WELCOME! I've been cycling through the Southeast Valleys of Wales since 2010 and I can't say (or show) enough about the place. I just love it. So if you've got the interest and would like to spend some time... sit back and let me show you some of the fabulous places I've discovered.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Goodbye 2015...

What a year! I had big plans and small plans... loads of events and exciting trips... some ideas never materialized and some were better than I could have imagined.

Overall it was a crazy-busy and fantastic year with almost record breaking mileage on the bike. I didn't reach my goal of 8k, but I came pretty doggone close - especially considering the amount of rain we had in November and December. (163 miles in December... HELLO?)

What I most proud of; however, is the number of days I rode 100 miles or more. I try not to chase numbers just for numbers sake... but it's too bad I didn't get another 31 miles in so that i could brag a bit over having ridden a thousand miles in nine rides!

And from the look of my blog... it appears too that 2015 was the year of the spreadsheet! Good lord, I went to town on those things. I didn't see it in myself, but I really dig compiling all this useless data!

So with that said, here's one more table I'll throw at ya. I'm pretty proud of the numbers... especially when you consider that I've averaged over 6k for four years. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

But if this hasn't been enough for ya and ya still want more, ya can feed yer mathematical appetite with more exciting numbers in rectangles here!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Kingfishers to Kington (pt. 1)

The Kingfishers had their annual overnight bike trip back in September. It's a little late, but with the nonstop rain I'm finally sorting the photos and writing something about our little adventure.

AUGUST 31, 2015 - I set off around 7 am on a grey Monday morning heading up through the Sirhowy Valley towards Tredegar. I would then turn east toward Brynmawr and across the Heads of the Valley. My overall plan was to cycle up to the village of Kington where I was to meet the other fellas on Tuesday morning. I had the entire day to myself and the 60 mile journey.

The skies were thick with low heavy clouds as I cycled through a fine mist for the first couple of hours. However, just being on my bike... having it loaded with all my gear was incredibly exciting and overshadowed any concern for rain. It's a steady climb to Brynmawr where you feel as if you're on top of the world.

Riding out of Brynmawr and down into Clydach Gorge is simply stunning. The cycle paths are unmatched anywhere in Wales. As many times as I've been here, I cannot help but pause to take a few photos.

I completed the first leg of my trip coming down the mountain from Clydach Gorge into Gilwern. It's a short and fast drop of over 1.000 feet in just over 3 miles. A fabulous glide with continuous views over the valley toward Abergavenny and Sugarloaf Mountain. Once down, I then moved onto a proper road and headed west passing first through Crickhowell and onto Llangynidr.

Kingfishers to Kington (pt. 1)
Location: Oakdale to Kington
Distance: 60.5 mi.
Skill Level: Advanced
Approx. Time: 8 - 9.5 hrs.
Elevation Gain: +3541 ft. / -3839 ft.
Max. Grade: 9.8%
Avg. Grade: 0.2%

I crossed the historic Llangynidr Stone Bridge and turned north again toward Bwlch. It's a helluva climb of 400 feet over 1.5 miles, but once past Bwlch, the road levels out and is lovely and rolling past Llangorse Lake to Talgarth.

Talgarth is a quaint market town at the heart of which features a restored 18th century flour mill. Having travelled just under 40 miles, I stopped here and parked my bike by a bench in the middle of the town square to have my lunch. It's a great place to sit and people-watch. The tourists wander about, poking their heads in doorways and squinting through windows while the locals zip into the small shops waving hello to their neighbours, talking loudly across the road to each other, and glaring with wonder at sweaty men with strange bicycles eating bananas in the centre of town.

The Wye valley is wide and flat heading out from Talgarth to the undisputed book capital of the Uk, Hay on Wye.

Hay on Wye needs little introduction. It's generally quite busy with tourists taking up the streets such that cycling is simply impossible. Even pushing my bike through the crowds was considerably difficult though many people stopped to ask of my journey. "Where ya going?" Followed by; "How long have ya been on the road" and then with a look of shock; "With all that on your bike?"

Whitney Bridge was a complete surprise. I came around a corner to see a short line of traffic waiting for some unseen delay ahead... and then as I slowly pedalled forward, inching along behind the cars... SURPRISE! It's an adorable little wooden toll bridge. £1 for cars; FREE for cyclists! Woohoo! Plus they have a cute camp-ground with canoe rentals right along the shore.

The remainder of my trip was rather uneventful. I had to take a short detour due to some road construction. I missed a turn because I just wasn't paying attention - a real problem when I get into my "cycling zone".

After nine hours and 60 miles I finally rode down into Kington about 4 pm. I snaked through town to the little camp-ground of Fleece Meadows. I set up camp, then went back into town for supplies. By 6:30 the sun had come out and I was having dinner by a stream. A fabulous day.

>> Stay tuned... Kingfishers to Kington (pt. 2) is coming soon!

Links of Interest

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Raining, Reading, & Riding (not!)

I'm a huge fan of "crazyguyonabike". I often follow folks as they wander across the globe on their beguiling adventures. They can be often scary and cautionary, though mostly charming and extremely motivating... And all of that is what makes cycle touring such a wonderful experience.

Photo credit: © copyright Mike Hayes

However, sometimes you find someone who is completely different. They're not retired, they haven't sold everything to go on a life-changing epic adventure... they simply work and live on their bike(s).

Photo credit: © copyright Cass Gilbert

I've been following these two fellas for a few years now and to be quite honest... I envy them. I am humbled by my short daily trips. I am embarrassed with my amateurish attempts at photography. These guys are the real deal. These guys are the professionals.
So go read and enjoy. I'm gonna order some bike parts (the "other thing" to do when it's raining and you don't feel like riding, right?... )


Friday, 2 October 2015

Explorer Day 2015

Including: Tredegar House, the Transporter Bridge, and Newport Wetlands
Distance: 20.8 miles
Travel Time: All day event
Ride Level: Beginner

Quite simply, this was a fantastic ride. The weather was gorgeous, the route was lovely, and the folks that came along were happy and excited to be out on their bicycles for such a wonderful autumn day. Check it out in the great video shot by Alexander Allen:

The focus of the event was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of National Trust’s Neptune Coastal Campaign on a guided 20 mile charity cycle ride between Tredegar House and Newport Wetlands National Nature reserve.

photo by: Kevin Dupe

The group of 30+ cyclists began arriving around 9:30 eager to depart for the ride through the Gwent Levels. The day was divided into three parts beginning with a ride from Tredegar House to the Newport Wetlands. Then at the Wetlands Center, we joined in some organized activities, such as walks and nature watches. We even had time for a bit of lunch in their cafe.

Following a few relaxing hours at the Wetlands, we mounted our trusty steeds and rode back to Tredegar House following our previous route. Back at Tredegar House we were welcomed by a glorious afternoon in the gardens along with a lovely catered picnic including live acoustic music.

The ride itself was flat and easy going. We followed NCN Route 4 from Tredegar House to the Newport Wetlands where we entered onto the Wetlands cycle path that runs along the estuary to the visitor center. A special highlight of the ride too; was a historical presentation by the volunteers of the Newport Transporter Bridge while crossing the River Usk.

photo by: Kevin Dupe

A rest at Newport Wetlands National Nature Reserve was a welcome break where we stretched our legs and enjoyed refreshments at the RSPB Visitor Centre cafe.

Volunteers on hand with telescopes and binoculars showed us some of the amazing array of birds and wildlife of this wonderful site.

ROUTE COLOUR KEY:  Traffic-free  Shared Use  Quiet Road  Steep Hill

Explorer Day Ride
Location: Tredegar House to Newport Wetlands
Distance: 20.8 mi. (round-trip)
Skill Level: Beginner
Approx. Time: 4 - 5 hrs.
Elevation Gain: +164 ft. / -167 ft.
Max. Grade: 3.1%
Avg. Grade: 0.0%

Once we returned to Tredegar House, we were greeted with a catered picnic and LIVE music making for a perfect ending to a truly unique day of cycling in South-east Wales.

Just look at those smiling faces!

photo by: Kevin Dupe

Seeya next year gang!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Newport Wetlands

Colloquial title: "Shut up and show us the damn pictures".

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Carolina Summer

I miss the sun. I miss the bright shining summer-days-on-end when it's just non-stop heat... glaring, blank relentless heat baking everything. When the heat from yesterday seems to add to the heat of today and the humidity is thick and sticky you can taste. Warm air you can feel on your forearms and neck as you walk through the yard. Wet and green and mixed with the smell of cut grass and dirt, pine sap and soapy laundry hanging on the line...everything all together, all at once, all over you in a thick summer soup.

I miss seeing the heat radiating off the empty black top country roads and the faint stench of a dead animal off somewhere to the side... where? No matter, it makes you look. Way outside of town, late on a Saturday afternoon folks have stopped doing much of anything... just sitting on the front porch now, maybe having a lemonade. The occasional car passes. A hand held out the window waves. The horses are gathered under that shade-tree far out in the middle of the field. The grass needs a good bush-hog. Wonder when the last time they used that ole tobacco barn... the red-rusted tin roof is bent and warped like boulders from the heavens have fallen on it. Once the water gets in, she's a goner.

The rank, acrid smell of standing water from a dark bog along the bottom of a shadowy hollow, down by the single-lane bridge, just over a spooky creek. You can see catfish two feet long weaving back and forth through the deep spots. Must be twenty of 'em down there now. It's too hot for birds, but the cicadas are starting to buzz on and off and there's a family snappin' turtles sunnin' on an old log over by the far bank.

Driving hard and fast up the steep hills and feeling the car lift just at the crest. Then dropping down hard again and down faster, faster as the car bottoms out and suddenly the rush of cool air before you bounce back up the other side, heading out of the shade, back into the glaring sun with thick pines a hundred feet tall on both sides of the road. Racing fast, windows down, wind roaring. Rusty with worn tires, bad shocks, rattles like Hell, but damn she’s a classic!

And then late in the day... as the air is cooling slightly, coming across the top of a wide ridge the sun sits in a yellow haze just over the tree tops and off in the distance, across a dry rutted field dogs are barking, a screen door slams and you can hear kids laughing. A mother hollers something inaudible.

Bright southern summer sun in your eyes… there's no place like it.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Cycle Instructor Training

In November it's cold... often it's raining. From 4:30 in the afternoon until 7:30 the next morning it's dark. I awake at five am. It is seven degrees, dark, and raining. This is the day I am to begin my cycle instructor training.

I like to get up early. I like to have enough time in the morning to relax as I prepare for the day. I want to have a couple of cups of coffee, a small breakfast of cereal, juice, and fruit. I like to sit and sort my thoughts before venturing out. I want to organize my gear then pack my bike efficiently, and check everything over before I get on the road. I want to travel comfortably so that I get to my destination early.

This day, however; will be unusual. Setting off in the rain is always difficult and requires a special effort - physically and psychologically. I will need my full rain kit including; waterproof jacket, trousers, gloves, neoprene shoe booties, and helmet cover... pretty much everything in order to attempt to keep dry. I'll also need front and rear lights. I need to see AND be seen.

I will also need a change of clothes to wear during my day at the training centre; something dry and casual. Most probably I will also need another cycling outfit (which is dry) in which to pedal home. That's three outfits for the day. Then in addition to the essential gear I haul around in my handlebar bag, I'll have a packed lunch. So all this means that I'll need two panniers. That makes three bags and a total weight of about thirty pounds.

Today I'll be travelling to the lovely suburb of Gabalfa just north of Cardiff. Its just over 25 miles down, but because I take a different and longer route coming home; it works out to be a total of 55 miles round-trip. The class I'll be taking is from 9:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon; Monday through Thursday.

To get there, I'll cycle over to Maesycwmmer where I'll head down Pandy Lane into Bedwas & Cearphilly. There I'll get on the Taff Trail and continue on mostly traffic-free paths for the remainder of the trip. It's an easy ride actually... mostly all down hill with just a few short, but busy sections between Taff's Well and Tongwynlais. Gabalfa is just off the trail in a rather busy shopping and industrial estate.

Cycling in the rain always takes a bit more effort and usually requires more time. You've got to ride much slower and I generally make more stops to check gear, adjust my clothes and what not. Of course, it's going to be dark too. Dark and cold and raining. I hope to make the trip in 2 hours. Thankfully in this part of the world no one with any sense is out at this time of day, so I can count on a very quiet ride... in the dark, and in the cold, and most certainly in the rain.

But let's pause here for a moment... As I read back over this objective introduction, I sound rather stoic and methodical. And in my own way I guess I am. I do plan extensively, perhaps some may say excessively. But the fact is... I'm thrilled. It's going to be an adventure! Sure, it's gonna be cold. Yes, it will be dark and most certainly, absolutely, I will get thoroughly soaking wet... wet to my very core. But it's going to be a blast!

I'm going to see the day come to light as I cycle down tree-covered lanes all to myself... rolling through the dark green morning, the sheep will be baaing and the cows will be mooing in the wet grassy meadows, and little yellow lights will be flickering to life in the windows of houses far off across the valley.

From under the dark canopy, just below the high ridge I'll see over the fields to the far off mountains as the sun begins to rise and light the sky with a blue pink haze.

I'll glide through the narrow streets and around the corner shops just waking up, past delivery trucks with men and hand-carts loading vegetables... slipping past with the clickty-click of my rear derailleur, hunkered down over the handlebars, wet and gleaming like an arrow.

As I roll along the Taff, I'll see the heavy rush of a river come to life... high on its banks, roaring over the weirs, the water brown and grey and white... racing beside it, looking to see who is faster? Then there's a sigh as it gurgles through a rocky cutback... And suddenly it widens and slows... almost to a stop and then all I'll hear are my tyres slicing over the wet pavement. Slick quick splashes, swish, swish, front then back, through the narrow spots while dodging branches and leaves slapping at my helmet.

I'll have all the time I need to get where I'm going. I'll have dry clothes in which to change once I'm there. I'll find a little coffee shop and warm up. I'll watch the cars speeding by and the people scurrying about, off to work and school and all the important places, with their cars loaded full, and pale faces pressed behind foggy windows, sleepy blurry eyes. They'll be blinking at my skinny legs and slicked down hair and wet goofy smile... wondering who is he?, and what's he doing, and why?

And then I'll head to class and meet some new folks and learn some new things. And when all of that is done for the day and the sun starts to set and the rain begins to dribble... I'll get on my bike and look up the road, at the trees blowing in the wind... and I'll do it all over again... coming home.