6am and I was on route to Bristol Temple Meads feeling the pulse of adventure rushing through me. But mid-way down Whiteladies, I heard a crunch. With a judder, my bike ground to an abrupt halt and I was thrust forward, my bike chain had fallen off. With the kind help of a lorry driver from Coop and covered in grease with blackened hands, I was underway to Cardiff on the train. Cycling was new to me. The Taff Trail sounded exciting. A welsh adventure on a 55 mile cycling trail from Cardiff Bay to Brecon, in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.
Cardiff had awoken unlike sleepy Bristol I had left an hour earlier and the city was beginning to buzz with the Saturday morning market and the opening of shops alongside Cardiff Bay, which glimmered in the early morning sun. I found myself soon leaving the city, through the Bute Gardens lying just behind Cardiff Castle and onwards out of the city following the gently flowing River Taff through tree-covered paths and playing fields.
Emerging in Pontypridd, time had passed very quickly and I had only clocked off a few miles. This was due to the detour I had taken up a very steep hill, having been convinced I was following the right route, after being bypassed by many cyclists who were trying a new PB on their strava. At the top of the hill, was Castle Coch, a gothic revival castle, though unfortunately on the wrong route! Interrupting yet another local lycra cyclist and thus ruining his chances of making a new PB, he not only directed me on the right path but then cycled with me. I lagged behind, my face turning a deeper shade of red, which was not only due to the steadily rising heat of the day but also his fast paced strava cycling, which was not the slow plod I was accustomed to. I continued on my route to wishes of good luck from my new friend, through open fields, and winding paths some hidden in the comforting shade of the tree line; others open to the blazing sun which pierced down upon me from a stark clear blue sky.
The miles ticked off so slowly that when stopping for a rest in The Station pub halfway point to my end destination, I felt anxious. 25 miles to go at 4pm. No accommodation booked. Food quickly running out. No cashpoint till the end. And a severe lack of energy. The locals at the pub were keen to dissuade me from continuing the route alone on the hottest day of the year, which did not help my feeling of apprehension. But there was nothing I could do but continue.
I was in the Brecon Beacons, climbing a steadily winding mountain path, confronted with a steeper one which I climbed, before finding I had followed the wrong path. Down the hill once more, my tyre suspiciously sounded punctured. I felt hot and exhausted. Yet, emerging to the stunning views of the reservoirs surrounded by gorgeously green rugged mountains, I felt full of energy as I gazed out at the huge expanse of water, at its ripples and sparkles. Reaching YHA by the reservoir and finding there was no space, I continued and was confronted with a similar story in Talybont. It was getting later, 8pm and I still had no clue where I was sleeping or if I would reach Brecon by nightfall. Continuing on the canal path, which was balmy in the setting evening sun, I reached the Royal Oak, a quaint pub nestled by the canal side. Curious the locals enquired where I been and before I could stop them, tears rolled down my cheeks. I had cycled so far, the heat had weakened me, my sugar levels had dropped.
Not able to cycle any further, I retreated to a nearby farmers’ field, placing my bivvy bag under the hedgerow. The only sound of life was the nearby tractor on the hillside above me, which made its way into the late hours until the sun had completely disappeared. But I was asleep before it had stopped its evening work.
Awaking to misty morning, with mist nestled in the valley sides, I began my cycle to Brecon. A Spoons breakfast and with a large dairy milk and sour cream pringles stuffed into my bag, I set off on the return journey. Although my back felt stiff with sunburn, my body did feel stronger. The route aside from one steep climb was mostly downhill. However, reaching the end looked improbable when my front wheel began to jam. It was then that I heard a growing sound of engines, and a flight of motorbikes emerged over the brow of the hill, in what looked like a mafia style motorbike chase. I ducked into a nearby hedgerow to avoid them, but was left bewildered in a cloud of dust which their wheels had churned up. No time to stop having fixed my jammed wheel, I reached the top of the hill, once again surrounded by stunning views. I met the Army SAS on their training and they kindly supplied me with water. I barely stopped on the return, motivation had kicked in and despite a rather rickety bike and a rather exhausted body, I was determined to reach Cardiff, which I did at
I barely stopped on the return, motivation had kicked in and despite a rather rickety bike and a rather exhausted body, I was determined to reach Cardiff, which I did at 9pm. So relieved I fell asleep at the station, meaning I nearly missed,but luckily got, the last train back at 11pm.
Reflecting on the journey, I am surprised I completed it. It was beautiful and yet absolutely gruelling. The mind is a powerful thing. I craved adventure and stubbornly pursued it.