Thursday, 16 January 2014

2012- The Brecon Beast 4

This bit too felt like Exmoor as we rode across the hilltop. Once more, it was peaty ground so lots of deep ruts. Route choice was critical here but also had a fair bit of luck involved as many seemingly good choices would suddenly become un-rideable and you'd try to bunny-hop across to the better ground, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. I saw a couple of people topple over here as they over-balanced trying to ride a smoother line along a kife edge. As the hilltop rolled over into the adjacent woodland in the next valley, another epic downhill bit began. Once more, I could do nothing other than slow down, pick the best line I could and try and cheer myself up with catching a bit of air here and there. At one point I switched ruts only to hit a rock face and stop dead! There was nothing I could do, and I nearly fell off. The guy right up my arse did however as he swerved to avoid me and shouted FFS under his breath.

This fun was brought to a welcome end by the second rest stop and a cheery attractive blonde ushering us to give her our bottles for a a refill- she was a welcome distraction from aching joints and my stiff neck!

Ok, with 40k down, I still felt pretty good. Lew's only concern was the "gap road" up across Pen y fan but he assured me that from there it was all downhill.
First up though, were some fun, smooth forest tracks. Settling in to a 9.5mph pace up one of the climbs, I felt fresh again so sprinted off. Lew never ever stands up and he says it was both funny and frustrating to see me get 100 yards in front, then have to settle back to the same pace. Besides, he always knew he'd get me on the gnarlies.

We crossed a road at this point and then set off up another long forest track, steadily climbing. I put in a couple of good stints out of the saddle here and overtook a few people (if only I knew) and generally felt great about life. The track then turned wet and started to drop along the edge of a wood. As with all the non-rocky bits, I felt good here. I saved a couple of front end slides and picked some nice routes. Then it got rockier and Lew caught me up. Another four-down-arrow sign appeared and it was probably the steepest bit of the entire route. In front, I cracked on into it. Locking the rear wheel solid, I feathered the front trying not to lock it on the wet rocks and rested my belly button on the saddle. I rode it well and felt good as I reached the stream bed at the bottom. Perhaps I had conquered the stones! There was a photographer there, so I will check if he got me or not. Anyway, then there was an equally sharp lip to climb and it was the only bit I felt I had to carry my bike as it was too rocky to even push it.
Now, Lews concern about the "gap road" become clear. There, casually stretching towards the horizon, was a mile or more of gently climbing but annoyingly rocky track. It was a fucker. It was never steep but always kept you blowing. Worse still was a constant challenge to pick the smoothest line. I aired down again here but full suspension looked to be the only cure. I was amazed here by the ten or so people that breezed past us on brick-sized rocks like they weren't even there. My legs and lungs were doing ok, it was technique and equipment letting me down. What a relief it is not a race!

Anyway, after airing my annoyance about my inability to ride rocky descents, Lew dropped a bombshell. The other side of the Gap, was a truly mental rocky downhill bit with rocks ranging up to the size of a bean bag littering the track. We agreed to stop at the top and regain some energy as Lew said the downhill was more energy sapping than the climb. We reached the top.

And as I stuffed my last few MM's down my neck and lowered my saddle by 6", I looked down the other side. I realise now that I had already predicted my demise at this point. I felt awful about the next leg. I had no idea how to ride it and I knew that before I started. Whilst i'm sure the right guys could probably ride it on a cyclecross bike or whatever they're called- I also knew that my machinery was not going to make my life easy for me. My neck, which had been sore in the week, was now really stiff and my fingers were aching a fair bit. And there, staring at me, and putting the fear of god into me was the last of the three-downward-arrows signs.

Ushering Lew in front, we set off. I assured him not to wait for me and to enjoy it. I was just opting for survival at this point. The track dropped sharply into the sea of boulders and then corkscrewed left. Whilst not as steep as the bit with the photographer, this was hardcore!!! Lew ran ride, slowed and stopped, pausing before the next punishing drop so I whizzed past him, feeling ok. I could do this.
On a loop, I gave myself commands in my head. Breath, relax, light grip, lean back. I dropped into the next bit and with that, my front wheel caught a rock the size of a breeze block. I swivelled around the front forks and crashed over the bars and to the left into a huge pile of boulders. All I remember is feeling totally helpless in the split second that time stood still and my adrenalin flooded brain looked for solutions. I also remember thinking i'd surely smashed my iphone and then feeling my helmet and right cheek crash into a rock and feel the majority of my weight go through my left hand as it grabbed out at the rapidly approaching stones.

As I came to a halt, I felt a mixture of pain and relief! Relief that that hell was over and pain as my stiff neck and worrying red-looking thumb/palm cried out in disgust at my ineptitude!
I felt myself over and recovered my bike. Reassured that I was standing, I started walking down and told Lew just to crack on- which he did without even a look back
As I hobbled down, I looked at the hill and tried to figure out ways of making it bearable. There was none. First chance I got, I got back on. It was horrendous. I was target fixating on every rock bigger than a loaf of bread and clattering into them. Each time, my neck and hand would cry out in pain. I tried to remind myself of the fun i'd been having and to look down to where the mountain levelled out- it was a long long way!!!
Slowly, my pace picked up again. The downhill boys were revelling in it. Its the first time i'd ever witnessed a need for 10" of travel and they made it look effortless. Even though some of these guys flying down the mountain were 10 years older than me, I suddenly felt very old! I'm sure the rewards are there but it all looked pretty unpredictable to me.

Anyway, I eventually spotted Lew waiting for me and he raved about how much he'd enjoyed that bit. The relief at reaching the 'bottom' was short lived and another spell of torturous rocks began although this bit wasn't nearly as long.
Then we hit some seriously steep downhill lanes and my lack of brakes become a genuine concern. There were walkers, dogs and other cars potentially using this road and I couldn't bring myself to commit. Once or twice, the steepness of the lane meant I was fully on both brakes and barely slowing down.

The lanes bagan to open up and started to climb again. I felt fresh as a daisy once more! My stiff neck was forgotton and my aching thumb wedged in the best position and I began to overtake people. At one point, a gaggle of fifteen downhill guys were making hard work of a climb and I breezed past them at literally 10mph difference! If only I knew what i'd just inflicted on them!!!!! The next bit was a steep, narrow, rooty, downhill section between two tree lined banks. Of course, my inferior equipment and technique meant I was doing my best to stay upright but also, couldn't stop. The guys I'd just overtook were gagging to get back past me but I could neither move over or stop to let them and one or two pulled some very sketchy overtakes to get past me. I regret holding them up but I honestly didn't know what was coming up.

Anyway, soon that was over and all that was left was a blast up through Brecon. I spotted a guy making good progress in the distance and picked off knackered guys behind him one by one. As we reached the last climb, this guy and I were neck and neck, forcing each other to push for the finish. I think he wanted a race across the playing field but I slowed up and looked back for Lew. I reached the tape but pulled over and rode a few small circles as I waited for Lewis to arrive so we could cross the line together and collect our sexy T-Shirts!

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