None of this was my bright idea.
In April 2018, Jason Smith asked me to inaugurate the Bwlchx3 Challenge with him, in a charitable endeavour which he dedicated to Headway. I was very happy to get involved. I was born in the shadow of that mountain. In my youth I’d ridden up it on a borrowed Raleigh Chopper – too young and stupid to know that you need carbon, 22 gears and lycra to ‘climb’. I have a vague memory that not all of the Chopper’s three gears were working. Elastic bands around the t-handle gear stick and seat post may – or may not – have been involved. I romped up there effortlessly, probably. And on the way down I’m pretty sure I took ‘Tommy’s Bend’ with the left brake lever striking sparks off the tarmac. I definitely got around there better than Tommy, at any rate. But that memory is four decades old, so maybe I’ve got the specifics a bit wrong.
That was just one ascent, from the Treorchy side. Short, steep then steeper, ice cream at the viewpoint on the top. This new challenge is to get up there via all three paved routes. I’ve checked in with the world’s best cycling cartographer (@citizenfishy) who – using little more than an old toilet roll tube, a chalked line and some algorithmic SQL database queries – who confirmed that this is the most unpronounceable* summit in the UK to be reached by three separate, paved and classified roads. Plus there’s ice cream. So pretty unique really.
‘Inaugurate’ is a fancy word that turns out to mean ‘be towed up’ because, frankly, that’s what Jason and the others mostly did for me that day. And they have my immense and lasting gratitude. Armed with the jazzy bike, lycra, 22 gears and exactly zero elastic bands – cos I wasn’t about to make those mistakes again – I covered the 85km, climbed the 1566 vertical metres, and summited three times. I should also highlight that what goes up must come down. Any continuous path that climbs 1566 metres while finishing where it starts, has to go downhill for 1566 metres too, right! Those descents are amazing. The last one seems to go on forever.
So why are we going back to do it all again? In one word, homelessness. How is it that one of the richest countries in the world can allow so many people to be excluded, overlooked and left behind? If you’re tired of hearing nothing but excuses: if you cringe as you listen to someone who’s clearly been given every chance in the world, spout meaningless charitable platitudes while denying so many others any chances at all, then this challenge is for you too.
Llamau is a Welsh charity that works with the young and vulnerable, sensitively intervening in the complex business that we call ‘living a life’ to head off homelessness. We’ve seen first hand the amazing work that they do. So we’re adding Llamau as beneficiaries of the challenge.
You can ride the Bwlchx3 any time you want – there’s a Strava leaderboard and everything! When you do it, please think about giving some money to Headway and Llamau – one or both. Or, join one of the organised rides that we’ll put on from time to time. You won’t be left behind either – my promise.
Hope to see you on the road.
* Just so you know, ‘w’ is a vowel in Welsh, pronounced as ‘oo’ would be in English. And the ‘ch’ sounds like that in the Scottish ‘loch’ – ‘Boolch’
Find out more about fundraising for Llamau, our charity of the year.