For this year’s road tour, Tom, Andy and I set off from Staunton, near Gloucester on a circular route taking us into Wales and back. Keeping the mileage comfortably low at 40-45 miles per day ensured we’d have a pleasant ride, despite the fairly hilly area. This lovely trip had some great food, a special guest and a finish with a twist…
As usual, Andy mapped out our intended route beforehand using Ride with GPS accompanied by copious amounts of zooming in on Google Maps to check for gravel tracks and other terrain not suitable for our road bikes. Last year we ended up doing some stony off-road descents resulting in a crack and a new fork for me so this step is well worth it.
Andy then copies the route to his Garmin Edge 810 (known affectionately to us as Sharon) whose beeps we then follow, mostly obediently (and Sharon gets really moody when we don’t!). This is now a well honed system and we had no major navigational mishaps on this trip.
Day 1 Abergavenny – it’s all about the food
Tom had booked us into The Hardwick, near Abergavenny for both dinner and accommodation. This was on the expensive side, but had great reviews, especially for the food.
On arrival it became apparent that we weren’t typical guests:
Tom: “Is there somewhere dry and locked we can store our bikes please?”
Flummoxed Receptionist: “Oh, I’m not sure – maybe we can fit one of them in the shed?”
Tim (enthusiastically): “Let’s have a look – maybe we can squeeze more in”
Flummoxed Receptionist: “Erm.. ok. It’s just that we’ve never had anyone come by bike before!”
In the end, we kept our bikes in our rooms and both the food and service were exceptional. Well worth the price and we are already talking about basing a future ride around staying there again.
Day 2 Builth Wells – via Hay Bluff
We woke up to heavy rain, and checking the weather forecast decided not to rush out, allowing us to enjoy a leisurely Hardwick breakfast and wait for Vinny, who cycled up from Monmouth to join us for some of the days riding.
Over breakfast we contemplated the gradient profile we had in store for the day (yikes):
We set off just before 11 by which time the rain had eased off a little. I actually really enjoyed this climb which was all on a small lane running up the east side of the Brecon Beacons and culminating at Hay Bluff. In the end, I think the route profile, compressed onto the width of a mobile phone was a bit misleading and it was mostly a manageable gradient, only getting steep for the last section.
We arrived at the summit in a low rain cloud, but just as we were setting off again the cloud began to clear and we caught glimpses of Welsh scenery which got even better as we descended down the other side – I think we all agreed that this descent was one of the highlights of the trip.
Day 3 Ludlow – This trip just got more interesting
After a hilly but mostly uneventful ride to Ludlow, we had some time on our hands and got discussing route alternatives for the last day. Our original plan had been to get the train to Hereford. But, looking at the distance, Tom and I were all for riding it as it seemed comparable to our other days, and anyway the first train wasn’t till 11:36 due to Sunday engineering works. Debating this in the pub, we hatched a plan.
We would split up for the last day and ride with different rules/handicaps/routes. We then spent the evening negotiating over what those would be. Some highlights included:
– Andy gained 15 mins for not eating any meat, but then lost 6 of those by “buying” Tom’s onion rings at 2 minutes per ring.
– I gained 7 minutes by drinking 4.5 pints of beer (that’s quite a lot for me!).
– Tom turned down the offer of 10 minutes for giving up his pillows for the night.
– I gained 1 minute by guessing the cost of the food bill and getting the closest.
Day 4 – race!
After our evening of bartering we set off with the following rules:
Andy was to take the 11:36 train to Hereford and then ride the 25 mile route which was pre-programmed into Sharon. (our original plan)
Tom and I rode all the way from Ludlow to Staunton (40 miles). Neither of us had a pre-programmed satnav so we would have to navigate. In the interest of safety, neither of us were allowed to take the A49, but anything else was in.
Tom was to set off at 10:30. I set off at 10:37 and also had to take all of Tom’s luggage on my bike.
I did have a brief panic when I realised Tom’s pannier wouldn’t go on my rack at the same time as my rack top bag, but then I figured out that I could just open the expanding sides of mine, empty the contents of his into one side and then stuff his actual pannier bag into the other side. (hooray for my new flexible, expanding Topeak rack bag!)
This made for a very interesting ride – I’m not one for trying to ride fast but for the first time I found myself trying to ride 40 miles with much more luggage than usual as quickly as I could. And I didn’t see Tom or Andy (whose route did meet up with ours later) for the whole ride.
We also set up the Find Friends App on our phones so we could track each other, but I didn’t stop to look at it much, thinking that the way to win would be to minimise breaks and go with a simple, easy to navigate route and just keep going at a steady but quicker than usual pace.
This strategy paid off, as I ended up finishing about 10 minutes ahead of Tom and 30 ahead of Andy. Andy though had been tracking Tom and I on his phone whilst on the train and we later pieced together that Tom and I had been very close to each other for a lot of the ride, and I happened to pass him at a point where we went slightly different routes, him taking a series of smaller roads and I preferring to stick with the easy to navigate B road.
The whole thing was a lot of fun, especially the negotiating the night before – so I think this might not be the last cycle trip we do with a final day challenge!
Here are the 4 days on Strava in case you’d like to see the route in detail: