Great British Divide - Day 5
Awful nights sleep - I just picked the wrong location again and never got comfortable because of the slope and uneven ground. My right leg had all but locked straight at the knee overnight. Any other day and I wouldn't have considered going out on my bike but I needed to suck it up and get on with it. I packed my kit up as usual, dragged the bike back onto the trail and just as I was mid applying the barrier cream, Jon rode past me. Normally I would have jumped on and tried to follow him, but I knew my leg wasn't going to play along, so I took my time and rolled up the trail about 2 minutes later.
We were in the middle of nowhere and the trail soon petered out to nothing, leaving us with only the GPS as a guide as to which direction I should scrabble across the mountain side, through the bracken. There were a couple of watery dips, they could easily be ridden with just damp feet...until the last one just before the gate, where we rejoined the trail. I rode in and quickly realised that this was much deeper than the rest, but it was too late - I was committed. The wave actually came over my handlebars....thanks Kevin! Just what I wanted before breakfast!
Jon was waiting on the other side of the gate, messaging Kevin a video of water pouring from his bottom bracket. I gave Jon one of my caramel waffles to cheer him up and we set off together....in the wrong direction! We back-tracked and found an opening in the trees and a path that went through some tall reeds. I lead the way, hit a hidden hole, fell off, and ended up on my back like an upside-dowb tortoise! The testing terrain continued for another hour or so, until we hit the road again. We passed a petrol station and, knowing there wasn't much else for miles, I stopped and restocked. The food didn't cheer me up and my motivation was ebbing again; my knee was bugging me every time the trail went up and I phoned Amanda and told her I was finished when I got to the end of the section.
The road section was quite short - maybe 2km before we hit a trail centre. As I pulled into the car-park to find the correct trail up the mountain, Andre was getting out of his car! Andre from the night before. I had bumped into him the previous night, where he lived, and today, where he worked! What were the chances?.. It's as if he could have been tracking me in someway! We had a quick chat and I pushed on before me knee started to seize up again.
The next section to Machynlleth, I loved, although the mountains continued - they seemed to suit my style. Apart for one section of steep hike-a-bike, I could ride on without much pain from my knee.
After this, I caught up with Jon again - he was having a bad time and struggling, so we rode together for a bit. It was nice to see the cows entering into the spirit and enjoying some parkour on a slag heap, just off to the side of the trail, with a rather large bull just out of shot watching us closely. I stopped just long enough to take the photo.
We stopped in Machynlleth as Jon's GPS battery had died. We stopped to recharge it and had some dinner in a pub. We were there nearly 2 hours - too long because my knee was getting tight again. I knew there was nothing in the next section, no shops or pubs at all and 100km before Oswestry where there was a hotel. I knew it was probably one of the hardest sections so far, but I knew another night of poor sleep might push me over the edge.
I rode with Jon up the first mountain, he stopped at the top and I carried on; I was on a mission. I felt really good, at no stage during the event had my legs felt bad, tired - yes, but I had always held back a bit, now was the time to push on!
Everything in this section was stunning, the mountains, the views - but it was brutal. Hike-a-bike sections up a 500m mountainside with no track to follow. It was too steep to ride, not that you could, because it was so overgrown. I ended up on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence. Unfortunately, the land fell away so steeply on the other side, I couldn't put the bike on the ground when lifting it over, so had to drop it - not far, but I had visions of it shooting off down the mountainside. Clearing this section, surely we deserved a break? Nope, it was followed by the almost arrow straight steep climb up to the top of Clipiau Duon mountain. It was a road climb, the top of which you could see from miles away and it just didn't seem to get closer. I neared the top and turned round to admire the view when I noticed a figure climbing up to join me. It turned out to be Tom Gibbs - we hadn't met so far on the event and he seemed to be flying. We rode the descent together and alongside the llyn Llanwddyn Reservoir - we then climbed back up the mountain before dropping back down to the reservoir a number of times. Tom was too strong though and I settled back into my own pace. I knew at this point I wasn't going to make the hotel tonight - it was getting dark and there was still some evil hike-a-bike sections to come.
The middle image above is of one of the hike-a-bike sections. We came down through this and I took the photo about halfway down. It's tricky to see how steep it really is. There were brambles and fallen trees hidden in the grass and flowers. It was tough but downhill and mercifully shorter than some of the sections earlier.
The only plus point was that you could actually feel the mountains were getting smaller as we headed to the border of Wales. This didn't mean it was any easier, if anything, it was harder. There were still no flat trails and although the climbs were shorter, they seemed to get steeper and more frequent.
I had come up short by about 20-25km. It doesn't sound much, but at night, with these mountains it was another 2-3 hours of tricky terrain before the hotel. I knew I was going to spend another night outside. I think, by this point, I was one of the only riders not to have stayed in a hotel. It took another 30 mins of riding before I eventually found somewhere to camp. Again, not the best, it was on a slope - but everywhere around here was. I set up my kit and took my shoes and socks off.
I had pins and needles in my feet all day, but my knee had taken my mind off it. I had loosened my shoes, the Velcro on the bottom part was completely off, but still my feet were swollen and feeling like they wanted to burst out of the shoes. It's hard to tell how swollen they were from this photo.
I knew falling asleep, that I probably didn't have many more kilometres left in me.
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