TdG: Tour de Graduation

In May, I completed my undergraduate study at Aberystwyth University and have since moved back to London. Living once more amongst suburbia, without a hill or mountain in sight has been a gradual, daily process of realisation and acceptance. I have however been fortunate enough to secure some employment at an Organic farm. The days are no longer spent attending to academia, maintaining a social life and getting filthy on bikes on the coast and in the mountains – instead, bicycle commuting, manual labour and entertaining the demands of the family cats currently fill my agenda. Oh and calories, I just can’t get enough calories.

A trip needed to be made back to Aberystwyth however, for my Graduation ceremony. It has long been said that it is not so much the destination as the journey. Four years as a University student have certainly been testament to that adage. Time was booked off from work and (loose) plans where in place to cycle to Aberystwyth along the Welsh coastline.

A selection of bicycle luggage has been collated over the last couple of years but I must confess that I have yet to find a satisfactory method of carrying under-saddle luggage without resorting to a pannier rack. Previously I have invested in two contemporary under saddle seat packs – one a stand alone seat pack and the other a harness designed to contain a dry bag but alas, both sway from side-side when loaded.

With this, i purchased a Tubus Fly and I made a set of mounts to fit it onto the rear hub axle, as the BLB Track frame doesn’t have provisions for bolt on accessories of any form. 2014-07-10 21.15.59

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Sure, they definitely look home made but at the time of writing, they have been subjected to load for over 1000km and so far pass the seal of approval. Further more, it saved purchasing the genuine kit from Tubus and took only a few hours of an evening to make. It has meant that I can no longer use a D/S chain tensioner however, so a revision may be necessary in the future.

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I have also recently built up a new front wheel, using SP’s PD-8 dynamo hub, a Mavic CXP22 rim and DB stainless spokes; the generated power of which feeds an Exposure Revo head light. The Aero bars have also been removed and the Mary’s flipped to provide an even higher handling position for the journey.

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The rear tyre, quite justifiably, was also replaced with a Mavic Aksion which was sourced brand new from Ebay for under £10. Skids are just too much fun.

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Home made stem spacer bracket to mount Exposure’s Boost accessory USB charging cable. This works well but is soon to be replaced with a Red Eye rear light and a switch assembly to direct power to a regulator and dedicated battery charger. This would provide the ability to turn off the light (not currently possible) and divert all generated electricity to charging a cache battery, which in turn could be used to charge a gps unit and mobile phone.

An old Topeak MTX trunk bag that was in the garage was modified to fit the rack and the rest of the luggage was hauled in a Lowe Alpine rucksack and on the bars.

The tents were left at home, as was a cooking system. A minimalist kit list was desired but not at the sacrifice of comfort throughout the diverse weather forecast that was predicted. Intentions were to bivvy each night but with a tarp to hand incase heavy rain was anticipated.

Day 1: Middlesex – Gloucestershire 

Saturday morning and mum was leaving for her guitar lesson. I got a passing goodbye, hug and slight look of smiling-bewilderment as she left the house. The look was just. I had slept for less than 6 hours, was still packing things onto the bike and had only figured out that I wanted to finish my 1st day of cycling as close as possible to the border of England and South Wales.

By 0930 I was finally on the move N/E through Potters Bar and towards St Albans, using the smaller town and residential streets that I am familiar with. The predicted clear sky and warm temperatures were absent and instead the cool and overcast atmosphere was welcoming by a quickly warming cyclist. After a few hours, I could eventually feel my fore arms starting to bake as the sun had finally made an appearance. A squirt of SPF50 and not before long, I had reached Leighton Buzzard – a good time to stop for lunch.

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By the time that I had reached Buckingham, annoyingly, on its first day of use, my external battery pack had broken. I had decided to detour back into Milton Keynes central to replace it.

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Brunton Torpedo 2800 – power no more.

I had wanted to pass through Oxford but the previous detour consumed too much riding time, so instead stayed further N/E through Bicester and Middleton Stoney. I was frustrated that I had wasted so much time and that grazing cows and sheep were not yet visible. Fatigue was setting in for the day.

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Bicester

The abilities of the dynamo hub began to shine as the sun went down and the mood of the night ensued. I took five to get cosy with some extra layers and used food and a pep talk to convince myself that I was having fun and that I needed to keep riding until I found a suitable green space to bed down in for the night.

0030 and I had found a small spot which was fenced off aside the B4450, next to a field buffer strip of some farm land and the floor richly carpeted with Ivy. A large Oak tree kindly sheltered the space, provided a trunk to lock my bike to and a limb to hang my bag. I had finally stopped moving after 16hrs, the bivvy bag was out.

Day 1 was complete in Maugersbury after 210km.

Day 2: Gloucestershire – Newport

Awake at 0430 and thoughts of how much work there was still to do to get to Aber by Wednesday got me on the move rather promptly. On the B4068 into Lower Swell and eventually stopping for food once I had built up an appetite on a narrow, leg burning country lane. Ciabatta, cheese, cherries and persimmon fruits all picked up the night before featured on the breakfast table. My phone was low on power and both my Garmin and cache battery were depleted. Navigation for the rest of the day from here on was by road Atlas.

Map reading at the breakfast table.

Map reading at the breakfast table.

Once more, a cool start to the day quickly turned into what felt like a heat wave and unfortunately, air conditioning is attainable only by pedalling faster. The A436 and A417 were used to get to Gloucester and then the A48 once over the River Severn and past Ministerworth.

At around 1500, exhaustion was superseding the mild feeling of fatigue, not least because the hills that I have been longing for over the last few months were now in plentiful supply. Now in Nibley and faced with yet another “12%” road sign at the bottom of a hill, the bike was dismounted and I slept on a grass verge in a lay-by. Fortunately the climb was swiftly followed by a 1.2km descent which tested the ability to stay focused and the efficacy of the front brake. Further along the road, an owner of a local B&B was equipped with a much needed cream tea and home made lemon drizzle slice.

Arriving in Chepstow and eying up a long awaited ‘Croeso I Gymru’ road sign ahead, I got my 1st puncture of the trip – a piece of metal debris in the road caused my rear tyre to instantly deflate. The 23c Mavic tyre on the rear was just possible to mount onto the H+ rim when at home with the use of a workshop tyre lever, as the bead was very tight. Repeated pinching of new tubes with levers as the tyre was being refitted on the road side caused further frustration. 3 inner tubes and 40minutes later, I was back on the move again.

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The culprit.

By 1900 I had arrived in Newport, low on energy, low on resources and with all electronic devices out of action. I had hoped to have progressed much further by this point. With the day light hours left, the decision was made to check into a B&B for the night. The alternative would have been to head W or N/W to a greener landscape and then return to the coast in the morning. Needless to say, the thought of a warm shower, soft bed and cooked breakfast would be of benefit for day 3.

Day 2 finished, 120km.

Day 3: Newport – Pembrey

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A good nights sleep and a mountainous breakfast went a long way in the commencement of day 3. Passing through the industrial parks of Newport and over a section of the River Usk, Cardiff was the next destination ahead.

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New Cardiff University Graduates.

A and B roads were used to travel through Cardiff bay, Penarth and Wick. Upon passing through Boverton, I found a small bike shop. The owner of Forza Cycles was kind enough to let me use a track pump. My rear tyre desperately needed attention to inflate it past the 60psi it was apparently at, up to the recommended 110-125psi.  Eventually, Bridgend looked scenic enough for a lunch stop.

Smooth B road climbs.

Smooth B4265 road climb.

Looking over Moulton

Looking over Moulton

A nice use of Hazel to build the frame to support these beans which were doing well.

A nice use of Hazel to build the support frame for these beans.

I had a lengthy talk with the friendly owner of this garden. We had a wager that I wouldn't arrive in Aberystwyth by Wednesday. I wish I got his address so that I could have sent him a postcard.

I had a lengthy talk with the friendly owner of this garden. We had a wager that I wouldn’t arrive in Aberystwyth by Wednesday. I wish I got his address so that I could have sent him a postcard.

Took a 'short cut' and ended up between two farmers fields. the road leading into this wasn't on the map but fortunately it lead me to where I needed to be!

Took a ‘short cut’ and ended up between two farmers fields. The road leading into this wasn’t on the map but fortunately it lead me to where I needed to be!

An unoccupied, smooth A48 was good for covering ground.

An unoccupied, smooth A48 was good for covering ground.

Lunch in Bridgend.

Lunch in Bridgend.

By 1830 I had arrived in Port Talbot and so had the 1st torrential downpour of the the trip. I stopped for food and to plan my journey through Swansea and onto the coast into Pembrey. The time spent savouring the journey through to Bridgend and the drastic change in weather was the deciding factor to travel through Swansea to Llanelli rather than down to Rhossili Bay and the sand dunes of Llangennith, which unfortunately were both on my ‘to visit’ list. Through abysmal weather, the A484 and B4304 were the life line into Pembrey sands. A spot was found off the walking path in the forrest and a line was set up between two trees to form a ridge for a simple tarp shelter. I was happy to be in bed by 2300.

Day 3 complete, 160km.

Day 4: Pembrey – St Davids

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The shelter was packed away, food eaten and I was on the move to the coast to see the sea that I had fallen asleep listening to the night before.

Breakfast.

Breakfast.

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Once again, the GPS battery was flat and the area wasn’t detailed on google maps so navigation was reliant on the park notice boards and a general need to travel north. I had made the mistake of travelling too far N/W and ending up in Pembrey Airport. Fortunately navigating through it was easy and it brought me onto the A484 towards Kidwelly and into Camarthen.

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Food growing in Kidwelly.

Food growing in Kidwelly.

Kidwelly cows.

Ladies of Kidwelly.

Camarthen.

Camarthen.

A combination of the A40 and less busy, single-track roads branching off from it were used to travel S/W to Tenby via Kilgetty.

Eclectic house, East Williamston.

Eclectic house, East Williamston.

I took the opportunity to use Tenby’s community library to charge up my devices and have a look at St David’s on Google Earth, as that was my planned destination.

Near to Pembroke Dock.

Near to Pembroke Dock.

The A477 was followed into Waterloo and Cleddau Bridge was crossed to continue towards Johnston and Haverford West.

View from Cleddau bridge

View from Cleddau bridge

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From here, travelling N/W on the A487 towards St David’s became very enjoyable as the weather was warm and the towns travelled through en route were absolutely stunning.

Newgale.

Newgale.

Penycwm.

Penycwm.

Mediterranean-esque Solva.

Mediterranean-esque Solva.

Upon arrival in St Davids at around 2130, food was purchased and then I made my way onto the Pembrokeshire coastal path via Ffordd Caerfai and bivvied nearer to St Non’s bay.

Day 4 complete, 139km.

Day 5: St Davids – Aberystwyth

Good morning, St Davids.

Waking at 0600 from the lick of mist, carried by a coastal breeze was a new experience for me. Things had to be packed away quickly, for fear that they would be carried off the cliff face by the wind.

This would be the last day of travelling and I was feeling both physically and mentally good about it. I could have felt subdued, knowing that my time on the road alone would be over shortly. By contrast however, my thoughts were positive as I knew the route ahead very well and had been anticipating this feature rich part of the journey, just as much as I had with the enjoyable day prior.

Packed and ready to go.

By 0730, the path had been travelled further around St Non’s bay and the opportunity to go for a morning swim was ceased by Porth Clais.

Time to get on with work.

Time to get on with work.

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Bath time.

The plan had been to ride the path around to Fishguard. However, it was a timely affair what with skinny, vulnerable tyres, an inability to cease pedalling and the upper body strength required for the ‘hike and bike’ sections.

Punture #2 of the trip. At least the location had improved since the last occasion.

Punture #2 of the trip. At least the location had improved since the last occasion.

I will be coming back here with less luggage and an XC bike...

I will be definitely be coming back here with less luggage and an XC bike…

I had got a good quotient of dirt miles for the day so headed east from St Justinian back into the town centre, once again ‘cheating’ by using the A487 to get to my next destination, Fishguard.

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Fishguard.

The road into Fishguard was a long, winding, fast descent. I wasn’t surprised to find it was swiftly followed by a climb back out of the town of similar length and gradient.

I was fatigued and a heavy shower appearing early in the day also ensured that my morale gradually diminished. It took a long time to get to Cardigan but upon arrival, I stopped into a cafe to stock up on caffeine for the route ahead. A momentary pause to test the persistence of the weather and to allow the stimulant to work its magic.

15:00, the rain had stopped and less than 40miles left to go.

My pace had improved drastically and I was counting the miles that I had cranked through. I had split the task up into bite size chunks, separated by the towns that were passed. I was no longer cycling with a tourists eye but instead focusing on the task at hand. Upon reaching Aberaeron, I had drunk my last drop of water and had put a couple of cans of energy drink into one of the bottles. I had also eaten all of my chewy sweet ‘energy reserves’, hoping that a final, lively push would get me there and that I didn’t ‘bonk out’ on energy.

I rode past Llanilar, where my family was staying and straight into my favourite pub in Aberystwyth to meet up with friends. My family understood and came to my rescue and picked me up when I shortly after arriving started to fall asleep. I got from Cardigan to Aberystwyth in 02:34hr which I was phenomenally happy with, considering that my previous times for travelling between Aberystwyth and Aberaeron has been in the region of 52-59min.

Day 5 complete, 121km.

Day 6: Got graduated

Checking out the progress of the allotment that I left behind.

Checking out the progress of the allotment that I left behind.

Parents.

Parents.

Standard grad/bike pose.

Standard grad/bike pose.

Daniel Zoppellini, BSc (Hons) Animal Scientist.

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