Sunday, 14 October 2012

BearBones 200 - More Bikepacking to Finish 2012

BB200 Route: Click to make it bigger
Almost like it's designed to take in all the biggest hills!
This year I've found myself doing a lot more bikepacking, so it's no surprise I was looking forward to the Bare Bones 200, held in an area that contains some of my favourite riding in the UK, and through one of the sections I enjoyed the most in my earlier EWE adventure.

My race preparation hadn't been ideal: An 7-day work trip to South Korea, followed by a 9-day work trip to Austria, rounded off with a birthday trip to Munich's Oktoberfest, all finished off with a violent (and certainly self inflicted) case of gastroentiritis. No matter, a few cups of coffee on my return home got me and my kit to a cheap night in a Travel Lodge near the Welsh border and a breakfast of RedBull got me to the start line raring to go.

This was never going to be my strongest ride, but I was determined to enjoy myself and, riding through the sub-zero overnight temperatures I found some great company and finished with a huge smile on my face, earning myself a coveted "Black Badge" in the process.

And here's how it all went......

Plenty of other people seemed to
think this was a great idea too!
Once I'd got my rear wheel drive BMW down the steep, wet muddy field, I soon put thoughts of how I might get it back out again to the back of my mind and set about building my bike, strapping on my kit and eating a proper breakfast. A proper breakfast being pie-based, of course.

Once the basics were done I wandered up to the start, and was delighted at the amount of interest my set-up generated. I was once again running an Exposure Revo dynamo light and using the dynamo power, in daylight, to charge my Garmin, which contained the route. I was very happy to see one other dynamo set-up at the start, I suspect next year there will be many others catching on to this new/old technology too.
No sooner were we off, that the trail went up.... and carried on doing do for some time, for the first minute or two the pace was conservative and then Ian Barrington, the course record holder, and last year's "winner" (not that this was a race, of course) made a break off the front. No reaction came from elsewhere and, unable to contain my competitive urges after not that long I wiggled carfeully through the bunch to set off to try and close the gap. I couldn't see Ian ahead as he had gone off hard, and I was soon joined by a few riders on my back wheel. Eventually Ian appeared in view and I pushed on to try and catch him. I was about half way across the gap when I was forced to concede that this was a suicide mission, I was in no state to go racing the course record holder in his own back yard, and settled back to a far more sensible pace for a great ride ahead. It wasn't long before I could be really sure what lay ahead:
Almost at the top of the first climb, and there's the second!
As we crested the first climb, which began immediately after the start, the trail headed briefly  and steeply, down, before heading straight back up again. With sub zero overnight temperatures promised, this was going to be a long 200km for sure.

After a while I was caught by fellow South Downs Double rider, Ben Sherratt, who was riding with a friend. We started chatting and the miles rolled by as we put the world to rights and took in the view along the way, barely breaking the conversation to correct the few little navigational issues we had in foreign terrain with tracks that were not necessarily always visible on the ground, let alone ridable! I was really enjoying the event and even a brief lapse in the near constant rain, for a hailstorm to hit us, couldn't dampen my enthusiasm.

A river crossing saw wet feet all round, but the skies were clear and the surroundings spectacular so our enthusiasm for the ride remained sky high. A long draggy section saw us part company and I crossed the next tops alone, basking in the size and greatness of the  great outdoors I found myself in, taking advantage of the (many) muddy, unrideable sections to soak in the view.

I swapped places a couple of times with Paul Dytham, who was to prove to be a brilliant ride buddy, great conversation, but I was delighted to find he also also good navigation skills and a wealth of long ride experience which kept us both going without either of us having to concentrate too hard on staring at the screen of our GPS's. I lost him briefly around the Elan Valley as he stopped and then I stopped for dinner, but I must confess to really enjoying having this section all to myself in the early evening as the rain stopped and the skies cleared.
The approach to the Reservoir, those are some steep valley sides!

At the top, and a few magnificent miles around the reservoir at the top of a hill await
A glimpse of the view from the top, we followed the edge all the way to the end. Glorious.
Surely that's a steam not the trail?
Not too long after the end of the reservoir we were reunited and, as darkness fell, once we'd navigated what we were warned was the wettes bridleway in Wales (aka a river) we settled into riding together. The temperature dropped fast and, although it hadn't been either too cold or dry, the clear skies saw the temperature drop as low as -6° at one point. We were relieved to find a Youth Hostel as the cold really took hold and stopped briefly to refill our water, take advantage of the kettle for a cup of tea and swap a few stories with the riders who had already made it there and were sat by the fire warming themselves up, and who looked in no hurry to push on. Paul and I had more ambitious plans and, putting on every single piece of kit we had with us, we headed out into the night. A while was spent admiring the Exposure Revo LED mtb dynamo light and I  tried hard not to be too smug about having my light available, and at full brightness, all the time.
Daylight corssing of Caernau, it's almost impossible even in daylight
Photo brazenly stolen from Tim Taylor's blog ;-)
And then we got to the hard bit. By now we were both tired, and cold. We had to cross Caernau, which is a large mountain, with no visible track, thigh high grass and which is mostly boggy underfoot. We soon lost what little trail we could see and Paul started to suffer badly. I took over navigation responsibilities  we got out a good dose of caffeine and Paul, to his great credit, kept moving forwards. Over an hour and a half later (real time compressed for the sake of our egos!), exhausted, we were down the other side.

Having dispatched this and, previously the Devil's Staircase (my first time, note to self: come back with a road bike) it was then my turn to suffer. Having taken the lead for a couple of hours, I had forgotten to eat, and my previous work travels really caught up with me. Paul now took the lead and I tucked in behind on a sub zero long, featureless road section in the dark. I couldn't get the caffeine in fast enough and twice found myself riding up a bank, asleep, and was woken up with a bang as the bike tried to throw me off, both times I was fortunate enough to catch it!

Finally dawn came and we pushed on for what we hoped would be the last few km. However, this turned out to be a 220km long 200km race and, as 200km approached together with the realisation we still had more than 5 mins to go, a sub-zero river crossing wasn't what we'd hoped for. Neither did my rear hub which promptly filled with water and then froze, leaving me with a non-functioning freewheel and pedals which span freely in both directions!

Paul chivalrously volunteered to stay with me as I freewheeled, scooted and walked the next bit until the sun caught the black hub and the heat from the bearings after a long descent finally managed to unfreeze the pawls and we were away again, happily admiring the mist sprawling across the valley floors in front of us and we were off again.

We finally got to the farm house and couldn't have been happier to be awarded our Black Badges together with an amazing breakfast sandwich and a cup of tea, surely a post-ride high-score-combo. My car eventually needed a quad bike to help tow it out the (still wet) field. A couple of hours of dozing later and I was on my way home, more than a little bit happy with my day's work, the black badge in pride of place on my dashboard and my head filled with flashbacks to the amazing views which, unfortunately for you, the reader, I rode through and didn't pause to capture.

I started my year with the Bare Bones Mach'n'Back bikepacking event to give myself a proper winter test and, after a wonderful 2012, can't think of a better way I could have ended it. Bring on 2013. 

Since writing this I also cam across a lovely little video of the weekend, put together by a fellow rider, who captures the weekend, from the pre race kit procrastination, the drive to the middle of Wales, the ride and the afterglow perma-smile all very nicely indeed. 

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