Welsh Ride Thing Bikepacking

By Paul Pomfret

Welsh Ride Thing part 1 - embarking on a cycling odyssey through Wales' picturesque landscapes.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I always fancied the idea of ‘adventuring’, out in an apparent wilderness, overnight, protecting yourself from the elements, and fuelling yourself with the all essential food. I’ve done my fair share of hiking and mountain biking over the years but have never really had a proper adventure. I’d take small steps in preparation like buying an MSR Whisperlite for a family camping holiday, just in case, one day, I’d take that epic lightweight trip in the middle of nowhere… one day!

Well, as the years rolled by and responsibilities grew, thoughts of any type of adventure continued to dwindle… until I read Issue 54 of Singletrack magazine. With articles by Jenn Hopkins completing the Great Divide, John ‘Shaggy’ Ross completing the Iditarod trail and finally the article on the 1st Welsh Ride Thing I finally decided to crack on and do something about it and entered the 2010 WRT.

The WRT has a very simple format of a self supported MTB orienteering challenge over the Bank Holiday at the end of May. It started at 2:00pm on Saturday and finished at the same time two day later. Stuart at Forest Freeride organises the event and he issues the thirteen checkpoints four weeks before to allow countless nights of planning, deliberation and comparison on the WRT blog.

I had never wild camped before and still had very little kit and so in preparation, the essentials were bought and shelter designs improvised. A week before the event I headed off up to the Ridgeway to see what it would be like to camp ‘in the wild’ and all went well!

Just as with bikes the desire to have the lightest, minimalist amount of kit is strong when you read the WRT blogs and so my kit was packed and unpacked numerous times in an attempt to keep my bike feeling like it will handle single track. In the end I had a 7 kg pack on a rear rack, 3-4 kg in my back pack and another 2-3 kg in the form of a bar bag and tool pack, effectively doubling the weight of my bike. A change of gearing from my usual 34:17 to 34:20 was the finishing touch to my preparations.

Following a planned early lunch to meet fellow entrants at nearby Carno we arrived under relentless rainfall at the start in Pennant at the northern end of Powys. Stuart issued our final instructions that were to be completed at each check point and then in dribs and drabs we set off under the grey and wet conditions.

I had quite a long trek to my 1st checkpoint; a bothy called Nant Rhys and had planned a route through Hafren Forest that takes you past the source of the River Severn. Two bothy workers appeared to have settled in and, judging by the number of beer bottles on the windowsill, were there for the long haul. I warned them to expect continual interruptions over the next few days as our instruction was to count the number of rooms upstairs.

The next checkpoint came quickly enough at the bottom of a long fast fire road descent that ended in the village of Llangurig. I then headed west over the hill to the next checkpoint but the conditions worsened with visibility reduced to 20m or so, this combined with a complete lack of the bridleway that was on the map resulted in me taking over 2 hours to cover 3 miles. Now cold, wet, hungry and with very little visibility, I decided to knock the next checkpoint on the head and instead rolled downhill on the road towards Cwmystwyth. As I descended what must be a lovely road on a good day the visibility improved as I came out of the low clouds and there in front of me was a camp field!

Half an hour later, my tarp and bivvy were set up, and the trangia was on. With 40 odd miles in my legs the warmth of a hot meal and a good sleeping bag I slept very well.

I had covered far fewer miles than I had hoped on the 1st day, and when I rose from my warm slumber into the cold, damp morning, I felt an overwhelming urge to pack up and go home. I had every piece of clothing that I had on and could not stop my violent shivering.

Some adventurer I turned out to be, at the 1st sign of any real discomfort I had contemplated every sound reason why I should retire but realised that the only thing I could do was to de-camp and set off on the bike to get warm.

Once underway, the weather was showing signs of improvement, and I instantly felt encouraged to see if I could make up for lost ground. I headed towards a village near my next checkpoint at Strata Florida and planned on picking up some supplies for the day and found a small local newsagent. This being Wales I found that it was also a café and a central meeting area for locals early on a Sunday morning. Two other WRT riders had already sniffed out this little gem and so I joined them for a full English whilst drying some kit in what was now becoming a bright and sunny day.

Moel Prysgau Bothy

Comparing routes, we decided to ride together and proceeded to have an extremely memorable day through the Tywi forest, to the Moel Prysgau Bothy, the 7 splashes, Doethie Valley and a lap around the beautiful Llyn Brianne reservoir. As the evening began to draw in, we managed to refuel on an enormous pub meal before heading off to ‘The Ritz’ of bothies, Claerddu, just north of the Teiffi pools. With a roof, floor, gas, hot and cold running water and a flushing loo, this was certainly roughing it in style. The other 11 WRT riders who also found themselves there that night agreed. What a fantastic end to what was an amazing day on the bike. I had managed to cover far more miles than I had expected and I couldn’t imagine a bigger contrast in emotions from how I felt early that morning. To top it off, it was great to catch up with some of the other guys after a couple of days riding; their stories contrasted greatly. Some seemed to have spent hours caught in bogs making very little progress over two days, whilst others had swept around their route and had enjoyed an excellent time on the bike… such are the benefits of local knowledge!

Teifi Pools

Early rise the next morning (one up, all up) saw me heading off on my own again, this time towards Devil’s Bridge as the others headed east toward Monk’s Trot. An uneventful but equally spectacular ride followed taking me to Nanty Arian reservoir, the infamous Checkpoint No12, along a section of the Trans Cambrian Way and finally back to the start point at Pennant, where a cup of tea and some welsh cakes was waiting.

Stuart never asked for the Checkpoint sheets when we returned and equally none were offered. The checkpoints were just cues that allowed you to experience fantastic riding through the relative wilderness and beauty of Mid Wales and the Cambrian mountains.

For me the Welsh Ride Thing exceeded my expectations, for a lightweight office working southerner used to his home comforts this really was an adventure, the planning the execution, the necessary changes of plan, the remoteness (You rarely saw anybody), the lack of any mobile phone coverage and the not knowing where you are going to stay that night all added to the enjoyment of it all.

Trivia: _12 checkpoints gained 150 miles covered_16,380ft climbing with approx 23 hours in the saddle,_10,813 Kcals burnt and_1 stripy badger tan on my head as I forgot to apply sun lotion.

So the seed has well and truly been sown and since the WRT the ‘adventure biking’ continues in frequency. Not in the normal high profile climb of the fells in the Lakes or an ascent of a Snowdonia but in our more manageable local area. On almost a monthly basis now myself and a couple of guys from work will head off for a mid-week ride into the wilderness of the woodlands of Berkshire, set up camp, get a fire lit and cook some food, down a bottle or two before retiring into our bivvies. An early rise follows the next morning and a blast on our bikes brings us back into the normal world of work and responsibility.

Bikepacking Bags

Dual-ended handlebar dry bag: fully waterproof, 13L
Large dual-ended handlebar dry bag: fully waterproof, 20L
Tapered saddle bag dry bag: fully waterproof, 13L
Small, waterproof handlebar bag: lightweight, 3L
£20.99 £24.99
Waterproof handlebar bag: lightweight, 13L
£29.99 £34.99
Large waterproof handlebar bag: lightweight, 20L
£33.99 £39.99
Waterproof top tube bag: lightweight, 0.65L
£15.99 £19.99
Waterproof stem-mounted bag: lightweight, 1.4L
£19.99 £24.99
Waterproof frame bag: lightweight, available in 3 sizes
£41.99 £49.99
Waterproof saddle bag: lightweight, 0.5L
£15.99 £19.99
Waterproof saddle pack: lightweight, 12L
£41.99 £49.99
Canister handlebar bag: UK made, weatherproof, 4L
£50.99 £63.99

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