Winter warming: snow-filled hammock and a new, haughty bike.

This was my 7th Dyfi Winter Warm Up and it was the first year since 2011 that snow has fallen for the event. The weekend was more manic than usual due to my birthday celebrations on Saturday, which were very brief and swiftly followed by an afternoon train to Wales.

I had a new bike with me too. Over December, I built up a Sonder Transmitter out of available components and some new purchases.

It has replaced the Mukluk which I sold in October 2016. I had been thinking about it since the summer, when I had used it last. I found myself riding it less frequently, in part due to the lack of trips away. Local conditions are very tame and a cyclocross bike is more than adequate. More prominent however, I found the wide Q-factor to be problematic for my hips after a long day of cycling. Something which I believe with time may become more of a problem and consequently, a notable reason why I have also reduced my weekly commuting mileage.

The Sonder appealed to me for a number of reasons. It will allow the use of plus sized tyres (27.5 x 3.0), which will provide a degree of pneumatic cushioning without the rolling resistance associated with 26×4.0+ rubber. This has an additional advantage in that it uses a more traditional 68-73mm sized chainset and thus, narrower Q-factor. The cost of the frame and additional purchases fell within my budget (dictated by the funds generated from the sale of the Mukluk). Something novel to me, it also permits the use of a suspension fork, which coupled with its slack head angle I hoped would alleviate much of the hand and wrist pains that I have been experiencing. Most importantly however, it is available in matte black. Other than for suspended comfort, the bike has lived up to expectations. I have yet to get the fork set up to my liking and I am running 2.2 Hans Dampf tyres (a very good deal was presented). In time I would like to fit a more voluminous set of tyres and swap out the ESI foam grips for something larger in diameter. The chunkier versions should hopefully be better suited to my xxl hands.

I got to Machynlleth by mid evening. It was already dark and the cold air was blanketing the hills. I went to a favourite bivvy spot, which is away from cars and the town but not so sheltered from the weather. The open forest canopy is excellent for looking up at the stars from a hammock and it is a marked improvement over where I slept for the 2016 WW.

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I was toasty warm in my sleeping bag and down jacket, dare I say warmer than I would be back home in my bed. My hammock set up consists of the following:

  • Grand Trunk Double hammock.
  • Klymit air matress
  • Mountain Equipment Xero 550
  • Alpkit hunka bivvy bag
  • Montane pertex quantum down hoodie
  • Long Jonathans and wooly socks/hat/gloves

I had a comfortable and consistent nights sleep. The Saturday had been dry and the evening was also predicted to be rain-free. If anything,the Met office had issued warning that a cold spell was likely. Much to my surprise and pleasure, I woke before twilight to find that I was covered in snow. It was a breathtakingly fresh experience.

I love cold weather. Specifically, I look forward to winter camping and cycling. My hands and feet are very susceptible to perniosis. It is a very bitter sweet experience.

I have always believed that the capacity of any bicycle to perform a task is limited by a cyclists capabilities, moreso than the design of the bicycle itself. An intentional emphasis on what a person can do rather than what you think a bicycle will not achieve. Specialist tools are available for set applications but I have also experienced some exceptional defeats by very talented cyclists on very basic bikes. I think that the Sonder is a very capable bicycle but being very new to its form, I have found it more difficult to climb with, relative to more familiar geometries. Neither was I surprised to discover that it seats you safely behind the bars whilst you storm downhill. I am not as strong as I could be for this time of year and so I took my time and savoured the scenes and trails that I had been looking forward too.

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At one point I unfortunately entered a rocky corner too quickly and was sent over the bars. The smooth pike fork is ever so encouraging and I had got a little over zealous. My legs have been a bit on the sore side today but I am more peeved by the front wheel that got pringled in the crash. Live and learn.

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I got to the end of my second lap and called it quits, limping back to the Corris Craft Centre to clean up and get back to the station for my train home. I forgot to pick up some reading material so found myself questioning the provenance of bananas and shrimps into a post-race sugary snack. In my searching I came across some information about historical conflict between banana growers and shrimp farmers in South America. (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1006649804394). I shall be investigating further…

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Even in The Familiar There can be Surprise and Wonder

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No two years of a Dyfi Enduro are the same. This was my sixth entry and although there is similarity between the dry and the wet years, I still approached the weekend with zeal, knowing full well that it would be different in some way.

I have ridden single speed each time but a  different bike/set up for the last 3 years. In the begining, a big group of us would enter. Now, an individual experience, I travel up on my own, bump into some old friends at some point and head back home on the same weekend, ready for work the next day. Trains, pains and lots of mud!

Ride back - 2015 Enduro

Ride back – 2015 Enduro

This year was different. A very welcome bank holiday the following day, no rush back and Kerry came along…pleasingly, it felt very much like a holiday. We were very fortunate with our neighbours camping next to us; a very welcoming (and fun!) family from North Wales, who I think will be visited in the summer for some technical off road miles.

I’m on to my 2nd year with my Mukluk and it is proving to be extremely versatile, whilst remaining stupidly fun off road. There have been a few major changes from last year. I have switched back to a conventional handlebar from the Jones Loop bar because I found that although extremely comfortable it wasn’t as fun to ride with for the likes of the Dyfi. I also built up a new wheelset, saving 3kg over the stock wheels and tyres. Last but not least, the M675 brakes have been swapped out for m820’s.

Post-2015 Dyfi.

Post-2015 Dyfi.

As per usual, it piqued curiosity with many people and it was satisfying to challenge some preconceptions about the bike having limitations which make the riding experience less fun or able. Far more befitting is to realise that the tires come alive when rocky terrain lay underfoot…but with some delay, much like the latent sensation of pungency from chilli on the tongue. I suppose that this is the nature of this type of ‘passive suspension’ as opposed to a plush suspension fork. Of course, as many would think, the bike is fun to ride but I can’t help to think that at times, it is somewhat brusque.  And for the uninitiated, the sounds produced by the tyres range from surprisingly loud to what I can only describe as threatening to local wildlife.

I had a leaky RHS master cylinder so had to do a last minute front brake swap first thing in the morning and I had geared the bike to high (32/16) but I was otherwise quite pleased with how the day panned out. I didn’t get my 03:30hr target since riding the fatty but wasn’t far off with 03:41hr, achieving 4th in the SS category.

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With many things that were different, what was the same this year? I left feeling happy and also wanting a van, to avoid the dreaded train journey.

Running Away.

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I have been doing this for much of my life. There is a problem and for some reason it is far easier to skirt around it than to tackle it. Eventually, the rug that things get swept under is bulging and so the next easiest strategy, is to run away. Not meaning to portray that I can’t deal with things or to promote escapism but sometimes, a change of scenery is healthy.

The past few days are example of exactly this. Thoughts throughout the week had driven me to “venting” when I got home in the evenings…and I hate it. Instead, I have decided to blow the dust off of this site and use it as a diary to tame my scattered brain…and to share some nice photographs (and my dry sense of humour?)

I had spent much of last summer exploring the South Downs on my cross bike. Fairly familiar of the route, on Friday, I (desperately) booked train tickets to go down to Eastbourne for the evening, with a view to cycle to Brighton on my fatty the following day. One thing was on my mind; I must escape London.

The lights on the train bonked out for a few moments but the folk inseparable from their screens kept the carriage illuminated. I fell asleep in the luggage rack but was woken by a spine chilling shriek. It was a small child, looking proud of herself, opening and closing the passenger lap tables and arm rests. I could not wait to get on the downs.

In Eastbourne for 21:00, I rode to Link road and got onto the Downs. As expected, there was light rain but it was also horrendously windy. That was the extent to which I had considered and what I had thought I would be prepared for. I bivvied under some trees and initially, felt sheltered.

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Eastbourne at night from the Downs.

Saturday 01:00, things started to go wrong. I’d woken up and the top of my bag was wet. It was raining and the wind had really picked up. Not before long, my whole bag was damp and the comforting feeling of warmth provided by usually dry and lofty down had disappeared.

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Having an unexpected wash.

I decided to ride through the night, in hope that I could keep warm and that there would be a shop open before fatigue got hold. It was painful. The strong wind hand blown me off several times. Traction was sparse as tyres sat on top of the mud. I had got to Alfriston for 03:30, a sleeping town which during the day has plentiful supply of pastry delights that the body craves on a long ride. I had continued along the Downs for another 6 or so hours, eventually arriving in Brighton for gone 10:00. I had power-napped at every farm gate for the few hours up until the sun rise and completely underestimated the conditions.

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Unable to turn the wheels fast enough to keep the tyres clean.

A victim of my mindset, I was happy to be alive by sunrise but I also felt like a right pleb. In my hasted packing, I hadn’t really considered the full extent of what I was doing. It really was a grab and dash. Sense had given way to time saving and absence of planning. Its quite probable that would have been the difference between sleep deprivation, starvation, physical fatigue and an otherwise enjoyable ride, whilst being able to enjoy the scenery.

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It wasn’t all darkness and solitude however. I perked up around sunrise, having a ‘hopeful moment’ where I’d found a nugget of untouched energy. Knowing that I was about 30mins away from a McDonalds breakfast and seeing Starlings marked a wholesome start to a beautiful morning.

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Starting to feel slightly more human

For me, being back out on the hills is completely intrinsic to a healthy mindset so for the time being, I’m going to make the most of (well-planned) weekend escapes.

TdG: Tour de Graduation

In May, I completed my undergraduate study at Aberystwyth University and have since moved back to London. Living once more amongst suburbia, without a hill or mountain in sight has been a gradual, daily process of realisation and acceptance. I have however been fortunate enough to secure some employment at an Organic farm. The days are no longer spent attending to academia, maintaining a social life and getting filthy on bikes on the coast and in the mountains – instead, bicycle commuting, manual labour and entertaining the demands of the family cats currently fill my agenda. Oh and calories, I just can’t get enough calories.

A trip needed to be made back to Aberystwyth however, for my Graduation ceremony. It has long been said that it is not so much the destination as the journey. Four years as a University student have certainly been testament to that adage. Time was booked off from work and (loose) plans where in place to cycle to Aberystwyth along the Welsh coastline.

A selection of bicycle luggage has been collated over the last couple of years but I must confess that I have yet to find a satisfactory method of carrying under-saddle luggage without resorting to a pannier rack. Previously I have invested in two contemporary under saddle seat packs – one a stand alone seat pack and the other a harness designed to contain a dry bag but alas, both sway from side-side when loaded.

With this, i purchased a Tubus Fly and I made a set of mounts to fit it onto the rear hub axle, as the BLB Track frame doesn’t have provisions for bolt on accessories of any form. 2014-07-10 21.15.59

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Sure, they definitely look home made but at the time of writing, they have been subjected to load for over 1000km and so far pass the seal of approval. Further more, it saved purchasing the genuine kit from Tubus and took only a few hours of an evening to make. It has meant that I can no longer use a D/S chain tensioner however, so a revision may be necessary in the future.

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I have also recently built up a new front wheel, using SP’s PD-8 dynamo hub, a Mavic CXP22 rim and DB stainless spokes; the generated power of which feeds an Exposure Revo head light. The Aero bars have also been removed and the Mary’s flipped to provide an even higher handling position for the journey.

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The rear tyre, quite justifiably, was also replaced with a Mavic Aksion which was sourced brand new from Ebay for under £10. Skids are just too much fun.

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Home made stem spacer bracket to mount Exposure’s Boost accessory USB charging cable. This works well but is soon to be replaced with a Red Eye rear light and a switch assembly to direct power to a regulator and dedicated battery charger. This would provide the ability to turn off the light (not currently possible) and divert all generated electricity to charging a cache battery, which in turn could be used to charge a gps unit and mobile phone.

An old Topeak MTX trunk bag that was in the garage was modified to fit the rack and the rest of the luggage was hauled in a Lowe Alpine rucksack and on the bars.

The tents were left at home, as was a cooking system. A minimalist kit list was desired but not at the sacrifice of comfort throughout the diverse weather forecast that was predicted. Intentions were to bivvy each night but with a tarp to hand incase heavy rain was anticipated.

Day 1: Middlesex – Gloucestershire 

Saturday morning and mum was leaving for her guitar lesson. I got a passing goodbye, hug and slight look of smiling-bewilderment as she left the house. The look was just. I had slept for less than 6 hours, was still packing things onto the bike and had only figured out that I wanted to finish my 1st day of cycling as close as possible to the border of England and South Wales.

By 0930 I was finally on the move N/E through Potters Bar and towards St Albans, using the smaller town and residential streets that I am familiar with. The predicted clear sky and warm temperatures were absent and instead the cool and overcast atmosphere was welcoming by a quickly warming cyclist. After a few hours, I could eventually feel my fore arms starting to bake as the sun had finally made an appearance. A squirt of SPF50 and not before long, I had reached Leighton Buzzard – a good time to stop for lunch.

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By the time that I had reached Buckingham, annoyingly, on its first day of use, my external battery pack had broken. I had decided to detour back into Milton Keynes central to replace it.

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Brunton Torpedo 2800 – power no more.

I had wanted to pass through Oxford but the previous detour consumed too much riding time, so instead stayed further N/E through Bicester and Middleton Stoney. I was frustrated that I had wasted so much time and that grazing cows and sheep were not yet visible. Fatigue was setting in for the day.

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Bicester

The abilities of the dynamo hub began to shine as the sun went down and the mood of the night ensued. I took five to get cosy with some extra layers and used food and a pep talk to convince myself that I was having fun and that I needed to keep riding until I found a suitable green space to bed down in for the night.

0030 and I had found a small spot which was fenced off aside the B4450, next to a field buffer strip of some farm land and the floor richly carpeted with Ivy. A large Oak tree kindly sheltered the space, provided a trunk to lock my bike to and a limb to hang my bag. I had finally stopped moving after 16hrs, the bivvy bag was out.

Day 1 was complete in Maugersbury after 210km.

Day 2: Gloucestershire – Newport

Awake at 0430 and thoughts of how much work there was still to do to get to Aber by Wednesday got me on the move rather promptly. On the B4068 into Lower Swell and eventually stopping for food once I had built up an appetite on a narrow, leg burning country lane. Ciabatta, cheese, cherries and persimmon fruits all picked up the night before featured on the breakfast table. My phone was low on power and both my Garmin and cache battery were depleted. Navigation for the rest of the day from here on was by road Atlas.

Map reading at the breakfast table.

Map reading at the breakfast table.

Once more, a cool start to the day quickly turned into what felt like a heat wave and unfortunately, air conditioning is attainable only by pedalling faster. The A436 and A417 were used to get to Gloucester and then the A48 once over the River Severn and past Ministerworth.

At around 1500, exhaustion was superseding the mild feeling of fatigue, not least because the hills that I have been longing for over the last few months were now in plentiful supply. Now in Nibley and faced with yet another “12%” road sign at the bottom of a hill, the bike was dismounted and I slept on a grass verge in a lay-by. Fortunately the climb was swiftly followed by a 1.2km descent which tested the ability to stay focused and the efficacy of the front brake. Further along the road, an owner of a local B&B was equipped with a much needed cream tea and home made lemon drizzle slice.

Arriving in Chepstow and eying up a long awaited ‘Croeso I Gymru’ road sign ahead, I got my 1st puncture of the trip – a piece of metal debris in the road caused my rear tyre to instantly deflate. The 23c Mavic tyre on the rear was just possible to mount onto the H+ rim when at home with the use of a workshop tyre lever, as the bead was very tight. Repeated pinching of new tubes with levers as the tyre was being refitted on the road side caused further frustration. 3 inner tubes and 40minutes later, I was back on the move again.

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The culprit.

By 1900 I had arrived in Newport, low on energy, low on resources and with all electronic devices out of action. I had hoped to have progressed much further by this point. With the day light hours left, the decision was made to check into a B&B for the night. The alternative would have been to head W or N/W to a greener landscape and then return to the coast in the morning. Needless to say, the thought of a warm shower, soft bed and cooked breakfast would be of benefit for day 3.

Day 2 finished, 120km.

Day 3: Newport – Pembrey

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A good nights sleep and a mountainous breakfast went a long way in the commencement of day 3. Passing through the industrial parks of Newport and over a section of the River Usk, Cardiff was the next destination ahead.

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New Cardiff University Graduates.

A and B roads were used to travel through Cardiff bay, Penarth and Wick. Upon passing through Boverton, I found a small bike shop. The owner of Forza Cycles was kind enough to let me use a track pump. My rear tyre desperately needed attention to inflate it past the 60psi it was apparently at, up to the recommended 110-125psi.  Eventually, Bridgend looked scenic enough for a lunch stop.

Smooth B road climbs.

Smooth B4265 road climb.

Looking over Moulton

Looking over Moulton

A nice use of Hazel to build the frame to support these beans which were doing well.

A nice use of Hazel to build the support frame for these beans.

I had a lengthy talk with the friendly owner of this garden. We had a wager that I wouldn't arrive in Aberystwyth by Wednesday. I wish I got his address so that I could have sent him a postcard.

I had a lengthy talk with the friendly owner of this garden. We had a wager that I wouldn’t arrive in Aberystwyth by Wednesday. I wish I got his address so that I could have sent him a postcard.

Took a 'short cut' and ended up between two farmers fields. the road leading into this wasn't on the map but fortunately it lead me to where I needed to be!

Took a ‘short cut’ and ended up between two farmers fields. The road leading into this wasn’t on the map but fortunately it lead me to where I needed to be!

An unoccupied, smooth A48 was good for covering ground.

An unoccupied, smooth A48 was good for covering ground.

Lunch in Bridgend.

Lunch in Bridgend.

By 1830 I had arrived in Port Talbot and so had the 1st torrential downpour of the the trip. I stopped for food and to plan my journey through Swansea and onto the coast into Pembrey. The time spent savouring the journey through to Bridgend and the drastic change in weather was the deciding factor to travel through Swansea to Llanelli rather than down to Rhossili Bay and the sand dunes of Llangennith, which unfortunately were both on my ‘to visit’ list. Through abysmal weather, the A484 and B4304 were the life line into Pembrey sands. A spot was found off the walking path in the forrest and a line was set up between two trees to form a ridge for a simple tarp shelter. I was happy to be in bed by 2300.

Day 3 complete, 160km.

Day 4: Pembrey – St Davids

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The shelter was packed away, food eaten and I was on the move to the coast to see the sea that I had fallen asleep listening to the night before.

Breakfast.

Breakfast.

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Once again, the GPS battery was flat and the area wasn’t detailed on google maps so navigation was reliant on the park notice boards and a general need to travel north. I had made the mistake of travelling too far N/W and ending up in Pembrey Airport. Fortunately navigating through it was easy and it brought me onto the A484 towards Kidwelly and into Camarthen.

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Food growing in Kidwelly.

Food growing in Kidwelly.

Kidwelly cows.

Ladies of Kidwelly.

Camarthen.

Camarthen.

A combination of the A40 and less busy, single-track roads branching off from it were used to travel S/W to Tenby via Kilgetty.

Eclectic house, East Williamston.

Eclectic house, East Williamston.

I took the opportunity to use Tenby’s community library to charge up my devices and have a look at St David’s on Google Earth, as that was my planned destination.

Near to Pembroke Dock.

Near to Pembroke Dock.

The A477 was followed into Waterloo and Cleddau Bridge was crossed to continue towards Johnston and Haverford West.

View from Cleddau bridge

View from Cleddau bridge

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From here, travelling N/W on the A487 towards St David’s became very enjoyable as the weather was warm and the towns travelled through en route were absolutely stunning.

Newgale.

Newgale.

Penycwm.

Penycwm.

Mediterranean-esque Solva.

Mediterranean-esque Solva.

Upon arrival in St Davids at around 2130, food was purchased and then I made my way onto the Pembrokeshire coastal path via Ffordd Caerfai and bivvied nearer to St Non’s bay.

Day 4 complete, 139km.

Day 5: St Davids – Aberystwyth

Good morning, St Davids.

Waking at 0600 from the lick of mist, carried by a coastal breeze was a new experience for me. Things had to be packed away quickly, for fear that they would be carried off the cliff face by the wind.

This would be the last day of travelling and I was feeling both physically and mentally good about it. I could have felt subdued, knowing that my time on the road alone would be over shortly. By contrast however, my thoughts were positive as I knew the route ahead very well and had been anticipating this feature rich part of the journey, just as much as I had with the enjoyable day prior.

Packed and ready to go.

By 0730, the path had been travelled further around St Non’s bay and the opportunity to go for a morning swim was ceased by Porth Clais.

Time to get on with work.

Time to get on with work.

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Bath time.

The plan had been to ride the path around to Fishguard. However, it was a timely affair what with skinny, vulnerable tyres, an inability to cease pedalling and the upper body strength required for the ‘hike and bike’ sections.

Punture #2 of the trip. At least the location had improved since the last occasion.

Punture #2 of the trip. At least the location had improved since the last occasion.

I will be coming back here with less luggage and an XC bike...

I will be definitely be coming back here with less luggage and an XC bike…

I had got a good quotient of dirt miles for the day so headed east from St Justinian back into the town centre, once again ‘cheating’ by using the A487 to get to my next destination, Fishguard.

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Fishguard.

The road into Fishguard was a long, winding, fast descent. I wasn’t surprised to find it was swiftly followed by a climb back out of the town of similar length and gradient.

I was fatigued and a heavy shower appearing early in the day also ensured that my morale gradually diminished. It took a long time to get to Cardigan but upon arrival, I stopped into a cafe to stock up on caffeine for the route ahead. A momentary pause to test the persistence of the weather and to allow the stimulant to work its magic.

15:00, the rain had stopped and less than 40miles left to go.

My pace had improved drastically and I was counting the miles that I had cranked through. I had split the task up into bite size chunks, separated by the towns that were passed. I was no longer cycling with a tourists eye but instead focusing on the task at hand. Upon reaching Aberaeron, I had drunk my last drop of water and had put a couple of cans of energy drink into one of the bottles. I had also eaten all of my chewy sweet ‘energy reserves’, hoping that a final, lively push would get me there and that I didn’t ‘bonk out’ on energy.

I rode past Llanilar, where my family was staying and straight into my favourite pub in Aberystwyth to meet up with friends. My family understood and came to my rescue and picked me up when I shortly after arriving started to fall asleep. I got from Cardigan to Aberystwyth in 02:34hr which I was phenomenally happy with, considering that my previous times for travelling between Aberystwyth and Aberaeron has been in the region of 52-59min.

Day 5 complete, 121km.

Day 6: Got graduated

Checking out the progress of the allotment that I left behind.

Checking out the progress of the allotment that I left behind.

Parents.

Parents.

Standard grad/bike pose.

Standard grad/bike pose.

Daniel Zoppellini, BSc (Hons) Animal Scientist.

Aber Cycle Festival 2014: Y Cawr Sportive

For its fifth year now, Aberystwyth has provided a weekend of quality cycling events which attract spectators and competitors alike from far and wide. Local residents come to enjoy the events and for the University students among us, its a great way to end the year after a hard going exam period.

I have volunteered as a marshal for the event a couple of years in the past but this year, I decided that I wanted to ride instead, not least because it is my final year of living in Aberystwyth and I am due to relocate to London by the end of the month. I felt that I would be at a disadvantage if competing in the criterium along the promenade, not having the legs for the maintained fast pace. The downhill race traversing the face of constitution hill would have been fun – but my idea to compete on my SS fat/29er would have awarded me only minutes of excitement. The decision was easy, in the end. I opted to enter into one of the Wild Welsh Sportives, getting out into the depths of the countryside and away from my usual cycling routes.

I was tempted by the longer Mynach and Y Cawr routes (70 and 114miles, respectively) and after little thought and before I could change my mind, I plunged for the Y Cawr. The three weeks that I had until event day, I was cycling my usual 15km most mornings and evenings – of which included two of the steep hill climbs featuring at the beginning of the event. It kept me feeling limber, until 1 week to go when I managed to sprain my ankle.

Day before the event, I serviced my bike (it hadn’t been done since the previous summer), which included leaving the chain to soak for half a day in paraffin to ease the chiseling-off of the black gunk (previously known as chain lube) that had encased it. The frame doesn’t have provisions for bottle cages either, so I had a bit of a last minute faff drilling holes, fitting rivnuts and stealing the cages off of my MTB. There is fag paper thin clearance between the NDS crank arm and my pump. It was either that or having it on the down-tube ready to be kicked by my toes. Bike details are bellow.

The command centre.

King cages, too-close-for-comfort pump and 15mm spanner strapped up.

Frame Brick Lane Bikes Track
Fork Columbus Tusk Aero
Headset Chris King Rasta
Stem Thomson X4 90mm
Bars On-One Mary (Inverted and cut down), Pro aero bars
Grips ODI Subliminal
Brake Diacompe BR100 / Gold finger lever
Wheels BLB fixed hubs / H+ rims, 18t cog
Tyres Halo Twin Rail Courier 25c
Crank BLB Vera Pista 48t
Spuds XTR
Perch Brooks B17 honey / Shadow Conspiracy Ti
Other King SS cages, K-Edge outinyerface Garmin mount

Having using skinny flats, drops and bull horns previously, I am far happier with the comfort afforded with this bar combo and have been running it since the start of this year. I did have the front of the bike slammed, almost low-pro esque, but the longer my rides got, the more I valued my lower back and eventually the spacers stacked up under the stem. I fitted the Halo tyres at the start of this month and Im pretty impressed with them 600km in, albeit they don’t roll as fast as the spectacular Continental Gator skins / shells that they replaced. I also gave my saddle another wax, pre-empting the effects of the impending wet weather.

All of my housemates had decided to go out that evening and I was left at home, nursing a peppermint tea and exam revision. Excited about the event and unable to sleep, I decided to take the bike out for a spin and later meet friends at a house party, with intentions to head home after a chat and a beer for an easier nights sleep. I eventually got to bed at 02:30 and was slightly drunk.

Event Day

Up at 06:00 and my sprained ankle was still feeling sore. I took a few anti-inflamms at breakfast and got dressed for the event. I arrived early so that I could go for a spin to stretch my legs prior and to warm to the atmosphere. The grey clouds were over head but there was no sign of the predicted heavy rain…yet. Continental had a servicing stand, were there was a queue of riders already there waiting to have their bikes tended to and an MC getting people geared up for the ride by praising the quality of the pothole laden roads.

A flag was waved, noises were made and not before long, the first group of assembled riders were off and on the road. The 1st climb is actually the last climb of my ‘training’ route that I ride most mornings and evenings. It was enjoyable to ride it on fresh legs for a change. The pace was kept steady by the head riders and everyone remained grouped close together through Penparcau and along the promenade. Cruising through the town, we then reached the the base of the second climb, Penglais Road. At 1 mile long and 6-7% average gradient, it’s a very quick way to warm up on an otherwise cool morning. On the bike for less than 5 minutes and I was already questioning my pace. I wanted to roar up the hill like I usually aim to but I had to remind myself that this was going to be a long day in the saddle and I’m not as familiar with the rest of the route. Slow down and enjoy the journey.

By the time that we were in Clarach, the group started to spread out – namely, all of the riders that were close in front of me had disappeared freewheeling down the winding descent ahead and I left behind making sure that my frantically spinning legs didn’t fly off from the pedals and kneecap my eyes. Into Borth, the open road spin along the seafront was the 1st taste of bitter headwind that was due to persist for a great deal of the route ahead. I later found out that a couple of cyclists were temporarily stranded around this point due to a collapsed rear hub, involving ball bearings spewing out over the road. Fortunately, they were soon back on the road after a swift delivery of a replacement wheel from a friend. I was thankful if I managed to get through the day unscathed by punctures.

Hill climb through Clarach

After some 15km, we were in Taly Bont and I saw a familiar friendly face marshalling. Eventually we were in the heart of the town and at the base of the 1st big climb. 5 miles long, and averaging 4.6%, it wasn’t long in until I had to stop and remove layers. Taking in the beautiful atmosphere as we get nearer to Nant y Moch reservoir, I got off and found a nice spot amongst some bluebells to sit down and have a snack. One of several moments I wished I had a camera. Once around the smooth asphalt of the reservoir and over the precariously situated cattle grids, I stopped and looked back at the scenery. Riders in the distance wearing fluorescent attire stuck out like yellow and green tic tac mints.

Reaching Ponterwyd and out on country road again, I was confronted by an angry road driver who had encountered cyclists taking inside lines on the wrong side of the road. After trying to calm him down I also needed something to get me back into a good mood. I caught up with some riders in front and stuck with them until reaching Devils Bridge. A sharp left turn up into another hill climb, known as ‘the arch’, my legs were still feeling good and I maintained a steady pace, knowing that the 1st feed station in Hafod forrest was waiting at the top.

Greeted with “Kiss” by Tom Jones blaring out of some speakers and chirpy event staff serving a wonderful spread of food to fuel approaching riders, I felt as welcomed as the support and bespoke entertainment provided at the Dyfi MTB events. I spoke with some of the local YstwythCC riders and enjoyed the bubbly atmosphere, whilst the 1st big downpour or rain began.

Having crammed by face full of far too much decadent chocolate brownie, I got back onto my bike to experience my 1st moment of forearm and shoulder burn all the way into Pont Rhyd y Groes.

Yet another hill to climb, I was now bombarded with burning quads, a depleted energy gel supply and in desperate need of food. Around 3/4 of the way up, I joined a group of cyclists who informed me that the next feed station was 2-3miles away, and it was all downhill after the crest of the ascent. They said it with smiles on their face, like it was a good thing! Eventually at the feed station and finding it difficult to stretch my fingers so that my hand wasn’t stuck in death-grip mode, the marshals described how one of the 1st riders of the day pulled off from the main road a little too fast and rode through the feed stop gazebo and into a parked car. I never found out what happened to him but I was told that he got back on the bike afterwards and carried on.

The mostly flat ride into Pontrhydfendigaid was a welcome break on the legs, although a persistent headwind and lack of a draft (organisers…next year?) did mean a bit of time was spent on the aero bars. Still heading south to Tregaron and due to head further south still to Lampeter. I had been on the road without a passing cyclist for some time. I had done ~130km, the rain had been present for the last 2-3hrs and the signage to Lampeter and the remainder 30miles of the route were absent. Phoning the event organisers revealed that I had been overtaken by the back-stop motorcycle and signage had begun to be taken down. I felt like Alice in Wonderland at this point; the path already traveled and the route ahead had been erased. Advised to back track north where I had just travelled from, the A485 back to Aberystwyth wasn’t far away. My Garmin to hand, I had contemplated finishing the route with self navigation but my ankle, now swollen and engorged was the deciding factor to take a slightly easier 20mile ride home through Llanilar. Yet more Ibuprofen (so glad that I packed them into my jersey pockets!) and heading back north, onto the A485.

A steady climb into Llanilar was initially rather enjoyable as smooth asphalt was underfoot, a brief absence of rainfall and interesting front gardens featuring refurbished, colourful farm machinery from a by-gone age were passed. Later however, the rain came down and the tyres on the now-turned-rough road sounded like a decorator’s roller working through a paint filled tray.

In Llanfarian and just a few Km away. Just two more hills to climb and the 1st hill of the day that was climbed now to descend. Some 165km after I set off at 0800 that morning, I made it back into the town and over the finish line in 08hr20min and was greeted with a goody bag from Continental and a nice warm meal. It was also a welcome surprise to find out that the Arch hill climb was a timed section, which I managed to do in 13m16s, where the fastest time was 9m26s and the average 18m14s. The detour and alternative finish to the event did mean that I missed out the gruelling last climb of the day but I suppose the incentive is there for me to come back next year so I can complete the loop. I had a good chat with some of the riders at the finish and the general feeling was that it was a challenging, yet enjoyable, well organised event. All in, it was an excellent event to end my time living in Aberystwyth on.

Meantime, I am waiting for my soul destroying moisture laden brooks to dry out so it can be restored to its former nourished and aesthetically pleasing state.

Bike Packing: My 1st Venture

The longing to get out on a Bike Packing trip has been strong ever since I stumbled upon various cyclist’s blogs last summer. So come October 2012, I decided to start collating camping equipment and building a bike. The steed would be specifically designed to carry all of this equipment whilst remaining trail worthy – no barges allowed. I wanted to be able to ride to a location with decent trails but also enjoy the journey by straying away from roads as much as possible.

So this is what I ended up with

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Rigid, geared, Singular Swift – Ready to be laden with luggage and ready to set off for an adventure!

But where do I go? It saw a few weeks of daily use to go here, there and soon to be everywhere, so I was hankering to test it for its intended purpose. With work commitments and only one day off, it seemed logical to initially do an overnight stay in familiar territory; camp out at one of my local trail centre trails. Result!

The Ride

Everything is packed, strapped onto the bike and my legs are shattered from the 8hr work shift earlier on that day. I finally set off at around 2100 for a scenic ride through Pendam (with some off-piste decent along the way) and some 16km later eventually get to a spot where I would happily pitch up for the night at around 2330. By this point you can appreciate that it is quite dark, even with the piercing beam from my helmet light and the big, beautiful glow of the moon sitting on the still surface of the lake.

I chose to take my Tarp instead of my tent to save weight and after all, it’s only one night and not due to be a particularly cold or wet one at that. I found some relatively flat ground in the long grass, flipped my bike upside down and pitched the tarp over the lot. Hey presto! Wriggle inside (whilst avoiding getting a pedal in my face or derailleur in the tookus), organise my effects and then climbed into my sleeping bag and bivi. One toasty maggot.

Time to crack on with dinner. Now I do have a stove set (alcohol burner) but it was OTT for the one night, so I made do with cheese and piccalilli sarnies, Spar’s finest pocket sized strawberry cheesecake (reduced to 29p – get in!) and a flask of black coffee. With dinner done and the cogs of my over active imagination turning away (best friend / worst enemy), the noises of the forrest at night where somewhat distracting and I found it a wee bit difficult to sleep. So I cracked out my iPad (prepared camper) and started to watch Black Adder – Back and Forth. My mind was now distracted and sure enough I started to drift off, with one of the final things I hear being:

Baldrick “Oww dear, do you think it’s safe?”

Black Adder “I don’t know. Does this look like a dangerous place to you Baldrick? This empty wood?”

Come Fly With Me

Awake at 0530 – I always seem to be an early riser when I sleep away from my bed. I scurry out from my abode, stretch like nobody is watching and admire the fresh scenery. Early midweek morning, not a person in sight. Just the sound of the birds in the trees gossiping to each other. I take the short walk down to the lake and wash up before returning to dismantle the tarp and have some breakfast.

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So that wonderfully ideologic lake side camping spot looked astounding in its vast emptiness last night but I can assure you I had a lot more company in the morning. The moment that I dropped the tarp, out came the insects. Repeatedly bitten, my efforts of swatting and flailing my arms were very much in vain. Im sure that if there was anyone watching from afar, it may have been quite amusing, appearing like some slap-stick style comedy – hopefully any such witnesses didn’t catch the accompanying  profanity too.

I did eventually manage to pack everything back onto the bike, some 30 minutes later. Have you ever tried packing a sleeping bag on the move?…because pacing up and down was the only way that I was safe. A running jump back onto the bike as soon as the last strap was done up. I was on the move – breakfast had to wait!

I had done about 13km before finding somewhere safe to stop for a snack, at which point it would be safe to say that feeling famished was an understatement. By 1000 I was by the trail centre restaurant just in time for food. Sadly the taste of cheese and piccalilli sandwiches, Ethymol toothpaste and warm black coffee lingering in my mouth for the past 2 hours did not constitute the correct start to the day.

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Lovely view from the breakfast table at the Trail Centre Restaurant.


For the rest of the morning till early afternoon, I rode some off-piste tracks, wheezing around with the tail end of a chest infection that had been lingering for some days . Lemsip, honey, orange juice, cough medicine – I had been taking the lot, all with rather immediate but short lived relief. Fortunately, the most effective remedy lay just around the corner.

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This pub serves some of the best libations I’ve ever tasted, my frequent and most favourite fancy being Guinness.

Still room for more food and this time a few Butty Bach’s (which I highly recommend!) As a non-meat eater, I thought it silly that I forgot to ask for my wonderful risotto to come without bacon, so when it arrived I was a bit dumfounded as to what to do. My morals tell me that it is criminal to waste food, especially a dead animal, so I chowed down and ate every last bite. Now would be a good time to acknowledge Al Murray’s bacon related views by saying that it was average – I could not taste the reawakening experience that he spoke of. Sadly there was no room for dessert. Stomach distention was running at full capacity and I didn’t have a top button to undo or belt to take off – don’t wear lycra kids, it’s not cool.

After a quick telephone catch up with my mum, I was back on the bike and toddled off the 10km home – beer legs and saddle sores ahoy. The whole route was just short of 80km and for any curious chaps and chapesses, my Garmin stats for the route are here. Stay tuned for Bothy visits next week!