Training for something like The Transcontinental is a tough affair. Tough because unless you've done this sort of thing before, you don't really know what to expect. It's also tough to call something you love doing...training. (Training sounds so formal.)
Some of my most recent rides could fall into the training category I suppose. My evil twin plots a route with too many big steep hills and the rider in me must go out and attempt this mission should he choose to do so. A simple idea that has served me well in the past.
After reading Simon Warren's excellent 'Best Hill Climbs' series of books I tend to plot routes around hills in an area and attempt to squeeze in as many as possible. Brew a nice cup of coffee, flip open the laptop, double click on route planner and get cracking. Checking Google Earth occasionally and flicking the pages on tasty looking climbs. Constant weather checks in the build up to a ride as I contemplate kit choices.
Overshoes or socks? Jacket or gilet? Warmers or no warmers. Getting the right gear sorted can certainly be make or break for big days in the saddle. Restrap's 'Carry Everything' range allowing me enough luggage space to be able to take everything I need along and everything else I might need too. Best of both worlds.
Turns out I really lucked out with the weather this time. Spring has only just sprung and the forecast was undiluted sun. Happy freakin' days. Snowdonia, 300k and a solid 17000ft of climbing was the agenda.
After recently recovering from a virus, the second already this year, I was chomping at the bit. My alarm gently sang me awake at the charming hour of 3am. I was keen to get out early and get this ride nailed. I find getting out early allows me some time should my plans go 'off piste'.
Although the forecast was kind I had many of my winter layers to adorn. Crisp mornings always have a brisk edge when the sun rises and what with it still being March I knew the late afternoon could be equally as chilling. That and the fact that I like so many don't entirely trust 'The Weatherman'.
Marin. Where many a mountain bike has been thrashed.
Heading out into the dark morning I was right, it was certainly a tad nippy. I was more than happy with my choices and for the first time in a while my legs felt full of life. Smiling, I followed my route. I'd promised myself that I'd ride as much as possible and make a concerted effort to not take as many photographs as usual - a task that proved too difficult given the scenery draped with such stunning colours.
Riding up Moel Arthur, the days first climb, as light chased my rear wheel with a crescent Moon casting its gaze over me, I stopped for the first of my photos. Also a good time to just breathe it all in and have a quick snack before descending on the dry and dusty single track road that I've gotten so used to being wet over the winter months.
It felt good not anchoring on the brakes. Today had started well. With the break of day came a slight frost, there were icy patches of road luckily avoided with no skill on my part. The birds were in full swing and as the road undulated and the Snowdonia range approached I found myself whistling along.
I'd plotted new and untested climbs and Snowdonia can be equally as brutal as it is beautiful. I dropped into Llanrwst having visions of a pro cyclist dropping the bunch on a spectacular breakaway. Weaving and leaning into the corners taking full advantage of the quiet road. The hiss of my chasing free hub drowning out the birds entertainment. The hills ahead in full daunting view. Enjoy the free wheeling while you can I laughed to myself. Grinllwm was waiting patiently.
The second of evil twins plotted climbs. Hidden amongst trees and dappled sunlight. What a brute. Simon Warren had its card marked right. Prepare yourself from the off. It banked up immediately into a hard 25% ramp snaking past some houses. After easing somewhat I presumed I was through the worst of it. Wrong. Around another bend the enormity of my task lay in full view. There was no escaping it, it went on and on as far as my now weary eyes could see.
Managing the pain is what gets you through. Control your breathing and know you've got this. Writhing and twisting reaching its summit was worth the effort. The strong smell of pine always welcome. After a short gravel like drop the scene opened up showcasing a lake that mirrored the sky perfect and still.
I was also greeted by the smell of bacon that a couple of campers had on the go. Slightly less torturous than the climb I'd just endured. The sun had now decided to crank it up a notch too and I took a break to drop some layers and enjoy my new favourite place.
The smell of bacon almost as beautiful as this place
I was now behind schedule, far too many picture opportunities. I really must pick less dramatic places to visit. My stomach was clawing too and the pocket food I'd packed was no longer satisfying me. I decided to make a run for it to Llanberis where I'd planned my lunch stop. Llanberis Pass is wonderful. It's winding road hemmed in by old brick walls hemmed in by giant boulders and glorious mountains either side. As far as descents go you'd be hard pushed to find better. The joys of drafting cars outweighing my aching belly. I sat outside a post office on the curb in the sun thoroughly enjoying my day so far.
Llanberis Pass nestled in between
I had been looking forward to the day's next big climb for some time. I hadn't heard many people talking about it and although it gets an 8 out 10 in the book I hadn't given its difficulty much thought. Electric Mountain. Has a certain air about it.
It's always the ones that you least expect that give you the most grief. I'd imagined a gentle and enjoyable road majestically rising up from Snowdon's base camp. What I got was a slog into what felt like a never ending headwind. The land just falls away behind you as you grind the pedals up and up, further still, sweeping bend after sweeping bend until you finally reach the dead end with the lake in the clouds sitting so peacefully. My breathing was heavy as was the sun that shone hard on my back. I think we skipped Spring and just jumped straight into Summer. What a view. I could have sat there for hours. The air was crystal and I could see for miles. Serenity. I actually didn't stay long.....another descent to enjoy was too much and off I clipped.
It's a dead end because you feel dead when you get to the end.
As I climbed back up Llanberis Pass which isn't actually that tough a climb I began to realise how bad my legs were hurting. After riding so many long distance rides you get to learn the signs and signals your body is trying to communicate to you. Mine were telling me enough was enough. That evil twin of mine had had other ideas and there were 3 more devilish climbs to tackle. The plan went out of the window. I cursed him a few times. A regular occurrence.
When the day has been as excellent as this one however, there's much worse things that can happen. I was satisfied and happy to head home. The early spring sun beginning to give the feel of a late summer's evening. It was still warm and I was cultivating some fine tan lines. At this point home was still a good 50-60 miles away and there were plenty of hills standing in my way but nothing that would stop me getting there to the lasagne I'd prepared the night before ready to put in the oven on my return. All of sudden home was sounding sweet. The countryside rolled on for hours up over Denbigh Moors. Here, you get to turn around and give a respectful nod to the hills who kept you company on this day. Until next time.
I only stopped briefly en route to home filling water bottles and emptying pockets of food. Tired, I began to plot the next route daydreaming of my new found roads and missed climbs. Next time. There's always next time.
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