Gregory May

Oct 172014

“Why do you build me up, Buttercup baby?
Just to let me down, and mess me around?
And then worst of all, you never call baby
When you say you will, but I love you still.
I need you more than anyone, darlin’
You know that I have from the start.
So build me up, Buttercup, don’t break my heart.”

I can’t get this shitty song out of my head. The writer in me wants to compare Buttercup to my race season so far; up and down with aggressive swings in luck, but still something I live for no matter how much I pretend I don’t. In reality I have a song invading my head and it’s been there for 14 hours. Get out and get your own room and leave me to suffer.

It seemed like a good idea at the time back in May trying to race the WEMBO worlds as best I could. At this stage I wasn’t too sure. Everything hurt. My arms, my legs, my face, my hair. I’d never ridden a course this hard and it was breaking me one minute at a time.

I’d given up on training 3 weeks before the WEMBO race. I was tired. The mental equivalent of cold soup. My body was as wasted as it was in the height of my racing career and it was starting to fight back. Then the excuse came along. A big crash out training one night. Knee too sore to pedal for a week, shoulder too bruised to ride a MTB at all. Part of me worried that I’d wasted all this time and couldn’t race. Part of me was happy that I could walk away with an excuse. Then I thought of Phil with his broken collar bone – I needed to man up. I just wasn’t certain I could face another abject failure after Bonty 24/12 this summer.

The normal face of a mechanic doing its duty.

The normal face of a mechanic doing its duty.

The time off my bike did give me a chance to get everything else in order for once. My bikes were stripped and rebuilt by Paul the head mechanic where I used to work in Edinburgh Bikes Manchester – who nicely lent me a gazebo and Paul for the race itself. It sounded like a good idea. What’s not to like – Fort William, some beers, bikes and tools. A perfect day out. I may have neglected to mention that it was in October, and would probably be cold. Scratch that, it would be cold. Although on race day there was little mechanic-ing to be done as the bikes ran smooth – having a dedicated mechanic and somewhere for him to hurl abuse from was helpful.

Uber pit crew master Sean Wratten

Uber pit crew master Sean Wratten

The pits were split with another two riders to make things easier; my team-mate Mark Goldie racing single speed, and Rich Rothwell racing elites. Huge thanks must go to Sean our team-mate and mechanic, and Pauline who will have to put up with being married to me in two weeks. Along with Paul these  two spent the day dressed head to toe in ski clothes and helping me do what I needed to do. People giving up their time is something that people forget about us “solo” riders – it’s never just us that suffers.

She who must be fed cake.

She who must be fed cake.

A quick recon of the course on the Friday showed a 13.4km lap with 450m of climbing and technical descents that suited me. This was not going to be a cake walk, but I felt like I could be competitive on the course. With a target of 20 laps I was aiming to climb higher than Everest from sea-level and a bit. Also, at that back of my head was a notion that I could trouble the podium.



Saturday morning saw the bikes get a final prep and wash all ready for the start. At 12 noon we all lined up and the race got underway with a fast paced climb up to the top of the World Cup XC trail before plummeting down into the woods below. A flat section along the river was the only respite before we climbed back up a, normally, red descent to the top of the Witches trail before dropping down into the pit area for the first lap.

The Bike Picture

The Bike Picture

And so it continued for 23hours and 15mins. Climb, descend, climb, descend. The racers priority was simple – ride bike and insert fuel. Try not to crash. The pit crew had a much different duty – fetching food and drinks, checking bikes and brakes every lap, checking lap times and rider positions, charging and replacing lights. Pit changes were there only interaction with me and they needed to be right each time.

View from the Pits

View from the Pits

With 13 hours of darkness the pit crew got little to no sleep, catching 20min cat naps when they could. Every time I came in they were there feeding me, then pushing me right back out again. Bar one bike swap to check everything was working I stayed on my race bike. Nothing went wrong and used only one set of brakepads somehow – Paul was at this stage accusing me of not braking at all.

The one bike change.

The one bike change.

As morning arrived, I’d ridden myself into a solid third place. Unless I blew up I was guaranteed a medal, but it would take the same to get a silver. The next 7 hours were weird. I lost the will to race. I just focused on riding my bike. Only if an orange jersey came past was I to do anything. It slowly dawned on me that I was already at my limit. If Tom could switch on, I was done.

Sunshine I love you.

Sunshine I love you.

Realising what was happening the crew were even more cautious with me and my bike – cleaning the drivetrain each lap and checking brake wear. Finally, 19 laps later, I crossed the line for the last time hearing I had an hour gap on Tom in 4th place and couldn’t be caught. I didn’t feel happy about this. I’d worked hard to try and get away from Tom but for some reason felt like I’d cheated. I know he’s faster than me on the downs and most of the ups – the first 6 hours showed this . But here I was, ahead of him and thinking of stopping. Broken, tired, and stinking I sat down in the red glow of the EBC tent and was handed a beer. This was the reason I’d made that gap – pit crew, not me. It felt odd.

Beer me.

Beer me.

Done. 3rd place in the 30-34 age group. Some more beer. The pits get packed around me and I mumble encouragements on how to do things. I wander over to Tom after he finishes and find him sat in a chair like a zombie, he’s wasted. I mildly wonder how I look. Jenn tells me I stink. She gets a hug for that.  A shower and few hours sleep in the Travellodge before I destroy a curry and several beers. We stand in the hotel before I get called up onto the podium – it feels wrong, I’ve not done this in a long time. The medal feels solid around my neck. I sit down and sip a beer debating Weaverville in 2015.  Why not?


I’ve a few thanks to give out:

Shona and Rich at Keep Pedalling Manchester without whom it would not have been possible to afford race food, kit and bike. Having a local bike shop that supports racers a the thing that keeps privateer cycle racing going – not on-line shops.

Ged and Alex at the Edinburgh Bike Co-Op for the loan of a gazebo for the day- my old employer, and friend/manager.

Sean at Berti Mafoons Bicycle Company for once again being the perfect pit manager/worrier/friend. Enjoy the bottle of whisky.

Pat and Pat at Ison Distribution for being willing to part with the Salsa Cycles Spearfish for a silly cheap amount that has served me well this season. I can not explain how good a bike this is.

Jenn, Steve Makin, Dave Serious, Andy, Phil, Jase and all the JMC crew, and anyone who put up with me hurting them while we “went for a ride” yes I was training. No I’m not stopping.

And finally Pauline – why you enjoy pitting for these things I’ll never know – I’m  just happy you do cause we’ll be doing them for a while more yet.

Aug 012014

Start Line Waffle

So, it turns out that if you tell all your coached athletes not to get sunstroke in a weekly email – it nearly happens to you at your next race. Whooda thunk it?

When the thermometer on your Garmin reads 30 degrees, your heart rate is stuck at 130bpm at rest, and you can’t get it higher than 145 during what feels like maximal exercise…there is a good reason to stop. Not having pee’d for 7 hours, and having stopped sweating many, many hours ago despite pounding back the fluids should have been a sign, but being the fool I am I tried to push on – ignored my own words – and suffered a real China Syndrome. What a plonker.


Sitting in the shade of the pit cramping all I could think about was my own words – watch out in the heat, it will get you – and it did. Lesson learnt, I can’t race as I used to when I was young, my thermodynamics have changed, or it’s just wasn’t that hot in the old days

Dusty trails

So what can you take from it? Well not much other than words of warning – if it looks like its going wrong on your heart rate monitor or power meter, and you feel like it’s going wrong, and people are telling you it’s going wrong: Don’t ignore it. It’s better to fail today, than spend tomorrow on a drip, or in hospital. Safety first.

On the plus side, 7 hrs – 9 laps – an ace course of perfect dry trails – and I still finished 60th somehow…nuts.

As ever thanks to the folks at Keep Pedalling for my bike and bits, thanks to Sean, Oli, Jen, Rob and “Cider hands” Claude for pitting and putting up with me. Hopefully something better will come at the worlds which can’t help but be cool.

Jul 232014

Part 1 can be found here, part 2 here, part 3 here.

Now that's what I call a bivi.

Now that’s what I call a bivi.

Day 4: I wake up as the sun brushes my face for the final part of my ride. I’ve slept like a log shaped Greg on a bed of the softest grass. The views are spectacular as the sun creeps into the valleys below me. Flowing light fills the steep sides of yesterdays final descent and runs into the sea some miles away. I’ve one high point for the day and it’s all down hill to the finish.

I spend some time just sitting, watching the animal world wake up. Sheep pop their head over my bivi ledge and stare not understanding how, let alone why, there is a large orange slug lying on the ground. Some Babybel and Penguin bars to start the morning before a luxurious 8am roll-out across dry firm trails.


Today was to be a shorter day, but no easier than the others. No sooner had I finished the first descent of the day than I was back up again. Exposed to the warmth of the day, getting brutalised by the lack of wind. Following now the esoteric Sarn Helen trail which changed from road, to dirt, to nothing at a whim before opening up into MX shredding pools of fetid black water locked between dry stone walls.

Push, pull, drag the bike through it all. Just get passed it to the dry land ahead. Repeat. The day felt like it was getting worse, only to offer the slightest hint of perfection in a piece of fast flowing trail, or technical rocky rooty descents.


Roman roads are...

Straight Roman roads cut through the terrain stopping for nothing. If there was a hill, it went over it, a forest, through it, a swamp, in it. Every now and again it would detour for unavoidable things like rock outcrops. Where it had no option it just dropped into perfect gullies full of rocks and mud. Wonderful on a light MTB, brutally difficult on a fully laden bike. Still, you’ve got to try...not always roads

The gullies lead to the final section into Neath. The local MX club use this trail extensively and it shows. If it wasn’t for its rock base, the weather and the gradient of the trail this would be a mudfest. In the dry it was astounding. On the limit of what I could ride, but had me thinking about pushing back up to go again. Probably some of the most fun riding of the trip. Over far to fast.

A trip into Neath to raid the local shop for breakfast after 4 hours with no food. Sitting down outside the charity shop cooling off in the shade and downing liter after liter of fluid and food in an attempt to stop the dizzyness. A second trip to the charity store bought some shorts and a T-shirt to wear for the train ride home. £4 gets you nice clothes these days.

 The final road ride to Swansea and the end was dull and boring. Along the canal I was brutally reminded that I was back in civilisation with locals wanting to stop me to ‘have a go’ of my bike. I roll on feigning a lack of English. In Swansea I push across the soft sand of the beach to the start of the pier. It feels only right to finish amid the sea of the south coast after starting in the sea on the north coast.


It’s done.  Just under 72 hours total time from start to finish to cover the 383km from sea to sea. Not the fastest, not the slowest, nevertheless a nice few days out. It was time for a quick wash in the sea, then back on the train to Manchester.Wash

Day four: 4hours 06mins ride time; 52km; 569m of climbing; 6hrs 15mins on the trail

Jul 222014

Part 1 can be found here, part 2 here.

Morning Sunshine

MMMMABBBAAAAAA – this is your 6:30am alarm sheep. Get out of bed you lazy shit. Fluffy is relentless, she wants me gone, I’ve had my time and it’s time to move. 8 hours of peaceful sleep was more than enough and I thank my host for it. Time to move on and give you back your home deary. Maybe we can meet again?

I take my time packing up, the weather is perfect and the view stunning. Sitting on the rocks letting my body warm up before another day of perfect weather and hopefully passable trails. I push for a bit to finish the Monks Trudge (Trod) before moving across to gain a ridgeline that totters between ride and push. It reminds me of a cross race, hop on-off- hop This continues for 30mins or so before I get enough gradient to ride through everything. Then down, down into the Elan Valley headwaters perfect sinuous brown trail the only real obstacles are my brain and the sheep laying on the trail basking in the sunlight. I take to herding them along in front of me, knowing they will provide a soft landing strip should I need it.

Unimpressive stone

I pass out of the valley and onto the road again, climbing up a steep incline to find early morning drivers confused by my presence on the correct side of the road. Maybe they drive on the wrong side of the road in Mid-wales? The standing stone above Rhyader proves a bit of a disappointment, but the trail into the town that runs parallel to the road – utter bliss. Fast rock slabs and baby head boulders together, this is what I remember of from the Trans Wales. Except without the rain, or dysentery.

 get into Rhyader for 11am and go straight to the hotel for breakfast. A full fry, two coffees and a coke for less than £7. I pop into the bike shop to replace my brake pads and get run of the tools, all for the price of a chat. By the time I’ve raided the shop its 12:30 before I’m leaving, just as the temperature is starting to turn up. If I thought it was warm yesterday, today was going to be a sufferfest.

Water, cool water.

This was the last real stream I saw of the day. Wading out to cool down feet and tired legs i refilled bottles and wandered along roads in ever increasing temperatures. The  wind had dropped off and was never going to rear its head again. So along came the horsefly’s, and they were hungry for blood. Every climb, every time I stopped to open a gate –they came to feast. Nothing would stop them, the smell of a sweating human was too much to resist and they feasted unbidden by my shouts or flailing arms.

This is the face of self hate

This is the face of self hate

I pushed on the climbs until I could no longer. Falling over myself to get away from them. In my hair, my beard, my clothes, everywhere. Eventually I crested a hill and found some wind that gave the briefest of respites. I was at the lowest point of the trip – hating every minute of my existence and wanting to just cease to be. The next few hours passed as such:

Ride as fast as possible on the road trails – push up shouting and flailing arms – scratch self – shout and flail – descend at warp speed.

I didn’t remember to drink much during this stage, or eat much, just keep moving. By the time I reached Builth Wells I was cooked. I’d stopped at a small post office in Newbridge on Wye to try get some anti-histamines and water. They just looked at me and said sorry, just water here. The itching continues until B.W where the lady in the chemists warns me they may make me drowsy. I opt not to tell her where I’d come from in the past 48hours.


I crash out in Builth for an hour beneath a tree with some shade drying out my sleeping bag. It would be so easy to stop, but I know the temperature will start to drop. But the horseflies will be with me until at least 7pm. Another three hours at least. I eat more anti-histamines, and man up.

I don’t remember a huge amount bar roads, lots of road and lots of grassy climbs. It was probably beautiful; the pictures I took make it look so anyway. But I don’t remember much except the buzzing, always biting me, hateful little things. By the time I rolled into Brecon nearly 5 hours had passed and I was starting to come around again. The weather had turned in my favour and the wind had picked up and the temp dropped by 10 degrees or so. We’re back on track I thought through mouthfuls of every food type imaginable from the Co-op.

The bemused teller at the till sold me more and more fluids until I could carry no more. This was to be my last fuel stop until Neath some 100km away, so I needed to be smart. I also had a load of change that was better off being calories rather than coins. I swing past the local dodgy chip shop and sit on a bench eating chips, chicken legs and a recovery drink. An odd combination and one that only just stays down. The heat of the day has made any food difficult to consume – but it needs to go in.

A blur

Rolling out of Brecon I feel a little worried for the first time. I’m not feeling great and I know I have a lot of climbing before I get to sleep again, I start to break it down, lamp-post by lamp-post. Kilometer by Kilometer. Small bits to step it all together. . By 10pm I’m climbing up a  long valley and the temperature has dropped, the flies have gone to bed and I’m starting to come round again. The past 8 hours have been hell, but still my body wants to go on.

I realise I’m actually on the Sarn Helen trail itself now and the speed starts to increase again, I’m feeling fast – I know I need to use this to get some more distance in. The climbs come easy, the descents even easier. I switch the lights on around 11.30 as the clear skies and full moon give all the light I need over the non technical sections.  45 minutes later and I’m riding up a perfect piece of grass when I see a white limestone face ahead of me. Within a few seconds I’m decided, this is my bivi. I spend 10mins climbing over the tiers of limestone, spoilt for choice of a perfect bivi – I settle on a 3rd floor apartment with perfect views off the veranda. I’m asleep within minutes.

Day three: 8hours 58mins ride time; 112km; 2,104m of climbing; 14hrs 30mins on the trail.


Jul 182014

Part 1 can be found here.

Morning View

Day 2: What is it about waking in a bivi bag on the side of a hill at 5am and 3.5hrs sleep is it that makes it worthwhile? I toss in my bag for another 30mins before I have to get up to join the sheep in my morning ablutions. Jacket off, jersey on, cram some cheese into my mouth, some granola bars in my pockets. Helmet, shoes, gloves on, hit the button on my GPS. 30mins from awake to rolling, a slow start to the day.

A quick up and over a shoulder before dropping down fast loose gravel into a valley trail on towards the sea and the bridge crossing at Barmouth. The fast trails fly by as I deplete my food and water supplies. I start to wonder if I’ve taken enough when a river comes by, I fill up and move on wondering if my watch is off. It can’t be this warm at 8am. Can it?Brutal PushUp and over fast bridleway trails, down grassy hills, and up the inevitable climb the other side. The general store in Llanygryn gives me an early morning laugh as I inadvertently insult its octogenarian owners poor sight, but I turn on her fridge and all is forgiven. Apparently, I’m lucky to be tall. I run out of water about 10km outside of Machynlleth but shrug it off as I know it’s mostly down hill. As ever, something goes wrong and the wind picks up for the first time cooking my body even more as the heat is driven into me. Hot, headwind, hungry. Not a great combination.

I arrive in Mach cooked, physically and metaphorically.  I raid the Spar buying nearly 3 liters of various fluids and calories beyond measure. Cheese and Haribo – works. Peperami and yogurt – works. Coke and orange juice – not so optimal. 30 minutes sat in the shade before my body temperature starts to plateau. The thermometer on my GPS says 28 degrees, in the shade, at 10am.  The biggest climb is yet to come and I know its out in the sun. I buy some suntan lotion and slather everything in the sickly sweet smelling coconut lotion.

It's me!

The climb up to the lakes is long and brutal. Out in the sun for all of it, carrying a belly and bike full of fluid. Holding me back, but allowing me to continue. By the time I crest the climbs 4 hours have passed since I’ve left Mach. 4 hours to cover <20km. Brutal, but with a huge payoff. Massive vistas, a lake that begged me to swim in it, free roaming horses wandering over for a petting. Best of all, no one but me. Not a soul. This is why I do these things, to be here and now, with no one else. It clouds over and I am grateful for it. My arms a bright red despite repeated applications of coconut smelling stickyness.


The next few  hours are a bit of a blur. I ride along a trail that ends at the end of a sheep run. I have vague memories of having ridden here before and they grow with every push. I recall the river I climb through, the bank I scramble over. I’m here, that Valley that I rode though back in 2008 that I could never locate again, the one that goes on forever with the most glorious singletrack I’d ever experienced.

THAT valley

Bags checked, suspension opened I throw myself at it with all my legs can muster. The bike is heavy but the trails are perfect. On and on it goes before I drop into Afon Hengwm and strip to climb into the river submerging my body with the ghosts of the long deserted farmstead.   The valley is a bowl with a push in, and a push out. I know I’ve not ate in an hour so I take my time enjoying the breeze and filling up my water stores. It’s good to just sit and enjoy the silence.

BathClean as I’ll be until the end of the ride I start the long, dull push out. Were the weather not treating me so well I’d be angry. But I can’t complain. A light breeze, not too much sun, and nothing but my bike and I. After a while I open up again on some singletrack before the fire-road comes – fast and sweet on big wheels – distance covered is good after a slow going day. At least most of the climbing is behind me now.

I reach for a bottle and get air. Nothing. I go for my spare and find the same. I’ve finally done it, I’m out of water. Bugger. I think ahead. I’ve passed all the lakes and the rivers are running dry. My next chance is the visitors centre at Nant Y Arian. It’s 4pm and it closes at 5pm. I’m about an hour away. I rummage through and find a can of Redbull, warm, sticky and bitter. It does little to quench my thirst. I don’t grow wings. I do get a bit angry. I need to get there to get water. Food would also be good.

I should have filled up here.
I should have filled up here.

I ride on and on cooking in the heat which decided now would be a good time to come back. 30mins to go, 15, zero. I’m rolling into the trail centre at 5:05pm. They’ve gone home. Closed up. I’d have done the same. I grab some water in the toilet block, but I need food. I’m close to running on fumes when I pass a garage. Time to practice the Tour Divide diet; chocolate, lots of chocolate later I’m feeling a bit better. I pick up some shitty cheap white bread and sweating salty ham and cram them in my bag for dinner/breakfast.

I roll on, and on, for what feels like forever through hedgerow climbs of 20% pushing through vegetation and its inhabitants. The flies get to me, I swat out in anger at them, releasing my stress on the trail on insubstantial little black blobs. It’s pathetic how something so small can make me so angry. I sit on top of an old Roman fortification eating  my dinner at 8pm. The wind keeps the flies off and I find myself reaching for my jacket for the first time.

Golden Hour

I’ve entered the Elan valley now and I know what is a head of me. A mix of road, fast riding trails inter spaced with pushing. Lots of pushing. I had an idea it was going to be bad. I had no idea just how bad. As I roll along the trails are drier than I’d expected and I get further along faster. I drop through dried river beds being aware that I’ve not got huge water supplies left. A climb over a running river bed has me filling everything, I’m not running out again today, sod the extra weight.

Fireroad leads me down before the signpost to the Monks Trod chirps on my GPS. It’s the one section I’ve not been looking forward to. Aidans description didn’t describe it as something I’d enjoy. He’d had a hard time, I was expecting no different despite the warm weather I’d had. What I hadn’t expected was to take nearly so long to trudge through knee and thigh deep swamp to get across 10km. It was mentally harder than it was physical, but only made better by the thoughts that it’d be over soon. Finished, something I’d never bother with again. If  the Sarn Helen has a Fisherfield equivalent where you’re likely to break – it’s here. As an added bonus – you get the wonderful sign at the end.

The sign

Another trudge – when I decided the trail should be changed to the Monks Trudge – allowed me to wash all the accumulated sheep shit off in a stream. Up, up, up until I saw on the horizon something that made my day. A raised set of rocks, off the trail, out of the swamp, and on a ridgeline with wind to keep the flying nasties away. 10:30pm and I was done for the day. I stripped and bedded down taking a chance to dry out my kit. The sight of a lone sheep standing guard over me, or her flock, made me smile before bedtime. See you in the morning Fluffy.


Day two: 10hours 30mins ride time; 112km; 2,774m of climbing; 16hrs 30mins on the trail.

This turned out to be beside a megalithic tomb...oops

Jul 172014

I was supposed to be at the Tour Divide – then I was supposed to be at the Grezestien Trophy – then I was at nothing. So, with a week annual leave booked off I opted to try something ‘local’.

Sarn Helen

I’d read about a route that traversed the length of Wales from Conwy to Swansea called the Sarn Helen trail. A combination of walking trails, 4×4 tracks and an old roman road something that MTB books and magazines had touted as an 8 day epic ride. With not unimaginable distances per day, ~120km, the route looked like it would go easily in three days if I was to pack light and ride it slightly different to the normal – early start/late finish. This was in no means a racing ride, it would probably go in a single 30-35 hour push, more of a touring individual time trial. TITT?

A quick internet trawl turned up an article from Aidan Harding who had done the SH back in 2010 as preparation for the Tour Divide  -more or less the position I was in now, but a year out. Aidans ride had aimed for around the same time I had and I figured the most obvious way was to use his route as well. Consistency and all that. Nothing to do with me forgetting to copy the files onto my GPS the night before….


Day 1: A leisurely 9am start had me on the train from Manchester to Conwy Castle as I was aiming to start later in the day. Extraordinary Welsh weather forecasts had showed that the next 4 days was going to be dry and with temperatures in the mid to high 20’s. Little was I to know, it was going to be much warmer than that. So I packed the new shiny Salsa Spearfish* with more kit than needed, but none the less the same kit I’ll be using on the Divide next summer. I may as well keep it similar I figured. With the bike and kit paired up I think I now have the perfect blend of off road capability and all weather kit. The Fargo is excellent for longer gravel/fireroad rides, but the new Spearfish is just lush. Honestly, this is one of the best full suspension bikes I’ve ever owned. Hands down.


The opening miles were on tarmac winding their way up, over, down and round valleys. With no wind and oppressive heat I started to go through my water supplies a little faster than planned. Rationing within the first 3 hours, not ideal. Eventually the climb led up the Lyn Colwyd and more water than I could shake a stick at. Tempting as it was to jump in I refilled and then started along the excellent valley trail before climbing up and out over a steep trail – read push. At this point I had my first crash of the trip.

Down, not out

Sneaking a “dry” line ended up in an OTB moment as my wheel buried itself to its hub. No time to un-clip I ended up pinned below my bike all my weight on my now aching wrist. Game over…. maybe. Hopefully not. After finally extracting myself I hobbled my way down to Capel Curig and some food. A quick icing with two cans of coke and a massive scone and jam treat and I was on the road again. A momentary lack of perception leads to crash – a note to stay a little more in the moment.


At this point the real climbing began. Into the real guts of Snowdonia and up, up, up. Always climbing the heat kept pounding down. Searching for ridable shade at any opportunity took over as I climbed into the woods behind Penmachno. Then it started. Initially just a few water filled MX ruts, then full on hell. Kilometer after kilometer of flooded knee deep ruts like Gaia herself been repeatedly run over by all the MX and 4×4 drivers in the world. There is a place for motorized fun in the mountains, but on wet peaty forestry trails it is not. Well done for screwing it up for everyone else.

Mordor Starts

After an hour of pushing, carrying and cursing I was spat out above the trails I know in Penmachno. The road came as a wonder as my speed crept above 2kph for the first time in hours. The sun was starting its trend downwards as I rolled into the Glanaber Terrace and entered what felt like the start of Mordor.


The traverse across the slate slag heaps and the following “trail” are a blur. I constant feeling that I don’t belong here, that I should just turn around and leave. Why keep going on, this is just shit and you hate it, leave, go find a nice pub for the evening. Cresting the trail near Lyn Pysgod I felt like it was over. I knew the road down towards Blenau and figured I’d just turn right and head for a friends house in Llanberris. She’d have gin and some floor space.

Apparently this is a f**king trail.
Apparently this is a f**king trail.

I’ve no idea if it was the near crash with the chav and his Imprezza, or the food in the Co-op in Ffestiniog but I decided to keep rolling. A quick call to Pauline to let her know what I was at and I was on the road again. 7 hours in and less than half what I wanted to do for the day. It was going to be a long day with my aim for the evening being  to sleep somewhere near Dolgellau.

But it changed, hilly roads not withstanding, the trails became ride-able, faster, dryier. As the temperature dropped my pace climbed. Riding  along trails parallel to the road to Coed Y Brenin the lights had to come out of the bag. Hammering round sections of the MBR trails the wrong way in the dark with a huge grin on my face. Back in the night, where I belong, loving every moment of it. The trails flew beneth my wheels and I could feel myself getting back on target. 10pm flew past and then 12am and the next day.


As I drop onto the road to Dolgellau I stop to debate the turn. I can go left to a hostel I know will have space, or up the road, try Kings or just push on? I ride on, past Kings stopping only to get some water, before climbing all the way to my highpoint in the fields at the top of the valley. 1:30am, tired, I crawl into my bivi ingesting my dinner of Babybel and two Penguin bars.

Day one: 8hours 50mins ride time; 106km; 2,486m of climbing; 10hrs 50mins on the road.

*Huge thanks to Shona at Keep Pedalling for sourcing the Spearfish for me, and to Ison Distribution for making a price I couldn’t refuse.

Jun 022014

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.

Early morning bridge

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.

Night bridge

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.

Feb 102014

Tick tock goes the clock. Clip clop goes my shoes. Swish swoosh go my tyres.

All I’ve been doing is trying to get out when I can. The weather in the UK is not always conducive to training for a summer race in the heat. But I have to log some miles, put in some time on foot or wheel. Just get out there.

It’s just under 4 months before the Tour Divide starts. I know most of the things that I need to organise can be done in a short space of time. Flights, kit, accommodation at the start, sorting a lift home from the end. But the one thing that I can’t leave for much longer is me. My fitness, my strength, my ability to propel my bike and I from Banff to Antelope Wells. It is a rather long way.

So I’ve been active, not training per say, but keeping active. Walking where I’d normally drive, riding whenever I can. I’ve spent as much time as I can on the Fargo, getting used to how it rides in any and all trail types. Even on the road – which is a bit slow and dull. I’ve started riding everywhere loaded up, if for no reason but to get used to carrying the extra weight. It is a lot, but it can come down when I get less… festive.

So the time is coming where I have to be a bit stricter. Tighten up so to speak. The first bit is easy – no beer. The second bit -no cake – is less easy…we’ll see how that goes.

Dec 212013

Nothing is real until you write it down, until it is out of your head, and in the minds of others.

Those I told had been to the Divide, their brains were able to accept my need to go. Others I explained the basics, said I was off to ‘do a long ride’ next summer. It will take time before they understand. The blue dots will help.

So here it is, my letter of intent to race the Tour Divide. Not ride, not do, but race – to the best of my ability. For no one, but myself.

See you in June.

Forward Planning

Nov 192013

I can’t hide from it any more. I travel to work in the post daybreak murk of a big city that would rather see me dead than safe on its roads. I bypass the main streets and opt for the lesser road paths and trails that take me the 4km to work. Not enough, nowhere near it.

I pass the short section of cobbles that rattles the bitter coffee into my veins.

I pass the muddy off-camber turn behind the big tree with inappropriate tyres.

I drag my brakes around the fast corner aware that the lady with the Dalmatian won’t be far.

I nod at the lady with the Dalmatian, we both know this beautiful animal doesn’t worry about the daylight.

I ride the muddy path by the old bowling green.

I pop out to the road. 4.5 mins down.

Two mins at the traffic light. Before the death run.

Two schools. Several shops. Early morning drivers not looking for a cyclist.

Another set of lights before the stench of lasts nights curry house effluence assails my nose.

Left. Right. Pavement. Bang on the door.

10 mins home to work.

Just. Not. Enough.