Wild Wales Challenge

There are moments in your life that for whatever reason stay etched on your mind. The moments can be a split second of something you’ve seen, something you’ve heard or something you’ve shared. These memories can be amazing, tragic or simply mundane.

Its often hard to articulate that moment and to emphasise to people not present the importance of it.

30 years ago I did a bike ride. It was a bike ride around Snowdonia, North Wales. I was dropped off by my mum at Bala Youth Hostel one August bank holiday evening to be collected the following day.  In between was to be the most fabulous cycle ride i have ever undertaken with maybe only a hundred like minded souls.

Of course we were on road bikes of varying descriptions. Most had drop handlebars, some not.  There were even a few tandems thrown in to the mix. Older men on heavy touring bikes laden down with panniers and bar bags.  Thick tyres and even thicker facial hair though not of the style ubiquitous today.   Beards on men that do a “century” rides before breakfast.  Cyclists that cover tens of thousands of miles a year and seek no congratulations for it.  Epic mileage eaters getting by on jam sandwiches and copious amounts of tea.  I’m sure many would turn their nose upon at Strava or Garmin.  On days like this there is little need to share ones exploits with the virtual world even if it had of existed back then.  The only statistics recorded are by legs, lungs and heart.

The only technology at our disposal that day was our brevet card.  With designated checkpoints along the route these were to be ticked off by marshalls situated on remote wind swept hilltops or hidden forests. They were not intended to deter cheats more to make sure everyone knew exactly where they were going.  An already hard day could quickly become, well a bit harder.  The roads in Snowdonia are not numerous like in the shire counties and an unscheduled 10 mile detour could easily result in an extra 2000ft of climbing.

Looking back i have no idea how long it took nor how high we climbed. I do remember certain landmarks like the summit of Cwm Penmachno shrouded in mist and the descent to the cafe that sits above Ffestiniog in what must be one of the wildest spots outside Scotland.  I also know that i got back to the Bala youth Hostel having covered nearly 90 miles with the most amazing feeling of contentment.  To go along with that immense feeling of satisfaction we were all handed a small medal, more a badge really but one which I still have to this day.  It takes more than equal place alongside road race trophies won both home and abroad ,tucked under the bed in the spare room and frequently taken out to dust off and awaken memories.

I made a promise to myself many years ago that one day I would return to an area I know so well and once again partake in what is, in my humble opinion, the best event in the UK.  It’s the best for all the right reasons. There is no commercial sponsor, it is not brought to you by SportivePLC (apologies if this company actually exists). There are no gel stations, no celebrity rider accompanying us on our jolly way and no support vehicles or event village.  In fact it has everything but and that’s what makes it so special.  It is just a bunch of cyclists pedalling round North Wales enjoying the ride and sharing the experience, no more, no less.

It would be easy after an absense of 30 years to have been disappointed. To have felt that the event had changed, sold its soul to the aforementioned commercialisation of bigger events and dare I utter the words, turned into a sportive!
Apart from the difference of equipment on display the event seems unchanged. Long gone the Motobecane bought from a catalogue, cycling shorts with a chamois as thin as waifer and ill fitting Lotto jersey.  Now were are sat astride carbon steeds festooned with electric gearing wizardry not to mention gears lower than 42.19.

Well after nearly 100 miles, 10,000 ft of climbing and warm(ish) August bank holiday sunshine my smile was as broad as the one i sported 30 years previously.  Some memories do last forever and there is a reason for that. This time the reason was called The Wild Wales Challenge.

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