Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Cambrian (Weatherpocalypse) 600

For some months I have had a 600km Audax pre-LEL pencilled into the diary. I was even organised enough to enter it.

So, in the early morning rain on 7th June, I found myself donning foul-weather gear in Hazel Grove, Stockport. The weather forecast was not good, but we cyclists are hard, right?

I was still faffing when the whistle went, and all but two riders (me being one) disappeared. 5 minutes later, I set off, last bar one. On the first climb of the day, the chain came off and, as I was remounting, the remaining rider shot past like a scalded cat. Last on the road. With the GPS eventually deciding to work, I set off towards Wem in the increasingly heavy rain. I caught one rider on the road to Wem, and found a few still at the cafe control, including some who were already packing and going home.

The next leg to Church Stretton was not too arduous, but still wet and shortly before Church Stretton the rain intensified. I found a cash machine for proof of passage, and a chip shop that provided sitting space in the dry, from where I could watch my bike.

Given that the rain showed no sign of letting up, I got back out before I got too comfortable, heading for Builth Wells, and beyond Knighton, the start of the hilly section. The hills were sapping, especially given the wet weather, and this section was slower. Nonetheless, I arrived in Builth on the scheduled time, although the ensuing stop was longer than expected.

Leaving Builth for Aberystwyth via the mountain road, it was apparent that I would be on my own for long sections, the fast riders having gone, and many of the slower riders having packed. The Elan Valley mountain road is superb, long open views of rugged countryside and no-one for miles. Unfortunately, it goes on for miles and progress was slow. It was on one of the descents on this section that a grating noise from the rear wheel heralded the exhaustion of my rear brake blocks. 325km to go, and only one set of brakes. Thankfully, this was also the end of the steep descents.

Leaving Aberystwyth at 11pm (already on the road for 17 hours) progress was painfully slow, uphill and into horizontal rain. On this section speeds were often down to 6 or 7 kmh, and I didn't get to Newtown until 3:30 a.m. The sun never actually came up on the Sunday, but it got light shortly after Newtown. After Montgomery, at about 5 a.m. I had an attack of the dozies, and retreated to a dry and non-windy bus shelter to snatch 10 minutes of sleep. This was to be the only sleep I would get on the ride.

Breakfast at Shrewsbury was followed by a lumpy section to an info control at Coalport. In Ironbridge, just 2 miles short of the control, the heavens opened, and the road became a flood. Water was over the bottom bracket, and wet feet got even wetter.There was no point getting off, I would only have been standing in 12 inches of water holding my bike, so I carried on. On arrival at Cannock (11a.m. and 152km to go)I phoned my wife. She was only 25 minutes away by car at home, and I still do not know how I managed not to ask her to come get me.

Finally, after Cannock, rain relented to drizzle, although by now the roads were well flooded. I splashed my way to Whitchurch, though not without missing an info control and adding 5km to the total by having to go back for it. The last section was slow, but I got through it in deep conversation with my legs. With the correct amount of cajoling "the ladies" (my legs) got me back to Hazel Grove, and checked in by 8:25 for a total of 38hours 25 minutes, of which it rained for about 34 hours.

10 days later, my legs are recovered, not so my feet. Immersion in water for so long (and being cold) has left them a bit swollen and very painful. I'm told this will pass. I really hope so.

At least I finished. Many did not. I have learned a lot, not least that I must sleep regularly to maintain speed, and will be tailoring my LEL approach accordingly. I also reckon that I can finish LEL, since many hardened veterans reckon that this years Cambrian 600 was the hardest ride of their lives. Trust me to pick it as my first.


Simon Lewis said...

Awsome. I can't get my head around 600km. I'm doing 150 miles this weekend and that seems a long way. But to ride through the night and keep going for 36 hours is immense. Well done.

Karen Popplewell said...

Flipping 'eck! Well done Clive - as Simon says, Awesome achievement! As I was doing the Polka Dot that weekend, I know just how horrendous the weather was and I was only in it for 8 hours.
I hope you get to have a bit of rest now.