Yesterday I experienced something on the bike I have not experienced in a few years; what we in the world of cycling call ‘The Bonk’. Yes, I have pictures, but you know how I like to waffle about other things as well in an attempt to enlighten the less cycle au fait of you.
So what is it? Well, our muscles burn glucose which is used for fuel and if this fuel becomes low or runs out, we suffer with hypo-glycaemia; which means very low levels of glycogen in the blood.
Normally, your body can sustain itself without additional glucose requirement for around 90 minutes but after that, it has to rely on input from you to maintain glycogen levels. If you don’t do this, the brain says ‘well, I can’t really make your body work properly without good levels of glycogen in your blood, so I’m going to start shutting down, starting with your muscles’. This is obviously not good on the bike, especially when you still have around 30 miles to cycle when you’ve already done 50. But as cycling is such demanding exercise, it is essential that you stay on top of your blood sugar levels, or you end up like I did yesterday; bonking. Desperately needing sugars and carbohydrates. But I’ll touch on that when I arrive at it.
Anyway, yesterday I’d planned to do a pretty big ride, taking in the towns/villages of Conwy, Betws y Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog; here’s the route. I’d arrive home at just under 78 miles. I was a little dubious about my back tyre as it had worn through at one point and decided to take the risk and ride on it without changing it; thankfully, it survived but is now much more worn and probably not safe to use again.
So I pootled out of my village, immediately uphill (which would be the theme for the day) towards the village of Llanllechid; I know, hard to say if you’re not from round here but the more you read my blog, the more you’ll get the hand of it. I decided that instead of using the road down into Tal y Bont, I would use the upper road that drops down half-way along the roman road into Abergwyngregyn. I knew this road surface was pretty dire, but it’s a good shortcut and affords wonderful views on a day like yesterday. So I descended slowly and carefully, to try and save my back tyre. I was especially careful where there is a sharp S-bend with huge pot holes on it, that still haven’t been repaired, but it isn’t an oft used road to be fair; more for farmers. The view though, is totally worth the bone-shaking, screw-loosening descent (all shots taken with my Fuji Finepix; panoramas stitched from 6 – 8 portrait exposures. Edited in Camera Raw, Photoshop CS6 and finished in Lightroom 5):
It was nice to get off this stretch of road and also the roman road, as despite not being used by regular traffic, I still become hyper-aware when cycling along them as the road is barely wide enough to pass oncoming vehicles; otherwise it would be much more fun to fly along at speed, with its sweeping bends and dips, so I usually keep at around 20 mph just in case.
At one point I have to cycle right next to the A55. This isn’t very pleasant, despite being part of the National Cycle Network, but is mercifully short. I arrive in Llanfairfechan and make my way up the stiff little ramp of Pendalar, before joining another surprisingly steep climb that takes me over and along the A55 to Penmaenmawr.
It’s here that I need to get up and over the Sychnant Pass. This isn’t really a very long climb, but it’s quite steep and had me in my easy gears quite quickly. The descent is wonderful though, despite having to slow down for a cattle grid. From here I drop down into Conwy and then join the B5106 to Llanrwst. Again, another very stiff climb has to be negotiated to get out of Conwy, but once you are over it, it’s fairly flat (for north wales, at least) all the way to Betws y Coed. So I took the opportunity to relax a little and just spin along, letting the road dictate how fast I cycled.
I reached Betws and from there made my way on to the A470 to Blaenau Ffestiniog. From here, it is pretty much a slow drag upwards until you reach the bottom of the Crimea Pass climb. Leaving Dolwyddelan I’m treated to a wonderful view of Moel Siabod’s more impressive south face, which I didn’t take a shot of as the composition would have been poor, as well as there being ugly, man-made things in the shot. I did however squeeze off a quick moving shot of Castell/Castle Dolwyddelan; the images from the link provide more shots and info about the castle:
It’s not long after this that I reached the bottom of the climb up over the Crimea Pass, which tops out at around 370 metres/1,213 feet. The climb starts off very steeply and can tire you out very quickly before it eases out a little onto a false flat before rising again at a more ‘friendly’ gradient. The first image below shows the start and the second is a little further up the first steep section:
When I thankfully arrive at the top of these sections, I am rewarded with a great view, with the road winding away into the distance:
I don’t normally stop at the top of the climb, but I wanted to shoot a panorama and, naturally, a selfie. The view is pretty amazing:
I put the camera away and readied myself for the fast descent into Blaenau Ffestiniog, which is in Snowdonia, but also isn’t. This is a real shame as the town quarried incredible amounts of slate and contributed so much to the wealth and heritage of not just the national park, but to Wales as a whole. However I think Gwynedd Council are trying to restore it’s status and rightly so in my opinion.
I descended down the hill, trying to relax as I’m not the best descender. And then it happened. Speed wobble. This is an incredibly unnerving and horrible feeling and frankly, scares the shit out of me. But I rarely get it, so not sure why it happened today. Basically, when you hit a certain speed, due to all sorts of scientific stuff, the bike’s front pivot (it’s headset and fork) oscillate very quickly and it makes you think that there is something wrong with your bike. First instinct is to grab the brakes. My heart was in my mouth and thankfully after regaining control of it by slowing down, I could stop panicking. Be still my beating heart. It also affects the rear of the bike and it kind of feels like you are riding on a puncture, with unresponsive steering. Checking my max speed on my GPS when I got home, I only actually topped out at 46 mph/74 kmph. To see this phenomenon in action, watch this and you’ll see it at around 30 seconds in. Yes, it’s frightening:
Luckily, despite it occurring on a bend, I had plenty of road and no oncoming traffic to correct it.
Unfortunately, this was not to be my only dangerous experience today. On descending out of Blaenau (somewhat nervously after the wobble!), I was banking around a right hand sweeping bend, at around 35 mph (this doesn’t sound fast, but on a road bike, you’d be surprised how fast it feels) when a large articulated lorry came up behind me. Instead of being sensible and waiting until the road straightened, which would have been a matter of seconds, he over-took me. And as he did so, the lorry pushed all the air out of the way as it flowed around the front of the truck, and as it hit me, I was pulled back in towards the lorry; I must have been barely 2 metres from going under his wheels and that is no exaggeration. I braked hard and came to a stop to get over the shock. I was too shocked and scared at the time to think about getting his reg plate or haulage firm name to report him for dangerous driving, so I just took two minutes by the side of the road to collect myself. My nerves were shot after this and every descent afterwards I was just unable to relax, which is in fact the worst thing you can do descending. The only thing protecting us cyclists if we crash at speed is thin lycra and a helmet. I can’t believe a truck driver would be that stupid and I was so angry for a long time afterwards.
I took it easy after this. I couldn’t go on the Maentwrog road as the bridge back into Penrhyndeudraeth was closed, so I decided to make a right at the Oakeley Arms pub and take the steep (1 in 6) climb up to the village of Rhyd. I just wanted to get off the main road now. I’m glad that only one vehicle passed me along this road. This is a very tough road when you are already feeling tired, so I just forgot about maintaining my average speed and just took my time as I still had a long way to go.
Eventually, I arrived at the turn off for one of my favourite stretches of road, that after quite a bit of effort, rewards you with fantastic views of Snowdon. But today I regretted it. My legs were seriously starting to fail me, so 3/4 of the way along this road, I just had to stop and sit down. I was getting the bonk and was cursing myself for coming this way, with its leg-shredding ramps. I took off my helmet and gloves and just laid in the sun for 20 minutes, after eating a couple of oat bars for carbohydrate. It was so peaceful; all I could hear was the sound of rushing water, a couple of birds singing and the odd light breeze in the trees. I could have sat here for hours. But I needed to get home and I still had to negotiate the Nant Gwynant climb and the ascent into the Ogwen Valley; I was very low on energy and every pedal stroke after this just felt like torture. I’d like to thin kit was worth it though, as I had one of, what I think, one of the best views in the national park without actually being up a mountain:
I took it really easy from here, as I made my way to the steep and fast descent into Nany Gwynant, that also provides a wonderful view:
I dropped (carefully!) down into Nant Gwynant and filled my bottle up and downed around a bottle and a half of fluid, to hopefully give my legs some much needed fuel for the climb to Pen y Gwryd. It’s funny to think I hit the bottom of this climb just over a week ago after doing 92 miles and I got up it OK, but today I’d ‘only’ done 63 miles and was dreading it; I got up fine, albeit slowly, managing to keep at 8 or 9 mph. At least I had a four mile descent to Capel Curig now, but I just wanted one last picture of Moel Siabod from the north with the little post box:
I descended down to Capel Curig, cursing the cold north easterly wind that was draining me of my last dregs of energy. I was beat. Absolutely exhausted. I dragged myself up into the Ogwen Valley, having found a second wind to help me along, but it was probably more to do with the fact I was not far from home, so it spurred me on. I hit the top of the descent with relief and sat up to stretch my back and hamstrings. Naturally, the north easterly was now in my face. I just gave in at this point, as I could not be bothered any more and just chugged along home.
Made it. At last. That much needed rest on the Cae Dafydd road seemed so far away now.
So there you go folks, neglect fueling at your peril, as there is nothing worse than running out of energy on a long ride.
Except perhaps, being dragged under the wheels of an articulated lorry.
My guardian angel was smiling down on me again, today.
Thanks for reading folks.