Sunday 14th May
by Todd Hooper, HotChillee Ride Captain
A few months ago, DT had mentioned this epic ride to me. The concept was simple: a ride from the south coast of Wales to the north coast, following Offa’s Dyke as closely as possible. DT had always dreamed of walking the route but hadn’t yet found the time and doing it by bike in one day seemed like a sensible alternative.
After doing a little bit of research before the trip, and talking to a few friends, the only thing I learned was how inconsistent the weather was likely to be. Oh, and that Wales was a bit hilly…
After a long drive from Norwich (via Slough) we got settled into our Airbnb and headed for dinner at The Village Inn – a pub that resembled a working men’s club, restaurant and retirement home all rolled together. Over a bottle of red back at the cottage we tried to work out how much food to take, who was carrying spare tubes, tools, pumps and beans (more on that later) and what time to wake up.
Rain pounded down on the skylight of our bedroom all night. I was on the bottom bunk, Nibs across the room and DT next door. I woke up about 5 minutes before my alarm was set to go off and considered pushing it back by 10 or 15 minutes. But the rain had stopped and I could hear some shuffling next door. We had planned to be on the road as close to 5am as possible. After coffee, porridge and last minute checks, we were off.
The planned route was 317 km with 5,500m of climbing. Luckily the short ride from the cottage to the start (as close to the south coast as we could get) got us over the 320 km mark. We anticipated that it would take somewhere in the region of 14 hours and decided there was no need to take lights.
We rolled out of a very quiet Chepstow, past the Village Inn from the night before, and initially followed the River Wye north. The mood was calm with the excitement and apprehension of what lay ahead. At this point, just 9 km in, we got our first taste of just how stunning the ride was going to be. The early morning mist rolling over the hills helped me get over my pristine white Fizik shoes becoming completely trashed from the wet roads covered in debris from the heavy rain overnight. Temperatures were around 6 degrees and my hands were struggling but I was sure it would warm up as the sun rose above the valley we were riding in.
Most of the roads we followed were single track country lanes. The climbs were steep, and the descents seemed even steeper. Gravel riding has been talked about a lot recently. As much as gravel riding wasn’t part of the plan, we did a fair amount of it. I have never been more thankful for disc brakes than I was on the fast, steep, narrow descents covered in gravel, moss and potholes. We had a full complement of disk brake equipped Cervelos. DT was on the C5 disc (the ultimate endurance road bike), I was on the S3 disc (aero performance, a workhorse) and Nibs was on the R3 disc (somewhere in the middle – a balance between aerodynamics, weight and stiffness).
I’d like to think it was my prowess on the descents, or the added aero advantage of the S3 over the other two bikes that made me fastest on the downhills but the more likely explanation was the lack of wisdom on my part and the desire to see how far I could push the discs on the somewhat uneven road surface.
I set arbitrary checkpoints in my head for when I was allowed to eat certain items in my jersey pockets. The first came at 100 km when I decided it was time for the first peanut butter sandwich. Nibs had divided up small treats for all of us. We had small bags of nougat, tubes of jelly beans and one emergency espresso gel each! With just over 100km done we all agreed to stop for coffee at the next opportunity. As luck would have it, we came across the Offa’s Dyke Visitor Centre in Knighton. Despite the name, the woman behind the till seemed a little flustered at the sheer number of ‘visitors’ there were all at once. After downing our coffees and shovelling some average cake into our mouths we were back on our way.
As we approached the half way point a blue and black figure appeared in the distance – Bull! David had kindly driven a pickup truck to the finish in Prestatyn so we could make it back to where we were staying that night. He had ridden 110 km from Wrexham to meet us, most of which was into a headwind. It was nice to see a familiar face and one of only two or three other cyclists we saw all day.
As we reached 200km, much to our relief, we came across a petrol station. The staff looked at us like we were aliens – lycra clad men, covered in sweat and dirt, mindlessly searching for cans of coke and salty, savoury snacks to give us a much needed boost. “Only 120km left!” I announced. It’s amazing how small 4-5 hours of riding seems in the context of the goal of riding over 320km. A few espressos later and we were back on the road.
I’m pretty sure my vocabulary for the next couple of hours consisted of mostly “wow”. The descent into Worlds End after the brutal climb from the previous valley (Wales has a lot of valleys…) was stunning. A small stream crossed the winding road as we climbed out of the valley. A perfect opportunity for Bull and I to fill up our bidons. By now the four of us would spread out a little on any sight incline, a sign that we had all started to feel the distance and climbing in our legs.
With the sun getting lower in the sky, we discussed potentially taking a quicker and shorter route to Prestatyn. After a few minutes of deliberation DT decided we should stick to the initial plan in the hope of making it just before sunset at 9.05 pm. The second flat section of the ride came with 20 km to go but didn’t last long. We hit what I thought was the last climb, a final sting in the tail, a 3km climb at an average of 6% but which topped out at over 20%. Not ideal with 300km and 5,500m in the legs!
The last 10 km zig-zagged towards the coast. As soon as I thought we would head down towards the sea we would head the other way and up a short climb. This is when the beans came into their own, a final “pick-me-up” to get us across the line.
At last we hit the outskirts of the Prestatyn – a small seaside resort on the Irish Sea coast. Maybe it was the exhaustion talking, but it felt like a sentimental moment as we rolled along the road towards the beach. I realised that the favourite part of the ride for me was experiencing this adventure, exploring new roads, laughing and riding across Wales, with three mates.
We took a few quick photos and headed to the truck. After a quick change of clothes and a short call to wives and girlfriends to let them know we were still alive, we headed to the nearest curry house. That sip of beer as we as discussed the events of an epic day tasted as good as I had imagined.
In my relatively short time cycling, our adventure across Wales is easily one of the best I have ever had on a bike (and I’ve been lucky enough to ride in some pretty spectacular locations). The sheer simplicity of riding point to point unsupported for no real reason other than as an adventure made it a special ride for me, one I won’t forget too quickly.
Strava file: https://www.strava.com/activities/986657301
5,909 m elevation
13 hours 44 minutes ride time