Wednesday, 17 November 2010

(Train) to Swansea!

Navigating the Pontypridd gyratory system the two Doctors caught the light and hit the hill with momentum. A few yards behind I had to stop, and attacked it with a standing start.

Thus begins my entry to the world's most unbelievable excuses competition. The truth is, my legs were just empty.

I got going, and tried to keep the pedals turning. I then realised that this was a stupid plan, and decided to use the pedals to keep the cranks turning. This proved much much more difficult than I would have liked, and I was soon on the big cog, grunting and yelping, silently praying that the chain would snap and stay snapped this time.

I stopped and ate a gel. It was revolting, like someone had stirred muesli into blancmange. I drank some water. I tried again. I stopped again. I tried again. I stopped again.

The hill was particularly unforgiving as you couldn't really tell how much of it there was. Each turn and false crest promised an end to the agony and a return to the disused railway line. Each one lied. It just kept going. I walked the bike, then tried to ride again, and slowly slowly made my way up, in a combination of pathetic pedalling and pathetic pushing, interrupted by the odd blub.

It was not my best moment.

I caught up to the two doctors who were kindly waiting for me on a 'flat' bit. We discussed the situation as I ate a less disgusting brand of gel. My first option was to go back to Pontypridd and get the train to Swansea, meeting the chaps there. Doug said what sounded like there would be 'less shame in pressing on to the next town'.

I must have misheard, because what he clearly meant was that there would be less 'train' at the next town.

And he was right. More slow and rotten progress up the hill was followed by a tricky descent on wet and occasionally disintegrating road, looking at the gps and hoping there would be a town with a station soon. Eventually we reached a town that we thought was Merthyr.

"Is this Merthyr?" I asked a local.

"Yes" she lied.

It was in fact Tonyrefail, with the last syllable being particularly apt. It had no train station. We conferred. We kept going. The road forked. We stopped. Doug and Matt went right, I went straight on. Solemnly I handed Matt the gps. Less solemnly he looked at it, shrugged, and put it in his pocket.

The split.

I've watched a number of Ray Mears' programmes about survival, and it always amazes me that he builds a shelter first before trying to locate public transport out of whichever idyll he has become trapped in. So my first task was to find the nearest town with a station that had trains going to Swansea. Finding the good people at National Rail Enquiries all outplaced with their work now being done by unhelpful robots (note to National Rail Enquiries: GFY), and the Trainline app confused by my attempts to spell Welsh placenames, I happened upon an elderly and very friendly chap and his almost as elderly dog, who, having established that I wasn't there for the golf, gave me directions to Pontyclun, where I would be able to catch a train to Bridgend and thence to Swansea.

The road the Pontyclun was really nice, rolling up and down through a forest. It would've been nicer without all the agony, but that's cycling.

I got to the town and asked someone where the station was, receiving the best directions I think I've ever heard: "go down this street, and turn right between the Chinese Pub and the vets." At the station I asked a kindly looking old couple whether this was the correct side for trains to Bridgend. The man turned to me and in a broad American accent said "you're asking the wrong guy, buddy".

Happily there were signs. The train gave me the opportunity to survey the damage to the drivetrain. It was looking as clean as the day the stork dropped it off on the Grey's Inn Road:

Apart from all the mud, obviously.

I eventually arrived in Swansea, disassembled the bike and locked it up. I established that unlikely every mainline station in London, Swansea's toilets did not have shower facilities, so deciding not to wait until 2013 for the redevelopment to be complete, I made the best of it and headed to the shops for bike oil ("what's the most waterproof one you sell?"), food and drink, and sat it out in Starbucks to await the two Doctors and the flying of the Colgate flag.

Flotsnoo, I suppose.

TroisV, I guess.

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