Trying to characterise the event is almost as difficult as trying to characterise the type of rider that takes part. Imagine trying to combine orienteering, mountain biking, wild camping and shopping into a two day event.
For me, taking part in There n Back seemed like how it must have been for those attending illegal raves in the eighties. You start with just a few brief details of a rendezvous point and a vague idea of what to expect during the overnight test of ones physical capability. Few make it through without stimulants of some kind and the clear favourite this weekend was Jelly Babies.
In contrast to some of the other Bearbones events such as the Bear Bones 200,There n Back is a relaxed, social affair. Pre start preparation consists of amini competition to see who can faff the most. Experts in this category came prepared with faulty brakes and unpacked bike luggage. Tea and toast was expertly prepared in the village primary school that was to be the centre of our universe that weekend. As an outsider observing the excited conversations it was easy to imagine that every other entrant knew each other. After a while I realised it is just impossible to tell the difference between old friends and new acquaintances. Everyone here is simply a rider. There is no hierarchy or rivalry. Well, maybe the single speeders have a bit of a chip…
While in reality everyone is there to have a great ride in beautiful mid Wales, the official event is based on a set of coordinates to base your chosenroute on. You are sent these a fortnight before and you can create any route you like. No points for the number of locations visited. In fact no points for competition at all. Every year has a different theme. This year was a homage to the bikepacker’s lifeline and generalsource of nutrition that is the Spar shop. Each coordinate was of course a branch with random spot prize tokens pinned to notice boards. The only rule wasto ride a bike and camp out overnight.
For me this was a good chance to test some new Alpkit goodies. I’ve added an Airlok XTra drybag to my front luggage system. Having previously suffered the reality of simply strapping kit to the bars in the past, the use of the rock solid Kanga is pure joy. It comes with built in clips to connect with special straps also available as an added extra. Added to the Airlok XTra drybag to this combo works a treat since the side strap loops match up perfectly with the spacing of the Kanga clips. From past experience of using the Kanga I knew this would provide a bombproof system for the 3.2 kg mounted up front (4 season down bag, Hunka bivvy bag, spare socks, blow up pillow, Airo mat).
I was lucky enough to be invited to ride with some fine fellows, some with past experience of the area. I had my own route in mind going north through mostly unpaved tracks and taking in some coastal Spar destinations. The route the group took was genius as while it went through some beautiful scenery it avoided most opportunities to cover ourselves with mud. As if by magic we reached our overnight location a bit before dark. As the sun dropped below the Welsh hills the perfect blue sky was replaced with nature’s own light show. If you’ve never slept truly under the stars you should make it a life’s ambition. It is the one sight you’ll never forget and yet never tire of seeing. However, this amazing vista does naturally follow with a sharp drop in temperatures. I’m told -6C and the crust of ice in the morning on the bikes backs up this claim.
So this follows to why the Kanga + Airlok XTra combo is so good in winter. With sub-zero temperatures each minute of faff before peddling brings you closer to that frozen hand situation. Those thick winter gloves are no good for intricate loading of bike luggage. With the combo you stuff the back, loop the straps and click into place. Done. Loading takes less than thirty seconds.
Day two saw us return north with some retracing of sections previously done at 4AM after twenty hours of riding during the BB200. I guess it was here that I realised the true spirit of this event. Quality riding in the company of great, like-minded people. Shared, banter, shared experiences, and shared Haribo.
We returned to base in early afternoon with a room full of slightly worn out bikers just as upbeat as the previous morning. No winners, no losers, just (tired) happy bikers. I clocked up 76 miles, 1 Spar visited, 5 great friends, hundreds of smiles. My thanks to the flatfishy gang for the company and to Stu and Dee the organisers and providers of quality toast.
The 2015 event will take place on Jan 10th/11th.