Wild Wales Challenge The Wild Wales challenge is an event held on the August Bank Holiday Monday every year in the village/town of Bala in North Wales. It is a one day event that takes in some 90 miles of North Wales. In recent years the event has attracted some 600 riders, not bad given the size of the sports centre where you start, yet this event is not a race, it is as it claims a CHALLENGE. Both Dave and Harry took part last year and talked me into joining them this year. Dave has been warning me about this event and telling me to get some hill climbing legs before we set off.
It’s only a few hills?
How wrong could I be…Let me start off by stating I have never in my life seen a 20% hill, either up or down, yet this event had a couple of them. The steepest hill around Sudbury appears to be the infamous Semer Hill which at certain places measures a staggering 11%. Semer hill however is only a few hundred yards long and if you put your head down is over in under a minute. Nothing could prepare me for the hills I saw over these 90 miles. Nothing I can type will even give you a feel for how they pan out in front of you, just take it from me they are impressive.
Breakfast is served.
The first job was an hour drive to Bala, then a 20-minute wait to sign on. Finally after linking up with ‘doc’ we set off. As it is a challenge there is no start line or pistol, just set off when your ready. So as we made our way down the road we were beginning to pass those slower riders who set off earlier. The road surface was good and I was feeling great, not too bad this I thought and we turned off the main road onto a B road. Over a few small humps, in Suffolk those would have been hills but not to what was waiting around the corner. As we cleared the lumps and bumps the field was panning out and there was not the huddle of riders until the next bend opened to a narrow tree covered track with two lines of near stationery cyclists on each side, oh yeah and the sign indicated a 17% incline. I instantly dropped a few gears and started the climb, the biggest problem and one I was not ready for was fighting for road space. People were walking, sitting in ‘granny’ gears or just taking a breather. This meant you were forever switching sides, moving past and trying to make the most of the space available. The hill came out of the trees and I saw a space, being the hot headed Lance a like that I am I got fed up, turned round gave the closest rider the ‘look’ and stepped up the pace. Back in the saddle and getting my pace sorted I started finding the space and making up some places. Two more switch-backs and false hopes of reaching the summit the road leveled out, looking across at the cloud covered mountain tops you realise you are at the top. The cyclist in front was talking to his friend saying that there was more of this to come, joining in the conversation I found out that at each stage there were at least two of these monster climbs, this one being one of the easier. Looking back I should have listened to Dave’s words more wisely.
More of the same
After a the first stop, I really have no idea where I was or which way was up let alone North, we re-grouped and set off again. This time I read the book as it warned of sharp bends at the bottom of descents. Descents!?! That was not a descent that was a roller-coaster ride, not a very safe one at that. Down the hill at stupid speeds only to find a 90 at the bottom with a narrow stone bridge, clenched cheeks were the order. The next climb saw the 17% turn into a 20% with more of the same, people walking there bikes up to the crescent and free wheeling down. So far I have not set foot on the ride and I was feeling good about this, yet as we all know things can change very quickly. After around 50 miles are found the second control point and Dave and I opted to stop for lunch (and wait for Harry) So far the weather has been great and we sat in the shade of a tree reflecting on the morning’s events. We set off again ready for what ever Wales can throw at us. However I was not ready for the Welsh roads. The next section could not really be described as a road, grass in the middle and bushes on the sides. It was so bad we were convinced that we had taken the wrong turn, but then the 10 odd riders behind us had also taken the wrong turn! The next bend proved that we were on the right track, the usual procession of hill climbers tackling the next ‘vontoux’. This climb was something different, the road was narrower and the middle was full of a moss/gravel/grass/mud combination which made life extra interesting. As I picked my way through the crowd I jumped on the back wheel of a like minded climber. A third jumped on my wheel and between the three of us we yelled directions and began our combined ascent. This was going well, we were able to find the spaces and keep the speed at just above 3-mph until disaster struck. The lead man suddenly swung right to avoid a chap falling into the hedge, this put in a problem and I swung left. Wrong way my back wheel hit a patch of moss, there were revolutions of wheel spin before all momentum was lost and I realised I was stationery with no hope of getting going. I had to resort to old fashioned foot work! At the peak I waited for the others, all of which had to walk. The road was just too narrow and busy to keep going.
The next few miles were just the usual, intense climbs, dangerous descents and superb scenery. This continued on to the final stop where we were greeted with tea and cakes! After a quick wait for Harry (lay off the scoops) we set off on the final 20-miles. Of course there was a massive climb out of the village, what else would there be! We then started heading off back to Bala, Dave and I were talking and trying to decide how the route home was going to pan out. Of course by now the legs were tired and the body weak, we wanted to get home and get off the bikes yet our beaten minds were telling us there must be a savage climb at the end, you know the final bit in the ass! Yet after 10 miles there was nothing, a blinding decent; the best one of the day for me, which took some nerves to leave those brakes alone. Only two miles to go and still no climb, damn it we had been tricked there was no final ascent or final killer, just a nice ride back. If we would have known we would have picked up the pace and given it a final blast. Eventually Bala loomed close and as we rolled into the car park Lucy and Serina were waiting (with receipts from a days shopping) to see as home.
Dave was not wrong, it was the hardest riding I have ever done. Going so slow has never been so hard. But it was also a very rewarding ride. Knowing you have taken on a 17% mile long climb and seen the top is great to know, it is easy to see why the event just keeps on getting larger each year. If your interest in the event drop by the web site or give them a call but be warned you either need to be in good shape or have some serious gearing on your ride.