Saturday, 1 April 2017

Trans Cambrian ITT

It's getting late though I daren't check. The wind and rain are becoming a bit of a problem. The track becomes tarmac and the general gradient is now down, sometimes steeply down. Hang a right and I'm getting tired and beginning to make mistakes, I need to find somewhere to kip and there don't seem to be that many options.

I'd a couple of days' holiday to take before the end of the company's holiday year so got left with the last two days of March. A couple of plans fell by the wayside until I finally settled on the Trans Cambrian ITT. Starting in Knighton on the English-Welsh border it takes a meandering line to reach the coast at Dyfi Junction. It would link up with bits of riding I'd done before. Both end
points are railway stations so that's an obvious means of getting there.

A trip to the local ticket office got myself and bike booked on trains to Knighton along with a reduction in fare from £61 to £18.60! The only problem was that it meant I got there at 1500 so unless I managed to ride the route in the fastest time ever I was going to have to bivy.

Your carriage awaits sir.

The journey was fine though the final leg from Shrewsbury to Knighton along the Heart of Wales line was in a single carriage train that was packed - apparently there were some concessionary fares during March and it seemed like everyone was taking advantage.

A quick trip to the Spar in Knighton then I was ready for the off. Set the tracker going, turn on the GPS, check tracker. Hmm not all the lights are flashing so turn off and back on again. Now it's fine.

Ready for the off!

The first few kilometres are on road then it's off-road and up. It's soon apparent that things are going to be pretty damp, anything more than a slight incline is a push since there's very roughly zero traction. Once the first big climb is out of the way it's a bit easier going but care is needed in line choice to avoid sinking into vehicle ruts and drainage channels.

And the sign said "Let there be mud", and there was mud.

Just over the hour gets me to the junction with last year's BB200 route, at least I know where I'm going for the next bit. It is however very wet, downhills are slow as well since the bike just washes out if I don't concentrate on every bump and off-camber slope, there's no just letting things rip.

Rather than heading south over more moorland to Llanbister the route now drops steeply to Llanbadarn Fynnydd. The route crosses the river by a ford but it's way too deep and fast to even contemplate so round by the village. A long drag up a muddy lane leads to fields and more walking due to lack of traction then it's down a road covered in sheep shit to something a bit cleaner and then forestry tracks down towards Bwlch y Sarnau.

Some rather flighty horses on the moorland. Then again I could just have been smelling a bit.

The last time I was here was about 10pm on the BB200 and the cafe was open, no such luck at 5pm on a Thursday in March. Oh, well. One more hill then it's a long blast into Rhaeadr. 4hrs15mins to here.

A paltry raid on the Spar, a quick phone call to Cath, then to the chippy for something a bit more substantial. I'm sat outside scoffing my grub when the first spots of rain begin. Can't complain really, it's been lovely and warm and sunny until now.

Unfortunately the battery in my rear light has died so with the onset of darkness I'd better get the road section over and done with. The tracks to the south of the Elan valley are new to me and are great fun even in the dark and wet, need to come back and explore a bit more.

I make the first nav mistake of the ride by heading south on the route to Carnau, at least the return to the correct line is downhill. The next bit is the Claerwen track - if you've got submarine mode on your bike then engage it now! Half an hour of frustration and I'm back on better terrain. The track alongside the reservoir goes with and then against the wind, the rain it brings isn't nice. I'm looking for the bothy here, not realising that it's much further on and is actually a Km away from the track I'm following. I need somewhere to kip.

I pass an old cottage and something makes me stop and check. It's in the process of being renovated and isn't locked. Result! Out of the wind and rain I get a decent night. (for obvious reasons I'm not mentioning where it is or showing photos)

The morning brings more wind and rain but it should be easing (if the forecast can be believed). The track I was on continues in the same manner as before: two deep wheel ruts filled with water with a couple of ridges in between. Back on tarmac I weave between isolated farms and cottages, one has had the bridleway diverted, there's a few like this according to the amiable owner.

Obligatory arty shot in front of a stack of felled timber.

Back into the woods for the traverse above the Ystwyth valley before dropping down and following the road past the old mining works. Bear left at the end of this on the mountain road. It looks very steep and most of the tarmac has been washed out leaving just a narrow strip in the centre. I manage to climb it OK even though my legs are beginning to protest. Steady climbing and a fast descent through forestry lead to the main road near Llangurig. Left then first right.

I've been in this area four times and I've ridden the next bit of bridleway on three of them! Unusually, when compared to the state of the rest of the route this bit is drier and relatively easy to ride. It pops me in to Hafran forest, I know my way through here and soon I'm at the ford on the River Severn. Footbridge for me.

About to enter Hafran Forest.
The climb up from Staylittle is a drag and it's into the wind. Once on the ridge I'm reduced to walking on the flat, the combination of sodden ground and wind mean I'm using less energy. The drop into the upper Clwyedog is nice riding. At the bridge I'm out of the wind so stop for something to eat and sort everything out.

Dropping into the Clwyedog valley. The tyre tracks are from "pushing" the bike into shot, not riding it, it was that soft.

Push up from the bridge then broad trails over to Glaslyn. A bit more climbing then it's a steep descent on what is effectively scree down the side of Foel Fadian. Again once on the grass I can't just let the bike go as there's so little grip. The brakes smell a bit by the bottom!

I had a sense of humour failure on the next bit, getting lost more than once and having to backtrack. Once at Bwlch y Groeson there was just the traverse of the ridge and it was then downhill to the mainroad.

Hang a right and along the track by the railway, up onto the platform and down to the far end. Finished! 23hrs27mins but with just fifteen hours of moving time.

Journey's End.

That was hard work. Not sure what it was but I certainly wasn't firing on all cylinders. That combined with the soft ground and strong wind. Maybe March is the wrong time of year for it, the ground hasn't dried out plus fairly short days.

Here's the Strava bit,

I'd a couple of reasons for a long ride as I needed to check out intended kit and systems for the Highland Trail at the end of May. Most stuff worked, a few things didn't. Best find out now.

Post Script

My phone beeps, it's a text from Cath:

"Well Done! ..."

I open it to read the full message.

"Well Done!

Horrid news from Australia - Mike Hall was killed in an accident overnight"

I'm ejected from my bubble by the real world. I spend the hour waiting for the train in contemplation and barely holding back tears for someone whom I didn't know and had only ever met briefly once. As someone once said:

"It's not about the bike."