I made it. I cycled around the whole of Wales. This Slow Cycle Ride is over.
I am writing this (final) blog post from the rather splendid Hilton Garden Inn in Dolgarrog, where we’re staying for a couple of days before heading home. On the edge of the Snowdonia mountain range, this is an adventure sports hotel complete with a surf school (where the water also powers a hydro electric power station).
In case you think I’ve totally lost the plot, it also has a spa and massuese (which is why I am here).
It’s currently day 16 +1. I didn’t even try to write this blog last night. Too much champagne and emotion, plus I was reunited with the fam and we had a lot to catch up on. Sorry to have kept you waiting.
So for the last time, let’s unpack day 16.
I had a thoroughly lovely last night “on the road” staying with Pete and Suzi at their house in Cheshire-on-Sea (which is what the locals call this part of Anglesey apparently). Pete and I went kayaking in the bay where we were joined by seals, we had a delicious supper, and I slept in a proper bed.
Got on the road by 10 am in fresh bibs and socks (let’s add washing machines to the list of things I’ve missed).
It was hot from the beginning and didn’t let up all day. I was also really feeling the aches and pains today. Presumably some combination of too much wine over dinner, the cumulative effects of so much cycling, and a drop in adrenaline as I approached the end. Brother was feeling it too, the clicking has got really bad now.
On the plus side, the pressure gauge I bought in Bangor has proved its value. I’ve finally got my tyres at the right pressure and my speed on tarmac has increased significantly as a result. I’ve probably cycled 2/3 of this trip under pressure (literally and metaphorically).
Fun and games with the route. I suspect that the bike computer didn’t appreciate the “Holly from Red Dwarf” comparison in yesterday’s blog and decided to have a laugh at my expense. (If I’m going to anthropomorphise my kit, I might as well go all in).
Within an hour I followed Holly’s directions onto what promised to be a beach-side cycle path only to be confronted with anything but.
What started as a muddy, submerged trench, quickly developed into a rocky nightmare, narrow bridge, sand dunes, and an impassable river. That’s an hour of my life that I am not getting back. U-turn and back up the hill to the main road.
Back on the busy, but quick road, I decided that the aforementioned detour had used up the time I would have spent at Beaumaris, so skipped it and headed for the Menai crossing.
Once across, I followed the cycle routes east. Not as flat and fast as the ones I enjoyed on route to Anglesey, but good downhills compensated for the short, sharp climbs.
Joined the sea front path at Penmaenmawr and it really started to feel like the home stretch. This was the Wales of my youth. Passed through Conwy (good Castle action) and Deganwy (still posh) and into Llandudno (good to see it packed with tourists).
After a brief consultation with the welcoming committee, decided not to cycle around the Great Orme and pushed on to Rhos.
This is where it started to go wrong again. The sea front was closed while they made improvements to the sea defences. I decided to follow the diversion for cyclists which meant a 100m climb up super steep roads. Holly helpfully got involved, sending me down a couple of steep dead ends. Very drole.
Which reminds me of a life lesson I’ve learned this week, if you’re not sure of your route, double check before you go down a steep hill. There’s nothing worse than having to climb up something you just came down. I suspect that this lesson is generalisable beyond cycling.
Dropped back on to the beach front at Colwyn Bay (which is much better than I remembered) and from there on it was a flat cruise to Rhyl in the sunshine. As a final piece of nostalgia I passed Knightley’s in Towyn where I worked collecting glasses in the bar for a couple of summers as a young lad.
Coming in to the west side of Rhyl, I could see how much it has changed over the years, but it still feels somehow sadder compared to some of the other seaside towns I’ve seen on this journey.
Arrived at Splash Point to find the whole family waiting for me, with champagne, flags and a homemade banner. Much hugging and tears and love. Followed by fish and chips. I’ve missed these guys.
The important stats
I set off from Splash Point in Rhyl at 6.40 a.m. on Monday 25 July 2022. I arrived back 16 days later, at 6.04 p.m. on Tuesday 9 August 2022.
I cycled for 15 of those 16 days, covering a total of 1,359km (844 miles), with an average distance of 90.6km per day (56 miles). The longest distance travelled in a single day was 110km (68 miles) on day 6.
I’ve said before that the challenge with this adventure wasn’t the distance, it was the climbing. I trained in East Anglia. The topography of Wales couldn’t be more different.
I climbed a total of 14,819m (48,619ft), with an average of 988m per day (3,241ft). The largest amount of climbing on any single day was 1,649m (5,410ft) on day 10 (which is a day that I will remember for some time to come). The highest point I reached was about 450m, on the Brecons.
For reference, Wales’ highest mountain, Snowdon is 1,086m (3,563ft); the world’s tallest peak, Everest is 8,849m (29,302ft).
So another way of looking at this is that I climbed 13.6 Snowdons and 1.7 Everests over 15 days. All while pedalling a fully laden bike weighing in at almost 40kgs.
I had one Tumble, leading to one or possibly two cracked ribs and 3,725 mosquito or midge bites. Thanks to the sacrifices I made to the gods of mechanicals, there was no serious mechanical failures, although I had five punctures and I suspect that my forks, handlebars, and bottom bracket all need replacing. I lost one titanium spork.
The even more important stats
At the time of writing, we have raised £5,932 from 130 donations to support the work of Llamau to end homelessness in Wales.
That is just incredible and I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has contributed.
I know that there is more to come from friends, family, neighbours, and strangers who have messaged to say that they plan on donating. I’m going to keep the Just Giving page open for a few weeks and here is the link.
Just because I’ve stopped pedalling, it doesn’t mean that the scourge of homeslessnees has ended. If you don’t have a safe place to call home then everything else suffers. Studying, working, planning your future; all are pretty much impossible without a safe home.
Young people who experience homelessness are massively more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Getting them into safe accommodation is the first crucial step to helping them build a positive future for themselves. That’s what Llamau does. That’s what you can support.
Some final thoughts
I’m finding it really hard to put into words how I feel about all this. Mostly, I’m completely knackered, but it’s also been a LOT. Setting off feels like it happened months ago, not just over two weeks. I’m going to need another long bike ride just to process this one (joking Jane, just joking).
Over the next few days I might write an epilogue to capture some of my reflections before they are lost in time, like tears in the rain.
What I do know is that this was a good idea. I had my doubts and there were times I wanted to give up, but I am glad I started it and proud that I finished it. I also know that it was a very good idea to use the Slow Cycle to raise money for Llamau, for all the reasons discussed above.
I also know that Chris M was right (as bloody usual) and that writing a blog / journal / newsletter was a good idea. It gave me something to think about on the bike. It allowed me to capture and share the journey. I never imagined that it would get 10,000 views and I have been completely humbled by all the messages from people who said they’ve enjoyed following along.
There was so much that we didn’t cover though. I never told you about Marion the B&B owner in Tenby who got really upset about me using the bath with jets as a washing machine. I never talked about my theory on the impact the increase in cycling is having on bee populations. I totally forgot to tell you what I learned about the vikings in Wales and why they settled in Pembrokeshire and Anglesey. And, so many stories about cows being dicks.
All of that will have to wait for the Netflix / Prime docu-drama and accompanying book (subject to negotiations and contract).
My very final thought is that you should visit Wales more often. This is a remarkable, beautiful country, with stunning landscapes, massive mountains, golden beaches, blue / green seas, a wonderful culture, and the most generous welcome for visitors you could ever imagine.
One of my friends and former colleagues (who is a committed England Rugby fan and therefore not kindly disposed to Wales), captured it best in her DM to me today:
Have to say, Wales looks beautiful. Don’t tell anyone I said that.Stephanie. England.