April 2017: the Welsh three peaks cycle challenge

The idea: Complete the Welsh Three Peaks Challenge, cycling between each peak
Location: Wales: Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen-y-Fan
Transport: 3 x road bikes, 1 x big yellow van
Essential kit: Bikes, walking boots/trail running shoes, Kitbrix
Less essential kit: DVDs (for the van), blue cheese, funky disco rave jacket
Kit we wished we’d had: Cyclocross bikes (for the last three miles)
Cost: £45 each for van hire, £30 each for petrol

It’s hard to feel sorry for a man who can sprint up a mountain before breakfast and still beat you in a thirty-mile cycle race to lunch. This said, as Jake’s bike derailleur snapped on mile 148 of our 150-mile Welsh three peaks cycle, I couldn’t help but feel he’d been cheated.

Three days before, we’d set off for Snowdonia in a bright yellow van, filled with excitement and a little trepidation about the task ahead. Jake planned this trip and, as those of you who follow this blog closely (Hi Mum) will know, nothing excites him more than a big hill. This is good and bad news for the rest of us. Good because it means we get to test ourselves against his ridiculous standards, and bad because he runs up hills wearing skin tight Lycra shorts that do little to conceal his excitement (Sorry Mum).

Joe, Nick and I agreed that running up the mountains and cycling 150 very hilly miles across three days was probably a stretch too far, but vowed to forget about competing with ‘Adventure Jake’ (as he now insists upon being called) and enjoy doing the best we could. I was confident about the cycling, Nick knew he could handle the mountains and Joe, well Joe was sure that nothing could be as tiring as the first six months of fatherhood, which he’d just sailed through.

Day One: Snowdon to Cadair Idris

Everyone knows that travelling north means travelling uphill, so we decided to work our way south instead. This meant summiting the highest mountain in Wales before breakfast on the Friday to start things off. Weather conditions on Snowdon were unseasonably awful, with rain turning to hail, turning to snow as we progressed higher up the mountain. Jake reached the peak first and turned around to meet us three quarters of the way down in a kind-yet-somewhat-patronising gesture of solidarity and we summited together in a reasonable time.

After a few moments spent taking turns to stand on the peak marker and become ‘the highest man in Wales’ (excluding Rhys Ifans, of course) we turned around and ran down the mountain as fast as we could. Not only did we have a challenge to get on with, but the longer we spent on Snowdon, the longer we’d have to spend with the coach loads of people following in our footsteps.

Snowdon ascent time

Jake: (50 minutes)

Everyone else: (90 minutes ish)

From there, a 50-mile cycle through Snowdonia National Park took us to our next peak. Nick volunteered to drive the van for the first leg and Joe joined Jake and I to get things going. Snowdonia’s undulating terrain made for beautiful but tough cycling and, by the 35-mile point, Joe was ready for a little alone time with the van. Nick stepped up to grind out the final 15 miles of pure uphill joy and we finished off the day’s ride in style.

A car park at the base of Cadair Idris had been chosen as our destination and we reached the mountain just before 4pm. All that was left to do that night was borrow a nearby campsite’s shower facilities and try to avoid falling asleep in our dinner.

Ride stats

Distance: 49 miles
Ascent: 820m
Time: 4 hours

Day Two: Cadair Idris to mid-Wales

After the best night’s sleep on any adventure yet (thanks to the van), we were woken up by a grumbling Welsh man complaining about ‘dirty bastards shitting on top of each other’. The carpark toilet was blocked and, as the only people in the car park, it seemed likely that he was directing the blame at us. We assured him that the toilet was closed when we arrived, but asked whether he’d be so kind as to let us add a few more bricks to the precariously balanced faecal Jenga tower. He mumbled something incoherent in response, and pointed sternly to the nearby woods.

Cadair Idris was tougher to climb than Snowdon, but more enjoyable. Not only were the weather conditions so much better, but the surrounding area more picturesque and the crowds thinner. Being able to see the summit (and several false summits along the way) meant that the climb felt longer, but the view of the lake at the top made every step up worth it. The excitement that carried our legs up Snowdon had almost completely worn off and we used tiredness as an excuse to take in more of the scenery with a slower descent.

Cadair Idris ascent time

Jake: (55 minutes)
Everyone else: (2 hours ish)

Unlike the day before, the biggest climb on this day’s ride occurred slap bang in the middle. By this point, Nick and Joe had valiantly decided to share all of the driving to support Jake and I in our attempt to cycle the whole thing, and it was now up to the two of them to decide who would add the big hill to their section. Nick stepped up and slogged it out into a head wind up the toughest incline any of us had ever cycled. Twelve miles of climbing later, we’d broken the back of the day’s ride and stopped for lunch. Joe took the remaining 20 miles, which took us largely along paved farm tracks and past fields containing millions of sheep and we stopped for the night on the outskirts of a small town, next to a gently trickling stream.

Ride stats

Distance: 45 miles
Ascent: 1,480m
Time: 4 hours

Day Three: mid-Wales to Pen-y-Fan

The day started slowly after a restless night. Heavy rain meant we’d all decided to sleep in the van, and four unwashed men (who’d just eaten curry), eight pairs of shoes, wet gear and half a block of blue cheese that Nick had been nibbling on for breakfast in strict coherence with the keto diet, created a stench so thick that every breath induced a gag. With no mountain to climb this morning, we donned the festering cycling clothes that had been marinating in the juicy stink concoction overnight, and gave them a good airing on some fast Welsh descents.

The first 20 miles of the day were a cyclist’s dream – enough climbing to keep things interesting, but plenty of flats and downhills to get into a good rhythm. The second part of the day’s ride promised to be much harder though, and proved to be so for Jake’s bike in particular.

Cycling a road bike up a steep muddy farm track is about as advisable as wearing a white tuxedo and stilettos to shovel cow shit, but that’s where Google Maps told us to go, and we were too tired to question it. Our bikes tackled the dirt path with about as much conviction as an illiterate Lamborghini driver who’d mistaken ‘Dakar’ for ‘Gumball’ on a Rally application form, and Jake’s bike decided to tear itself to pieces rather than endure any more torture. Tantalisingly close to the finish line, he was disappointed but able to march it over the chequered flag without too much bother.

Ride stats

Distance: 44miles
Ascent: 869m
Time: 3hrs 20mins

Any disappointment Jake had felt was gone within five minutes, as he limbered up to run up Pen-y-Fan. By far the easiest climb so far, we all treated it as a victory lap. Nick chose to run it hot on Jake’s heels, while Joe and I hiked up as part of a never-ending stream of bank holiday tourists. After we’d taken a few obligatory victory selfies, Nick and I headed off the beaten path in search of a waterfall to bathe in and Joe and Jake ran back to the van to stretch.

Pen-y-Fan ascent time

Jake: (25 mins)
Nick: (30 mins)
Everyone else: (45 mins ish)

All in all, it was a tough but life-affirming challenge that had pushed us all to reasonable limits among beautiful countryside and cost us less than a weekend away in Bognor Regis. It reaffirmed all the reasons why we do this, and what Everyday Adventure is all about, and we’re planning the next one already. ▲