I roll down the high street in Knighton early on Saturday morning. A nearly full moon is beginning to set in the south west, and the first light of dawn is beginning to show in the other direction. I pull up at the railway station, place my bike under the sign and take a photo. Its 5.30 am. There’s only one ride that starts here: the Trans Cambrian Way. And for the first time, possibly, it’ll also feature as the end of the ride. Here is my account of the Trans Cambrian Way Double.
The sun finally breaks over the horizon as I make my way over Beacon Hill. Skylarks burst into song overhead, and lapwings fly up around me. Further up the track, a hare dashes across my path and then reappears a little further ahead running in the same direction. No race today I’m afraid, Mr Hare. I’m reminded of the hare and tortoise story. This ride isn’t about speed as such, its about getting my body and my bike to the finish. And for at least the next 12 hours, I’ll be riding away from the finish.
The trails are good; the grass is still short after a hard winter, and although the ground is damp in places it doesn’t drag too much. I pick my way around some boggy bits that look like they never dry out, and wherever I can take the cleanest and smoothest line to reduce the impact on my body. With Beacon Hill and Bwlch-y-sarnau behind me, I roll into Rhayader. I fill my water bottle up at the tap beside Clive Powell Cycles, grab a couple of things to eat from my bag and roll back out of town. I elect to push the fierce tarmac climb up to Gro Hill, before enjoying the fast grassy descent to the western end of Caban Coch Reservoir. The trail, such as it is, continues south of the river that issues from beneath the Claerwen Dam: a rock strewn, eroded and waterlogged byway that has suffered beneath the wheels of countless motorbikes and off-roaders. I do my best to pick a line among the rocks and keep my feet dry around the waterlogged bits.
Claerwen Reservoir comes into view and I embark on the 10 mile ride that weaves along the northern shore. I’m grateful of a modest tailwind on some parts but the track changes direction to such an extent I sometimes find myself facing the cool northerly wind head on. At Teifi Pools I stop for a proper break, fill my bottle up, lube the chain and enjoy a bit of food in the sunshine. I also needed some music. Whilst I’m normally content to listen to the sound of the world around me, it was getting a bit monotonous; neither silence or noise – just the constant sound of nothing in particular, and it was getting a bit wearing.
The route continues over the top to Cwmystwyth via a mix of wild double-track, tarmac and some rocky woodland descent. Eventually I regained the tarmac leading up the valley. Any respite offered by the smooth and gentle gradient was entirely countered by a headwind.
Along the road, I caught up a youngish chap on a touring bike. He starts to tell me how he’s doing a big ride to prepare for a tour of the UK later in the year, and then he looks at my bike, and particularly the gears. Singlespeed wasn’t a concept he’d encountered previously, and not one he could easily relate to.
You’ve got no gears!
Blaenycwm to Llangurig passed largely without any incident. The only thing to note was that somewhere along this section marked one third distance for the route. Onward into Hafren, I started to get the feeling that the end of the first half was coming to an end. I’d spent a lot of time studying the maps, and although not entirely familiar with every bit of trail on the latter part of the route, I could do a mental fly-through and recount all the key bits. The climb out from Staylittle was quite a stiff one, but with my focus increasingly on the diminishing distance to Dyfi Junction, I found renewed strength in my legs.