Monday 13 January 2014

A story of sunshine, frost and bonking in the mountain :)

Feel free to just scroll through the pictures :)

The day had finally arrived - the Bear Bones BIke Packing There 'n' Back ride was here. I'd loaded up the car the night before so, after a quick bowl of porridge I was off. It was a cracking morning with the promise of a proper bit of winter sunshine.

Loaded up & ready to go...
I was aiming to arrive at the start, Llanbrynmair, around 9am so I was on schedule when I stopped for fuel in Llanidloes at 8:45. I'd run out of screenwash a few miles before so I topped this up too - mechanical #1! The bonnet release catch decided to jamb open so that the bonnet wouldn't close!!! Luckily I had a box full of MTB tools including a BIG can of WD40 so after 15 minutes of swearing and de-skinning a couple of knuckles it was sorted. However, I'm pleased to report that this was the only mechanical problem for the whole event so I can't really complain :)

I arrived just after 9am, signed in and was presented with my Bear Bones Bikepacking bum bag and hand warmer (better than a handbag and bum warmer I suppose?) - and a plate of toast and a mug of tea! Perfect start... After a bit of a natter with some of the other riders I unloaded the car, checked I had everything (at least twice) and headed off.

First climb of the day - Llanbrynmair in the distance
When choosing my route I wanted to use as little road as possible so I found myself on my first bridleway within 1/4 mile. A good bridleway - a sign with a horse on, gates - just what a bridleway should be. It was a bit steep though - especially with all the gear I was carrying. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to stop and take a photo :)

Still Llanbrynmair...
This all carried on well, with plenty more 'photo stops' until I came to a gate into a forest. My 1:25000 map was telling me to ignore the gate and climb up this incredibly steep field. My heart (my legs more specifically) thought the track into the forest looked much more fun. It seemed to be going in the right direction too. Decision made I slipped through the gate and was soon enjoying a nice bit of singletrack through the forest which broke out into a great descent - heading straight back to Llanbrynmair :( After a check of the map I realised my mistake and, not for the last time, pushed my bike back up the hill - it didn't look so appealing then!

Back on the right track.
Lesson #1 - If you have cycled to the top of a hill check your map even if you are certain which way to go before heading down. Then check it again!

Last look back North before dropping off the first hill
Finally all that climbing paid off with a lovely descent down a cracking forest track past loads of uprooted trees - damage from the previous weeks storm I guess. At the bottom of the hill I came out onto a road where I met 3 riders who'd started out from Llanbrynmair about 15 minutes before! Was that descent really worth over an hours climbing??? 

Couldn't ask for better weather.
Anyway, roads weren't for me (yet!) so I simply crossed to the other side straight onto another bridleway and another climb onto Waun Ty Isaf. After a lot of map checking (refer to lesson #1) I worked my way down to my first bit of tarmac - the climb up to Foel Fadian. I believe this is on a list somewhere as one of the greatest road climbs in Britain - if it isn't it should be. However, it didn't feel that 'great' on a mountain bike running Nobby Nics weighed down with all my kit... Anyway, I knew I was coming onto the climb after the start of the Strava segment so I decided not to 'go for it' - I'll leave that for another day (and another bike).

Garmin Edge 800 - Clever GPS, stupid operator.
I use a Garmin Edge 800 loaded with OpenStreetMap which is a brilliant device. However, I didn't realise that, if I deviated from my intended course, it would automatically re-calculate my route. Of course, not all of the bridleways I was using existed wthin the map data so the new route calculated tried to use whatever tracks / roads it could. The outcome of all this was that my GPS decided I needed to drop down the other side of Foel Fadian through Dylife. A stunning tarmac descent - who was I to complain? As I started the descent I looked across at a lake and a lovely strip of double-track heading off to the SW: "I bet that'd be a good ride - some other time". Refer to lesson #1! I can confirm that the ride up onto Foel Fadian is a 'epic' from the South...
Abandoned farm at Bugeilyn - GO NORTH WEST!!!!
Having finally warmed up my legs properly I headed SW with Nant y Moch my distant goal. The double track past Glaslyn to Bugeilyn was easy riding. At the farm this track splits and, following the mapped bridleway, I took the left fork. NOTE: I found out after the event that the right fork is a 100% rideable route all the way to Nant y Moch! Hindsight :)
The Hengwm valley
Now, the Hengwm valley is very pretty and there are bits of track visible - occasionally! Some of it was even rideable... After a few hours of trudging through bog I noticed that there was a track indicated on the 1:25000 - on the other side of the river. I couldn't see this track but the map said it was there and anything would be better my current location. Of course this meant crossing the river - we haven't had much rain lately have we? 'Luckily' I was already soaked up past my knees so wading across the Hengwm just cleaned some of the mud off :)

Was it worth it? No! The 'track' was even boggier than the bog I'd left on the other bank... Eventually I met the proper track at the confluence of the Hengwm and the Hyddgen. Rock & stone laid down in a long line - how exciting :)
Highland cattle at Nant y Moch
After a while this track led onto the Nant y Moch road that winds around the reservoir. Flat(ish), smooth tarmac - joy! I may have been suffering the effects of exposure & exhaustion at this point as I came across a herd of Highland cattle and sang them a whole chorus (well, the bit I remembered) of James Blunt's "You're beautiful".

Nant y Moch looking East
I felt I was on my home straight now. I've ridden the Syfydrin a few times so I was confident I knew where I was going. The sun was setting ahead of me and I had enough light to carry on without getting the bike lights out. 

Syfydrin trail - nearly in Aberystwyth :)
Back on tarmac I headed straight for Bow Street, stopping at the Spar for a couple of chocolate bars, and then on to Aberystwyth. I'd always intended on getting fish & chips and sitting on the sea front watching the sun go down. As I'd missed that by about 45 minutes I decided to head somewhere where I could sit in the warm, have a hot cup of tea and FOOD! I make no apologies for that place being McDonalds...

I was very happy (and trying hard not to think about the night to come)
It was warm in there, there were people, the TV was on.....I didn't want to leave. I'd noticed that the dry bag slung across my handlebars had developed a nice icy frosting over the last hour or so - it was going to be a cold night.

I eventually prised myself away from that glorious sanctuary (never thought I'd call it that!) and headed through Aberystwyth (via a couple more Spars) to the Ystwyth Trail - a traffic free cycling route. It was dark and cold now but I wanted to keep cycling until I was ready for bed - not much else to do after all! From 9pm I started looking for somewhere suitable to set up camp, finally spotting the perfect site around 9:30. Conifer forest, dry bracken floor, en suite facilities - what more could you ask?

Home, sweet home?
Now came the delicate choreography of stripping out of all of the cold, wet cycling gear and getting into my dry thermals (no pictures you'll be pleased to know). Once I was settled in my sleeping bag I got the stove lit for a hot bedtime drink.

All in all I had a good night's sleep. I did wake up a few times with a cold face but the sleeping bag / bivvy bag worked really well. At 2:30 a car did pull into a nearby car park - lots of door slamming and shouting before they drove off at speed! I didn't check for bodies in the morning...
It was a cold one...
I woke at 7am and quicky realised that all of my cycling clothes were frozen where I'd hung them to 'dry' :( The thought of a frozen chamois cradling my nethers kept me in my sleeping bag a while longer....

In the end I kept that 'treat' until the last possible minute, packing up everything else first. I managed a hot drink - just - before the gas stove decided it was too cold and stopped working. Meths next time.

The Ystwyth near Pont-rhyd-y-groes
From my camp site I used the Ystwyth Trail and then roads until I'd climbed up to the Teifi Pools. The climb was fun - sheet ice right across the road in places made forward progress challenging at times.
Teifi Pools looking West
The plan was to follow the track until I came to the fork* where I could cut across East toward Rhayader - the infamous Monk's Trod. Although I didn't know it was Monk's Trod until I came across a marker post floating in the bog.... 

*Note: Stay on the track here and go down to Claerwen for a rideable route to Rhayader! Hindsight - again!
Looking towards the Tywi Forest
Now, recapping back to last night I'd bought a few chocolate bars - most of which I ate at bedtime. Added to my depleted stock of energy gels (singular) and some sugar-free chewing gum this left me woefully short of supplies for my trek across to Rhayader. Bonking is a terrible experience at any time (please check the link!) but when you are miles from anywhere, knee deep in a mountain bog with a biting wind throwing rain/sleet in your face - well, let's just say it was character building :)

Lesson #2 - Always pack enough food for your planned journey - and then pack the same again!

Eventually I made the road at the top of Craig Goch Reservoir - and another huge hill to climb before rolling down into Rhayader. I'd always planned on taking the 'Golf Links' descent but I'll have to save that for another day. A quick stop into the Spar for a can of coke and two Cadbury's Creme Eggs (I'd been fantasising about this for the last few hours) and my next stop was a cafe. I parked myself against a radiator, downed 3 mugs of sugary tea and awaited my burger and chips, shivering uncontrollably and getting some funny looks from the other customers.

You'll be pleased to know that my wittering drivel is almost over. I had planned to ride up through Hafren Forest but it was dark, I was cold, it was raining and I just wanted to get back to my car (heated seats, dry clothes) Consequently I just rode up the A470 to Llangurig, across to Llanidloes and then up the B4518 to Llanbrynmair. I briefly stopped at a garage in Llanidloes to refuel on coke and chocolate and chatted to the guy behind the counter:

Evil shopkeeper*: "Where are you headed?"
Me: "Llanbrynmair"
Evil shopkeeper: "Really? There's some wicked hills on that road. They use it on the Tour of Britain you know"
Me: "Oh......"
*He was probably really nice

They were wicked hills but they were between me and my car so I plodded on. I walked up a couple, rode a few and eventually the streetlights of Llanbrynmair came into view....

Stu and Dee were still there and a hot cup of tea and a huge slice of homemade cake were soon consumed - perfect.

Here's the Strava link:

It is only 24 hours after the event finished and I'm already looking forward to the next event - in May this time!

Thursday 9 January 2014

Final bit of packing...

Only 2 sleeps to go! Time to pack everything onto the bike so I can squeeze in a dry-run (should that be dry-cycle?) before I head off to There 'n' Back on Saturday morning.

I thought I'd lay everything out on the table so I could decide what was going in which bag. 

What have I forgotten? 


  • Alpkit stingray custom frame bag
  • Alpkit medium fuel pod
  • Deuter saddle bag dry bag
  • Osprey Raptor 14 hydration pack
It is surprising how well all of the kit packs away. The Alpkit mighty mug takes a gas cylinder, all of the coffee sticks, the porridge and the foil. The other mug held the tissues, multi-tool, lighter, firesteel, penknife & tyre levers.

I tried to keep all the cooking kit in the same bag so that I could stop & knock up a quick drink / meal without rummaging through all the bags searching for that crucial item.
All loaded up and ready to go.....getting excited now :)

In the end I had plenty of spare capacity among the bags. The frame bag swallowed a huge amount of kit & I ended up having to pad out the empty space with some spare clothes. 

Next time - assuming there is a next time - I could probably drop a size in dry bag on the handlebars by moving the bivvy bag & tarp to the frame bag. Next time.......

Oh, what did I forget to lay out on the table? Maps.......could be handy!

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Will it all fit?

Well, I've collected together everything I'll need for my overnight ride but.......will it fit on the bike?

More specifically, will it fit on the bike in such a way that I can still ride it, see where I'm going, lift it over fences, escape wolves....

I thought I'd start with the important stuff - my sleep kit:

  • Down sleeping bag
  • Ex army bivvy bag
  • Thermarest mat
  • Ex army basha (tarpaulin)
  • Set of thermals
  • Wooly hat
Now, before I laid it all out on the floor, I'd imagined it all fitting in a 20 litre dry-bag that would be mounted across the handlebars. I had serious doubts but, after a bit of swearing and sweating, it was all in there. I even managed to fit my clothes in another dry-bag inside :)

It really did all fit in!
Once I'd fitted it to the bike it looked HUGE! Still, at least I'm happy I'll have a dry, warm night - whatever the weather. 
Should I have let the air out of my camping mat? ;)
I'm happy with the handlebar mounts I made. The bag sits on securely but doesn't rest on any of the control cables. Time will tell if it is a permanent addition to the bike.

I haven't filled the rest of the bags yet - to be honest I hope I won't need to use all of them. Still, here's a picture of the bike with every bag in place. I've got a rucksack too of course! :)

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Go, go gadget.....power :)

I'll be taking a few gadgets with me on this trip - all of them essential obviously! ;)

The main problem with them is that, on an overnight adventure, they may run out of power before I'm finished. Some method of recharging is required...

Looking at the options I can rule out solar systems - January? Wales?

Solar is probably not the best option...
In a perfect world I'd have a front wheel built up with a dynamo hub. Things have moved on a bit since I last 'clicked' a dynamo against my tyre wall - that wonderful Catch 22 of having to go really fast in the dark to try and create enough light to see where you were going...

Now a dynamo hub can be rigged up to a USB charger so you can keep all of your gadgets charged as you go on your merry way.

Anyway, in the end I opted for a rechargeable battery pack (272g) which I'll charge up at home before I leave. This has 2 USB outputs that can be used for charging any device using USB - my mobile phone, my GPS and my GoPro camera.
Battery pack - 13000mAh - it even has a built-in torch :)

Now, I'll be using 3 gadgets and their battery capacities are:

Garmin Edge 800 - 1000mAh
Sony Xrepia Z1 - 3000mAh
GoPro camera - 1180mAh
Total = 5180mAh

So, assuming I don't run all 3 devices completely flat, I'll just use this figure as the recharge required and ignore charge efficiency :) This means I should be able to recharge all of these devices 2.5 times before running the power pack flat. For this trip I'm assuming the mobile won't need charging at all and the GoPro will probably only be used a few times. The GPS will probably need recharging - I'll plug it in when I go to bed (notice I didn't say "go to sleep"). I could have managed with a much smaller (lighter) battery pack but I'm hoping to disappear off on longer trips in the future...

I'll probably forget to take all the charging leads though......

Sunday 5 January 2014

Bike lights

Well, I've just realised that my bar mount Magicshine light won't be much use sat behind a stuffed dry-bag! Time for a quick fix as I've lost the helmet mounts during our house move.....

Battery pack fixed using the velcro straps
It looks a bit high in this photo but it gives great light spread

Luckily I have a GoPro mount fixed to my helmet and a few GoPro bits & pieces so I've rigged everything up on top. It adds a bit of weight but gives a great light spread. I'll wrap a Knog Frog front and rear too as backup - great lights that weigh nowt :)


I'm an engineer by trade and my favourite phrase is "I could make one of those" so I always have to fight my inner demons when making a purchase. My wife loves going shopping with me :)

This has carried through to equipment for bikepacking but I have made some purchases - and Father Christmas helped out too!

Sleeping bag - I already had a really good synthetic sleeping bag from Nanok but, being synthetic, it was bulky and heavy (2340g). Reading various forums it seemed clear that a down bag is more suitable to bikepacking - just don't let it get wet! More forum research led to a British company - Their Cumulus 400 weighs 905g and has a 'comfort' rating of -7⁰C. More importantly it compresses down to around 15x15x30cm!

My sleeping bag of choice - Cumulus Prime 400
Bivvi bag & tarp - I already have an ex-army bivvi bag and tarp which, although there are lighter ones, will be fine for my first trip. I did buy some poles though. I know - poles are soooo easy to make yourself or cut from the forest. These were cheap, light and gold anodised though so I'm sure you understand :)
The label that was attached to the poles - I may get on to trading standards....

I purchased a 70cm pair from here:

Cooking - If I didn't already have a good stove I would  have purchased Alpkit's new 45g Kraku stove.

Now that is a tiny stove.
I already have a MSR Pocketrocket so I really couldn't justify buying the Kraku.......yet! I did get sidetracked with meths stoves for a while, making a few coke can stoves and a tiny (as opposed to tinny) one made from an aluminium scent bottle:
Experimenting to see how small you can go with meths...
I did buy a few things from Alpkit though, including this titanium MytiMug. A 125g gas canister fits neatly inside.

Bike luggage - Alpkit came to the rescue with a custom made frame bag & a few dry-bags.

Alpkit's excellent Stingray frame bag
I already had a saddle mount dry-bag that I'd used on a previous bothy trip so all that was left was something to fit some more luggage on the handlebars. 

An old Ortlieb saddle bag should do the job.

There are a few options available on the internet but this was a chance for my inner-engineer to break out!

I'd spied these bottle cage mounts on eBay and thought they could be adapted to suit my needs. My first huge engineering leap was to use one for mounting my bottle cage :)

Bottle cage mount used as a ......... bottle cage mount :)

Bending a bit of aluminium channel and filing some notches I ended up with something that should let me strap a dry bag across the handlebars without fouling any of the cables.

Two of these on the handlebars should hold a drybag firmly enough.
This week I'll think about clothing and food. Mmmmm, food!


I've been into mountain biking for around 5 years now. As with most other riders my introduction to this sport was at trail centres where graded, controlled routes help build confidence and skills. In the last couple of years I've taken part in some events using natural trails - Brecon Beast, Wentwood Goshawk - and I've also been on a few natural rides with friends.

Winter XC race at Coed Trallwm
This type of riding is fantastic - you never know what conditions you'll find or if the next bit of trail is actually rideable. For me the logical progression was to extend these natural rides into overnight adventures which saw me sign up for the BearBonesBikepacking There 'n' Back event.

So on January 11th I'll be riding our from Llanbrynmair in mid-Wales heading towards Aberystwyth via Plynlymon & Nant-y-Moch. The goal to visit as many Spar shops en route as possible! If I'm lucky I'll find the 'golden ticket' pinned to a notice board in one of the shops. Sticking to bridleways as much as possible I'll plan my own route so OS maps and Google Earth here I come :)

The 'planned' route - it may change...

From Aberystwyth I'll follow the cycle path along the Ystwyth valley before heading to Devil's Bridge and then cutting across to Hafren Forest before returning to the starting point.

Somewhere along the route I'll need to set up camp for the night and, to keep misery at bay,  I'll need some equipment. Now, I do like a gadget or two...

Here's a basic list of the kit I think I'll need (remember I haven't actually gone bikepacking yet!):

  1. Sleeping bag
  2. Bivvi bag
  3. Tarp, poles & line
  4. Cooking equipment
  5. Sleeping clothes
  6. Food & drinks
  7. Bike tools & spares
  8. Bike :)
  9. Bike lights
  10. Money & mobile phone
  11. Dry bags and bike racks to carry everything.
I'm lucky to already own all of this equipment - but is what I have appropriate for bikepacking? Most of my equipment was from my Scout Leader days - days when camping involved heavy canvas tents, huge cast iron cooking rings and a 4x4 with a trailer. That'll be a 'no' then!

I'd need bigger panniers (I'd need panniers!) :)