See that picture up there? There’s a duplicate pinned permanently to my phone lock screen. To remind me of the correct response should any repeat invitation to navigate the inland seas of mid Wales flash over that image.
A picture paints a thousand words they say. Only two would be required to convey the strength of my feelings in the fewest number of syllables. There syllables, two words, the last one being off. The first one had already been heavily campaigned before, during and after this picture was taken.
That word was of course ‘Fuck‘. Used extensively adjectivally prefixing ‘weather‘, ‘wind‘, ‘stream‘, ‘ford‘ and – mostly ‘Adam’s idea‘. While I was complicit in accepting Ad’s invitation to join him of this three day supported jolly jaunt on an iconic route, it remained his bloody stupid idea in the first place. I threw it into a few adverbs for semantic amusement, but mostly could be heard darkly muttering that brilliantly adaptive vulgar slang in a metronomic monotone.
Except you couldn’t hear it. On account of the 40 mph wind driving fat rain into your face. Still if you warmed me in front of a roaring fire and charged my large glass with a strong spirit, I may begrudgingly admit it wasn’t completely awful. But only on the firm understanding I’d never have to do it again.
I might do though. Although I’d choose both the timing and my companions with more care. Not Adam – who kept me mostly sane and dragged me through a particularly difficult hour on the final day with cheery talk of beer soon and chocolate right now. But it might be a bloody good laugh adding the guys we ride with every week- on dry ground baked under blue skies.
Because they are mountain bikers. Where as the crew we rode with were owners of mountain bikes rather than actual mountain bikers. This is a crucial difference and something I’ll be exploring in the next edition of the excellent Cranked magazine.
Let me instead explain the silliness of the whole endeavour. Start in Knighton not far over the border from where we live, ride 170km over the next three days. Except for the parts where you’re carrying, fording and – in my case – swimming with your bike. It can be competed in a single day if you’re a proper nutter. Jason Miles is one such nutter and his story is here. .
Regardless of your level of nuttiness, you’ll experience stunning vistas of the Cambrian mountain range, every type of track from tiny farm to tourist double mostly submerged under exciting variants of mud*, endless shit infested wet climbs clearly designed to suck the life from your soul, fast rutted doubletrack, occasional cheeky singletrack and either end of the Welsh B&B experience.
I may – for therapeutic reasons – document each day in more detail. For brevity tho it goes something like this; bleary eyed stumble into breakfast, drink all the coffee, try and find some dry kit, struggle into riding clothes, unearth bike from mud encrusted cipher, lube the chain for the look of the thing, get a little impatient at the critical faff of 11 riders, jump on your bike to ride for most of the daylight hours, arrive at next destination, ignore bike wash for shower and beer before falling into dinner and ordering everything. Twice.
First night B&B was in a fantastic old stone building annexed by a Deli, fab restaurant, lovely rooms, comfy bar and single rooms. The second night was somewhat more traditional. I’ve stopped here a couple of times for a beer heading back from day rides and always though it was a bit of a locals pub.
A night there was all the proof needed that had been an entirely accurate interpretation but the food was hearty and plentiful, the owners happy to ruin their washing machine for total strangers and the bar, er, friendly 😉
And the riding? Well it’s not technical except for a couple of sections especially on the last day. A day I shall remember mainly for wind so strong at times it felt you weren’t moving however hard you pedalled, and being sleeted on atop a bleak ridge whilst that wind attempts to toss you off the mountain**
It’s tough tho. Especially with it being so soggy. Day 1: 54km, 1200m of climbing. Day 2: 73km, 1600m of climbing. Day 3: 48km, 1250m of climbing. I was bloody pleased to ride every single metre of it, except one grass wall on day one that even the guides ascended by foot.
It’s not so much a mountain bike ride, it’s more of an adventure by bicycle. Every trail is new, every view is something you’ve probably never seen before, every climb is a challenge, every descent a bit of a laugh splashing through massive puddles or proper rivers.
Obviously someone had to fall into one of those. And as obviously that was me, but at least I made at attempt to ford the raging torrent under one of the Elan dams. As I fished myself out of the Claerwen river, I wondered aloud how there could be any water left since we’d ridden through wheel deep puddles for the last hour. I think we can all guess what one of those words might have been.
I used it again whilst draining a gallon of brackish water from the Mojo3 frame. The bike has hung shivering in the shed ever since, refusing to be coaxed out in case it’s once more repurposed as a life raft.
For all that tho, it was brilliant. We laughed a lot, manned up, got it done, saw amazing stuff, had many memorable experiences which will make great stories, rode in places we’d never go on our own and – for me at least – found some of that bloody mindedness I thought was long gone.
The route is brilliant, the logistics outstandingly well thought out, the guiding great and the guides – Phill and Polly full of that enthusiastic grit and endless humour that somehow makes shitty weather and bog snorkelling great fun.
Would I do it again? Really? I think the final word should be where we came in. Fuck, yes.
*by the end of the ride, I had identified at least fifteen different types of Welsh dust. Most of them prefixed with the word fucking.
**this is not a euphemism. For a start we were wearing about 9 layers of clothing at this point.