Sun, Sea and…

… Chainsuck.

The fact that I can’t remember when I last changed my chain or fitted the last set of chainrings to the bike, nevermind checking them for wear was probably not a good sign. After about 2 miles of trying to stop my chain being dragged upwards into my chainstay by the middle ring, I decided enough was enough: I was going to have to use either the big or the little ring. Any other day, I’d have cut the ride short or gone home to get the Swift. Trouble was, I was about 20 minutes into a 5 hour trailquest on the Gower. Not a good time for my drivechain to say, “Hey, you know what? I’ve done with having mud, grit and sand ground into me for the heaven knows how many miles and you’ve only got yourself to blame for not checking me over properly before a race. So there.”

It was a nippy minus 7 in Brecon at 7am, and still below freezing at Llangennith where the event was based. A cloudless sky heralded a good day, and not much wind either despite my proximity to the coast. The map showed 20 checkpoints scattered all over the Gower Peninsula: beaches, ridge tops tracks, rural bridleways and woodland trails added lots of diversity. I had time to plan a good route with the goal of getting to all 20 checkpoints – a tall order to navigate around 45 miles of a complex array of tracks. The scoring was quite interesting in that some checkpoints were quite out of the way and difficult to get to, yet had low values which meant that if I committed to trying to get them all, but failed, it could mean me having to miss out some higher scoring ones elsewhere. But, it was worth a go. Once out on my route, things were going pretty well. Checkpoint placements were good, taking in some of the best (and one of the worst) trails the Gower has to offer. There was a brilliant descent from Kittlehill Farm down to the stream that was rocky, covered with slippy leaves and littered with other competitors pushing there bikes down it gingerly, while I came rattling down trying not to hit any of them and babbling “excuse me, sorry, on your left, thanks, on your right, cheers” until I got to the gate at the bottom.

Five hours might seem like a long time, but it really flys by when you’re doing these event, and time was pressing on for me. I had 12 miles to do in just under an hour and half, which included the climb onto Rhosilli Down (190m) from sea level. This turned out to be a push up the southern “face” to gain the ridge top and the trigpoint checkpoint. From there, I was expecting a flowing ridge top ride and a fast grassy descent off the north end, but it was deceptively hard work and the grassy descent I was expecting was wet, lumpy, stepped, ocassionally rocky and very treacherous. It succeeded in having me off before I got to the bottom, right in front of two walkers who looked quite bemused by the whole affair. I had 15 minutes left and two checkpoints to do, so it was looking rather tight. I grabbed the higher scoring of the two and made a dash back to the finish. I could see Llangennith from some distance away, only 2km on the map from my last CP, but it seemed much further. I hammered up the high street as hard as I could to finish in 5 hours and 55 seconds, incurring 1 penalty point. Though there were only a small number of competitors, I was the only one who got close to getting all the checkpoints. I was rewarded with a rather cool solid bronze medal, minted specially for the event organisers Endurance Life, which goes down as one of the better prizes I’ve collected from an event for it’s uniqueness as much as anything else. A series win gets you a gold plated version.

Roll on the next round in January at Portland.

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