A weekend of contrasts

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As the title suggests this was quite weekend of contrasts. The first day I spent on my own in the bivi bag with glorious weather. The second day I was in a group, in a bothy with some awful weather. The one thing that remained constant was the high level of enjoyment.

I jumped on the train after work Friday to Caersws in mid Wales. I went north from the town up to Dynfnant Forest an area I have never ridden in at all. Normally when going any further north than the A489 it has always been on the Machynlleth/Dolgellau side in the West. There has been no particular reason for this but it has always worked out like that, so I decided that it would be good to explore this side of Wales a little bit. It was quite a steep pull up to Mynydd Clogau, climbing about 1500 feet over the first 4 miles of the ride. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot that this is a huge climb but with cold legs after 2 hours sat on a train I was certainly feeling it. Once on the tops however the gravel road undulated fairly gently, passing just south west of the wind farm. I expected to have the wind mills pretty much dominating the view here but considering how close they are you surprisingly hardly see them.

After dropping off the hill I meandered on country lanes a little way until reaching the bridle way that leads up to the lakes at Mynydd Waun Fawr. There was a short push past the farm and then onto the track that runs over the hill. It was pretty vague at this point but there is just enough on the ground to make it ridable. Eventually this becomes a stony double track that undulates and winds it’s way to the road just south of Llangadfan. IMG_2542Climbing north out of the village I entered Dynfnant Forest. I was a few miles into the forest when the sky began to turn orange as the sun was setting. I thought it night be sensible to find a spot to camp soon but there was no real rush and no where suitable presented it’s self in the forest so I pressed on. I emerged from the forest and out on to open hill side. I was looking for where the bridle way turned off the dirt road but there was nothing on the ground at all, not even a sign post. I had looked at the satellite images whilst planning the route and vaguely remembered that there was almost nothing to the ROW at this point and actually it was a little distance before even the most subtle of tracks appeared. I didn’t really fancy the tussocky push up the hill to no where so stayed on the road. I’m glad I did as it was a picturesque ride along the bottom of the valley next to the river. After a short time I then left the road joining up with my planned route. I was really starting to look hard now for a bivi spot as the light was failing and I fancied some dinner.

IMG_2556There were quite a lot of sheep about though and I really wanted to find a field with no live stock. I passed through a gate that seemed to leave the sheep behind and entered a field with much longer grass; a sure sign of no sheep or cows. At the top end of the sloping field was a stone barn. I had a quick look in but unfortunately it was quite dirty and I didn’t really like the look of it. The weather was very good anyway so there was no real need to find shelter. Just next to the barn was about the only flat spot in the entire field so I rolled out my bivi bag and cooked myself some dinner. I was treated to a great view down the valley towards Llangadfan in one direction and a beautiful sun set in the other.  I think this is probably one of the best spots I have had all year.

I woke up the next morning about 5am and watched the sun rise. I read for a little while and slowly made myself some breakfast and packed my gear away. I wasn’t in any rush at all as I had plenty of time to get to where I was meeting up with some friends. The twisting track and road that descends off the hill was quite fast so it was no time at all before I was back crossing the large river that runs through the valley. I stopped here to filter some water before pressing on up the track to the woods north of Llanbrynmair. I had been warned that the bridle way through the woods could be a little boggy and that warning was certainly right. There was no bridle way at all really, just a very tussocky boggy wet gap in the tree’s. Eventually I made I through pushing and lifting the bike until I reached the fairly easy ride on the fire road down to Llanbrynmair. I briefly popped in the cafe here to grab and can of coke for lunch and rode the rest of the way to Stu’s place along the road.

IMG_2612I arrived about 11am which gave me about an hours wait for Chew and his group to turn up. There had been a heavy dew that morning so I took the chance to get my bivi bag and sleeping aired and dried in the sun. I eat some lunch and read for a bit while waiting… and waiting… and waiting. It turns out there had been an accident in New Town and the traffic was woeful. Eventually we were riding by about 3pm and on our way out of the valley heading for the grassy push near Foel Fadian. Once we reached the top we could see a weather front in the distance that really didn’t look inviting but fortunately the wind was in the right direction so we weren’t to worried.

IMG_2634Continuing south we got on to the double track that runs past Glaslyn Reservoir. The weather had been great up until this point, sunny and warm enough with a light breeze to keep you cool. We followed the track for a few more miles before once again seeing another dark grey weather front in the distance. Unfortunately the wind had changed direction by now and it was coming straight for us. It began to spot with rain which quickly became a downpour so we donned our water proofs and tried to shelter in the trees for a while. It seemed to get heavier and heavier and eventually was coming through the tree canopy like it wasn’t even there. Before long we were all starting to feel the cold so we made a break for it. As we neared the crossing at Afon Hengwn the shower stopped. We joined the Nant-Y-Moch track which was by now littered with deep puddles and continued south past the reservoir and onto the road. We past Dinas Reservoir briefly seeing civilisation again and popping into the petrol station for a quick resupply.

IMG_2644This left a short ride ride up the A4120 before turning onto the climb up to Nant Syddion. I remembered this climb to be a right stinker but it actually wasn’t bad at all. Last time I was here it was raining heavily and I already had 200miles in my legs so I guess this had really tainted my memory. We made it to the bothy a short time later and were pleased to find that we were the only people there. We set in for the night, collecting some wood and eventually getting the fire started… good job Cassie. After dinner we tucked into the Jim Beam, port and cheese that were kindly donated to the cause by Trigger and Chew. We sat around talking bollocks until about midnight when we all turned in.

I was first up and wasted no time getting my breakfast on the go. I was surprisingly hungry considering the feast we had had the previous evening. Around the time I finished eating the others began to stir and before long the bothy was buzzing again with every one sorting themselves out. I got packed up and decided that I would leave the group at the bothy and make my way to Caersws to get my train. The weather didn’t look great for the day and I wanted to make sure I made it for the train at 14:30. With the next train not being until 16:30 I didn’t fancy the prospect of being sat around the station in wet gear for 2 hours.

IMG_2689After negotiating the under and over assault course where they are felling trees near the bothy I rolled down the valley towards the bridge at the bottom. Then came the long climb up to the wind farm. This starts off quite gentle on good quality fire road before becoming steep, loose and technical. My legs weren’t warmed up at all so I pushed up here to save some pain. This track once again joins a fire road but it continues to be really steep and again I decided that walking at 3mph was probably a better use of energy than spinning at 4mph. In all this climb is about 1750ft over 2miles which is a challenge in anyone’s book let alone with a packed bike. I think this start must have been the perfect warm up though, as once I was over the steepest part and riding again my legs felt great allowing me to maintain a pretty decent pace the rest of the ride. There are some long fast descents between the wind farm and the Sweet Lamb crossing and I made up loads of time. After making the crossing I realised I recognised some of this stretch from the BB200. It was one of the few sections that I hadn’t revisited and I really enjoyed the scenery here and although there are some long climbs they are of a gradient that you can still climb quite quickly. It was around this point that I realised that if I carried on as I was then not only would I definitely make it for the 14:30 I would be pretty close to getting the 12:30! An idea formed…. this pretty much involved going full beans from this point on and really putting the hammer down.

IMG_2709_bwEverything was going great. After the climb from Sweet Lamb there is again another long fast fire road descent into Hafren Forest. It was on this descent that the back started to go a bit squirrelly. I assumed that this was just the fire road being a little soft form the heavy rain and made sure I choose my line a bit more carefully. I rolled on for another 100 yards or so before realising something else was up. I pulled over to take a look and as I got off the bike I heard the dreaded sound of a loud hiss coming from the rear wheel. I have run tubeless on this bike since I finished building it last October and  haven’t had a single problem. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I refilled the sealant so I assumed it must be a pretty big tear in the tyre or maybe a large nail that had given me a puncture. Upon inspection I couldn’t see any thing like a puncture but the hissing sound was definitely coming from around the valve area. I found though that if I pressed on the tyre the hiss stopped. I assumed that the tyre bead had moved on the rim but visually this didn’t seem to be the case. I held on to the tyre and pumped quickly to try to get enough air in so it became self sealing again but unfortunately it just wouldn’t seal. I really wasn’t looking forward to trying to get the tyre off the rim, so I walked the bike 50 yards to try to spread the sealant around a bit more. I then pumped like buggery once again and thankfully this time it did the trick. A much relived me jumped back on the bike can started to really give it some. I probably only lost 10mins or so but it was looking like that could be the difference between getting the 12:30 and the 14:30 trains. From Hafren onwards it was all road so I was really able to maintain a good speed for the rest of the ride.  I got to Caersws station with 10mins to spare… never in doubt…

I used to shoot black and white film a lot and realised recently just how long it had been since I had done this. Although I wasn’t going to take my film camera along I had decided before setting off that I would document this trip in black and white. This would mean a lot of Photoshop work afterwards but I really wanted to see how a trip would end up looking when shot in grey scale. In the end I decided to leave a few pictures in colour as I thought they just worked better that way. On the whole I was very happy with them and I think its a nice departure from my normal galleries.

So, what do you think ?

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