Pan Celtic Race 2019: Wales

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Hello Wales cruising into Fishguard

11.30am let’s get this Welsh leg done. Not waiting for any sign from the ferry crew I get out the door as soon as the ramp touches down, then two dock workers stop me. Thinking I had been pulled up for an unsafe release they start asking a ton of questions, turns out they are keen endurance cyclists. Eventually I ask if they couldn’t just let me through, it is a race guys, Oh yea, sorry, they reply and send us on our way. What confusion, the exit is through the train station riding down the platform, it was just luck we got out.

Guessing most of gang would be stopping off for supplies as soon as they hit Fishguard I set off with purpose. It was hot and stopping to strip off layers a couple of super cars stop behind me, joined by a third they then race off. Not long after a blacked out van with Top Gear logos’ passed but I didn’t see a white helmet. Four hours and 44 miles in and I hit a small rock in the road, not paying attention and it’s all gone wrong. The tyre struggles to seal and I’m floundering just waiting to wave as the riders go by. Nobody comes, despite me having to stop and re-inflate twice before I could feel sure the softish tyre would hold. Seems despite me being the slowest I’d been pretty efficient

Well rested I had ideas of riding all night and at Lampeter stopped at a store for supplies. Thirty backpacking schoolkids packing the store changed that idea, and I grabbed a pastie, a heavy pack of ten scones! and a few snickers very quickly just to get to the checkout instantly. Moving on, and down the street there’s a chip shop cafe, it’s Sunday in rural Wales, no contest, I need a sit down. Eating a mountain of food looking out the window I see Nick go by, looking good but nobody else passes by. Later in Tregaron I realise where I am and what’s coming next, spotting Nicks bike outside a pub I ride around the corner and stop at a public toilet just off route, last chance to lighten the load today.

Turns out Nick saw me pass and from Tregaron it’s an evil long climb up into the barren landscape round here. He set off in hot pursuit of me, and could not understand how I had got away, ha ha.

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We are heading for a long and rough section of gravel track that leads to the Lyn Brianne Resevoir. I love this area, having ridden a mountainbike round here several times before, it was a bit of a shock to find the way barred by solid gates. Struggling over cursing, it gets worse as 4 more prove to ruin a great ride section.

One of the gates is almost six foot high, the arms are struggling to lift the bike and while lowering it on the other side my feet come off the ground. With my full weight pivoting on my chest I hear a resounding “crack” Fuck, dropping the bike I recoil in pain dropping myself back down and putting my foot through the cattle grid on this side, Ouch!

A broken rib, well more likely a re-broken bone, my rib-cage has been pretty smashed up in some big mountainbike crashes before. What had I done to deserve this, the third body failure this trip, you can only imagine how much cursing was aimed at Mally at this point.

Reaching the Dam, breathing is not restricted too much and right now I’m certainly not laughing, so I think I will cope. What is grating is this haste, in fact all racing, it’s 8 pm and I am in such a beautiful deserted place, any other time I would stop right now and bivy, damn you race.

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Why oh why did I not just stop here, stunning.

I sit on the Dam eating that bizarre choice of scones, they have cherries in them and I enjoy all ten of them. In one afternoon I’ve gone from a focused racer up for a fight to a battered wreck who just wants to crawl into the bush and sleep. A hernia, broken tooth, ripped and bleeding tongue, broken rib and skinned ankle from the cattle grid, I could laugh, but it would hurt too much. Sitting there watching the sun go down I’m no quitter, but at that moment I admitted to myself that I was no longer an endurance racer.

I’d come so far in this race, but at that moment I knew this would be the last time I ride my bike with that feeling of being hunted. From now on I am “off the clock”

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Big Engineering

Surprisingly no other riders appeared and I set off to finish rounding the lake, luckily now on road. The rib break is high up and there is no vice like tension that can happen when the breathing rises, or is that the wonder of Vitamin Ibuprofen kicking in.

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Dense calories

At that point my power cock up from earlier (see Ireland) was catching up on me. The Garmin was down to 15% and some slow riding combined with my old Kemo 5v USB supply box hadn’t charged my cache battery up. With night approaching and lights on this was only going to get worse. The long drag up to the top of the Devils staircase (the non famous way) was painful, again I had to walk, again I hated it. The benefit was smashing down the other side and riding the wonderful valley on the other side, possibly the most beautiful valley in Wales. Looking back in admiration, was that a light glinting over the top. (It was in fact fast Tony or Simon, who were so close)

At Beulah there was some more soul searching, could I carry on in the dark without losing my navigation, now further strained as Garmin required the back light on too. From here I could get to Builth Wells easily, a town bursting with accommodation and electric, with funds low I resisted that option. From here it was main roads and I had a plan. I wired the Garmin direct from the dynamo, and when the Exposure Revo light was burning bright I could swap power to top it up briefly.

For the next two hours I played Russian roulette with my light, riding as long as I dared while the light dimmed, before switching it back on. Now this works best for Garmin charging on the fast descents, more power, but you have guessed it, pretty dodgy at speed with a fading light. Eventually I just have to accept that my plan to ride through the night is in tatters and I have to stop and sleep until it is light. A church and a very dark graveyard sheltered from the wind, that’s good enough. Having done 190 miles over the two rides for today, not bad with a ferry included. I wonder where the others are. Turns out Nick is a stones throw away and the others are all back in Beulah

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The locals were very quiet

Monday and starting into day 8; 5 am, whilst packing up Jon shouts over the wall, he is up early. On the small lanes I find him waiting as he takes my photo, we chat about our hobo sleep locations and the desperate need for coffee, we might be too early for shops at Rhayader. Dropping onto the main road, there behind us off route is a food van.

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Bacon and sausage rolls, coffee, charging points, a toilet, the papers, and a round up of the weekends sports news, this is the magic van and I think we both say we could kiss the owner. It’s get better when we explain what we are doing and why we are his new best friends, he tells us about some other crazy cyclist. Apparently some bloke was doing some crazy long ride, stopped here but then rode off without his wallet and had to backtrack a long way. He was a fireman from the north of Wales, and they call him Mally, a legend here. On our second round of coffee we see Nick and shout him over, he’s on a splash and dash, and still trying to negotiate a day off work tomorrow so he can finish, and shoots off.

Juggling my power needs I decide to hang around a bit longer until my Garmin is 100% as the others ride off. What even happens I will finish before the party tomorrow night, always the target. A few last texts on my dying phone, one especially to congratulate Stephen Haines, who finished this morning in 2nd place after a tough and valiant battle throughout Wales with winner Chris Pitblado.

The glorious Elan valley is next , hard climbing but fantastic views of the lakes as Wales started to steal the show. for the second day running almost unbroken blue skies framed superb landscapes.

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In deepest wales after three bridges the route passes a campsite that had been used by Mike Hall for his Valleycat events and where I’d recently visited to meet the GBduro racers for a night of stories.

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If only I had reached here last night.

Tymawr wild camping is a great place where I know I can get a shower, I climb the steep track to the farm, say hello to the dog and Daffs Mum and check it’s OK to charge up stuff and have shower. No problem and I get a cup of tea too. The shower is so welcome and afterwards I chill out and eat a fantastic Sunday dinner Pastie.

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A whole meal in a pack

While there I notice a list of riders, that explains the confused look I got on arrival, thinking I was a late rider. The racing collectives TransWales had passed through here this weekend, it was nice to see some TAW riders and my good friend Katherine on the list. An extravagant stop so early but worth every minute to get my mind and body raring to go again. The time has allowed me to get some good power back into the Cache battery and Phone so I can go through the night tonight.

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Hungry riders welcome
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More Dams
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Loving the home leg in Wales

Back on the rough back roads to Tal-y-bont my rear tyre is kissing rim again, This time I just get the sidewalls to seal and head for the seaside. As I arrive the gang are just leaving their sea view lunch stop, we are all on the same piece of road again. I couldn’t keep up with their pace as we head for Mach’, no change there then.

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On its last legs, determined not to put a tube in

I know this section of Mid wales like my home roads, and was looking forward to reaching Barmouth bay, meanwhile the views of Cader Idris over the lake of Tal-y-Llyn were breathtaking. The payback was having to take the main road to the cross foxes, a worrying place to be cycling.

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On the Mawddach trail on days like this you could stop at the waterside pub and watch the sunset with a few beers then ride on to bivy somewhere quiet, again damn you race. The wooden railway bridge and cycle track across the bay never fails to amaze me, I must have crossed this a dozen times before.

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The approach to Barmouth over the bridge
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The bay view
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A wooden marvel, if you didn’t leave a quid in the voluntary toll, shame on you

With a night ride ahead, Barmouth is pretty much the last place to get food before the finish. I wasn’t going to waste it, or the good weather. First up was a coffee and ice cream stop in a cafe, then a big fish supper sat near the seafront. Jon and Simon both pass me as I struggle to fend off four very cunning seagulls. Those things are huge, and they try all sorts of military like tactics to steal my chips, I work out that if I throw a chip to the troops, the general goes ape-shit attacking them and their teamwork collapses.

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Heading for the Snowdon hills

On the coast to Harlech I have to stop and admire the view North, the hills of Snowdon aglow. Covering up arms and legs in case the midges are out later, it is a stunning sight. Looking down on the beautiful beach; with no wind this would have been a super bivy spot tonight.

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Just out of shot a bench sheltered by the wall

Onwards into the dark and later I am catching a blinking rear light, trying to work out who it could be, probably one of the short route riders. We meet up it’s Jon and then suddenly there are four of us. I had forgotten the big power station dam climb, we were now at the foot of the route up. Tony had just come down and me, Simon and Jon were eager to know how bad it was. Me and Simon set off to go up, while Jon decided he would leave it until he had slept and went in search of a bivy.

After a struggle with another locked gate, grrr I was reminded of the rib pain and the expectation of long walk in the dark was not appealing right now. It’s a great climb, narrow and hairpin strewn with great views of the lights below, what a shame it was not in daylight. Simon was quickly out of sight climbing very well. It was a cracking warm night with little wind, and it was a very slow grind up there. The top was an isolated industrial area with plenty of places to bivy, now that would be cool. Rounding the dam at the top, Simon had already unfurled his bivy having had the same idea. It was also a great night to be out riding all night especially as prepared as I was, lets go, the descent was fun.

So two riders down, and I would have bet my house that Tony would stop soon, the racing was now about just keeping going, Nick was the unknown but he looked to be on a misson compared to us tourists.

It’s Wales so of course there was another tough climb soon after, now heading to Betws y Coed which I roll through at 1 am. It’s tempting to go to 24 hr garage I know, but next up is a cruel loop round the peak of Snowdon. With enough food to get back here in about five hours, it’s time to get this done.

For the first time this trip the music goes on, singing loudly, the night and the roads belong to me. With great views over the lights of Caernarfon and Anglesey it’s almost auto pilot having done this route at a similar time previously. It’s 4am, just a drop down to the main road then a nice steady ride up the Llanberis pass, then…WHAT. A left turn straight up narrow steep road, another cunning twist of the evil routemeisters knife.

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Llanberis pass

Once the shock is over, It’s actually a great little route addition, open scrubland through old slate quarries with a wicked brake screaming descent into Llanberis, straight to the legendary Pete’s Eats. One day I’ll be here when it’s open, sitting down for a back rest, my dawn snack could’t be any less appetizing. For the first time in ages I look at the tracker to see that Nick is actually resting up just behind me, is there still a chance? Certainly gave me wings up the pass, nothing like bit of focus to forget I’d been on the go for 24 hrs.

On the way back to Betws, first a cheery wave to Simon, then later Tony starting the loop, that felt good, I sensed a fast and rested Nick was hunting me down though. At Llanrwest you turn right and a fast descent leads into another “secret ascent” the Nebo climb, don’t forget that one you 2020 riders. At the foot of the climb Nick flies past screaming in delight and hits the turbo as it steepens. 25 miles from the finish, not quite a sprint but I give chase.

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Goodbye Snowdon until next time

I wanted to chat to Nick, he was always going to thrash me to the finish, but I wondered if he fancied riding in together and hamming up a joke sprint. Boy I tried to catch him, but had to laugh as he constantly looked back and then dug even deeper. Well I had to keep him honest, but this was madness and god it hurt. The views back over Snowdon soon dragged me back to sanity, stopping to drink in the beauty of the panoramic view while eating the last of my food, no rush just enjoy.

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The Great Orme

The drop down to Colwyn Bay is brilliant, smooth hairpin strewn roads in a built up area, one last piece of reckless crazy riding before anyone wakes up, bloody loved it. In almost reflective mood this is just the perfect time to be on the finishing stretch. The Great Orme just ahead and lovely views of Colwyn Bay behind, it had been a great trip but Wales really stole the show in the end, you can forget just how stunning it is here.

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Llandudno North shore

Riding along the promenade I remember that this was the start of my journey into multi-day bikepacking way back in 2011 (Wales C2C well worth a read) I could never have expected to return here in a road based race back then.

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cyclist only lovely route

With the final climbs round the Great Orme, I was dragging this out now. Stopping for pictures, stripping off clothes as the heat rose quickly, before finally rolling into the finish at the great mans home to a four man welcome committee.

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Relief of a job done

Congratulations was given to Nick for winning the Rab C cup, first man back from that mad ferry, and to a rested Stephen after his great second place finish. I just sit in a daze for ages, this one has been a bit of a battle. A beer would have been nice, that came later . 251 miles in just under 28 hours for that last stint and my knees are shot. The official finishing time 8 Days 23 hrs 42 mins, only 30 mins behind Nick.

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Mally and Beca rustled up some breakfast and it was cool catching up once again with Toby and Jason, who had a superb ride rising up through the field in style in his first event. Eventually I had to collapse on a sofa to get a few hours sleep before the party and unfortunately missed the rest of the riders coming in.

The finishing party in town that night was a great end to a superbly run first event from the Pan Celtic crew. You could sense the feeling of a great bonding of the Clan of riders who will be back for this race for years to come. Good luck to you all, I will be watching with fond memories from the wings.

The category winners received these cool 3D prints of the route

Thanks to Winner Chris Pitblado for organising the Hostel room for the night, the No 1 socks are yours for next year. The next day I started my ride home back along the North Wales coastal route to finish a great two weeks away on the bike. Next stop is Spain, story to follow, it’s an epic.

The full trip
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Jack and some Jack – Cheers to all the organisers and riders

Other Rider links

This video from rider Jean-michel Rivoire is just superb and captures the event just perfectly, an emotional reminder of great times.

Photos from Kate who came over from Canada

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