2017 for me, was full of ups and downs, Or peaks and valleys to be more specific. The highs were to fill me with euphoria and bliss while the lows left me feeling somewhat flat and a little lost.
I had returned home early from racing The TCRNo5. Succumbing to an injury that in hindsight was likely preventable. I was heartbroken, somber and dejected. It was reassuring to know that I was not alone.
“If you get lost, get unlost....”
There’s only thing to do with a Scratch and that’s Itch it. Or do you Scratch an Itch? 2018 would be about exactly that.
It’s been a while since I rode out to The Stwlan Dam in Blaneau Ffestiniog North Wales and perhaps a ride best saved until summer for some, but for me the mountains have a beautiful air about them during the winter months - snow caps and daunting clouds adding some drama to one of nature’s most intoxicating theatres.
As luck would have it January served its best impression of a spring day and the sun shone bright throughout. I set off early in the darkness and watched as the sun rose and joined the slice of moon now barely visible as the grass stood still and froze in fear as Jack Frost glanced across the morning before me. The air was fresh and it permeated my lungs as it did my soul. I’d been missing something and finally it felt as though it was finding me. ‘The Road to Hell’ out of Denbigh up to the Moors was drawing a smile across my face and I knew that today was going to be a good day.
Off the Moors and on through Ysbyty Ifan the road swerved, veered, climbed and sidestepped the mountains that were now bearing down on me. My shadow joined me briefly to watch as a Kite soared on the updrafts effortlessly circling in an ocean of blue sky.
As Blaneau Ffestiniog neared I could feel the glare of the almighty Stwlan. Straight out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth perched high in the mountain side, the Dam like Smaug guarding his treasure, hissing at anyone who dares fall across his stare.
The winding climb invoking a fight or flight response from within. Heart rate immediately rising. At an elevation of 1,650 feet above sea level it’s not long before the township of Tanygrisiau and its reservoir are quickly falling away beneath me as I slowly click my way through the gears until there are none left. The desperate last clicks searching for that elusive extra gear that does not exist.
As the views become ever more spectacular as does the beauty of the Moelwyn Range. Breathtaking. Mentally and physically. The road as it convolutes and spirals into its famed hairpins leaves me writhing around each corner, snaking around one crook and into the next, its arduous pitch becoming steeper with every bend.
What started as a love affair is now an all out assault and a war I’m determined to win. The reward for such endeavour - a silent tranquillity sitting atop a tamed beast to contemplate the journey home. If time would only stop and allow me to stay for a while longer completely bewitched by the splendour and nobility of this perfect ascent. A fine day's riding indeed.
The problem with itching a scratch is that, as everyone knows it gets worse. There is an insatiable urge to keep itching. A demanding desire for a quenchless thirst.
I spend a lot of my time off the bike trawling over past rides and searching for new roads. Reading about climbs and dropping pins, checking street view while hunting more adventures. If only there was time to explore them all.
My second proper ride of the year took me out to Llanberis and back into Snowdonia. The taste of the winter mountains had served only to whet my appetite. I was being drawn back in by its mesmerism well and truly seduced by its charisma. Marchlyn Mawr was my destination.
A little off the beaten track this beauty hides in plain sight. Its famous brother, The Llanberis Pass, consuming all the usual attention. This reservoir masked behind Elidir Fawr mountain is used as the high level water source for Dinorwig power station giving it its nickname, Electric Mountain.
It is said that the cave containing King Arthur’s treasure lies nearby and like the climb to the high level lake is a source of bedazzlement to the wanderer who sees it, and of disaster to the pilferer who touches it. Today I would understand what it felt like to be both of them.
The climb starts by hemming you in-between ragged stone walls and twisted trees. It bites and kicks as you wrestle free from its strengthening grip. Easing as you climb toward the clouds in complete silence as Mother Nature herself whisks you off to paradise where you can catch your breath and look over the world below.
These places are the reason I cycle. To delve into and explore, always seeking and falling endlessly in love again and again. I felt a little lost but now I am found.
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