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.

March 24, 2016

55 FOR 55 EVENT - DAY 18 
Breaking Down the Route - Part 1

I must admit that my mind is still a bit frozen from the end of yesterday's ride, but through the frosty haze I thought you might be interested in reading about the route itself. So today I'll start a three-part guide on my ride - providing some specific details.

FRIDAY, 18 MARCH - I designed this route with one main priority; I wanted a 55-mile circular route as flat as possible. Having ridden a large portion of this route in several 50-mile training sessions, I modified the Newport section slightly by adding a few extra miles going around Tredegar House Park and up through Bassaleg to Rogerstone.

Section 1
Starting/Ending Points: Oakdale to Usk
Distance: 20.1 miles
Travel Time: 2 hours.

Oakdale to Pontypool: The start of the route begins in Oakdale near the entrance to the village playing fields. I first cycle up through Oakdale and Croespenmaen. Then dropping down through Treowen and Newbridge, I continue on through Crumlin to Llanhilleth. These first six miles of the ride are mostly downhill and/or flat. It takes me about 30 minutes to complete. It's a good little workout and I generally feel pretty warmed-up by the time I reach Llanhilleth, which is good because at this point I enter NCN Route 466 and encounter the steepest climb of the day.

Looking out over Crumlin from the Swffryd Slog...

From Llanhilleth I climb up the "Swffryd Slog". It's only one mile, but I get the pleasure of climbing 150 feet in elevation gain. It definitely wakes up my thighs and opens up my lungs. But the good thing is that after that brief struggle, I get seven miles of ease and joy!

So, From Swffryd I zip through Hafodyrynys, cross the A472 (pedestrian controlled), down past the terrace houses and re-enter the traffic-free NCN 466 cycle path. This is just a short section that takes me down to where Old Crumlin Road joins the A472. Which I will then cross back over! It's a terrible crossing that can take several frustrating minutes... and I cannot emphasize enough "use EXTREME CAUTION". The traffic whizzes through this area at well over 50 mph and it can be quite busy. There are no pedestrian controls. (Note: Many cyclists race down the A472 to avoid having to cross the road twice. I, however, prefer to avoid the cars, buses and speeding lorries... even for just a mile!)

Abandoned spaceship along Old Crumlin Road...

Once across, I then cruise along Old Crumlin Road all the way into Pontypool. It's a great road. Not the best surface in places and cars can come along rather quickly, but it's marked for cycle use AND I'll generally see other cyclists along the way. Often too, I can ride the entire three miles and not see a soul. Brilliant!

In Pontypool, I snake down the High Street to the bottom roundabout where I enter the city park at the entrance to St. Alban's School. I go down through the park to exit at the far end by Usk Road. I then zig-zag through the back alley of Fountain Road to Pontymoile Boat Basin and enter the Monmouth & Brecon Canal Path. WooHoo! It's scenic cruise time. At just under a mile, it's a lovely section to just slow down, catch my breath and relax. It's not the most direct route, but it's a great way to continue moving and enjoy the views.

Because... the next section is CRAZY FAST!

Pontypool to Usk - Normal Route: I exit the canal path by the small lay-by at Usk Road. This is commonly called the "Horse & Jockey Hill". I generally pedal like mad down this fairly steep hill reaching speeds upward of 30mph so that when I get to the bottom roundabout I can enter the A4042 as fast as possible. It's crazy fast and such a rush after the lazy ride along the canal, but I love it. WooHoo!

Traffic is generally very light at this time of day. The road is quite wide and smooth, while the visibility of merging traffic is excellent and open so that it's an easy merge onto the 50 mph dual-carriageway.

It's literally a straight-forward run - pushing the pedals down at 20 mph down for one mile to the next roundabout, then straight across for another 1/2 mile to exit right onto Berthon Rd. (A472) at Little Mill.

From there it's straight on for four and a half miles into Usk. Traffic is generally okay. You do get a few lorries, but I think so many cyclists use this road that most other traffic are aware and prepared to see folks on bikes.

Pontypool to Usk - Weekend Route: Road construction on the train bridge at Little Mill and subsequent temporary road closure forced me to find an alternative route from Pontypool to Usk on the weekends. Yet as I discovered; it's a better route! It's pretty much the same length, but has a few more climbs... however, the payoff comes from quieter lanes, fantastic scenery, and a wonderful two-mile descent into Usk. Aren't those the kinda things we all look for in a great ride?

So, instead of cycling along the canal, I come out of Pontypool City Park and turn left on Usk Road, head up the hill to the first roundabout and turn right onto Highway Road. This leads me out past the "lovely and modern Pontypool Train Station" to Golf Road, where I turn left into the housing estate.

From here it's straight up to the junction of Jerusalem Lane. I turn left again and head into the countryside! Now it gets wonderful. I sit back and roll along this fabulous little lane to Glascoed. I cross straight over the junction at Wern Lane and head up toward Woodlake Park Golf Club.

Gotta love the cute little Mt. Zion Baptist Church... This entire area has the kind of rural charm I recall from when I was a child and living in Davidson County, North Carolina. Even the junk yard on the right has a certain look that I recall. Spooky and wonderful memories.

Looking very much like the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina...

At the next "T" junction check yer brakes. Is everything fastened down? Then turn left again and hold on tight cuz yer gonna race down the mountain! It's narrow at first, but then the landscape opens up and you can see far ahead down the lane as well as across both sides. It's spectacular. And FAST! WooHoo!

I bottom out at Llanbadoc junction just across from the lovely church (interesting story here... must revisit!). I then turn left and head into Usk crossing the bridge and cruising down the high street - wind blown and grinning ear to ear.

Either way I come; the first stop is at the Green Flute Cafe at the Rural Life Museum. Time for "hellos" to Christine and all the gals, a latte, and perhaps a peanut butter cookie!

That's it for now... I'll try to get "Section 2; Usk to Newport" posted soon.

cheers! ~ cm

March 22, 2016

55 FOR 55 EVENT - DAY 17 
Winter Returns!

THURSDAY, 17 MARCH - It was a beautiful day... but as the day progressed it became increasingly cold and windy. What happened to the lovely warm temperatures from earlier this week? Although, I am reticent to complain... at least it's NOT raining or snowing. I've had eight days of glorious sun and I should be very happy. I am happy.

I've started leaving around 9:15 in order to let the "Mommy bumper-cars" dissipate. Traffic is comical around the neighborhood as the parents scuttle about dropping their ragamuffins off to school. It's a parade of sleepy faces behind foggy wind screens.

So, I was pretty relaxed riding out and decided I'd take a few photos along the way between Little Mill and Usk. It's a lovely section, but I often race along there because it's slightly downhill or flat and the road is rather sweeping along through the country.

Each day I try to focus on one or more of my themes as I document my rides. Today included: Landscapes, Architecture, Roadside Details, and "Critters". Sometimes though, I just take photos of what I fancy. I am so lucky to cycle through such a lovely and diverse landscape. I think it will be interesting to review all the images once I've finished. (At least that is what I'm hoping!)

How many stories were told in these old abandoned pubs, sitting along roadsides sinking into the past? When I first moved here I would occasionally see cars parked about this place... but no more. I guess the folks that ran the place decided one day that it was just too much of a bother and packed it all in. C'est la vie. And this too shall come to pass...

I continued into Usk, had a latte and went on "as ya do". The day became shockingly cold though. I was sitting in Newport having my lunch when suddenly I noticed that I could see my breath! I checked the temp gauge on my Garmin and it registered 2°! WHAT?!?!

I was freezing. I quickly packed up my things and got on my way. I stopped briefly in Fanny's, said my hellos and raced off. It never ceases to shock me how changeable the weather is in this tiny little country! No more photos today!

I made it home in fairly good time, flushed and in need of a hot shower. Brrrr... what a day! Thanks for stopping by, but bring some warm weather with ya next time! HA!

Cheers ~ cm

March 21, 2016

55 FOR 55 EVENT - DAY 16 
Shhh... Spring is Coming

WEDNESDAY, 16 MARCH - It was a wonderful warm and sunny day... not the warmest, but the clearest blue sky. Dare I say it's beginning to feel like Spring?

First topic to I need to discuss: bike maintenance. Along with my personal well-being, the second most common question I get is; "How's your bike holding up?" And the good news is that she's holding up marvelously!

A few things to note; I spent the better part of February getting the bike tuned up and tested for the ride. You may first notice that I've replaced the handlebar bag with a Carradice rear saddle bag (Awesome!). I've dropped the front and rear Tubus racks and added a small top-tube bag.

Also... and more significantly, I've replaced the Shimano Tiagra "brifter" style handlebar levers. Yes, I did that! And I ain't going back.

These are the legendary TRP Brake Levers and Shimano Dura Ace 9-speed bar-end shifters! WooHoo! If you've never used them, they are simply fantastic. They are each designed to do one job and do that one job perfectly. If you've ever used them... you know.

What you cannot see from the photo are the tyres and brake blocks which I changed in mid-February. I'm hoping to get through March (approximately 3,000 miles) before I need to change the tyres. I'll change the brake blocks as soon as needed depending on how much I ride in the rain.

What tyres you ask? Continental Touring Plus (700 x 32c) Wire bead. My longstanding favourites. They can really take a bashing, have super grip, and ride well over a myriad of road conditions.

What brake blocks? I've been using Clark's Triple Compound (72mm) Cartridge/inserts for a couple of years now. They are pretty soft and can get chewed up when I ride in a lot of rain, but they are soooo grippy! I love 'em. PLUS, they don't wear on the rims as much as some of the harder and more-narrow pads. I highly recommend them.

Why not disc brakes? Don't get me started on that topic. You can have 'em.

I replaced the chain and rear derailleur jockey wheels in January. I've a replacement chain sitting in the wings along with a set of brake blocks (and tyres...) ready for when I need them.

I clean and re-lube the chain every 3-4 days (150 -200 miles)... measuring and keeping a close check on the "stretch". I clean the rims after every rainy day. Ya just gotta keep the muck off the sides if you want them to last.

Note: Shimano Dynamo front hub... dreamy!

What rims am I using? Oh... they are the sweetest Mavic A719 (36 spoke) touring babies! Some will note that they are a bit heavy... but my gosh, do they glide. Just the smoothest and most stable rims I have ever used. I ain't ever going back.

And lastly, there's my lovely little Burley Nomad. I take her out on the weekends mostly as an attention-seeking publicity stunt. But I love her so. She's been everywhere with me.

My set-up sitting outside the Green Flute... awaiting adventures patiently.

And that's it for now... gotta eat some breakfast and get on the road! Thanks for stopping by.

cheers! ~ cm

March 20, 2016

55 FOR 55 EVENT - DAY 15 
Something to Remember...

TUESDAY, 15 MARCH - Something happened to today, but I can't quite recall? I rode my bike. Check. The weather was fine. Check. The Kingfishers came out to join me. Check.

THAT'S IT! The Kingfishers... duh! And in my haste I accidentally included their photos in a previous post earlier this week. Let me straighten that out now.

A father and daughter came by as I was getting the fellas to pose, who very kindly offered to take a snap of us all. (Annd that's how I got into the picture.) Cheers! to strangers on the road. Also missing are Ivor and Eric. It's tough to get all of us out at the same time these days.

The sky was mostly blue with a bit of haze. The temperature wasn't too cold, but enough to wear your winter gloves. As you can see from the photos, we took our time riding. Lovely day.

So if you're keeping up with my daily posts, you might recall that on Day 12, titled; "It's all becoming a blur..." I posted these four photos. AND oddly enough it does emphasize the title(s).

Two things to remember; 1.) Get a photo of all the Kingfishers together. 2.) Check the dates on the photos BEFORE I post them!

I'm also going to sort out the day and date issue. It's confusing for me because I'm working on several posts at one time and having just the ride number isn't enough. So now you'll see that I'm going to include the day, date, and ride number (as shown above...). I hope this will better organize my recollections and present a clearer picture for you... dear reader.

Thanks again for stopping by. Your support means everything.

Cheers! - cm

March 18, 2016

55 FOR 55 EVENT - DAY 14 
Nil Carborundum Illegitimus

It's the end of Day 13 and I am beat. However, Chris B. sent me a wonderful email along with this quote and I feel motivated for tomorrow.

Milestone #3; 2 weeks, 770 miles completed.

DAY 14 - It was a great, great day. I don't know where it came from, but I had more energy than I've experienced so far. I have no idea why? Could it be the fish I had for dinner last night? Could it be that I'm somehow psyched up because of Chris' quote and email? I dunno? It's Day 14 & Milestone #3? and I friggin' flew around my route. In fact, it was my fastest time yet. (Though I am not at all concerned with my times or average speed(s).) HA!

>> You can view all the juicy details of my rides for this event here: 2016 Monthly Details

I didn't get any photos for the day cuz I was just flyin'. No aches or pains. I just felt great. Complete weirdness after yesterday's slog! But I have to say that in the back of my mind I am waiting for "the Wall". I expect at some point to not feel well.

I am preparing myself for the day when I don't want to do this. When I feel like crap. When the weather is miserable for the 4th or 5th day in a row and I will struggle to get myself motivated. I know that day exists. It's lurking in the shadows. The weather cannot hold out. This is Wales... my stamina will falter.

And then I will have to remember this really good day. I will have to pull up this quote... "Nil Carborundum Illegitimus". I will not let the bastards grind me down!

March 17, 2016

55 FOR 55 EVENT 
Day 13 - Thinking Positively

Okay kids... I've had three really good days. I'm just about to begin Day 13 and yesterday while riding I thought of making these charts just for fun...

Now today I'm feeling pretty good, but I do have some aches and pains. The small of my back hurts. I picked up my bike and turned funny carrying it in the back kitchen. Now I've a bit of pain when I bend over or turn my shoulders.

I haven't got a high level of energy either, to be frank. I'm tired. I didn't sleep very well and I'm just kinda hang-dog. But I'm going to think positively and just go do it. I don't need to go fast. I just need to ride.

It's a lovely sunny day. I'll just take my time.

cheers! ~ cm

55 FOR 55 EVENT 
Day 12 - It's becoming a blur?

It's 5:53 am on Day 12. I should be writing about Day 11, but haven't written about Day 8 and honestly, I can't remember Day 8 (last Tuesday?) If I think hard, I recall that last Tuesday and Wednesday it was freezing cold and raining. Yes, yes... and Wednesday it was windy too. That was the day the Jean, Kurt, and Sian from the Abercynon group joined me. But Tuesday? What about Tuesday? I am drawing a complete blank.

(Okay... I went back and checked my photos by date. I've got it... I'm going back to Tuesday now.)

(We now join our regularly scheduled show...)

So once again it's a photo day. I met the Kingfishers (minus Eric) in Usk and we had a lovely ride back to Caerleon. It makes such a difference riding in nice weather... and then when your pals show up, well... it's aces.

So with that quick foray behind me, I'm now off for Day 17. Thanks again for stopping by... seeya next time.

cheers! ~ cm

March 16, 2016

55 FOR 55 EVENT 
Day 11 - Fabulous Day!

The day started off bitterly cold. There was a dampness in the air which stung my face as I rode down into Newbridge. Then on NCN Route 466, just over the pass at Hafodyrynys I see proof along the coldest section of my ride.

So after the past week of rain and snow and wind and cold and more wind and more rain and then cold again, there's not much to say other than today was beautiful.

'Mornin' ponies!

WooHoo! Badgers!

Gratuitous bike shot...

I think today was the first time that I actually enjoyed the entire day. The whole ride was great. The weather was fantastic... warm enough and NO WIND! I was relaxed and didn't worry about when I was where or how long it was taking me. I stopped every time I wanted. I was completely wrapped up with just riding my bike, looking at the scenery, and loving it.

On a closing note... I've several additional themes I'd like to explore:
  • Architecture
  • Graffiti
  • Roadside Details

and with that... I am off until next time. Thanks for checking in.

cheers! ~ cm