A few weeks ago I rode the Bryan Chapman Memorial 600km Audax , and a smashing ride it was too. For those not in the know its a long distance ride which starts at Chepstow in Monmouthshire, south Wales and runs up to the Menai Bridge on the Isle of Anglesey in north Wales. You then do an about turn and head back to Chepstow. Depending on the route taken its a round trip of about 600kms, maybe a touch more. On the Audax calendar its seen as a blue riband event and always sells out, its a popular event and pilgrimage for many a long distance cyclist. This year I think there were 200 riders.
As with all Audax rides there are a number of controls to help riders along the way. The main control being the hostel at Dolgellau. There (as well as others) you can eat on the way out and when heading back. Also on the return journey you can take a nap there if the dozes take control. There’s too the option of grabbing a pre-packed bag at the bag drop which helps reduce the weight of the riding load and allows you to freshen up and have a change of clothes, should you have the desire. The controls were as follows…
514kms: Llandrindod Wells
For this ride I decided to give Adrian O’Sullivan a bit of company. He was planning to ride straight through without stopping. This sort of fitted in with my aim, I wanted a bit of a TCR test. A few weeks previously I’d ridden 530kms and reckoned 600kms was doable without sleep. Adrian of course is a bit of a master at this type of riding, in the 2014 edition of the TCR he finished 8th in 10 days and also completed the mammoth Trans Am Race last year, I was in esteemed company. I was hoping to pick up some tips, learn a few lessons and generally just see how I compared. I was looking forward to it. I’d picked up a bit of a cold earlier in the week but managed to shake it off by Friday, even after that I was feeling fresh, prepared and ready to go. At about 4.00am Saturday morning I loaded up into Adrian’s van and by 5.45am I was in the queue at the hall in Chepstow checking in and collecting my brevet card. By 6.10am, a little late after some faffing we were both finally ready to roll.
All things ready
For first time I was using a Revelate Ranger frame bag. A bag which fills the inside of the bike frame. I couldn’t find an immediate supplier in the UK so I ordered one from Austria, it took 3 days to arrive and it fitted my small frame perfectly. In the top section of the bag I carried a 2 litre platypus hoser which I already had. I did consider using it in last years TCR but in the end decided to go without it. The 2 litre bag fits the top section of a small frame bag perfectly and also allows for some food too. The hose comes out of a hole in the front of the bag and sits nicely on the T bars. Its perfect, easy to drink on the move and gone are the days of struggling to accommodate two bottles in a small frame. In the platypus I mixed 2 sachets of High 5 4/1 Carb/protein Isolate. I also carried a further 4 sachets for topping up. Food consisted of a handful of Tesco’s chocolate crapes (perfect shape to go in with the platypus), a selection of chicken wraps, a large bar of chocolate (my bonk rations) and in my Revelate gas tank I had a large bag of chocolate revels and for a sugar hit a couple of packets of fruit mentos. I reckon I had enough food and drink with the odd co-op/petrol station/control top up to get me back to the start with minimal stopping.
The route was on my Garmin 1,000 and I also had it offline on my iPhone using the RidewithGPS app. I set it in airplane mode, if I didn’t have any problems then it wouldn’t need charging. I wasn’t expecting to be out on the road any longer than 30-34hrs so I just run the lights off the dynamo and carried a small battery pack to keep the Garmin topped up which was kept in the gas tank. All fairly straight forward. Oh yes, I also reset the Garmin at the turnaround point just to ensure the data was saved and I’d join the two tracks together once I was home. All worked out perfectly.
The weather was forecast for clouds but dry, but temperatures were due to drop to minus overnight. After riding outdoors through everything that the winter had to throw at us I’m pretty close to what my tolerance levels are. So I ran with both arm and leg warmers, my gabba and a thinish gillet along with a set of thin long gloves. In the bottom section of my frame bag I had my rolled up Castelli Murr rain jacket which rolls up really small and gives good rain cover but more importantly good wind protection which will help overnight. I also packed a second but thicker pair of long gloves (which I didn’t need), a beanie (didn’t need), a set of doubled up neck warmers (again didn’t need) and a silk sleeping bag liner (didn’t need) just in case I needed to curl up somewhere. That’s about it. Just to help stop the dozes coming on I’d take 2 x Pro plus tablets at the turnaround point and I’d carry 2 spare just in case (which I didn’t need).
Ride sensible, easy on the hills, get going on the rollers and flats, don’t over cook it, keep moving, eat regularly, be aware of what’s in your bags, top up when required, carry enough to get through the night and more than anything NO FAFFING!
Within 5mins Adrian had gone, disappeared up the road. Mike Hall was spotted leaving just before us and off he went in pursuit. I can’t go off that fast, I need a good 30 miles or so to get things warmed up and running as they should so I just let him go . Over time I started to get going and was soon passing riders. A few passed me and I just let them go. I need to get into my own rhythm, once in it, what happens happens. Along the way I picked up speed and started to chase down Adrian. I passed through a number of groups but no sign of him. I went through the control at Bronllys (75kms) brisk, just stopping to pick up a till receipt and pushed on. Approaching Rhayader (112kms) I recognised a café from riding across Wales last year The Old Swan Tee Rooms. As I passed I noticed a cyclist inside then recognised the bike outside, its was Adrian treating himself to an egg sandwich. So I called in, said ‘ah there you are’ shared his sandwich then for the rest of the ride we rode together.
Together we were riding briskly, probably a little faster than I would normally go but with the two of us it was a little easier. At 160kms we hit control 2 at Llanidoes, a picturesque mid wales town, we had a little ride down the main street but without stopping we doubled back and pushed on, the sun was out and from here it was going to get a little lumpy. From there it was up and over Clywedog Dam along with a few short ramps which really tested the legs. The reward was a fabulous five mile descent down to Machynlleth following what’s known as the Mach Mountain Road. In the roaring sunshine the views were stunning. The road surface too was as good as any other surface I’d ever had the pleasure of riding on. At Machynlleth we topped up drinks and added a little food to the bags courtesy of the local Co-op. 5mins and we were away without so much as even a little faffing. At control 3 Dolgellau (220kms) we stopped at the bottom of the ramp up to the hostel, had a quick pee stop, a bite to eat and pushed on, again being miserly on the stoppage front.
In the sunshine Barmouth was at its most stunning. The route took us across what is known as the Barmouth Viaduct, a single-track largely wooden railway viaduct which carries the Cambian Coast Railway across the Mawddach estuary. As lovely as it was there was always this little worry of picking up a splinter which thankfully didn’t happen. In the sunshine Barmouth was booming!
At around 249kms we reached Beddgelert in the heart of Snowdonia. En-route we had a little bit of a tussle with another couple of riders where the speed really picked up. A bit of muscle flexing was going on, I just went with the flow as I was sitting on the back. When it all split and enough was enough Adrian rolled into a roadside shop, I peeled off too and the others were left to go at their own pace. Soon after Jasmine Muller passed. She was riding a little quicker but making use of the controls so inevitably our paths crossed a number of times. A short snack and a chat with a couple of local cyclist told us Llanberris Pass was looming so we got back on the road after a coke and an ice cream. The climb was a bit of a drag but once in a groove it was just another spectacular climb in the sunshine. Once over this it was a relatively easy ride to the turnaround point at Menai. On arrival there were two other riders there and Jasmine. We’d covered the 310kms in around 12hrs 10mins, 12,000ft of climbing at an average speed of 16.5mph, all in glorious weather. Pretty pleased with that but wasn’t expecting to maintain it.
After a jacket potato accompanied with beans and whatever else was available washed down with plenty of coffee, a quick charge of battery’s, a check for Wi-Fi (which there wasn’t) then we were away by 6.45pm. The temperature was starting to drop already. As Adrian was wearing shorts (and didn’t bring legwarmers) his arm warmers took their place…what a sight that was. He was also wearing his down jacket now so he was plenty warm enough. I decided to continue as I was, eventually adding my waterproof but that wasn’t for another couple of hours. On the way back we started to pass other riders still on their way out. Obviously many, in the Audax tradition were making full use of all the controls. This went on for quite sometime. As darkness came hands and feet started to get cold and there was a nip around the ears so the waterproof was on. A quick pee stop two of the riders at Menai passed so we got on with it and chased hard just to stay warm. A Dolgellau they swung off heading to the control, we just cracked on, the climbs were helping us to keep warm. As we descended out of the Snowdonia National park with a couple of steeper climbs behind us we were in need of a top up of water. Everywhere appeared closed then Adrian spotted the Red Lion Hotel was open as we ran through Dinas Mawddwy. It was around 11.30pm, including the two punters sat at the bar there were three people. So peanuts at the bar and a pint of coke went down well along with a little bit of chat. The Bladder was topped up and Adrian filled both his bottles with coke. Not much more than 15mins and we were away again.
By about 1.30am approaching the Aberhafesp control (457kms) we were starting to feel a touch jaded, it was really cold so common-sense decided that we should call into the control and have something sensible to eat, take in a little warmth and thaw out the feet. Which also meant we could put on another layer where needed. Beans on toast went down well as did a couple of cups of coffee. Adrian took the time to slice up his spare socks and used them as an extra layer over his shoes, another bit of improvisation which said a lot about his character. After about 20mins we got going again. as we turned onto the route we could see a red light up the road which gave us a bit of impetus to speed up and get warmed up from the off. It was Jasmine, she’d gone through the control, when we caught her she was feeling a little cold and had scheduled a stop at a 24hr petrol station in Newtown. Approaching Newtown we went our separate ways after which we didn’t see each other again, which was just before I clipped a curb taking a wrong turn and tumbled over, luckily no damage. A mechanical out of carelessness you just don’t need way out in the middle on nowhere.
Out of Newtown we followed a long steady climb, taking it easy and chatting on the way up. It wasn’t too steep but enough to stay warm. We slowed the climbing and rode mostly out of the saddle to help keep the blood flowing to the hands and feet. It seemed to work and that continued until daybreak. In-between we just put our foot down and progressed as quickly as we could. We were now looking at the clock and thinking a 25 hour finish was on the cards if we could hold it together. We went straight through the penultimate control at Llandrindod Wells (514kms). Dawn was starting to break, the birds were starting to chirp, it was a good feeling and neither of us were showing any real signs of tiredness. Onwards through Builth Wells, Talgarth amidst the Brecon Beacons, then Crickhowell now on familiar roads, roads that we’d taken on the route out. With around 80kms to go we took our final stop at a petrol station in Abergavenny. With the final refreshments we started to pick up the speed, taking turns into the wind, just holding back slightly, there’s still enough hills from Usk back to Chepstow to catch the weary cyclist out.
In the end we rode back into the car park a little before 8.30am on the Sunday morning after 26 hours of riding. High fives and a hug preceded a sit down in the sun and prepared recovery drinks. What a ride and adventure. Huge thanks to all that made it possible, great company with Adrian, what an Irishman, and great to bump into various people along the way.
Strava details can be found here.
If your interested in the route…check this out.
Ride safe folks, its a jungle out there.