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A ride in Snowdonia

By  March 28, 2016

With this weekend being a bank holiday weekend and for most this means having four days off work, although only three for me, it’s rude not to plan some sort of great ride and that’s just what we did! We had planned to go out into Snowdonia national park with Stwlan dam being our choice of destination.
The route was said to be 66 miles with 6900ft of elevation so a pretty tough day ahead. The main thing which tempted me about this ride was the ride up to the dam, it looked spectacular from pictures I’ve seen so I definitely wanted to see this for myself. This was before I knew just how tough the climb up to it was going to be!

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Our aim was to start riding at about half 8 from Conwy so it was 7am pick up to head over there. It was one of them days were choosing the right clothing was near enough impossible. I took a long sleeve jersey with shorts and then put most of my wardrobe in a bag should I decide to change depending on weather. Good job I did! We went to McDonalds before we started for a coffee – and maybe a sausage McMuffin and a couple of hash browns, we’re athletes here.

At this point I knew shorts wasn’t going to cut it, there were too many clouds in the sky so I put some tights on under my shorts to be on the safe side. My next problem was that I had no clue what to wear on the upper part of my body. I was told I’d probably be too cold in a long sleeve jersey but I knew if I took my jacket it would have been too warm so I had to get changed in the car. I swapped the short sleeve base layer and jersey for a long sleeved base layer and a short sleeved jersey with the wind jacket. Standing around the car I thought this was the best combo to wear.

Little to my knowledge there was quite a steep hill less than a mile into the ride and this point I was way too warm and I was regretting my choice already but it was too late. About 10 miles in it was starting warm up so I tried to fold my jacket and stuff it in my jersey pocket. It’s not the lightest jacket so it’s bulky and only just fits into a jersey pocket but needs must here. I definitely felt better and cooler with it in my pocket.

The hills

There were plenty of them and some tough, most just gradual and enough to reduce your speed but there were 3 long, tough and brutal climbs.
The first I knew nothing about, at first it looked like it was only going to be short as it looked to be in a forest and I thought it was just a short sharp climb up to a main road or something. How wrong could I be. It got very steep very quick, I’d say close to 20% for large parts of it. It was windy too so you couldn’t see where you were heading either so it was just taking it as easy as possible and hoping for the best. Once past the trees it became quite exposed and it turned out to look a long climb going up a mountain but with no idea of when it was going to end, however, it was stunning scenery. I was on my own for this climb and it was hell to be quite frank.

After about 25 minutes I was in pure agony and not even my legs, I was leaning forwards that much chewing my handlebars essentially my back was starting to cramp up so every minute or so I was doing out of the saddle efforts to stretch out my back until I got to the top. Luckily it was a very quite area and there was just the one car I saw on the climb but the road was very narrow.

It flattened off a bit and I could tell I was near the top as there wasn’t much to see when looking up. I pedalled on looking for where I think the segment would finish whilst I wait for the others and it was a well deserved rest! Strava says this was a 5 mile climb. I was so focused on getting up the climb in my own world, you could say I was in the ‘zone’ so to speak that I had no idea of how long I was climbing for or just how long the climb was.

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The next big climb was the dam, shortly after a cafe stop.
Riding into the village where the dam was you could see it located in the hills. At first you couldn’t even see a road going up to it and it was high up for sure, I didn’t think I was going to stand a chance.
We asked some locals about how to access the path as the road is closed for cars and each time they made a little joke just about how steep it was or how long it is to get up there.
According to strava this was a 1.7 mile climb. It started off quite steep and after the first bend you could see just how high you have climbed already with the views just getting better and better.
Now come the hairpins, it’s rare I get to do these style of turns and they’re fun to do especially as they’re nearly in every tour. This is where I was struggling, it was steep and I was having the same problems with my back and again i was stretching it out as often as I could, at least on this climb you could see just how far there was to go.

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At the top it was simply amazing. The dam looked nice, the mountains and villages right in the background were too and the swooping road going down knowing I was about to descend it was just awesome, I just couldn’t wait.
We got some mandatory selfies at the top and then started to descend and best of all it was car free!
I was pretty scared for it in all honesty, tight corners and steep roads I was a bit scared I was going over the edge on a hairpin so took it with caution at first.

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Video – I’m the rider in front.

The last big climb of the day was the Crimea pass and this was actually the shortest of the three at 1.4 miles but it felt tough considering all the climbing done previously. A rider over took as the start of the climb and opened up a gap and at that point one of the riders I was with decided to chase him down, wheel suck and then drop him, it was pretty amusing and something to keep your mind off the climb! Although the easiest of the climbs it sure had the best descent and I hit the fastest speed I ever have on a bike, 51.7 miles an hour! The road was so open and you could see exactly where you are going with no sharp corners so you didn’t have to even consider touching the brakes.

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After this it was pretty undulating, primarily flat back to the car and we had a tail wind so it was a nice ride back. I did quite a large turn on the front heading back, I think I had some left over energy so tried to get rid of it all. We ended up stopping for a sociable coffee in the Surf Snowdonia cafe about 7 miles from the car just because it was a nice day and we weren’t in any rush to go back. Leaving the cafe I had really stiff legs and I then started to bonk. Bonking is never good but it’s better to bonk a few miles from the finish point with an easy route back than in the middle of a ride.

To finish off it was definitely a good Good Friday. I think I’m still on the natural high from the ride just writing about it. This ride was a nice reminder just how good cycling can be.