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My Appointment with Mr Bryan Chapman

NRC’s Gideon Rabinowitz, correspondent and epic distance cyclist, recounts his latest adventure and begins by asking, “who is and what is the Bryan Chapman Memorial?”



Bryan was a famous cyclist and whose passing triggering the creation of the Bryan Chapman Memorial audax, an event intended to mimic his great cycling feats of cycling through Wales and back in one ride. Probably with some heroics involved and, on his passing, has become an annual homage to bucket list Audaxes. Its changed so I believe over the years and probably somewhat removed from its original intention, but as become a fixture in the UK cycling scene. It’s now run by Audax Club Bristol. Scouring the web, I can find little about the elusive Mr Chapman, but it’s certainly been going for a while, originally started in the 1980’s.


I didn’t take many photos, but lots of others did, so if you excuse me in taking the liberty of including other for the day, as there are many on the Facebook page.

2024 has not been kind to life on 2 wheels


As many 2 wheeled compatriots, know the first 4 months of 2024 have been pretty wet. I didn’t get any decent mileages until Easter came and went. I had signed up to too many events only not to show on many occasions, weather, illness or just plain fatigues played their woes into me. I’d signed up to LWL, made the start, but foolishly hadn’t tested my bike fully. Found myself coming down a hill at speed to find no brakes, yes, no brakes! I said to the rider next to me, don’t move, just don’t move and by some miracle didn’t take the pair of us out. There was nothing else to do but abort and gingerly ride back, which was scary but achieved. It left me a bit broken, wondering if that was it and a high degree of guilt of the danger, I’d put others in. It’s at times like these you think about stopping, not just for what damage I could do to myself, but also others and the worry of my family. The thought of jumping back on a bike again, even alone, weighed heavily.


Bryan Chapman was only 2 weeks away and in early May looked like a very remote possibility. If nothing else I could not be fit enough. So, this tale unfurls…


And so it begins.


I set my alarm for 4 o’clock but was up earlier at the Ty Magor services about 20mins away from the Innage farm event parking. Up I jumped, not having slept much and into my gear, feeling incredibly nervous and wondering if I should just go home, but no, I was in the car by 4 and following my route to Innage farm. I arrived around 4.30, unpacked the car and got ready to go. Following my planned route, I cycled to the Bulwark community centre getting there just before 5 and seeing the previous start slot depart, (that’s the photo). I had the opportunity to join them, but thought no, they are the fast bunch, so elected to have a cup of tea.



Soon to be joined by Ivor – who asked if I’d retired, which at the time I felt very close to! Then in walked the ACME bunch, (Audax Club Mid Essex), Tom, Tom and Owen, nice to see some familiar faces! The centre soon refilled with riders and before I knew it, we were in the car park being briefed by Will.


We are off!


The 06.00 starters collected themselves in the Bulwark community centre carpark, getting good thoughts from Will, I remember references to the sharp climb to Kings YHA, the oblique railways at the branch lines and the rest I could not remember. Then boom we were off up to the M48 roundabout and very quickly into rolling hills and seeing many more familiar faces.


The prospect of impending doom started early when a fellow cyclist asked if I had a puncture as most of the back of my bike was sprayed with sealant! I’d not noticed until I looked, and it seemed to have no effect, certainly as one cyclist said, it hasn’t slowed me down. Perhaps the weight lost in sealant was more than I thought as I think I did overload it. So, my nerves that had started to calm, were re-energised, just wondering if I was going to finish and why I didn’t just change the tyre when I’d had the opportunity.


First breaks.


Some great descents and fast riding to us to the first control – Honey Inn, Bronllys, at 70km, who had a dedicated fast cyclist’s breakfast, think they may have been expecting us. An excellent large bacon role was consumed before heading off.  There were a lot of us.


The sun started to burn through the morning damp mists and it started to get warm more flat and undulating sections, brought back memories of the Benjamin Allen Summer outing route, felt like familiar territory with some different roads, leading to the next control the Spar in Llanidloes at 140km, just intime for lunch. It was now really hot, so loss of fluid had to be replaced and the odd ice cream were going to be consumed. Finding some shade required for the next rider to depart to vacate the limited space in the shadows.




Now the action starts.


We’d been warned that the fun would really start now approaching Llyn Clywedog where the weather went a bit more overcast and the first major climb to some spectacular views…accompanied by the sound of many Caterham 7’s as this part of Wales seemed to be full of them, plus numerous Porsche’s and other exotic two and for wheeled vehicles. It was only 20km to the next control and it was the same effort at 70km!


The climb up to the reservoir was brutal and I overtook a fellow audaxer who was pushing his bike. I couldn’t blame him; it was a brutal climb. It was a good photo stop, and he was very sensible in saying what is the point of bursting your legs when there is so much more to come, he had a point, unfortunately the damage had been done and I’d be walking up hills, lots of them later!



Then on the route to Machynlleth we passed by the amazing view of Cadair Idris from the viewpoint – with the controllers armed with laptop and stamps to prove our progress. The long swooping smooth roads made for rapid descents before rolling into the town



I’d been through Machynlleth on the Ben Allen, but in a different direction and at night, so a different view of a town I’d only seen covered in the night sky. Time for the next incident following, not very quickly down the high street a lady steps out looking at phone and it was almost a collision, but just a scrape and some words exchanged about using eyes when crossing the road, if you follow. 


 

As we progressed onto the flatter section, I bumped into ACME rider Tom Deakins that I met in 2022 and also in PBP, then we approached Dolgellau Kings YHA and the promised sharp left, was exactly that sharp and a gruesome climb up to the YHA – in the most ideal setting for food, drink and a loo.  It was very hot by now, bumped into the same guys again – Tom, Owen and also Dai who I think started at 5.


A well needed proper break.


I’d had suspicions that my luck on my rear tyre had run out and on the sharp decent from the YHA could feel the lack of air. A mile or so down the road, I relented and pulled over only to be helped by Jamie, I’m not at my best changing tyres especially when tired, but Jamie stopped and helped. The sealant hadn’t done its job to relented and emptied it out. Replaced the tubeless with a tube and set off.


No pop when I inflated it and it felt lumpy, but it settled down and had the pleasure of some company as we crossed Barmouth Bridge – which is great for removing fillings – as its wooden slats do not seem to be nailed down. First time I’ve seen a bridge like that let alone cycles next to the coastal train track – very picturesque. 

Then onto the coast road, after leaving Barmouth flattish, smooth fast with the railway that runs along the coast. Great vistas.

 


Next stop Harlech I think for the info control of the war memorial next to the Spar. The Spar had shut down and how we missed the war memorial the first time I have no clue with the obligatory poppied and red paraphilia. Clue was something on the memorial, that was very Welsh, not English and definitely not Russian. Anyway, I’ll not spoil it, but it was something Welsh 😊


Then the climbing from Beddgelert started as we reached the outskirts of Snowden, nothing to terrible but with 150 miles or so in the legs it got hard… and my rear tyre decided it wanted to quit again. Several stops to reinflate helped by Jamie before we got to the control. More big climbs as we went up Pen y Pass.



There I met Fiona who I’d seen on a number of other audaxes with her partner. Long story short I was panicking and they helped with a donated spare tube fix my rear tyre, which failed, only to have another kind rider donate a spare. Jamie wanted to press on, and to be fair he’d been great and such great company even though we didn’t talk. Fiona’s partner had a track pump so once the second tube was fitted inflated with that satisfying crack at around 4 bar as the tyre clicks into place on a tubeless rim.



Some delicious flap jack and I was on my way to Menai down some wonderful far too fast mountain descent with the light failing before winding up on the approach to Menai and catch sight of riders coming back from the control that I was approaching.


Now close to midnight entered the town and onto the bridge at around 294km and after one helpful shout from a volunteer go to the control where there was home-made soup waiting. Bumped into the ACME crew again knowing that the sleep control at Aberdyfi was 100km away – yes middle of the night and 100km to go!! It felt like PBP the control before Brest to be told I had 90km to and it was the middle of the night. Night gear was donned, but to tell the truth it was so warm not much was needed. The thing about audaxes is that they are a test and when it’s the early hours and you are told its going to be 5 hours until you find a bed, it sorts the men from the boys so to speak as digging deep is required.


So consumed what I could and was having difficulty eating by now. Tom walked out if I’d stay with him and his mates, I was 10 seconds away when they left and wondered if I could catch up. I did have the joy of seeing other riders come into Menai as I left, made me feel slightly better. I made good speed and periodically caught others up and dropped behind with increasing frequency, seeing their bobbing red light in the distance.


Some of the next section around Snowdon started fast got a bit lumpy and yes, I was walking again. Catching up with bobbing red lights and then losing it and walking.

Boom, bash, crash, twice!!!


The effects of now cycling in the small hours had almost catastrophic consequences the first being almost a head on collision with a car coming in the opposite direction with no driver and no lights – or in other words I almost rode into a parked car, swerved but fell off to avoid the car. I felt like a complete wounded muppet. Any way got up sore, righted the parts knocked out of place and carried on. Next catastrophe was cycling into a kerb where you have strong streetlights on new road it’s difficult to see the heigh difference so as I pulled over, onto what I thought was a flat pavement bang over I went again.


Feeling very dented now, the chain came off at the rear wrapping its self around the wheel and putting it back on, don’t know how, my hands were covered in oily filth, only to find that I now had 11 gears, as No1 the chain jumped off onto the wheel. I was really beginning to wonder if I’d finish, but I hobbled on got to Barmouth back across the bridge alone and it was very dark, and the time had done nothing to remove the bumpiness.


Onward to the night stop.


Now the light was starting to appear and common with this time of year the sea most was rolling in as I made my way across the coast road, feeling very alone. As it got lighter, I saw a couple if cycle tracks, which hadn’t dried up, (obviously), past one rider, then the next who much to my surprise was Tom, who was struggling. I think me shouting ‘Hi Tom’ was a bit of a shock to the system. Dark had been replaced by mist as we got to Aberdyfi, the night stop at 5.10 in the morning now at 394km.


So, my mission was to get horizontal ASAP for an hour, so with card stamped, bottles filled I found an empty mattress to try and get some kip. I set my timer but forgot to start it, it seemed pointless with the number of alarms going off, we are the most anti-social bunch! Anyway, lots of noise, but something happened as when I next looked at my watch 90 mins had passed and up, I stumbled. A good fill of breakfast stodge after all what more do you need, and I was ready to retrieve my steed.



I managed to set off by 7.30 a little over 2 hours having arrived, enough time to look at the bike in day light tweaks few things and remove some of the odd noises I’d been putting up with.  The route followed the coast road with great views of the mist clearing over the sea and then inland for rolling terrain where you could get over the hills on momentum alone, my favourite terrain!



When I hit Caersws, well I think it was, that at least is what my receipt says, there was garden centre and a Spar and as will all Audaxers Spars a mandatory stop, to chat and consume lots of ice cream and other such indulgences for the journey ahead. Met up with the ACME crew, (Audax Club Mid Essex), Tom J, Tom D and Owen plus others I had met.


Set of again and ended up on some fast A roads which took me into the top of Newtown, down the main drag. Last time I did that it was early hours, cold and the town was heaving with weekend drinkers. Now, Sunday morning was much quieter. With some foreboding I knew exactly what would be coming next.


1st Big climb of day 2



Entering Newtown was another experience of seeing in the day what I’d only dine at night over he that last two years down the hight street and right then up the roundabout. I fully expected to follow the long slow road up that I did last year, but no it was the turning before – shorter and a whole lot meaner. I have to admit I felt like giving up and walked. My Wahoo predicted I’d take over 2 hours, so I had no choice and cycles most of it before hitting the familiar brow to the hill and the long descent to Knighton. I was surprised how much of it I cycled, still tough especially with the chain jumping between gears 1 and 2. As again the nighttime descents this was going to be joy for the first time to see where I was going and not be freezing at the same time. I was followed by a couple on a tandem with matching LEL 2017 tops… they were flying and I wasn’t going that slowly either.


A rapid decent and much fast bumpy roadwork followed by increasing lumpy bits before I got to the steep short ramp into Knighton at around 12.30 when my legs gave up. Fortunately is was a short roll from the apex to Offa’s Dyke tea shop, that was surrounded by bikes, it was now lunchtime, hot and we heard the first audax riders had passed through at 09.00!!


Food, ice cream, fluid, toilet stop, and it was quickly time to go and off I ventured up yet another very steep hill, not helped when everything is full, but I did it. It was made just a more difficult by my chain jumping off and my hand getting covered in black goo.


Now for No 2.


The rest of the terrain was familiar from the last few years and I have to admit to be really scared approaching Drovers cycles in Hay on Wye, which it felt came far to quickly – this will be tough I thought and I was not wrong.



I was now able to keep my easiest gear almost – but it slipped into the next one down, so I attempted the climb and have to admit when it got really steep, I walked and found myself not much slower than if I’d been on the bike, so slowly but surely, I made my way up the pass, to eventually get to the plateau and be offered a part finished bottle of coke, from a PPP rider, which is all I could handle. Then a few more climbs to the summit and the different problem of the decent.


Down to the café in the woods.


Those that know the other side will know it’s a real patchwork of surfaces that changes depending on landslides and general rubbish, the top end was now but smooth but by the time I got down to Capel -y-ffin the rutted potholes’ section was very different with lots of cars coming the other way not giving a space to pass, mainly because there isn’t any! I was slowing down when another cyclist shouted that I was about to miss the next control – Treets Café. Run by sweet old ladies, cash only, from which I took their last Coke. They had an open sink with washing up liquid to opportunity to turn my black hands a shade of pink.



Chatting to the other riders who were form the 200-200-200 Pauline Porter event running at the same time they said it looked like I was on the full fat BCM600 and should sleep. So, I just lay on the grass, set 15 min timer and off I went, feeling rather ill. I continued to the end of the decent, which is around 11 miles feeling cold and started to head towards Monmouth, but first there were big climbs, well by this stage anything not downhill is a climb… but I did most of them and took my time until I turned right to Monmouth in 7 miles, then had a lovely fast rolling ride until I hit Monmouth, knowing I was getting close.


The route took me under the main road and then across the bridge in the direction of Chepstow, I only got lost 3 times!


Is this going to happen for me?


Having found and crossed the bridge by Lidl I was now in very familiar territory with the sweeping fast road to get to Chepstow. Memories of 2022, missing my control only to stop at this Lidl and consuming a litre of milk, then to suffer hiccups, but not this time, it was shut. But it was now 20.30 and I stopped at Lidl just by the bridge to let Ruth know I was still alive and also the organisers, that I didn’t think I’d make the cut off at 22.00. I didn’t wait for the reply that was very supportive as they thought I’d make it…anyway I powered off along the lovely River Wye valley with it’s tree cover rolling terrain and smooth roads. I got to the last info stop, I don’t know what the question was but the answer was 13 Inns.. my card was complete bar the Arrivee.


The end of my Bryan Chapman.


Across the bridge and up past the side of the Wye and as I passed Tintern Abbey just as the light started to fail, on and up I went on the familiar long drag. At the very top at around 9.35 I could feel then end was nigh when a man in his white van decided to sit by my back wheel only to accelerate past after 10 mins… the following car wound down their windows – to check I was OK as they couldn’t not understand why I was being threatened.



Onto the main road, passed the race course and it was approaching the cut of time and that extra bit of umph found its way into my legs as I hit the roundabout, across the road, to the T junction and back up towards Bulwark, got lost once… and found myself entering the car park and cycled straight into the entrance lights ablaze, almost taking the control out in the process, nothing happened, but the thought of what could have done flashed across my imagination… I’d finished and with minutes to spare. I’d done it…texted home, sat down and STOPPED!


Immediate feeling was to start to feel cold, I marvelled at how many people were around and also the amount of food on offer, but I was million miles away from wanting anything, sat down and chatted, trying to take on board that I’d finished what I thought I could not do having resigned myself to being a DNF. It started to dawn on me that I’d taken on the BCM and succeeded. What a feeling.


By the time I’d had a few drinks I felt it was time to try and venture back and find the car. I knew most of the route back but fatigue was paying its toll, down the at hill that had seemed so steep in the early hours of Saturday that was a different world…


It’s done…


Turned left at the T junction – got to what I thought was the farm but wasn’t there and walked another 100m to find the farm and make my way the car – still a remarkable number of cars in the field and found mine…successfully dismantled bike and got in the car to start warming up… I really wanted a nap so I did and on setting off my intention was to find a motorway motel, I went passed where I had stayed on Friday night due to the Severn bridge closure and then cursed myself later for not pulling in and seeing, if they had a room.


So, I gingerly drove of and got to the motorway to do a steady 60 all the way, called Ruth saying that I would find a room, first Leigh Delamare had no motel, likewise Malmsbury – bugger it next motel was Newbury – 45 miles or so to go… so come early hours I rolled in grabbed my clothes bag and much to the shock of Ruth walked into the bedroom.


Grabbed the big bottle of Swarfega and had a shower taking of copious amounts of black goo and giving my now extremely sore backside good wash and very gentle dry…. then I hit the bed, that was it!! Shut eyes for the first-time in quite a while. It was now Monday morning and when light rose, time to think of doing the minimum to clear the car and wash my smelly gear.


Reflections...


Uploading and reading the NRC WhatsApp feed there had been a couple of other NRC riders in the area on a 188km sportive, commenting – who was that other guy in club kit. Their suspense was short lived when the ‘it was probably Gideon’ line came up along with the Strava link. I may have dented some egos!


I can’t remember when I uploaded my stats, but they were scary – 380 mile, 23k feet climbing and a scary max speed of 47mph which would have been in the dark of the back of Pen Y pass…. Dam, knew I was nuts, just reset my madness for 2024.


It’s been a miserable year for cycling and I had no reasonable expectation to do this let alone finish it. It’s a bucket list ride. Would I like to do it again – if I take the time off I want then yes.. I can get fitter and that way I can avenge the failure of LWL and climb a few ore of those hills.


It was a brilliant well-run event and the scenery was simply stunning.


So as memories start to ebb from that amazing weekend, I reflect on what was simply amazing weekend, full off challenge, companionship, hills and blessed with great weather. It was one of those events that had the same emotional impact of some of my biggest physical achievements.


Brings tears to this not so old man’s eyes…

 

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