Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Harlech to home Part 2/3

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.
Given that my rear tyre is causing me punctures we decide it best to get a replacement as soon as possible. Our host Mike, had advised us there was a bicycle shop in Barmouth. The road swooped gently up and down and took us there in good time. In fact we were halfway through it before realising that we were in Barmouth.
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...
'for that?'
'Yes please'
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.
'You sure?'
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.
At least the new tyre has gum walls so sort of matches the front.
Sort of.
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.
Just stunning.
No time to hang around sadly so on we pedal.
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.
The streets of Machynlleth are full of market traders as we roll on. Pete stops suddenly. His front tyre has called time, or rather the tube has. We walk the bikes down the street to find a café for lunch. Leaning the bikes against the wall outside we order in the small friendly place. Lasagne for me, double ham rolls for Pete please. While we wait, Pete wanders up to the bike shop to borrow their track pump to inflate his freshly fitted tube. With no sign of a cause it looks like the old one had just had enough and blown. Better now than on a descent...
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.
That dot is Pete.
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.
Tranquillity won't get me to my bed for the night though.
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.
There's still a climb to go before Llanidloes.
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.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Holyhead to home, part 1/3

From the title you can guess that this is a 3 part journey. I'm not sure whether to record it as an epic. It was certainly an experience.
Originally planned for March but snowed off, Pete and I had picked the second week of July as the date to ride the Lon Las Cymru. I can't remember why three days was decided to be enough to do it but that was what we had given ourselves. All the recommendations were for it taking a week. 'Ah' we reasoned 'we're fit young cyclists on road bikes with minimal luggage'. The pertinent point there being the luggage. More on that later.
Train tickets booked and the day after my birthday we were on the train Northbound to Holyhead.
As Shrewsbury came and went we began to eat our lunch in preparation.
Delicious cold pizza for me, cous cous salad for Pete. Get as many carbs in as we can.
There was a discussion that came and went as the train miles rolled by, 'should we get off at Bangor?' as we only had an afternoon to do the 70 miles to our first stay.
In the end we stuck it out to Holyhead, in for a penny and all that.
Sat inside the air conditioned carriages it was hard to envisage how warm it was outside. It was pretty warm when we had embarked in the early morning but since then the hours had gone by with a cool breeze wafting over us. Bangor came and went and signalled the time to change from shorts and tee into cycling clothes.
Holyhead at the end of the line came and off we got. Consulting the official Lon Las guidebook we had to head from the station towards a pub.
We left the station and saw no pub.
Keeping an eye out for the Route 8 NCN signs there was a little confusion due to the initial lack of them and we did a lap of Holyhead trying to find our way out.
20 minutes later and following the road signs for Bangor we happened across a Route 8 NCN sign, hurrah!
Up over a kerb and pavement and along a single lane road that ended in some bollards to be threaded through before the cycle track began.
But at least we had found it.
The track was tarmaced and seemed reasonable enough, although there was a steady increase in the amount of dog shit and glass as we went along. After a mile or two we wondered why on earth we were dodging that unpleasant cocktail when there was a perfectly serviceable quiet road along side us.
The change from the NCN track to the B road signalled our first departure from the Lon Las route.
A few more shit and glass free miles rolled by and then we came to a section of road that was being surface dressed. Being good cyclists we stayed on the road and waited for the signalman to let us through, rather than ride on the clean gravel and tar free pavement. The temperature was making itself known at this point, climbing into the high 20s as we moved away from the pleasant waft of sea breezes. Pedalling through the gravel coated surface, with the hot wet tar sticking stones to tyres, frames and anything else it could was not fun at all. This was not the first occurrence of road dressing we were to ride through.
An executive decision was made to bin off Route 8 entirely and stick instead to the A5 to get us off Anglesey. With the A55 taking the major traffic, we reasoned the A5 would be reasonably quiet and pleasant to be on.
It's quite a straight road...
Thankfully though it continued to be shit and glass free...
The mood was pleasant as we were getting into the pedal swing of it now. Still some miles to go though.
There's not too much that can be said about the countryside we passed through. From reading the guidebook, and personal knowledge, I know there were places we could have stopped and visited. Instead though we span along quite happily soaking up the sun.
There really was very few vehicles on the road. Catching and passing a chap cycling with trailer we shared greetings.
The next area of road dressing was in Llanfairp-g. Here's the station sign so you can read the full spelling
The concerned looking cyclists are a pair of American tourists who had been sticking to Route 8 but had missed a rendezvous point with their support and were now two hours adrift of where they expected to be. With their 'phone not giving them any signal, I sent a text from mine to their support to say where they were and that they were ok. I never found out if they got sorted. I hope so.
Clearing out of the road dressing our next planned break was in Bangor for a brew and a snack. Happening on a Waitrose in Menai we chanced the cafe there, only to find the toilets were closed and we were viewed with a whole heap of suspicion. Pete bought some water whilst I waited with the bikes, the store security guard standing close by having walked through the store to come and get there. After munching a couple of cereal bars and sharing the water we went on.
Over the Menai Bridge!
I had been here before for a Dragon Rally breather, but it was definitely warmer this time around. There were people lounging near the water below, I was quite jealous.
From Menai we missed Bangor entirely and dropped onto the road to Caernarfon. The a road was a little busier but we were making reasonable progress. The luggage was making itself felt on the climbs as well. My lovely titanium whippet of a bike had been transformed into a bit of a saggy mongrel.
Swooping down into Caernarfon the search was on for somewhere to eat. Forsaking the supermarket on the edge of town instead we settle into a little butty shop near the centre. Sandwiches, cake and water please!
Time was getting on now, close to 4 o'clock from memory. With food in our bellies we were happier once more. Back out onto the road.
There were the beginnings of undulations now and the heat of the afternoon was very much upon us. At the top of a long but steady climb I paused to snack and enviously survey the sheep taking it easy in the shade under sheephenge.
Our next planned stop was Porthmadog. A friend had recommended we have ice cream in Cadwalladers there. All good stuff but I had no idea what the shop front looked like. In the best tradition of sticking to the main road sure enough we found it. The shop front is black, for reference. Coming down into Porthmadog the bike had felt a little slidey. I put it down to the heat and weight of the luggage over the back but upon stopping I found the rear tyre to have slow punctured. Brilliant. Well sod it, it can wait until after I've had an ice cream.
There's no ice cream pictured as the heat was such that I had to eat it swiftly to stop it melting. That's my excuse. After a toilet stop and a face wash we walked over the road into the shade to fit a new tube.
I couldn't find any suspect material in the tyre so reasoned I had just been unlucky. There wasn't much of the day left now, with 6 o'clock approaching. The cafe staff helpfully gave us directions out of town, including how to get on the toll bridge to cut some miles out.
Off we roll then, minds full of pleasant showers and a full meal.
The toll road was open and free, and it wasn't without a little sadness at not having to pay a man in a tollhouse a fee that we rolled over it. The end of the day was getting closer, all we had to do was keep pedalling. The road was even pleasantly flat as Harlech hoved into view ahead, the castle proudly announcing the town's presence before any signage could.
'That's it,' we thought 'a smooth finish to the day'.
Straight out of Harlech and the road climbed up. Signs on minor roads to our left warned of 25% gradients.
This isn't great.
Up and up the road went.
There can't be much more left, we're almost at the B&B.
On final left turn and there's a hiss from my rear tyre.
Another puncture. Brilliant. Well as long as air stays in it, I'll keep climbing.
Then, there's the stop for the night; Frondirion B&B.
The host greets us at the door, a little past 7pm. We're shown and helped with storing our bikes securely and then luggage off and up to the room. The puncture can wait.
I need a shower and I need food. The hostess kindly brings me a glass of milk to go with the delicious home made ginger biscuits and then it's shower time.
Refreshed, or at least cleaner, we are given a lift to the nearest pub and enjoy a meal watching all the sunburned visitors, envious of their cheer at sinking pint after pint. We've got mileage to do tomorrow. A hangover would not be a good start.
Picked up and back to the B&B, with the sun setting over the mountains to the right of us.
It's been a long day, and there's more to come.