On Monday 24 May, I set out to ride the length of Wales off-road. It was to be fun; a test of kit for the Tour Divide; and a bit of a confidence-builder in respect of the big event. I largely followed the Sarn Helen route published by Mountain Bike Routes UK, but diverged to get in more off-road and where I couldn't understand the instructions. I had a deadline of being back in London by 8.20 on Friday morning to get a train to a stag do in Edinburgh. Easy.
Things went pretty swimmingly overall. The bike, my new Singular Swift, was absolutely flawless. No mechanicals, long legged, and comfortable. My actual legs also worked pretty well. They powered along every day and didn't have too much trouble with getting up to do the same again the next day. My food selection was fine. No stove and various snacks kept me pecking into my feedbag and somewhat topped up. I did appreciate buying hot food in Brecon, but this will be possible on the TD as well. My GPS worked perfectly, eating 1 set of AAs in just over a day. My kit-packing didn't work so well, but I learned a couple of things:
You have to pack the Epic Designs rear bag carefully. I kind of knew this, but this ride emphasised it. Unless you have some good solid stuff at the nose of the bag, putting your food at the back can make it slop down annoyingly. It worked really well on the last day when I had things sorted out.
The "drybag round the bars" is difficult to achieve with a big bag. My 40L bag was consistently buzzing the front tyre until I ran out of gaffa tape for repairs. It was an ongoing source of frustration and caused me to have to stop repeatedly. My plans are twofold. I will reduce the amount of total kit (in the light of the Welsh ride) and I will use an Alpkit drybag with guides for the straps holding it to the bars.
Overall, I made the ride from Conwy to Swansea successfully, though I had intended to go to Gower and back. Unfortunately, train failures on day 1 meant that I couldn't set off from Conwy until evening and the deadline of being back in London for the stag do made me ditch going over to Gower. I'm writing a proper story to be sent to whichever magazine might want to print it so on here it'll just be photos. Enjoy...
Conwy Castle at the start!
There were no sheep around and no sign of sheep poo, so this sheepfold was bed for the night.
Sunrise over a misty valley - this felt really special.
Fancy wedging your bike through that lot? I didn't either, but I managed to drag through to the point where I eventually found the right trail: 20m up the hill, where they hadn't felled all the trees. Doh!
The trails I saw at Coed Y Brenin were all coming towards me, so instead of riding against the flow it was time for fast forest roads.
At this point, I thought I'd blinked and turned up in NZ.
Standard bike + golden sunrise shot.
That post is a trail marker. Don't fancy it much.
I knew there was something funny going on with that trail. After over an hour of knee-deep pushing, you have to laugh.
Beautiful scenery between Brecon and Swansea. The trails themselves were fun too. Too fun to stop and take photos :)
I was on the Sarn Helen Roman Road repeatedly during the trip but this was one of the few signs.
It's not all forest roads. This descent was properly properly GRRR!
The final stats from the GPS and, in the background, some idea of how much drybag repair was going on(!)