Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
Welsh Ride Thing 2013: the year the rain forgot
After two years of battling torrential rain and howling winds Adam and I returned to mid-Wales for the 2013 edition of the Welsh Ride Thing for a bit of a surprise: a long weekend bikepacking and bivvying under blue skies and sun. The WRT has very quickly became one of the highlights of my cycling year, but in previous incarnations the fun on offer has been very much of the type two kind. Adjusting to some genuine honest-to-goodness type one fun took a fair bit of doing, but to be honest I think I could get used to it: epic riding in proper mountains in these conditions really does take some beating.
Compared to previous years we were a few riding companions down: Roger picked the wrong year to be too busy with his school work; Dave still bears the scars of last year’s hypothermia; Mark was off playing with the proper fast boys on the Highland 400 trail race. What we lacked in numbers we made up for in facial hair though. After learning the hard way what can go wrong when you don’t spend enough time planning (vanishing bridleways and hours of bog-trotting) Adam and I became even more obsessive than usual about routes–checking and re-checking on the OS map and Google Earth to before deciding exactly where we were heading. The result was probably the best route we’ve put together: a long loop that took us straight south towards Teifi Lakes before swinging back west and north in a big arc through Aberystwyth and back to Pennant. As well as some great technical singletrack north of Nant-y-Arian it also took in some fantastic forest tracks that allowed us to make good progress through big hills. In the past couple of years we’ve aimed to do pretty much the same distance each day. This time we made a conscious decision to push a bit harder and cover most of the distance on Saturday and Sunday. It was worth it: waking up at 5.30 with just a forest road roll down to the farm was a good moment.
It’s the people that make the Welsh Ride Thing the fantastic event that it is: thanks to Stuart and Dee for all their hard work in organising things and for the most amazing spread of cakes I’ve ever seen in one place. In the past couple of years Adam and I have been so late getting back to the farm on the Monday that we’ve missed out on the full glory of the buffet. Pushing on to make sure we returned before 8.30 really was worth it. Thanks also to all the other riders that we saw at the start and finish and out on the trail: plenty of familiar and friendly faces to compare routes and share bikepacking geekery with.
Some great moments of trail magic and random acts of generosity from strangers. At the end of the first day we rolled down to the Yarra Gallery and shop in Pont-Rhyd-Groes to find that it had just closed: the lady owner who heard my shout of despair came out to open up again and sell us the coke and water that we really needed at that point. The following morning we stopped off at Strata Florida just to check out some nice Cistercian ruins. Although it was an hour before opening time, Julie from English Heritage opened up the visitor centre early, made us a great cup of coffee and kept us entertained with stories of Red Kites and Damien Lewis (he rides in the area apparently). She also offered to let us go round the site for free but the open road was calling.
I’m not sure if we got lucky with the weather and trail conditions or we reaped the benefits of good planning, but the riding this year was fantastic. Whether it was struggling with a loaded bike down technical slate singletrack or cruising along the high level forest roads and access tracks it was just bloody good fun to be out on the bike.
Adam and I have been riding together for so long that we don’t really need to talk a huge amount. Actually: to be honest we often don’t need to talk at all. It was great to be out in the hills with him for a proper weekend away before I move to Birmingham later this year though.
Not so many. The moment that my rear mech decided to commit suicide by jumping into my rear wheel 61 miles into day two as I crawled up the road towards the Vaughan Thomas memorial just at precisely the point that the weather turned cold was something I could have done without. On the plus side we managed to bodge a singlespeed conversion quickly enough; on the downside riding a fully loaded bike that evening and the following morning (even if it was only for 6 miles mostly downhill) made my realise very quickly that I’m no Mark Goldie.
I would have liked more vinegar on my fish and chips. That’s just personal preference though. I wouldn’t hold it against anyone.
Slightly ironic this one: I got sunburnt. Just before we left my sister-in-law asked if I was going to take any sun cream: three days later I’m regretting laughing at her.
Some kit thoughts:
Plus points: leg warmers rather than merino base layer / Gore waterproof shorts / Terra Nova flysheet + bivvy bag
Minus points: must resist the urge to buy quite as many dried meals next year. They need too much water to be worth it on a trip like this. Breakfast flapjacks are the future.
Facts and figures:
Day 1: Pennant to Teifi Lakes
4.49.08 hours on the move
6831 feet of climbing
Day 2: Teifi Lakes to Glaslyn
7.46.34 hours on the move
8391 feet of climbing
Day 3: Glaslyn to Pennant
43.41 minutes on the move
541 feet of climbing
And a few photos…
Obligatory bike photo: weighing in at 45 pounds bang on this year.
Obligatory man-in-pink-Lampre-jersey photo
Mascot and traveling companion: Eamon de Valera Monkey well stocked for the road trip.
Bivvy spot for the first night: overlooking Teifi Lakes
The view we woke up to: looking down on Teifi Lakes
Strata Florida Abbey: scene of our second instance of trail magic when the lovely English Heritage lady opened up an hour early to make us coffee and entertain us with stories of Red Kites and Damien Lewis.
War memorial in Pontrhydfendigaid: this is going in the next but one book (it’s exciting and interesting: I can bore on about why on request).
Adam calls home: a bench with a view in Aberystwyth
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
Refuelling for the journey: apparently part of this pasty made a reappearance on the bastard climb out of Aber
A view to admire…
There was a hell of a lot of this: heading off down the Syfdrin Trail
Is this where the rear mech is supposed to go? Problems and bodges 61 miles into day two.
Bivvy spot for day two
Bivvy spot for day two: colder / bleaker / windier but still bloody stunning
Looking out over Glaslyn: the view from camp
This is why we ride: dark clouds and sun rising early on Monday morning
Setting off down to Pennant
No… I still can’t spot anything wrong here.
Returning to ‘civilisation’: an hour and a half on the M40 / A34
The object of my delusional fantasies as I trudged up the hill to the Vaughan Thomas memorial late on Sunday evening.