Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Northern Train - Alex's CCC2CC

What an amazing week, where to begin?


I suppose Llandudno would be a good start, something Peter Dewison failed to manage. Actually, it began long before that, many months ago in a dark, secluded corner of the Bikeradar forums called "The Crudcatcher", where I posted in a thread that Gaz had started expressing my interest in the challenge. Shortly after, I decided I would definitely do it and I would have the fitness to do it, I think I must have been drinking when I made that decision.

So, not long before the ride I met up with Gaz and Stu for a leisurely ride around Afan forest in Wales on what must have been the hottest day of the year. Unfortunately 35 miles in I understeered into a corner and clipped a tree stump which sent me over the bars and left me needing 7 stitches in my right knee. This left me off the bike for several weeks and had me starting to question whether I'd manage the ride. Thankfully I continued with the idea knowing that if necessary I could jump in the support van and try and help out in other ways.

So the journey for me started at 6am on Sunday morning when I began my long trip down to Sarn Park services to meet a bunch of wierdos off the internet most of whom I had never met before. After that it was a coach journey all the way to Llandudno where the real story begins.

On arrival in Llandudno we met up with the rest of the Crudders with the exception of a certain member, in both senses of the word, where we all began to question our sanity after seeing the size and amount of hills and mountains we would be climbing up and over.

After having a meal and some drinks while getting to know everyone it was time to hit the sack and so Monday morning came, and with it the start of the adventure. If I'm honest the start couldn't have been much worse for me. While we were building the bikes it started to rain and I was starting to think it could be a bit of a miserable week. So with the drizzle continuing we set off up the road to the coast for the start and some photos. It was here I discovered my back was soaking, I knew I was unfit but I couldn't possibly have sweated that much, turns out my camelback was leaking, after much panic I realised that I just hadn't clipped the pipe on properly. Then finally to top it all off, I became the first to fall off, we hadn't even left the beach, thankfully there was no injury to myself or the bike and was ok to continue.


The rest of Day 1 involved some of the steepest hills and switchbacks I've ever ridden up and eventually it got too much and ended up having to push some sections. Thankfully what goes up must go down and we were treated to some fantastic little trails downhill too which meant I could make up for my lack of pace upwards. The route also took us on a blast round part of the Marin trail and provided us with possibly one of the best views I've ever seen.

Onwards to Day 2, and yet more steep hills, after spending the best part of an hour pushing up to the top of an old slate quarry it finally levelled out and we could see a nice track going round the side of the hill, sadly looks can be deceiving and our route deviated off this and just up one last bit of hill, feeling encouraged having being assured that after this there was only one more hill off we went. I was slightly disappointed that the descent down was by road, but still the speed going down was around 40mph so we managed to make up time lost on pushing up. To top it off as we rounded the first corner on the road the valley opened up and presented us with the most magnificent view, some stopped to take photos but even those don't do it justice, words cannot describe the scene that was in front of us. It was even better than the view on the Marin trail and is something that will stay with me forever.  Sadly there wasn't just one more climb but it was a phrase that would become very regularly heard over the week and soon became ignored much like the boy who cried wolf.


Disappointingly the night was possibly the worst of the trip for us as there was no food on site and the only place open was a kebab house in the town, the food wasn't bad but we ate late and probably didn't get the nutrition we really needed. This meant the start of Day 3 was a little harder, but undeterred, we had really started to gel as a group at this point and we all got each other going and up through the first of the long climbs up out of the valley. Once again the day involved another steep hill that required a large amount of pushing and carrying to get to the top, but this had just become standard practice for us and being so well versed in the art we made up the miles in no time at all... Again the route took us through another section of trail centre and one of the most fun descents I've ever ridden, with the words "watch out for the left turn arrow" from Tom ringing in my ears off I went trying to keep up with Rich, sadly my eyes were so focused on trying to see what was in front of me on the trail and constantly trying to find Rich ahead of me I missed the arrow but soon realised what Tom had meant when the trail just disappeared in front of me and took a very sharp left thankfully I just managed to make it round with some rather dubious skidding of the back wheel otherwise I'd have ended up in heap about 30 metres below. Day 3 was probably my favourite day in terms of what we had ridden and we were treated to a very nice stay in the Hafod Hotel at Devils Bridge. With this came the invention of Mrs Mackenzie's Amazing Rack, a patent pending product, designed by Gaz and myself to help us dry out all our clothes that we had "washed" and with the heater turned up to full everything was dry within about half an hour. If you're wondering about the name, it is derived from my uncanny resemblance to Will Mackenzie from The Inbetweeners who happens to have a very yummy mummy and the twee home labels such as Aunt Bessie's it became an obvious choice.

On the fourth day our luck with the weather ran out and the wind and rain came out in force, it was a day of 2 halves for me, the first being the crossing of Strata Florida. That was fantastic fun, a mildly technical climb followed by some tricky descents and plenty of axle deep river crossings, sadly this meant for the second half of the day I was cold and wet and this was sapping what little energy I had left, this meant the road mileage and long climb into the town where we were staying was a massive struggle for me, still Stu had broken his frame and we really had no other option but to get back to civilisation and get him sorted. Once again, Mrs Mackenzie's Amazing Rack was once again built, it wasn't quite as effective this time but still meant I started day 5 with some dryish shoes.

The penultimate day saw another section of our luck run out, we had several mechanicals including Nick's tyre exploding and Rob having about 3 punctures. It also sadly saw Ben having to reluctantly jump into the support vehicle after having his knee injury come back to haunt him. This was a massive blow to everyone and also meant I was alone at the back on the climbs. Unsurprisingly there was a long push up the black mountain and made worse by some sheep trails causing havoc with our navigation, I was starting to get extremely fed up and almost had a tantrum when I found out we had been going along the wrong track, I just wanted to sit down and give in hoping it would all go away. Still, the team spirit and not wanting to let the others down pushed me on and boy was it worth it, at the top of the last push there was an incredible view across South Wales and we could see right up to the coast. The finish line was in sight. This cheered everyone up and morale was running high that night. You could sense the relief in everyone and from dinner up until midnight where we had stayed up drinking as a sort of mini-celebration there was almost an endless amount of laughter, mainly brought on by the case of Steve's missing chips.
The late night had really affected me for the final day on Saturday, I was really struggling and barely managed a smile when the group tried to cheer me up by trying to let me loose down the final descent at Afan and assure me there really was no more climbing. Normally I'd have enjoyed myself at that point, but I was struggling that much that I had to stop half way down for a few minutes, my vision was blurring and I was struggling to concentrate on what was happening in front of me so it was an obvious choice to stop and ensure I didn't have an accident so close to the finish. The relief that spread through me when we hit the 5 mile cycle track down to Port Talbot was amazing. At this point everything hurt and ached but the thought of the finish line being so close helped block it out.

Seeing the finish line and having a crowd of people, some relatives of the group, others who were just passing and stopped to congratulate us was such an incredible feeling. We had just cycled 230 miles, we had just cycled the length of a country.


First and foremost I would like to thank Gill and Kev for being there in the support vehicles and following us all the way, even to some of the remotest parts of Wales, navigating various routes around roadworks and closures just to ensure we were all still ok. Without you this certainly would not have been possible. You deserve the same praise we are getting, if not more. Onwards to Gaz for organising and planning everything and Sarah for suggesting doing it for charity, if it wasn't for a good cause I'd have given up half way through Day 2. In fear of forgetting someone I won't go into any more specifics, but needless to say, a massive thank you to everyone who helped out in any way, I'm sure you all know who you are, (even if I don't) Thanks also go to everyone who has sponsored us and given up their hard earned cash to help others, we have raised an incredible amount of money with more still coming in.


Lastly, thanks to the fellow Crudders for such an amazing week, full of laughter, tears, frustration and joy. I am so proud of everyone and I cannot wait for the next one.

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