It’s all in the data…. until it isn’t

There are many things I can be legitimately be accused of. However overreaching in terms of anything even tangentially linked to exercise is not one of them.

Not unless it’s reaching over a honed athletes Broccoli-with-added-misery special lunch to get elbows deep in a massive portion of chips.

A consistent arc of my athletic ability is not the only issue with the digital narrative being pedalled here. I’m as skeptical of the hooky algorithms as I am of the source data. It’s kind of my job to be professionally cynical when some chancer thrusts ‘their latest visualisation’ into my scowling visage.

Data Lineage?’ I bark. They look confused. ‘Algorithmic veracity?’ I enquire with a look of utmost weariness. ‘Derivation rigour?’ I shout at their retreating form.  Standard data management lore holds ‘Crap in, Crap out’. That there shiny thing you’re showing me is mostly a pig wearing lipstick.

Honestly it’s all gone tragically downhill since the abandonment of the trusty slide rule for those new fangled pocket calculators.  This is of course not true. Well mostly not true anyway. You can show almost anything with data. Torture it long enough and it’ll tell you anything*

Combine this explosion of data with the Internet of Things (or Internet of Shit as it’s been memorably described) and you can’t move for data points sticking up grubby electronic digits for analysis. In Garmin’s case they’ve made the classic mistake of starting without the end in sight.

Garmin devices started with a tiny data set logging speed, distance and time. The development of GPS chips flipped that into basic navigation. But it was still a narrow set of attributes focussed on one individual.

Then Strava brought its segments, Zwift its gaming and suddenly we’re cheerfully sacrificing our privacy to lob random data into questionable public facing data stores. Tin hats not required, but the product of those services is our data being sold to third parties. We need to keep that in mind.

You may not care. You probably should. Google buying FitBit fills me with horror. They’ve already been caught red handed surreptitiously shipping individual medical data to health care companies. We all know FaceBook is basically an evil business model, but the likes of Google and the other massive content aggregators/search engines aren’t far behind.

Years ago the UK government attempted to quietly create a ‘UK patient database’ with those records being available to all sorts of nefarious third parties. It was called CARE.ID, and the reason you’ve probably never heard of it was due to it being stillborn after significant lobbying from anyone sensible who criticised it for the privacy/ethical shitshow it was clearly going to be.

We’ve pretty much arrived there by stealth. And while it’s hard to argue that AI/Machine learning unleashed on massive data sets could/might/hmm schmaybe create stunning new insights and breakthroughs for all sorts of conditions, it’s equally stupid to hand our data over to organisations whose entire value proposition is monetising that data.

Right sorry about that. Got a bit distracted. So this data arriving from cadence and power sensors is tossed together with heart rates, Vo2 guesstimates** and all that malarky to make an unwelcome metric salad.

Which is then liberally garnished in digital snake oil.  Ooh the shiny. To be fair, these kind of algorithms are predicated on some kind of structured training. It’s looking for a variance off a baseline.

My baseline was two weeks of not riding because I was too busy waffling myself stupid in Brussels, followed by all the self medication required to survive a wet week in Preston.

So no exercise to a fantastic three days riding in Hebden Bridge. Trouser tightness suggested this hadn’t assuaged the gluttony of the previous weeks. A glance at the scales nudging towards 13 stone confirmed that waistband metric. Right then things must be done.

Those things didn’t include riding outside. As outside appeared to be a crap CGI version of Waterworld. I’m okay with wet trails, less keen on riding through rivers. We’d done enough of the the previous week.

Turbo it is then.  Passed the 1000km of going nowhere slowly last Thursday. Not something I’m that proud of.  Most of those came from a mammoth 830k in a single month at the start of the year. No way I could face that regime again. So I’m mixing it up with a bit of virtual riding with my Bro, a few bastard hard interval sessions, a few group rides and no racing***

After dismounting earlier through the simple Newtonian principle of falling gently to the floor, that image was my reward. Unproductive. I know it’s bloody unproductive. It’s getting sweaty in a cold shed going absolutely nowhere. That’s pretty much the sodding definition of unproductive.

Well fuck it. I’m going to ride a proper bike tomorrow. Maybe I’ll ditch the trackers and just stop when I’m knackered. It’s not training is it? It’s dicking about in the woods with your mates. Good luck finding a metric for that.

Anyway I won’t be getting any more data devices for Christmas. I’ll be having that tin hat instead.

*I’m re-using that line from my latest Cranked article. What do you mean you’ve not got a copy? There’s loads of good stuff in it. And one of my articles.

**Calculating Vo2 Max from Heart Rate data is like me extrapolating the Severn tidal bore from standing outside and counting raindrops for a few minutes.

*** As a seamless transference of my real world racing prowess is going to beat the crap out of any remaining self-esteem.

 

Time is of the essence

Muddy FoD Ride - Oct 2019

The nights are getting longer. The temperatures are heading lower. The leaves are on the ground, and  the trees are buttoning up for hibernation. Rain is less of an annoyance and more of a constant. The northern hemisphere is preparing for its annual shutdown, and that’s shit and bringing me down.

Especially as Autumn last year was a riot of fall colours, still dusty trails and the feeling that this was just summer madly denuded. Not 2019 – we moved Jess into university halls at the end of September in t-shirts and shorts. No clouds split the perfect azure blue from bustling vegetation to long distanced horizon.

The calender spoke of a changing season but we weren’t listening.  Then we were listening to hard drain bouncing off the landscape we live in, the houses we take shelter in and drenching us when we ventured outside.

Trails tinder dry from a long summer held out way beyond our expectations. But like a middle aged man fighting the flab of ageing, inevitably they succumbed, drooped, raised a weary hand of surrender* and switched from hard-pack to something both new but with a horrible familiarity for our riding life until March next year.

So now it’s wet, it’s muddy but – crucially – it’s not cold. I’ll take two out of three because I know what’s coming. And my whining over geographical inevitably is muted by riding with my good mate David who has a six in front of his age. Yet he has no truck with an e-bike or excuses. Strictly analogue.

I’ve been riding with Dave for over a decade. He’ll be the first to accept he’s not as fast as he once was. Like that matters, He retains a passion for riding bikes even when we’re facing a full on mud enema. Even when having not ridden much this year, he’s still keen for a big day out

I blame Matt for my late developed stubborn streak to go long. We start short heading out to the Forest on puddle infested fire road slaloms. A cheeky descent on a track best thought of as ‘possibly illegal’ gaps my skills between rain washed roots and the assumption of summer grip.

No matter we’re giggling in the manner of those entirely invested in the ridiculousness of the whole endeavour. We don’t ride because we have mad skills, or because we’re the fastest or we have a point to prove. We ride because this is what we do. Until we cannot. And a bit of mud absolutely is not that thing.

Muddy FoD Ride - Oct 2019

Muddy FoD Ride - Oct 2019

A bit of road, a bit of  traditional old XC if you will, poking in and out of the woods, 90 seconds of sideways action on a trail where I sacrificed a brake lever and a shoulder a couple of years back. Made the turn as did David,  still giggling. Combined age of 112. Beats mowing the lawn.

We fetch Steve from Bacon-Sandwich Central. At the tender age of 47, we wonder aloud on the veracity of his long MTB trousers. Kids today eh?  We plan a big loop, Dave looks a tad worried, I tell him it’ll be fine. I’m a bit worried too but keep this to myself.

We head out in the classic approach of ‘dicking about and getting lost’. We ride trails first cut twenty years ago and long abandoned as new stuff gets built. We ride the ‘pit of despair’ and somehow find thigh high mud mildly amusing. We get serious riding some proper slippy singletrack, only to fall over handlebars laughing so much as Dave arrives from a direction entirely distanced from any recognisable trail.

We talk shit and ride some more. I can feel the front wheel travel perpendicular to the trail when an off camber root hits. The rear follows suit and because I’ve yet to remember how to ride loose this cannons me off in a direction best thought of as ‘woooah that’s a big tree’

I find myself and Steve in a dialogue stealing essential cerebral capacity on a steep and rooty trail. Steve goes ‘Hey there’s loads more grip here than I was expecting’ / Me; “Really? Because there’s fuck all on this corner you’ve just ridden you lying bastard

No one crashes. No one knows quite how. Dave takes a detour as Steve and I add an extra trail. I chase a man who I know is quicker than me using an ill thought out strategy of braking later. Two seconds later, I’ve blown the corner and am instead sliding over a bank. Can barely ride for laughing.

Eight hours of riding finally deposits us at the pub. We have earned that beer. David especially. He’s knackered but buzzing. He’s nearly ten years older than me which gives me hope I can still be doing this in that timescale.

Muddy FoD Ride - Oct 2019

Muddy FoD Ride - Oct 2019

We ride home. It’s 11km and I’ve done it maybe a hundred times. But every time I get to wonder how brilliant it is to be riding bikes at an age when that age codifies leisure time spent on sedentary activities. A bit of me loves not being quite like those peers of my age. I’m not judging. Ok yeah I am and this makes me better somehow.

More of me thinks about when it stops. But seeing David still having a bloody good time even tho he is totally bolloxed when we finally get home is a whole lot more. We’re might be getting old, but none all of us are growing up.

Let’s keep it that way.

*that’s a metaphor rather close to home. Other than it improving much in 2020.

You can’t handle the excuse.

Not quite Autumn Yat Ride

I’m hanging onto Matt’s back wheel and making excuses. Not my normal excuses which someday I shall categorise, cross reference and publish in a book entitled ‘Bravery Denied’. If you think you’ve heard then all before, spare a thought for me fast forwarding through the index to find something within bullshit distance of compelling.

Not today. Today I’m in that nebulous zone of competence. Nebulous and fleeting. Wednesday night was lit up by the first artificial lumens of the season.  I was all over the place. Rarely intersecting with the trail but ready with a pithy quip ‘you know when you ride and it feels slow but looks fast? Yeah that trail was just like that only the other way round’.

I searched the faces of my long known riding pals for an alternate view. There were none. ‘Yeah well lights you know, takes a while to get used to them’. Classic excuse. No one else seemed to have a problem.

Shutter through a few days and we’re back in the light on a beautiful autumnal day. Only not quite – while the calendar has flipped to September, the woods have yet to ratchet the season.  It’s not quite the deep green of high summer, but aside from a chilly start we’re riding hard on a composite of dust and endorphins.

My bubble of confidence risks deflation from external pricks* For a start I’m riding ‘Christine the leg snapper’. The persistent death rattle from the pivots has been traced to a very loose axle bolt**, but I’m astride yesterday’s geometry barely supported on non enduro width rims shod with questionable tyres. How the whole thing didn’t explode in an inferno of Internet bollocks is something of a mystery.

What I’m – in reality – riding is a brilliantly sorted trail bike on hero dirt, and I’m absolutely loving it. Punting standard crashing worries out of the bubble while making sufficient progress ensures overthinking fails to hit the priority queue. Now the trail is just my personal ribbon of everything that’s good on a perfect day to chase fast mates on technical trails.

And I’m doing just that. Visual cues suggest the scenery is flashing by at a rate of knots. Internal accelerometers are still in the green tho, this doesn’t feel fast, it feels like a whole lot of fucking fun, but it’s not scary. I’m confidently switching between short tight corners and long sweepers. This bike feels amazing which, if not part of me, is at least not disconnected by higher order prevarication.

So obviously I’m worried. Matt is a better rider than me. He’ll gap me on any trail. The harder the trail, the bigger the gap. Yet I’m comfortably sat two feet behind, hands off the brakes and eyes on the next apex. I’ve even time to wonder when the right time would be to inform him of the rather parlous state of his rear tyre.

Yeah that’s why I can do this. His tyre is fucked. Oh and he’s been away for a month and even good riders need time to dial themselves back in. Maybe everyone is taking it easy today and I missed the memo. Or maybe I’m actually riding pretty well.  I don’t think it’s that, so I’d better find some better excuses.

You know how this goes. When your average joe is convinced they are riding like shit, well they probably are. But it’s 10% off what ‘good riding’ feels like. 10% feels like a shed load as your mates ride away from you, but it’s really not. You can get that back. Maybe not today, but someday and soon.

Compare that to when you’re riding outside of your self enforced parameters. You know it’s transitory.  This is not a ‘new normal’, rather a glimpse of a land with visitation rights. Resident status is repeatedly denied. You’ve no idea how you got here but you know how it ends. Back to being happily or unhappily average. Back to wondering if you could be more skilled, a little braver, a little less analytical.

My arse has been handed to me so many times on these trails, I’ve considered carrying a plate in my backpack for just that purpose. Today tho – and I know it will just be for today – I’m doing more than hanging on. Even when there’s scary shit happening outside of the bubble – dodgy lines, missed apexes, narrowly missed trees.

At one point I’ve managed to hand the whole front end off to barely understood physics with it sliding terrifyingly towards a stump named doom. Even in perfect conditions, on a great bike shod with good tyres, my average ability inevitably punts me towards disaster.

Never got there though. Called a ‘code brown’, laughed it off and got back to being a bit better than average before the pixie dust wears off. We toast a day of brilliant trails with a cold beer and I’m wondering when it gets that good again. Maybe on the next ride, yeah like that shit is going to happen.

Excuses are easy. They give you faux rationale for what. They make a reasoned argument for how. They totally fail to answer the most important question of ‘why’.

Days like this are why.

*not my riding buddies. I prefer ‘Twats’ as a more accurate descriptor 🙂

**’Did you not notice the 3 degrees of lateral flex Al?’ / ‘No. I was distracted by the prospect of death by evil bicycle’,

Point and woot

Penyard MTB - May 2019

Welcome to the Western chapter of ‘Angles Anonymous’. My name is Alex and it’s been 15 years since I properly railed a corner.  Chronology matters here. I wasn’t the best descender in 2004 back when I had two fully functional  knees. Then I nearly didn’t after an accident which left me a hairs breath from leaving hospital in a wheelchair.

Physically that was a fairly intense time. But you heal. Externally for sure but mental scar tissue goes all 5th columnist on your muscles. That’s ignored when you’re finally back on the bike decoding a ribbon of singletrack firing synoptics at high speed. Dendrites flood your neural cortex. Tendons tense. Visual cues switch chaos for muscle memory.

You know how this goes. A hundred thousand corners groove the process deep into your conscious. There’s a rapid assessment of trail conditions, of grip, of camber, of terrain balanced with a quick check of your bravery coefficient. Divide X by Y, line up appropriate biometrics and push hard on the inside bar.

That’s a push into the fourth dimension where the confidence pixies fire up the adrenaline compressors. Where physics meets geography. Where that edge threatens to throw you off, but you laugh it off and risk the abyss. Oh hello righteousness I’ve missed you from that hospital bed.

It didn’t go like that. It went like this. See the entry, remind yourself what happened last time, worry a bit, grab the brakes a bit more, bottle the apex, blow the exit. Watch your mates ride away. Spend some time in the land of self loathing.

Being an analytical sort of bloke the answer was clearly crossroaded at a happy place between quantitive and qualitative thinking. A hundred YouTube videos and a couple of skills courses left me instead somewhere between annoyed and deeply fucked off. It wasn’t happening. I couldn’t trust the tyres, the forks, the geometry enough to even slightly push it.

That’s bullshit of course. What I couldn’t  trust was myself. That mental  scar tissue was binding my ability. Not helped by the getting older and not bouncing quite so well. Entropy is a total bastard what with it travelling in the wrong direction. I was running out of time while riding like a man who was so concerned with crashing he’d forgotten why he’s got on the bike in the first place.

Relearning is pretty much new dog old tricks. Motorbikes taught me go hard on the inside hand.  Skills courses insisted outside pedal down. Everyone quick says look where you want to go. It kind of worked until it didn’t. I rode sketchy stuff hanging on to better riders and then lost them on the next turn.

15 years should transition you from anger to acceptance. For me tho it’s just continued to piss me off. I’m doing the hard stuff, but I can’t ride those corners in the  Venn of fast, risky and amazing. And maybe I never could again. We’ve done denial, let’s move straight to grief.

And then a forum thread full of fuckwits awash with advice best thought of as clinically insane furballed out a video recorded back in 2012. Straight headtubes, Non bolt though axles, no dropper posts. Based on current marketing convention they were lucky to survive the 2 minutes 54 of hamming it up.

The ham was strong. Talk of ‘laser peckers’ and ‘pointing the penis’* nearly had me hitting the X,  but lost in the misogyny was the concept that hips were a key player in cornering. Was this the missing link?

No. And Yes. And no again. We all point things at things** when riding bikes. Some of us do it naturally. Others overthink it. I’m in the second camp attempting to sequence non linear actions into some form of success strategy. It’s always felt – post smashing myself up – contrived and ineffective.

Hips tho. Even old non articulating hips.  Point them in the desired direction of travel and feel the whole biomechanical structure creak into place. I kind of knew this but what I’d missed was leading with the hips stacks everything in a direction mostly likely to punt you out of a corner a) quite quickly and b) not straight into a tree.

With nothing to lose other than a innocent spleen, I decided to give it a proper go. Not a slight shift of the hips, more a full on point and – if things went well – a ‘woot’ to confirm success. First corner, commitment a bit questionable and I grazed summer shrubbery far removed from the dusty trail.

For fucks sake,  had a word with myself.

Next corner went ‘full pointy’*** which has some consequences. One was facing in an entirely different direction without quite understanding how that might have happened.  Bloody hell that’s a thing. How long have I  been riding bikes? Surely someone should have told me.

They would have told me this. It’s not a panacea. It does not swap technique for bravery. It doesn’t work everywhere. It needs to be learned. But when you do, the whole ‘am I doing the right thing ‘ is replaced by ‘swivel those hips and all while be well’

Let’s  not get ahead of ourselves. It’s an evolution not a revolution. It’s codifying stuff I already know. It may not survive the soggy season. It doesn’t override my fear of spending days back at that hospital.

What it is tho is a reminder of why I do this. Of waving the big fuck off to being 52 years old and still riding at a reasonably brisk pace. Of not confusing those years on the planet with a loss of ability. Of never stopping learning nor thinking there is something important about acting my age.

Hi my name is Alex and it’s been three days since I railed a corner. I’m done with this group. I won’t be back.

I’ll be riding. Not worrying. Not overthinking. Maybe not railing a corner but giving it a damn good go.

Is that enough? You betcha.

*amazing really with content such as this that women are not overly represented in Mountain Biking.

**I don’t want to lose my audience here by getting too technical.

***As much as a middle aged man can. Fully articulated hips happen to the next generation.

Best of days

The end of summer?

The end of summer?

The end of summer?

The day didn’t start well. The planned skive ride stopped before it started. The potential back up afternoon ride was similarly sacked off. Work stopped play, and that’s not a call a man with limited years left to ride and total control of his own diary should ever have to make.

The Wednesday night ride stepped up to take in the slack and was nothing short of awesome. The Wye Valley is so preposterously stunning in summer there is no place I’d rather be. You point and click in any direction and end up with a banger. That’s the picturesque landscape doing all the heavy lifting.

A landscape you get to ride in until you run out of light. Then there’s the pub you get to drink in. Until you run out of money.  We’re on the cusp of artificial light buttressing the sinking sun, but we’re not quite there yet.  That’s a reality tinged with sadness as our little part of the planet turns its face from the sun.

But we’re hanging on. To dusty motes hanging in sun baked stillness. To bikes air brushed with dust. To summer lines and endless grip. To T-shirts and sweat. To knowing it’ll be many months before it’s this good again.

So let’s get amongst it. The local trails above Ross are of questionable legality. And that’s stretching the most charitable definition. The shovel pixies are both skilled builders and passive advocates of Marx’s firmly held view that all property is theft. I have concerns from both sides, but bloody hell they’ve created a mini bike park which repeatedly pokes the fun gland.

It’s a small hill. One ten minute climb to the top and maybe two minutes down. Rinse and repeat. Trails snake left and right with clear progression from the flowy and fast to the frankly ridiculous. There’s one steep rock drop matched to a roll out you might as well name ‘busted collarbone’.  I’m not riding that.

I am riding everything else though including a big gap jump I’d been studiously ignoring for a year or so. I’m a man who works best with a margin of error. Preferably half way across the page. So why I attempted this on my hardtail is beyond me. Caught in the moment I guess. Oh and that bike is beyond awesome. It looks like a normal bike but rides like a champion.

There’s some steely magic crafted into Cotic Bikes. Tonight I’m all cantered hips and dragged rear brakes. It’s point and shoot silliness that never gets old even as I approach my 52nd birthday. There are moments which transcend the whole age thing. Just you, a brilliant bike, a bit of confidence, a mate to chase and dust particles to excite.

In the words of Jo Burt, this is why. It’s easy to stuff your head with lyrical earwax when you’ve had a great ride, but there is something to this. And it’s something like this. It’s Riding Evo. It’s a slightly braver version of who you are. It’s pushing a bit harder and not being scared. It’s feeling the tyres giving up but cracking on anyway. It’s taking the accident out of emergency. It’s as close to living in the moment as any of us get.

I just wanted to keep riding with my mates. I love the bullshit and the banter. I love the fact we’re all very different and yet somehow all the same when we ride bikes.  I love – because I’m as shallow as a tea spoon – better riders than me saying ‘Shit Al, what are you on tonight, that’s proper quick’.

I know what I’m on. Adrenaline chased with a dopamine hit. This is what I love about being an average rider. Because when you get it right, when confidence seeps in and anxiety exits stage left it feels amazing. You stop feeling like a fraud, a credit card rider, all that gear and still no fucking idea. You get a glimpse that this is how great riders feel all the time.

And I don’t want to be one of those. Really. It’d just have me chasing the next level thrill. The more stupid. The desperately difficult. I don’t need that in my life. What I need instead are nights like this when good enough is so much more than good enough. When I’m nailing every apex, feeling – really feeling – what the bike is telling me, pushing just a little bit harder and laughing out loud as the bike rails a corner or nails a jump.

Yeah like the landscape, the bike is doing the heavy lifting here. But I’m close enough to steal some of the glory. And what a thing that is.

We’re drinking cold beer watching the sun set. It’s not even 9pm. Summer is rushing into Autumn. The cold season awaits. But just for today, just for a moment, it’s perfect.

The best of days.

Jekyll and Hyde

Orbea Occam 27.5 AM
Blood Red Saddle. Appropriate.

Robert Stevenson’s novella has infected one of my mountain bikes. It’s all ‘oh what a lovely well sorted trail bike’ until someone has a nasty accident. That someone being my mate Tim who took ‘the snapper’ out in Finale apparently to test the breaking strain of his tibia.

For more on that, you’ll need to arm yourself with a copy of this quarters www.cranked.cc and a strong libation to numb the gory bits.

Coincidence I hear you mutter. Oh I think not after the sadistic bastard had a stab at separating my arm and shoulder last weekend. Ah you mutter on, but you’re always crashing you useless twat. Yes well there’s something in that, but work with me here. At least let’s agree that all bikes have personalities.

What? You’re not even throwing me that bone? Tough crowd. Look they do, my Solaris Max is basically a puppy amped up on a sugar rush, the RipMo is a calm explorer fearing nothing of scary landscape and the Orbea is just, well, mentally unstable. And like the worse kind of nutter, it lulls you into that false sense of security before making strenuous attempt to bite off your nose.

I’d not ridden it much before Tim lunched himself into a innocent tree. Strangely it’s not been granted day release from the ShedofDreams since. It’s just hung on the wall bullying the other bikes. Sufficient time has now passed however for firm knowledge to soften into conspiracy theory.  Last week I extended a tentative hand of friendship with a ride on our local trails. All alone in case it felt the urge to murder someone else.

Of course it was fine. Dr Jekyll in control. I still wasn’t sure I liked it much, but that was less about it’s dubious character and more that it’s very different to both my other mountain bikes. It climbs like an absolute mad bastard for a start.

Efficient, I thought, gets you to the top of the hill so it can kill you quicker. Down tho it’s only not brilliant because I am not brilliant. 150mm of travel both ends, decent angles, somehow both taut and plush. Not massively engaging. Not sure why.

I rode for two hours and wasn’t obviously dead. In fact it’d been a bit of an anti-climax. Like all the other times I’d ridden it. All 7 of them. Maybe  Tim’s accident and my whole ‘Holy Shit here comes Edward Hyde’ was nothing more than displacement activity.  Best find out.

I should have known. The day before Tim had an extended session genuflecting to the Shrine of Mong, he was riding like an absolute demon. I’ll be honest, I’d never ridden the bike that fast, but once switched from his 29er Ripley and within a few trails he was having it fairly large. A bit annoying really as we’re normally closely matched but I was – and there’s no kind way of saying this – getting my arse handed to me on a plate.

It is a fast bike without doubt. 2 hours into our long weekend ride, I started to finally gel with it. Rewards a bit of commitment for sure, but otherwise it’s pretty much vice-less. Until it wasn’t. Heading onto a trail we rarely ride, Matt and I had on of those exchanges.

Him ‘Do you want to do that shit jump?  I’m on holiday next week and really don’t want to crash’ Someone else ‘Ah come on we’re here now, it’ll be fine’. That someone was me. Mr Hyde was clearly in the driving seat. My cautious self still retained a modicum of risk assessment tho, so ‘But only if you go first’

Normally this stops me hitting jumps too slowly. Today however Matt decided to adopt a bit of an Al-Approach. There are good reasons for this. The run in is okay but that’s as good as it gets. The take off exits two wobbly logs bouncing on a decaying tree, while the run out narrows alarmingly with trees left and right ready to stop you – if not dead at least mildly concussed.

A normal me would have abandoned after watching Matt extract maximum value for his 180mm forks on landing. He wasn’t troubling the 180mm on the back much. I didn’t trouble mine at all having rolled off the 3 foot plank with only sufficient velocity to outrun growing vegetation.

I landed in some a second or so later. Having realised this was a classic over the bars arms out/collarbone at risk crash, I snapped into ‘full tortoise’, hit the ground with my head and shoulder before rolling painfully into the bushes. The bike lay beside me looking pleased. Yeah Ed, you total bastard you got me that time.

Well that hurt

Haydn persuaded me not to have another go. The bike looked disappointed. It was sure it could deal out more than soreness and scars given another chance. I gingerly rotated crunching bones and decided this was the correct course of action. As was not blaming the bike.

No bike would have saved me. Rider error 100%. The rest of the day went absolutely swimmingly. Literally when I found a ridable line through a pit of mud Matt and H had failed it clear. It was a pyrrhic victory though with my reward being head to toe fetid moistness.

The bike however was great. The more I rode it, the better it was. So sure now that its split personality was nothing more than an excuse, I punted it round the always-brisk Wednesday night ride. And you know what? It was bloody fantastic. Grip, poise, agility. Three out of three. Loss of limb. Zero out of one.

Watching the sun set blood red on the dusty frame, I couldn’t help but conclude that lunacy was definitely involved. But the one barking* at the moon wasn’t the bike. It was me.

So Dr J is a keeper. Mr H can fuck off tho. That crash bloody hurt.

*more giggling to be fair. It just doesn’t scan as well.

Lon Las Cymru – final thoughts

Lon Las Cymru - Route profile

Trying to summarise the experience of Lon Las Cymru is not so easy. Far too much stuff going on, some of which needs a bit more time to think about. But here’s what I’ve got so far.

Is it a good route?
It absolutely is. Sustrans and all the associated groups should be congratulated on both creating the route and keeping it maintained. The signage is great across most of the route. The route itself keeps you off the main roads and sends you through all sorts of interesting places. Sure you do more climbing than the main drags, but that’s kind of what you sign up for.

I’d still not do it without a GPS though. Sometimes the signage is missing/hidden under vegetation/hard to see, and having turn by turn navigation makes life so much easier.

Staying off the main roads made it for me. The whole club chaingang on some busy A road is something I’ll never want to do.

South to North or..
No South to North, The way the climbs are set up, this way is far better and you get that monster descent into Mach. It’d possibly be quicker North to South but that’s hardly the point.

Road bike or Gravel bike?
Assuming we can get beyond definitions, I’d say Gravel bike. Not that I’ve ridden it on a road bike, but I have ridden road bikes and the route definitely is not all road. Some of the non road routes are well surfaced tracks, but there’s a lot of gravel, lumpy tarmac, bits of mud and even some decent sized rocks. 23c tyres at 100PSI would be faster no doubt, but the bikes we rode – I think – were more fun.

Adding 15lb of gear makes the original weight fairly irrelevant. I liked the stability of my bike, it’s ability to handle the extra weight without me really noticing, the width and tread on the tyres, the relaxed geometry and the more upright riding position. Sure it’s not aero but it’s bloody comfortable. And Hydro’s. Wasn’t sure they were needed on road based bikes. No longer think that, Absolutely brilliant.

Better than Mountain Biking?
Oh. Contentious. I’d say No but not by as much as I thought. It is very different. Really a venn diagram with only a two wheeled form of transport at the intersection. I’ve ridden a lot of MTB in South and North Wales. But I saw so much more on this trip. Not just because of the route but also because I wasn’t trying to get to the next descent as quickly as possible. It’s less scary so the dopamine hits are less obvious, but the sense of satisfaction finishing a big day shouldn’t be underestimated.

I do love the purity of the endeavour. Just get on and pedal. No forks to fettle, no shocks to set up. Although I missed the dropper post. There’s something here that makes these bikes way more fun that – to me – a standard road bike. I don’t know what it is but I like it. A lot.

B and B or Camping?
Oh really. We saw a few ‘fully camped up’ riders and that’s fine if it’s your thing. I’m not going to judge, But arriving somewhere knowing the hardest thing we had to do was to find the accomodation and a decent pub was not something I’d be prepared to give up. That’s before we consider how much more gear you’d have to transport.

There are so many good B and Bs on the route, unless you love camping or object to the £30-£35 a night for four stops, then I’m really struggling with why you’d camp.

Best number of days?
4.5 felt fine, 4 is doable but it’d have me chasing the clock and I didn’t want to do that. Sure you could travel lighter and ride harder but the approach we took worked well for our ‘leisurely breakfast, ride, proper lunch, ride, arrive mid to late afternoon, pub’ vibe.

I wouldn’t want to take any longer if only to save my liver. But a week of touring felt about right.

Did I take the right amount of gear?
Mostly. I could have taken less ‘casual’ clothes but I was never prepared to wash ride shorts mid trip. Plus we had a mid tour re-supply so I’m not really in a position to comment. I’d like a lightweight waterproof that was, well, waterproof but otherwise not sure I’d change much. Ad’s ‘Chammy Cream in a clear plastic bag’ is NOT a recommendation I can even begin to endorse tho!

Lycra or baggies?
Lycra. There, now I’ve said it. Bottom half certainly. I stuck with baggy MTB tops and stayed away from places of high population 😉

Was the bike packing kit worth it?
For me it was. The Alpkit stuff is quality kit and made by a great UK company. My seat pack was super stable as compared to Ad’s ‘Wobbly Dalek’. But his was a lot cheaper and fully waterproof. The three bags on my bike worked well and I wouldn’t change anything for future trips.

Garmin or Phone?
Ad’s Garmin had great turn by turn routing and excellent battery life. My free GPX app was easy to read and saved me carrying another device. I needed to run an external battery pack to make it last the day though, and it was useless once the rain came.

We didn’t bother with paper maps and didn’t miss them.

Would I do it again?
Probably not. Mainly because I don’t think I’d enjoy it so much the second time. It’s not like riding a favourite trail, it’s more of an experience ticked off. Not bothered about doing it North to South either.

Did I learn anything?
A bit. I can ride a drop bar bike for five days. I can ride 100km lumpy routes on multiple days. I am a bit stronger on the climbs than I expected. Mostly though I found the whole concept of touring by bicycle is something I want to do lots more of. And not just when I’ve got too old to ride MTBs. Apart from 45 mins on the last day, I loved every minute of. It.

Ads was a good riding companion. Especially to put up with my crap jokes and weapons grade snoring. I wouldn’t want to do this kind of thing on my own. But as an experience with a mate, it’s one of the best weeks I’ve had on a bike, And I’ve had A LOT of amazing weeks riding over the last 20 years.

Final thoughts?
Just one. If you’re wondering if you can or should do this route, then stop wondering and get it booked. You don’t need to be super fit or have an amazing bike or even understand how to read a map. You just need a sense of adventure, a good mate or two and the desire to go an experience something different.

Really just do it.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

And if you’re short of someone to ride with, give me a call I might change my mind about doing it again 🙂

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

Lon Las Cymru. Thank you, it’s been epic.

Lon Las Cymru – Day 5

Watching the sun set over the marina the previous night, it was hard to believe a storm was coming. The sea was flat calm and the air warm and dry as we ambled- in my case ambling in a state or random perambulation after discovering Rhubarb gin – back through the twilight.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

7am the following morning confirmed what every weather app had been grimly forecasting for the last 24 hours. Heavy rain driven eastward by string winds mapped closely to our route for the final day. There looked to be a few dry-ish windows mid morning, so we packed bags for the last time, readied waterproofs and watched the rain radar.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

At 10am, we abandoned meteorological analysis and fetched bikes into a panorama of steel grey. The low cloud occluded the water in the bay, but delivered almost as much from  the sky. Remember my crowing over gear selection earlier in the trip? Now it was my turn to covet both Adam’s expensive and – more importantly – waterproof jacket and neoprene seat pack. My own inventory was at best showerproof – untaped seams on the packs and a five year old cheap jacket retrieved from a dusty corner of a Camelbak.

As whinging over this mismatch failed to improve the inclement conditions, we decided to make a run for it. Adam’s tyres continued to disappoint- the first slick pavement crossing had the rear step out in an alarming/amusing manner. Select option depending if you were riding or following 🙂

Some relief came from yet another disused railway – Lon Las Menai – running to the old slate harbour of Port Dinowig. This one was shaded by mature broadleaf trees granting us respite from the continuing hammering of the rain. Nature’s umbrella lasted four miles before we broke out into the open. Routing through an industrial estate, we were soon crossing and re-crossing the main Bangor road. The old slate harbour is now a rather posh marina which would have been a nice place for a sit had the rain continued to pulse from underneath leaden skies.

The route in and out of Penrhosgarnedd was all a bit frustrating stop/start. It did eventually lead us to the first proper climb of the day on a pavement mirroring the A55. This was neither steep nor long but both of us found it surprisingly tiring. I countered this by the now standard ‘stat check’ this time explaining we’d not be climbing any higher today. Yeah that thing about lies and statistics….

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

I was looking forward to capturing the Menai Suspension bridge from both sides. Once on this side and one from the Island taking advantage of a railway station with the made up long station name. This proved entirely pointless with the clag and the rain auto-titling both images ‘Unrecognisable grey thing backlit by grey in a grey landscape’

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

We settled for a couple of quick shots on the bridge before the reality of wet fingers and touch screens had me shouting angrily at the phone. This failed to fix it, so I stowed it for about 20 miles before trying again. That’s not the reason we failed to stop at Llanfair Pwllgwyngll (of -gogogoch fame)- no a) we never actually saw it even through we passed right by it and b) stopping would have given the rain a target to zero in on.

My rain jacket was now just that. It had given up on its primary purpose and pivoted to welcoming moisture straight through and then holding it sweatily against bare skin. Through gritted teeth I checked with Adam on the efficacy of his garment. As expected, I received a cheery reply from the dry and warm person that used to be my friend.

The guidebook encourages a stop here to enjoy ‘expansive views of Snowdonia‘. We pushed onto hoping for an expansive view of cake and coffee, but even in this limited ambition we were to be disappointed. Anglesey – admittedly in our brief experience – seemed to have most of the closed and dilapidated parts of Wales we’d seen, and not much of the open hospitality we’d enjoyed.

Plan for refuelling switched to a quick energy bar by the reed beds of Malltrath Marsh, before heading up the valley to, er, RAF Valley. Nothing quite as uplifting as sodden barracks built in the aesthetic 60s cheap concrete style to raise the spirits.

Nothing like a 30 MPH headwind to knock them right back again. It’s only a straight mile before turning away from the base, but God it was bleak. Took an age as well before finally crossing the bridge, failing to take a picture of the Hawk Trainer (phone dampness ongoing) and passing the runways where nothing was flying.

Finally it stopped raining and we could see both bits of Snowdonia we’re crossed and the Holyhead Mountain we had no intention of climbing. The shared path by the A5 was a welcome relief- shielded from the wind and with an easy gradient to click off the distance. Regardless of improving conditions, we both wanted this done now. Half of me was sad for the trip to be close to finishing, half wanted my own bed and a couple of days of not riding bikes.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

First though we had to finish. The Phenros Coastal Park was a fine way to enter the last town on the route. An off road path past the impressive looking Holyhead cricket club had the distance down to less then 3km. Two of those were through uninteresting urban landscape before being pitched out by the railway station. Where the rain started again.

Having followed the GPS for 424km, we decided now would absolutely be the right time to strike out on our own. The result was a heave through the station concourse, a ride over the fantastic if somewhat out of place modern bridge (a cross between a game of Mousetrap and a Waterpark slide), a blast through the centre of Holyhead and a damp descent to the sea.

The GPS pinged we were done. Finished. At rides end. It was – frankly – a bit shit. The town centre was pretty horrible, the weather had turned grim again and we were tired from having ridden 65km/3.5 hours without much of a stop. Or any cake. We were also 4 hours early for our booked train. The original plan had been to ride gently to the lighthouse and take valedictory pictures, basking in the warm sunshine, with all of Wales laid out behind us.

The reality was significantly more underwhelming,  A bus shelter held together with peeling paint and a view of a sea being thrown about by a summer storm. After a huddled navigational conference, we struck out for the lighthouse anyway. I was hungry and a bit grumpy and my legs were done with riding. Which made the next 5km to the South Stack the worse part of the whole trip.

Especially as we ended up climbing another 150 metres because the lighthouse was – of course – over the top of Holyhead mountain. The clag increased to the point where I couldn’t see Ad’s rear wheel and barely make out my front one. The prospect of paying £6 each to carry the bikes down a rocky path back to sea level so we could take photos in front of something that might be a lighthouse didn’t appeal. At all.

Lon Las Cymru

Lon Las Cymru

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

Hence these images of damp riders and no views. Still, it felt good to have come as far as we could without falling into the sea. Going further could only be countenanced as dogmatic pursuit of purgatory.

So we flipped the bike around and made great time back to town, now with a welcome tailwind. Adam found a great café away from the horror of the high street. It served wholesome food and cold beer. It also hosted a large ground floor toilet serving as a changing room to swap damp riding gear for my last set of dry clothes.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

Lon Las Cymru - Day 5

Beers drunk but still feeling slightly deflated we made our weary way to the station. Where we hopped onto the tiny two carriage train, stored our bikes and planned to sleep the 3 hours home. Friday night though this is party train and the minutes passed slowly as shouty happy people got increasingly pissed.

This wasn’t the reason Ads and I didn’t talk much. We’d got good at comfortable silences and – for me anyway – I was thinking of what we’d done and what we might do next. We both knew we’d ridden the route ‘well‘ in terms of navigation, speed and companionship.  Clearly this was helped by decent weather for four of the days and great accommodation each night to rest and recuperate.

This left me with both a sense of achievement and a lament for re-engaging with the real world. Most riding holidays don’t finish like this. I’m usually just happy to be alive and not missing any vital organs. This felt very different.

The following day I cleaned the bike before taking it for a very quick test ride. The unloaded bike felt light and I felt fit. It seemed like we both wanted to go somewhere else, discover new places, ride new tracks.

The Lon Las Cymru is an amazing experience but, for me, it’s way more than that. it’s opened up a whole side of cycling I’d previously considered as boring and pointless.

Not a bit of it. Find some stunning scenery and ride into it. Do it for a number of days until you run out of land. In between enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing a beautiful country on the best form of transport ever devised.

Five days that changed my view of cycling. That’ll do as a legacy. Until next time.

Lon Las Cymru – Day 4

Pub talk is cheap. Here’s how it goes: ‘Day 2, total bastard, day 3, yeah we probably underestimated that, but tomorrow has less climbing that yesterday and less distance than Tuesday. We’ll smash it‘. While my brain was subdued by alcohol, my legs were clambering for attention. In the anatomy edition of Monopoly, they had definitely not passed go nor collected £200 of freshly rested muscle.

What nearly broke me on Day 4 wasn’t the maximum elevation, which we’d already pegged as being only a little more than half of what we’d done so far, it was the sustained climbing of multiple lower summits. Before all that though we were going to the seaside.

Barmouth is pretty much the Wikipedia citation for ‘God’s waiting room‘. But I can’t love it any less for that. It was one of the original tourist towns. With ‘holiday specials‘ transporting factory staff from grimy industrial works to clear skies and clean air. Bodies pressed to tiny steam train windows catching first sight of something never seen before. The Irish Sea must have looked like Mars. And while we’re back into faded glory, what a thing that is.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

We’re 10km away from sticking our toes in the sand.  I’m weary and so is Ads. He’s ten years younger than me so clearly I’m suffering more. Therefore it seems fair he takes point on the fantastic path out of Caernarfon hugging the river before arcing towards the sea.

The track is wide but the wind is brutal. It’s blowing spitefully in our face so we’re nose to tail pushing hard and missing out on a vista that’s more New Zealand than North Wales. It feels properly wild even in sight of towns on the headland. We’re in and out of coves, sylph like bridges appearing close are snatched away as we hove to port or starboard.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

We’re giving it plenty even on day four legs and I misjudge my turn on the front and wrap my seat bag strap on Adam’s brake lever. That was two seconds of excitement I’ll remember for a while.  Calming down a bit we merged onto the old railway running parallel with todays single line bridged over the water. It’s fun to ride until the raised sleepers get a bit tiring but the views across the bay are worth the discomfort.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

The town itself is a bit of a disappointment. The weather isn’t helping. The beach is storm tossed and the ice cream booths hard shuttered against the wind. We peer into a hotel, last updated in the 70s, and see an elderly couple sipping tea because there is nothing else to do. Because I’m old I start humming Phil Collins’s ‘Home by the Sea‘. I feel this cultural reference is lost on Adam.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

We climb out on a steep pitch reminding us our legs are not really up for what’s coming. Not just legs, but – for me at least – other vital skeletal accessories primarily shoulders. Not ridden a dropped bar bike much, and certainly not for four consecutive days so there’s some unpleasant crunching replacing smooth rotation. Other body parts are also clambering for attention but I’m ignoring those on the grounds there’s nothing I can do to improve their lot.

Can’t do much about the road out of Barmouth either. It’s as close to a main drag we have to do all week and it goes on far too long. We eventually hook right where – after careful consideration of the guide book – we manage to  miss the easier route to instead climb for about ever to the summit of Moel Goedog. This does give us some fantastic views of the Llyn Peninsula and across to Cardigan Bay.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

It also gives us the opportunity to descend briefly on some slick moss covered roads with all the grip of polished glass. The climb is almost a relief until it isn’t with its false summits, 360 degree headwind and hard earned metres. Every little climb feels way more difficult that it was even a day ago. The metres click agonisingly slowly off the total and suddenly this feels as hard as everyone told me it would be.

Even at the summit I’m feeling a little disgruntled. A bit ‘seen it all before‘, a bit more ‘how much more of this is there?‘ and then we REALLY crest the summit opening up the view of Porthmadog and the Snowdonia crescent. It is beyond awesome. I’ve ridden up Cadair Idris and Snowdon. I’ve climbed big hills in this part of Wales and looked down into the valleys but I’ve never seen it like this. If it was CGI, you’d dismiss it as too damn perfect.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

The pictures are fine but they don’t capture what you feel. That is better saved on the organic image store in your mind. We mucked about a bit trying to turns shapes into sense, but 2D is not the right medium. If you ever think abut riding this route, then this is the one reason you must. There aren’t many bikes up here and it feels like a privilege.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

Photos done, we head down to Porthmadog, get a shot of the steam train before diving into a café on the main street serving ice creams to damp tourists at 16 degrees centigrade. Only in Wales 😉  We don’t tarry as it’s really not warm and we’ve a long way to go. Even after dealing with the biggest climb of the day we’ve still a few lumpy hills to clear, and the weather is not doing us any favours.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

This confluence of these mildly unpleasant conditions hosted a debate on whether we should ride the optional loop out to Criccieth. Eight miles of down then up which felt like making up the numbers. We both knew though, if swerved, this would be something living long in regret. It wasn’t really a decision as individually we’d decided it was going to get done. Definitely the right choice, even after the long climb out, as we were rewarded with blue skies breaking out over the sea.

That’s where we’re going I thought. And we did on another disused railway. An easy gradient first climbing and then descending with barely any appreciable variation in speed. With a tailwind at last, sustained 30+ kph felt ridiculously easy. It was good to see the odometer roll over 90km with the shining sea calling us. It’d called us around the impressive exterior of Caernarfon castle and into the Anglesey Arms where we drank overpriced beer looking out to our final destination.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

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Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 4

I toasted Adam ‘only 65km to go and bog all climbing, a day on easy street‘  How bloody hard can that be?

I think you probably know the answer.

Lon Las Cymru – Day 3

A day of two summits and some miscalculation. This was always going to be a wild day through the Cambrian mountains. Adam and I know that terrain well from a biblical Trans-Cambrian back in 2017:  The twin summits of Foel Fadian and Myndd Y Waun blocked our way to the safety of Machynlleth. It was a hell of an effort to get there fighting the rain and sleet driven on by gale force winds.

So a happy memory then. Today we had some of that headwind and a lot less of the rain. The bits wondering whether a helicopter might be the Gentleman’s transport of choice bridged the two rides. We started on a climb apparently designed to remind your legs this was day 3, and no it wasn’t going to get any easier.

In fact it got a little harder as we headed into Hafren Forest. Familiar to mountain bikers – we spotted singletrack heading deep into the woods and considered an early coffee in the visitor centre. While the need for the bean was strong, it wasn’t worth trading hard gained height for.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

We’d lost the sun but not the humidity. So I was happy for a sit on a mossy bank off the road while Ads attempted to fix his squeaky cleats. This chain lube based procedure gave me sufficient time to munch on an energy bar, and consider if this was the right time to explain the noise was coming from his pack. Since he was clearly having so much fun trying to diagnose the problem, I thought probably not.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

We remounted – squeak still in attendance – to grind up the summit sporting a viewing point. This is where the Ospreys were re-introduced a few years ago. We took some pictures of wild scenery entirely absent of said Ospreys

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

After some dithering it was apparent the climb to Foel Fadian wasn’t going to happen unless we actually got back on the bikes. The guidebook characterises it as a ‘gentle climb‘. I’m not a confrontational man, but I am taking issue with that.

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

It might have been the headwind swirling in our faces. It might have been the fact I’ve driven that route many times (waved at The Star on the way past. Wondered about a pint. 10:14am. Thought best not), it might be the weather fronts rolling in promising rain now and maybe hail later. Whatever it was, it wasn’t bloody gentle. Especially the top section where I felt the urge to go ‘Full Strava’ leaving me dragging in litres of clean Welsh air while hanging over the bars.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Finally it was done and we could see it was all downhill from here. From the highest point on our route (if you were tending to masochism you could really hurt yourself by adding many more summits. The route tends to skirt the western sides of mountains where it can. Thankfully) we had an 8 mile descent into Machynlleth. The top section of which is simply epic.  A wild juxtaposition of panoramic landscape and steep, dangerous corners. Hard to keep your eyes on both.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

I’ve never been much of a road descender. Always looked down and wondered where the rest of the tyre might be. Followed by a concern that rim brakes and slick rubber can’t offer much in the retardation stakes. Now though up front I’ve most of a 2inch knobbly tyre arrested by a proper hydro brake. Same out the back although I’m not leaning on that much.

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Taking a bead on Ads,  I give myself a stern talking to re: worrying about skewer tightness and chance of tyre explosion and instead swing the bike through a patchwork of glorious scenery grabbing my eyeballs when I should be grabbing the brakes. The bike is amazing – even heavily loaded – super stable and giggly fun pitching into the corners. We hit over 70kph which might not be much for a proper roadie, but for me it’s pretty much light speed. As the gradient backs off both Adam and I are gabbing away filled with adrenaline and a bit of relief.

We see pack-laden riders toiling up this climb and we wave and we smile. And inwardly we think ‘you idiots, why ride it this way?‘ In about two hours, we get a reasonable idea. 20 minutes later though we’re in Mach. Mach being Mach has a market cheerfully selling everything from old furniture to New Age tat and shit.  I love the place, it’s a refreshing change from so many Welsh town trading on fading industries.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

We have cake and coffee. And because we’ve loads of time, wander about a bit until the big tower clock strikes midday which is the trigger to eat  more food. We leave reluctantly – in my case very reluctantly as during our meandering I’ve lost my riding glasses –  and head over the Millennium bridge, built to save the squashy from the tin cans racing along the A487.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Which brings us to  the base of the afternoons climb. A quick scoot on the B4404 then over the bridge to start 9 miles of ascent.  There is no way to say that which doesn’t immediately chuck synonyms at your brain with ‘hard, tiring and what the fuck?‘ being the three I remember most.

The first part  though is mostly easy, as it’s adjacent to the old Corris slate railway, which brings us into that town where – unsurprisingly based on our trip so far – everything is closed. We press on to Aberllefenni built entirely of slate. Walls, roofs, garages, patios – a legacy of the mining here which defined much of the history of this Welsh landscape.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

The old slate works are another sad cipher for heavy industry long gone. Quite sombre heading up the climb, where the gradient increases to the point where I’m wondering if my dismissive view of the front detailer as yesterdays technology is a metaphor for what we’ve just ridden through.

Whatever, it’s a tough climb going on a little too long. I’m trying to estimate the summit by charting the marching telegraph poles holding close to the road.

So tight is my focus I almost miss the five riders heading down- all big grins and hearty hellos. They are clearly the camping types with luggage clinging to every tube. A couple I notice have those old school rim brakes. I cannot help but think dark thoughts regarding their ability to stop at the bottom. Still on the upside they’ve 8 miles to climb up over Foel Fadian. That cheers me up a bit.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

Topping out, I grab the phone and catch Adam with far less gears fighting his way over the top. We have a moment to catch our breath. Then ‘Well that was a total bastard. Beer do you think?‘ I do indeed and after a quick nod to Cadair Idris to our left, we make haste into the strengthening rain. It’s mostly downhill and we’re definitely relieved as today has been harder than expected. It’s not the miles it’s the elevation. I don’t feel the weight of the packs, but it definitely has an effect.

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

 

Lon Las Cymru - Day 3

That effect me being desperate for sustenance as we roll into Dolgellau. A tip from my mate Dave (who runs Bike Corris MTB guiding company) has us diving into the legendary TH Roberts. An old Ironmonger turned awesome cake cafe, it has all the fittings of a Victorian shop and a selection of so many fantastic looking confectionary, it’s all I can do not to demand ‘one of each right now‘ and ‘another of the same to take away‘.

Today has been tough. Legs starting to really feel it. Sun has mostly been replaced by headwinds. The climbs are longer and harder. The landscape continues to be breath-taking, and the simple pleasure of getting up to turn pedals is a gift not to be underestimated.

Tomorrow we conclude will be easier. To that end I go full nosebag in a fantastic local restaurant adding Gin and Wine to my recovery drinks. It’s not like 100km and 1200m of climbing is going to be hard is it?

Will we never learn?