Stoke to the Sea (DIY, Audax 400km, 5AAA)

Arriving home from work, I had intended to have a couple of hours sleep before I started this ride but that did not happen! I was not too concerned as last year I was working during the day and doing a 200km overnight having a couple of hours sleep before returning to work. However, this ride was going to be a real challenge and it is a 50/50 chance of making it back and even less of a chance of making back within the time limit. Sometimes you just have to take risks and this was a big risk.

The direct route through Telford is best done at night, it is not very pretty. I will change this section of the route next time. After Telford, the route follows John Hamilton’s route “Pengwern Permanents – Wrekin to Sea” and I think the first leg of the Cyum 1000km Audax taking you to Rhayader. The section over the Long Mynd hills offers lots of views and some steep climbing sections. However, it was dark when I went over this time. The journey to Rhayader was pleasant and uneventful. My first food control at Newtown 24hr McD’s (£6.28) was a good stopping point but required a little diversion. I had stopped on the way at the petrol station near Newport to top up my water as I knew there would be nowhere open over the Long Mynd during the night. The climb out of Newtown is long but steady and I encountered very little traffic but it was still very early.

Arriving at Rhayader, I popped into the Spar (opens 6am: £3.50) on the high street and purchased a meal deal and water. I took a few minutes to sit on the bench and stretch my legs, it had been a long night but I was feeling very strong. I was not sure about the cycle track and my previous experience of cycle tracks told me to avoid it. However, I took the initial section of the track as it avoids the main traffic flow out of town. The tarmac surface was good but there was a lot of gates to open and close. I rejoined the road which was faster due to a lack of gates but the cycle path was much flatter, looking from the road. Arriving at the first Dam (Caban Coch Dam) and the visitor center (opens at 9am) I took the opportunity to take a quick photo. The second photo is from the road heading towards the next dam.

The next dam (Garreg Ddu Dam) looks more like a bridge and the reflection of the stonework in the water was amazing. The graduate climb up the valley passing the dams is a nice climb and offers some excellent views. I would recommend that you do this early in the morning to avoid the steady stream of tourist, which I started to encounter as I reached the t-junction at the head of the valley. Either way, I would recommend this valley ride and you can create a circular route back to the car if you are staying near Rhayader.

Once you arrive at the t-junction at the head of the Eden Valley, you are rewarded with a vista and you can see your next road running off into the distance. This road is fast but it does have a few small bumps along the way. The road gives way to a long valley descent which is fast but be aware of the tight corners and loose gravel on the road.

The road snakes back on itself and climbs up to The Arch, this climb is gradual and is generally pleasant. Even though it was approaching lunchtime the road was quiet. The Arch is just abandoned on the side of the road! I would assume that the original road passed underneath and I was told by a friend at work that it featured in the Games of Thrones. A couple of miles later you arrive at Devils Bridge. I had gone over the bridge before I saw all the tourist signs so I pulled off about 200 meters down the road at the Woodland Caravan Park cafe which offered good value for money (£3.20) and the staff were very polite.

A few miles down the road is the town of Ponterwyd and the turning which takes you up and over the ridge before the long descent to Aberystwyth University and the beach at Borth. To be honest this climbs was a little bland after the views and landmarks from the morning. However, the climb was gradual and the road surface was good. When you finally reach the forest near the top there are cars and mountain bikes everywhere and you’re left thinking how can so many people be in such a remote location! Within a mile, you’re back on your own and it is very clear that you are approaching the top. When the top comes it is a little disappointing as the vista is blocked by trees. However the fast descent, in my opinion, does make up for this, just be careful of the loose gravel and the random cars trying to get the carpark at the top with their mountain bikes. Look out for the sea as you get your first gimps on the descent.

When you join the main road (???) it is a shock to your senses after been on quiet country lanes with little or no traffic. This is a very busy road with tractors and lorries competing with tourist traffic. I stopped at a local (Bow Street) Butcher for dinner which has a cafe. I figured that the butchers would be cold and the sun was on the back of the building. I also thought that any cafe on the seafront is likely to be very busy now that the summer is finally here. Even better, they did not mind me taking my bike into the cafe. I suspect that if there was two or three in the group they would have said no. Homemade cottage pie and chips with gravy (£7.00), it was yummy.

Leaving the cafe, it was only half a mile to the turning for the beach and once I turned off the main road it was immediately quiet and very little traffic. Has I traveled toward the beach I saw my second pair of Red Kites (bird of prey) of the day, just above rooftop level. Arriving at Borth beach, all I could think of was Prestatyn and as I cycled through I was trying to decide which beach/ town was the worst. To be fair Prestatyn does remind me of Stoke on Trent (allow me to apologise to my Welsh readers for the double insult). Leaving the beach behind the road is flat and offers views across the estuary to the mountain ridgeline. All too quickly the trees close in and you’re back looking at the road. Turning back onto the main road (???) the traffic felt lighter but this could be due to the road being much wider allowing the traffic to overtake without slowing. The road is a gradual incline and I was happily maintaining 18mph until I saw the metal statue of an Osprey, I am assuming it is an Osprey as there is an RSPB center is located a mile up the road.

Morben Isaf Caravan Park

Arriving at Machynlleth, I had intended to stop for a cup of tea but it was standing room only at the cafe doors, so I took a couple of photos and pushed on. I was still feeling strong, in fact my legs were not feeling tired and I was in very high spirits. I was 150miles in and had completed some big climbs, which for me is a major success.

Machynlleth Clock Tower

The road around to the next climb which would take me to Newtown started to climb almost immediately. But drunk on my success from all my previous climbing I was confident and continued with my slow and steady approach to climbing. However, I quickly hit a very steep section and I challenged myself to make it to the top, which I did. I continue a little further and more very steep sections presented themselves. I took a minute to consider my strategy (I still had nearly 150miles to go), so I made the decision to walk up this section. When I arrived at the top my heart sank. I could see the road snaking its way up the mountain ramping steeply over long stretches. A bit of positive self-talk was required!!! I climbed back on my bike and keep saying “there is always time for one more hill!” but the road became so steep that I could not maintain a forward motion so I had to walk. Thankfully, I put my cleat protector in my saddlebag, they were excellent at gripping the road. If I was not carrying so much belly fat, life would have been much easier! I am now at the stage where I am walking and rolling but my legs are starting to complain big time. I took a few minutes and took an energy gel and chocolate bar before pushing on again. Only breaking the routine by briefly chatting with three passing cyclists. When I finally made it to the top, I knew I was in trouble.

Machynlleth Mountain Pass – I Just Walked Up That!

I thought to myself, I will take it easy to help my legs recover but the next couple of climbs were just as steep. I finally came to a complete stop about 7miles outside Newtown when I could not turn the crank anymore. This was a very new experience for me! In the past 10 miles, I had consumed two chocolate bars, one sandwich and three energy gels. I just could not get enough energy into my bloodstream. I took 10 minutes and mustered myself to keep moving towards Newtown. The problem now is that all the other elements started to come to the foreground such as a lack of sleep (I had not slept since I got out of bed at 6am for work on Friday morning). I had to make a decision and quickly. Find somewhere to sleep and continue the ride in the morning or catch the train back (if that was even possible). A quick phone call to the bike rescue team (the wife) to explain the situation, who came to the same conclusion sleep or train. A few minutes later, a text message with train times from Newtown landed on my phone. It was crunch time…. but in reality, I had already made the decision when I phoned my wife.

Arriving at Newtown I had 40minutes before the next train so I called into McDonald’s for food and liquid (£8.42) and rested before catching the train (£27).

This ride was excellent but the section from Stoke to Telford needs avoiding during the day due to traffic. The Eden Valley is a must for anyone but consider the time as it was becoming busy when I reached the top and it was still early. I simply was not physically ready for the Machynlleth Mountain Pass which broke me. Maybe if I completed this ride towards the end of the season it would have been a different result. I will try this route again after I have lost a couple of stone of belly fat.