The event of legend, myth, misery and usually many amazing stories. This is an insight into what Bikepacking has done for me and where it may take me.
In the grand scheme of things I am pretty new to the world of bikepacking and although I have been wild camping in our hills for years and cycling for even longer, I somehow hadn’t stumbled across this niche part of the self propelled two wheeled world. It was Stuarts WRT, 3 years ago that was the catalyst of my new found love for this brilliant discipline of cycling and a weekend that would be the start of many new adventures.
As my involvement in this grew, so did my realisation that I actually wasn’t fit for long distance riding. Although I rode a few times a week, I was one of those “weekend warriors”, smashing out 20/30km rides with the occasional enduro race which may take my efforts to a 40km limit. This had to change, as for me I saw this as a way to explore more in a weekend than I could by foot. Also, due to my photography work, I was meeting cyclists that truly inspired me to be more, and push my limits a little further. Could I ride a 100km route with a night out, sheltering under no more than a simple piece of material?
Fast forward a year, the arrival of my now 18 month boy would be another key factor in the change of my cycling routine. With time becoming a premium and the faff that can sometimes tag itself to mountain biking, I started to favour the road bike. Luckily, where I live in Wales I can ride all day and only see a hand full of cars, I am also graced with some of the most spectacular scenery in the UK.
All of a sudden I was ridding 100km in one day, this then became 100km in less than 4 hours and so on… before I knew it, I was dressed head to toe in Lycra and enjoying this road cycling malarkey. Not that long ago I swore I would never ride “one of those skinny wheeled bikes, let alone wear that figure hugging disco wear” The upshot of this was I was becoming fitter and at the next Bear Bones event, I could ride a little further and enjoy it far more than the previous one. Hell, I was even starting to enter events like the Dyfi Winter warm up and mountain marathons.
As my knowledge of bikepacking grew and friends within this small community grew with it, I was hearing tales of the BB200, HT550 and all sorts of interesting events that are now popping up all over the world. Could I do any of these I thought to myself? These thoughts expanded and questions were asked, one thing that stood out for me was the HT550, partly because I love Scotland but also because from what I hear there is no other event like it in the UK.
Along with many discussions about the HT550, the BB200 was often mentioned. Have a go at that first I was told, its a good gauge as to whether you will enjoy or even be able to ride all day and night if needed. It was with this that I sat at home and with a trembling finger clicked the enter key on this years event.
A few days later a mild amount of panic set in, I’ve never ridden 200km in one go let alone with a few kg of kit attached to my MTB which is already a fair bit heavier than my road bike. With a few months to go I felt pretty sure I could get some big miles in on a frequent basis. Ha, who am I kidding? I run two businesses, have a family and have a ton of other things in my life that take up time. I decided I would try and concentrate on hills and rather than my dithery normal pace, actually put some effort into my rides. A 160km ride was completed along with a few more 100km hilly routes and at least once a week I tried to do my local 26km route as fast as I could.
Was this going to be enough? I was doubting it as the days grew nearer and the realisation that I had only cycled 100km in the last three weeks leading up to the event.
The bike was packed and the tough decision not to take a camera was made. I didn’t want a rucksack nor did I want much on my handle bars. Of course, it turned out I still had to stop and take pictures!
Saturday arrived and with it a 5am wake up call, the bike was loaded and I made my way North to Llanbrynmair to meet a mixture of excited, confident and partly horrified group of people gathering around the community centre. The plan was to leave as close to 8am as possible and at the last minute, my partner in crime Richard managed to join me. I was a little pleased at this if truth be told, as when things get tough it can be good to have more than Stuarts sticker to tell you to man up and keep turning those cranks.
We were off, and luckily for me, the legs were feeling good. A constant mathematical contest was being tossed back and forth as to how many km we had left, what percentage of the ride had we done, what fraction of it had we completed so far and so on.
The route was amazing, all the way to Knighton I was commending Stuart on his route choice, although 200km is a long way by most peoples standards we were ticking them off in a rather healthy fashion, soon arriving in Knighton at 4pm (the half way point). As I devoured a chicken burger and chips, I started to realise that a sub 24hr was easily on the cards for us at this point, hell it could even be a sub 20hr. Even with our generous stops and mild faffing about. This was maybe the turning point for me, 100km was my biggest single ride on a mountain bike to date and I was feeling good, surprisingly good actually. We carried on knowing that in 40km we would reach the Glyndwr’s way cafe and could restock and prepare for the final 60km push.
40km later we reached this remarkable Cafe, I didn’t fully appreciate what we were about to walk into or experience but as I swung the door open, there was a dozen cyclist and a real buzz in the air of the small village hall of Bwlchysarnau. Behind a hearty display of cakes, brownies and power bars there was a lovely couple running around tirelessly trying to serve all these wary and hungry mouths. As we ordered from the special BB200 menu board, some happened to ask where the money went and what their connection to this was. The reply pretty much stopped most of us in our tracks and an overwhelming sense of gratitude poured from pretty much any one in earshot.
They were volunteers giving up a whole night to serve us hot food so they could raise money to keep their community hall running. All of a sudden cries of “keep the change” and “round it up to £10 will you” were thrown at the gracious lady that was smiling non stop as she tended to our every need.
This had me thinking during the next section (amazingly you have a fair amount of time to think during this event) about all the village facilities that are closing down and how many of us only realise how important these are to us once its too late. Yet here in the depths of Mid Wales was a small community keeping this hall alive, and doing so in such a worthwhile manner. I truly felt a vast amount of respect for them and hopefully soon I will stop telling everyone I meet about the delicious courgette and lime cake 🙂
Once my mind had parted with all thoughts of the cake, I was faced with the exciting prospect that we were nearly finished. As we entered the Hafren forest about 1am I was getting rather excited about how far was left.
We swooped through the tress and down the tracks until we came around a corner to a river crossing. As we arrived at the river’s edge our attention was drawn to a fellow bike packer that seemed to be furiously wrestling with his bike amongst the trees in the wild undergrowth of the forest floor. After checking he was okay, our thoughts returned to which way was best to tackle the river crossing, two of us were looking for lines through, whilst the other two were toying with the idea of going upstream to the bridge. As I tentatively approached the water’s edge I suddenly heard a loud splash to my left, the chap had managed to escape the clutches of the pine trees and was stomping through the water pushing his bike as though he was on a death march. A little stunned at this I decided to just ride through and hope for the best, a quick dab of the foot and I was through safe and dry with the others following suit.
As we flew up the road section out of the forest, I started to get a feeling there was a sting in the tail of this years BB200, yes it was a tough ride up to this point and we had covered massive amounts of climbing but it just didn’t seem to be as scary or brutal as the previous years had been described to me. Well, as it happens, the sting in this year’s tail was bloody painful. Stupidly, I said out loud “I’ll be kipping in the back of the van in an hour”, two hours later I am still trudging through a minefield of tussocks looking for the illusive gate that will take me into the next field of identical blinkin tussocks. After wearing my shoes out, (along with it my mental state) we finally dropped on to a tarmac road that I knew would take us cruising back into Llanbrynmair.
It’s over, I have completed the BB200 in just under 22hrs with plenty of stops, laughs and amazing moments. Could I have done it faster? Yes!! Much faster? I am not sure, maybe sub 20hrs, maybe a little more but it didn’t really matter. I stood in the car park looking around the bikes of the riders that had already returned and watched as more followed behind me. We had all ridden the same course, experienced the same views but what did each of us get out of this I wondered. For me it was satisfaction greater than any other cycling achievement to date. I had ridden my biggest distance to date, climbed more vertical meters than ever before in one ride, met amazing people, witnessed a man being ravished by the Hafren forest and looked on at the delight of many, that the kebab shop in Knighton serves a doner kebab pizza.
So the big question is, can I do the HT550? I will continue to ride as much as possible over the Winter and try and capitalise on this achievement, my confidence in what my body is capable of has grown massively and my love for cycling may have increased with it.
Thank you Stuart and Dee as always, your events have brought me into a new world where I have met, and continue to meet amazing people, push myself to cycle further, sleep in wetter, colder conditions than normal people would deem sensible and help give my photography another angle. BB200 2017? Probably 😉
thanks as always to
All images are taken from my phone, sorry about quality.