Sunday, October 20, 2019

Bivi A Month - to be different October

I could claim BearBones 200 as my October BAM but, given the opportunity to legitimately bike camp under the Derwent Water dam as part of my Fell Running club, I could not resist this weekend's beer and volunteer deal.

Dark Peak Fell Runners hosted the annual Fell Relays this weekend, with 1800+ competitors and supporters to move between a carpark in Bamford and Fairholmes car park at Derwent reservoir, all hands were required on-deck.  As a gift, the organisers put on a little do in a marquee at Fairholmes with camping options. 

On Friday afternoon I packed quite a lot of comfort gear into 2 paniers on my hardy but silly Tripster ATR and Lauff forks and wobbled my way over the A57 in rush hour traffic.

By the time I left Sheffield, I reckon 50% of people passing were fell runners (who are closely related to long distance bike packers more than they'd care to admit) who gave me lots of room. 

It started raining as I hit the bottom of the valley outside my house and continued.  I added the waterproof and sweated up / chilled on the way down.  It got properly enjoyable when I turned onto the Kings Road to Fairholmes, relatively traffic free as all fell runners were suitably fed and inebriated by then.

I hadn't booked so had brought pasta and sauce to brew but then there were enough burgers to go round so I "helped".  The tin mug got used for beer from a keg. 

The tent had a brilliant layout with most of the party camped at one end and a few (including myself) grumpy old gits pitched at the other end behind a van to drown out the noise of the party and generator and get out of the lights.  Not necessary though as the loud waterfall of water pouring over the dam from the last few weeks rain was sufficient white noise to cancel out most din.  I went for a short walk in the dark and drizzle before bedding down at 10:30.  I'm told the party ended about midnight but I was already sound asleep - with the tent, thickest sleep bag, extra blanket, fleece trousers and down booties on hand - luxury indeed.

Tent within a tent
In the morning I burned some porridge - on the basis a gas stove is much stronger than a meths one.  Fortunately it was still palatable if a little brown and crispy in places.  The stove was too large for the little mug so I balanced it on the lid of the big mug which will forever now have a discolouration ring to remind me of this day.

I probably disturbed most people but I had to be down at the Bus stop in Bamford for an 8am briefing.  I packed up and spent 15 minutes trying to get one of the sponsors' vans into the race field before heading off on my own path down to Bamford.

There I was equipped with an attractive plastic hi-vis vest and spent the morning dancing in a pair of gardening gloves to direct motorists to park in the car park in stead of attempting to pull into our bus stop.  We dispatched 1800 runners plus their packs / gazebos / cakes over a few hours without causing any traffic disruption or delaying local buses (except for a minute here or there).


I spent my lunch brewing soup and coffee whilst standing by on the radio to start dispatching the busses back to Fairholmes to bring people home.  Had a walk by the river and realised it's a long time since I've just SAT in the countryside and enjoyed it... though the bus view was a little off-putting.

Unloading the buses was hectic, matching teams to gear and trying not to get buses and cars picking up kit crossed over. 

Still, we did it.  Happy to report that a bunch of people walked back and there were 140 bikes on the racking provided for the sustainable option.  A good warm up for a fell race.

After all the excitement I forgot I had to ride home.  My bags were heavy, having not eaten my food from the night before and picked up a discarded sandwich box.  I also had the burden of three jerseys that I failed to pass on to other people. 

Faced with needing to walk up the A57 because I didn't have the gears, I instead opted to ride up to Stanage and back over the Moors.  Much walking ensued but at least I wasn't getting close-passed by HGVs.  I cursed as I realised I'd added a lot more climbing to my route.  Still, I texted TSK and he had the oven on and the timer pinged as I walked through the door, cold and starving. 

56km, 1000m.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Bearbones 200 2019

Somewhere along the way I forgot that I've got this.   A few weeks ago, I attempted a 200k ride for funsies.  I took two nights out with my kit, leaving from work on Friday and returning home on Sunday afternoon - as many brew stops and cafe stops and lying-down stops as I needed.  I arrived home happy but very very tired after 4000m of climbing.

When the BB200 route was published with 5600m climbing in it, I seriously wondered how I'd be.  "just like last weekend but with an extra vertical mile on the end".  Doesn't sound too do-able with a 25kg loaded mountain bike.

I took what remaining leave I had - a day after the race and a half day before the race and arranged to work from home on Friday morning.  I drove to Oswestry on Friday afternoon for the usual fill of food and a great travel lodge night.

Arriving at Llanbrynmair to find friends from the HT 550, having ridden in from somewhere, I walked out with their teeshirts for onward transportation later.  By the time I'd waited out a shower in the van, they'd set off and so I decided to do the same instead of sit around drinking tea and getting nervous. 

Someone in a camper stopped me heading out the wrong way Mick? - sorry I didn't see you it was dark in there.  Stu booked me out at 07:50.  I needed all the daylight hours I could get.  I momentarily wondered if I should have got more to eat but it was too late, I was underway now - no turning back.

Eventually I turned off-road with a few people for company.  We splashed through puddles on the trail and my new friend, David, moaned that he wanted my bike which miraculously bounced and cut through the water whilst he had to push his gravel bike around the puddles.  It was all relative though as David's legs miraculously pedalled past me again on every hill climb.

He gleefully informed me that the wet bit was still to come.  Apparently this bog has form.

I managed not to get my feet wet, largely by being tall and bridging across every stream.  I was smug.  I spent a little time wondering how the chap in front was managing to ride through the chossy path we were on then realised he'd found a different path.  An adjustment in elevation by 1m put us in a much better place and I sat down for a bit to snack and watch a steady stream of slightly faster riders pass.

At the stream with incredibly steep sides, I was chuffed at carrying my bike up the slope.  Work in the gym and a few hundred quid on carbon Jones bars has paid off and I can now pick the bike up loaded from the ground.  Convenient sheep trods made it easy to place back on terra firma.

Every silver lining has a cloud though, and just as David announced the "end of the worst bit", I crossed a river at the wrong point, slid off a rock, got my bike wedged and plunged in upto my knee, dropping my bike fully into the water.  Only one food pack came out the other side dry.

I heard a ladies' voice coming down the slope behind us as I stopped to remove my boot to empty the water from it and wring out my sock.  Thankfully, brand-new socks are great at sucking warm air back in to replace the wet and my foot was soon warm again.

The lady who caught me up was Hetti and we had a chat for a while before she rode on ahead and then I passed her eating sandwiches at a gate.  Somewhere in the distance recesses of my mind I remembered my race planning.  Remembered thinking that I wouldn't be anywhere useful for lunch and I should pack something in.  Oh dear.  Still, I had plenty of food with me and managed to snack for the next 3 hours.  Finally, Hetti passed me back as I sat on a grit bin, eating and emptying more water from my boots.  They don't call it street furniture for nothing.

David started hunting for water top ups in villages which meant I kept passing him, self assured that I'd left that morning with a 2 litre Camelbak. 

He told me he needed to be in Barmouth by 8pm.  I said I didn't know what time I'd be in Barmouth and I think he took that as a sign and got the fuck on with it after that.

In Machnylleth I was planning on pressing on to the Co-op for a short stop but a red pedestrian crossing light and brief encounter with another rider persuaded me it was worth the detour to eat some real and warm food.  Hetti was leaving as I arrived, witness to me emptying half a pint of water out of my left hand food bag and trying to dry out my cable lock before deploying it. 

I picked the bakery which unfortunately disappointed.  Bad coffee, a paltry quantity of beans on the toast but I left with a take away scone in a paper bag.  I didn't bother with a water top up as I still had quite a lot left and Barmouth was only 4 x 200m climbs away according to my notes.

Passing by the Centre for Alternative Technology was weird.  I'd stayed there as a pre-uni student, all full of enthusiasm for the future.  'nuff said. It was a long time ago.

I tried to count off the 200m climbs but, as I thought I'd finished the third, I checked the elevation profile on the Garmin and found I was half way up the second climb. 

I stopped at a gate and drew out my buttered scone which I'd been dreaming about for some time.  It wasn't buttered at all but whole and disappointing and I hated the bakery some more.  Still, it went down OK.  Ian Barrington came past on a fat bike, bemoaning a lack of rear brake with the descent into Barmouth to do. 

Just before the last climb, the rain started to come down properly.  Finally time to drag the waterproof out but I didn't bother with the trousers.  Another rider in a red coat was caught as I moaned about the rain that wasn't booked.  We exchanged places a few times but I was ahead pulling down to Barmouth.  As I chilled out on the descent I decided I'd definitely stop in at the toilets - even if that meant I didn't get a meal in town.  (too much information alert): I hadn't had a pee for 12 hours and, despite the obvious dehydration issue, I finally needed to go.  I'd drunk the last of my water 20kms earlier and it's easier to fill up in a loo than get a cafe/hotellier to do it for you.

I was pleased enough that I'd considered Barmouth to be a sleep stop, if necessary.  Getting there in time for dinner was a massive bonus. 

Coming in out of the rain, the bogs felt warm and dry - ish.  I brought the bike in for convenience and sat on the loo with the door open, watching it.  Its tiny dynamo light dying from lack of movement.

I wrang out the socks again and poured the sloshy boot water down the loo.  My fellow rider passed, whistling.  I'm not sure he was being polite or just entertaining himself.  A few others passed whilst I regained my composure and put on a fleece.

Over the bridge into Barmouth and I couldn't face the melĂ©e of Saturday nighters, spilling out onto the pavement to drink beers.  I did a tour of the one-way system and found a Chinese restaurant with a bus stop full of teenagers opposite.  The pre-requisite holiday resort garden of monkey puzzle and palm trees provided me with a bin to lean and lock my bike to within sight of the takeaway.

I felt for the teens with nowhere else to go on a Satuday night but a drafty bus stop... whilst I sat on the bench in a chinese takeaway shovelling veg chow mein into my gob with a plastic fork, my baggy shorts round my knees to protect the bench from the dirty bum and give me the added bonus of warm ankles.  The owners didn't mind and were probably just kind of glad I didn't attempt to go in the restaurant next door.

Outside, with the teens gone, I sat amongst the discarded chips and a broken egg (?) and added leg warmers to my layers and removed the fleece that I'd put on in the toilets.  I wouldn't be needing that for a while.

Two hilly loops to the North now.  I had a sleep spot planned for one of them, with a target to stop at midnight, with rain forecast between 1am and 4am.

As the road got higher, the houses in Barmouth got fancier and then we turned off onto a mega climb where I caught up a few riders ahead as we took on the push.  We all took our own paces and occasionally had a chat.  I found solace in dark chocolate from time to time.  Desert on the move.

Down the long descent I forged ahead, some kind of brain-out, lights on mentality took over.  Getting near the bottom, navigation was challenging in the face of gates stating "no access" although clearly the only way the route could go.  I decided that access was prohibited to motor vehicles and passed by un-challenged onto the second loop.

More pushing, more chats in the dark.  My planned stop was too early and did not look so tempting in the soggy dripping darkness so I ploughed on towards midnight.  Over the summit and down another long, wide descent.  This time loose gravel started to turn me off.  Unpredictable under-wheel, undetectable in the dark and the final straw was when I rode through a seemingly-shallow puddle, only for the ground to give way and threaten to a) swallow me and b) drown me sideways. 

At the first sign of midnight and a solid patch of flat ground off the main trail I decided to roll out my mat and bivi (great combo) and pitch my tarp. 

Not surprisingly, this did not go as well as I had practised in the loft and I had to adjust it a few times before finding I could get comfortable underneath the tarp.  I'd used my bike as an anchor for one of the pegs which worked in theory but then got in the way of my feet when I lay down but I wrestled it into shape.  It wasn't easy because the ground was a bit rocky so every peg was also wedged under heavy rocks which I had to move when I moved pegs.  Not the best plan but at 1am I fell soundly asleep and at least I didn't wake up in a puddle when I first stirred at 4:45 to heavy rain. The sound of a few tyres passing wasn't enough to get me out of bed.  With 130km under my belt, I only had 70km to get through on Sunday and I didn't have to use my sleep kit again.

I went back to sleep and waited for the 5:30 alarm.  It was still raining so I snoozed until 6 when I finally decided I should get the hell up.  The tarp wasn't big enough to shelter in to make breakfast but had served well to keep my rucsac, socks, coat, shorts and boots dry overnight.  My trousers were still dry ready to go on.  They went on over the top of my full sleep kit, including putting my bib shorts on over my synthetic down coat.  I sight to behold but I didn't give a shit - it was all about getting the waterproofs on and staying warm since I was setting off on a descent.

I was dismayed I'd left my bar bag open and poured a pint of water out of that.  Thankfully the dry bag inside it was closed, leaving a dry haven for the clothes that had to share the bag with my tarp and bivi bag.  The hydrophobic down sleeping bag did its thing and packed away with just a surface coating of rain drops.  The sleep mat stayed relatively dry as I packed it away in the shelter and then stuffed the soggy bivi away separately. 

Thankfully, given the breakfast situation, it wasn't far to the bottom of the hill and a wonderful National Trust carpark toilet site at Tyn y Coed, complete with wooden sheltered bench.  I brewed up, made coffee and porridge and enjoyed the sound of rain whilst sitting in the dry.  As I supped my brew, Mark (another rider dressed in red) came by and said hi, asking about the cafe at Coed y Brenin.  I said I thought it opened at 8 - it was 8:10 - and he carried on up, emboldened a little bit. 

A lady in a camper pulled in to use the toilets and exclaimed, "Oh how lovely, are you having a little bike packing adventure?".  I didn't bother to explain the "race" thing and just said yes. I was so taken aback after the last few weeks of middle aged men telling me I should be scared.  She was genuinely interested and excited and wished she'd seen me earlier so I could have stopped with her. 

She drove off and I went to use the sweet, pine smelling toilet facilities too, topping up my water on the way.

In retrospect that was a little foolish as I then rode all the way up the hill to Coed y Brenin centre with an extra 1.5kg water on board and I knew it.  Despite my porridge breakfast, by the time I reached the top of the climb, I was having a little wobble.  I was absolutely starving hungry and any thought that I could have skipped the draw of the cafe evaporated (like it was never really there). 

I dropped in and hooked my bike up on the racks.  A day-rider was also waiting for them to open.  It was now 9am so I paced up and down like an impatient tiger, chatting to this guy about how hungry I was.  Finally at 9:02 the doors were opened and I went straight to eager canteen staff with my order.  Veggie breakie and coffffeeeee.  MORE.

Mark's bike was outside on the deck and I was just about to go and look for him when he walked in another entrance and brought my coffee to the table and joined me.  I reciprocated by fetching us both cutlery when my breakfast arrived and we caught up on our race so far.  He'd been out with two of the other riders (Jason and RedefinedCycles) who had passed me in the night but had become separated.  They spent the night above me (in elevation), under an excavator for shelter.  I was impressed!

I sat the table whilst he went for water top ups and toilet and he sat the table whilst I went to get dressed in the loo - add a bra, take my sleep leggings off from under my shorts.  We went our separate ways as I faffed with water - picking up some spare for the road ahead by filling my frame bottle.  There was a big loop of the Coed y Brenin forest to do.

I ignored the Yee Haws exciting about "the suspension on this one!" and carried on my slow progress through the forest, to be replaced by a long straight mountain road over the moors.  I dunno, I guess it got into everyone's head and I started catching up the boys.  RedefinedCycles, playing music called ME to prayer, if no-one else and I stopped staring at the road and started enjoying the view around me.  I rode past Mark, who said, "It just kills yer back doesn't it?"  I kept quiet - no-one likes a smart arse who's been in the gym.  Then rode on up to Jason, eating pasta and holding the gate open - hero. 

I looked at my Garmin.  50km to go and 1600m climbing left - there was my extra mile of vertical climbing and I had 50km to do it in - it felt easy.

Down into the forest again and getting near to Dolgellau where I thought I might need a lunch stop. 

As I wobbled down the narrow lanes, back in "civilisation", I had a little red car pull up behind me, beeping his horn to let me know he was there.  I wasn't too sure what he expected me to do about it so carried on riding, presumably, he wanted me to stop so his metal box could go first.  He beeped twice more before we got to the top where there was enough room for me to let him pass safely.  Which he did.  Still, the rush of adrenaline from pure annoyance made me wobbly so, having chosen the right direction I decided I'd rather cook the food I was carrying around.  Food, unlike farts, is better in than out.

I found a dry bit of ground in the lee of a tree and boiled water.  I was eating my pasta when Mark came past, then Jason and Redefined.  I watched them all make the same mistakes, (did try to call out, honest), then waved as they rode past. 

Fuelled by pasta and being passed, I packed away quickly and set off up the road after them.  Just as a tea shop came into view.  Bugger.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity for more food and joined the others for cake, though with a belly full of hot pasta, I declined tea.  I paid and munched my scone (this time with butter), then took my tiffin out with me, leaving the others to a warm shed with a heater.  They had started out later on Saturday so had more hours to spare for a completion.

My brain started doing maths since it wasn't convinced I should have stopped.  I'd gone from 12 hours to do 70km at 8am to 5 hours to do 35km - though now with a suitable level of calories on board.  In theory do-able but I remembered we still had the Dyffi forest to go which was guaranteed to be challenging.

In the meantime though, there was some road riding to do and some of it had me off on my feet - so hardly making up any time.  The descents were steep too and a little treacherous with moss down the middle. There were two bumps to do and I'd managed to persuade myself they were the best route back to the finish and quitting now would be counter-productive.  This tricked me into thinking it wouldn't take long.  I couldn't believe there was still 4 hours of riding left and yet, the day had already taken 6 hours - where did it all go?

Finally Dyffi forest happened.  Puddles upto my handlebars - some of which were passable, most of which weren't.  I bog hopped, climbed, punted and swore my way around.  I admit to getting a bit emosh in here, pleading, "When will it stop?" and just as I thought it would, another puddle appeared.

I met another rider asking, "How far do we have to go?"  20k I said and kept pedalling because I couldn't afford any time.  I hoped he was OK, in retrospect and worried that a guy who doesn't know how far is to go might also be lost without GPS.  I knew the others were behind and hoped they would pick him up. 

Then the downhill started and, with my old bike and tight forks, I had to get off and walk / slither down.  At one point I had to set the bike down and let it slide so that it didn't take me with it as I bum-slid down behind.  I begged to please make it stop.  It was time for a rest but I didn't have time.

Finally I cruised into a beautiful patch of forest with vigour, only to sink up to my hubs in more bog.  And so it went on.

I'd been watching the Garmin trying to target a km every 10 minutes.  Fuck I could run it faster but, it got depressing as the time slid away and then when I stopped watching the Garmin, I started making navigational errors and the time slipped further away as I had to back-track.  Sometimes away from some really nice looking bridleways which took me back the way I'd come.  Doh!

Finally, down in AberAngell I could let it go on the roads.  I dropped onto the Jones bars to tt my way to the finish, only to find a tree crossing my path.  The entire crown of the tree across the road, I tried to climb through it but there was no way my bike was coming too.  I considered the field (which other riders had used) but decided not to trespass and back-tracked to the road to ride around through Cemaes.

I wasn't sure which way we'd end up riding back and suspected this was one of my least favourite roads in the area where I'd got so tired during the May ride I stopped an brewed up in a layby.  It wasn't though - it was in fact a very engaging twisty road, too hot for my waterproof but I wasn't going to stop to faff it off.  The rain stopped, the sun came out for the last time - at around 6pm and gave us a sunset and some colour to what had otherwise been a grey day with grey rain and grey rocks and dark puddles.  Suddenly the grey was swathed with green and the bracken turned to copper and life was good. 

Suddenly "Ll" came into focus on my Garmin screen and a zoom out led to a call of, "That's fucking it!" as I realised Llanbrynmair was a junction away.  The clock eaked towards 6:45 and so I sprinted for the line, through the carpark and ran my bike down the stairs and beat on the window at a surprised Dee, who peered through the lit room at the darkness outside.  She met me with a smile.  Having gone from, "I'm just gonna finish this thing, even if I need two nights out" to "back with an hour to spare", she was as pleased as I was. 

4 more riders were still out.  The three I knew about and I helped to identify Alex, the lone rider I'd seen in Dyffi, though I didn't know why he was struggling.  Not much later, Redefined, Jason and Mark arrived, to let us know that Alex had knee trouble and had asked them to leave him to ease his own way out of the woods.  He came home just as I was leaving to get changed, lessening everyone's guilt at leaving him to it.

I would have liked to do better - felt like I deserved better TBH - but it's given me a great taste of possibility and confidence this time.  No shortcuts, I now know I can finish it and the stats are a good comparator for other events.  More rest than I would have liked which would have normally been mitigated by my tent giving me the shelter to pack up at 4am, not 6am.  More food than necessary - given that I brought lots back.  But what the feck, I enjoyed it.  Is that the point?  Was it a race?  It certainly isn't billed as one and it didn't really feel like one, except against me and time and that, dear friends is quite enough for me.