The Bryan Chapman Memorial (BCM) has been on my list of things to do for a while now. The idea of a 600km, 629km in truth, ride from the bottom of Wales to the top and back again is wonderful. Honestly, it is a beautiful route – or what of it I did – and the other bits I’ve done in the past.
So the trip started out well, until I got to the Severn Bridge and drove over it…forgetting that I was staying on the English side, not, the Welsh side…anyway at least I’ve now driven (and paid) to cross the bridge. Odd that you don’t have to pay to escape Wales though. The hotel were very nice to all the riders and let us take our bikes in, and turned the heating on. Now, normally this would be a good thing. But as it was already about 20 degrees during the evening, having the heating on resulted in a very sweaty nights ‘sleep’ that mostly had me wanting to dip myself in the bath.
After my evening sauna I was up at 4:45am trying to eat some food and failing. Some went in, most just sorta sat in my mouth and got chewed on with no real purpose. Eventually I managed half a bowl of breakfast before I gave up and started to ride the 6km to the start of the ride. It was beautiful riding over the bridge with an inversion across to Wales and the sun just rising. A great start to the day, already we were in jerseys and shorts only. No need for gloves or anything. At this point I realised I had probably taken to much kit with me.
The ride started out mellow enough, I got on the back of a nice group and just tipped along for a while. After the first set of rolling hills things started to splinter and I ended up in a group of three or four. Not much talking, not much else but pedaling and rolling through some beautiful Welsh lanes for the first two hours until I stopped for a pee and some food. I’d love to say I wolfed down some food, but in reality I managed to just about eat some bread with Nuttella and peanut butter…which is my normal race favorite food. This was a bit worrying, but I just ignored it and got back on my bike.
The first checkpoint came at 75km at a nice little cafe. I’d planned to bounce through this and get on my way, and did so, stopping only for water-bathroom-receipt. I hit the road after managing to eat another cereal bar, it didn’t taste like anything palatable and I realised that something was happening. May as well just ignore it and ride on… mistake #2.
I hit the road with a chap called Justin and we started to ride out towards Rhayader and the Elan valley. Not that I’d planned to ride up it, but it was the plan for other riders. We rolled along faster than we should have and enjoyed the scenery.
As we hit the main road I dropped off our newly formed group and pulled over. At this stage I was having to stop to eat, not something I’ve normally had to do. I now realised something was going on and it was only a matter of time before it went pear shaped. I rolled into Rhayader and grabbed a Coke, sat in the shade and gave my legs and stomach 10mins to cop on. It didn’t help. I kept climbing up towards the second control at Nant Y Arian and had to stop a further two times.
As I made the control in Nant I knew the day was over. It took me 30mins to eat a single scone and drink a bottle of sparkling water. Normally two things I can wolf down in seconds. The game was no longer afoot. I was toast. After a bit of a man talk I rang Pauline and told her I was suffering, explained my plans and hit the road again. All the way down into Tal Y Bont my body shook, not from the cold, but because my muscles had nothing in them. It took all my mental effort to steer and brake on the descent when needed, forcing my hands to do as they were being told. At the cafe that came soon I stopped again and managed to eat a packet of shortbread with another can of coke. This time, I was trying to spend mental effort to keep it in my stomach.
As I rolled towards Machynlleth I started to think about bail out options. I looked at my GPS and saw that there was a train-station at Mach. but not one at the control at Dolgellau. It became a no-brainer as I rolled past the station and swung right into its open arms. I was done, another DNF.
The train station attendant was amazing, found me the cheapest, fastest possible way to get back to Chepstow – told me how to get some food for the trip and got me on the train with my bike. A trail angel if I’ve ever met one. The next 5 hours were spend on a variety of trains and station platforms on my way back down south. I still couldn’t eat, but managed a cup of coffee and a Twix in those 5 hours. I just wasn’t hungry.
Arriving in Newport it turned out to be faster to ride from there to Chepstow than to wait then to take the train. So kit back on and a nice 36km pedal back to the car in England.
Sitting in a Burger King at 11pm in services somewhere on the M5 I finally started to get hungry again. The food still tasted like crap, but that was probably just because it was BK…
What did I learn? Honestly…I don’t know. I’ve no idea what caused this. Maybe just a case of the heat and lack of real riding. Maybe something else. Either way it’s a pain, but it is what it was. A long ride, inter-spaced with suffering and failure. Nothing I regret, just something I wish had worked out better.