Another ride report from on of our regular contributors, The Cheshire Cat, who recently paid homage to the late, great Mike Hall the way he’d appreciate most: Riding a bike and digging deep.
Mike Hall Memorial Ride
Ask any arm chair cycling fan to name a successful, multi-day bike racer that has competed and won international events, and I bet Mike Hall’s name won’t get a mention. Ask the same question to the ultra-distance racing fraternity, and his name would the first to leave their lips.
Prior to his untimely death after being struck by a car towards the closing stages of the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race across Australia, in March 2017 – Mike had twice won the 2475-mile Tour Divide, in addition to winning the inaugural World Cycle Race, and the 4200-mile Trans Am race.
The type of racing Mike competed in is not about team cars, soigneurs massaging your legs at the end of the day or a shoulder to cry on because you missed taking the sprint…it’s racing from point A to point B, on your own and completely self-sufficient. And you do this day after day after day – for 13 days 22 hours and 51 minutes, which is Mike’s 2016 Tour Divide winning time.
The TINAT 400km
Following Mike’s death, friends from within the Audax community wanted to honour his passion for cycling by organising an event that would give other riders a feeling of how it is to really test themselves, and to embrace the spirit of Mike’s memory. After discussing the idea with Mike’s close family and friends, the idea of the TINAT 400 was formed.
Inspiration for the events name came from an article Mike wrote for the Bugle Magazine in 2016 As with adventure racing, there would be no supported feed stops, sag wagons, mobile mechanics or route markings. What there was, was a day on the bike that tested your resolve and determination to #bemoreMike.
What’s in a ‘hashtag’?
#bemoreMike embraces the spirit of Mike Hall, in a direct, yet simple way. Anyone who was at the start of the 2017 Dirty Reiver will remember their number board printed with #bemoreMike below the number. It was there to remind you that no matter how hard you’re finding the ride, how tired you may be feeling, and how much you feel like jacking it all in… read those three words, and you will dig deep and succeed.
C’mon, how hard can it be?
For this ride I roped in my mate Paul and convinced him that it can’t be as hard as the Bowland Bad Ass, just a little longer. 406km in length and 7,500m of elevation, with the added bonus of several gravel sectors, it had all the promise of a great day out, and it didn’t disappoint. Did I say a great day out? I mean a whole day, 26 hours and 30 minutes total time with a ride time of 21 hours and 52 minutes.
What time do you call this?
The day began with low cloud hiding the surrounding hills as Paul and myself rode the short distance from our campsite to the ride start in Llandrindod Wells. All we needed to do was collect our brevet cards and wait for the 6 am roll out to begin. The brevet card is used to collect evidence that you have followed the correct route, this can be in the form of a stamp if there is a manned control point, answering a question about a landmark or road sign, or a till receipt from a shop in a designated town along the route. A GPX file of the course was forwarded before the event, but to supplement this a cue-card is also provided giving written directions. This was very useful as it provided the distance between the major sectors of the ride.
Waiting for the designated start to come around gave me a moment to look at some of the other bikes being used for the event, and there was a real mixed bag – from the latest gravel bikes to the venerable touring bike. Tyre choice, a beloved subject of many cyclists, and a curse for others, was interesting. Warning had been given prior to the event of the type of terrain the route would cover,
And that tyre choice was important. I was using my Salsa Cutthroat (click the link to read my ride impressions), with a pair of Schwalbe 2.3 G-One’s fitted, Paul was using 700c x 38 Panaracer Gravel Kings, but there were many with standard road tyres.
Riding out of Llandrindod Wells was a relaxed affair, chatting with other riders about the day ahead, and which ride they were doing; there were two 400km rides, a fast 400 and a populaire 400 (taken at a more relaxed pace), cut-off time to complete the fast 400 was at 10.18 am the following morning. In addition, there was a 600km ride and 100, 200 and 300km rides.
As we rode and chatted the clouds began to lift, and the beauty of the surrounding countryside began to make its self-known. The green fields and rolling hills were in delicate contrast to the first real climb of the day, the ominously named Devils Staircase, which came at approx. 30km. I was riding with a low gear of 36×42, so I was spinning comfortably up the 12% average gradient, even on the fat 29er tyres… this was in stark contrast to the climbs that were to follow later in the day. A quick descent was followed by three shorter, but no less testing climbs before the first control point of the day at Tregaron. The town centre was camp to dozens of cyclists that had descended into the local shop to devour sandwiches, crisps, buy bottles of water and collect the all important till receipt, much to the bemusement of the locals.
Let’s talk tyres
A short distance after Tregaron we entered the first gravel sector, a flat, easy rolling cycle way that proved the polar opposite to what was to come. This was quickly followed by the long climb to Teifi Pools, and the beginning of the first true gravel path around Clearwen Dam – a path that was to make many riders question their choice of tyre. Whilst many cleared the sector unscathed, it would have delayed them as they carefully picked the clearest line and protected their rims from damage. I lost count of the number of riders I saw repairing punctures, one poor guy was only a couple of hundred metres from the end of the sector.
Climb, descend, climb, repeat
An easy-going gravel climb through the Elan Valley to the first manned control point soon followed… at this point the heat was beginning to rise as the sun came out and made its presence felt; the mood of everyone was good as we chatted about the ride so far and of what was to come whilst waiting to get our cards stamped. After the long climb after Machynlleth we were treated to a long and very welcome descent, at this point we had covered 160km and were ten hours into the ride.
Big climb, bigger descent
At 200km we started the climb of Fford Ddu, a long climb made all the more difficult due to the heat, but every pedal stroke brought us closer to the fabulous off-road descent along the NCR82 and the second and last manned control point. As you descend the low-lying path you pass through a gate to suddenly see the view open as you look across to the coastal town of Barmouth, a view captured best by the TINAT website.
The onset of night
240km’s and 16hrs in, and darkness was fast approaching as we reached the foot of Bwlch-y-Groes, a relentless climb that just seemed to go on and on and hit 20% in places. This was a real testing climb on an already testing day, 36×42 was suddenly feeling like a much higher gear. 30 minutes later the welcome descent to the Lake Vyrnwy was reached. Darkness was fully upon us at this point, but spirits were still high, buoyed all the more by the owner of a local convenience store/café promising to stay open all night to support passing riders. As we reached the end of the lake, there it was, an oasis in the dark.
Chips and a cup of coffee were soon devoured as we took stock of how we felt and prepared to head out to Newtown, and the final chance to get some food before the finish of the ride. As we sat eating, discussion focused on average speeds and the time remaining to the cut-off. A couple of guys that were feeling the days efforts decided to find a suitable place to get some sleep before carrying on, conscious of the fact they may miss the cut-off.
Through the night and happy drunks
Riding through the night gives you the time to reflect on the ride and how far you have pedalled, you know you’re not alone, but the feeling is of being by yourself with just the beam of your light to keep you company. A silence descends and all you hear is the whirring of the chain as you make steady progress through the night. After 315km’s and 20 hours of riding we reached Newtown with barely a drop of water remaining in our bottles – thoughts turned to the 24hr services where we found several tired and hungry cyclists topping-up drinks bottles and filling up on whatever high calorie food remained on the shelves. The local night club was emptying, and drunken revellers were finding it hard to comprehend half a dozen cyclists looking to ride further into the night instead of getting a taxi ride home.
The final stint
Leaving the relative comfort of the garage forecourt Paul and myself headed back out into the dark, knowing that the first light of dawn was fast approaching… into another climb! 11km’s and 50 minutes later we had reached the top, my legs were starting to feel the effects of the days ascending. Whilst my head was clear and mental tiredness hadn’t set in, a physical tiredness was beginning to make its self-known. Paul was beginning to get stomach problems as the remaining 75km’s passed slowly by, and several sharp climbs did their bit in slowly biting away at our resolve. But always at the back of your mind is #bemoreMike, pushing you to find the will you always knew was there, but had never had any need to call upon.
And then it’s over
There is no fanfare when you finish, no certificate to show what you have just spent 26 hours and 30 minutes to cover 406km’s, no tacky medal hung around your neck or awful sticky sports drink thrust into your hand. So, what do you get? If you must ask, you would never understand the answer, but let me try and explain…what you get, is the feeling that for one brief moment, you have been #bemoreMike.
All images taken by the author, apart from those credited to Jo Page
Last modified: 6th June 2018