Bryan Chapman Memorial, an audax that traverses the length of Wales, has been on my radar for a few years now, so this year I decided to take on the challenge as a part of my training for the Trans America Bike Race.
I went with 12 friends from Rapha of varying abilities, it was a large group to take on this type of challenge, but in many ways, it only encouraged us further to work as a team.
The 600km adventure begins in Chepstow at 6 am, one of Wales’ most southern points (Chepstow) before winding its way north through the spectacular Welsh countryside. We rode through Builth Wells, Aberystwyth, Dolgellau and over Snowdonia’s breathtaking Pen-y-Pass at sunset to Menai Bridge.
On our arrival at Menai Bridge, fireworks were being set off down the river, and some friendly faces were there to greet us with cowbells ringing. We headed to the community centre where I broke some kind of record for the fastest consumption of a baked potato and two peanut butter & jam sandwiches.
Typically, a 300km ride would be something to celebrate, but this was just the halfway point. We now had to turn around and ride another 300km back to the start.
The Bryan Chapman is one of the most celebrated audax’s, and it was easy to see why. Despite the gruelling climbs, which seem never to end, I never really minded because the scenery was simply stunning. As my friend Kati put it, it’s just too beautiful to dwell on how much it hurts.
Cycling the entire length of Wales you get the chance to see quite a bit from endless rolling green hills, beautiful seasides, towering mountains, quaint Welsh towns, and for the most part all on quiet roads.
As with any ride like this, the hardest part for me came for me about 2:00 am as we were cycling back to Kings Youth Hostel. One of the girls I was riding with had a puncture; I was freezing and starting to shiver uncontrollably, so decided to push on slowly and let them catch up with me. I made a wrong turn and quickly realised that I was so exhausted, I wasn’t able to navigate. I somehow managed to reconnect to the route, fighting to keep my eyes open. I spent a good few miles singing to myself at the top of my lungs, shoving Skittles into my face to try and wake up before rejoining my group.
When I got to Kings, I booked a bed and ate some couscous with veggies and a lot of tinned fruit. My time slot to sleep came up and went up to the room to let the cyclist before me know her 2-hour slot was over. There is something very strange about climbing into a pre-warmed bed as the previous occupant is still sitting on the side trying to put their cycling cleats back on, but I had two hours to sleep and wasn’t losing a minute.
A quick nap, and a fresh set of kit, and miraculously we were all back out on our bikes and grinding up the side of a mountain, spirits intact.
• 620km cycled in total
• 23000 ft of climbing
• 26 hours riding time
• 11,00 calories burned
Photography by Harry Dowdney