Monday 27 May 2013

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch 400

The weekend saw me complete the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch 400 audax. I had so wanted to enter this event because doesn't it just sound great?! As the name suggested, this was a 400k audax event that passed through Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The ride crossed the Cheshire plains, the North Wales coastal strip, Menai Bridge and reached Holyhead in Anglesey before heading back to Poynton. The route should have looked like this:
The event started at a very reasonable time - 9 a.m, from a car park in Poynton. I met Jamie M and Andy T at the start plus about 60 or so other crazy cyclists. It was a warm day, just perfect for cycling. I tried to stay with Jamie and Andy from the start but with such a mad exodus of cyclists (plus a wrong turn here and there) that proved difficult. At various points during the first stage I would be (re)united with the guys but then lose them again - still it was good to meet them on their first 400. At times I would think they were behind me but then catch them further on. After 60k I had left England and crossed into Wales by cycling a fantastic stretch of tarmac known as the 'Greenway cycle path'.
The only menace with the Greenway was the amount of greenfly it attracted. Must have been a name thing?! Once I had crossed the River Dee, I met the 'man in the grey van' - the organiser. This was the first control and Mike (the organiser) awarded us with banana's for cycling this far. I cycled just a few metres more and awarded myself with beans on toast at a local cafe in Shotton.

The roads were initially a little busy leaving Shotton but it wasn't long until quiet roads were encountered again. I remember climbing a big hill during this stage - the climb of Halkyn mountain! A fast descent followed and I missed a left turn but it didn't matter - 'all roads lead to Rome', right?! Right enough, my wrong turn joined the correct route a little further out. The greenfly had disappeared during this stage but flying ants had taken their place. As I cycled across a bridge, I caught sight of the guys again so rode with them for a while. Not sure exactly when or where we got separated again. The route was lovely during this stage and it wasn't too long until I was cycling along a coastal cycle path - I had to stop just to take a picture.
I love cycling by the seaside. It's great to get a whiff of sea air and views that are often spectacular. Plus the fact that the sun, sea and surf seem to create a happy population. God's creation is really wonderful. My route passed through Colwyn Bay and led to Rhos on Sea where the next control was. I stopped at the suggested control (Forte's Restaurant) but soon left because this was a 'sit down and wait to be waited on' affair. It was sunny and hot and I didn't wish to wait in any cafe for a length of time. Instead, I nipped over the road and bought an ice cream - yummers, I felt like I was on holiday! Just before I left the control I saw the guys Jamie and Andy roll in but that was the last I saw of them on this audax. As I headed away from control, a random guy asked where I was heading - when I told him 'Holyhead', he gasped 'but that's miles away'. When I told him I planned to turn back from holyhead and return to Poynton, he just said 'that's mad', and I think he really thought I was. Perhaps I am?!
The route continued to follow much coastal paths which I was real happy about. The second big climb was during this stage too - the Sychant Pass. The route appeared to essentially follow much of the A55 but without actually touching it. Cycle lanes ran alongside the A55 or specialist cycle bridges were used to cross the road and avoid the Pen-y-clip tunnels. Amazing!
Nearing the control I saw signs for the Menai Bridge but it wasn't until the return leg that I would actually cross it. I crossed the self-same Menai Bridge during the 'BCM 600' audax a few years back, but it was dark and very wet then. I was almost sad that I wouldn't be crossing it right now on a gorgeous sunny day. My sadness didn't last long, I stopped at the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch train station and that put a smile on my face. For such a long time I had wanted a picture of this place name taken with my bike present.
This was the last picture I took, but was happy with that. Just before reaching the control in Holyhead, I stopped at a garage and drank lots of water as I was feeling really parched. On route to the control I was thinking of food and deciding what to award myself with - I planned on a big beefy pie. Almost cried when I reached the control - it was no cafe or restaurant, it was 'the man in a grey van', located at Penrhos Coastal Park. Mike signed my brevet card here and fed me with a banana, chocolate bar, cold rice pudding and fruit salad. Not quite my beefy pie, but I was so hungry that I joyfully ate these foods that I normally would not. I wonder if Chris Hodge would have ate the rice pudding if he were here with me?! Woo hoo, I was now half way.

Was feeling pretty good at this half way stage and as I left control was pleased that the prior headwind was now a tailwind. Big Welsh mountains lay ahead of me and it was almost daunting heading towards them. Creation, so beautiful. Was pleased that I crossed the Menai Bridge and it was still daylight, still sunny and still warm. Cycled through Bangor and across many a cycle path again. One path was covered with sand. I missed one turn and cycled a short stretch of the A55 - menace road, but at least it was flat and allowed me to speed along at quite a pace. It started to get dark during this stage and I could start to feel the temperature dropping. Many folk had layered up during the last control - I felt that was a bit premature with the bright sun still shining. I told myself I would not layer up until I got to the control at Abergale. This was a good tactic because as I was starting to get cold, I would cycle harder and faster to reach the control. The control was a McDonalds. Once I stopped, brr, I really did start to feel the chills. A few folk were stopped here, many feeling very tired now and not really wanting to push on. I ate loads here - a large meal, extra nuggets and an apple pie. After a much needed rest, I layered up and set sail one more time.

The stage from Abergale to Hapsford was a night stage. My lights worked well and I could not remember the last time I cycled at night. My initial chills soon disappeared as I cycled along. Luckily this was an easy to navigate stage and before too long I was at the Chester M56 Services, the penultimate control. I could have had another McDonalds here, but I didn't - I had a cup of tea and a packet of crisps. Many folk were here again, not wanting to continue due to feeling worn out. One chap had the same bike as I. They bikes looked good parked next to each other. I left a few defeated looking chaps here and headed for home, well, towards the arrivee anyway!

Man, it was cold during this last stage! Note to self - warmer gloves and socks next time! This stage was nice because I saw the night turn back into day. Around 5 o'clock in the morning it wasn't far off daylight. The chap who had the same bike as I caught me up and overtook, so I followed him for a while. He went off route but I was happy to follow and not navigate. Once we reached Ashley we passed through 2 tunnels using a cycle path and then continued on to Wilmslow. With not too far to go (just short of 400k at this point) I had to stop - my Garmin had decided to turn itself off. Not sure why my Garmin did that, it still had charge. I charged it a little more anyhow and then set off once more. I felt a little dismayed that a group of 3 had whizzed past me. With a final push, I raced to the finish, whizzing past those 3 cyclists and reaching the arrivee just before 6 a.m! Great stuff, I had completed another 400k event (my third) in about 21 hours (20 hours 59 minutes)! Just a 600k ride off a SR series! My actual route is presented below:
Cycled a total of 545k this week, not bad for a LEL 'rest week'. My yearly total now stands at 4,703k. 

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