Random musings about mountain bikes…

Wet Weekend In Wales

Managed to get a trip to Wales last weekend, all started well with us leaving Essex at a very breezy 6 am. I had got the new Thule bike carrier on the car so that meant we could take two cars with four people, bikes and kit. Phil had his Astra Van loaded with three bikes ready to go, it always amazes me why he polishes it to within an inch of its life just before a 600 mile roadtrip?

We had a run through the night before getting three bikes on the carrier, due to the modern designs of suspension bikes it is not as straight forward as you would think fitting three bikes to a bike carrier. It took thirty minutes to figure out a loading sequence for the carrier. Stu’s Specialized Stumpy went on first, he’s a big lad so had the biggest frame meaning we could get the clamps through the main triangle. Then Mike’s Epic went on, the fact that the rear shock is on the rear triangle meant we could get the clamps through the frame again. Lastly my 575 went on, the shock location does not seem to suit bike carriers much (handy note for Yeti riders)….

Anyway, after some adjusting of seatposts and wheels they fit like a glove and everyone was happy, I returned home and completed my final checks for the weekend. I am a bit OCD about planning trips so had e-mail details of the YHA backed up on the phone, and had the trusty black book containing trail locations, mileage and costs for the weekend all logged.

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First destination was Penmachno (North Wales). As soon as we entered Wales the weather turned grim and dark, as we picked up the A5 heading for Betws Y Coed it started to rain. As we progressed the rivers started to rise, then they broke the banks, as we arrived at the trail head the rain was coming down in sheets. The field opposite was flooded and some of the party were having serious doubts about riding. After a 300 mile drive we decided that although abandoning the ride for a pub session looked appealing we did not want to miss out on the riding, besides the car park was full, how bad could it be? As we parked at the bottom of the road I had to try and park on the bank to keep out of the way of other cars, as I floored it to get up the bank there was the inevitable wheel spin on the sloppy grass and then bellowing laughter from Mike in the back seat. I had managed to spray mud all over Phil’s van, that was the end of it looking spotless.

We rushed to get changed into as much Goretex clothing as possible as quickly as possible and got the bikes unloaded. It took me 10 minutes to get my gloves on as my hands were so wet by the end, and off we set. By the end of the first hill climb everyone was soaked to the bone, there is only so much Goretex can handle and the rain was coming down so hard this was a day when we were just going to be wet. As we carried on certain sections of the trail turned into streams, six inches deep in places and people started to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. My shoes started to act like a wet suit as my feet heated up the water in them and I settled down for a wet soggy ride in Wales. Things carried on like this for over another hour, we had some jovial banter with other bikers about how mad we must be to be out today and spirits were high. We then hit a right turn in the trail, we all stopped and looked up this particularly steep and rocky section, we looked at each other and in one all said ‘is that actually the trail?’. It was now just a waterfall with no visible sign of the path. It was definitely the trail but the weather had got so bad it was now just a river. We had no choice but to push the bikes up as the force of the water removed all ideas of riding up it. At the top peoples faces started to take on the first signs of that ‘I’m not enjoying this anymore’ look and the higher we climbed the harsher the wind seemed. We pushed on but the teams smiles were now replaced with grimaces, every time we turned in to the wind the force was immense and the rain in my boots started to seem very cold. As soon as we stopped people were starting to shiver and the team was splitting into two groups, those that wanted to just get it over with and those that were struggling to get up the trail. As we reached the summit and the most exposed section of the trail we stopped and sheltered in some trees. We knew the next section was the worst and the wind was now gale force. The enjoyment was completely gone and a decision was made to get off the hill side, people were freezing and this was getting serious. A very rapid decent down using fire roads and the forest as some cover got us back to the car in about 20 minutes. We hurriedly loaded the bikes onto the car and got changed. We changed into our dry gear which was soaking by the time we got in the car and headed the 6 miles back to the YHA.

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We arrived at Swallow Falls YHA and checked in, the helpful receptionist told us we could hang our wet weather gear in the dry room, she was referring to the gear we had on which was actually our dry clothes. Anyway we all headed for the room, to get cleaned up and dry. As well as the shower cleaning off the mud it also managed to return the smile to our faces and after a large Gammon steak and a few pints of Boddingtons we were all joking about the days rain. As we got back to our room there was a nice stream of water running through the car park and the ran was still unrelenting. After being up since 5 am I did not take long to nod off and funnily enough I dreamt about rain?

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The next morning I awoke to the sound of rain on the window, Phil and Steve had not really slept well and claimed they heard people shouting in the night and the sound of shovels at 3 am. As we ventured out we began to realise why, the trickle of water in the car park the night before was now a four foot wide river and the car park had collapsed in places, the entire ground floor of the YHA had flooded (luckily we were on the first floor) and the dining area was now the local duck pond. The staff claimed that in all there years there this had never happened. Phil commented that only mountain bikers would go out in these crazy conditions but even he was not going to ride in this. So a review meeting was arranged and we decided that we needed to get out of Wales ASAP! The weather was checked and Cannock Chase looked dry, it was on route home and looked like a good place to investigate. Cars were loaded and the return journey started. We had to come off the A5 and make a 30 minute detour as the river was now about 100 foot wide instead of its usual 30 but we eventually arrived at Cannock. It was dry and almost pleasant weather. We hurriedly got ready and enjoyed an awesome days riding, yes the trails were muddy but after the rain the day before this was almost glorious trail conditions. I can honestly say I really enjoyed the ‘Chase the Monkey’ trail and will definitely be back in the summer when I think it will be a lovely fast rolling trail.

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We got home late on the Sunday night, everyone was shattered but we were all laughing about the events of the weekend. Even in the most extreme conditions we managed to laugh about it and share some great stories. It is good to see that even though we had to bail near the end on the Saturday we were still all willing to give it a try but still had the sense to abort when the going got too much and things could have turned nasty.

I think that is why mountain biking appeals so much, it’s variety is limitless. I love the fact that I can ride alone with myself and my iPod for company catching up on a new album or podcast with my own thoughts. Or can get other like minded people to cycle up mountains in gales force winds and horrendous rain. It can be a 60 minute high speed spin to clear away the cobwebs or a full day epic that covers many miles and leaves you completely exhausted. I have not yet found anything that can match that feeling of anticipation when going for a ride but will continue to look.

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I arrived at work Monday morning and got a coffee, sat at my desk and turned on the laptop. I had one new message on my work e-mail over the weekend from one of the riding gang, when I clicked it open it simply said ‘ When’s the next weekend away’. It’s already in the planning…

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