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Monthly Archives: October 2012

  • Gecko Challenge - Day 4

    Bringing the gecko home

    I knew exactly what my game plan was, I had just watched a documentary on Team SKY winning the Tour de France for Bradley Wiggins. For the last leg of Team Gecko’s cross country ride, I was going to be Chris Froome to Ryan’s Bradley Wiggins; set the pace for him, give him a slip stream to ride in, help him up all the hills and generally inspire and encourage him home with the example I would set. It all went to plan to start with.

    The three of us, Ryan, Ian and myself, set off from Dolgellau at ten in the morning, and already alarm bells were ringing. We stopped off at a bike shop in the town for some energy gel; really? Energy gel? I wouldn’t have known whether to eat it or style my hair with it. Are we so in need of energy that we have to put it in new containers? Energy drinks, energy gel, why not just inject it into our eye balls? What do you mean Lance Armstrong already has? What’s wrong with food? If people are that much in need of energy that they have not got the strength to chew, just smear this gel on their gums, how will they get into those difficult to open wrappers? Needless to say I did not indulge, I had a chocolate bar, but not just any old chocolate bar though, no, an energy chocolate bar; as opposed to all the other ‘energyless’ chocolate bars! It was whilst being astounded by all the energy delivery systems available that we struck up some hardy explorer banter with the shop owner, who asked us which route we were taking to North Wales.

    “We’re just going to head for Cadair Idris,” Ryan replied knowingly.

    “Uh, Cadair Idris is to the South!” Uh oh.

    We had been travelling up the A470 for about fifteen minutes, hugging the ditch at the side of the road as we were skimmed by greedy motorists, when Ryan wanted to take a more “interesting” route through Coed Y Brenin. I wasn’t thrilled at the thought of a scenic route because I knew the fifty miles, as the car drives, would be pushing it for an old man like myself who only ever cycles the four miles to work, and, wait for it, back again; so I didn’t really want to add to it. Although, if Ryan wanted to, and he had already cycled about 140 miles, then on what grounds could I argue? If it all got too much I could always snort energy gel. The forest path was a good call, it ran alongside a river and we had it all to ourselves. It started off with a long climb followed by a descent that covered us all liberally in mud, but as it was sunny, if a bit cold, we didn’t mind. We waited at the bottom for Ian who was already suffering mechanical problems, and not just that his feet didn’t reach the pedals. His pedals were slipping going up the hills and one of his brakes was not working down them. Now I shouldn’t really comment on somebody who comes out for a fifty mile bike ride without checking the condition of their bike, as I had done exactly that, but as my bike was working fine I quickly adopted smug mode. My smugness was only increased when Ryan got his first puncture, although he took it with equanimity, and a quick inner tube change later we were back to waiting for Ian.


    The path we were following took us to a field, where it then, although still signposted, headed away and up from the direction we had a rough idea we should be going. So faced with a clear, signed path, or the merest suggestion of a shortcut, off we trudged across the marshy field. We reached where we thought we would rejoin the path, only to find it was a farmhouse driveway. Looking around again we thought we spied faint tracks in the grass heading down towards the river, and there was a path on the other side of the river, so there must be a bridge and that must be the way. We charged down the field to find that it must not have been the way; and dragged our bikes back up and across the field to the gate and signposted path. The track took us up steep loose terrain that we pushed as much as rode, then a long downhill back to tarmac, where Ryan got his second puncture and we waited for Ian. Ryan found the thorn in his tyre-side and decided to fix the it instead of using his last spare inner tube. We set off, back on tarmac, through beautifully barren valleys towards the village of Trawsfynydd, periodically waiting for an exasperated Ian and once for Ryan and his third puncture; its worth noting he had travelled two thirds of the country without a single mechanical mishap until hooking up with us two. He changed his inner tube and we all met up back on the A470, next to a sign that not only said we were nearly in Trawsfynydd, but that we were only eleven miles outside of Dolgellau. It was now two in the afternoon. We had travelled eleven miles in four hours! We still had about forty miles to go and my legs were already aching.

    In tatters

    We reached Trawsfynydd only to find it was shut. We got directions to the only open café, who didn’t take cards so had to get directions to the only open shop, which had a cash machine, to get cash and then go back to the café. Ian reluctantly called for an emergency evacuation, I mean a lift not a big poo, as his bike simply was not working and he was only slowing us down, and I promised myself that a bit of a rest and some food would renew and invigorate my tired legs. Ryan and I set off  towards Ffestiniog village, and I quickly found that the rest and meal had no invigorating effects whatsoever, maybe I should have asked them to liquidise it to gel form. Ryan had opted for a route that avoided the Crimea Pass through Blaenau Ffestiniog because he didn’t think such a severe climb was a good idea at that stage of his journey. Instead he opted for a lot of lesser inclines, lots and lots of endless, twisting hills, followed by more hills on top of hills; did I mention the hills? I genuinely did not think I would make it and thought I would have to be left at the side of the road as Ryan went off for help; neither of us had phone signal.

    “Go on, save yourself,” I would declare bravely, gesticulating expansively at the still uphill wilderness. “Tell them where I am, and, Ryan,” I would pull him close now, “tell them I tried, tried my best.” Then I would collapse back to the ground and turn my head away from my failure, my fate and the circling vultures that had suddenly become indigenous to Wales. It never came to this, I persevered up every hill, and each time I came to a corner I promised myself that around it would be the summit and a downhill after; lying to yourself is the ultimate betrayal, around every corner was more hills, endless hills. If there had been a stage of the Tour de France where Chris Frome had collapsed, weeping, and was gripping on to Bradley Wiggin’s back fork being dragged along up the hills, then I was truly fulfilling my pre-planned role; unfortunately, I fear this was not the case. Not only was Ryan up the hills well before me, he seemed not fazed at all by the alpine height climbs, egging me on with barely a sweat.

    “Look at the views, Leon, they make it all worth it,” he would smile jovially. From what I could see of the views, through the cascading sweat and blinding pain, they were indeed spectacular, but whether they made that much pain and discomfort worth it, I wasn’t sold. I didn’t say this, I just grimaced, hiding as much of the hatred I felt for this man as possible from my eyes. All I could think of was that not only is he dealing with all this so much better than me; but he has already cycled twice this distance!

    The End...

    Almost home

         After a hill there must be a downhill, after a hill there must be a downhill, after a hill there must be a downhill.When the downhill came it was glorious, long and fast, and it did, indeed, make it all worth it. We made our way quickly then, beautiful respite from the hills, through Cwm Penmachno into Betws Y Coed for about six in the evening. Anybody that travels from Betws Y Coed northwards knows its easy, its in the flat of the Conwy valley, you follow the A470 along the river until you hit the sea; which, and the title gives it away, is at sea level. The only way the last fifteen miles could be difficult would be if we decided to cycle up the side of the valley, across the undulating valley side, then back down to the coast; but at this late stage in the day and with so many miles behind us this would be just pure foolhardiness. So off up the valley side we went, because apparently this was a more ‘interesting’ route; note to self: supply Ryan with dictionary definitions of both ‘interesting’ and ‘difficult‘, because he clearly has the two confused. We had been quite lucky with the weather, it had drizzled slightly, but not enough that could penetrate my sweating or Ryan’s good humour, just outside Nebo, however, that changed. The weather went from 0 to drenched in less than a minute, and before I could think ‘hmmm, I’m not sure the Superdry claim of my jacket’s branding is wholly accurate’ I was soaked to my underwear; which at least gave me a rather liberating toileting option. The rest of the ride was just putting my head down and trying to keep Ryan’s rear light in view as night snuck in behind the heavy grey clouds. The road was now flanked by high hedges, so we had lost even the periodic glimpses down the valley that we were judging our progress by, and it made this part of the journey seem the longest. When we crested a hill and saw the coast right there below us, well the news never reported a heavenly shaft of golden light breaking through the night sky, nor angelic choirs resonating off the hillsides; but I saw and heard it. It was downhill then all the way, until at Eight o clock in the evening, soaking wet and colder than a polar bear who forgot his PE kit and had to do cross country in his pants, we arrived home.

    -Leonard Cumberbatch



    Puncture #1 Puncture #2 Puncture #3
  • The Gecko Challenge - Day 3

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

    [one_half]OK, as far as opening lines go that one’s been plagiarised more than Wikipedia in a high schooler's history homework but it is an appropriate epitaph for day three of the challenge.

    The day started off badly with me lingering in Builth Wells, reluctant to abandon Emma 120 miles from home, but the journey had to continue. I started my journey slowly and, after having to double after a number of wrong turns, eventually left Builth Wells and started on the most exciting day of the challenge.
    With no other option available I headed north along the dreaded A470, but to my great joy and relief the road was quiet the sun had finally decided to grace us with its presence, and I was well on my way at a great pace. Even with this auspicious start I felt as if something was missing and could feel a metaphorical black cloud hovering above me.

    I felt a massive relief when I finally turned off the A470 and headed back into my comfort zone on a B road through sleepy country villages and farmsteads. As the road twists and turns alongside the river and I crested a rise a tractor blocks my path. I didn’t mind though, being on the slow lazy road, drifting with the river in the blazing sunshine, I felt relaxed again and at peace with the world. I stopped and waited as the tractor turns and let my vision drift across the stunning landscape. Something caught my eye above me and I saw another bird of prey and, applying my new found knowledge, I identify it as a Red Kite, my second of the journey, and decided to take it as a good omen of things to come.

    For the most part the journey was fairly uneventful and I continued to push myself through the mountains, enjoying the peace and the ability to stay at my own pace, stopping occasionally to take stock and let my eyes wander over the beauty of Wales from the physical and mental high points.
    35 miles in, as the journey was starting to take its toll, and I lost all belief in road signs and their ability to measure distances, I hit a massive downhill and sped towards Llanidloes and my lunch stop. I took time in this idyllic little town, aware that I was only half way through the challenge and half way through my day riding solo. After a double bacon cheeseburger it was time to move on again.[/one_half] [one_half_last]I set off slowly enjoying the views and taking my time to stop and really take them in, especially the beauty of the lakes and dams following Llanidloes. Up over hills and through the mountains, the road was beginning to take its toll and every downhill was a struggle as I knew that it would be followed by an uphill. But I was still feeling buoyant and free and took on every uphill as a personal challenge for me to conquer.

    A few idyllic villages and blackberry picking stops later and I got the turning that let me know I was nearly there. Machynlleth was only 11 miles away and I still felt great.
    I took the turning and followed the road up and up and up and up an up…

    Eventually the road plateaued and I passed a few cars who looked at me in disbelief. Along the winding road, I turn around a corner and see this:

    My heart soars as I really let go and test my mettle (and my bladder control!). What a road! Just letting gravity take hold I get my mountain bike up to a personal top speed of 50 miles per hour, looking over the stunning views while trying to concentrate on the road ahead of me. Before I know it I’m in Machynlleth and am ready for a break again. I spot Owain Glyndwr’s parliament building and realise that this is the perfect place to recharge.
    I’m well on my way again and doing my best to stay off the A roads, although this does involve going through a building site and pushing my bike through ankle deep mud, I’m still certain that I’ve made the right choice in keeping away from the busy traffic.



    I end up in another small town, ask some locals if I’m in Dolgellau and am apologetically informed that I’m definitely not there yet. I  ask the best way to go and am told to take the A road, which is the easiest and fastest route. I ask about another way there, and am pointed in the other direction but am told that it’s a bit steep. After 3 days of climbing up hills and mountains, I can manage a bit steep.

    I follow the road out of Corris and up the back roads past the ghosts of Welsh industry. Up, up, up. A deep valley on my side keeps me along my trail which becomes more decayed the further along I get.I suddenly realise that I’m basically at the top of a mountain, with a peak just above me on either side. My battery beeps, letting me know that my phone’s almost dead and my only means of communication is gone. The light is quickly fading at this point and I eat the last of my food, and swig the last of my water. I have no choice but to keep moving onwards and upwards. I eventually crest a rise after pushing my bike for what feels like miles up a vertical ascent and am met by bleeting and confused sheep. I turn my bike light on which affords me zero increased visibility and I cruise down the mountain in the dark. I suddenly realise, as I’m navigating down the side of a mountain by almost blind, that this is exactly what I came out here for. This is the challenge that I sought and the adventure that I craved.

    To my great relief I get off the mountain and join up with the A470, travelling through the dark with every passing car blinding me further , I navigate the dangerous road by instinct, until finally, FINALLY, I’m in Dolgellau. I circle the town again and again in a delirium until I spot the side road I was looking for and find my saviour in the "Ty Seren B&B”.

    Pizza, decaff coffee, sleep…

    - Ryan Davidson

  • The Gecko Challenge – Day 2

    Day 2: Builth Wells to Dolgellau Merthyr Tydfil to Builth Wells- The weather improved, slightly.

    I had decided, in my usual blind optimism, that my knee injury was caused by the repositioning of my bike seat after being dismantled. After some readjusting we set off under a dry sky and full of confidence.

    Ryan and I had looked over the maps and decided we would head off early and try and make up as much ground as possible and readdress the situation at lunch.

    I think it was pretty much immediately that I was aware my knee hadn’t quite had a miraculous recovery, but I stuck with blind optimism for about 8 miles before actual pain kicked in.

    Although we still had a gloomy dark sky, we had a dry sky and once we hit the Taff Trails we braved our arms to the chill and enjoyed the trails, with a few detours...

    Wrong turn, beautiful views.

    As if on queue, Ryan remarked how he wish he had a Go Pro Cam and barely before the words had left his mouth a beautiful Buzzard flew from the tree next to him not 2 metres away from his head and across our path. Yes, the Taff trails were lots of fun.

    Taff Trail beauty

    Despite the growing pain I set a good pace to get us to Brecon, we were both eager not to let our bodies run that low on energy and fuel again.

    The rain did make a reappearance as we were stuck in traffic entering Breacon, this meant we were a muddy and wet site getting into town. We headed straight for a warm pub and ordered the menu and hot chocolates. On assessing our situation it was very similar to yesterdays. We weren’t covering enough miles. We were just going to have to feed and get on ahead and cover what we could.

    Until that point I had just been trying ibuprofen, paracetamol and heat rub sprinkled with optimism. The pain was pretty bad again so I had taken some co-codamol and phoned my Mam. After talking the injury over with her she thought it sounded like a cartilage issue… The sprinkling of optimism had been blown away.

    Off we ventured back in the rain, spirits dampened.

    Co-codamol didn’t have any noticeable effect on the pain and I struggled from the off having to jump off more and more, I was seriously slowing us down. A very brave Ryan started trying to get me to accept I couldn’t finish the challenge. It took him a while. Luckily there wasn’t much he could do till we got to Builth Wells and that took a Looong while. By the time we got there I had accepted it, the pain was at its worse rendering me in tears trying to get up hills which in turn causes you to hyperventilate (or just me). Builth Wells was my last stop.

    I was so jealous waving Ryan off on Thursday, ESPECIALLY under the first BLUE SKY of the challenge.

    - Ema Davidson

  • The Gecko Challenge - Day 1

    Well the week was upon us, were we ready? Kind of...

    We were to cycle from Cardiff to Builth Wells on Tuesday; Builth Wells to Dolgellau Wednesday; and Dolgellau to Colwyn Bay on Thursday.
    First up, Mother Nature was NOT playing ball. Flash floods across Britain were not what we were hoping for. Monday morning we embarked on our journey, the 1.5 mile cycle to the train station and we were drenched! Our first train was cancelled and the all subsequent trains for the line were also cancelled. BALLS!
    A Gecko Angel in the shape of Ryan’s Dad stepped in and ran us down to Cardiff. Unfortunately this meant dismantling our bikes…

    Day 1: Cardiff to Builth Wells - The weather stuck with ‘torrential rain’.
    Before we got out of Cardiff, Ryan was experiencing gear problems, some roadside servicing and we were off! (This is the only picture of Day 1 as this is the only opportunity due to the down pouring).

    Road side maintenance

    By the time we got to Caerphilly it was evident I had a problem with my knee, but it was manageable. Due to the problems we had getting out of Cardiff we were quite behind and decided It would be best to get a hot lunch somewhere where we could also dry off and warm up before continuing our journey, once we had got some distance in from Cardiff.
    Unfortunately by the time we started looking out for such a venue they was none to be found! We learnt quickly from that mistake. So, it was a very, very, VERY wet and cold and extremely empty duo that rocked up into Merthyr Tydfil at 5pm!! We refuelled and considered our options… They were few and grim. My knee, by this point, was excruciating.
    We had a hotel booked in Builth Wells, but couldn’t go any further on bike as it would mean going through Brecon Beacons via the Taff trail in the dark.
    Not sure it would set a great example, especially if one of the North Wales Mountain Rescue teams had to come and retrieve us (The guys we are fundraising for!). We could get a train to hotel and come back down to Merthyr in the morning to carry on… That was a no go, not only were the trains still up the spout, the last scheduled one left at 3.30pm.
    There was nothing for it, we found the nearest hotel and followed the directions for it. 45 minutes later (after setting out on a 10 minute walk) we found ourselves in the middle of a housing estate with Google map telling us said hotel was in front of us… After going back to where we started and ignoring Google maps we found the hotel and warmed our very bones.

    - Ema Davidson

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