Monday, 15 October 2018

BB200, the 2018 wet edition

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.
This is not done by jostling in the street.
William Blake

The last time I'd been at this stream it was fast flowing but clear and I'd almost managed to ride across it. Today it was a dirty brown roaring maelstrom. It didn't look good.

Two years ago I did my first BB200 gaining one of the coveted black badges. There must have been something about that year as over a third of the entrants also got a black badge. Rumours spread that that course was "easy". With the course being different each year it's hard to compare them but the 2014 route has a mythical status: apparently the riders didn't speak to Stu on their return to Llanbrynmair and there's lots of dark mutterings in to cups of coffee when it's mentioned.

"The bridge at 20km has gone. Use your own judgement on how to get round or across that stream." With that advice, I was away. The stream looked like one of those African rivers in the rainy season, a red-brown soup, surface features flitting past in the current. I knew that there were no tributaries joining it between here and the ford and also that I wasn't going to be crossing it. Farm and forestry tracks rejoined the route further upstream, they would do.

In truth none of the BB200 routes are "easy", they aren't meant to be, but the conditions on the day can make them much harder. The short daylight hours of October just add to this. There's no "winning" or "losing" but scratching is a hard choice. Making decisions in such conditions as we experienced on Saturday can have serious consequences.

In these days of 250km+ per day multi-day rides a mere 200km might not seem much to shout about but they are tough kilometres. Even the easy grassy bits you have to keep concentrating as a lot of the surface is a layer of wet soil and grass that has little resistance to pedalling and you can easily find yourself sideways to your original line of motion.

It's taken nearly seven hours to do the first 60km to reach the filling station/shop in Ponterwyd. There's a group of riders there refuelling. A cup of coffee, a sandwich and replenish supplies and I'm on my way in ten minutes or so. No point in standing around getting cold, it's another 50km to the next potential stop in Llangurig so time to crack on.

I'd not done the next section around the two bothies before so I don't really know what to expect. In the event there was another stream crossing, quite a bit deeper this one, and what would turn out to be the biggest hike-a-bike of the route. A bit of cramp at the top of this just as I get hit by a gust of wind. Fortunately it's downhill for a while and I work it off. Some stream enabled bridleways to the second bothy then I'm on familiar territory but the Broken Road is tricky in the wind.

It's also hard on kit. Given the number of GPS and light failures I think it's reasonable to say that manufacturers don't employ the 24hr spin cycle on their nearest industrial washing machine when testing their products. There was much discussion beforehand about the best way of keeping your feet dry with lots of "systems" being bandied about. It's probably safe to say that by the first thigh deep river crossing none of them were still working if indeed they ever had.

The road to the head of the Elan Valley is eased by what is now a tail gale. Darkness falls along here so lights on and finding the next bridleway is tricky. The "problem" is solved by blasting downhill through tussocks until I find the track. I'd thought when looking at the map that this was mainly downhill so I'm confused as to why there are three lights on the hillside above me. Then I work my way back on to the GPX line and it becomes clear: the downhill has a large bit of uphill in it. I've no idea of the time when I get to the road so it's just press on.

It's 2030 and I've made the pub in time for something to eat. "We've just turned the fryers off. We've had no-one in all night." "Soup?" "Can do that for you." There won't be anywhere else open until I get to the finish. Twelve hours to here. They've felt like hard won miles. Another couple of riders arrive seeking shelter from the storm. I'm there for thirty minutes. Things are calming down when I head out, in fact for a while there's stars in the sky.

A good mental attitude will get you a long way on the BB200. Enjoying your own company helps since in the latter parts of the route you will likely be on your own. Equally true is that you can spend a large part of the route with other riders. These tend to be chatty affairs given the likelihood of some rather large personal space in the not too distant future.

The track is doing the best approximation of a river that it can when my front wheel drops into a muddy pool and hits a hidden sloping rock and I'm eating rock. No damage done. Except for the flapper on the end of a finger. Blood drips down washed away by the rain. It takes an hour or so for the flow to stop. A second fall ten hours later bangs my knee which is still sore a day later. Oh, there's more blood.
 Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. My front wheel is making an odd but regular noise. I stop and check the brake rotor for debris but there's nothing obvious. Another spin of the wheel. Tap. Tap. Tap. Hmm. Then I notice the stick across the top of the tyre. I pull at it. It's attached to a thorn. There's a quick hiss and the sealant does its job. (I find another thorn once I get home) There's been a lot of hedge cutting and I've been lucky to get this far.

The BB200 is a curious beast, some call it an ITT, some a challenge. It can be both but at times it's as much an exploration of your psyche with the clinician's couch substituted by the mountains of Mid-Wales. A game of open air chess with a myriad conflicting aims and decisions: can you make it round? Have I enough food with me? Do I have time to get to the next shop? Do I stop at the cafe and cool down or push on?

2am and I'm sat under the market hall in Llanidloes. A couple walk past, they're the first people I've seen in three hours since I left the last couple of riders near Bwlch y Sarnau. I'm not sure that my light has enough juice to see me to the end so I've decided to sit a while and grab a bite whilst it's getting some charge. After fifteen minutes I'm starting to get cold so it's time to pack up and get moving again.

I'm trying hard to ignore the clunking noise from my left pedal (I think) hopefully that will fix it. I've ignored the creaking chain for a good seven hours now and that still works so the tactic seems a good one.

I do a bit of faffing about in Hafren Forest and one of the riders I pulled away from at Bwlch y Sarnau catches me up and we will ride to the finish together. One big climb through the forest then it's mostly downhill and a few small bumps to deal with. As we approach the last bridleway I can feel cramp coming on so we walk the last climb. With over twenty hours of riding done we are tired so the descent is steady then it's just 20 minutes of road and we pull in to the community centre car park. It's 0618, the first light of the new day is just visible.


So how did it compare to two years previously? In 2016 for the 205km I had a total time of 19hrs1min with 16hrs35mins riding. This year for 202km I had a total time of 21hrs20mins with a riding time of 19hrs35mins.

The Strava bit:

Two years ago 25+ riders, over a third of the field, went home with a black badge. This year there were just seven. Definitely harder, not a repeat of 2014, people even spoke to Stu afterwards, but hard.

Cath arrived back at the centre 29hrs30mins after setting off having ridden through without a bivy. Tough lass! She didn't look anywhere near as tired as two years ago.

"That" stream? My companion crosses it bike on shoulder so it's doable. My turn. The water comes to the top of my thighs and I'm struggling for purchase on the boulders then I'm over to the far bank. We wait for the rest of our loose group and help them across.

Of course on the drive home it was nice and sunny and I needed the sunglasses that I'd left at home by the back door.

This black badge was hard won.


  1. Great write-up Bob. I spent a lot of the first 10 or so hours looking over my shoulder for you as I figured whilst we were on the same route there was a good chance you'd catch me. :)

  2. I think I started way too long, at least an hour, after you to catch you up in that distance.

    I'm glad I'm not working today!