Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Bearbones WRT 2022

So, only a week after the Dirty Reiver 135k - this was going to be interesting. Despite my reservations, I ambitiously plotted myself a 200km route from Stu's, West to Aberdyfi (nearly), South to Aberystwyth, South East to Rhayader and back North through the Hafren Forest to home. I took enough food with me this time for lunch in the sun and we all finally left Stu's at about 2 pm after I won myself a multi tool, hat and buff - all of which ended up in the van as they were unexpected!

It felt a little odd setting off in the afternoon.  After a chat with Karl Brooks I headed up the valley, across hillsides and into beautiful sunny countryside.  

For some reason my navigation had been off all day and I kept finding myself slightly off course over and over again.  Lots of frustrated backtracking to get on route.  I was happy when most people dropped away and it was just me and the sheep.  I never really trusted where I was going and kept expecting an attack of the angry farmer.


A family at a house asked if I was heading in to Mach... I kind of was but also wasn't.  I didn't have the heart to tell them I'd only really just set out.  They were kind enough to warn me there was a comedy festival on and it would be heaving.


 

Approaching yet another farm house along a dirt road, I found a sheep entangled in barbed wire.  It wasn't hurt but wildly trying to escape the wire that had become entwined in its woolly rear-end whilst its lamb bleated helplessly on the other side of the fence.  I propped my bike up, dug my knife out and leapt across the stream.  Of course the sheep panicked when it saw the big woman in the funny hat coming at it with a knife and started trying to leapfrog across the stream even harder and when it realised that wasn't an option, it tried to bolt past me.  Now, I had 45kg of wool trying to drag three strands of barbed wire across my thighs and my life - at least my life as a bi-ped flashed before my eyes.  Thankfully I managed to grab hold of flossy in a slightly ungainly reverse leg lock and hack away at the three strands of wool that had it trapped.  Freed, it ran back off to its lamb without so much as a thanks and I got on with my ride - somewhat discombobulated by the direction again, riding all the way around the farmyard before getting back on the road.  


One more farm crossing had me passing through a farmyard where the farmer barked angrily at his dogs to shut up and leave me along while his wife smiled sweetly from the cowshed and the scotty terrier headed over for some fuss.  Things are changing for the better.

one of many lunch stops

 

One thing the family was right about - Mach was heaving.  I gave it a wide berth or rather, I gave up on the main bike route and reverted to the road instead to avoid the crowds then re-joined the minor roads out of town which are hellishly steep and I ended up walking up.  Nearer over to Glaspwl there is a woodland where I have slept before but it was too early to stop this time.  Instead, I decided to eat my dinner then refil on water at a river crossing I've used before. Chicken curry brewed from a pot whilst sitting in the woods listening to blackbirds singing their springy songs was bliss and no-one disturbed me at all.  I had a wall to lean on and my waterproof over my knees to stay warm.  I'd not last much longer but I could manage a bit more riding and the imminent rain got me moving. 


 

Down towards Furnace and the bit I'd been looking forward to - a reverse of my Winter Ride route along the Dyfi estuary.  The sky was unfortunately moving down to reach the earth but there was still just enough view of the estuary before the rain started to come down.  


I filled up my bottle in the river then climbed on.  It was about 8pm and I was getting hungry.  It was the perfect place to be.  Clearly no-one had walked this bit of path in some time.  The single-footway width, the fallen trees that were still hardly touched by human passage and certainly no horses or mountain bikers.  I lay my bike down to walk ahead and see if there was anywhere suitable to camp and found a tee-junction with the main route signed to the right.  I turned left and there, just off the path was a flat mossy clearing just big enough for my tent.

I went back to my bike, snapped enough branches off the tree to get it past and then clambered over. The bike was secured to a skinny tree out of the way and I unpacked.  It was a bit of a challenge to get the pegs in for the tent but if I delved deep enough there was enough grass and a few rocks under which to wedge a tent peg.  The mattress went up, the sleeping bag came out to fluff up. I had a wee and then quickly changed into dry clothes before climbing indoors for the night.  I haphazardly pulled everything inside so that no wild creatures would make off with my snacks and passed out without a problem.  There were the occasional chilly shivvers in the night but all in all I got a good sleep except for it being from 11pm to 5:30 am when the dawn chorus went off and woke me up.

Still, I wanted to be sure I wouldn't be disturbed by early morning dog walkers and the bladder wouldn't let me sleep any longer.  The rain had me back in my tent pretty quick though and I went to brew sat in my sleeping bag with the tent door open.  What I actually discovered was that my camelbak lid had not been securely fastened up after I filled it with water and through the night, a small puddle of water had accumulated in the waterproof pocket of my rucsac.  This then spilled out onto the floor of the tent when I moved it and I spent the next 15 minutes bailing water out of the tent with a little cloth that I carry around with me.  (think of your average kitchen cloth cut into quarters).  It was time consuming and annoying but it did the job.  I managed to keep my sleeping bag dry and only the underside of the mat was 50% wet.  I brewed up my breakfast sitting on my sit mat with the sleeping mat on my knee hoping to radiate enough heat to dry it out.  It worked - a little bit.

After porridge and coffee I got going again.  Most of my stuff was dry.  The sleep mat was firmly tucked away in its stuff sack and everything else including my sleeping bag was crammed into a spare dry bag I had had my coat in yesterday.  Only the tent was packed up wet which isn't a problem since I was wearing all of the other items that it shares a bar bag with.  The only problem was I didn't have any waterproof gloves with me - only waterproof socks.  Still, not an issue - the first stop of the day was Tal-y-Bont and I headed straight around the corner, off route to the shop to get lunch for the day, a bit of extra breakfast and some marigolds which thankfully came in a large size.  Fully kitted out for the conditions I set off South.

As a comedy accompaniment to the rubber gloves, most of the sheep in most of the fields I passed through decided that I was definitely coming to feed them.  Something to do with my waterproof being boilersuit orange?  One flock of sheep followed me all the way from one gate to the other baaa-ing at me along the way.  In another field, I had to prop the gate closed with a log so that the whole lot wouldn't follow me down the bridleway whilst I was trying to steer one lamb that had got itself separated from the crowd.  I properly found myself a crook stick, to hook it out of the corner it got itself hemmed into.

The landscape got a little less friendly the closer I got to Aber, with paths unsigned and access limited by string-tied gates, barbed wire and shitty cow puddles.  One particular bridleway was the first that has made me retreat for a long while.  I retraced my tyre-tracks to the road and reluctantly took the lanes to get around - though I'm glad I did because the alternative climbs were lovely. Capel Saion, I'm looking at you.  After sapping so much strength I dropped into the Halfway Inn in the hope of some food.  The most depressing thing about this place being that it was only 75km into my 200km ride.  

They said Cyclists Welcome on the sign but not so when all the tables are booked.  Thankfully they agreed to let me sit at a table for 30 minutes and eat a quick plate of chips before their 1pm booking arrived.  I had a quick half pint with my chips and then said hello to the couple arriving to take my place as I sneaked out of the door at 12:55pm.  I'd at least dodged the worst of the rain.


It was over to Devil's Bridge next, where I found the happy band of the Lonely Heart's club riding the other way.  I rode all the way up the long steep climb and scared myself because I pushed so far up this climb in years gone by during much shorter rides.  The bike sounded like a bag of bolts though and I noticed that the block was wobbling all over the place so that was worrying.  My brakes were also making loud honking noises on downhills and despite trying my damnedest I couldn't figure out what was loose or out of alignment.

I had a giggle about Ffair-Rhos (pharoes) village then headed for the Claerwen Reservoir and Elan valley.  A lot of people have been enthusing about Claerwen and I get it, I really do but every time I go there it's pissing with rain.  I'd had my share of fair weather today but by the time I got to Claerwen it was raining again which made the bike and me look like ghosts of ourselves as the crushed stone tracks threw up all kinds of white mud.  The only plus side being, it was raining a lot less than last time I was here.  


 

I saw a land rover with its roof tent out and secretly hoped they'd offer me a cup of tea but they didn't so I passed silently through the Elan Valley, passed Elan village and hopped on the road-avoiding cycleway all the way in to Rhayader where all the boys in 4x4s who passed me 3 hours ago reappeared dressed for dinner.  I did what I knew best and fell into the pub at 7:30 with all my gear in an attempt to dry my shit out. It was a slightly tired, unwelcoming, slightly cool room that I sat in but it was drier than outside and I slung my sleep mat over the back of my chair.

Everything I was served was served with bread - soup and a roll then risotto with garlic bread. I couldn't drink enough water to manage all that bread and I left the hotel feeling horribly bloated, burpy and ill.  I even took my time leaving, filling up my bottle, getting re-dressed in the toilets, loading my bags onto my bike.  Bank holiday Sunday night in Rhayader was kicking off and the welsh valley boy outside the pub was combining insulting gay tourists with some casual racism and off-hand mysogeny whilst the bloke from the chippy came running across the high street trying to knock ten shades out of a guy urinating on his BMW.  It was time to leave.  

My route took me onto the steep mountain road that climbs away from Rhayader.  In my head, this had some forest just off it where I could bivi, I even hoped I might get over the hill to the other side but I wasn't sure.  When a car started approaching in the distance, I decided to get off and have a walk so that I could jump out of the way in case they were pissed - quite a frequent occurrence around here really. The mizzle gradually increased and I had to rely on my dimmer dynamo light because my exopsure light was too bright to see beyond the fog.  I rode and pushed up that hill for 2 hours after my dinner.  There was at least one good thing about it - it sorted out my stomach issues.  Knots straightened out and I farted my way up the hill, drinking on the (not so tasty) chlorinated water from the pub which was probably doing my camelbak the world of good.  

It was so late by the time I got to the top of the mountain road, I decided to give up on the day and camp high - blow the temperature gradient.  This decision was helped by what looked suspiciously like someone with a spot tracker camped up on the other side of the valley... or further out on the moor - I'm not sure which.  

At least it wasn't windy so I had no chance of suffering a cold night.  Even if I did, I had some heat pads with me that I could use to raise the temperature in my sleeping bag.

Just as I was wondering how to identify a suitable sleep spot since my Garmin map is a bit poorly at the moment, I noticed that there was a layby off to my left so I rode along the edge of it, turning my helmet light on to see if there was any flat spots off to the left.  Better than that, a landrover track led off into the grass so I followed that.  I followed and followed it into the darkness and the fog until I eventually realised it was heading downhill a bit more rapidly than I'd like.  I would, after all, have to get back out of this in the morning.

Before it got too steep, I stopped and started heading back the way I'd come.  Sooner or later, a flat spot appeared ahead amongst the sloping tussocks and it was just far enough off the track that I wouldn't get mown down in the night if anyone decided to do a bit of late-night offroading.  Right on time, a car passed by on the road.  I covered my own lights and was pleased to just about make out that I was well out of sight of the road due to the lie of the land (and the pea-soup fog).  All I could make out of the motor car was the reflection of its lights in the fog as it moved across the horizon.

The mat got blown up and once that was down on the soggy floor of my tent all was well.  I had somewhere to sit and put my stuff.  The bike got rigged into the tent door pitch so no-one could nob off with it while I was sleeping.  I changed my clothes very quickly this time then got inside my sleeping bag and this time, made a point of making myself a cup of herbal tea to warm me up and get some more hydration inside after the sweaty day I'd had and the heavy salty meal.

It wasn't a wholly comfortable night.  Despite the flatish spot, I had to keep adjusting my position because one tussock had me sliding about off my mat. I ended up adding my liner bag later on in the night after trying to do without it.  Eventually I resorted to the heat packs - one set had gone on my socks in the pub in an attempt to dry out the inside of my waterproof socks (from sweat).  The other pair got stuck interchangeably to my thighs and then my back when I got the shivers in the night.

I was woken up by the skylarks who seemed intent on singing the sun up as they kicked off at 4:45 when it was still dark.  I snoozed for a bit then looked outside and concluded that I had probably better get up and get gone and have my breakfast later.  Since I'd eaten so much about 6 hours ago, I was quite OK with this approach.  I just wasn't relishing the long downhill descent, just 2km away.

Packed up and back on the road, it wasn't long before I turned off onto a track.  With a mixed emotion of "oh god not this tussock pushing" and "oh wow it's so secluded there's no one here but me and the sun is coming up and its so quiet and everything is good with the world" I totally missed the fact that I'd gone off route ages ago.  I carried on pushing across the quad bike track I had got enslaved to, enraptured by the wind turbines churning very very slowly in the early morning breeze and just generally assuming I'd be heading for a wind farm.  Alas no, the route was 100m to my left.

Despite taking every quad bike track left, I wasn't getting any nearer so I turned 90 degrees left towards the edge of the hillside.  Sure enough there was a precipitous drop and at the bottom of it was a motorway of a trail - currently being (re)constructed by a JCB digger... how the actual hell did I miss that?

I retraced in the opposite direction to the route to lose some height on safe ground, concluding early on that my new sandals are really good on steep, slippery grass as I eventually needed to get off and walk it was so steep and I couldn't keep the back wheel upright.  All the while I was watching a farmer in his field at the bottom of the hill watching the stupid dick head mountainbiker who was lost on the hillside and scaring his sheep at 6am. I prepared myself for a bollocking.

I finally made it to the route and the JCB, content with my diversion and descended swiftly to the farm.  I needn't have worried, it was a scraggy horse watching me from afar.  I had mistaken its shapely hips for a boilersuit.

Relieved, the countryside seemed to relax along with me.  As I pootled along the river Wyre I was reminded that I'd not had any breakfast yet so I started looking for a sit spot.  Finally, a large concrete slab presented so I sat down, brewed up and chatted to the local morning walkers as I brewed myself rice pudding with cinamon (since the porridge was less appealing) and added a drop of rum from my hip flask to make myself smile a little.  It was a damn fine breakfast, sitting in the sun watching the minnows in the shallow flowing water.

My second "breakfast" stop was a far more comedic affair.  Yet anther flock of sheep came running over to the gate to see if I had anything for them, a gaggle of bleating and baaa-ing, all rushing upo and then away-from me.  When I sat down to eat, the whole lot stopped and stared at me from a distance. "What?" I asked.  It was starting to get unnerving.  Eventually one solo lamb appeared over the brow of the hill ahead of me, ears up, like "Guys! YOU LEFT ME!".  He full on stared at me for 3 minutes, before getting up the courage to bolt around me and the building I was perched on, through the walls and back to his mom in the flock.  Stoopid creatures.


I dropped into Hafren forest realising I'd never actually ridden through bits of Haffren forest before.  I always skirt it.  This time, I was at the visitor centre boardwalk and could I find my way through! Feck.  Bloody Garmin maps failed again so I couldn't see where I was going and got myself on one of those forest trails that looks like its' going the right way but actually follows the valley side for 15km first instead of taking the mountain bikers direct line down the hillside.

I got back on track at 175km so decided to start scrapping bits of my route to get back to BB towers before my knee gave out and before my husband arrived too early and ate all the cake back at base.  A few checkpoints might have been lost in this scrapping process but heyho.  The left knee started to scream at me every time I stood up on the pedals so it was time to call it a day.

Arriving at the road I got confused by the 7mile marker to Llanbrynmair with my garmin telling me it was 7km to the finish - I forgot what ride I was on.  Still, rode it all in to the finish, even the final downhill with my brakes squawking like a sick elephant.  So pleased.

I gorged myself on cake - just enough to feel sick on - and  got changed just in time to meet Andrew who'd come up from Oswestry.  Three nights of sleeping 4-6 hours a night caught up with me and I passed out in a heap in the car on my way home but otherwise all was well with the world.  After two weekends riding in excess of 130km I'm slightly more confident about my ability to survive HT550 if I can - even if I don't go as fast as last year.



Sunday, April 24, 2022

Dirty Reiver 2022

 Last year I trained for the Dirty Reiver in 6 weeks through a process of gradually increasing the distance and resting.  I call it a process - I went with what felt right.  The timing of it last year made it my 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross replacement ride and as-such, it took on all the importance of an event one has trained for 6 months to achieve (or 6 weeks!).  This year, it was in April.  One month before the start of the Highland Trail.

Four years ago when I first conceived of completing the HT, the Dirty Reiver seemed like a good warmup event - 200km of gravel one month before the start date.  Over the years, it seemed like a bad idea since it often takes me a month to get over such an effort and I didn't want to be knackered for the HT.  Somehow that went out of my mind this year and I entered it.  

Now, it seems like a good idea.  In absence of all other training, I might as well cram like a teenager before A levels. I had enlisted the company of my sports massage therapist, Helen, who (during lockdown) has ditched ultra running in favour of bike packing and had done proper training for the DR, and everything.  She persuaded me to take two days off work and we drove up to the event campsite on Thursday. I spent most of Wednesday rebuilding my bike after I got a hole in my lauf forks so packing was frantic and chaotic to say the least.

Our camp was very special.  I'd brought a substantial ammount of kit but only my two man tent, not realising we had to park cars away from the tent space.  Helen had brought a 3 man tent with a big porch but not much stuff.  Between us we had the perfect pitch.  We'd sit outside and I'd chef up fresh food every night then we'd pack everything away into her tent in the evening to stay dry though the overnight dew.

On Friday we went for a shakedown ride around the reservoir.  It was an absolute pleasure.  We rode the trail in reverse to what we'd do on Saturday so we got to see the sculptures properly.  We ate an apple in the sunshine overlooking the sparking water.  We stopped at the sailing club for icecream and tea then took the road for the last part back and troughed our way around the green in the village - the new finishing route to avoid the last bit of trail damaged by the storms 6 weeks ago. Whatever happened on Saturday, we'd had the best day on Friday.

Back at the car, I cleaned off Helen's bike as she'd not had chance nor inclination after her last long trip and we rigged her Garmin mount.  I had some structural retention work to do on my feed bag.

We slept pretty well the night before a race.  Getting up to go for a wee in Kielder is sublime because of the stars and you walk to the toilets craning your neck to see the stars.  There are so many it becomes impossible to pick out the major constellations. 

We pottered up to the start on time the absorbed the usual amount of shuffling around in a big group before the start and we could actually get on our bikes.  Every woman for herself was the slogan.  I held my own better as Helen is tiny next to me but then I was pleased to see her slink past me on the first climb with a smile saying, "ha! Survived the start".  I wouldn't see her for the rest of the day.

I knew I'd be slower than last year - but by how much was unclear.  I also didn't care nearly as much what happened to me.  I tried to keep riding sustainably and ended up quite warm as I couldn't be bothered to stop to take my knee warmers off.  Finally, at control, I stopped to oil my chain some more and remove some layers.  Unlike last year, I actually had a sit on a bench, stretched my back and scoffed some jaffa cakes.  After the climb to the sculpture, I added my windproof then set off down the descent, making my way through a group of triathletes who were sitting on their brakes and then caught me back on every climb.  I also blew up a bit so stopped on a pile of gravel to eat a ham and cheese cracker-sandwich for my lunch.  A lot of people asked if I was OK as if skipping lunch should be normal - weirdoes.

Next the sprint was on to meet the cut-off.  Last year I didn't need to worry about it.  This time I sneaked through with 5 minutes to spare.  Bollocks, I said to the guy next to me, does that mean I'm committed now?

On we went.  My legs were tired now.  I had a little walk. I was only 65km in but already I was feeling tired.  It's been a month since I've ridden that far and mostly that was on the road.  The walk was more about being in a different position for a little bit though.  The mountain bike has become my default ride position so new bits of my body were aching from being on the gravello.

I had forgotten most of the bits of the second loop of the ride and it's some of the nicest terrain and I seemed to be surrounded by some nice people too.  The friendly folk at the back.  I also stopped at the van serving water to top up my bottle as it was absolutely bone dry and I was getting desperate.

Before I was ready for it, we were out of the forest and back onto the road for a stretch before the next aid station and the next cut-off point.  I knew I had to get a wiggle on to make the cut off again and started to put some real effort in.  I thought I'd try and catch someone and work with them to speed us both up.  The guy in front of me stopped just as I caught him up to "get a drink" bollocks and the guy behind me sat on my wheel like a useless appendage then as soon as the next hillclimb came up, sped past at an unsustainable pace after I'd tired myself out dragging him for 3 miles.  Twat.

The trails restarted and I made my way as quickly (and politely) as possible to the aid station and panicked while looking for my food as the organiser kept reminding us there was 5 minutes to get to the aid station that was 5 minutes away.  I was so annoyed, I only had enough time to say "Hi" to Rich and Tom after  I finally found my feed back and then poured a can of coke in my bottle before hammering down the trail.  I got stuck behind a lady skidding down the switchbacks with full brakes on and swore at myself for not taking the direct line down.   I dropped into the cut-off with 30 seconds to spare but was cut off anyway by a volunteer.  

Now, I'd already rationalised cut off as this: I would be stoked to continue and finish but if I was cut off I'd also be fine with that decision and save myself another 5 hours of battling a brutal headwind.

So I argued momentarily about closing the cut-off over 30 seconds early cut off ("over" because they'd already cut it off when I got there) - I mean there's hundreds of people there working on GPS time ffs, but basically, I remembered I'd got lamb chops back at the tent and well, if I didn't go back then Helen would just make herself a pot noodle and I'd get back in the dark to a finish area that had saved me a shitty pastie and life would be a bit crap.  Plus, I was in training for something bigger.  This was just the warm up event.  

So, I pretty much sailed past the cut off onto the shorter 135km course without a bother.  I tried to enjoy the route and both sped up and started to really engage with my surroundings but I remained pissed off about the early cut-off I mean basically I wasn't getting my money's worth.  I saw a newt on the trail which was nice.  I went through the dam checkpoint pissy because they said "you look great" which made me think, "because I have 65 unspent kms in my legs" and I enjoyed the company of the fast people zooming past to finish their 200kms before I'd done 135.

I grumped at the woman on the finish line about being timed out early - sorry - I was quite happy really - and I ate stew curry and drank my cup of crabby orange squash but still, it was better than a half-baked pastie that I stuffed down my throat last year. I walked back down to my tent and called out "hi honey, I'm home" to a snoozing Helen.

The shower was luke warm but heyho, it happened in daylight.  The lamb chops were delicious.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Looking for Love

On the last day of March, I decided "this is it, Highland Trail - now or never".  

I've been crap this year.  Some self-inflicted crapness.  Other external-factor-crapness.

I've 7 weeks to go.

On Friday morning I set off for the day with no excuses.  On my ride to work I was going to quit work early, go home, pack my bike, be on the road early on Saturday, stay out all weekend". 

I got into work. We got an email from Alan.  "7weeks to go".

"Oh *&$)! ALAN. I KNOW"...

"we've put one of your favourite bits of the race back in".

"Oh Alan, I love you". Little happy dance in the office - yes this was all out loud.  Yes, my colleagues were bemused.  

I enthusiastically explained to them what was going on.

Then I forgot about it, left work at 8pm  and got home exhausted at 9 and flopped into my dinner then went to bed.

On Saturday morning though, I did at least load my gear on my bike then remembered that I have a new wheel with a new block.  So I thought I'd put on a new chain and smaller chain ring so I was race ready.

At least the new gear helped me feel better going up the hill - once I'd squeezed past the queue of labour candidates trolling our back yard trying to win my vote.  Stopping me getting out on my bike is not how it's done.

On the bridleway out of town I was pleased to see my friend EP who has recently moved back to Sheffield.  We had a catchup and EP asked where I was off to.  I explained how gammy my last few months have been and that I'd lost the love a bit and so, honestly, I was making it up.  I was going out..."in search of the Love".  Yes I was off to find the Love.

She went home and I bravely headed up the side of the hill.  I wanted to test out this new gear and wheel and sure enough it stuck to the trail like a dream and I cleared something that currently, I shouldn't technically be able to on my fully-loaded steel bike given my current perceived fitness levels. 

Things were looking up.

Next stop was for pre-lunch at the Apple Shack but unfortunately it's still closed (till April 16th if you're local and wondering), so me and my hungry belly crawled on up to Fox Hagg where we sat on a bench and troughed honey roast peanuts instead.

It was insufficient and in my rush to get to the Peak, I cut a corner short then remembered the existence of two pubs in Lodge Moor.  The 3 Merry Lads looked more appetising - mainly given the sunny bench out front, sheltered from the wind and something to lock my bike to.  Beef stew and a half pint of beer were demolished.

The ride over Stanage and down the Causeway was better for it.  Some passing hail showers made the descent chilly but the sun came out again at the bottom and lapwings entertained me on the other side, vying for supremacy in the nesting stakes.

I dropped to the Ladybower, dodging the Chinese students who insist on walking four-abreast down New Road.  The beer caught up with me and I popped into Heatherdene toilets for a wee and a moment to re-dress and warm up after the hail storm.  I slipped onto the lake shore path, hoping it would be starting to get quiet by now.  This was a pleasant trundle to get me away from the busy areas quickly.  It worked and I found myself pushing up a deserted and plush green steep to get out into the Edale Valley on the other side.

Once there, I couldn't resist the draw of Jacobs ladder - so much for avoiding the busy.  A 70 year of the Peak Park anniversary hike / run (it was hard to tell which) was drawing to a close at 4pm with a steady stream of backmarkers making their way off the hill.  I contributed in my own small way to the rememberance of the trespass.

The edge of Kinder was peppered with hikers so I almost felt privileged to be on the Bridleway pretty-much alone.  The ride over to Hayfield was absolute blissful solitude.  I stopped in to say hello to Charlie and then stopped to take a break at the info-board.  I had the place to myself.

My plan was to enjoy the ride over to the main road then turn right to drop into Glossop for some dinner.  I didn't really care if it was petrol station sandwiches by the time I got there around 7pm.  I'd already had a rather hearty meal for lunch.  Instead, by the time I got to the road, I'd enjoyed my solitude so much that sitting on the main road into Glossop was the last thing on my list of desires.

Instead I turned left towards Hayfield, intending to pick up the Peak 200 route at my earliest convenience and maybe drop into Hayfield to pick up some scran instead.  

I missed the first turning for Lantern Pike which - with hindsight - is probably a blessing as it would have been a fuckton of extra climbing only to come all the way back down again.  

Instead I passed through Hayfield and turned off to pick up the Peak 200 after the Pike.  In doing so I completely forgot to pick up any food at all or more water.  Still, I had enough with me if push came to shove - and push I did.  

Coming out of East Hayfield my legs were shot and my body was not in a good mood either.  Still, the sunset did a lot to dull the pain.

I waved to mum and dad on the other side of the wall (in Manchester somewhere) and watched as the lights on all the tall buildings pinged on in the fading light.  A few nervous moments when I thought I was going to be besieged by offroad vehicles but they passed along the main road and I felt no need to duck for cover... except of course to brew up some food.

Tussocks, ditches and walls passed but nothing had any water so I continued my steady trundle until I did find running water.  

A stream crossing the trail gave me some hope but I had to climb a gate to access sitting and sleeping facilities.  A farm was too close and a vehicle pulled slowly along the road and into the house - possibly wondering why someone with a head torch was loitering at the gate.  

I carried on.  I knew where there was water and aimed for there.  Sadly, as I headed down the hill, the temperature also dropped like a stone.  

I filled up my bottle at the appointed spot and scouted around for a bivi.  Nothing was flat enough so I carried on even deeper down the valley to the next stream where I have stopped before.  My previous spot was available but I noticed a gate I hadn't seen before.  

Behind the gate was a shitting spot.  Disgusting.  Human poo, tissue paper everywhere.  Well beyond it though, on the other side of the stream, was a perfectly flat spot.  It even had a tree for company.  I went to check it out and found that it did indeed have enough flat space for a bivi between the tussocks and was out of stench range of the toilet.  The tone of the stream was just right.  Yes, it was a bit close to the Manchester Airport flight path but sometimes everything is.  The main problem was, it was fucking freezing.  Still, I was as tired and hungry as can be so I stopped.

The bivi went up quick.  I got completely changed into sleeping clothes.  Berrated myself (again) for forgetting my down coat and wore all of the layers instead then got out my stove.  The SateBabi was DELICIOUS.  It may help that I've never had read Sate Babi but the dessicated sachet version was so good I'm not sure I want to ruin it by tasting the real thing.

By the time I got around to eating, my stomach had shrunk so much I struggled to finish all the food but force-fed myself to the end.  After all, I'd spent the fuel heating up, I wasn't going to waste the thermals.  I also recognised the signs of dehydration so brewed myself a very full mug of herbal tea, turned my headtorch off and looked at the stars while I shivered and finished my brew. 

Let's be honest, this didn't look like it was going to be much of a night.

Sure enough, I lay in my bivi bag and shivered some more.  Closing the lid wasn't helping me to warm up.  I found whatever remaining clothes I could (wind-proof and slightly damp teeshirt and wrapped them over my legs.  

I got up for a wee. No better. 

I checked all my bags to make sure I hadn't stashed any hand-warmers anywhere - no joy.

I ate an energy gel in case my calories were still to low.  Not sure where that came from but it really shouldn't have been in the bottom of my bivi bag.  It didn't help.

I felt like I'd been lying there shivering for 2 hours but checked my watch and it said 3am. OK, so I managed some sleep then.

I got up to pack up and get riding, reasoning it would at least be warmer on the bike.  Then I thought of crashing in the dark and freezing to death or my lights suddenly dying (I'd left them on the bike instead of taking cold lumps of metal into my chilly bed).

As soon as I got up I knew I wasn't going anywhere for another hour.  I had another wee, shivered and got back into my bivi - which was at least toastier than being outside.

At 4:15 I woke up shivering again but at least recognised that if I got up and brewed breakfast now I'd be on the trail in about an hour and the sun would be making an appearance.  While I still knew where my bib shorts were and knew that they were dry-ish and warm-ish I put them on to avoid them getting wet in the bivi bag or any colder.  I put everything else back on top - leggings, goretex trousers and sat cross-legged with my sleeping bag over my legs and feet.  Finally, enough to keep me warm whilst I wrestled with the camelback to unfreeze the opening which let me access the water inside. After 5 hours of misery, suddenly everything felt super-worthwhile.  The ice which had cored through my bones during the night now sparkled prettily in the headtorch while I looked up at the stars and watched Cassiopeia fade into the lightening sky.

Porridge and coffee later, I was ready to pack up and I finished the job without a headtorch as the first daylight infiltrated my tidy little valley spot. I won't go so far as to call it sunshine.

I wasn't too surprised to see that the condensation on my bivi bag had turned to ice while I cooked breakfast.  What I was surprised to find was the amount of it stuck to the underside of my sleeping mattress.  Why didn't I bring the thermal one!!??

The great thing about sleeping in a cold valley? The warm up as I pushed the loaded bike back up the steep bank to the way home.

By the time I got to the tops again, the sun was already risen and the gentle re-warming began.  I dipped in and out of shaddow as I climbed up Rushup Edge.  Instead of diving off towards Peak Forest, I continued along the edge towards the direct route home.  I wanted my first ride back to be gradual enough to give me Sunday afternoon to recover and be able to ride to work on Monday morning and I wanted to get that sunshine and a sleep back at the house, not disappear back into the cold fog.

I was also hungry again so, after happily riding through a bunch of bogs which were perfectly frozen to a spongy crust, I found myself a nice sunny spot on the Pennine Bridleway with a flat rock and took out my stove to make second breakfast.  I'd eaten the porridge already so second breakfast was the leftover chocolate pudding from the night before.  It was perfectly made - just the right amount of water. I brewed it for the right amount of time and managed to mix it in properly so there were no crusty dry bits lurking in the corner of the bag.  I'm getting good at this dehydrated cheffing.

I sat still, I listened to the skylarks and I enjoyed the peace before the descent back into the chaos of a sunny peak district weekend.  While I ate my pudding one walker climbed the stile on the footpath behind me, with a cheery "hello".  Another early starter avoiding the crowds.

Well, I could've stayed up there all day but I'd run out of food so I carried on to Mam Tor road then dropped down the broken road into the valley below.  I've never ridden the broken road descent loaded before but it was fun.

In Hope I got distracted by the thought of a savoury breakfast and fell into the cafe with outside seating.  It was now perfectly warm enough to sit outside in the sun and I scoffed a bacon buttie and tea and attracted the attention of the neighbour's cat - though he lost interest once the bacon had gone.

All that was left was the ride home.  After I'd used the Causeway to get out to the Peak, I opted for Burbage or Houndkirk to get home.  Burbage came first so won out.  I can rarely resist a gritsone slab so spread out there to consume biscuits and sweeties - reluctant to waste the sunshine.

Once the elevation was attained, I high-tailed it all the way back into town along the road from Lodge Moor, intent on getting home and doing... well more eating really.

Not sure I found the love for riding my bike any more than when I left the house but I certainly renewed my relationship with the outdoors again and can feel the cloak of winter lifting.

Things feel possible again and that's good.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Old Coach Road

It was TSKk's choice to ride the old Coach Road. 

Me? I've still got my eye on High Street - a path that claws its way up the backbone of the Eastern Fells of the Lakes, or might possibly end up being the end of the road for my Dignity (the bike) and my ego.

But still, its the closest to home.

The Old Coach Road goes from somewhere high in the hills around Ullswater to Mattadale on the other side of Great Dunmow and ends at lanes that take a rider past Threlkeld to St Johns in the Vale.

I plotted a route there and back and we anxiously left our accommodation at 9. 30am once wheel /tyre changes had been completed.

• • •

Lunch was packed to avoid the crowds and a multitude of clothing layers accompanied us. Most of which were removed within the 1st mile - it being spring and all. We flew through Pooley Bridge, ignoring the assembling hoards that descend on Granma Dowbekin's like a school dining hall. The main road was still quiet with only occasional cars passing. I'd plotted a route which took us off the A- road as soon as possible at the cost of some extra climbing including a 1:5 section. We almost considered sticking to the main road but I was firm that this was where the fun started and instead we enjoyed mostly traffic-free lanes all the way up through the static caravan parks peppered between ancient cottages which finally gave way to farmland.

The 1: 5, while tough, was just the right length to have me thinking "Right, this is too much, I'll get off in a sec" and then I realised there was just a little bit more to do. We were just in time to see a shepherd feeding his flock at the summit before we dropped down way too far for my liking. Then it was time for the final approach.

The walker's car park for our route was one of the old fashioned ones. There are no big mountains here, just an old coach road and two smaller insignificant fells that only really appear on obscure fell running calendars and the itineraries of doddery old men ticking off Wainwrights. There are no pay and display machines.  Sure enough 3 doddery old men were packing up their sandwiches and tying their bootlaces. It was time for us to get through the gate, around the corner behind the forest and sit down for something to eat out of the breeze.

• • •

We could see nothing from our spot other than the moorland in front and the tracks right and left but also, that was pretty much what we came for - yellow grasses blowing in the breeze. The food was much, needed. The trail ahead seemed largely ride able. Most importantly, the man with the slightly dodgy knee seemed eminently happy with it.

We climbed up towards the summit and were cautious over the stream crossing. The rocks were large and slippy with big gaps between. On the verge of unrideable on my gravel bike with 2.2" tyres on. We both walked it -TSK took the bridge because his bike shoes aren't waterproof and I was testing out my HT boots for heat-resistance. We took it in turns to pass each other on the Coach Road, as each of us stopped in sequence to photograph the scene ahead. The path was a dry replica of Scotland's Road of 1000 puddles at it stretched out, cutting a swathe through the moorland grasses. The flanks of Blencathra on the right, Skiddaw straight ahead and I had to strip down my clothing layers to riding in a teeshirt when the fleece, then the windproof got packed away. We couldn't believe our luck with the weather this week and finally I was reminded of the why.

It was so glorious that when the sting in the tail arrived we didn't care. The descent deteriorated into a bit of a mess. Clearly the Keswick/Threlkeld end gets more of a hammering.

For starters there were a few tricky rock bluffs - rideable for both of us but bouncy and uncomfortable for both bikes. This degenerated after the gate into a scrabbly mess of loose rock everywhere which had us both off and walking.

Half way down we took out a moment to watch and listen to a farmer practicing with his dog.

I say "practicing" as we could see neither dog nor sheep over the edge of the hill but the farmer stood stock still where he was shouting commands and seemed largely unconcerned by the outcome except for the occasional "Ye bugger" which I've never heard on "One man and his Dog" before.




 

Eventually we managed to pick out a sketchy rideable line down the edge of the lose rock and plopped out of the last gate onto tarmac, very pleased at ourselves for inadvertently having picked exactly the right way around to ride the Old Coach Road.

We were so pleased with ourselves, we decided not to cut things short at Threlkeld but continue on to Keswick to get the most out of the beautiful day. We dropped down the valley then up past St Johns in the Vale then over past the busy carpark for Castlerigg Stone Circle. The final meanderings down the lane threw us onto the coast to coast route behind the leisure centre then joined onto the railway trail into Keswick to be pampered by over-price, disappointing coffee and baked potato (the potato was nice) at the Lakeside cafe.

We bought bread for breakfast and otherwise managed to avoid honeypot shopping except for popping into Alp kit for a free water bottle top up where I promised myself a new rucsac another time.

Back on the K2T cycle route we bought a (not) express ticket to Threlkeld because it involved a stop at ice cream central on the way where we watched a stand-off between a buzzard and a crow while waiting for our turn.

Getting to Threlkeld was the easy bit. From there we navigated on- and off- the A66 using the coast to coast route as a base. It climbed, climbed and climbed some more. Every bike route diversion (no matter how minor) seemed to climb higher than it's car-based counterpart. As ever, when driving this road in the past, I had never realised how many false summits there are.

I reassured myself by remembering all the effort we had gone to in the morning and that this was never really going to be any kind of "easy way back".

Eventually, tired of the constant grind of HGVs whining and never-ending false summits, we planned a visit to our new favourite pub at Dacre (which I've renamed "Daycare") for a well-earned pint. Much to our dismay it was closed until 5pm on a Tuesday so we made use of their street furniture (benches) and ate the remainder of our packed lunch while the Landlady fussed around us, putting out the recycling and moving empty barrels in readiness for the start of her day.

She was pleasant and friendly with us eating our own food outside her pub so we tried our best to eak out an hour before beer o'clock but the heat was disappearing out of the sun and we were ready to get home. Thanks to our reconnaissance on foot on Sunday we were able to navigate home seamlessly off road, avoiding diversions up to Penrith or down to Pooley Bridge. The few minor bogs on the bridleways were already damp-dry and we checked in on the lamb we saw on Sunday-curled up in a heap in 0°C temperatures looking almost dead. He was now up on his feet and standing with his mum, flourishing in the sunlight

• • •

TSK and I finally parted ways 400m from home when, inspired by the extra off-road excursion, I resolved to ride home a different route to the way out and completed my circuit using the Byway while TSK used the road.

There were more jarring tree roots than I remembered and, while I rode them all, he still arrived back before me.

What with cooking a full chicken chasseur casserole for our dinner it was A DAY and I am pretty chuffed with us both for it.

Looking forwards to doubling it myself.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

A short winter ride

Yesterday I got my boots sorted out.  The cleats were worn down to a level of ineffectiveness that was getting dangerous and they'd been in the wrong place for months.

I sat on the bed, unable to decide what to do.  After another week of riding to work, I felt too tired for a big ride.  Eventually I completely dressed in cycling clothing with all the figuring that I'd go out and see how it felt and then make a decision.

I fixed the cleats on the boots and set out without a coat or gloves for a little test ride up the hill.  

The feet fine.  The bike felt surprisingly comfortable.  For some reason I was expecting 400m of torture but no, it was comfortable - almost easy - even if it was fully loaded.

Unfortunately, a vicious wind ripped up the valley and it started to rain.  Cold and snivvelling, I retreated to the house, put the bike inside and changed my clothes.  Instead we dressed like hikers and walked into Sheffield for lunch and a spot of urban training.

Today however, nothing was going to stop me from going out.  My fears of a torturous bike had been allayed, I could go out with ease and riding in the rain would give me an opportunity to finally take my lightweight paramo out for a proper test ride.

With all layers assembled I stepped outside to lock the door.  I'd been here before - that feeling of being indestructible, immune to the weather.  This is what I do - tough.  That's me.  I certainly didn't care that it was raining - that my rucsac was already wetted out as I swung it onto my back.

I rode back up the hill and onto the climb past the pump track.  Half way up my left knee was screaming in pain again - there's the familiar bleedin' torture - ignore it, it might go away.  I pedalled across the sodden rugby field and up the short kicker into the woods.  At least my tyres held out over the slippery tree roots and I managed to pedal the loaded bike up and over without my legs dying or the wheels spinning out.

It was a different matter on the descent as I scrabbled to maintain control and avoid a sideways slither off the path and into the brambles.  I only just held it together which was a relief as there were a lot of people around.  I survived the road crossing and dropped onto my local trails.

Things went well in the woods and then I climbed up onto the roads that lead to the open hillside.  By the time I turned away from roadways, I quickly realised I no longer wanted to climb any further upwards, especially not to follow another exposed road towards the peak.  Instead I rode as far as the Good Dog's farm then made the decision to complete a loop of the valley before heading home.


 

For a fleeting moment I enjoyed myself.  I was in the trees again.  I considered a loop over Stanage, up to Burbage and back via Houndkirk but I soon realised I was a bit tired and fed up so I stuck to the original plan and continued to the top of Wyming brook past a succession of soggy-doggies until I reached the road to the Sportsman.

At least I cheered myself up by blatting down the descent on the big bike with hardly a touch of the brakes to slow me down and no sense of sideways about it.

On the traverse to the next offroad section I wondered if the Apple Shack would be open for flap jack but as I watched to see if they were open, I was momentarily startled to see two adult bucks leap across my path.  One of those days when you know you've seen all that you came out to see.

I rode the final climb with moisture soaking through my gloves and into my fingers all the while enjoying the birdsong.

I've been reading "The Lost of Art of Finding our Way" by John Edward Huth as a book I lucked on in oxfam.  I decided to recall the alternate route home from the trail through the housing estate - hoping to find my way across the cemetery into Crookes village.  It was a fail and instead I crossed to Stephen  Hill and dropped down to home the quickest way possible - across the tarmac - and all in time for lunch.

As days out go it was a short one but everyone's got to start somewhere.  It was one of those days that you feel that its impossible that in 3 months time you'll be riding 110km a day over mountain passes and wonder how the hell you're going to get there.

It might have helped if I hadn't taken the kitchen sink with me but there you go.


Friday, January 21, 2022

January Blues

The most depressing time of year? I don't subscribe to that bullshit but PTSD* has a habit of returning along with anniversaries - even when that anniversary isn't noticed, it sneaks up on you.  Every year when I feel this bad I remember that (3years ago now), a vindictive man tried to end my career and if it had not been for some amazing girlfriends** and sport in my life, he might have ended that too.

Today I tried to do sport but instead I sat in my house and read a book.

All day.

At 3pm I finally got up, got dressed and went out for a run.  

It feels like weeks in between any meaningful exercise at the moment - even if it is only days. Every break, every interlude in training feels like a heavy weight of under-performance.  This week is no different.  After 3 rest days, today seemed like a disaster from the start.  Was I tired because I spent all day sat on the sofa? Or was I tired anyway and my choices were between feeling shit this morning, this afternoon or this evening?  I was glad I hadn't committed to a long day out - I could have felt this shite for hours!

It's quite rare I do a ride or run and don't come back feeling better.  "Go out anyway, you'll feel better for it" is almost always true.  When it doesn't come true, believe me, it's a crushing disappointment.

Perhaps I do feel better for it.  I'm proud that I got all the way to where I did - even if I did have to walk most of the way back.  I'm pleased I got out and have something to count for this weekend, this day.

Was it sociable? No. There were plenty of people around but few of them said hello when I did and a few of them resolutely refused to step out of the way like I was a ghost.  Perhaps I was already dead? Or maybe they were ghosts.  My mother complained this week that "Nobody notices 76 year old women".  I reminded her she's been pointing that one out since she was 48 and it's true.

Reflections are clearer than reality

I don't regret my run but still, I don't feel particularly better for it.  I ran like an old lady.  My hips were cooked.  I limped on my left knee despite stretching and massaging it several times.  I slapped my feet on the pavement and had little lift and no drive.  When I couldn't pretend any longer I walked home.

As I walked up the hill I felt nothing.  There certainly wasn't any joy.  A tiny bit of me wanted to cry but I didn't feel enough to cry.  I almost wanted to fall over so I had something to cry about.  I felt partially blinded, blurry around the edges like I was looking through binoculars and my left ear deafened by glue ear made the noises around me blend into one until I couldn't tell if the noises around me were traffic, aeroplanes the river or the sound of my own blood coursing through my veins. 

A runner approaching behind was breathing heavily and I assumed he was going faster than me so I moved over to the side.  I'd got a little cold so I started to run again.  At least I'm fitter than someone and I held his pace at bay for quite some time before reverting to walking whereupon it still took him some time to catch me up.  When he did, he wheezed by me.  Not fast then, just unfit.  Really unfit.  Maybe there's hope for me yet?

The sun didn't "set" the clouds turned rusty pink then back to grey before I could notice and the dim beam of a rubbishy spare head torch did little to lift my mood and only served to remind me that the good head torch is still missing.

Back at the house, getting ready for a shower, one solitary nugget of phlegm rose up from my chest and emitted in a cough to reinforce that I'd done something.  Gross but reassuringly satisfying.

At this point every workout is a small step back to fitness and a reminder that I'm not dead yet and possibly not even doing as badly as I think.

Please mind the slip hazard

*I'm fine, but I need to get this out of my system.

**and everyone who supported me (but my girls were especially helpful)


Monday, January 10, 2022

Bear bones Winter Event. Pleasant Valley Sunday.

A pub on a Friday night? I haven't done that by design for a long time. I took a half day's leave to give me packing and driving time and we managed 2 pints, unfortun­ately missed chatting to Verena, met Ben, Sam, John and chatted with Reg and Andy and my travelling partner Landslide.

A few of my companions tried to persuade me to join their groups but haunted by a lack of training - so far & a desire to not slow anyone down (including myself) I turned down the offer of a yurt and a pub and cafe ride to moans of "What are you going to do between 4:30pm and 7am??" My response: "that's what lights are for!". I've become accustomed, no, enamoured, of riding at night.

The Wynnstay inn is run down but affordable and held together with warmth and the enthusiastic care of Pauline, landlady who looks after everyone - and I mean everyone and everything. She left Highgate in London in 1984 and the only obvious remnant of the big smoke is a hint of the queen's English - though she speaks and understands the Welsh crowd at her public bar.

My blood sugar couldn't handle the beer so at 3am I was sat on the stairs eating chocolate buttons to get rid of the nausea. Once I'd got a hangover my stress levels dropped. When I realised the weather was mild and wet for now, I downgraded my sleeping bag (ignoring the overnight forecast) and sat around in the community centre too long drinking tea and chatting but it was all in the name of avoiding the rain on my ride. I started (after 3 lashing showers) at 11 am. My first checkpoint was at the bottom of the Pennant valley.

I had to stop on the way to remove my waterproof trousers & change into lightweight gloves when I started to melt with the sunshine that was flooding into the day.

• • •

My kit packed away surprisingly easily until I realised the reason. I had forgotten my big coat and any form of lunch to keep my energy levels up through the day.

I reckoned I'd have sufficient to sustain life just long enough to get to Mach for dinner and I could stop and brew up a dehydrated meal if I got desperate.


 

I had a chat with a man trying to unearth a telegraph pole from a flowing stream then turned tail and headed out behind BB Towers. 



 As I rode up the track on the Eastern flank of the valley behind my friends' house for the first time, I realised you only make the mistake of using the path on the West side once in your life. As I pedalled smoothly up the wide forest track, my mind cast back to the WRT in 2019 when I carried my bike up a scree slope, after I fought my way past nettles, brambles, tussocks and gates overgrown with grass (but still bolted in three places).

I had a pleasant valley wee, reassured that most folk had left by now and gone the other way.

After that it was time to take on a much longer slog onto the moors to visit three checkpoints in succession. I had plotted a very uppy downy route to take in Bugeilyn but the forum gods advised against it & I used Landslide's alternative route to dab in and out of checkpoints without losing too much elevation. First off the North of Glaslyn and the nature reserve. It is high and it is wild up there.

On the way it started to rain. I looked out for some shelter to scurry back into my waterproof trousers and change my gloves but the only things on offer were 4 scrawny yew trees battered by hundreds of years and some corrugated steel sheep pens.

The steel was mostly embedded in a mound of earth on the leeward side so I used what I could as shelter and planked myself down on my sit mat on the grass and faffed with my boots. 5 minutes later I pulled my hood sinch tight around my glasses against the hail, thankful I stopped when I did.



After a seeming age of picking my way across heavy and tussocky bridleways, swearing at the sheep it was already pleasant to have the respite of the road for a few hundred metres. Two riders crossed it ahead of me from a different direction but I couldn't catch them and they certainly couldn't hear me over the wind. We all turned off for the checkpoint and from my vantage above I captured them admiring the view before the long, steep descent.



 It was very steep and I soon caught them up where they started to walk. I couldn't get my dropper to drop so I walked sooner and soon realised that for the out-and-back I did not need to take my bike down the hill with me, only to have to push it back up again. 

The rider at the back noticed I was walking bike-less, checked I was OK with a thumbs up (yes) then descended into the rain.

I enjoyed the scenery, then ran back to my bike terrified I'd taken my eyes off him for 5 minutes. Of course I'd travelled further than I realised and every empty tussock was agonising until I finally saw the outline of handlebars in the fawn-coloured grass.

Back on the moors I pedalled over to the next checkpoint on the mines around Penycrobren to the South side of Glaslyn nature reserve.

At the bridge crossing the ford over the reservoir I held my breath as I tipped the bike up on its back wheel and literally walked the plank, balancing myself and my 20kg bike over the roaring, raging torrent pouring over the dam and onto the broken concrete 4 feet below.  I had zero chance of recovery if either of us went in and my heart stopped for a moment as a gusty sidewind struck us mid span and we wobbled heavily before regaining our composure and teetering to the final leap out of the roaring torrent.


Alongside the Lyn, seemingly devoid of any nature as the wind rushed across it and buffeted me sideways or head-on, slowing my progress to very little. It was another out-and-back on my route that Landslide had  chopped away, saving me from Bugeilyn and cutting off some distance before deciding on going for the pub option ride instead. 

 


I dropped into some farm buildings located by the headworks of a mine and enjoyed the rushing torrents of water between crags and trees before backing up to the buildings with what remained of the daylight to sit on a rock out of the wind and eat half a pot of honey roast peanuts for my late lunch.


On the way out I topped up the camera with some photos of valleys, waterfalls and sheep so my Welsh vibe was real.

Finally I reached a descent which was fast and fun right up until the moment I overshot my turn off by 200m and had to retrace up hill. Something creaked in the trees and for once it was neither my knees nor cranks. A large, single rook swirled overhead then returned to the darkness for cover.

I felt uneasy as this wasn't my route plot.   I'd forgotten to refresh my memory or check out what Landslide proposed so I had no idea where I was going or where the next point was.

I soon realised I was going to scatter the sheep I'd just photographed "all the way over there" as I pushed my heavy bike up the hill through their midst.

The route chosen for me cut straight up the grassy bank to my left then eventually contoured around the hillock to my left. On the map it looked easier to skirt the other side of the Cairn since the "path" was non-existent any way, it seemed mostly harmless to smooth the route. I started grasping at straws and nearly found myself at my first fence crossing of the day when I mistook a fenceline for the trail in the already-failing light (how was it getting dark already?) and tussocks.

Thankfully I realised my mistake in time, completed my circuit of the cairn and then stumbled upon something resembling an old cart track that was actually probably my route for as long as it lasted before degrading back to sleep field. I slalommed between the ewes - a careful balance of not disturbing the flock and not falling off and reached the track and its inevitable locked gate for the first lift-and-climb of the day.

• • •

The route soon turned again but thankfully this gate wasn't locked because I was already pissed off with locked gates and could have quite readily stormed into the nearest farmhouse, grabbed a rifle and shot all of the occupants in the house without question. 

I set off into the dusk riding just on my dynamo light for as long as I could manage.

There were a few more positive gating experiences until I reached the final straw - a friendly gate marked "Mach 6 bike route" That had been super-imposed by a much less friendly rusty steel pipe gate with a big steel box and padlock over the top. Fucking fucksticks. Thankfully no barbed wire on the fence but I managed to drop my bike onto its handlebars on the fence rail so that all of its weight was on my garmin.  The one remaining flange on my Garmin and the Garmin mount shattered leaving me with a Garmin dangling on a piece of string.

Thankfully I recently added a Moloko bar bag to my Jones bars and stuffed the device under the bungee cords next to my Spot so I could read my map for the rest of the ride-albeit sideways and between the strings.

• • •

Around a corner on the forest track I startled a very handsome little snipe standing in my lane before it fluttered away.

I finally garnered enough speed on forest tracks to make the big light worth while. At some point in the evening I stopped to take one last photo before the light went and realised I was (not surprisingly) really rather hungry. Except for my peanuts I'd eaten an ancient SIS energy bar and a gel - packed 5 months ago for such emergencies.

It was past 5pm.

A look at the route profile on Garmin included a long descent, a little climb and another long descent. I'd been promising myself it was all downhill to Mach "soon" but my poor progress and a late start meant Mach was not just around the corner but a whole half a day away on-route.

 

After I took my photo I started to notice rude signs. "No access except for permit holders". "Anglers only" "No Entry! CCTV" . They were very bright and shiny. I had made it to "Angler's Retreat". I remembered this from the map and I also remembered that nearby there was a water crossing where I had simply hoped there would be a bridge. God. I really was not in the mood for my feet to get any wetter. I had waterproof socks on but my feet had sweated in them for 6 hours and as the temperature dropped I could already feel my damp feet getting chilly when I stopped.

I stopped by a sign claiming the mountain lake as private and consulted the map. I had a lot of route to go to Mach but also if I abandoned the route in a bit, there was a bridleway going straight North that went directly to Mach. I could get dinner after all and I wouldn't get shot by angry fishermen. I'd continue for a bit and make my mind up at the junction. Out of the darkness a tawny owl swirled up from the field below. I managed to focus my headlight on its belly as it whorled away to find another hunting ground.

On I went until the Garmin piped up "off route". I'd just passed another flourescent sign and a gate. Please tell me my route isn't through there. Half expecting to be accosted by night fishermen; half expecting to drown in an epic river crossing - or worse get stranded between both.

I think Andy is wrong - I'm not a stress bunny - I'm a drama queen (especially when hungry).

I checked the map. Sure enough, my route went that way and it was also my quickest route to Mach and dinner. I decided it would be best to give it a go and deal with any consequences if and when they arose. What's the worst that could happen? A grumpy exchange with a fat bald man with a flannelette shirt and a big rod.

As I approached the lake, I gave them their due. It was a lovely looking lake but I didn't linger as I was distracted by a light ahead. I turned off my headlight so as not to draw attention to myself and aimed to pass quietly without disturbing anyone.

I think I made out two people and a tent in the darkness but I was so concerned about looking innocent and not getting bollocked by anglers that I didn't even think they would be friendly bike packers. Sorry for being ignorant-whoever you are!

• • •

I was so grateful to them though for sewing the idea in my tiny brain.

My mind flipped back to the pub, "What is there to do between 4. 30pm & 7:30am?". I had the answer:

  • Cook food
  • Eat
  • Pitch a tent.
  • Drink
  • Sleep
  • Had I been really desperate, start writing this up on my phone
The temptation to eat then lie down in a sleeping bag for a very long time was super high. 12 hours sleep? Luxury. I pedalled away from the lake on a sweet bit of single track but instantly fell in love with a tussocky bit of grass without any slope in a fire break in the forest.

• • •

I lay the bike down and on closer inspection found a rare flat spot in the tree line where there was just enough space for a tent pitch and cook spot between the trees. I was hidden from the world and the wind and felt so secure I didn't even care that there were no scrawny trees to tie my bike too.

The tent went up first in case it was needed and I unpacked all my stuff then I brewed the water and sat out on my mat to eat before having a last wee and retreating to my tent.

Right on cue the first rain shower came and I grinned insanely with the self satisfact­ion of someone who isn't out in it any more. I made a point of letting it go and won.

• • •

By the time I'd eaten and made myself comfy in the tent it was 8:30pm There might have been a tiny notebook in my frame bag but I couldn't be bothered to get it and was perfectly content after my efforts and a late night last night to lie down, listen to the trees and gently drift off.

I woke up many times in the night, shivering. Even when I eventually found the will power to go for a wee (which usually makes me feel much warmer), I was shivering again within an hour. I cursed myself for switching sleeping bags but getting up or riding my bike was not a tempting option given the snowy hailstones that kept falling on the sides of the tent like a million hissing grass snakes in the night.

• • •

I'd found a pair of foot warmer pads that I was saving for the morning but since my hips and thighs refused to warm up under fleece leggings, Paramo, liner bag and quilt, I resorted to sticking the foot warmers to my leggings, then - when that didn't work - to my groins to warm the blood in my Femoral artery. At one point I stuck them straight on my skin (you're not supposed to) until I woke up 20 minutes later in pain (the next night I had little rectangular pink marks on my legs).

The heat pads did the trick and I woke naturally in the morning. Thanks to my hideaway and the eventual realisation that only bike packers, not anglers, would be anywhere near in these conditions, in that shit, I didn't bother with an early alarm and let myself sleep in until just before dawn. When I got up for a wee, light was just breaking at 7.  

When I found my little note book in a pouch in the bag there were also 2 fresh sachets of hand warmers so a pair went in the boots and a pair were saved for my gloves.

I managed to ration my water overnight. I'd been sipping. It was easy not to guzzle long mouthfuls of ice cold water. I had enough left to brew up my porridge and coffee. My new porridge experiment was a hearty success. As planned, when I re-emerged from the tent to pack up the dawn had well and truly happened and the sky was silvery and cloudy.


I finished packing and pushed the bike back onto the trail.

• • •

My old porridge plan was only ever enough to get me through loading the bike but this time, when I got to the Mach turn-off I was already committed to stick to my plan for a tour of the South Dovey Peninsular and two more checkpoints.

My commitment was further enforced by the appearance of some very satisfying downhill with grass up the middle and trees overhead so I had to hang off the side of my bike and limbo my way through. It was only interrupted by a fallen tree. Not from last night but certainly from last December's storms. It was only to be expected after such an excellent start to the day but I got around it with reasonable ease following a dirt bike track that went before me.

When the downhill track ran out, rather than leading back up, the Garmin suggested I turn right on the unpaved road. Through the proper bridleway gate I soon realised that this was my river crossing on the route plan.

The unpaved road was a little less paved than expected but about as good under wheel as a path through a field can be. After I drew my eyes away from the amusing bus stop I was more excited to see a gate leading to a bridge that crossed the stream ahead.

Sure, it looked like it went straight through the forest garden of the house on the other bank of the river but a quick glance on the map showed the house was riddled with bridleways above it and to the right.

I pushed my bike out from under the tree swing and passed several odd-looking wooden buildings balanced atop stilts like bird hides. The gate to the bridleway was locked (of course it wouldn't be that easy) and when I got through it I realised I'd gone the wrong way and had to turn tail and go straight back past the house. Much to my relief, despite the warm lights in the living room, there was no-one around and I just sneaked through the unlocked gate, onto the road and on my merry way.  When I closed the gate behind it was Blaeneinion Beaver reintroduction scheme - which I assume explains the hides to watch beavers a-beaverin'.

They'd clearly picked the right valley for wildlife as I stopped to photograph fieldfares on a wire (and failed), I instead snapped (badly), this bird stomping around in the long grass.


The road was an uppy downy joy alongside Einion (onion) valley or the Artists valley, where the mountain water burst ice-blue over the rocks, occasionally right next to the road, occasionally 40ft below the lung-busting climb I'd just been sent up. I managed to ride them all.

Faced with choice between Ford and turn-off I took the turn-off only to realise I'd skipped the carpark for the Eonion valley mines infoboard.

The other entrance to the carpark was via a perfectly respectable bridge so I stopped for a read.



 

Before the bike and I were spit into the Irish Channel, the route took me down to the E..onion river where I disregarded all the properties I'd just passed and sourced myself some wholesome welsh mountain river water before climbing up to and across a road onto the lovely path,

I can see the sea!
At the top of the path was an even lovelier viewpoint over-looking the whole Dovey estuary and Cadair Idris that was still underneath cloud cover. 


 
 
Now I could smell the breakfast, however my route had other plans.

I dropped down to the nice big road that could have fast-tracked breakfast but instead I followed my route onto a minor road and then onto a Bridleway. "Explore Dovey" promised the plaque on the gate. The sun was shining and birds were singing. How could I refuse?

Within 10 minutes any traffic noise from the big road was gone and forgotten and a big old oak tree presented a flat spot and a carpet of leaves on which to park my sit mat, pull out my stove and brew up second breakfast and coffee or more specifically: last night's desert and coffee. Dehydrated apple and custard never tasted so good.

• • •

A choice of route ahead led me to take the upper route where I enjoyed the company of a chaff whirling and croaking above the crag. The Garmin said I was off route but quick deduction told me I'd soon be back on-route. For a while I told myself I wanted to stick with the chuff and the crag but I was missing a checkpoint so I backtracked, calling myself "silly" all the way down the hill whilst sneakily enjoying it. The fun doubled up with a bit of forested single track which eventually decayed into pushing up something too narrow and overgrown to ride without snagging a pedal and being catapulted 30ft off the hillside. Still, it was better than the muddy track at the bottom made up of puddles and round rotting logs.

It was the only checkpoint I didn't photograph, boo.

• • •

At the end of the track some old hall-style buildings were eye candy for the road ride to my final excursion past a smallholding where I was swiftly put right by the owner when I strayed off path and accidentally towards the veg patch. I thanked her for the directions and we waved happily to each other as I cursed the footpath sign hidden by the long grass just at the point when all your attention is on fastening the big, awkward gate and she probably cursed the "bloodymountainbikers who can't follow perfectly good signs".

• • •

Thus my eventual arrival in Mach at 1pm, 19 hours later than planned, to eat some "real food" from the Spar sitting on the step of the toilet block in the car park as it seemed to be the only place in Mach I could get out of the wind. Everything looked shut and one look at "the Wynnstay" pub there put me off the idea of hauling my muddy ass inside a respectable establishment.  From what I've heard the welcome was not a good one although I could have made an effort with the White Lion.

The pay-as-you-go toilet was locking people in so a steady stream of folk were thankful for me stopping the door open with my rucsac while I ate my lunch in a never-ending queue for the toilet.

Every time I finished a piece of food the Loo was occupied so I started eating something else.  Still, I met more people there than I would've done in the pub.

Eventually I let the door go, jumped on the road, cast recklessness aside and plotted an easy road ride back to the finish in time for tea. My adventurising was done and I now know how easy (or not) it is to get home from Mach the quick way.