A Spring Soul Day on my Bike: 100 Hilly Miles in Beautiful Wales.
Since this is a blog, I’m going to try to describe what I mean by spring soul day. But the only way to really know is to take your bike, ride it up a mountain pass in March sunshine, do it with nice people, get a bit lost, eat a lot of sugar, get a sore arse and generally go up and down for a really, really long time, not forgetting to wave at some sheep who are bleating at you as you sail past whilst catching flies in your mouth.
I love the Gospel Pass Audax. Yesterday saw the 36th edition of the event – one of the hardest and oldest events in the Audax UK Calendar.’ I was a wee bit excited about riding it for the second year in a row, and as such, did so on five hours sleep.
The day started seamlessly with three mechanicals. One of the bike kind and two of the brain kind as I lost my car key and the parking ticket I had just bought with some kind Randeonneur’s money. After a lot of general scrabbling and disbelief for this turn of events, I eventually found said ticket on the floor, and key in the car door. Obvs. Finally, after slapping my forehead, I was ready to rock and roll for 2000m of climbing – pockets stuffed with sour worms and belly full of anticipation. Unfortunately, James’s pesky brakes had other ideas – but after thirty minutes of bending and wheel jiggling (not me, I was just helpfully doing laps of the capark repeating ‘pliers?’ like a mad woman), we were finally ready for the off.
Eventually, we climbed out of Chepstow at 8.30am, the sun burning off the cool morning air particles with 100 hilly miles ahead of us. (It wasn’t meant to be that many…)
The Sheer Joy of Audaxing: Good for the Legs and the Soul.
Every time I ride an Audax, I love Audax’s a little bit more. Some people I speak to in the cycling / triathlon world think they’re slow, and full of old dudes on heavy bikes. The thing is, they are, but those dudes are excellent, and actually it’s really nice to not always be racing, racing, racing all the time. Sometimes you have to slow down. How can you feel life properly if you’re always racing through it?
Discussions around age or speed aside, the ultimate USP and win for Audaxing is the beautiful routes they wend their way through, taking breath due to a good dose of the sheer beauty of our quiet countryside and the smell of fresh sheep poo, rather than from Strava segment sniping/swiping. And I haven’t even mentioned the price (this event was about four quid folks, that’s three hundred and ninety six less than my Ironman).
Gospel Pass (a really old Roman road) is my fave of all the Audax routes I’ve done. Wales is an amazing place to ride, and the Black Mountains are some beautiful ones to ride up and chill out atop of at 538m above sea level, before flying down the fun technical bits.
The ride itself is split into four main sections. The first, out of Chepstow to the first coffee stop is hard because your lungs and legs aren’t warm, that’s the ‘pipe opening’ bit. The air is cold and the hills are unforgiving. But the pretty woodland surrounding the road does a great job of distracting from discomfort.
Part two, from Monmouth to Hay-on-Wye is the hardest bit because it is just so long, and rolling, rolling, rolling. Legs begin to groan, sugary worms come in handy and you get your first glimpse of the snow-topped mountain that you’ll be cycling up after lunch…
Lunch in Hay is a very welcome rest and chance to fill up with beans on toast (or a full english breakfast with extras / lasagne if you’re a boy) preceding the ascent. Part three, climbing up the highest Pass in Wales, is steep at first and then eases off a bit. At least I think it does, it’s either that or I just get distracted by all the scenery around me.
Wheeling down the other side is just lots of fun, to the final stop in Abergavenny before the final push back into Chepstow. It was on this bit yesterday that we got a little distracted from our route sheet, and upon doing so, we definitely did not use Google Maps, nor did we navigate ourselves to the check point using the Google lady’s verbal cues. Honest. As luck would have it, we rejoined the correct road in perfect time for a group of Audaxers to whizz past us, merrily shouting ‘cheats!’ as they did so. We couldn’t have planned it better.
The last few miles is corking of epic corking proportions. You’ve done all of the hard work and it’s a long gentle descent on the most beautiful wood-lined road with great bends. Due to our little hiccup and my amazingly unhelpful contribution to any sort of directions we arrived back to the carpark with 100 miles on the clock. (Actually mine was 98.8 miles which wasn’t in any way unsatisfying).
The blend of not racing, good company, glorious sunshine, stunning countryside, challenging climbs, fun descents and the cutest lambs leaping in many-a-field equalled some sort of magic which was a lovely way to mark the beginning of spring, along with riding with just a jersey and my first century of 2016. It’s on days like this that I just feel really grateful to have discovered the joys of cycling.
Audaxing is inexpensive and great for the soul and the legs. Check out the calendar here.