The Road to Pont Scethin

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Winter can be such a fantastic time of year to get out on the bike for an overnight trip, with cool clear air revealing some fantastic views. This video is about a trip I took recently to a place I’ve always wanted to visit, since seeing a photo a couple of years ago: Pont Scethin.

Pont Scethin is a bridge, built some time after 1762, that lies on the old Drover’s Road from London to Harlech. In the 18th century, this was the main route through this part of Wales (long before the existence of the coast road). The old road remains as a walking/ riding track now, and the bridge still stands in this wonderfully isolated position.

The sunrise in the morning was amazing, and it’ll be a trip I will remember for a long time to come.

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Trans Cambrian Way Double (Part 2)

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Click here for Part 1

Up until now, I’d also been “flying under the radar”. I had a Spot tracker with me, but only Beth (my wife) knew where to look for progress updates. It wasn’t until a I sent out a few tweets at Dyfi Junction that I declared my intention to ride the double. But now the word was out, I was committed to getting to the job done.

Every joyful descent leading down to the Dyfi Junction became a painful climb to regain the higher elevations – they’re not called the Cambrian Mountains for nothing. Glaspwll track was a steady slog on foot; its gradient too steep for my 32:19 ratio and my already well-traveled legs. Once at the top, the grassy terrace was even more beautiful in reverse, and with the low sun now casting a warm orange cast over the landscape. However, this was soon forgotten when I reached the bottom of Foel Fadian. Its intimidating steep flanks rose up steeply to a crisp darkening sky. The push turned to a slog, and I would occasionally stop and look back to where the sun had been, but it didn’t diminish the effort required to complete the ascent. By the time I reached the top, it was properly dark and the temperature beginning to drop. Continue reading

Trans Cambrian Way Double (Part 1)

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I roll down the high street in Knighton early on Saturday morning. A nearly full moon is beginning to set in the south west, and the first light of dawn is beginning to show in the other direction. I pull up at the railway station, place my bike under the sign and take a photo.  Its 5.30 am. There’s only one ride that starts here: the Trans Cambrian Way. And for the first time, possibly, it’ll also feature as the end of the ride. Here is my account of the Trans Cambrian Way Double. Continue reading

Welsh Divide

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I feel like I’d waited years for this: to link up all those trails that I knew into one big tour to follow the spine of Wales from the north to the south – a Welsh Divide, if you will.

From the top of the Great Orme to the end of Worm’s Head: 4 days, 430 km, 11,300m ascent.

 

Abstinence

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I’ve lost count of the number of days that have elapsed since I last rode my bike. Way back in August sometime, maybe, but I can’t be sure.

We’re having some building work done at home and earlier in the year when the specification was being drawn up I took out a series of items. Tiling? I can do that. New floor in the bedroom? Sure thing. Decorating? No problem. Well, the tiling is done (at last) and the floor down (finally). Decorating is still work in progress…

But, despite the unfinished state of things its all very live-able in and that means, rain or shine (rain most likely – looking at the forecast), I’m off for two days riding in an often overlooked bit of Wales that is Radnor Forest. The Radnor Ring is a Sustrans route of 80 odd miles of quiet country lanes. Between these, however, is a great network of tracks, bridleways and forest trails that I haven’t ridden for over a decade or more, and certainly never has a nice big loop with a night out under the tarp.

It’s also an opportunity to test out a couple of new bits of kit. Beth has finished a nice Clouded Leopard frame bag for me that fits around my water bottles and still gives me room for a tarp, bivvy bag, sleeping mat and a few other bits and bobs as well. It’s super light too, weighing only 150g.  With sleeping gear up front and food etc in a seat pack, I should have a total weight of around 4 kg with nothing on my back.

Wildcat Clouded Leopard

I’m also excited about my new tarp: 94g of cuben fibreness, this neat tarp is produced by z-packs in the US. Nearly half the weight of my siltarp, it should provide more protection from the rain and increased headroom allowing me to sit up out of the rain and eat my dinner.

Zpacks Hexamid Solo

I’m just glad to be going out on the trails, regardless of the weather, and quite excited about my new bits of gear. It’ll be a great way to end my abstinence from riding bikes.

Fat Fun

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The week following my last ‘cross race, I was invited to join some mates on a Bothy weekend at the end of November, and a Bivvy trip at the beginning of December. Exciting.

Equally exciting was the large box that arrived from Alaska just when we got back from holiday. It was fork: steel, black and wide. Specifically, 135mm wide. It was to go with a special wheel I’d precured from Singletrack World classified the previous month. A 135mm custom Phil Wood hub laces to a Speedway Cycles Uma II 70mm wide rim and shod with a Surly Larry 3.8″ tyre.

Welcome to the world of FAT

After an evening in the garage the fork was on and ready for its first ride on the Bothy trip. We rode out from Rhayader early evening on Saturday and took a winding route around the dams to Cwmystwyth before turing steeply up hill towards the forest and the Nant Rhys bothy. Despite the loaded bike and the singlespeed (32:20) the bike didn’t seem all that hard to pedal. Rolling resistance wasn’t that significant and while the extra weight in the front wheel was noticeable it didn’t detract from the ride.

Ready to ride on Sunday

Sunday’s ride was a fairly easy, if slightly longer than planned fire road based ride designed to link the bothies of Nant Rhys and Nant Syddion. The “it must be this way” strategy to navigation failed amongst the various junction options within the windfarm above Nant Rhys. All was not lost, if you excuse the pun, as we happened to hit upon an excellent fire road descent to the north of the forest. This is where the Larry tyre started to show its benefits: all the smaller rocks and stones didn’t really feature as trail features with the tyre just soaking them up. In the corners, the large tyre footprint yielded so much more traction than I expected that allowed me to carry my speed through the corners very effectively.

Finally, with nearly 35 miles ridden, I was at the top of the Golf Links descent: the final descent back into Rhayader and the final initial test for the fat tyre. Considering I was on a singlespeed with all my Bothy gear strapped to the bike, I found I was able to ride at a much faster pace than with a normal rigid fork and tyre. The Larry tyre functioned as a sort of passive suspension system soaking up the smaller stuff and not being thrown off line with the bigger stuff, and it stuck to off-camber sections of exposed rock.

It was a really eye-opening ride and I got much more from the bike than I expected. Looking forward to the rest of the winter with this set up.

Feeling Lucky?

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I could see rain clouds in every direction from the house, except for overhead and the direction I wanted to go riding, where the sky was clear and sunny. I thought:

It’ll only be a short ride, I’ll leave the rain jacket at home.

Jumping onto the Pegasus, I headed for Mynydd Illtyd, an area of common about 4 miles from Brecon with some great open singletrack and few sharp climbs to really test the legs. As I got to the common, sun still shining overhead, the view west over to Fforest Fawr was black:  a wall of  cloud and driving rain about two miles into the distance.

The trouble with parts of the Brecon Beacons is they have their own climate. Parts can be sunny, while others are drenched in rain, with little inbetween. Keeping the right side of the weather boundary is a mix of good judgement and sheer luck.

You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?

I pressed on towards the rain with increased urgency. Just as I approached my return point, the wind on my face was laced with fine rain. I peeled off the main track and kicked the pedals hard along a gradually climbing grassy singletrack path. Even after I turned my back to the wind and could no longer see the black ominous clouds behind me, the race is on to finish the ride and not get wet.

Finding a level of strength and determination that has evaded me lately, I hammered round the rest of the loop at a blistering pace. The steep climbs were all dispatched with maximum commitment, and just as I rounded the top of the last climb, I decided on a small detour to a trig-point. It was a bit further and steeper than I expected. With legs burning, lungs bursting, heart pounding and with the sun still shining I got to the top of the trig point to stand victorious and dry in front of black clouds and distant rain. In nearly every direction I could see rain falling, yet overhead the sun still shone.

I don’t think the ride would have been half as exciting if I’d actually taken my rain jacket.

Welsh Ride Thing

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The weekend of the Welsh Ride Thing still brings me out in a grin when I think about it.
Packed with memories of rain, wilderness, bothies, open fires, whisky, sunshine, singletrack, fireroad, river crossings and socialising with thirty odd like-minded riders who got together for a weekend of exploring the Big Welsh Wilderness.

Saturday’s rain wasn’t particularly heavy, but quite persistent. My choice of 32:20 gearing wasn’t quite as light as I would have liked, but any lower and the flat sections would have been tedious. My progress was slower than I had planned, a combination of weather, riding a loaded bike and hard (but enjoyable) trails. I chose to trim my route a little and headed for Claerddu – a remote bothy I’d not been to before.To my surprise, I was the only one there when I pulled up at 8pm. It concluded a 40 mile ride, which had taken in some great tracks, though not in the best conditions. I had enough time and light to get the fire going and cook up some food. Another WRT rider arrived at about 9pm, and we shared tales of the days riding.

Sunday dawned with patchy cloud and warm sunshine – a welcome change from the day before. I headed NE along Monks Trod, a route I am familiar with from previous exploits and one that can be either magnificent or miserable depending on the weather and/or the choice of line. Today, though, it was magnificent. An hour and half since leaving the bothy, I was back on the mountain road. A stiff climb lead me to Nant Rhys Bothy, before a long forest descent took me back into the valley to the north. Hafren Forest lay the other side a long winding climb through a broad valley bathed in sunshine. Hafren Forest was a delight to ride through. I seemed to miss all the singletrack, not really knowing the area, but instead stumbled upon a fantastic waterfall and the above pictured quarry with its iron tinged wall.

I rolled back into Pennant with another 40 miles ridden to conclude an excellent two days of riding. New trails, new people, new places and new inspiration to head out into the Welsh Wilderness some time soon. The whole weekend was a great departure from the normal riding I do, and a world apart from my previous racing endeavours. Check out all the pictures I took over the two days here.