When I returned from my first cycling trip up and down Scotland back in 2016 I was somewhat on a high; I loved the sense of achievement I felt although I was somewhat self-conscious when it came to talking about it because I didn’t want to sound gloaty to those who I mentioned the trip to. There were other feelings too though, and some concerns also. These included my recollection of the hard work involved; the tough times such as the steep hills I climbed or the aches and pains I experienced along the way, but also the effects the trip had had on me thereafter, not only that happy buzz, but ones in the form of physical stiffness of muscles to an inability not to eat as if I needed to keep myself fuelled for another 70 miles each day.
Some of these issues (as I will label the – on the face of it – not-necessarily-positive ones) persisted for quite some time, which I think is partly why it took me until this year to be ready for another such trip.
For this trip, which mostly focused on Ireland (although too included a brief visit to Scotland), I remained mindful of the above, but I looked forward to that after-buzz; I looked forward to riding that wave. I wanted to make better use to it and in order to do so I hoped that the issues would be better managed so that I could focus on this.
Riding an average of 70 miles a day is not something I had ever done outside of a tour; my best being 30 miles a day for a whole month which I achieved back in 2015 when I wanted to cycle as many miles in a month as possible. Without having anywhere specific to head to each day this was pretty tough and when it came to cycle touring I realised how having a destination in mind each day, or nothing else to do other than eat and sleep, made putting in big miles each day far easier (psychologically at least). I also consider how having such a thing to focus on in other areas of life is a great aid to motivation. The first time I ever did a century was on my first little tour (a 5 day affair) when I just had the journey home to do and pushed to do the final two legs in one day rather than find somewhere to camp for another night.
My Scotland trip included some more 100+ days, one of which was my best ever of 130 miles when I just had a ferry terminal to get to so that I could simply sail to Ireland the next morning. Or so I thought. It turned out my map was out of date and the ferry terminal was in fact a further 80 miles away which I ended up pedalling the next day.
On this most recent Ireland trip I looked forward to more 100-mile days and perhaps matching or beating that 130-mile-day from three years earlier. Except for the last 100-mile day, I never really planned for them, I just went with how I felt on the day; if I was well fed and slept and not suffering any aches and pains from previous days’ efforts, and time was on my side, then I was good to go. It wasn’t to be though. I did a couple of 100-mile days like before; the first of which was from Sheffield to Kendal, which I achieved following a few days rest with family, and did at a good pace (for me), in similar fashion to how I did that 130-mile day; the weather (and a breeze) must have been on my side on each.
Upon my return I was keen for another achievement, one that I felt I could only do whilst riding this wave. I felt like my body and mind were both geared up ready, similarly to why I did a 36-hour fast last weekend. For this particular achievement though I wanted to cycle 100 miles in a day that wasn’t part of a tour and I had for a while a route in mind.
This 100-mile circuit would take me from Anglesey in North Wales to Betws-y-Coed which was essentially the first leg of my previous two tours. I would then cycle North on the B5106 (which runs parallel to the A470) past Gwydir Castle, towards Conwy; a stretch I had not cycled before, not in this direction. I wanted to cycle down Sychnant Pass, something I first discovered, and attempted to cycle up, on my first small tour (doing this on a fully loaded bike, not being well enough fuelled, all when I didn’t know it was there, was too much for me). I re-tackled and videoed the Pass last year, when I was better prepared, and without extra baggage, and I overcame my nemesis; I turned round at the top, and enjoyed a brisk roll back down before heading back to Anglesey, job done.
Yesterday I did just this.
I set off early (again with minimal baggage – a single pannier with camera, wallet, and space for some shopping later) and first stopped for a hearty breakfast at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch* – I’ve been enjoying these as a fuel source as of late. Then taking the A5 through Bangor, Bethesda, and the Snowdonia National Park to Betws-y-Coed where I grabbed some sandwiches and a bag of salad. It was nice to revisit that early leg of my tour that I did a month ago, the weather nice and sunny, but not quite as warm and gruelling (thanks to not having to carry a tent, sleeping bag and other such stuff) as back then.
*for some reason when I paste that first into Notepad it gets hyphenated, but then back here the hyphens are gone.
The traffic was also significantly less, especially through the mountains and Betws where there were few walkers with vehicles parked at the sides of the roads, and back then it had been Easter weekend and not the best time for enjoying a bike ride. One of the peacocks that I had heard before when I had camped near here, and perhaps the one I had photographed early the next morning, was strutting about in the road, as if in expectation of my visit; it hooted politely from behind me as I continued on.
I’ve yet to visit Gwydir Castle proper; I keep meaning to since I read about it in Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett who renovated it and lives there.
Now in new territory north of Gwydir (I have no recollection of travelling south through here on my first little tour) I first passed through Trefriw which looked to be a nice village complete with café which I plan to visit on a future trip. On this occasion I had those sandwiches I had purchased already and at Dolgarrog and a little further along, beyond the Snowdonia Surf Centre (which looked hugely exciting with the ‘surf lagoon’ visible from the roadside and reminding me of a Hunger Games set), I pulled over to eat, a place to sit being found at a roadside monument, an information board telling me about a fatal Dam collapse back in 1925.
On 2 November 1925, the failure of two dams caused a flood that swamped the village of Dolgarrog, killing 16 people. The disaster was started by the failure of the Eigiau Dam, a gravity dam owned by the Aluminium Corporation. The water released from the reservoir flooded downstream, and overtopped the Coedty Dam, an embankment dam. This dam also subsequently failed, releasing the huge volume of water that flooded Dolgarrog. Many more villagers could have been killed had they not been in the local theatre watching a film that night [I wonder what film they were watching].
The disaster at Dolgarrog led the British parliament to pass the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act in 1930 that introduced laws on the safety of reservoirs. This has since been updated, and the current one is the Reservoirs Act, 1975.
In 2004 a £60,000 memorial trail was created, explaining the tragic story to walkers. The trail takes visitors to where the boulders from the damaged dam reside. The project was opened by the last survivor of the dam disaster, Fred Brown, who on that night lost his mother and his younger sister. – Wikipedia
I’m not sure if I already had the title for this blog in mind (as I’d been thinking about this post as I rode) when I discovered the Surf Centre, because “riding the wave” was certainly fitting here, but there was certainly some distasteful irony present in Dolgarrog being next door, with my mind painting a picture of a wave of water rushing down the hillsides toppling the houses there.
When I did my original little tour I journeyed first to Penmaenmawr where I camped for the night, and then on the following morning I climbed up Sychnant Pass. After that I ended up in Conwy which made me think I had taken a wrong turn because I was wrongly visualising the location of Conwy and thinking the Pass lead me further south into the mountains, as then I was intending to head south and Conwy was north (the Pass actually runs east-west). On this trip I considered taking a map to ensure I could find my way to Sychnant Pass from the B5106 and avoid missing it and ending up in Conwy again. I didn’t though, and once again I ended up in Conwy, “ho-hum” I thought “at least I get to see the castle” which looked spectacular.
From here I considered I could use the A55 which I was certain had a cycle path running along side it, or failing that, I could hop on the dual carriageway for the short distance to Penmaenmawr where I could use a cycle path definitely in existence because I’d used it before. But I wasn’t allowed that way; big signs at the entrance to the A55 alerted me: “Dim! / No!” to cycles. I likely muttered some expletives at this point since I had been plagued by such signs in Ireland when I discovered some of their N-roads were not M-roads (something the map I used there wasn’t up to date enough to properly inform me). There was a detour sign for vehicles not using the dual carriage way, but it simply said to go back the other way, even suggesting the 15 miles back to Betws-y-Coed! So from here I had to find my own way, deciding on the route through the town centre which fortunately lead me past a discrete sign for the Sychnant Pass, the historic route for horses which I had learned following my previous trip up the Pass from its other end.
This knowledge served me well. I found myself heading up the Pass, as planned, from the side I had only ever cycled down. Fortunately, as I had hoped, the route from this side is somewhat easier, and while I did break out in a sweat, I was able to enjoy the climb to such a degree (appreciating my level of fitness, strength and ability) that I was able to look round behind me with a grin on my face at the views. At the top I got to enjoy the swift free-wheel back down, really little point in pedalling since with my previous experience here in my thoughts reminded me to take the first bend with ease. The previous and first time going down this descent I had not fully acknowledged the degree of the first left corner considering the speed reached already by that point and had had to make full use of the width of the road and left myself somewhat out of position for the switch to the right, luckily it was early morning and it was only sheep and one walker I had to navigate – memorising their locations on the way up. This time I braked more adequately, although this caused my back wheel to step out a fraction* as the front tyre and brakes came under load and my weight shifted, but only enough to add some thrill to the descent. It’s not a hill you can really descent at significant speed, due to its bend, and in this, its steepest side, entering into the village of Capelulo you’re faced with 30mph sighs. I glanced down at my speedometer, already on my brakes at this point, to realise I was still doing 37mph and needed to slow down further; I’m not a rebel you know!
*as a little side-note, because I’ve been meaning to mention this on my blog, I swapped to new tyres prior to my tour and instead of Continental Contact II ones that I was familiar with I was now using Schwalbe’s Delta Cruisers, mainly because of a slightly better price, but from my prior research they seemed very similar – both available with the ‘Reflex’ option that I like. I have though found the Schwalbes to be slightly less grippy, with me finding myself gripping the rear brake a little too eagerly for the grip level they provide. This might be a combination of grip and how much they flex, perhaps in the tread, with the load going into the front and lifting off the rear with sudden or heavy braking compared to the Continentals. It’s not a significant issue but I thought I would have adjusted my braking by now, yet I still find myself locking up the rear briefly on occasion, something I try not to do since under-rotating the tyre in this way will add to the wear-and-tear, and once the tread wears down could lead to premature flat-spotting. I have previously experienced an issue with Continentals with the rubber separating from the carcass when well worn as I blogged about here.
Anyway, next on my journey the route was all familiar, first through Penmaenmawr, along a cycle path that takes you up and over the A55, back to a road, then a stretch of path hugging the A55 itself where vehicles hurtle past at 70mph and beyond, and into Abergwyngregyn, famed for its waterfall which I had visited a couple of months earlier when trying out my cameras in order to decide which on I wanted to take on my tour.
I didn’t visit the waterfalls this time but I did stop for a slice of cake and a pot of tea at the café in the village (tea has been my hot beverage of choice as of late for a variety of reasons); I had intended on a second breakfast because I have enjoyed them here a few times, but it had been a warm day and my appetite for such was curbed.
On towards Bangor I had concerns about a diversion that had been in place the last time I visited that café and the falls – the narrow hillside road seemingly needing regular and lengthy repairs in places (it can suffer form landslides in the winter months I believe). As I neared the area I saw the dreaded yellow signs. My previous detoured trip here had been hard work; I’d cycled towards the café and happily followed the detour until I realised, whilst thundering down a long hill, that I’d have that very hill to get back up again in order to get home; there was no other way to go. Thankfully, by now an alternative detour for cyclists had been put in place; it was lined with gravel but this was quite well compacted (no trouble for my touring bike, and made me thankful for not being on a skinny road bike) and all downhill with virtually no pedalling required. I’d be reluctant to take this route towards Abergwyngregyn since going up hill on gravel is hard going; I’d opt for the high road on the way there and use it only on the way back.
The trip through Bangor was a breeze (considering the miles I had covered already), I stopped alongside the Menai Straights once back on Anglesey to take the obligatory photograph of the bridge (waiting for just the right moment for a passing cloud to shift), and then I was home-free.
It was only the final hour of my ride where I really began to feel tired, although the pause at the café, where I had also guzzled down extra water and refilled my bottle, had been much welcomed. My right knee reminded me only at this point on Anglesey of its existence and its issue that I mustn’t ignore. When I set off on this day I had been prepared to cut my trip short and save the 100 miles for another if my knee had some pain early on, but it’s doing well and I’ve been doing a few exercises, some of which I can do whilst sitting in cafés, namely lifting the leg/foot straight up, flexing the foot back to tense up the thigh muscles, before relaxing and repeating, ensuring everything is tracking straight and true each time.
One 36-hour fast, a 100 mile ride, and perhaps another fast this weekend, being careful not to over-do anything, just keep my pace, while I continue riding this wave.
EDIT: following my ride I watched a Youtube video newly released by GCN about how it’s possible to cycle 100 miles without training. I certainly couldn’t and I enjoy my few stops along the way. I actually think I would have been foolhardy to have attempted this trip without the confidence (and experience and thus knowledge) that I could do it, not unless I had the backup plan of phoning someone to come pick me and my bike up once I’d reached my limit of endurance. I ultimately enjoyed my ride; if it had been a gruelling exercise beyond my realistic capabilities I would likely be feeling exhausted today (beyond the slightly stiff and achy legs I have), still in bed, or worse. Everyone has their capabilities – each to their own I say – beyond this should involve some work to keep safe and look after ourselves.