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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.

Lost

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
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