An established favourite on the cycling calendar in these parts, the Wild Wales has a reputation for providing a route that comprises both spectacular scenery and a great physical challenge in terms of some pretty serious climbing. This year’s course (it changes every year) delivered massively on both fronts, and we were incredibly fortunate to have perfect weather, which always helps to grease the enjoyment-o-meter. I’ve done a couple of big events this year, the Cheshire Cat in March, Wild Edric in May, accompanied by one or two mates from my club, Rhyl CC. Such is the reputation and pedigree of the Wild Wales that it attracted a posse of about 15 Rhyl riders. The plan was to take it easy, stick together as a group, and have a nice day out. One out of three ain’t bad. There was no real option to take it easy, given all the climbing on the route. My garmin data measured over 8,500 ft across the full 83 miles.
A couple of our riders suffered mechanicals (a snapped chain, and a broken front mech) and some of our young guns were simply oozing a ferocious “let me at ’em” unstoppability which would finally yield an answer to the age old physics dilemma concerning what happens when an immovable object (Bwlch y Groes) meets the unstoppable force.
So having enjoyed a very social group ride for the first half, the second half inevitably became a more scattered affair.There’s usually always one thing that stands out in your memory, something weird or special that sticks in your mind. For me, it was the deranged ice cream van in the land that time forgot.
I should explain that one, shouldn’t I?
The deranged ice cream van in the land that time forgot
I’ve got connections with this area, in that my Dad was brought up in Corris, and we used to visit my grandmother there when I was a kid, on annual trips down to Aberystwyth, where my Aunt (Dad’s sister) had settled to raise her family. I remember distinctly the steep slate steps that ascended perilously to her front door, my mum clutching the iron railing with one hand, and my collar with the other as we negotiated their almost vertical treachery. It always seemed like a sort of damp place, with the kind of back garden where ferns sprang improbably from mossy garden walls; a symptom of the clean, unpolluted air. Even as a small child I had the sense that it hadn’t changed in a hundred years.
Back to the ride – we’d approached Corris from a direction I wasn’t familiar with, and cycled through a little back street that to my knowledge I’d never visited before, so I didn’t actually realise it was Corris. Yet I had a strange sensation of connection and feeling like a part of the place. My Dad must have played on these streets as a kid, and it was almost as if there existed a strange sort of genetic spatial memory. As we bimbled our way through the narrow streets, I could hear the muffled sounds of an old ice cream van approaching us from behind, the sound garbled by the various trees and buildings in between us, but more so because it was an ancient van and the jingle played at a variable pace, producing a warbled effect. A sound that time forgot. The tune played continuously as the van eventually reached us, and the significance of the gesture dawned. The driver’s tune was “Daisy, Daisy” – “but you’d look sweet upon the seat, of a bicycle made for two”. This jingle was being played just for us, and all the more magical for it.
Bwlch y Groes
This climb has a fearsome reputation, enhanced by the “100 Greatest Climbs” book which gives it 10/10 and describes it as the hardest, steepest bit of tarmac in the UK, or something like that. Now, I’ve only had my road bike for a year, having discovered road cycling late, as a 40 year old mid life cyclist. But in the 5000 or so miles I’ve done over the last year, I’ve never had to get off the bike because of some hill. Some stubborn reptilian part of my brain was determined that I wouldn’t be beaten by Bwlch y Groes either.
I’d love to know the proportion of riders who made it up without stopping or walking. I think the majority struggled. After going to a very strange physiological place with a new personal worst HR of 193(!), I reached the summit (the top sounds too weedy, you almost needed oxygen up there!). It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike, without doubt.
Using my trusty GoPro camera, I recorded parts of the day. Here’s my edited video:
Before you go, do check out these other accounts of the day, featuring some great photos too.
A great review on the cyclosportive site. A very comprehensive account by Sean Lacey.
Frank Kinlan’s review with some great photos.
Chester Easy Riders review by Gudfadirin