The trip that I never finished…
Unlike most of my trips this one had a plan, not a set in stone kind of plan but none the least a vague outline of a plan. My ultimate goal was to end up at Bearbones Towers on the Saturday night for the inaugural Bearstock.
A few months before, I purchased my food ticket and a nice bottle of red to be kept on site ready for my arrival (this is the kind of great service you come to take for granted with Stu and Dee), as we all know it can be thirsty work this bike packing and rehydrating is an important part of a successful trip.
I fashioned a route of sorts starting and ending in Rhayader, it was working out at around a 120km return trip with options of extending it to near 200km should I have time and the inclination to explore some unknown tracks.
As I had yet to stay overnight at Lluest Cwm Bach, I decided that would be my Friday night stop. I had previously hiked in not long after its refurbishment was finished in 2013, vowing then to return very soon after, still three years later is fairly reasonable isn’t it??
After some careful riding and a little hike a bike across the top of Esgair Perfedd I managed to reach the far side with only one damp foot. The recent rainfall had saturated the whole area and in places left sections hard to pass without a mishap resulting in the dreaded soggy sock. Soon I was descending towards the shoreline of Craig Goch Reservoir with that build up of excitement that grows within you knowing your final destination is close. As my thoughts stray, I start thinking about my dinner, will any one be there already? Maybe other bikepackers also starting their journey to Bearstock? Will there be any wood to light the fire so I can dry my shoe?
Suddenly with a sinking feeling and some choice words, my premature thoughts were swept away with the sight of another Jumanji style battle on my hands (see previous blog). The enjoyable sheep track that skirts the old estate boundary fence had been swallowed up by a forest like blanket of ferns. As tick season is upon us, I decided to put my tights on, tuck all clothing in and battle through the 4 to 5 foot high ferns hoping that I would one, make it out the other side and two, be tick free.
As the bothy came into view, I could see smoke gently rising from the chimney, once again thoughts turned to how many will be inside and will there be room for one more? Will they be hikers, bike packers or MBA workers?
As I opened the door the usual rustle inside began, that moment when the inhabitants start to question who could be coming? How many? This time it was a couple from Northern England, they had arrived an hour or two earlier and had the fire roaring nicely. Each had carried a few kg of coal in, which to my delight enabled me to dry my shoes and socks ready for tomorrow’s journey.
The night was spent talking about trips past and future, bothies and the suchlike. The couple are slowly ticking every MBA bothy in the UK and gave me some great information on which ones are well worth a visit. I must admit, I haven’t stayed in as many as I should, and after looking at their pictures and enjoying their stories I have already started planning future trips to some of these beautiful remote shelters.
I woke up to dry socks and shoes but unfortunately also rather pathetic looking sleeping mat that had decided to leak throughout the night. Let me tell you, trying to blow your sleeping mat up quietly at 4am when only a few feet away from people you barely know is quite a tricky endeavour.
After morning coffee and breakfast we all packed our kit away and cleaned up, I then watched the couple walk off to continue their weekend’s adventures. I waited a little longer in the hope that the rain would pass and that I would have the place to myself for a little while. Sometimes you need to experience the solitude these places offer and soak up the history and stories the walls gently leak out.
My plan was to ride past Nant Rhys, then up through Hafren Forest and on to Stu and Dee’s via various back roads, bridleways and tracks. A few km in I found myself doing a comical slow motion dive as the laden front end of my bike sunk into a bog and resulted in me doing a Bear Grylls style roll across the ground, standing up proud as though I had just finished a gold medal performance on the gymnastic mat at the Olympics. Amazingly, a few seconds passed by before I realised I was actually stood shin deep in water, this is not a great feeling when you know you have well over a 100km to ride and could be spending 36hrs in wet shoes.
I decided to stay positive and carry on to Nant Rhys with the idea of changing my socks and slipping my feet into some carrier bags to help keep them dry and thus warm.
After a few km on the road I was about to turn off and start climbing up over the hill and back into the forestry where Nant Rhys is situated, when unfortunately I noticed my rear wheel was starting to feel a little odd. Not only were the bearings in my hub becoming loose, the wheel was starting to buckle to the point it was nearly rubbing my rear chain stays.
Stood on a bridge in the pouring rain with cold and wet feet, looking at my self-imploding rear wheel and with no phone signal to check the weather forecast, I decided enough was enough and I wasn’t going to travel further with a failing bike and not knowing if this rain was here to stay.
After a spin back to Rhayader along the roads, I neared the famous Golf Links track. I thought to myself, why not end this shortened trip with a fun descent and at least a smile on my face. 20m into the track I heard that noise that only comes with sealant squirting from a tyre, yep, thats right my rear tyre was leaking quicker than my shoes did when stood in that bog only a few hours earlier. This trip was surely doomed!!
Once dried and fed I sat at my mother’s in Rhayader thinking about my string of bad luck in the previous hours. Was this maybe my worst ever bike packing trip? Was it cursed from the start? Should I at least look at the good that came from it?
I had watched the Sun go down as I crested a beautiful hilltop before dropping into and staying at one of the most perfect bothies Wales has to offer, meeting new people and sharing like minded adventures before sleeping in remote wilderness with the warmth of a fire and a roof over my head, all for free. Even though I was later stood in a bog, I felt the need to continue the trip regardless of my discomfort because this is what we do and it’s part of the adventure.
Links to some useful sites and companies that will help you fulfil your adventures.