I went to someone else’s talk the other evening. It was much more relaxing. Jack Thurston is a famed bikewriter, podcast host, cycling advocate and all round good egg. A couple of years ago he wrote a book exploring ‘Lost Lanes’ around the south east of England, in essence, those within pedal distance from London. I bought a few copies and gave some to friends. He has just released a sequel, “Lost Lanes Wales“, coinciding with his move from the city to the wilds of Abergavenny. It’s a paean to the rugged and beautiful countryside of the principality and the quiet roads that dip and lean around the contours. Jack’s talk was measured and engaging, he spoke of a love of cycling and the need to find quieter roads to escape the hostile traffic densities of the modern world. The book (and the talk) also articulated the idea of the journey being what matters, perhaps more than the destination. In some ways it’s antithetical to my book, and it’s arguably more egalitarian, but there is a clear common ground in terms of the transcendent beauty of the landscape and the transformative power of cycling.
Last April I went on a three day mini-tour in the Black Mountains, heading out from Bristol to Talybont, then on to Hay and over the Gospel Pass to Abergavenny, returning via the Usk valley and Caerleon. Many of the roads feature in Jack’s new book. My touring buddy Will and I met up with Jack in Hay-on-Wye for a ride back over the Gospel Pass, through the low shrouding mist and up through the cut. Jack is a roving Baedeker, and he pointed out things I’d never have known otherwise, from Eric Gill’s commune, to endless views across the Wye and Usk Valleys. He was armed with a camera and took some nice snaps, some of which have ended up featuring in the book. Will confessed himself ‘a bit overpleased about this’.
It’s a super book and has already got me planning new trips and excursions for next year. If you haven’t yet listened to the bike show podcast, then you should do so. It’s the best there is.
The weatherman on Points West took time out of waxing lyrical about the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to say that today was going to be a really lovely, sunny, bright and warm day once the cloud base lifted. With such delights in prospect i decided today was the day to unleash the C-Bomb. It’s actually a Cervelo R5, but in our house it’s acquired the nom de guerre of ‘The C-Bomb’. It weighs a bit under 7kg and is custom made for both stravabombs and smashing it up and down climbs all over the land. It is not custom-made for riding on the shitty, dirty, slurry-encrusted lanes of North Somerset, nor is it designed for ‘king of the club run’ type madness.
In keeping with such a sacrosanct and special occasion i adhered to certain rules: i wore my best cycling kit and made sure that the ‘colourway’ matched, including all trim and piping details. see the rules for more details. i also did not take a saddlebag, i carried the extras in my jersey pockets. No saddle bags on best bikes. i spoilt this aesthetic slightly by taking a levrier super musette so i could carry my work stuff – clean pants and socks, sandwich, flapjacks, bananas, oranges, apples, keys, phone and other assorted items. the bag is much lighter on the way home.
Lately i have come across Graham Douchebag on a couple of occasions – his training rides go the opposite way to mine. He’s gearing up for some Hardriders starting this weekend. The distance is marginally shorter than his target for last year, Paris-Brest-Paris. It was really foggy the other morning and looming out of the pea-souper was a pink shadow, gaining in substance and shape as the voluminous clouds swirled and parted. I thought it was a lady at first because of the pink softshell. i realised my mistake a a few seconds later when the unmistakeable profile of G appeared through the gloaming.
I bumped into him on the downs today. we were both a bit out of breath, i’d been digging in on the flat and he’d just ridden up a hill. He took one look at the bike and then asked what on earth i was doing commuting on it. I said that i was training anyway, and pointed at my 20mph average speed to try and justify it. Besides, as i pointed out, I put a clincher wheelset on there yesterday which practically makes it a hack bike.
This weekend sees the 3rd hardrider of the season, the Severn RC promotion. I had a torrid time in this event last year, felt really sick and came 9th. I’m hoping to do a bit better this year, although it lacks long climbs and is full of nasty little bits and a massive drag up a cratered B road. Great fun.
The highlight of this weekend (amongst other things) has been a trip to the black mountains for cycling purposes. as part of preparation for ventoux, me and two others decided to head out and tackle the gospel pass, a lovely and fairly long climb that stretches between abergavenny and hay on wye. the weather seemed spring-like, with temperatures rising and a first outing for my 3/4 lengths; a significant moment after the winter we have had. the first ten miles or so were beautiful, clear and no wind; but as we began to climb the cloud descended and the wind picked up – with a clear micro-climate enshrouding the mountains.
there was still the remnants of snowfall on the edges and in the sheltered spots; glacial and frozen snowdrifts that linger on despite the slight warmth in the air; it seemed vaguely surreal. the Gospel Pass kicks up on a few occasions and is a very narrow single track road; barely any cars seem to be there, or any humans at all, instead it’s populated by hardy hill-sheep and depressed looking livestock.
in the far distance is graham, just coming up to the crest. once over the top it’s a precipitous and fairly windy descent down to hay, which can be taken at high speed. for the rest of the ride we tended to skirt the edge of the hills; occasionally venturing back into the national park; every turn inwards meant a hill of 1 in 4, or with ramps going up to 1 in 3, and the height gain was very rapid and pretty astounding. it’s amazing how easy it is to get there, and how utterly awe-inspiring the cycling is. my legs ache, a good sign.