Welsh Ride Thing 2016

By Kenny Stocker

The weather forecast was not appetising - heavy rain across Wales - maybe snow high up. Normally that would be enough to put me off, go find something else to do or find some other place to go.

But this was the Welsh Ride Thing, it happens once a year over the May bank holiday and it makes it OK to deliberately put yourself out there come rain or shine.

We had a big team Alpkit trip planned, but come the day it was just Jack and myself standing, in the hail, alongside 100 other committed riders. It was the usual mix of first timers, long time addicts and aspirants. Cross bikes, road bikes, fat bikes, touring bikes. Bikes with panniers, bikes with home-made luggage, bikes with pro-made luggage, bikes with rucksacks. Bikes with flat bars, bikes with hooped bars, bikes with drop bars - it was all proudly on show.

It was a relief to get away, the more time spent standing around the more time there is to faff with your bike, have second thoughts about what you are carrying, nip back to the van to get that extra fleece or powerbar.

The crowd soon dispersed, all following their own carefully crafted route. There is no right or wrong way on an event like this - you are just out for an adventure, on your bike, in the Welsh countryside. Saying that a bit of pre-planning does help. A GPS track aids the flow reducing the need to stop at every junction and look at a map - there is enough of that opening and closing gates.

I had plotted a course that took in all of the points - total distance 240 miles. That was going to be a massive ask but our realistic plan was just going to see how far we got, throw the tent up when we were tired - hopefully before dark.

The weather gradually improved as the afternoon rolled on. Our route weaved up, down and around the hilly countryside circumnavigating the ancient welsh capital of Machynlleth. I had tried to plot a route that was going to be interesting to ride, and off-road, rather than the shortest and quickest between 2 points. As expected progress was slow, we had hardly made an impact on the total route distance. The exception to this was the long drag of tarmac into Aberdyfi but the promise of riding the beach made it worth it.

The tide was out, a stroke of good fortune rather than excellent planning. The surface was just compact enough to get up a good head of steam, the beach bivvy was an excellent way to end the first day.

Heavy rain had been forecast for Sunday - we heard it start but it didn’t escalate into the biblical deluge we had been expecting. Amenities in Tywyn were few and far between, but we managed to find a coffee in the Spar and make a plan for the day. Lunch in Dolgellau was to be our objective; the ride around the coast would warm up our legs nicely for the long steady climb into the mist.

The riding was good, I had ridden this track before and knew that the slog would be rewarded by a fast decent towards Dolgellau. We past 3 other riders at the top of the pass. They were heading to the coast, one of them I had ridden with a couple of years ago. It was just one of the few encounters we had with fellow WRT riders which is indicative of how big an area the points cover.

There was a slight deviation before Dolgellau that took in one of Stuarts points. Unfortunately I proved it is still possible to make a route finding error even with GPS, and finding ourselves at the bottom of yet another steep sided grassy valley we had to push to recover the route. At this point Jack and myself took different paths. I saw him high up the hillside and despite yelling he couldn’t hear me. I saw him reappear at the top of the hill, jumping, yelling, whistling did no good, the wind was just too strong. Leaving my bike on the trail I ran up the hill hoping he hadn’t decided to descend the other side. The route was hilly enough with out having to make unnecessary and diversions. Disaster averted, lunch was now well overdue.

The rocky path continued, it was tricky riding - boulder strewn and running in water. As we finally descended into town we passed another sodden DofE group, it cheered us up that there were people who looked wetter than us.

A friendly chap recommended a cafe serving all day breakfasts. It was a good recommendation, the portions were huge and great value. We passed an hour supping tea, tucking into the food mountain and drying off just a little, and in this warm and welcoming environment we made a reasoned argument for heading back to Pennant.

The climb out of Dolgellau was endless, but we were fully fuelled. It eased off as we approached the A487 and then it became endless again. As we broached the clouds the endless actually ended and we fell into descent - and fast, dropping like stones all the way to Aberllefenni.

Machynlleth was busy, in fact the busiest town we had passed through all weekend. There was a comedy festival going down as well as the Dyfi Enduro challenge. Perhaps something to keep in mind for next year - but we still had another long hill to tackle before we would get back to Pennant, tea and cake!