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Cycling Non-Stop from Pembrokeshire to London

by Peter Walker and Carlos Mujica

On the weekend of the Cyclosport End of Season Party, Peter Walker and Carlos Mujica from the Pembrokeshire Bike Shop, and organisers of the Tour of Pembrokeshire cycled non-stop from Pembrokeshire to London to attend. Here they tell of their highs and lows of the epic journey.

For some twenty years, Carlos has talked of how wonderful it would be to ride from Pembrokeshire to London non-stop. Receiving an invitation to attend the Cyclosport End of Season Ride and Lunch, provided us with the perfect opportunity for him to realise his dream, give the ride a purpose and an ideal venue to celebrate our arrival. 

We decided to attempt the challenge on a tandem, unaided, in the true spirit of adventure because it would allow us to combine our strengths and it would add to the camaraderie for what we both believed would be the ride of our lives! We tested a Cannondale tandem for fit during an inaugural two mile ride, added some lights and a bag and set up a Just Giving page so we could raise funds for the Wales Air Ambulance; the Tour of Pembrokeshire's main beneficiary. 

On 14th October, after an interview with Radio Pembrokeshire, we left a small gathering of well-wishers at the Pembrokeshire Bike Shop and soon settled into a relaxed rhythm along the A40, which we would follow for the next 240 miles to London, feeling relaxed and happy to be under way, despite the light rainfall. 

As the miles started to drift by and we glided past centuries old farms where generations have made their livings, the rain gave way to warm sunshine and we began to feel really positive about the ride. We enjoyed boiled eggs, brioche, bananas, Torq bars and energy drink. Lorries tooted us and other road users waved as we cycled along a Roman road in the picturesque Tywi Valley towards Llandovery, for a late roadside lunch.

Carlos had been so busy with our communications all morning, using the iPhone, which was overloaded with tracking and media software, that the battery had expired and would not recharge, so we arranged for a new charging devise to be made available in Abergavenny. 
We left the Black Mountains and the buzzards that cried as they circled overhead and entered the Usk Valley, framed by the majestic Brecon Beacons. As we climbed, the views became truly stunning and we maintained an excellent pace, riding on the hoods to be as aerodynamic as possible, as often as the terrain would permit. 

We purchased the new battery charger in Abergavenny, drank a double espresso we'd intended to have mid-morning and relished a piece of homemade strawberry cheesecake before we tackled the B4521, with a couple of impromptu detours in the process, to make our way to Ross-on-Wye where we would re-join the A40.

The bike was almost flying downhill and as we leant it into corners at 50mph, we felt completely confident and in sync with each other, despite it being our first ride together. This section of road was to be the most technical of our entire journey and whilst we watched the mountains go dark as the sun set behind us, we were able to judge the severity of each bend by increasing the beam on the Exposure lights using the bar-mounted switch, which proved to be an invaluable benefit. 

We stopped for a picture as we crossed the border, really pleased with our performance and we began to look forward to dinner, which we'd planned would be somewhere near Gloucester, that would fuel us for the night ahead. 

We could not remember enjoying a fish and chip supper as much as the one we ate at the Red Lion, Huntley, where the staff gave us a wonderful welcome and had kindly agreed to serve us, even though the kitchen was closed. Steve and Amanda Jones, who own a bicycle shop nearby, had come to meet us in case we needed assistance or a bed for the night and it would have been great to have stayed and enjoyed the warm and friendly atmosphere but we were satiated and after changing into warmer kit, really excited about increasing our pace as we raced on towards London. 

The road conditions through Gloucester and Cheltenham were fast and clear, the long climbs kept us perfectly warm, so when we arrived on the plateaus and the road flattened out, we felt ready to start building our pace for the last 100 miles to Twickenham. 

We increased our speed to a steady 20-25mph and the scenery, often woodland and dry-stone walls, flew by. However, we were becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of a collision with the wildlife, which skipped, scampered, sauntered and grazed on the verges next to us.

So, after narrowly missing a horse, we elected to ride down the middle of the road. We occasionally cycled through patches of damp mist which added to the almost mystical world that we were passing through. Then all of a sudden a large meteorite fell from the sky, as it broke up a trail formed and we watched the pieces change colour from an intense white to a dull red before they expired. 

Our luck seemed to be holding, because with the exception of the telephone battery going flat we'd not had any problems, when, with the increasing speeds and decreasing temperatures, the cold started to penetrate our bodies. (Not having the right clothing turned out to be a huge misjudgement on our part, for which we were to pay dearly as the night wore on).

When we reached Oxford, we stopped at a service station to try and warm up for the final leg. We drank some coffee, massaged our feet and hands and put on every available item of clothing in our bag that might offer us some protection. Our departure along the dual carriageway was halted by a police car which, with siren blazing and blue lights flashing, ceremoniously stopped us to inform us that our back light wasn't on. We had a good laugh with the officers, who declined our offer to swap places, switched on the light and rode on. 

Our hands and feet began to go numb. Peter's fingers became useless for gear changing so he operated the levers with his palms. He was unable to hold the handlebars, so he rode with his fists clenched on top of the bars. Every time Carlos placed his hands outboard he couldn't stand the icy blast on his forearms, so he remained tucked in behind his team-mate, glad he had some shelter.

We were in a Catch 22 situation; we couldn't tolerate the pain from the cold an increase in speed, which would shorten our journey time, would bring about and we were demoralized when we slowed down. We were desperate for hills and the warmth some long climbs would generate but we were not being suitably rewarded. The cold then started to move up our arms and legs, permeating our bones and joints making our knees sore as we pedalled, the pain was never-ending.

We kept going, on and on, mile after mile, finding new ways to tolerate the pain until we began to slur our speech and lose the ability to concentrate properly, we were becoming hypothermic. We slowed down to ensure we could control the bike safely, realising we needed to revive ourselves. 

We stopped at various places in vain and then, quite by chance, we noticed a person moving behind the bar of a dimly lit pub in the middle of nowhere. He sold us a few tins of Red Bull and we consumed more than was probably good for us but it worked and we were revived! With renewed vigour we rode on, willing for dawn and the warmth from the sun we hoped it would bring. As the sun rose above the horizon we felt as though someone had thrown a switch inside us; we were back in the game, strong, confident and alert. All our feelings of helplessness were behind us in an instant and we picked up the pace once more as we made our final approach.  

We weaved our way through the London traffic, doing our best to avoid the potholes, bumps and constant stopping and starting, in the knowledge that we would soon be finishing at Cyclosport's event; a few more bends, a handful of miles, a couple of junctions, some traffic lights and then suddenly, almost unexpectedly, we arrived in front of 100 cyclists who were getting ready to depart on their sportive ride around the Surrey hills; we'd made it! 

In disbelief we got off the bike, sad that we had to leave it but totally elated to have achieved our goal; Pembrokeshire to London non-stop to officially launch the 2012 Tour of Pembrokeshire and raise £1000 for the Wales Air Ambulance. 

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