Toby WillisGatherings2 Comments

It’s 4pm Friday 1st March. It’s Saint David’s Day. (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant) It’s also the beginning of our inaugural ‘The Gathering’ weekend.

It’s been weeks in the planning. Our call has been heard, plans have been drawn up, weather forecasts checked, (and checked again), routes have been plotted and trusty steeds have been prepared. Excitement has been building and finally it’s here.

Clan members begin to arrive, some roll in having cycled and others, from much further afield arrive by car. Joan Carrillo has travelled from Catalonia and wheels in aboard his special edition Enigma Bikes Pan Celtic Steed. It’s been forged especially for the weekend and is commanding lots of attention. Official Race Partners have joined us, forming bonds of fellowship and sharing ideas, including Jack and Rupert of Albion who will photograph the event, capturing the very essence of Wales from within. Everyone is greeted by friendly handshakes and hearty cheers with the local Welsh beer being offered up by many. Strangers becoming friends in an instant. There’s even cake.

The evening becomes a blur as more and more Clan Members arrive. Tales being told, talk of race goals and strategy plus laughs aplenty. The story of Sax Man a particular highlight. Matt, Rebecca, Pete and I share fleeting glances and nods of approval. That feeling that we are creating something truly special and unique again so evident in the joy and enthusiasm surrounding us. Danny and Jon have journeyed with a gift from Restrap that celebrates our ethos. I go to bed feeling happy and excited for what lies ahead.

Riders emerge from their slumber one by one. It’s not been a great nights sleep. The adventure started earlier than forecast with the joy of sharing a room with a massive bear. Joan slept well though – we listened to him sleeping all night! After having our breakfast and making final kit choices we are almost ready to roll. Some inspirational words spoken from Clan Chief Matt to our assembled group and we hit the road. A unified sound of freehubs hissing its way out toward Penmachno and an early introduction of what is to come.

We ride together and keep it tight. The clouds above are dark and looming with intent but so far we’ve been fortunate that the rain is holding off. As we pass through the village we gather more clan members eager to take part in the adventure to come and then begin our ascent of the Machno Valley. It’s here that we get a first taste of the headwind and the battle now commences. The group thins as the gradient takes charge, every Clan Member now fighting their own inner conflict but it’s not long and the first of our passes is lay slain. We regroup and recharge before heading in the direction of the Moelwyn mountain range where riders are treated to the beautiful views overlooking the Rhaeadr Cynfal as it flows down its spectacular deep wooded gorge.

We continue together as a group with the road winding down through Bont Newydd before ascending through a moss strewn forest in the direction of Foel Fawr. The dappled light giving the trees an eerie presence with the mountain ranges of Manod Bach and Manod Mawr ever present. The Clan thins before being drawn back together time and time again, the route providing challenges that in turn form a togetherness as we approach the spectacular road known locally as The Ranges.

We pass by Lynn Trawsfynydd and its decommissioned nuclear power station. Past, present and future in the blink an eye. The wide main road shifting back into narrow country lanes hemmed in by dry stones walls. The lake begins to drop away as we climb steadily off into desolate lands. The scenery idyllic and almost like a painting. We gather at a viewpoint where the road intersects and disappears in varying directions as a Kite soars high above floating in endless circles and mesmerises for minutes before we move off once again. The route enriching the souls of those who’ve joined us and providing smiles aplenty with winding descents that swing and twist as far as the eye can see. The old Roman road follows the Afon Lliw that originates from the Blaen-Lliw mountain range and cascades down and takes us over to the west end of Bala Lake. Here we find some local hospitality with shelter and food while the Clan composes itself before the next big passes in need of conquering. Countless sausage rolls and Welsh steak slices later followed by some cheery goodbyes to Clan members unfortunate enough that they aren’t able to continue on the journey with us and we begin again toward Coed-y-Glyn and the wonderful Hirnant Pass.

For the last time on the day’s venture we find ourselves blessed with a wicked tailwind and our pace gathers. The fast boys smashing down their hammers and tearing along Balas south side before eventually allowing us to regroup. It’s a double edged sword with the knowledge that we would soon need to turn into and take on the headwind that was building some real momentum. The valley arcing around shadowed by ancient trees with giant trunks dwarfing us, provides a brief respite before the road ahead opens out and presents itself in all its glory throwing down its gauntlet to the intrepid bunch. The Hirnant Pass.

The task ahead daunting and true as we lay siege upon its slopes. The headwind is vicious and unrelenting but still we charge. We wrestle our steeds up inch by inch as Foel-y-Ddinas stares down on us. Slowly but surely the climb is tackled and we take solace as a Clan before we descend through giant landscapes and bountiful echo to Lake Vyrnwy. Here the roads are flat and we circle the waters that reflect an ever darkening sky before making our way to the cafe for much needed refreshments. We talk of our luck given that the forecast of heavy rain has not yet shown itself and we are thankful that we are still dry. A short lived grace and the curse of those words as the sound of rain outside begins to reverberate and we proceed to adorn protective layers for what is to come.

Straddling our steeds as the rain falls heavy around us we quickly get moving. The last challenge of the day awaits patiently. The barren Eunant leaves us exposed and the wind continues in strength but with it now carries hard rain fall. The roads quickly become rivers and everyone drives on and tackles it as best that they can. We become disjointed as the weather takes hold. It’s cold and the Clan is facing its biggest test yet. Individually we pass the Cross that commemorates the pilgrim route from North Wales. This is no place to wait and regroup. We move on down through the pass that encompasses views of the Dyfi Valley and Cadair Idris. It’s shrouded in fast moving cloud as we are pummelled and fought all the way through to Dinas Mawddwy. It’s here that we formulate a plan to carry us as quickly as possible to our destination. The weather is treacherous and we’re looking a little worse for wear. We take it up a notch and journey in a tight group taking turns up front while trying to protect those who are struggling. Like a wolf pack our alpha sits on the back controlling everything that’s happening in front of him. We stay together and with determination and willing, we force our way through the wind and rain and arrive at Machynlleth punching the air. The day testing and tough, but beaten all the same. It’s time to find food and beer before bedding down for the night.

Continue on to read Part 2

Words: Toby Willis, Pan Celtic Race Team

Photos: Rupert Hartley,  Albion Cycling@ruperthartleyphoto


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