The clear cloudless skies lead to a chilly but dry wake-up call. I didn't finish yesterday’s ride until well past midnight and I was already up and rolling by 5:10, I was in such a good mood. Things were beginning to click with bikepacking and I felt the joy of just riding until I ran out of time/energy, then doing it all over again the next day.
Today's objective was to make it to Checkpoint 2 - Talybont in the heart of the Brecon Beacons and then to complete as much as I could of the 175km daily total to make the final time cut. We were finally in the proper mountains. The first 15-20km were really nice roads in the rolling foothills, I was lucky to find a shop open at 06:30; a nice lady behind the counter found me a spoon so I could eat my rice pudding! Maybe the sight of me eating it out of the pot with my fingers was too much for her that early in the morning! Back on the bike and a short blast up to a leg sapping steep climb onto the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal which took us all the way to CP2.
This was the first time since mid-afternoon on day 1 that I had seen another rider on the course other than tents/bivvies pitched up next to the track. Harry and Jon were already there and Sam pulled in about 5 minutes after me. It was nice to see some friendly faces that I had spent day 1 riding with.
Harry left CP2 first, I couldn't see much point in sitting around so I filled up my bottle, got my Brevet Card stamped and begun the climb out of CP2 to the beautiful and shrouded with patchy cloud, Gap Mountain above Brecon. It started out with 3 to 4km of gravel which took you up gradually and allowed for a steady pace then, at the top was a short decent into a very technical rocky climb that went on and on. It was just about ride-able whilst fully loaded, but it took your full concentration.
The top of the downhill section was too steep to ride with multiple rock ledge drop-offs so I clambered down and remounted about 500m from the peak where the terrain became more ride-able. I couldn't see the point in doing anything silly, so just let the bike go and cruised to the bottom. Well, that was the plan! About half way down I hit a loose boulder with my front wheel which pitched me off to the side making me dab with my right leg. It sent a jolt of pain up my leg. I didn't really think much of this at the time and continued to descend the mountain into Brecon where I stocked up with more supplies from a petrol station.
My ankle was a bit swollen but didn't really hurt when pedalling and climbing out of the town, I was in my own little world, looking at the mountains to come in the distance, when I heard the unmistakable noise of a rear mech changing gear - it was Harry! I had obviously passed him in the town and we were now in 5th and 6th positions. We rode side-by-side for a bit, chatting until the gradient became steeper, at which point the talking stopped and we went at our own pace, swapping occasionally due to stops or tiredness. We were within a couple of 100m of each other for the next couple of hours.
Shortly, we passed through a military firing range and could hear machine gun fire on the other flank of the mountain. I though it had been hard until this point, but it was only the beginning. We started a climb that took us into a valley that looked like it should go down, but it went up! A steady draggy climb that lead us into the torturous Devil’s Staircase. The climb from the bottom was 13km, but the top section of around 1km was 25% average. I couldn't ride it, I am not ashamed to say - I walked, hats off to those that did!
This was mentally a low point for me; my knee was starting to play up and become painful on the steeper climbs and it was still hours before I could realistically stop - there were no shops or places for food for about another 50km. The climbs were not massively hard, nice mixture of single-track road and gravel, but they were just constantly one after another, no flat. I just wanted to give my knee a rest.
I had worked out a strategy whereby I only stopped to get food and drink and even then I would try and eat on the move. My theory was to just keep moving forward, even if it meant crawling along at 5kph when eating - at least I would be a couple of kilometres further up the road. This was probably the first time I considered scratching, despite the highs of the morning, feeling tired but in good spirits. The injury coming out of the blue had tipped me over the edge and suddenly the saddle sore and my shoulder pain etc… became more of an issue and I felt I was digging myself deeper into a hole. There was literally nothing there, so pulling out wasn’t an option and I wasn’t going to do it - I just needed to have a moan and a grumble - I apologise to the sheep for offloading my issues to them!
110km after leaving CP2, I finally hit some tarmac. It was now dark, about 8pm I think. I turned right up the hill and just as I was about to crest the brow, a car stopped opposite me and Andre got out. At this point I had never met Andre before, but a chance meeting like this can turn your day around. He said "Are you Michael Travers? Chris came through my trail centre yesterday and told me about the event and since then I have been following the dots!" It was nice to chat with someone else and get out of my own head. He offered me some water and a couple of bars and sweets. I enquired about a hotel or anywhere to stay and he directed me to a pub about 500m back down the hill. They had just stopped serving food in the pub, but I gave them my sob story and they kindly agreed to cook a meal for me and allowed me to charge my GPS and phone. I wasnt in a rush to move on so I watched the Olympics while I slowly ate my dinner.
Reluctantly, I left the warmth of the pub and found some shelter in some spruce woodland about 3km further up the trail. The spot I found was far from ideal, being on a slope and comprised of more roots than ground. I set up my bedding as usual, I had got the routine down to a fine art by this stage, and went straight to sleep. I had managed just under my target for the day, 172km with over 3000m of climbing.
HAND BUILT TITANIUM FRAMES.