Yesterday it was World Carfree Day, so I donned my custom-made T-shirt and buried it and the rest of me beneath some waterproofs and set out on my bike for the day; no work to do (since I normally travel by bike), just a casual ride.
My destination was a particular hill near Beaumaris, Anglesey. Since living on the island I have visited the popular town a number of times; it is famous for its castle. Whizzing down the hill from Pentraeth is quite fun; getting back up it again takes a bit of work, or you can take the easy route out via the coast overlooking the Menai Bridge. A couple of times I have cycled through the nearby area called Llanddona, and last time I found myself travelling down a particularly steep hill when I head into Beaumaris that way. I thought “I’m going to have to cycle up that one day.”
I’d had this hill on my ‘bucket list’ along with one I’d failed to make it up on a first attempt when I was laden with panniers full of camping gear, but since that one is off the island and thus further away, I decided it made sense to tackle the Llanddona one first, and rather than keep putting it off, Carfree Day should be the day.
I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic when I set off on my soggy ride, and it wasn’t until reaching Beaumaris some 20 miles from home that the cobwebs cleared, or rather, I failed to acknowledge them.
I first made my way to the old Penmon Priory, and then turned back and headed in towards Llanddona proper.
Roads are pretty much always different when heading back in the opposite direction, and particularly since it had been a while since I had careered down the hill I was looking for, so finding the right one to head up wasn’t so easy, and whichever hill I did end up going up, turned out to be not so bad.
Continuing on my way I had decided I would stick pretty much to the coast on my way back towards Pentraeth, but I had decided against taking a map or printing one off Google, therefore, finding my exact route took some guesswork, but one can’t go too wrong on an island. Then, while travelling the little lanes that bless this area I came across a sign:
Keep in low gear
“35%!?” I thought to myself – “could this be the steepest bit of road on Anglesey!?” and I promptly selected such a gear, rather than stop and take a photograph of the actual sign because that would have totally ruined the moment. Thankfully I actually selected the right gear straight away, because one can occasionally pick a wrong one and be either cursing themselves at some point and/or having to stop and sort things out when meeting a hill they are ill-prepared for, a gear I call my ‘touring gear’ and one I hadn’t used since my romp round Scotland last year… and then I plodded on up.
Oh, my, and it was tough – I kept telling myself; “If I don’t make it then I’ll have to come back and do it again…” something I really didn’t want to do. There were a few little bends on the way up, and with it being so narrow there was no way to see how much more lay ahead. It couldn’t get any steeper though; my bike was already at a very strange angle – it’s peculiar to be standing up out of the seat yet have the handlebars up towards my face. And then a farmer came towards me in his pickup truck… thankfully he stopped to let me though; any hesitation on my part would have lead to me losing my very slow momentum and coming to an instant stop and thus I would have been walking the rest of the way up (which may well have been quicker, thanks to the silliness (but blessings) of the smallest front chain-rings on my bike). Surprisingly, having a vehicle waiting for me caused me to find an extra spurt of energy and somehow I sped up, a little at least; I hope the farmer was impressed, either that or he thought I was a nutter (I’ll accept either). And I made it; out of breath, throat and chest feeling coarse, and head dizzy either from hyperventilating or from the sudden change in altitude, or both.
Continuing on my way, and still trying to stick to the coast without heading down any dead-end roads I found myself then going down some pretty steep hills, not before having the privilege of a rainbow to view out to sea – I must have been on the right road.
Careering down steep hills is often fun, and had I had an open stretch of road ahead of me at a 35% downward gradient I’d have been up for setting a new
land Brian-speed-record, but these roads weren’t obliging; they were narrow, winding, and quite wet and smooth; a poor combination on all parts. I had to have my brakes on all the way down, keeping prepared for oncoming traffic, and avoiding spinning off over an edge somewhere, each little bump in the road causing my back wheel to lock and skid slightly, my fingers rigid and aching at the bottom of each hill from gripping the brake levers so tightly. Still fun though.
Fun, that was until I found the ‘25% – keep in low gear’ road I’d just headed down was doubling back in the direction I’d come. I really didn’t want to end up going round in a circle, and I really didn’t want to plod back up a 25% hill. Instead I reasoned I could head along the coast; Anglesey being blessed with a coastal footpath for which signs were welcoming me. In fact, to complete the coastal footpath, albeit on foot, is something else of my ‘bucket list’.
I topped up my water bottle at a beach-side WC and then headed out onto the beach where I found I could ride on the sand fairly well.
Some patches were quite solid and littered with seashells; crunching under my tyres (I was a little nervous about getting a puncture), but then this firmer sand gave way to softer sand which cause my tyres to squirm about until it was like riding through snow and I had to dismount.
I picked my way around a marshy area, looking for signs of actual footpath, found myself thundering along narrow board-walks (which make for fun riding thanks to the rumbling sound), and then found myself atop what was both a wide wall and a narrow footpath, and an even narrower cycle path.
In fact, as a cycle path, for which it really wasn’t, it was perhaps the most hair-raising ride I’ve done, as hair-raising a ride as it can be when one is wearing a cycle helmet.
I don’t think the helmet would have done much to help me here though. This path/wall was, I think, a sort of breakwater, and it was a good few feet above the sand to my right, thankfully there was a fence on my right here, but then down on my left there was another fence with it’s top level with the top of the wall and surrounded by brambles. Had I wobbled off at any point I would have been in quite a mess, and it would be likely I’d been typing this from a hospital bed. I had to keep convincing myself I was perfectly safe because of all the times I’d skilfully aimed my bike on narrower courses, like when dodging stones or snails, and how good I was at balancing on my bike when nearly stationary. It’s funny how fear can really rattle your nerves. I couple of times I had to stop and grip the fence, either because a gust of wind had sent me wobbling into it, because the path had been narrowed by over reaching brambles and stingers, or because I just needed to compose myself. But I made it. Phew!
Finally, after a few miles of this pottering about I found my way back to Pentraeth, and I headed back towards home, first stopping off at the ‘£1 cafe’ for a cup of coffee and Tiffin Cake (yummy), and a nice chat with the folk there. Since I’d been wearing my jacket all day no one had got to see my ‘World Carfree Day’ t-shirt, but as I was trying to slip back into my jacket without it being seen (I’m a shy sort of guy really), it did get seen and I had to explain all.