A team of Dragons took on the Taff Trail Challenge on Saturday 19th October to raise sponsorship money for Cardiff Dragons FC. The Taff Trail stretches from Brecon to Cardiff for 55 miles through some stunning countryside. The trip was set to take around 6-7hours in the saddle with a few ups and downs thrown in for good measure.
Ten Dragons were due to meet at Pontypridd railway station at 9am on the morning of the ride to pick up our transport to Brecon in ‘Buddy’s Minibus’ while the bikes got transported up in our support vehicle (Amy’s mum driving the campervan). Unfortunately, due to a technical malfunction with his bike, Muzz was unable to join the ride. I think the words were “my axle’s just fallen off”. Not a good start unless you want to uni-cycle all the way. As the team of intrepid challengers waited for Jay to arrive, we had a look at the trail map and wondered if it really was downhill all the way from Brecon as the urban myth suggested. Jay arrived having already cycled the 5 miles from home to Ponty station. Yes, the man is a machine.
Off we go in Buddy’s super-speedy-hi-octane-minibus up to Brecon. Everyone was in really good spirits if not a little nervous about the trip ahead. We arrived at Theatr Brycheiniog opposite the canal basin, the starting point of the ride. The bikes arrived shortly after and everyone got busy checking their bikes over and preparing for the trip ahead. It all got a bit quiet. Time for a quick picture then off we gooooooo! Then we stopped. 3 metres into the ride there was a quick brake adjustment on Chris G’s bike. Then off we goooooo again!
The trail eased us in gently with a nice cruise along the canal which eased onto some quiet country lanes, taking us out 8 miles from Brecon to the start of Talybont Reservoir. It became apparent quite early on that Luke’s legs were doing three times as many revolutions on his pedals than everyone else. Yep, his bike was poorly and refused to change gear to a more comfortable cruising speed. Like a little hamster on a wheel, Luke was having to go like the clappers to stay with the group. Amy kindly volunteered to take over on Luke’s bike to give him a rest but after a couple of miles the Lukicycle got the better of her. There was only one thing for it…..Jay. If anyone can cycle a bike that doesn’t really change gear for another 50 miles then Jay’s your man (I think the intention was to just ride it as far as Merthyr then see if it could be sorted – but this didn’t actually happen).
At Talybont there was time to appreciate the surroundings with a quick photo stop and to establish that the traffic free route round the side of the reservoir was closed for maintenance. We didn’t really mind as the rumour was that the route was a very long but gradual climb on a surface which was sure to give us a few punctures. Off we went on the diversion and took an undulating country road to the end of the reservoir. The only thing we could see in the distance was a mountain and we all started to ask “how do we get around that then?”. The question was soon answered when we rounded a corner and saw a signpost which said we were about to face a 20% gradient. Some of the Dragons (you can probably guess which) decided that it was ride-able / run-able and went off at pace, meeting the mountain head on. The rest of us watched in awe as we took our bikes for a long walk up the very steep hill. We stopped to applaud two cyclists who were pumping their way up the hill on their bikes like something out of the Tour de France. We mentioned that we’d done this hill twice already today so were having a rest…don’t think they believed us.
“This is the hardest bit of the whole ride” – true, it was, but I think a few of us were thinking “what the hell am I doing???”. We all made it to the top and were grateful to get over the peak and take the awesome traffic free forest trail down the other side and on towards Merthyr. Point to note – when you see a sign that says “Welcome to Merthyr” you’re not actually in Merthyr, you’re still about 4 miles away. Cue the torrential rain as we ploughed ahead, willing the sights and sounds of Merthyr to come into view just around the next corner, or the next corner, or the next one?!? At last! The golden arches of McDonalds came into view, offering us welcome respite from the horrendous weather but at the same time, sending us into a restaurant packed to the rafters with children and shoppers and a man who proposed to his girlfriend whilst looking lovingly into each other’s eyes over a big mac. I kid you not. It all goes down at Merthyr Maccy D’s. Perplexed by the impromptu proposal but full up on our hot drinks and food, we set off once again, this time in the sunshine and breaking cloud and eased into the next 30 miles. By now it’s fair to say that we were a little saddle sore but we were all determined to get the job done and finish the ride.
With the worst bit of the ride out of the way, and Dave A still wearing the coveted yellow jersey, the group ploughed on with the thought of some more hot food awaiting us at the Golden Cross, kindly arranged by Laurence Hurrell. The next goal was to get to Pontypridd via Abercynon, mainly on a great traffic free trail. The teamwork of the group was fantastic, with everyone supporting each other when it was needed. Whether it was a motivational chat, some water or a well-needed pit stop, the group seemed to be in tune with each other’s needs and all stuck together. It was a long way, and it was a tough ride. Pontypridd seemed to signify almost reaching the end, although the city lights of Cardiff were still another 16 miles away. At this point, someone (me) decided to take a wrong turn and lose the group completely. How can you lose a pack of 8 cyclists? Erm, by not paying attention and by cycling in the opposite direction.
Tired legs, achy bums, low energy and a 3-mile straight stretch to Nantgarw lay ahead. Crossing the Caerphilly Road was another notch on the mental mileage calculator….not far to go now, surely. The only thing was, we were running out of light. We reached Radyr and the night was creeping up on us fast. By the time we reached Hailey Park we were struggling to see and were desperate to reach Talybont so that we could join the lit path to take us into the city. It was a strange feeling when we reached the city. We navigated our way down the Hayes, weaving in and out of the shoppers and drinkers going about their business, none the wiser that we’ve just cycled 55 long miles to get here. After a quick photo by a passer-by who held the camera phone upside down and back to front at first…we finally made it to the pub and quietly celebrated our achievement with a rewarding drink and some hot food. Thanks to Tomos who made it along to check on our welfare, congratulate us and donate to the fundraising.
Well done to the ‘Taff 9’: Ali, Amy, Jay, Simon, Chris G, Dave A, Luke, Darrin and John B
We hope to raise over £600 in sponsorship for the club
If you’re inspired to donate then please use the link below. Thank you in advance for your kind support!