Monday, 11 January 2016

Bach to Bach

I'm starting to worry. It's 9pm in January in rural Mid-Wales, there's not a house light to be seen and I've been in driving rain or sleet for hours now, my light has decided to go in to emergency mode and I've no idea how much longer the battery will last and no opportunity of shelter has presented itself. 

A vaguely flat spot by the side of the forest trail will have to do, I break out the tarp. A few minutes later the shelter is up and the wind changes and blows straight in. Things aren't looking good. Head down, I look round. Nothing but steep slopes with sparse vegetation buffeted by the wind. I wander down the track and round the corner I pick out a shape. It's a calf creep feeder, I look inside and the floor is dry. Result! Back to the bike and get everything together again and return to the creep feed. Draping the tarp at the windward side and end I manage to get things windproof. Sleeping mat and bag unpacked, time to get in to dry clothes and make a brew.

I'm halfway through the Bearbones winter event, this year entitled "Bach to Bach" as the points of interest all contained that Welsh word (it means "little"). I had ideas of visiting all the fourteen grid references that had been sent to us and had worked out a 190Km route that linked them all up with as little hike-a-bike as possible. There's no requirement to visit all the points, it's up to the individual as to which and how many they visit, but I like a challenge and it would be a good assessment of my fitness.

It didn't quite work out like that.

All this area is new to me which has advantages and disadvantages, the latter would become quite apparent. In a few minutes I catch another rider and we ride together for a couple of kilometres until I head east to pick up a checkpoint that he has no interest in. I didn't know it at the time but he would be the only one out of nearly seventy who had turned up for the event that I would see away from the event centre.

Off-road the effect of the winter's incessant rain was soon apparent, uphill was basically a push as there was no traction unless you were on a stone track, downhill was an exercise in care/frustration, any attempt to turn at speed was really about controlling the slide. Somewhere admist the slipping, sliding, spinning, pushing I was looking down in to the remote Hyddgen valley. It was around here that the rain started. The ford by the farm steading could be avoided by a bridge that had seen better days though the river might just have been manageable. The next river most certainly was not. A footbridge further upstream provided temporary salvation, an attempt at crossing a side stream saw me in thigh deep water, if I wasn't wet before I was now.

The track became road and I picked up speed again until I came to a junction: left or right? A thrubbing of knobbly wheels announced the arrival of a solitary mountain biker who just happened to know where he was. A chat and some directions and we went our separate ways. He was the only person I spoke to or even saw between leaving the rider near the start and Rhayader. I missed the turning for the shortcut so ended up hitting the main road at the bottom of a long, long hill. This wouldn't have been so bad but the wind and rain had picked up so I had to pedal down the other side as well. The two grid refs on the ridge between the road and the Elan Valley would have to wait, I was getting cold. So cold I couldn't even undo the buckle on my helmet or turn on my rear light. Some serious manning up later and I was on my way again.

The pub in Rhayader was already serving food but my first request was for a cup of coffee, not so much to drink as to warm my hands by. I was putting out more heat than the fire in the corner so it took a long while to warm up. The cold had also affected my stomach and it was hard work eating. When I said I was heading out again to carry on riding I got some very strange looks, not sure if they were of astonishment or pity.

My optimised "all points route" had missed Rhayader by a valley to the north, now the way lay up a long road hill. Fortunately the wind was on my back. The road turned to track then entered more woods. Somewhere I missed the exit for the other side and emerged in the wrong place though I didn't know it (I had to check my Strava trace to find where I'd been). The next grid ref should have been left then almost immediately turn right so I turned left except there was nowhere to turn right. I carried on, a farm building offered the prospect of some shelter for the night but on inspection there was no room at that inn. The village I should have entered a while ago loomed out of the dark, at least I knew where I was now but sod the grid ref. There were woods ahead and hopefully shelter, I was in need of it. The creep feed beckoned.

Your room sir!

The morning light was grey again, putting on wet cycling trousers isn't pleasant. My seat pack is now full of yesterdays soaking cycling kit and weighs about double what it did before. The next grid ref is further along the track but not before another section of pushing across a grass field. There's a couple of tyre tracks here so someone has been here before me. The bright lights of Llanidloes beckon but I'm too early for the Co-op so a quick out and back to visit another grid ref. Pre-tax sugar drink and a Mars Bar are my reward before it's uphill again to the next grid ref. I can't find the start of the bridleway to cut across to the next road so it's back down the hill and up again. Easiest now to stick on this road to the next village then up the valley. Not as aesthetic but who cares.

The last hill, just one chevron on the map presumably because they couldn't fit in the three it deserves, even after leaving the road and the angle eases I'm still pushing as it's simply more energy efficient than trying to pedal up what used to be grass meadow. I reach the forestry edge and there's no let up as clearance work has created a minefield of brushwood and swamp. Finally I see the windfarm that marks the start of rideable ground again and clearing the woodland I pick up the access track, one short rise then it's down hill, track giving way to tarmac, open fell to hedges, cars. All that's left is the main road back to the start.

The scores on the doors were: 155Km ridden; 3300 metres of ascent; 8 grid refs visited; 2 sets cycling kit soaked.

Day one

Day Two:

Thanks to Stu and Dee for the organisation, tea and cakes.