Guy reports from an eventful trip to Afan – a January trip that is becoming a tradition – this was Guy’s first time joining the adventure…
“Never bring a knife to a gunfight”
This is the phrase that popped into my head as I was driving to Wales in late January.
After foolishly deciding to take up a challenge from Robin I found myself heading westward towards some proper mountains with the wrong bike packed in the car. A hardtail bike, with only one gear, that tends to only get used to go to the shops or the pub: according to Strava, this bike was ridden for approximately 56km in 2013, 18kms of those were off road.
As I drove on towards wales the sky started to blacken. It started to rain somewhere around Swindon it started to rain and by the time I had reached Newport the weather had become a “traditional Welsh winter” of torrential rain and wind.
I started to question my sanity but comforted myself in the knowledge that Afan Lodge is dry, has a bar, the food is always good, it has a bar and the company for the weekend would be excellent. Did I mention the bar? It’s got a bar. With Beer. Beer and Whiskey.
I drove on. South Wales was somewhere outside the car, hiding in the mist, rain, spray, and wind.
24hrs later I had revised my initial saying to:
“Never bring a knife to a gunfight especially if you can’t throw straight”…
Having missed (by luck or judgement) the chance to ride The Wall on a very wet Friday afternoon with the rest of the Muddy@rsers I instead headed up the valley on my trusty On-One Inbred in search of a mobile phone signal. I rode on a cycleway. I got wet. Very, very wet. Signal finally found and home phoned I headed back to the lodge for a change of clothes, a pint of Guinness and a wait in a nice warm bar for the rest of the club riders to return: Singlespeeding is obviously a state of mind and my mind state was soon to be made slightly fuzzy.
Beer was drunk, food was consumed.
Alex played a banjo.
I think the rain stopped at about 10pm.
I do remember Robin mentioning that we would be riding W2 on Saturday.
1500m+ of climbing.
Lots of Technical ups and downs and a few rock gardens
Oh, and the weather forecast said it might rain and be a bit windy at some point mid-afternoon.
Obviously this would all be a challenge but I felt that if I paced myself I would have a tough, but fun ride with a group of like-minded souls all showing the rest of the mountain bikers with their trick full-sussers and 30 gears just what we could do.
Fast forward to halfway through Saturday.
A slow climb up the Wall through low cloud and mist, onto the link route past the wind turbines, a fun descent on the Energy Trail and then downhill via the redesigned “Darkside” trail to our lunch stop at Glyncorrwyg had left us all tired but happy. The riding was tough, the climbs were long and I was in no real mood to try and overdo things as we were still in for a serious amount of mountain miles. The first spots of rain had started to fall as we completed the descent and it was starting to get windy too.
During the lunch stop, Bob decided to call it a day and started back for the hotel via the railway cycle trail. A few hardy souls had headed off early to try and get up the long climb to the top of Whites Level, leaving the rest of us to play catch-up,
Having been to Afan previously I have climbed this trail a few times, usually in the summer and I have always enjoyed the way it zig-zags up the mountain through the forest. Unfortunately it now looks totally different, there’s been a lot of tree felling so what was a nice sheltered climb through the tree plantations is now a long, technical, rocky slog up a hill that seems to be exposed at all point to the elements. It was raining hard, the wind was now blowing a full on gale and I was struggling to keep up speed and pace as my front wheel seemed to find every ditch, hole and rock to slow down my progress. The climb became the following : stamp on the pedals, get the bike moving, try and go over a few boulders, try and find a rhythm, the climb steepens, I slow down, stamp on the pedals some more, gasp for breath, scream, hit a water bar/rock, log, etc. come to a sudden, stop, gasp for breath, start again. Then repeat. And repeat. And repeat. My love/hate relationship with my singlespeed had started to re-balance itself firmly in the hate camp.
I also realised that I had managed to lose my cycling glasses somewhere on the trail behind me and had also left my sense of humour back in the Skyline café.
Then it started to hail.
Hail and a gale force winds on an exposed mountainside in wales is very painful
Ok, a few points now. Big thanks to Ricky for picking up my glasses (I was so happy that I did propose marriage) and there was a lot of encouragement on the climb from other riders: Rich especially but also a lot of complete strangers too. I ended up riding/stopping to breath/ pushing the bike up the hill. Things didn’t improve once we finally got into the plantation, it was still wet and windy and rocky and there was no chance to actually enjoy the trail as I was just trying to keep the bike moving all the while looking at every fireroad that headed back down the hill and thinking “go-on, you might as well turn around, follow Bob’s good example and take the most direct route to a warm dry bar”
Finally the trail started to flatten out and I met up with the rest of the group at the start of the Windy Point trail. I was last up the hill and feeling worn out, wet and miserable. Haribo, a few words of encouragement, a very shot stop to catch my breath and everyone headed off for the next trail: Windy Point.
The thing about mountain biking is that every now and again you see something truly amazing that completely changes your mood. Ahead of me, Rick called out something like “bloody hell look at that!”. I hadn’t realised that the sky had cleared a bit and the sun was shining low in the sky and suddenly I was threading my way along a perfect, sinuous, narrow trail of forest singletrack with the huge, bright, winter late-afternoon sun shining rays through the mist and trees ahead of me. The forest looked truly, heartbreakingly, beautiful. I had to stop for a moment to take this in. A perfect photo opportunity presented itself. For a moment all the pain of the climb was forgotten.
The rest of “The Wall” was ridden, the long technical descent back into the valley made more sketchy by wet trails, fading daylight, a rarely ridden, short-travel hardtail bike piloted by a very tired, aching rider who was looking forwards to a shower, dry clothes, a good meal and a well-stocked bar.
I promised myself that I would not ride on the Sunday and instead head home early. Sunday morning came and I joined the most of the rest of the group for another wet and windy ride on the newly reopened “Penhydd” trail. Another long slow grind climb up a welsh hillside in high winds, mist and rain ensued, but this time I wisely left the group early and rode the cracking good “Blue Scar” trail instead with Nick (and I whooped and hollered through every berm and switchback all the way down too)
Over the last month I’ve looked at the 3 photos that I took of that view at on Windy point, they are pretty good (If I say so myself), hell, I think they are some of the best photos I have taken, but they are also proof that you need to be in the right place at the right time to get that kind of experience and frankly it doesn’t matter if you can’t throw straight.
And that’s why I love mountain biking (but I’m still not sure about singlespeeds though :)