Life often gets in the way of having an adventure. Sometimes you just need someone to say ‘hey, why don’t we cycle to Snowdon?’
Adventures don’t have to be big or epic. They can happen at weekends. And they can happen in the winter.
So that’s just what we did! Bristol to Bangor in 3 days. 345km and 3,000m of climbing. In December.
Full planned route here: https://www.strava.com/routes/7110950
We broke up the adventure into 3 days and stayed with some kind Warm Showers hosts along the way. The scenery was beautiful, the gradients were challenging and the company was inspiring. The youngest of three and recovering from food poisoning I felt like I had something to prove. I was in charge of route planning – partly because I’m Welsh and therefore have intimate local knowledge of all of Wales (apparently!) and also because I’m hoping to get a place on the 5th Transcontinental race and so need plenty of practice at route planning!
Cycling out of Bristol on Friday morning I felt weak. I hadn’t eaten properly in a week because of food poisoning. I hadn’t slept much the night before from worry. I’d not ridden with any weight loaded on the bike before. I was in the granny ring before I’d even arrived at the meeting point. I thought I’d probably over estimated myself, that this was a bad idea. I wasn’t massively cycling fit, I was recovering from illness, it was winter, it was cold, it was dark. There were so many reasons to justify turning around and going home. Luckily, I’m a stubborn little thing and I won’t give up on anything I’ve set my mind to.
Day 1. https://www.strava.com/activities/791525550
Ok, so we weren’t going out to break any speed records. So we took it easy. Getting used to riding with weight on the bike, calming our nerves, getting used to the conditions. Day 1 was the shortest day so we had time to get our acts together without worrying too much about daylight and so we had faff in buckets. It was nice to have less pressure on the first day. I’d also only just met one of the ladies before so there was the group dynamic to establish. It’s always really motivating to ride with strong women who just do what they want with life. It can also be a bit intimidating! Despite all our faffing we made it to our first hosts just as darkness was descending. Much to my excitement our hosts were Transcontinental dot watchers! This is a race that I’ve applied for in 2017 so hearing their stories was very interesting. Dressed in clean, warm clothes we headed off to the pub and were still in bed by 9pm!
Day 2. https://www.strava.com/activities/792608326
I was really quiet at breakfast. I’m never quiet. We knew today would be tough, long and hilly. Finishing in the light was unlikely. The first challenge of the day was getting my two pairs of overshoes on. Faffing before we’d even set off! Eventually on our way we set off to enjoy the dawn. Excited that we were now well and truly on our adventure, that we hadn’t failed yet and the stunning countryside kept our spirits high.
When route planning I’d asked the girls, do we want to take the more main roads or the more minor roads. Consensus was for minor and sustrans routes. This was fine, until we hit some trails. Suddenly, tyres turned to skis as we slipped and skidded down a muddy track for a few miles. Some more narrow country lanes later and we realised we were making very slow time. We were muddied and worried about how much night riding we might be faced with if this lack of progress continued.
A quick lunch stop and some minimal faff later and we head off in the direction of Llanidloes with some purpose. We hit sunset at the top of the mountain road from Llanidloes to Machynlleth and it was epic. The gradients of this road were also epic and reduced my legs to jelly. What was less epic and more sketchy was the descent into Mach. I lost all my descending confidence after a crash earlier this summer. Couple that with an extra heavy bike, poor light and an unknown road. I descended like a granny but I didn’t care! The last few miles to our hosts’ for the second night in darkness. I was so glad to finish that day but worried how my legs would have anything in them for the final day.
Day 3. https://www.strava.com/activities/793727565
Tired, smelly and with very muddy bikes we swung our legs over the saddles and headed off on the third and final day. Riding back to back days wasn’t as tough on the legs as I imagined. They got very used to just going around and around in circles. My ass on the other hand was less comfortable. Day 3 and into Snowdon. It was a little colder, ice on the ground and a chill in the air. The first hill of the day was a beast. Up and up and up it just kept on going. Then it turned into a track. Crazy gradient, loose gravel, ice, I was struggling to maintain traction. But the view from the top was out of this world with a stunning view of Cadair Idris and Snowdon in the background.
The descent was just as sketch as the climb. We stopped for coffee and I educated the girls about the Welsh delicacy that is Bara Brith. Onwards! We had more hills but this time some main roads and made fairly decent time. The thing that makes rural Wales brilliant is also what makes it challenging. It is really sparse. Which meant we had to have quite a late lunch. I parted ways with the other two in Beddgelert as they headed up to the YHA at Pen-y-Pass to climb snowdon the next day. I headed off to Bangor to catch the train home. Sun setting I put a bit of an effort down. It felt so epic to be cruising through breathtaking mountain scenery at dusk, having cycled there from my front door. Darkness descended and I realised my Garmin had stopped giving me turn by turn directions. F*ck! What if I was lost? I checked my phone, no reception. Double f*ck. I cancelled the navigation and just put Bangor train station into the Garmin. Less than 100 metres up the road there was a road sign for Bangor, I needn’t have panicked. I took the most direct route to the station. Which meant main roads, cars, darkness. I made it to the station. Took a photo of my bike to celebrate and then realised I had enough time before the train to go and buy a massive pizza. The icing on the cake came in the form of an email from my hero Emily Chappell received on the train journey home. She (and it turns out her parents!) had been following our escapades and it really touched me that her dad had described us as ‘your sort’.
Bike – I bought my bike third hand for £600 from a friend in my old cycling club. A carbon Italian steed it has stood me well for club rides. I wasn’t sure if bikepacking would be a bit much but my steed served me well. Just goes to show that you don’t have to spend megabucks.
Luggage – Alpkit big pappa and medium fuel pod. We had three different seat post bags with us on the trip. Apidura, Aplkit and Restrap. The Alpkit has very clever compression straps and secures very tightly to the saddle and seat post. This combination means it wobbles around very little on the back of the bike and I think it fared the best of all three.
Kit: thermal bib tights (it was winter), shorts and legwarmers, merino socks, down jacket (packable warmth), a rapha winter jersey (which was amazing), a rain jacket (lightweight wind breaker), three pairs of gloves (it was winter), one of those USB charger thingys, toothbrush, clean thermals to sleep in, a lightweight jumper for casual wear.
Never forget: spare inner tube and puncture repair kit!
I’ll review bits and bobs of kit in more detail as we go along.