A Tale of the Unexpected

30 01 2012

Last weekend seven rather deranged individuals visited the world-class MTB trails of the Afan Valley. This post is not so much of an account of the trip, but more about what effect such a trip can have. Yes, it was a fun, relaxing weekend away. Yes we rode bikes up and down hills. But what happened afterwards?

Friday afternoon and we’re zooming down the M4. There’s three of us in the car and three bikes on the back. We have three gears between us. One gear each. Gulp. We’re going singlespeeding on the Afan trails. In January. Gulp. The journey passes uneventfully despite the Friday afternoon rush hour. The tolls at the Severn Bridge stop us for 20 minutes or so, and there’s a mangled car soon afterwards that tails us back but we’re soon clear. In -car entertainment is courtesy of my new shiny Playbook tablet, connected via Ollie’s wifi android phone allowing Fail videos to be streamed pretty much constantly. I also had Rick reading out my work emails, including  those from a slightly irate Director, not helping my Friday night stress level. Can you tell it was a boys’ trip?

The Haribo/Sugar effect had kicked in...

We met the others at the swish Afan lodge  (Mark, Marc, Robin, Dave and us three (Rick, Rich and Ollie) then chatted after dinner until the tiredness  kicked in. My phone network (O2) had no service, which led me to feel out of sorts. Let’s hope a good night’s sleep would help.

Next morning and after a terrific cooked breakfast, we’re all wheeling out a variety of odd singlespeed bikes from the underground secure bike store. There’s two full bouncers – Robin’s Marin- based “Robinator”, ridden by Dave this weekend on a loan basis. Rick has another Marin in one gear mode, featuring a proper rear mech to tension the chain to allow it all to work right. Then there’s the hardtail gang. Marc on a Canondale (borrowed from Robin’s arsenal), Robin on an On-one Inbred, Ollie on a lovely old school Kona Explosif, Mark on his rock-eating Trek 29er and me on my beloved Dialled Bikes Love/Hate.  Quick pause for the oh-so-staged silly hat photo and we’re off. Our plan is to ride the White’s Level/The Wall combo known as W2. Graded Severe, 44kMs and 975m of climbing. On a singlespeed. In January. Gulp again.

Silly hats and smiles - clearly the "before" photo

The first part of the ride was fine – lovely new linking trail “Elevator” that misses out a large chunk of tedious fireroad that The Wall was infamous for. Bikes working well and everyone enjoying the simplicity of the one geared experience. Rick has chain issues with the never-ending rocks bouncing his chain around and defeating the rear mech. After removing some links he’s back up and running again. Soon we’re onto the second half of White’s level – anyone who’s been will know how outstanding the trail sections Energy, Goodwood and Darkside are. Superbly enjoyable on a full bouncer, this is my first time riding these trails on a hardtail and it’s an utterly absorbing experience. Line choice needs careful attention – you can’t smash through everything.  There’s the odd tumble in the group but nothing serious. Some of the stronger riders clear the steep climb after Energy having been encouraged through the medium of on-trail vocalisation (aka getting shouted at).  My hands and wrists are taking a pounding (most probably through not quite having the right fork set-up if I’m honest), and I’m already refuelling via a huge ham and coleslaw ciabatta as the morning goes on. Big grins are breaking out all round our group.

That should keep me going

After the last rocks are ridden we’re back in the valley, and start the spin up to Glyncorryg for a well earned cup of tea  and the second half of the ride. Strangely, the tension in me suddenly lifts and I start relaxing. Work seems a million miles away – maybe my mind is just happy that I survived the exertions thus far (as well as the miles of rocks steps on the Darkside descent). After a break, we saddle up for a climb I know well – the usual first climb you take when riding Skyline or White’s level trail. It’s a 6kM singletrack climb that rises 220m, and on a geared full-susser is a great way of keeping your attention. Sit and twiddle your way up and enjoy the various switchbacks, rocks and roots. I thought I knew what to expect  – but what followed changed everything. Off up the first section and embarrassingly I fail to clip in and tumble sideways into a rocky bramble periphery. Once my fellow Muddy@rsers have finished  chuckling and taking photos, they help me up and we’re off proper. I can’t help but think that my fall is a warning of what is to follow….

Ah - that's not gone well

Here we go. Up until now the climbs have been tough, but over pretty quickly.  This time, and from the start, there’s no let up. It’s a full-on grunt 100% effort from the word go. Massive concentration needed to just keep the bike going and to negotiate each obstacle. It takes sheer bloodymindedness to keep going at some points. There are sections where 100% effort is required, then having cleared that particular rocky step, you look up to see the trail kicking up again. Oh god… Please let me just have a moment’s rest. But that moment doesn’t come. There’s a hairpin ahead and you need all your concentration to guide the bike around the corner, the trail completely doubling back on itself.  Robin is upfront leading the way and the rest of us settle into little groups. My group take a break and share thoughts on what we’re going through. No it’s not just me that’s finding this difficult. Yes, I too just want this to end. But it doesn’t end. Up again on the narrow rocky twisty trail through the trees. Some bits we ride, on some we dab. But its always up, and the focus needed to ride never diminishes. Finally, there’s a glimpse of daylight through the trees and I know we’re nearing the end of the climb. We’ve made it. The suffering is over. We burst through the trees and there’s Robin waiting. Slowly the others appear and every face tells a story. Marc (first time to a trail centre!) looks very pleased to be up. Dave is still smiling. I chat to a couple of guys who twig we’re on singlespeeds and can’t quite believe we’ve all done it.

And then we’re off again, off to ride the remainder of  The Wall and the sublime final descent. There’s plenty of tired legs (and arms) but we roll back to the Lodge very satisified. We’ve really achieved something today.

Done it!

Whilst the descents were awesome, the part I remember most of the day was the White’s Level climb. It was one of those experiences that is so hard, such a challenge, that it can make “normal” rides seem easier. It’s like a subtle skills boost gained through adversity.

The next day we rode the Twrch trail at Cwm Carn. Another challenge, but I found I had an “edge” now. Be it pinging off rocks, or clearing a grunty climb, something was running more smoothly now.

I just wasn’t expecting this change – it was unexpected improvement that just caught me by surprise.

Once I’d got home I really noticed the difference. I made it up the steep slope on the one geared bike pulling the trailer (with toddler in it) for the first time. Where’s this strength come from? A  mid week ride on local trails seems effortless – what’s happened?  The techy steps out of the back of the pub seem straightforward. I seem to have more puff everywhere…

Yes it was a fabulous trip away. And yes the company was great. But it was this effect on my riding after the trip that seems so special.  I guess it just reminded me that the benefits of pushing yourself can last longer than you first anticipate. That’s what I’m trying to say here.

It’s the unexpected that I love about cycling sometimes. What you can get out if you just put a little bit of extra effort in sometimes and take on a challenge. That’s what I’m going to keep in mind when next slogging up a ridiculous hill on an Come on Muddy@rsers, what are you waiting for?

Rich F

(thanks to Mark for the photos and to Robin for inspiring us all and making the weekend happen.

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2 responses

27 02 2013
πως να χασω κιλα

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2 05 2013
Clark

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