bead rubber hanging free. The tube has split by the valve.
Tube number three gone.
Friendly shopkeep provides another tube. I swear this one is heavier than the tyre, and that was no lightweight.
Back together it goes. In goes the air and it stays inside the tube this time.
'Put it to 95psi' I ask.
Shopkeep looks at tyre rating of 75psi.
So there we have it, after almost an hour of fannying about, I am back with a functioning bike. The old tyre is folded up and slid onto the rack for fixing further at home.
Ah my little whippet is becoming more of a mongrel.
Nevermind on we go.
Out of the shop and we almost immediately drop down onto the tollbridge over the estuary. Except yet again there's no toll. Railway tracks run alongside us on the wood and iron bridge. The views are amazing, more riviera or continental than Welsh.
I perch in against the railings and snap away.
Across the water and up the other side as a train pulls in to the halt. We mull over jumping on. I'm quite glad the train hadn't come past us on the bridge. There wasn't much confidence in the structure on my behalf.
The road clings to the coastline once more with rises and falls despite the constant flat of the sea on our right. Pausing at a little shop we eat some eccles cakes and file away some Haribo for later. 'Kids and grown ups love it so, the happy taste of pigs feet and sugar'.
Tywyn and Aberdovey roll by and the sun is still beating down.
This was always going to be the hardest day, both in length and climbs. The thing is we're not even at the hardest part yet.
Five or six miles out of Machynlleth we manage to get a couple of bottles of water from a village shop before it closes for lunch. A bit of banter with a pie delivery man and then off again. Lunch is in Mach. I can't wait.
The long arches of the bridge over the River Dovey signal we're very close indeed.
After lunch, and chinwagging with a work colleague who happened to be passing, we're on our way. This is where it gets tough.
We're past the halfway point of distance but the climbing really kicks in as we head out towards Llanidloes via Llyn Clywedog.
It's not too bad to start with and we agree to regroup at the top. Each bike is running different gearing and I've got less luggage weight to carry than Pete so cut an early lead as the road begins to meander steadily up.
The road goes on some more, and up some more.
I'm so thankful that the clouds have rolled in and given some cover. This would be absolute hell if the sun were still beating down.
I seem to be hardly able to keep my pedalling smooth. I'm not even pedalling squares, I'm into all kind of weird quadrilaterals.
My heart is pounding out a decent rhythm on my chest at a rate that would keep a techno fan happy, but the climb still goes on. There's a small plateau and I pause to get some breath back and neck a gel. I really don't like gels, but sometimes they will get you out of a hole. The lasagne is a distant memory.
Behind me, in the silence, the verge is full of white tufts of seeding flowers. The wind is nipping at them and every now and then some blow off. For the most part they just wave gently. Not quite ready to leave the ground.
Pete catches me and passes, carrying on. I watch him go. It's pretty tranquil here.
The next bit is tough. The road winds around and kicks up hard.
The Wynford Vaughan Thomas memorial is on our right and I holler to some waiting bikers 'give us a lift mate!'
'You're bloody heroes!' he laughs back.
Thanks, but a tow would've been nice.
This is getting a bit much. Up on the pedals and trying to keep a decent momentum going as the road climbs and curves.
My jersey is open, and I've taken my glasses off. My cap peak is up and I'm trying to get all of the air in to my lungs.
I hate my luggage so much right now.
Dragging me down with every pedal up.
I reach Pete at the top and bend over the bars, laughing.
It was either that or crying.
'That was fucking hard' we both surmise.
Thing is there are two more climbs to go.
Gobble some sweets and onward.
Heading to the next climb a bus comes the other way, the elderly driver, his white hair wisping in the breeze from the open window smiles and nods.
Best get on up this then.
Somehow it's not as bad as before, or maybe everything is dulled.
Stopping at the top, at the viewpoint, we have time to take it all in. It is lovely up there but by heck it's hard to get there by bike.
The coach come back past and the driver gets a cheery wave, responding with an even bigger grin.
We hurtle down the road, trying to eke out momentum before the next up.
It doesn't work, and my chain ships as I change down to climb. All momentum gone.
Stopped in the verge.
Hands blackened by oil it's back on and push the pedals.
Over the top and as we go down there's a car just beginning to pull out from further on.
I'm going to have you.
The speed rushes up, all memories of crashes, blowouts, dislocations are gone as the speedo hits the high 40s. Then there's a little climb and again all my momentum is sucked back.
Still, there's not far to go now, surely.
The rest of the road seems gentler and we roll into Llanidloes. Stopping at a garage where Pete reads my mind and comes out with an ice lolly each and water.
The last 19 miles have taken a long time and taken the edge off us.
We're both coming close to sitting in the bottom of the rut.
That was the road that just kept on giving and taking.
Only 15 miles to Rhayader now and our stop.
Out past the lovely black and white buildings of Llanidloes and onto the A44, then the A470. The time for scenery appreciation has passed and there's a hard edge to the pedalling now.
I'm hurting and I'm tired.
Pete, I think, is the same. He sits in my wheel and we slog on.
Down to the roundabout and 5 miles done just 10 remaining. . The road is kind to us and I sit on the rivet, hands on the drops and go.
I won't sit down, I won't shut up, and most of all I won't grow up.
Numb hands grip the bars, the battle-scarred cork tape yielding slightly. My fingers throbbing into emptiness.
Shoulders are crying and burning.
My legs turn robot like and my finger finds the lever to click another gear home as the speed rises.
A glance and Pete is still there in the wheel.
All the pain is going through me and into the road.
I shout-sing songs, or rather the lines from them as I empty myself onto the road.
One drink too many and a joke gone too far, see your face drive like a stolen car.
The speed is far higher than it should be at this time in the ride. We're up in the high 20s. This can't last, but it does as the miles run under the wheels.
Rhayader hoves into view and after a few more pedal strokes we coast up to the guesthouse.
Today we earned it.
Today we were in the elements.
6 days ago