A Hill To Far

Before I begin my journey details I would like to say a few words about why I ride a Fixed Gear bike. I have ridden fixed for a bout 2.5 – 3 years. It wasn’t because of the image or because it was the rad thing to do, it was out of necessity and convenience. I was commuting on a borrowed road bike to and from work and I didn’t have much money to splash on a nice road bike so I went for the most basic and cheapest option. The Langster was the perfect option, cheap, maintenance free to a degree and we had one in stock! Back then I had the idea that it would tied me over till I could save enough money for a descent road bike and never dreamed of what it would turn into. I truly enjoy every aspect of riding fixed, from the effort involved, the eerie silence and the purist sensation that it gives. So that’s how the birth of my fixie riding came about.
So on with the matter in hand, the ride!
This ride wasn’t about how quick I could do it, how high I could my average speed or how high I could climb. It was about my passion for cycling and where it can take me. It was also to see a relative who was ill and sadly passed away. This relative was a cyclist himself and even while in the RAF during the Second world war, raced in Egypt single speed! So in a way it was in honor of his memory. I suppose I’m lucky that cycling runs in my family…but that’s another story for another day.
So after the shortest planning in the world the time had come, Just over a week ago. I set off at 5am as I thought I would get as much done before the traffic got bad. The first part took me along the flats out of Cardiff towards Newport. I have ridden this a fair few times so i just pootled along without a care in the world. The weather was ok so I enjoyed what I knew would be the easiest part of the ride. I got to Newport and headed towards Christchurch which would then lead me onto Usk using only the B roads. Newport was also my next munch point. I had read that for a feat like mine I should be nibbling on energy food every 20-30mins and drinking regularly. As it said eat even if your not hungry and drink even if your not thirsty because if you experience either its to late. If that didn’t scare me into it nothing would! My first climb was out of Newport! steep up and over the motorway! that wasn’t that bad, then I dropped down the rolling hills into Christchurch…no going back now!
The roads into Usk were ok and I pressed on with a fair pace. I remember that I kept telling myself to relax and chill out….ummm well I’m not that kind of person. Even though its not a race…it is. Once out of Usk i headed to Monmouth. This I had planned as a first stop to refuel and stretch out. My bike isn’t the most comfortable of positions, its set up pretty racy so I would need to break my position a few times if I was to not be crippled. The hills along the way were nice and rolling again and there were only a few occasions where I got out of the saddle. I thought that it wasn’t as bad as people made out and that I could comfortably achieve this insane ride! Well I was put into my place when I got to Monmouth. I stopped at a petrol station to get some more water. As I waited in the que i could feel my muscles tightening up…oh no! I started dancing around the shop like a clown and what the people in there must have thought is beyond me. I finally paid and ran as quick as I could ( in road cleats ) to the bike…chucked the water in my bottle and got going. I think this was my first downfall.
I had been told of the hill out of Monmouth along the Hereford road briefly. I was told it was brutal! The elevation chart had told me it was brutal! I had told myself it was going to be fine! Well the first steep part was. It was the other 2 that weren’t. I over did the first kink and zipped up it quick. The other to kinks were long and harsh. I inevitably hit the dreaded WALL! Now to me there is a distinct difference to the WALL and BONKING. BONKING is pretty much where your body completely gives up. NO matter how hard you are and how strong willed, your body has had enough. Either its under fueled or its just not used to that kind of punishment. The WALL however is completely in the mind. Its something that is in every athlete and sports person of all abilities. NO matter how good you are its there, lurking in the deepest darkest part of you waiting to pounce! Some people can block it out for a while, some can’t go on as soon as they hit it. Like I said its all in the mind, the pain, the suffering, the humiliation, its all in the mind. I had no choice when it reared its ugly head and I hit it worse than I ever had. I was in so much pain and the pedals were turning so slowly. Every inch I moved felt like it was up a mountain. I really felt like getting off and phoning for the car (the parents) to pick me up. But I couldn’t this was not even half way and the thought of quitting on certain people was heart-breaking. I picked my thoughts back up and bit down, fighting the pain till it subdued into the normal aches that you get from hammering it. I was back on track and I had a point to prove now! Legs Shut up and keep moving!!!
I was now heading towards Ross-on-Wye. I wasn’t using main roads as I hate riding on dual carriage ways and some A roads are pretty sketchy as well. So I had a big detour to avoid the A40. This was an amazing road. It went up as described and then the longest descent I have had the pleasure of riding on a fixie, my legs were spinning faster than Road Runners spindly sticks and it was welcome as it spun the lactic acid out of my legs. I think I hit 43mph at one point! I remember getting a fair way down that road and thinking ‘have I missed my turn’? Panic set in as if I had to turn around I would be going up the monster I just came down! luckily it appeared moments later. This road (b4521) was beautiful. A country road that started flat then rolled up and down with awesome smooth tarmac. Average speed was well above 20mph through this. The sun was out as well which lifted my spirits. The next road on the other hand was horrible! the A49! compared to the joy of a road surface I had just ridden on, this was utterly crap! I was dodging holes as well as the traffic all the way into Ross-on-Wye. What a place it is, old fort structures, nice local pubs and quirky old houses. I had got to Ross-on-Wye, which was a rough half way, 3hrs ahead of schedule! I didn’t let this go to my head. I just thought I was lucky. I knew I had the hardest part to come, and boy it was scaring me. I stopped and walked around for a while munching on some super jacks and oat cakes. washing them down with water…super jacks by the way were made by my girlfriend, consisting of Torq energy powder, Pea protein isolate and honey…oh and a few oats and dried fruit…haha they certainly did the job! I stretched out, almost cramped, whimpered a little from the pain and wondered WYE…I had to put that in! I replenished my back pockets with some more TORQ bars, couple of Torq gels and jumped back on…sorry crawled back on the bike.
I took the next few miles steady, the steep hills and the up and downs of the terrain had started to even out into longer flats. This was good on the legs as I could sit there and just spin. Not pushing or relaxing just going with the flow. What I began to notice about my ride at this point was the isolation. I was riding alone, nobody to pace, nobody to talk to and I didn’t see another sole for miles. I found that I was talking to myself a lot by this point…out load. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Its weird I know, but then again as one of my colleagues says to me…’Gareth you are a special breed!’ The isolation was also nice at points, only because it gave me time to reflect and think about life. It sounds cliché but its true. Then again a lot of life is a cliché! Of course I also thought about riding and how much joy it brings to me and how it doesn’t matter what I ride its the riding that matters!
I then reached the nicest bit of road in the nicest bit of country side. greens and yellows all around me, it started on a gradual slope down then just went to the longest straight I have seen in a long time. It passed through a place call Much Marcle and on to Ledbury. Seriously this was an awesome stretch of road. Then the pain began. Ledburuy to Great Malvern. If people say they enjoy going up hill they are either lying or they are just better than you! What I think they mean is they enjoy the agonizing pain and discomfort that comes with having to churn up hills gurning like a raving idiot at a dance party! I must be one of these people then. Even though it hurts, even though you could technically stop and even though you could walk up, you keep on hurting! I was pretty tired by the point that I could see the great Malverns, memories flooding back of a school outing to these magnificent hills. In those memories though I had forgotten how steep the road was going up to British Camp! I crawled past two house at the foot of the hill and looked up to see the road wind up, it got steeper and steeper and then the side path disappeared. I wish I had pause to catch my breath at one of those houses. I stomped on, literally stomped on the pedals to keep them turning, i must have been going 5mph and one point it was that steep and I was that tiered. I couldn’t remember where the camp was and I turned the next corner to see it at the top. Its amazing what hope can do to you, because I remember it getting easier as i pushed harder. I had reached British camp. I pulled up at a bench awkwardly unclipped and still on the bike rested myself. Breathless and hurting, wondering what the hell I was doing and evaluating what to do, then I don’t remember what happened then for about 3 minutes or so. I just zoned out. Blank thoughts maybe? Just staring into nothing, no pain, no aching, just empty. I think this dis-attachment from the world helped, if only for the next 20 miles or so. I grabbed some energy bar and a gulp of water, straightened myself out, clipped in and pushed on. Great Malvern is a beautiful place and the roads that go through it are nice as well. well worth a visit if your in that area at all. The road out of it all the way to Worcester was downhill…a welcome relief.
I knew most of the roads from her on in so it would be hard pushing now, pace myself and use what I have left for an explosive finish. That was till I came to a roundabout in Worcester centre. You know when you know a place like the back of your hand and you know exactly where to go, but, yes the but! there’s something in the back of your mind going…is it? isn’t? hehehe…this paired up with fatigue made me stop and check the phone map. It was the right way! but it also gave me the chance to change me phone battery. It was almost done! Strava running and the GPS on max meant it was eaten! I change that over and got going again. As I exited Worcester I felt a sense of greater relief releasing that I only had a rough 10 or 15 miles left, this was a false trap…the wall was back, or could it actually be my body bonking! either way the pain was immense, my legs were burning, my body aching and every hill no matter how shallow was Mt Everest! I pulled and pushed the pedals. I thought that the route that I had chosen from Worcester was a good one. Instead of going down the dual carriageway I went the other side of the river through the country side towards Arlye Kings then Stourport. This was hilly! not an ideal situation on 90mile legs. I saw a sign for 4 miles to Stourport, I thought ‘4miles I can do that in 17mins usually’…yeah I can when I haven’t just ridden the Malverns! It was the longest most soul destroying 4 miles of my life. It probably didn’t take as long as it felt but the pain was very real and the emotions very high. After my battle with the inner self I reached stourport. I pottered through and made it out alive! A quick stop to say high to my Grandma and off I was again to the finally stop, Bewdley. After my stop, although still painful, I felt ok. I put in a few hard minutes to get back but I was at my destination. As soon as I got off the bike I was all over the protein shake! down it went. Then I was on the floor stretching. I spent the next 30 minutes doing this. I can’t stress enough how important recovery is. No matter the distance, if its a hard session…recover! Recovery shakes work, Fact! Stretching is as important as the recovery shake, Fact! It works so much that I was able to ride for the next 2 mornings in relative comfort. The next day ride was just to spin out the legs. Nice easy and gentle ride, followed by…you got it…stretching and protein. Same with the next day. Rant over….
I know that this just gives a depiction of abusive pain, but that is the unfortunate catalyst for the sense of achievement that follows acts like this. The ride just proved to me that I can do things like this and also what a machine the human body really is.
I gave myself plenty of time for this. I planned for 10hrs and I would have been chuffed with completing it under 9 hrs. My actual moving time was 5hrs 27mins, average speed of 17.8mph. 5,200ft of climbing and a total distance of 100.8 miles. Not bad on a fixed gear bike. The time including the stops was 6hrs 30mins. I had to stop a far few times to check that I was going the right way on my sat nav. Next time I’m getting a Garmin so I don’t have to!
All in all this was the most emotional, painful and exhilarating ride on a bike I have had in a very long time. I have even started to think of another crazy ride…Cardiff shop to Plymouth shop, in a day! 173miles and of course fixed gear!

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