A favourite ride in UK audax circles, Yr Elenydd is an event I have been looking forward to riding since I first heard about it last year. Too much hesitation, and, at the time, only one 300 km event under my belt, meant I left it until it was too late to register. It sold out. This year I made sure I registered in January. Great organisation, good quiet lanes and some hills are the main features of this ride.Also a good one to do on a budget, as basic accommodation is offered at the start and finish, all included a mere tenner.
The weather is finally warming up over here, and so I had a bit of a difficult time choosing my layers. I knew it could get cold up on the Welsh mountains, but the forecasts predicted temperatures over 12 degrees by midday. Rain was expected from noon onwards, coming from the Southwest, accompanied of southeastern winds towards the night section. A pair of thick merino shocks, merino jersey with an extra thin layer underneath, plus a high-vis vest were the chosen layers. That, and winter (supposedly waterproof) gloves.
Shortly after 10 pm I rode the 10 km from the train station to the start of the ride, in Upton Magna (near Shrewsbury). It was a nice, warm ride. A the car park I met with a Hugh, who I would end up riding most of the event with, and whose plan was to sleep in the car. Inside the hall I found about 20 riders already sleeping - I appeared to be the latest arrival. Only one snorer - that was great news!
The organiser started setting up breakfast at 5 am, so really did not get much more than 5 hours sleep, but that seemed enough. Beans on toast, butter, jam and coffee did the job for me. At 6:01 am we set off into the empty lanes heading south towards Shabdon airfield. 95 people or so started the ride.
|Still yawning, 5:55 am|
Shabdon airfield was still very quiet when we got there. Being an aviation enthusiast myself, and could not resist the temptation to go around and look at the different small aircraft that were scattered around. It was a shame not see any of them flying, but it certainly was cool to be controlling at an airfield café with plenty of aviation pictures!
|Shobdon airfield control, the last bit of sun that we would see|
|Nice Cessnas 152|
|This should be a road, not a track|
|Bits of snow left, in April|
|Beulah to Tregaron mountain road|
|More of the same mountain road (looking forward to riding it in dry weather!)|
|Fantastic control - plenty of cake before the 25% Devil's staircase climb|
|On to the 25% first hill (this would be the last picture I took, due to constant rain from here on)|
From Tregaron we followed the B4343 headed North. It was a nice rolling road, mostly flat, which gave our legs a bit of a rest for the potentially windy next mountain section. We were more than half way into the ride now, with only a few more meters to climb, with a headwind and lots of rain though.
I was still not wearing my waterproof, but even though I was totally soaked, I felt rather warm. On the next hilly sections I told Hugh to go ahead without me as my stomach started to send warning signs. I then felt weak and started to be passed by many others. I put my small ring on and just got on with it. Lots of rain and a stiff headwind were my only companions until the next control, and this certainly wasn't the most pleasant section of the ride. My only goal was to keep pedalling, drinking (food just did not appeal at this stage!) and aware of the debris and holes on the road. I had to remind myself on a number of occasions that these bad patches are normal and that it would get better, at some point.
At the top of the hill all I could see was fog, rain, and a strong headwind hitting on my face. Because the climbing was mostly out of the way, I started to cool down. On the descent I felt a bit cold, but I was so desperate to get to a toilet that I just kept going. The control could not be too far and it was all downhill from memory.
Indeed, Rhayader was a welcome sight and the proposed control a relief. I ordered my food quickly and went into the toilet. The food was nice here and I could've continued on with the Hugh and the other riders that I had been with on the earlier stages, but because of my stomach being so upset, I had to spent way too much time trying to recover. I was also shivering from the descent, being totally soaked to the skin, so drying out my kit did not seem like a bad idea either.
A total of three consecutive visits to the toilet did not provide much relief, but I just had to get going. I ate as much food as I could (all bland stuff!) and got my waterproofs on. Then I noticed that my headset had developed some play, perhaps due to the bumpy roads and braking. After a quick fix I kept going, trying to follow other riders ahead of me, which was all but impossible.
This not being the first time I have similar problems, I know they eventually go away, but I just had to keep eating and drinking as much as I could. I tried to think about what causes this upset stomach, and ended up narrowing it down to the beans I sometimes eat while audaxing. I usually doesn’t happen when I tour, do permanent rides (where I never get the beans, it seems), cycle abroad or do any other kind of exercise.
The fifth leg of the ride was about 57 km, which at the time seemed rather long. Even though I had a good feed at the previous control, I felt like I was running on a very empty fuel tank. I needed the small ring on sections that I would normally get up on the middle ring. Luckily, there were not many hills to speak of, and I just carried on trying not to focus on the remaining km. Sunset was also approaching, and so my aim was to just get to the control before it got completely dark. Another visit to the toilets was also necessary on this stage, but that seemed to be the last one. My stomach felt normal once again after that.
At around 9 pm I finally got to the designated control. The tea rooms at Little Brampton was probably one of the best controls in my short audax career. They sorted out my brevet, and asked whether I wanted beef or veggie stew, and a choice of dessert. Before I even sat down I had the food served on the table. It was really tasty as well, with unlimited bread and a free drink. The dessert was equally good – apple crumble with custard. I had a relaxed meal, chatted with another guy who also did the Outer Hebrides tour a few years back, and set off for the remaining stage on my own at 9:45 pm
It was now completely dark but still warm. The roads were totally empty and in good condition except for the hundreds of frogs (tods) that seemed to be everywhere. Every black dot appeared to be a frog – I have never seen so many, and did my best not to run over any of them. That kept up my concentration, surely.
I caught up with some fellow riders, good indicator that I was feeling better and the strength had returned to my legs. Their rear lights were too bright though, to a point that it was rather uncomfortable, and even though I enjoy riding with people, I decided to let them go and ride solo for the remainder of the ride. I love night riding, especially when all I saw was two or three cars coming opposite direction until I reached Shrewsbury.
The road climbed ever so slightly to almost 400 m. It was the Long Mynd area, but in the dark, I barely noticed it. The organiser promised a pretty much all the way downhill stretch to the arrivée, which was great news. I could see the km go down so quickly, and in a way, I was sad I was about to finish this ride. The night section had been one of my favourites, and I was feeling totally recovered again. I took it easy till the end though, as there was no real rush to get back, having a bed booked at the hall to spend the night. I was still well ahead the closing time (2 am, it was now 11:30 pm) so just tried and enjoy the solitude of the Shropshire lanes.
At 11:42 pm I made it back to Upton Magna, where the great volunteers were serving a pasta bake and sponge with custard. Much needed food which I was so thankful for. I wish I had brought a celebratory beer with me, but that’s something I will put on the list next time.
I chatted with other riders and all agreed this had been a good ride, a bit wet, but warm. Apart from my stomach problems, I did not find it as challenging as I had anticipated, but this was probably helped by my recent 30 teeth chain ring. I need to find out what causes the problems, so will try and avoid beans for now on and see what happens. Other than that, it had been a great day out, in good company, and on some great quiet lanes and roads.
Many thanks go to John Hamilton and his team of helpers for putting up with all of us, make our camp beds two nights in a row and providing all the feeds at the HQ. I now understand why Yr Elenydd is so popular. Also, I left with a good feeling that I can tackle long distance rides with more lumps than the ones we are used to in the Southeast. It should also provide good training for the highlight of my season: the Bryan Chapman Memorial 600 km.