Wednesday, 13 June 2018

TINAT 300+km Welsh Epic Cycling Day (and night) ... Wykeham's Viewpoint...

It was a joy to take Wykeham round this stunning route through Mid Wales finest cycleways during the most superb weather. I was disappointed for him that he didn't complete it all in 24h but very impressed with his determination nonetheless. Next time - you'll nail it!

Wykeham’s TINAT write up

"After meeting Alan two years ago, I have been inspired to undertake multiple endurance activities from Fell running to Ultramarathons. The next big adventure he proposed was a 24hr gravel ride in Wales called 'This Is Not A Tour' (TINAT), due to my 'yes man’ nature, I agreed instantly. He sent me the route and I began dissecting what I had signed up to. It looked insane; Brutal climbs, gnarly off-road sections and a lot of distance. This would be the most extreme thing I have undertaken, previously 100 miles of road riding was the biggest ride I have done, this would be double that with much bigger climbs off road plus all of the bikepacking equipment strapped to my bike to make it extra hard.

The TINAT route, with Alan's extra off road extensions was just breathtaking. We set off Friday evening in the Campervan, stopped off for some vital chips in Ashbourne and drove on to Newtown to find a fantastic little lay-by  for a few hours kip, before we set off at 2:15AM. My bike was loaded with some fancy new Bikepacking bags from Alpkit, storing a bivvy in case I needed a power nap (which I did on multiple occasions) and lots of food, which made Alan's eyes practically pop out when he was just carrying a handful of bars.

SECTION 1- Newtown >> Beulah
After Staylittle, an added section to the original route

This section was an interesting start, the realisation kicked in, I had 210 miles, plus, 6000 metres of climbing ahead of me.  It was pitch black, apart from the lit path created from the bike lights, this made it difficult to judge the length and gradient of the Welsh hills, but, it was a fantastic experience seeing the unpolluted skies and the bright twinkling stars above me. However, I regretted listening to Alan's advice of 'you'll be fine in shorts for the day’, this section was freezing cold! But, once the sun rose, the beautiful weather stayed for the whole ride, which led to a ridiculous looking cyclist tan line, that was noticed and ridiculed by many peers at Derby University for the following week .

SECTION 2 : Beulah >> Tregaron via the Devils Staircase
The lead up to the devil stare case was incredible, we was in a beautiful valley watching the sunrise and the thick mist clear. The Devil’s Staircase is a well known climb in the UK with three sections consisting of some 25% gradients. My legs could definitely feel this incline and with my temperamental derailleur, it meant I had 3 less climbing gears to try and spin up with. Hence, Alan sped off (a common occurrence throughout the ride) to get a few photos and I slowly ground my way up the section while trying to smile for the camera (A hard skill to acquire and it was more evident, that a face of pain would be the common look in the photos compared to a happy smiley version I tried to perform) .

SECTION 3: Tregaron >>Elan Valley
This was a stunning part of the route with two off road sections, I was cautiously slow as I was afraid of a puncture on the razor sharp scree, whereas, Alan would speedily over take, while trying to resist a grin when he was smashing through all sorts of terrain on his fancy tubeless setup. But, at least I got to take in the views for longer than he did, as I became engrossed into my own little world! This was my favourite section, as it was remote, peaceful and picturesque. However, it did begin to take a toll on the body, primarily my arms, due to the constant pounding and vibration throughout the gravel, plus, it required 100% concentration or you would inevitably fall off. I will definitely revisit this section as its an area that needs to be explored in further detail, whether that will be through running or cycling. It was just an epic part of Wales!

SECTION 4 : Elan >> Llangurig.
After Staylittle, just after the shot above heading down a big descent

After a fantastic cafe stop at the bottom of Elan Valley visitors centre, we set off through some beautiful woods, once we concurred this short sharp climb, we got onto a small road that traversed the Craig Goch reservoir which was just stunning.

However, shortly after this,  my Satnav took us off the nice road onto cycle network 818 that was from  Cwmystwyth to Llangurig. Due to the nature of cycle routes, I thought great, a nice, traffic free, small road. It was definitely a traffic free road, it was the steepest section I have ever encountered, the road was eroded and only a small piece of rough tarmac ws left in the middle, that you had to try and weave your way up or you would fall off into the deep ruts or down the steep embankment. This is the only hill to date that has defeated me, my legs were screaming,  i had to walk for a good few hundred metres to regain a steady heart rate and clear vision, it was steep, technical and slippy, due to all of the loose scree. I will have to revise this section or it will always be at the back of my mind that a climb defeated me.

SECTION 5 : Llangurig >> Staylittle
This had been a challenging ride so far with some brilliant technical climbs and descents on and off road, we passed Staylittle which was around the  halfway point of the ride at about 100 miles. Any extra distance that I would now ride would be my longest ride up to date, I had jumped into the deep end with only doing my first ever ‘100 miler’ a month before,  which was 'the tour of the peak district’. It was quite demoralising knowing I was only halfway considering all of the scenery and distance I have previously covered that day. But the ride was just incredible, so these thoughts only crossed my mind for a few minutes. This section was an additional bridleway added by Alan, it was more grass and mud compared to the scree we have rode all day. We traversed a stream throughout a lovely  V shaped valley which brought us to Staylittle. This was a difficult section that i would have preferred a mountain bike on it but it still blows my mind, the capability a gravel bike has on all sorts of terrain.
Birds Rock Valley - on way to Dolgellau

SECTION 6 : Staylittle >> Machynlleth
This part included further additional loops that was plotted by Alan (a common occurrence that made this ride even harder than originally proposed on the TINAT website), it definitely pushed the limits of my riding skills and capabilities of my  bike. We was covering distance at a slow pace due to the terrain was technical, boggy and sometimes required to 'hike a bike’ up sections that was hard enough to walk alone without having a bike to haul up too. Once we got onto the road again, the descent was incredible, the roads throughout the route was as smooth as a velodrome compared to  derbyshire which made up for the rough off-road sections that took weeks for my hands to recover from the vibrations. And to top it all off, we practically had the roads to ourselves which made descending round corners a joy without having the worry of a car hitting me head on.

SECTION 7 : Machynlleth >> Dolgellau
This was a big stop in Machynlleth to fill my saddle bag with food (even though I could barely stomach a jelly baby at this point). Fatigue was really kicking in, my body felt surprisingly good, but, I was beginning  to yawn, which is never a good sign when I still had 80 miles to go. However, I carried on peddling until we began to climb through ‘Bird rock valley’, but, then I just needed to close my eyes as I was shattered. This would be my first bivvy experience, it wasn’t the most idyllic spot, it was next to the side of a road on a hill but I was that tired i didn’t care or even notice the cars passing me (I think we got some strange looks from people who passed, as I looked like I was in a body bag). After a prod by alan, I got back on my bike and kept climbing upwards towards Cadair Idris, he began to speed up which I couldn’t keep up with, the mist was thickening and the sun was setting but as we got to the top, this was the most memorable and fantastic panoramic view I have experienced. It was 9PM, we was in the middle of nowhere and the sunset was stunning over cregennan lakes. I had a short spell of energy and I was like a little child bombing down the scree decent staring at magnificent rolling hills and mountains. The national cycle route ’82’ should be on the bucket list for any keen cyclist, and its currently my favourite.

Unfortunately, this ‘buzzing’ feeling did not last for long, it was pitch black,  this was surreal that I have rode for nearly a whole day seeing both the sunrise and the sunset. we arrived in dolgellau, found a pizza shop, I order one but once again I couldn’t stomach it. I forced one slice into me and strapped the rest to my bike hoping that at some point I would regain an appetite (this never occurred and seriously impacted the rest of the ride)  

Section 8: Dolgellau>> Cemmaes road
Nearing the top of the climb above Cregennan

After Alan had finished his Pizza, we had a long gruelling climb out of Dolgellau. I was beginning to get myself into a dangerous situation, I was cycling half a sleep going down a few sharp decents. I was mentally determined to complete the ride and surprisingly  my legs felt great, but, my body didn’t. I had to admit defeat to alan, there was only another 25 miles to go of easy road riding but I just could not stay awake for any longer. Therefore, we found my last bivvy spot for the trip. I slept behind a village hall and i attempted to wave goodbye to Alan so he could complete the final section, but, I instantly fell a asleep once i slid into my bivvy bag. After a few hours kip, I woke to the sunrise, ate my pizza and waited for alan to return in his campervan. The wait allowed me to reflect on the ride, I was disappointed I couldn’t complete it, but, I was absolutely buzzing that I rode 185 miles in wales. Regardless of the outcome, I cannot wait to do another extreme event with Alan, hopefully next time I will be better prepared and learn what my body can consume for 24 hours of riding.


To conclude, this ride was a bunch of new experiences for me; Bivvying, Cafe stops, night riding, gravel/mountain bike tracks and navigating throughout. It was insane, difficult, brutal, but, it was just awesome. I can't wait to explore more of the stunning scenery of Wales and to experience many more bike packing trips. I have always had the philosophy that these ‘extreme’ events is just mind over body but, this time, the body finally gave in, which was a first time experience that i will never forget.

The TINAT route was just amazing, stunning views, traffic free roads and great provisions throughout. I was amazed I didn't get us lost when navigating and I would definitely recommend the route for any other adrenaline fuelled lunatic.

A big Thank You to Alan for the photos, support and progressing my confidence with all of the technicalities with bikepacking. You are an absolute animal, who eats as much as a nettle leaf throughout the ride and can ride up bonkers hills without breaking a sweat!

Tips for next time
To have more distance in the legs before attempting such long distances,
To do a ride in the night to experience sleep deprivation and perception of speed and cornering.

To find the right fuel that will suit my body for a full day of riding (A vital factor that I haven’t mastered which determines the success of such brutal activities) "

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