• Phill, chief cake taster

Stan, 78 years young...

This is Stan. Stan will be 79 years young on the longest day later this June. We received a call from Stan in the New Year looking for details of the Trans Cambrian, a 172km mountain bike route across Wales from east to west. He had a party of six, and explained how many miles he had been doing, and that he had ridden most of day two last year to see if he had the mileage. We chatted some more and he began to say about earlier adventures, how old he was, and would it be a problem? At this point I had to think hard. The route is challenging, and in poor weather it can be hell. Most groups are later 35 upwards and can find some days a real challenge after being out for around 6-7 hours. So Stan asked again, do you think I could do it? Of course you can I replied, after all who am I to say otherwise! We kept in touch right up until his weekend on the last Bank Holiday of May. We met in Knighton at the Horse and Jockey where we put groups up to stay the night before we ride off. Joining Stan was his son Neil, and friends Ray, Steve, Paula and Dave with Huw and Peter from near Machynlleth. Stan wasn't hard to pick out, he was roughly 25-30 years older than some. We got the bikes ready and I half expected Stan to pull out a gleaming carbon 29er that weighed the same as a bag of sugar. However it was his trusted hybrid that was a fully rigid bike and weighed more like two race bikes, not to mention trusted mudguards. After some bag packing and faffing, Polly packed the vehicle and set off to transfer the kit over to Ty Morgans in Rhayader. We were now ready to depart. Day one is the second longest day of the route, 52km over grassy climbs all morning and some forestry sections later in the day at Bwlchysarnau. Its a day not to be underestimated as many concentrate on the longer distance of day two at 72km. After 45mins into the ride you are presented with a horror of a climb. Long grass and around 15-17% sustained. Some ride, some walk, and for Stan, he did a bit of both and wasted no time. The weather was glorious as we travelled along the top toward Beacon Hill, the pace was good and we were on time to reach Llanbadarn for lunch at 1pm. The afternoon continued much the same with a grassy slog to start before heading onto Glyndwrs Way under clear skies. The views above Bwlchysarnau are breath taking and we rolled into the newly opened Glyndwr’s Way Café for one last tea and cake stop before heading into Rhayader for a well-earned rest. Stan commented that the day was tough, a little more climbing than expected but felt fine, and would feel even better after a good nights sleep. Day two starts off with a gentle ride up to Elan Valley and Stan was instantly smiling as he rode along the smooth tarmac surface rather than the ruts, bumps and rocks of the previous day. But this is a mountain bike route and we were soon on the bridelways and tracks heading out to Claerwen Dam. On route there is a stone shoot that’s loose and steep. Stan approached with caution and then relaxed and let the brakes go. The bike instantly moved where it wanted and Stan became a passenger, I held my breath, and suddenly Stan was down and passed the gate and away, not a care in the world. As for me, a lighter shade of white! We continued on past Claerwen and the Teifi Pools. The land is wild and open, but stunningly beautiful. As the day went on we arrived in Cymystwyth and a brief water stop for Paula, Huw and myself. From the valley you head back toward Rhayader and veer off left up two more BIG climbs that lead into Tarennig Forest. Suddenly there was a huge clap of thunder! Weather can give a different feel to a ride, and the thought of thunder and lightning got everyone pedalling that bit faster!! We arrived at the Bluebell in Llangurig at just gone 6pm, same time as nearly every other group. Our final day started off in fine weather again, and we all thanked the heavens for looking so kindly upon us. Steve was a little sheepish after discovering Butty Bach, but said he would soon get back on pace once we were underway. We spent the morning climbing steadily through Hafren Forest and onto Staylittle. Again Stan was pleased with the tarmac forest drive, and a brief stop to view the Ospreys at Clywedog gave a more leisurely feel to the day. We climbed up high onto Glyndwr’s once again above Dylife, clear skies and high teens on the temperature. The view from Glaslyn Lake is stunning with all of South Snowdonia before you, but today was a little a hazy and the lake and Foel Fadian were beautiful enough. From here we take on the biggest descent and Stan’s bike would be pushed to the limit, as would his body. The rocks are a little loose and the drop long for the arms and legs. Add to this mental fatigue, and it could quickly go wrong! Again we all got down safe, but I did pick up a puncture much to Huw’s amusement, especially after I had been saying protect your tyres! You can’t win them all. We still had three more climbs and I could sense that Stan knew Machynlleth wasn’t far away. I made a decision of not mentioning that if you roll down this hill you will be in the pub in half an hour. Instead we will ride in the direction over hills for two hours. A wise move as I may have been riding on my own! We climbed up to Talybontdrain where Jayne and Neil share their water supply with gasping riders and walkers along Glyndwrs Way, and their hospitality and generosity over the years is very much appreciated, especially on the cold wet tours! From here it’s one more long climb and a traverse across Glyndwrs. Stan was starting to feel the aches and pains of another long day, but he led the peloton in style up the last climb. From here its ‘nearly’ all downhill to Dyfi Junction. We had done it. Stan had done it. Over the three days Stan had become our oldest guest rider, and at the same time one of the quickest over 172km. Riding and guiding Stan over the three days was simply inspirational. All I can say is Stan, we salute you! Happy 79th Birthday for June 21.

Stan, his son, and some idiot in white!

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@2020 Mountain Bike Wales

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