3 weeks today I will be flying out to Canada to start this years particular brand of CraZy.. known as the Tour Divide Race. This weekend was my penultimate chance to get out on the bike and what better excuse for a change of scenery than a trip to Wales to walk from beach to beach in preparation for the By Your Side Walk.
As is becoming habit... I was on nights again this week.and post shift on Friday the day was packed with packing swabbing kit for both the walk on saturday and ready for the I.O.W festival. This meant that not only did I get no sleep Friday day but that when it did come... it was after midnight... Roll on 3.5 hours when I got up... or at least that was the plan 😞
In reality... the alarm must have gone off but it seems that nothing short of a loudspeaker in my ear would have woken me. Cue panic at 6am when I woke up!!
Given that a 5 hour drive cannot be safely turned into a 3 hour drive... I instead drove to the end venue for the walk and set up for swabbing... or tried. The new 'event shelter' ... to put it plainly... is an absolute bu@@er to put up and it was only after wrestling with it for 30 mins did some random strangers take pity on me and step in to help... cue more wrestling. It took 4 of us about 1 hour to erect the monstrosity so that I could begin swabbing whilst waiting for the walkers to arrive.
My day then got better after its abominable start with many kind people... most of whom hadnt heard of Mike Peters or Love Hope Strength... stepping up to the table and swabbing to try and save a life! When the weary walkers did arrive... including the inspirational Jules ( 20 mile walk post surgery... chemo... and radiotherapy) my swab bag was already 1/2 full. Turning a bad day into a good one!!
The following day... having slept more than 5 hours (woohooo) .. I got up intending to shovel down a load of calories and head for the hills.. determined to make up for my lack of exercise and fresh air the day before. Instead of heading for what of the better known trail centres I headed for one that had no bike shop... no cafe and hopefully no people. The website promised desolation and isolation in equal measure. Turns out their description doesnt quite fit my interpretation of those words... ( I guess I will have to wait for the race for that)
There werent too many people though and once Id kitted up and set my SPOT tracker to tracking mode I raced off. That burst of speed lasted approximately 100 yards of the lung busting climb out of the car park which seems to accompany every trail.
This climb never seemed to end... despite having no kit on my bike. Id promised myself a fun ride this weekend... one where I didnt have a bike loaded with kit and I could whizz down the red graded trails like I used to pre Tour Divide training.
Despite this my bike felt just as heavy... and my legs felt pretty useless for the first mile or so. Then a switch flicked in my mind and instead of thinking about the hill or the legs I switched into an 'easy' gear ... spun my legs round at 45 rpm.. and started appreciating the beauty around me. Welsh friends of mine call it God's own country and its easy to see why. The sun was blazing but the light breeze was refreshing and as I climbed the birds cheered me along with their own particular form of singing along to the tunes that filled my head. The green hills looked as majestic as anything I have seen elsewhere. The air filled my lungs and I imagined it dispersing the polluted air from the roads with a clean pure version every time I sucked in a breath.
The top of the climb came and I stopped at the top immersed in the view and the solitude. The track was of good quality gravel and as the sun beat down I continued on... upwards of course. This sort of climb... long but not too steep (under 8%) is good to increase endurance and hopefully will stand me in good stead when im in the middle of some of the climbs (Galton pass... The Wall... Richmond pass to name a few).
I spent some miles on these nice gravel tracks... just feeling grateful for the sunshine... the beauty... and being able to cycle in the midst of it. I practiced my animal spotting skills in readiness for the bears... but none jumped out and attacked me meaning my whistle remains untested. But I came here for fun and having passed a few of the red trail sections I eventually turned off the nice gravel and launched myself into the red graded madness.
Its been a while since I have ridden unencumbered by kit and tested my mettle against a man made trail. My bike felt light and slightly skittery... or maybe thats just me! (The skittery part... not the light part .. im pre Divide diet)
Confidence over rock steps and roots has diminished from lack of practice and this was not one of the easiest red graded trails Ive been on. It was very narrow (the obligatory death defying drop to my right) and fast meaning my hands were gripping the bars too tightly ... fingers hovering over the brakes as if my life depended on it.
My hands didnt like this much and the cramp which has plagued me since the claw hands of Route 66.. returned with a vengeance. I quickly discovered that trying to straighten a siezed up finger whilst hurtling half out of control with only one hand on the bars is somewhat close to precarious... maybe even bordering on sublimely ridiculous.. but it did the trick and I didnt die... so it worked out well!
The last bit of red trail was an adrenaline pumping swooping berm filled delight... the momentum down carrying me up the next bit. It was well worth every ft climbed and made the effort totally worthwhile.
Too soon it was time for the 4 hr drive home and as I loaded my bike on the car I took one last look at the mountains of Snowdonia above me. Fortunately it will only be a short while before Im back playing in the mountains again with Snowdon Rocks and the Rocky mountains calling to me over the next 2 months.
I was chatting with a friend 1over the weekend about how when I drive into Wales and wait for the moment that the mountains rise up into view and how it makes me feel like I have come home. I may not be wholly Welsh (I can claim 1/8) but Wales holds part of my soul due to the way the mountains make me feel alive and free everytime my feet or tyres lay claim to them.
And it is this feeling that I must hold onto when at my lowest ebb on the Tour Divide. I need only to look around me and feel the strength I gain from being surrounded by the beauty of nature and how lucky I am to have the opportunity to spend time there.
Life is for the living of and I intend to make the most of it 😁