Monday, 19 October 2020

BB200, the Covid Edition

You know that scene in Independence Day where Will Smith and Jeff Goldbloom have taken the alien fighter from Area 51 and are inside the alien mothership having downloaded the virus and left a primed atomic bomb as a present, are then being chased by other alien fighters as the mahoosive doors in the side of the ship are being closed and they get out in the nick of time?

Well this was nothing like that.

With the "fluid" situation regarding Covid this year's BB200 was, erm, different. Firstly, rather than being in Mid-Wales it was a bit further south around the Brecon Beacons, an area I really didn't know - I can't even remember taking family holidays there - certainly never walked or biked in the area. The second main difference was that rather than being on the second weekend of October and starting from one location we could choose when (in October) and where on the loop we started/finished.

Event entered, GPX received it was time to start planning.

Having decided on one starting point just before the biggest climb of the route we changed our minds and began about 40km before that which meant that we'd hit two, possibly all three of the towns on the route during opening hours. You've got to think about these things.


Debouching from the sunken track I head up a thankfully dry and firm farm track. A fancy car is heading down. "Are you lost?" says the woman driver in a very well-to-do voice, "Err, probably!", "Follow me, I'll show you where you need to go." With that she reversed at speed back up the track - obviously done that before. Once I'd told her where I was trying to get to she explained where the track went and what to avoid. Very nice woman.

There's a shout from the driver of the flat bed Transit, whatever he'd said it didn't sound like the usual anti-cyclist tirade, turns out they were looking for a farm or something, "sorry mate, I've never been here before so I'd be no help."

There's definitely fresh tracks in the mud. Two MTBs and one gravel bike. On the big climb I see a figure ahead pushing a bike up a steep grass slope. The slope is actually rideable but the mud bank after the stream definitely isn't so I might as well walk to the top. The rider waves, I wave back. Eventually I catch up, it's a woman on a gravel bike: "Ah, you're the set of tracks I've been following this morning!" A few words in reply but I'm now back on the bike and breathing heavily so can't reply, sorry. I get to the top and look back, she's heading back down the hill, maybe she's dropped something. Whatever, she's the only other rider I see.

I never did see the two MTBs though occasionally there'd be a wet set of tyre prints on a rock.

It's about an hour after dark and I've just shut the gate at the end of a farm track when a car approaches and indicates to head down the track so I open the gate for them. "Thank you!" says the farmer with a smile. Apart from a couple of walkers he'll be the last person I see until the finish in another twelve hours. Being alone on ITTs is common, you need to deal with it.

I ride on in my small pool of light.

Going past properties at night can be tricky, you need to keep your lights pointed down rather than shining into bedroom windows and waking people up. Then the dogs start barking. Nothing much to do about that but carry on and hope that the gates are easy to negotiate and don't creak or bang.


It's quite chilly. I decide to take two pairs of long fingered gloves rather than one short and one long. I start with arm warmers and a windshirt thinking I'll take them off later in the day and put them back on at nightfall. It turns out that I never take them off but just undo the windshirt on climbs. A buff (also used as face covering for shops) is my only other temperature regulator. Ease off on the climbs so as not to sweat as the descents could be fast.

BEEP! My GPS shows low battery so despite only having done 60km I swap in my spare set. Hmm. BEEP! It's 1am and again my GPS is showing a low battery warning despite only having done another 100km. A good job I'd thought to buy some plain AAs when at the filling station, just hope they'll last to the end. The rechargeables are Duracell, maybe they're at end of their life.

I'd be worried about riding this route with tubes. The farmers have been out cutting their hedges and the roads are littered with the thorns and brash that haven't yet had time to become weathered or trampled to soft pulp by passing cars.

One section of moorland down another three to go. I'm passing through the farm on the edge of the moor when my bar light starts flashing, the battery's running out of juice. Hmm, a long way to go yet, if the other light goes I'll have to sit things out until dawn. It's been hard enough distinguishing the ruts and mud with both lights, it will be much harder with just the one especially since I'll have to keep it on one of the lower power settings to see me through the next six hours or so. The dead battery pack is probably fifteen years old, maybe time for a new one. Annoying, you need to be able to trust your kit.

I ride on in my smaller pool of light.


A Red Kite is quartering the hillside. She flies close, silent, tail rotating to hold her steady in the breeze, her massive wingspan shading that part of the sky. Close enough that I can see the outline of each pale feather on her head, eyes unblinking, she's obviously checking me out but decides it's too early, she'll come back and pick over my carcase later.

A pair of spots glint in the dark. It's a fox. It scurries back and forth unsure what this one-eyed monster is, never too far away that I can't also see the shape of its body in the faint beam of my light. The cattle further on were less sanguine. Somehow I drift away from the line and have to heft my bike over a fence and head across the field until I find the track again Then it's downhill, with that comes speed, even though I can't go too quickly because of the light levels, and chills.

Bats flit around in the dusk, a sign that I need my lights. No idea what species, too quick in the low light for my eyes to determine. Late in the year for them I suppose, but they need food to have enough weight to survive their winter roost.


I only check the GPS for the mapping, ignoring the data screen except at specific points. I'm pleased to note I'm on time at the first town, down at the next. I'm also pleased to note that I reach my next milestone at 9pm, 125km done, 75km to go, 20hrs is doable. If only.

I'd miscounted the moorland sections, there's five. A myriad of tracks twisting hither and thither make progress frustrating in the dark and my "line" is a sawtooth as I drift away then ride back to the line. There's full cloud cover so I can't fix on a star or constellation for a bearing and ride to that. The last section finishes with a steep descent, would be great in the daylight but not at 4am having been on the go for over nineteen hours.

I carry on in my small pool of light.

My mind's playing tricks on me. I've turned off the main road and turned right and right again so I'm heading back towards town? I'm not, the left bends are bigger than the right and I'm heading the other way but I'm totally confused. It's as if I've been blindfolded and spun round and asked to point to North.

I trudge on in my small pool of light.

It's getting lighter, the dawn is near, and I'm at the end of the last off-road. There's form to the land now, faint light and shade rather than mirk and dark. The main road arrives soon enough and climbs away at that awkward angle you think should be easy but isn't. I'm wishing for the summit at every turn. The pedalling suddenly eases and I'm picking up speed. The downhill is short and the van appears where we'd left it, no police stickers or anything to say: "You shouldn't be here". 22hrs45mins. Twelve and a half hours for the first 125km, ten and a bit hours for the next 75km. I'm knackered so leave the bike lying outside, grab the sleeping kit and crash out for a couple of hours.

Perhaps it was something like that. Elvis has left the building.