It's been really interesting reading other people's write-ups and much of the story has already been told. But anyway, here's my two-pennies – read the words, enjoy the pictures. Some may even choose to do both (or neither)
This was my first time on BCM and also my first 600, and as I said up-thread I was bricking it before the start. My aim was to finish, in time, without completely killing myself. I hadn't made it easy on myself with a 400 the weekend previously and as this is my first audax season then I feel I don't yet have the stamina to just keep the pedals turning without raising a sweat. It was going to be an ordeal, even if 50% of that was in my mind!! And the Chapman has a certain reputation …
Note: this ride report is a mild rewrite of my submission to yacf, here. Codified names are the nicknames of people on the forum, sorry about that. The post date has been changed to the date of the ride.
I have so many memories of this ride and so many of them hidden under layers of pain that I can't remember so much – including the many interesting and cheerful people I rode with. And the people manning the controls – cheerful and enthusiastic, even though it had been a marathon for them as well!
For the TL:DR crowd: it was hilly and it hurt me as a lowlander; it didn't rain, in fact Sunday was sunny at times; no mechanicals; the plan mostly went to plan, but not much in hand to start with meant a frenetic catch-up for 24 hours when the hills were at their biggest; I ate lots; I met lots of yacfers not met before: Pppete, Zigzag, Ashaman42, LittleWheelsAndBig and HK, Pangolin and others,  and non-yacfers Robin & George,[/edit] good to meet you all, hopefully less tired/more chatty next time; as usual I found that my ride was interleaved with so many others at regular intervals, not so much that we rode at the same speed, but at the same overall pace, which I find interesting. And it was my first 600 and completes my first SR.
A short ride over the bridge with a couple of other Travelodgers, a quick dive into the control to grab a brevet and then we were off. And it was a much quicker off than planned.
I had promised myself that this time definitely without fail I would stick to The Plan, which was a rather simplified 20kph for each leg and between 20 and 60 minutes per control (apart from the overnight at Kings). That would give me 2.5 hours in hand at the end. That was the plan. It didn't last long: the Chapman has hills; lots of hills. And I live in East Anglia, which is flat. (Aside: I tried a similar plan on the Asparagus & Strawberries 400 the previous weekend and was pretty much on the numbers the first three legs – slightly ahead due to some Fidgetbuzz action – and completely way out on the rest, so I am still tweaking the formula so that I can roughly determine where I should be and when I need to push to catch up).
The first leg to Bronllys was quick: much quicker than expected. I was riding with axe-murderer John (pub joke, can't remember your yacf name), another first-timer, and surprised him with the sudden turn of pace, but I figured it was more important at this stage to fight the headwind in a bunch than going solo. This meant a couple of time-trial legs to join back onto the main group as tail-enders fell off (inadvertently taking me with them). Recorded my fastest speed on the bike to date at 64kph down to Bronllys (which I beat later). Baked beans on toast was fairly quick to arrive, but I still need to judge better when to bounce the control and make up time the easy way (by not stopping for very long).
I passed Little Wheels and Big and HK on the quick downhill on the first leg, and rode with LWaB for a bit trading notes on small wheels — it was really good to meet both of you, your reputations precede you (that's a good thing) Watching both Moultons soak up the road bumps, they looked very graceful (and comfortable) and it's got me thinking LWaB suggested a tweak to my saddle position so I moved it around at the café, it's now further back, and no knee troubles to report (not even the early-season ITB issues); arse still hurt by the end, though.
The second stage to Nant-yr-Arian was ridden much more solo than the first, as riders left the control in dribs and drabs. Apart from a chat with HK and then with LWaB on the Builth road, much of the run was done head-down into the wind. I followed a fixie up one of the longer climbs – I've said it before: I like following fixies, because they are very consistent in everything and nothing's particularly hurried (apart from fast descents when you really don't want to get too close, just in case a leg comes off at the hip!!).
After a quick pitstop in Rhayader for a flapjack, we bumped into Lars making his way back to town with a slightly Pringled wheel. Unfortunately I have new wheels, so I don't need to carry spare spokes and don't have a key either, so not much help, sorry. Not that spokes for my wheels would've helped Lars Off-topic: I rode one of my winter 200s with four rear-wheel spokes broken, three drive-side, without any issues apart from a slight chafing on the brakes; small wheels are inherently very much stronger than large ones
I must've started to fade, because LWaB and HK passed me on the Elvis climb. I stopped at the garage on the climb up to Nant-yr-Arian for some more sweeties and then climbed up to the café at the top, passing LWaB&HK's bikes at the café a couple of kms before the summit (presumably a shorter queue?). We bumped into each other at controls at various times from then on. The Nant café was a definite bouncer, except that I needed to eat, so lost much of the time I'd made up on being quick the first two legs.
On leaving Nant-yr-Arian, I had a swift descent to Aberystwyth and passed the Robin & George train (father and daughter) with Sharon (?) and Brian (?) in tow on the downhill, but was quickly caught again. I stayed with them to get some respite from the headwind for quite a way, being dragged up a couple of the big slopes towards Dolgellau as well as dodging through the centre of Machynlleth when perhaps we should've gone around – thank you!
The drop down into Dolgellau was a blast that would haunt me in the morning. But I did manage the full climb from the turn up to the YH in one go, no feet down at all (34" gear all the way). Pppete introduced himself while I was packing the bags on the bike, commenting on my LEL nameplate, which I have since mod'ed a little – good to meet you! Trading notes with Feline over beans, it seemed best to take the direct A470 route to Menai with the bridge-out detour in place.
The Robin&George train left slightly before me with Feline in tow and I caught them on the run to Dolgellau, just as Lars passed in the opposite direction, having rescued his ride at the bike shop in Rhayader!! but they passed me when I stopped to remove the Welsh-weather gear I'd donned in the mistaken belief it had started raining. So I set out to catch them up that long, long slog through Coed-y-Brenin. I caught and passed Feline, but she's been having lots of ITB troubles recently, so it was a hollow victory The others left me in the dust At least the drop down off Trawsfynydd was a blast
For some reason I thought the shortcut up over Coed-y-Plas would put me back in that train – what a schoolboy error that was!!! The climbs up were simply not in my legs on 34" and so I ended up walking to the top. The slope down the other side was a blast, as it was so steep and twisty in the gathering dark, and I clocked 63kph, but the time was already lost. I slogged my way on the A4085 thinking that I'd done too little and left it too late and that my first 600 was doomed to running out of time, boo! I also decided to pass on Pen-y-Pass and take the shortest route to Menai. I caught and passed Feline again on the climb the wrong way up over Rhyd Ddu from Beddgelert. My mistake was leaving Feline behind on the climb because I have never ridden the route and was now riding the routesheet in reverse without a GPS track and I got lost for the very first time on an audax Not a serious mistake but definitely cost me another 15 minutes and Feline beat me to supper at Menai at about 11pm, giving me my fastest 300km to date by half an hour or so (I rode my first three 300s in April).
And then I stopped taking photos because I started to wonder whether I wasn't being a bit too slow Anyway, if you're still reading this, why? Just look at the pictures, they are much more interesting than the words. Believe me.
I headed back out towards Rhyd Ddu and was gradually reeled in by the Robin&George train and tucked in for the pace. The drop through Penrhyndeudraeth was like a bobsleigh run and as I popped out the bottom I swear I was clocking more than 30MPH just as a jam-butty car was heading up the High Street towards us: he looked a bit surprised but didn't flag us down!
The train stopped for a comfort break and I passed Feline who'd left Menai earlier (still feels hollow). The train caught me soon enough on the climb back up to Trawsfynydd: that is, George went for it up the hill and her dad came past a couple of minutes later swearing he'd catch her and offering the sage advice to just find a gear and spin it to the top; that worked for me and I set out to catch them both – I failed, but not by more than a couple of miles or so The other two on the train didn't catch me, though, so my pace can't've been too shabby, and I passed the third Moulton The drop through Coed-y-Brenin clocked only 54kph – not trying hard enough. Back at Kings at 4:17am.
The spinning technique for climbing definitely worked for me, in spite of a limited selection of gears, and got me through day two – thank you Robin! And all this work gave me my fastest 400km to date by three hours (it's only my second 400, the first being the week before).
Sleeping at Kings was a case of not sleeping at Kings: there was nearly an hour's wait for a bed after I had eaten, so it was the wooden floor in the lounge for me I got an armchair for half an hour a bit later, but thanks to Halloween for pointing out just how bad I looked
I left Kings at just after 7.30am and by now I was over an hour behind The Plan, so I only had 2.5 hours in hand at the end if I stuck to the speeds/times for the remaining three legs. Only I hadn't figured on having to reclimb that road down to Dolgellau and keep on climbing up past Cross Foxes and over the top – that was ferkin' hard work!! SimonP left Kings before me, but there was no way I would catch him especially not up this hill. I had to walk the final ramp, because I figured I needed some left for later climbs. 55 minutes to the top and 2 minutes back down again peaking at 78.2kph on 16" wheels
The next section just seemed to drag for me: I had done some really big (for me) and spectactular climbs and ridden through amazing countryside, and now it felt a bit lush and comfortable. But that could just've been a mild case of heatstroke as the temps rose and the sun threatened to show. Long sections of quick A-road I could see other riders, but I didn't have it in my legs to raise the cadence/gear to catch them, so I was passed by quite a few. I rode with Pangolin at some point along this stretch, but he dropped me, shortly after removing his hat (it really was that warm). Passed SimonP leaving the control as I was arriving. At Aberhafesb it was a case of getting my brevet stamped by people who I didn't know but who seemed to know everybody else! 11:08, I was now an hour and a half down on The Plan, but made 15 minutes back by cutting short the control. More beans – is it possible to have too many beans?!
All morning I felt like i was out of time with too many big hills in the way of successful completion of my first BCM and my first 600. It's a real downer when that happens and I had to keep lifting myself back up with "what will the kids think when I don't achieve it? More to the point, what would Mrs WB think?! Come on, get a move on! It's only pain!" My arse REALLY hurt by this point. Still reading? You've got stamina!
I stripped off the leg warmers and tried to cool down on the next leg: a steady heart-warmer up the looong climb out of Newtown: passed Iddu (not lanterne rouge at this point) at the bottom packing away unneeded layers before the climb. I had to walk some of the steeper sections, and at one point thought I saw Feline catching me (that hollow feeling began to feel even hollower), but I found an extra gear and climbed to the summit then descended like a demon: those switchbacks a couple of miles after the summit must be hell in the wet! I got to Knighton and stopped at the garage to stock up, bumping into several others doing the same – we didn't swap names, nice to meet you. I figured Feline must've passed me, so I put on a race face and got on with the job, stretching the legs right up to the right turn at The Forge. Then it was back to the 24" gear for some of those sections with another rider, sorry don't know the names.
The lanes here were a bit shit: grit and gravel and broken surfaces. Another, quicker group came through, I think with young Jordan 'The Kid' Carroll (congrats on your first SR, mine too, but I took twice as long to get it) in their midst, and missed the right-turn after the dovecot; didn't take them long to repass me, though.
By the time I got to Woebly at 16:11 I was now 1h40m behind The Plan, so it was a quick refill of water bottles, couple of bananas and away. While I was just leaving, the second half of the Robin&George train rode in, as well as Feline. Tagged Lars looking a little lost about which way to go out of the town square and he followed me out. By now it looked like an average pace of 15kph would get us back in with time to spare, and had been averaging 18kph the last few stages, so I began to relax and take some pics again
Lars and I rode together for a bit then tried to stretch to get on the back of Robin&George who had left before us, caught them then lost them again. Bumped into Pppete again and somehow briefly caught the Robin&George train again. Pppete was clearly suffering and his pedal-pedal-pedal-freewheel pace was about the same as my spinning-in-a-little gear pace (I was properly knackered by this point, and painkillers were having little effect on the various aches, mostly arse-related).
My big worry were what the two final hills at Llancloudy and Tintern would have on our pace, having not ridden them before: could I afford another two hours of climbing? As it turned out, Llancloudy in the 24" gear was just about as quick as a 27" (which I didn't have) and took about 20 minutes.
A crazy, mad, out-of-control drop into Monmouth put me on edge and we stopped to let Lars catch up and let Mrs Pppete know we'd be about 90 mins to arrivée. Then that beautiful Wye Valley section: completely lovely and picturesque. A few false climbs, "is this Tintern?" nope. "Ah, is THIS Tintern? There's an abbey up there". Nearly there.
The other half of the Robin&George train passed us just before Tintern itself with Ashaman42 in tow (well done mate – excellent recovery after nearly bailing at Dolgellau on the way north). And then the final big climb: after Cross Foxes, this was a bit of an anticlimax and I let rip with what was left in order to see what was left: I span up the climb to just below the summit, stopping to let Pppete catch up. And we then rode to the arrivée, arriving at about 20:35, just under two hours down on the plan, but elated to get in in time. A quick check that the brevet was in order and handed it over to another smiling helper person (who everyone knows, except me). A quick catch up with Lars, SimonP, Ritchie , Tomsk, Robin & George (nice to chat with you finally, having ridden so far near you) [/edit] and others and then Ashaman42 and I headed down to the Chinese around the corner for a takeaway, which we cycled what seemed like 15 miles back over the bridge to eat at the Travelodge.
Success in more ways than just completing in the time: first BCM, first 600, first SR (in my first season). More faces to names. More things to consider, techniques to master, routines to practise. Still a long way to go before I can properly enjoy the ride for what it is, a ride: still too many first-year nerves about not making it in time, getting lost, not having enough kit with me, etc., because I still don't know what my limits are and when I can push no harder.
My takeaways from the Chapman:
Wales is glorious! I grew up a bit further east along the northern coast and it's still my favourite place in this green and pleasant land The support on BCM is the best I've seen on any ride yet (including the Norfolk'n'good rides and Yr Elenydd, which are very good themselves). The helpers are all very enthusiastic and efficient, and clearly known and loved by many diolch yn fawr! You have to love the full-on Welsh accent whenever you get to listen to it, it's so musical Get to Kings early if you want to sleep in a bed. Be prepared to sleep on the [uncarpeted] floor otherwise. The A-roads in north-west Wales are lanes anywhere else, but the road surface is unbelievably smooth. The B-roads back in England are shite by comparison with the top surface coming away all over the place – massive road buzz numbness in the hands (but not the crotch area, thanks LWaB?). Eat everything offered at every opportunity: I needed to! (I haven't stopped since.) Drink more than you think you need to: nearly two full bottles every stage, one with and one without Nuun. Climbing is mostly about spinning and patience, assuming you have a suitable gear for the gradient to spin in. As long as you keep moving, you'll reach the top. Eventually (nearly an hour each on three of the climbs ). Sometime's the gradient's so steep that riding it will destroy your legs for some time after, so 24" gear for those bits is okay. Descending's fun Keep moving: bounce controls and eat at other cafés if the queues are long.
Now that the pain is beginning to subside and the sense of achievement is settling in, replacing that sense of panic of "am I doing enough?", I am remembering the bits I enjoyed about the ride: the cheerful controllers, the riders, the places, the weather, the sights, the riding, baked beans on toast, the climbing, the descending. And the general all-round camaraderie and common purpose. Thank you Ritchie+team for giving us so much to take away.
Would I ride BCM again? Definitely. Would I do it on the same bike? Not today, thank you. Anyway, first we have LEL to complete (although more time to do it in, and no Cross Foxes or Llancloudy style climbing, apparently).