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Autumn Epic

  • Posted by alex
  • 12 October 2012

I've never been so glad to see a sign for the Finish. Especially when it was accompanied with the handwritten note "Downhill. All The Way." As I freewheeled, the speedo began to pick up and I knew I could make it home. All the pain from climbing masked by the feeling of accomplishment.

My first attempt at a century ride was crunching out of the Rest Less ride in the wilderness back in March and it's been on my Bucket List since.

With regular trips over the rolling hills at lunch time, racing in Italy and week night rides, it felt like it was time to take on 100 miles again.

So I set off - a 5am departure from Cardigan - for the Autumn Epic last weekend. A ride just short of 100 miles through mid Wales with some 8000ft of climbing, notorious for usually being in an apocolyptic downpour but as luck would have it, it was cool but a dry.

We set out in a group of 6, soon merging with a quick bunch and relishing the chance to be swept along and settled into a rhythm. Scott soon powered on and then we were 5.

The first real climb split the bunch and I was soon spat out of the back, gladly resuming my own pace and reminding myself that there were some 80 hard miles to go - I was already starting to feel the pace. As I rejoined the guys as the hill levelled out, we were soon up to cruising speed again and could start to take in some of the beautiful vistas from on top.

Just before the first feed station at Rhayader we started to climb again, before dropping into town. Out of the saddle, leaning hard, Laurence snapped his handle bars at the stem. Despite our best efforts with a handful of zip ties and a stick, his ride was over. He seemed pretty un-phased by the winding downhill on one drop bar and brake!

We pushed on as a 4 as we wound through forests and rolled over hills into the stunning Elan Valley. The road rose before descending round sun-lit hairpins into the open valley floor accompanied by buzzards and kites cruising over the plains.

Before we knew it, we were half way round, passing the cascading dams and heading back towards Knighton. The feeling of achievement was soon broken as we turned into Glascwm hill which felt like trying to ride up a travelator continually tapping my levers, trying to find more gears. I slowly made my way up passing riders who had opted to get off and push, while others zig-zagged up the road shaving attempting off a % or two. It was gruelling. Let alone this far in.

Just before the second feed station, the roads began to roll again and became muddy and potholed. A ping from behind revealed Doug had broken a spoke but managed to limp on to the final stop where a mechanic was able to swap his cassette onto a borrowed wheel and we pressed on.

With less than 10 miles to go, we were stalled again by a puncture. Riders who we had passed and re-passed throughout the day's escapades rolled by as tyre pressure was re-established.

We turned past the final way marker, ushered by an outrider who called after us "6 miles to go. 3 to the top of the big hill". Everyone cursed. Surely not nother big hill?

As it turned out, it wasn't big, it was just long and the sapping came from previous miles more than the incline.

Elated at the summit, I've never been so glad to see a sign for the Finish. Especially one accompanied with the handwritten note "Downhill. All The Way." As I freewheeled, the speedo began to pick up and I knew I could make it home. All the pain from climbing masked by the feeling of accomplishment.

Nick and I rolled through the finish, some 6 hours 24 minutes in the saddle I was over an hour behind Scott, 2 minutes behind Doug and James.

It was certainly epic and a great way to mark the end of this summer's riding.

Image ©rightplacerighttime.co.uk

Distance is it's own reward

  • Posted by ruben
  • 3 October 2012

On Saturday, a few of the howies office team are making a short trip down to the south of Pembrokeshire to run in the first Endurancelife Costal Trail Series of the season.

4 of us are running the 10k (It'll be Pete's first off road run.)
1 of us is running the half-marathon-and-a-bit less than a week after she ran Bristol.
Another 3 are running the 35 mile "ultra" option.

That's three different distances and eight different people but all of us will be sharing the same apprehensions and excitement before the race, and on the day each of us will try to do exactly the same thing - run the best race we can and have fun doing our thing.

Whatever your distance, the Endurancelife CTS has something for you. Why not join us at one of them?

Last Day of Summer

  • Posted by ade
  • 21 September 2012

It rained but we still rode our bikes.
It rained but we still ran new trails.
It rained but we still swam open water.
It rained but the days were still long.
It rained but we still had summer holidays.
It rained but we still went to the beach.
It rained but we still wore shorts.

It rained but it was still a great summer.

Summer. Ends Saturday.

  • Posted by ade
  • 17 September 2012
Cook outside on a fire. Even just a tin of beans heated over a blaze in the garden will feel like an adventure.

Every shop is showing their latest Autumn ranges, howies included. We are all talking about the Autumnal weather (there are even chocolate Santas for sale in the supermarket). It's like we're willing summer to be over already.

But until Saturday, it's still here, so you have five whole days and nights left to make the most of it.

You could:

1. Swim in the sea. It's probably the warmest it's going get this year, so get in.

2. Wear shorts or a skirt all week.

3. Sit in the sun on the grass and eat your lunch.

4. Cook outside on a fire. Even just a tin of beans heated over a blaze in the garden will feel like an adventure.

5. Go camping. Why have 5 star accommodation when you can have billions.

6. Run somewhere at sunrise or sunset (Late summer always has THE best light).

7. Leave work early to ride the long way home with no lights on (pretty soon you won't be able to ride home without them).

8. Get to a forest before the leaves fall. The trails will be great.

We hope that gives you a few ideas. Do something everyday to push back autumn and let us know what adventures you have.

#lastdaysofsummer

Welsh Downhill Championships

  • Posted by hazel
  • 17 August 2012

The track was so fast; real flowy and dusty to the point your tyres would slide out of the bermed corners, making it super fun. With the sun was out and a relaxed atmosphere around the site, everyone seemed to having a cracking day.

Peer pressure and gentle persuasion is a powerful thing. I’m a sucker for it and just can’t say no. I hate missing out on things so my outside-of-work life becomes quite choccer-block.

This was the case come Friday last week. I was beginning to feel pretty beat, it had been a long week and tiredness was starting to set up camp in my muscles. So the thought of going off to race in a downhill mountain bike race at the weekend was not looking that appealing… but you know I’m not one to miss out…

With race day on the Sunday and practice on Saturday, we set about learning every inch of the course, well I say we – mostly Jon, Sam, Si and Josh! I have trouble learning courses. I think it’s from the many years of riding XC - I'd rather just ride it and deal with obstacles as and when I reach/ hit them.So with a van full of bikes, snack and the Season’s soundtrack turned up, myself, Jon from decent world and Cardigan’s own Jesus set off at the crack of dawn towards Moelfre for the Welsh Downhill MTB Champs. We met up with the other Ceredigion riders and set up camp. With Si Williams aka fretter, Sam aka fretter junior, Tomos and Aled aka Axe and Shotgun!

The track was so fast; real flowy and dusty to the point your tyres would slide out of the bermed corners, making it super fun. With the sun out and a relaxed atmosphere around the site, everyone seemed to having a cracking day.

Roll on Sunday…

Oh wait it’s absolutely peeing it down – what a surprise. And what’s that, yeah I’m sat in my tent wearing a woolly hat, merino softshell and thick socks! This is summer! Ah well, nothing that proper cup of tea can’t sort out.

Heading up in the uplift trailer along with 30 other riders for the start of our first timed run, there was only two subjects of conversation – the weather and what tyres to run. I participated in neither of them mainly because I thought there’s no point getting down about the weather and secondly I can’t take my front wheel out so there was no chance of me changing my tyres. I’d just have to like it and lump it.

My first run went well - I wanted to keep it smooth and consistent as the course was becoming quite slippery. The bottom section of the track was my favorite with a couple of jumps that you could launch off, nothing like the feeling of fresh air between the tyres and the ground. I managed to take the lead with a good amount of time between 2nd and myself.For my final timed run, I thought I’d open it up a bit and try pedaling more - "Giving it the beans". It paid off and I was able to knock 5 seconds of my first run. Awesome. Plus it meant that I had a comfortable lead to take the win.  Woohoo, I just won the Welsh Champs, what a result!! As always, I’m glad I went!With banter on tap and some great riding the weekend ended up being so much fun. Jon and myself are now the proud owners of a Welsh Champs jersey. Also in the Ceredigion camp, Si took 2nd in the vets, Sam took 10th juniors and Josh was 24thin the senior cat. Not bad at all!Thanks to MIJ racing for a brilliant race, Jon for playing taxi, tea maker and bike mechanic. Tomos, Aled and Josh for the hillbilly entertainment, Si for his constant fretting and Steve and Vicky for being loud marshals!

You guys made the weekend, the result was just a bonus!!

Rest Less Success

  • Posted by alex
  • 27 March 2012

Last weekend the Rest Less Ride took riders across the whole of Wales from beach to border overnight. The roads were riddled with pot-holes, sheets of gravel and barrier-less hairpin bends, dropped into deep dark valleys, through forests and over 25% climbs in a race against the sun on the night the clocks went forwards.

The ride was born out of a story that writer - and friend of howies - Rob Penn, shared from a chance meeting on the road with a passing cyclist, reminiscing over night-long club rides in the late 1950's; the quieter roads, the lack of traffic, and the peloton pushing one another on through dawn.

The roads back in the 50’s aren’t too dissimilar to the country lanes in Wales, so only one question remained; "When shall we do it?"

On Saturday, 16 riders set off from howies HQ to Abergavenny, all that led the way were small road markings, the faith in the peloton and the promise that no-one would get left behind in the wilderness.

The pack was made up some of Rob's and our riding friends, who had come from across Britain, to take on this incredible adventure. A last supper gave time to go over the route, fettle bikes and exchange names with the riders who would help carry one another across the entire country in the dark.

Barely 10 minutes into the ride, a disturbed badger darted into the pack, causing a tumble. The sound of bikes hitting the ground and cries in the night halted riders in front. Once turned upright, we re-grouped and pressed on. What other dangers waited for us in the dark?

Winding out of the Teifi valley, the stronger legs set a steady pace along the undulating road to Lampeter. The hills began to get steeper, breathing deepened and gears simultaneously jumped in the dark to bigger cogs.

The descents made up for the climbs and soon everyone seemed settled, taking to the 40mph bends, down over humpback bridges, free wheeling to allow the legs to rest for the next inevitable climb.

At Lampeter we left the safety of the A roads and towns, heading into the wilderness. The quiet back roads were brown and green down the middle, with fractures to test skinny tyres and fords to test nerves; a surface barely ideal in daylight, let alone in the dark.

These country lanes were bound for the lake at Llyn Briane, up winding valley passes and through pitch-black, potholed hairpins. Chatter in the pack slowed as concentration increased to keep wheels in line over the rough surfaces and spotting markers to keep on course - we had not seen a house or car for miles and rumbling over cattle grids. There would be nowhere to go if you gave up here.

News of the coming halfway stop for hot soup refreshed tired minds. Eager stomachs wound up the pace and soon everyone was huddled around a 2-ring gas burner awaiting some real food. Passing round bread and stretching, we noticed the time, 3am. With darkness all around, we were halfway from nowhere and nowhere near somewhere with an handful of hours 'til dawn. The race against the sun had begun.

The climb past the lake, invisible in the dark, led to fantastically smooth tarmac lining the valley as it wound through the hills and over barrier-less summits with steep drops into the dark.

Approaching the pine forest, a broken chain tore apart Alex's derailleur, demanding some roadside repairs. Stopped in the silence, it was obvious the damage was irreparable. Cut down to a single speed, the best attempt to limp on, wasn't going to get the bike over the 25% climb of the Devil's Staircase and certainly not onto Abergavenny. It was game over for Alex.

The Devil's Staircase is famed for it's 25% walls levelling out briefly before the next step upwards. The set of short, sharp climbs marked the midway point through the wilderness. A series of sketchy but exhilarating hairpin descents to the valley floor followed. Mist collected between the hills as the road bounced along, mimicking the bed of the river until finally a junction and another short rest.

Signposts pointed through a dark forest to Builth, where the pack regrouped. The dawn chorus had begun, and the promise of daylight was in the air. The quiet A-roads were smooth and wide, with street lighting easing the dependence of lights which would surely be near the end of their battery life. These roads gave the pack their best chance yet to work together, forming a train of tired legs each taking turns out front to break the cold air.

Crossing the river, heading for Hay-on-Wye, the B-roads were foggy and felt chilly without the climbs to keep the body warm. Staying together for company and warmth, the pack pressed on in the mist.

Leaving Hay behind, daylight finally broke over the hills of the Black Mountains where the final - and hardest - climb of the ride came into view.

Every rider stopped to shed weight, jettisoning surplus layers and water bottles. Feeling sore and empty, the beauty of the scenery laid out in the early morning sun was enough to make the riders forget their tired legs. The end would soon be in sight, with a 15 mile whooping descent though the Llanthony Valley to breakfast. And it would be the best breakfast ever, in soft chairs with hot food.

The ride forged friendship through adversity; sharing the experience of digging deep when you’ve got nothing left, feeling sick, delirious and weary but pushing yourself and fellow riders further than you could possible ride on your own.

Despite the grueling climbs and rapid descents over tarmac laced with gravel and pot holes, 14 of the 16 riders completed the challenge - 124 miles, over 3000 meters of ascent with only one final question remaining; "When shall we do it again?"

A short video of the ride is here.

Friendship through adversity

  • Posted by howies
  • 7 March 2012
Twenty-five years ago, Bill and I rode rigid steel mountain bikes from Kashgar in China to Chitral in Pakistan. It was hard yakka all the way. Our friendship was young as we set off: we’d come together for the adventure.

I ride a bicycle for many reasons. Perhaps the most powerful reason at this stage of my life is to share the physical and emotional fellowship of riding with friends. Happily, all my best friends ride. I’m not saying that we can’t be friends if you don’t ride – that would be absurd – nor am I suggesting that I’m friends with everyone I’ve ever ridden with. It’s just that all my best friends do ride. That’s the way things have turned out.

When I reflect upon the friends I have now, though, I realise the link between cycling and friendship is more profound than I’d previously thought. I see there is a direct correlation between how close my friends and I are, and how many miles we’ve put in together. I’m not talking about commuting miles or Sunday morning miles. I’m talking about the hard miles, the miles where you’re hanging and sore and need help, the miles where you’re far from home, shit’s gone wrong and your mettle is being tested. These are the miles that really count. Adversity puts friendship on the line. When things go awry, we subconsciously confide in each other. This leaves a lasting bond.

Twenty-five years ago, Bill and I rode rigid steel mountain bikes from Kashgar in China to Chitral in Pakistan. It was hard yakka all the way. Our friendship was young as we set off: we’d come together for the adventure. When my cheap aluminium luggage rack fell apart deep in the Hindu Kush, Bill offered to strap one of my panniers to his back. I knew then our friendship had distance. When I got married a decade later, he was my best man.

I have as many examples of hard miles with folk I’ve subsequently come to trust as I have good friends, so when my Dad died suddenly last autumn, old riding buddies were the first people I called.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: ‘A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.’ I believe in this. It’s why I’m still riding the hard miles, and why I’m still making new friends. It’s why I’ve hooked up with Ade and Alex and the howies team to organise a ride across Wales at night, in March. When I’m lost in a dark forest with a broken chain somewhere between Cardigan and Abergavenny, when the night seems dead, when hope is fading and the right road is gone, then new friendships will be forged.

Rob Penn
www.bikecation.co.uk

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