TEAM BADER NORTH-SOUTH WALES TANDEM CHALLENGE
THE 5 DAYS TO GO REPORT
On Friday 12 April 2013, I’ll be riding a tandem with fellow DBF Ambassador -Margaret Biggs, down the vertical axis of Wales covering the 200 miles in 4 days.
I’m a 62 year old above knee amputee and Maggz is a below knee amputee who, thankfully, is also an experienced tandem rider as well as being an accomplished solo rider. Maggz got me into long distance cycling 4 years ago following the loss of my leg. I’d been happy to trundle around my village before getting to know her via the “Limb Loss Information Centre ” forum site. In many ways, getting to know Maggz has been inspirational and certainly life changing ……BUT…..there have been times lately when ploughing through 70 mile training rides, that I have rued the day I ever responded to her post!!
Yesterday I had to cut short a planned 45 mile ride with my local cycling club – CMC, after a spoke snapped on my rear wheel. This particular training ride included a 4 mile climb of The Black Mountains. Sixteen of us set off at 10.00am from Dryslwyn Castle in Carmarthenshire and cycled via Ammanford to Brynamman, where we stopped for refreshments before tackling this Category 1 climb. I was about half way up and passing other riders who had started too quickly – I was feeling really good and relishing the dramatic and breath-taking 40 mph+ descent that would take us down to Llangadog. All of a sudden, I went from feeling good (and I have to admit a tad cocky) to thinking I’d overcooked it – each pedal revolution suddenly became harder and harder – it felt as though I was cycling with my rear brake partly on – IT WAS!! I got to the top with the first 5 riders and further investigation confirmed a bad wheel buckle that was dragging on the brake blocks. We had to make a phone call for transport to get me off the mountain as it was just too dangerous to ride the 8 miles to Llangadog.
This setback was in contrast to the fantastic club ride the previous Wednesday when we cycled from the top of The Brecon Beacons (Storey Arms) down to the coast at The Mumbles (42 miles) and then on to Llanelli before returning to Cross Hands (70 miles). The scenery on the Beacons on that sunny but very cold morning was stunning, if a little windy. To ride in such contrasting and breathtaking scenery in the company of like-minded people was fantastic. Thank goodness I found cycling as an alternative to running which had been my passion before amputation – it’s such an inclusive activity and within the compass of most amputees given the right equipment and encouragement.
Gemma Trotter who lives near Gatwick and was on holiday in Wales, joined us on the ride. She’s also an above knee amputee who, instead of wearing a socket to suspend her leg, uses a pin that has been implanted directly into her femur (osseo-integration). This pin connects to her leg so that she weight bears through her skeleton rather on the soft tissues of the ischial tuberosities (sit bones). She and another above knee amputee – Colin Davies from Plymouth, will also be doing the North-South Wales challenge with us. She completed the 42 mile ride to Swansea where she met up with her husband and little boy. She’s been nursing an injury and was ecstatic to have come through this long ride unscathed. It was a great morale booster to have got this long ride out of the way, especially as the last 14 miles were uphill and into the teeth of a strong and icy easterly wind – it was very tough!
I’ve done a lot of training in preparation for this tough challenge and feel very fit. Riding a tandem is technically difficult because each rider needs to put the power through the pedals evenly. The rear rider needs to sit squarely and should never exert too much force on the handlebars as this can affect the handling dynamics – i.e it makes steering the thing very difficult!! The tandem is obviously much heavier than a normal road bike and it takes a bit of getting used to. On the flat it can go a like a rocket but the up hills require a low gear and a great deal of determination! The turning circle is much bigger and the communication between each rider has to be spot on. I found out very quickly during a training ride with Maggz that I shouldn’t stop pedalling when I felt like, as this had the effect of nearly breaking her leg (prosthetic and real) as she was attempting to put the power down. After feeling her wrath and getting a few well-aimed slaps on the back, I soon learned to communicate properly!!
Maggz has been struggling with a heavy cold for the past two weeks but was well prepared before succumbing to the effects of it. She had trained consistently and rode impressively at two cycling sportives finishing well up the female rankings. She managed a 39 mile ride last Saturday and I know that with her racing pedigree and a life-time of cycling in her legs that she’ll be absolutely fine when we line up for the start in Holyhead. Knowing her, she’ll probably take her legs off the pedals and complain we’re going too slowly – she’s full of little tricks is Maggz!!
If anyone reading this can muster up some energy to come and give us a shout of encouragement along the way, we’d be very grateful. We’re setting off from Holyhead at 10.30am on Friday 12 April and will be stopping for lunch at Caernarvon at about 1.30 – 2.00pm. We should be arriving at The Travel Lodge, Porthmadog around 5.00pm.
We’ll be departing Porthmadog at 10.00am on Saturday 13 April and will be heading for Machynlleth via Harlech, Barmouth and Aberdovey, hopefully arriving at The Wynnstay Hotel late afternoon. Day three will see us cycling from Machynlleth (10.00am start) to Lampeter via Aberystwyth, Tregaron and Llanddewi Brefi (of Little Britain fame) – again arriving late afternoon.
The final day’s cycling after a 10.00am start will be from The Falcondale Hotel, Lampeter, to the Mumbles via Tally, Llandeilo, Ammanford, Pontarddulais, Gorseinon and Gowerton finishing at Verdi’s Restaurant, Mumbles at 5.00pm. All the times are approximate and subject to weather conditions and mechanical breakdowns. Luckily, the owners of County Cycles of Cross Hands, who have loaned us the tandem will also be cycling with us and will be providing the technical back-up – big thanks to Sandra and Peter Jones for their support.
Just a bit of easy cycling in the next few days to keep the leg (singular) loose and to keep the nerves at bay. It’s going to be a tough challenge especially as the forecast is for southerly head winds and showery conditions.
What we’d like is for anyone reading this to support our efforts by giving what they can afford to help a charity that does so much for so many.
I’ll write again next week about how the challenge went.