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.