Of everything scheduled for the first half of 2016, "Gospel" was the biggest one for me. The guys at BRCC (Backwell Road Cycling Club) love the 100km audaxes, but they are not such a big challenge for seasoned cyclists, they regularly do 200km, 300, 400, 600 and sometimes 1200km audaxes. However, although "only" 150km or about 100 miles, Gospel Pass is not that extreme in length but...it goes over Gospel Pass, at 550m the highest road pass and longest road climb in Wales. There is 2000m of climbing in total. It often snows as scheduled early in the season, and 'The Pass' is climbed from the steep side ie Hay on Wye to Abergavenny on this Audax. The "big one" is two thirds of the way round. A bump in the lumps.
|Doris resting at the top of Gospel Pass|
I knew the other guys would be a lot faster, and I did not want people feeling like they had to wait for me, so I roped Steve in to "support" me. Technically against audax rules but he did not follow me round in the car, nor give me 'stickies', or indeed supply me with anything in-between control points. His intention was to watch the exciting final Six Nations England vs Wales match in the pub/s! Importantly, I knew that if it all became too much, or I had a mechanical, or fell off and hurt myself, that I could be rescued.
I made a few enquiries, and everyone's answer without fail was "Gospel is a toughie" It's a long way, it snows and it's not just 'The Pass'. Their body language did imply that perhaps 'I might not be up to it'...and 'was it wise trying?' Unspoken, and all kindly meant, but it did become a matter of pride. As long as it wasn't icy or totally ridiculous conditions I was going to give it my all, I owed it to Steve dragging him over to Wales for the day to drive round in the car and hang about for ten hours, and then to give up wasn't fair!
The Garmin is helping with the small matter of route finding. There is no way I can read route sheets going along, but the Garmin seems to not work sometimes, and seize up. All my fault generally but it always happens when you most need it.
Kick off is 8am from Chepstow Castle Car Park. The BRCC guys were riding over from Aust to save the bridge fee, but I needed every last leg mile for the route. I rode a 200km event called 'Break the Cycle' last summer, that was 1750m of height, but I had not done as much prep as I'd like and March is not July weather wise! We passed some cycliss riding over the bridge as the sun rose, arriving at 7.40 to find it was allowable to start early, so already I was behind. Fortunately the very lovely Pete (he of the exploding tyres and congenial company on Jack and Grace and Flapjack Audaxes) had waited for me, deciding that chasing Russ, Gary, Simon and co was not his idea of a pleasant day out.
Pete had the disadvantage of knowing exactly what was ahead.The weather was as good as it gets in March, almost into double figures by midday, dry and a light breeze. Absolutely no excuses to back out and blame the weather either.
So the first half is Chepstow to Monmouth and up to Hay-on-Wye, about 90km. I started off even more ploddier than normal, I know if I start "fast for me" I will never make it. So Pete was a few hundred metres ahead, and I huffed and puffed up those initial and not insubstantial first few "lumps." Steve's plan was to drive up to Hay, have a decent breakfast 'full English' and then ride back until he met us coming out of Monmouth, so he had had a reasonable flat ride as he hasn't been riding during the winter.
Monmouth was too soon for cake and coffee, we pushed on. Boy was I to regret that decision later! The cake cabinet was stunning.
The next bit was relatively OK up to Hay. We spotted Steve riding towards us and teamed up as a three, but Pete and I were struggling. We needed food. So a quick downing of cereal bars and life improved quite a bit. We pulled into the control at Hay on Wye. Our mileage was at 90km (yes I cycle in kilometres not miles!) or just over half way, in horizontal terms, not really started on the vertical. We passed all those lovely book shops but no time to stop and read today.
A three quarters of an hour break for the best beans on toast ever in Hay on Wye. Perfect audax food. We marched off at 1pm for the "big one". The climbing started straight away, and we had to pause to let some cars past, and take off boil in the bag jackets.
I stay in granny gear and chug, and chug some more. At some point Pete stopped, I carried on chugging. Five minutes later our car, with Steve, Pete and Pete's bike on the back too pass me with a cheery wave from a relieved Pete that he may get to see the rugby after all. I stand up for a short while, sit back down again. I am mesmerised by the couple on the yellow tandem and their efficient cadence, they pull ahead.
But it is opening up into moorland. In the deepest recesses of my brain I remember someone saying the worst is over once it opens up above the tree line. They were right. I kept on going, not daring to stop. A much younger rider strolls past me, I have a suspicion it is Janine, who is a BRCC member but I haven't yet met in real life as opposed to online, she tends to ride speedy with Bristol clubs. We exchange a few words, and I pass her when she stops to take photos. I still cannot decide if keeping going was the best decision. I have so few photos of the day as a result. I make it to the top!
|Top of Gospel Pass, tiny patches of old snow|
I am on cloud nine literally and figuratively speaking, but I am not with anyone to celebrate which is quite sad. No sign of Steve (I later find out that all the parking spaces were taken so they couldn't stop) I ate something. Janine arrived and offered to take a photo, I had taken my decent jacket off and had an old shiny jersey on which is mortifying. But I suppose I look like a #ThisGirlCan picture with my great belly rolls.
|Doris and I at the summit of Gospel Pass|
Now the small matter of the long descent into Abergavenny. It went on and on, I was very cautious, with wet, gravelly and pot holey surfaces I did not let rip. A few people shot past. We had come up the steeper side. It was wooded valley, and the Garmin had frozen. I followed signs for Abergavenny and eventually arrived in the town centre around 3.30pm. I could not find any evidence of a pub with lots of bikes outside. I walked up and down the high street asking. A few cyclists shot past, obviously audaxers but not looking like they were stopping. I asked a couple of guys outside one pub who sent me up to the pub at the other end of the high street. Nobody there. I was angry, but it turns out that that was the pub used last year so they were not being vindictive!
Finally I call Steve. They are sat at the pub a few miles back up the road at the control point. No way am I retracing my steps. All I want is tea and cake, The organisers say I can produce a receipt instead of stamping my card at the control, so I try to find a cafe and fail, well any where I can see my bike and there is a seat. so I go to the take away place at the bus station where the bikers congregate and buy a Styrofoam mug of tea, use the public toilets and eat some cereal bars and nuts, carefully stowing the receipt.
Steve and Pete turn up as I'm finishing up, having wasted a huge amount of time. I am very despondent but decide that the worst is over and after all these highs and lows I am going to show some spirit and bloody well finish. It would have been so easy to have got in that car. It was 4pm already and a good 40km plus to go, including a long hill between Usk and Chepstow, cruel in the last 15km.
I tried as hard as I could to keep my speed up as I knew I needed to finish by 6 to technically be in time, a tall order. It was hard work and lonely, I didn't see anyone else, I presumed I was last by miles and felt a bit useless. Even though it's not a race pride is at stake. The lack of proper food in Abergavenny was showing. I stopped in Usk on a corner and decided there was nothing for it, I was going to have to have a dreaded gel.
I have always carried gels for emergencies, so far in my cycling life I have never got to a serious enough situation to warrant one. I'm a real food person. Electrolyte drinks on long rides fine, but gels do not appeal. The sickly sweet gloopy consistency. Ugh. Perhaps today I am finally trying hard enough. I try to squish it down like medecine, it makes an utter mess, tastes absolutely disgusting and I nearly retch as another audaxer goes past. Hurrah, I wasn't last when I thought I was although I probably am now, but how embarrassing if I had thrown up!
I push on and grind up that hill, it was steady and relentless and I actually felt OK, I kept going, singing to myself. The gel did work, but my stomach felt horrible.
I hate to say I cheated a little and didn't take the last pull up to the top on minor roads, but stayed on the main road and back down to Chepstow.
I rolled into the pub, utter relief, walked straight past Steve without seeing him in my rush to get my card stamped, it was 6.15. Kindly they did so, my receipt was fine and a few more people came in behind me so my spirits were back up there again. After all that suffering I had done it and wasn't last. I'll never be first, I can take not being last.
Back to the car park by the castle and Steve snaps a few photos, after a lot of hassle he finally gets the whole castle in. He wanted to get home!
|Gospel Pass Audax - Done|
|Walking backwards to get one with whole castle|
|Not too shabby in the end, I finished.|
I have now finally written it up to persuade myself that I can do it all over again this Saturday. Totally sure I can't at present as I've had less preparation and this year I'm at the disadvantage of knowing what is coming! But I managed 15 days of riding like that in Scotland on Tour d'Ecosse, same height over less miles. I should be able to do it.
Watch this space, A gel may have to be utilised for a second time!
12th March 2016 Gospel Pass Audax 160km 1978m climbing