28 days later

Nant-Y-Arian

Good film. Cut the title in half, and and the production values by about a million and that pretty much summarises our approach to winter. Religiously every two weeks, we’ve made a pilgrimage to shrines of mountain biking sacrosanct in the holy book of saintly images.

I’ll leave the God metaphors right there other than to venerate the living relics still layering up in the dark, shivering out of the van, riding though frozen tundras, laughing at the stupidity of it and replacing a sip of holy communion with a lengthier quaff of which ever pub bar is nearest.

This post was heading in a questionable direction once I felt transubstantiation was somehow a useful metaphor for being sleeted on, but thankfully the pretension filter kicked in hard.  Instead let’s talk about boredom, disillusion and  a crisis of faith – all of which are perfectly understandable responses to four months of trail nastiness and potential trench-willy*

Take me to church. Or something else to ignore on a Sunday.  Early 2014 was a proper bastard with endless rain transforming every ride into a death march basically separating a shitty and desperate experience from beer. A separation of many hours, much angst and endless existential monologues on the theme of ‘tell me again why am I here?’

Not this year. Plans hatched in late autumn saw the chosen few breaking the shackles of local mud every 14 days. Load the van with bikes, cash,  sugary supplies and hope before navigating to much loved, barely remembered and entirely new locations to place knobbly tyre on frozen trail.

If one were to examine in intricacies of the plan, it’d not stand up to close scrutiny. Being nothing more than starting in the dark, ending in the pub and finding fun places to ride in between. But like many simple ideas, it’s genius is that singularity of purpose, a laser eyed view of what a Sunday should look like, and a delusional  refusal to be swayed by dire forecasts or crippling hangovers.

Hello Mid Wales, just us then? Rolling into a car park under skies alarming at DEFCON 2**, a critical faff of five riders and a similar number of bikes failed to clothe one and pedal another, as gloves were misplaced, excuses were made and many false starts suggested the 35km route would involve tents and nights out on the mountain.
Nant-Y-Arian

Finally, it begins. Nant-Y-Arian holds it’s riders close in trail centre loops, only expelling the foolhardy onto the wilder slopes and exposed ridges. That’s us of course, abandoning the confines of manufactured singletrack for the chance to be submerged in waist high bogs cunningly disguised as actual tracks you may want to traverse. Assuming your bike floats.

Nant-Y-Arian

So 30 minutes in, we’re cold, wet and increasingly snowed on. Still the light was fab for taking pictures even if the temperature wasn’t. An environmental statistic brought home when the mildly irritating clicking noise from my transmission manifested itself as a chain link badly infected with metallurgic link-rot. Changed that, lost feeling in my fingers, sadly retained full nasal capacity tested to potential collapse as we navigated the path of a thousand sheep-plops.

Nant-Y-Arian

Nant-Y-Arian

To get there we’d had much fun picking increasingly stupid lines on rocky promontories with fantastic views of distant snowy mountains, and somewhat closer challenges of moist rock and icy plumes shot from the back tyres of those in front. Not terribly technical, but fast and of high consequence if you abused the capabilities of full suspension mountain bikes just a little too much.

Now we’re clear of the slurry and climbing a steep fire-track bathed in brief blue sky bouncing off heather coloured by fire and the chilled by ice. Then it started snowing again, my toes were gone and even my heels felt numb, we had many miles to go and the summit seemed accessible only by helicopter.

Nant-Y-Arian

Nant-Y-Arian

Nant-Y-Arian

And at no time did this seem anything other than a privilege. Sometimes it really isn’t, when you  wonder if it’s just you dreaming of short cuts and long socks. Not today though, it was grins all round as we passed the invisible line marking wild from made.

Nant-Y-Arian

Nant-Y-Arian

Big old descent down one valley. Having failed to crash under the big skies, I binned it under heavy tree cover having asked way too much of a tyre pushed too fast into a corner, and then expecting it to offer some kind of grip during panic braking. It didn’t of course and as the narrative generally goes, I flung myself into some handy local shrubbery.

No damage done and impossible even for me to get lost as red arrows pulsed by in a rather compelling sequence of fast and slow corners, the occasional drop or jump and fireroads flashing past in peripheral vision. By the time I arrived – somewhat more dishevelled than my riding pals – they were all doing the fishy ‘did you see that line’ thing which signifies five minutes well spent.

Nant-Y-Arian

Of which the next twenty saw all of us fairly well spent climbing the other side of the valley in an amusing fugue of rain, sleet and snow.

Nant-Y-Arian

The final descent has lost it’s tree lined singletrack to larch disease, but rendered it no less fun for now having the patina of an open cast mine. I was pretty much in ‘show me a heater and I’ll be your best friend‘ mode by this time, so the warmth of the visitor centre didn’t come a moment too soon.

Nant-Y-Arian

Nor did the fug of the first pub we visited. Or the second. And then – because of some anniversary event of at least one rider – a couple more in Hereford when things became a whole lot warmer and quite a lot fuzzier. I forgot about my toes, but remembered this was another fantastic day out in a season that actually feels like winter this year.

Quite looking forward to the next one. Not as much as I’m craving Spring. But we’re more than half way out of the dark and accelerating fast.  The entirely inappropriately titled British Summer Time is still six weeks away though, which means three more trips in the van.

I wonder if anyone else has a birthday. Here’s hoping.

* a medical condition first discovered during winter commutes in London where I’d stagger into the works shower declaring ‘where’s my knob? No honestly it’s disappeared‘ to a whole bunch of co-workers who really couldn’t be less interested.

** Not snowing yet. But it’s coming. Fat, pregnant clouds flopping exhausted over hills and ready to give birth to all sorts of water based offspring.  Yeah, those.

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