Saturday, August 02, 2008

Afan and the 'Man Plan'

After a good nights sleep at the Mattthews homestead in Devizes, we set off in convoy until it was realised that the Matthews car was not taxed. After a brief stop, it was decided that Jon and Charlie would continue and we would meet again at Chipping Norton once the tax was sorted. Jon was not impressed with this delay as he had got back early specially which is not a happy experience for him. Despite this we got to Afan just after 10 and embarked on the Whites trail.

The roll call

Julie and Ade soon showed up the rest of the group with their fitness levels having benefitted from a previous trip earlier in the year. For others, it was an experience with Jon crashing down a hillside looking for Ian behind him and Charlie crashing out but with more spectacular results, involving damage to both man and machine. However the ride was completed and we finished off in the Drop-Off cafe with copious amounts of food being consumed by Jon especially involving a huge lasagne and jacket potato - Billy-Bob would have been proud.

Scene on whites trail

The intrepid group set out from Glyncorrwg Ponds leaving behind the very soft and comfortable leather sofas and creature comforts of the ‘Drop-Off’ cafe! After a short wait where Charlie had his bike fettled (Rear mech hanger straightened, new rear mech jockey wheel, chain shortened and general shop TLC) we set of at a good pace along the stone/tarmac track that used to be the riverside railway, the start of ‘The Wall’ being some 6kms from Glyncorrwg site. We darted and dashed along the track playing like school kids with good weather on our backs and the excitement of the ‘Graveyard’ and other great technical downhill sections that lay ahead. A.D had the only bike with narrow enough handle bars to ride through the motor bike stoppers that stalled our progress momentarily.

The Wall starts with a long fire road track ascent interspersed with shorter cross-forest single track, which gives the rider a pleasant break from the constant push of the seemingly never ending ‘Up’! With spirits still high after a very successful ‘Whites Level’ completion earlier in the day, the group stayed together and nailed the climb. King of the Hills for the weekend had to go to Julie (shared with Big Jon) who seemed to lap up the hills with gusto! The start of the single track descent gave the group a nice taste of things to come and the accomplished group made light work of the early sections. The Graveyard gave a much larger test to the happy group (still enjoying the Welsh sunshine). Having had their ‘offs’ earlier in the day, the group stayed remarkably upright, finding their respective groves at the right time for the tricky Graveyard section which made the rider pick a careful route though the huge rocks with ample drops and sharp edges. The only stop for us was at the Old Ruin to enjoy a quick energy bar or guarana chewing gum (for the brave). The route was almost empty and we only saw 4 other riders the whole way around (maybe that was due to our speed!)

A breather from the Wall

The downhill continued to thrill and by now small jumps were being hit with speed and switchbacks were becoming relative pieces of cake. A highly recommended route even with the 6km outride and c.10km in ride above the river edge. Well earned beer and refreshments awaited after we built camp and cleaned ourselves up.

The group returned to the campsite, tired and hungry after 10k of seemingly never ending family route. The tents were erected rapidly under an increasingly grey sky and a growing wind and the promise of a hot shower and food to come. Gill and Ian’s tent had its first outing while pro camper Charlie-man scrounged tent pegs off the others having forgotten his own! The sweat, blood and mud was washed away in 2 minutes flat in accordance with the showers timer system and the girls returned to find Ad, Ian, Charlie and Jon hatching a ‘man-plan’ to secure our five bikes (plus one acquired from a pleasant chap in the next tent) to a very small tree. Cars were then moved to surround the bikes so that even the most accomplished bike thief could not break past our security (car) fencing.

The “man plan” puzzle

Man plan complete, the remaining boys went off to shower while Jules, Gill and Jon cracked open a beer, opened the crisps and began chilling in the camp chairs, unfazed by the start of the rain. Aware that time was getting on and that the time for last food orders was fast approaching the group headed back to the drop-off cafe. Jon was most disappointed to find that the lasagne had run out having craved a second helping of this monstrous sized dish since lunch. Charlie (?) and Ad filled up on the largest doorstop beans on toast you’ve ever laid eyes on and Gill, Ian and Jules settled for a pizza (each!) Dinner was eaten among recollections of the new energy section of Whytes, The Wall and talk of the days ‘offs’, a conversation Ian could avoid being the only one to escape a fall. Inspiration was gained from the mountain bike videos played in the cafe and we all picked up a few tips on how to glide over the rocks at speed for the following day. Tiredness soon began to get the better of us and the plans for a few beers were soon changed as the group started to fade at the table. Goodnights were said by all everyone made it back to the tents before the heavens opened and the rain came down, which was to last well into the night...

After a good nights sleep in the tent, we woke up nursing tired limbs which struggled to get moving after the two rides the day before. Julie was up first followed shortly by everyone else with Jon up last. Everyone had prepared different breakfasts for themselves ready for our ride of the day, Penhydd Trail. Gill and Ian munched some Pain au Chocolats, Charlie some porridge, later finished off by Ade, Julie and Ade some cereal whilst Jon munched a large iced flapjack.

The plan was simple, eat breakfast, wash, pack up, pay up and leave to go down the valley to Pontrhyden to start the trail. Part of this of course involved unravelling the man puzzle of interlocked bikes surrounded by cars to prevent bike thieves which had so impressed the womenfolk of the group. Remarkably all went plan including the unravelling of the bikes, chains and cars with the men congratulating themselves on job well done.

Sunday’s roll call

At Pontryhyden, it soon transpired that Penhydd trail had alot of ascent, 550m in fact. The trail involves alot of steep ups interspersed by technical downs and ups over rocks and tree roots along sides of hillsides. In fact lots of TTFs John, if you are reading this! The first requirement was though getting to the top. A tester of fitness which Julie took with gusto as she had the day before going up the Wall. However it was not to be her day as Jon overtook his pretender having something to prove after really losing the mantle of the King of uphills the day before. Gill and Ian took it steady as there was not really a race.

At the top, a poor welshman had to endure our chit chat and upon instruction from Julie refuse to divulge the tri-nation rugby score. However, to his relief, I am sure, we left after a brief debate over who should go first, with Jon being a bit cocky saying it was not his turn. So we set off with Ade in front along a narrow section before encountering some narrow zig zag sections such as Hidden Valley, Side Winder where we attempted to put all our skills learnt from the previous nights tv entertainment into practice, some achieved this more successfully than others. One thing was for sure, we all had no hesitation in tackling drop offs even if they seemed to drop all the way down into the valley. Certainly the number of craches were less than the day before apart from the odd tight switchbacks on the way down. Julie and Ade tried a particularly hard TTF along the side of boulder strewn river valley known as the Rocky Rebellion and we all found the Welsh version of the “Hambledon embankment” challenge on the other side of a ford which some, Ian, achieved better than others, Jon and Charlie.

Gill and Ian finishing the
ascent of the Penhydd Trail

All in all it was another achievement. Apparently the year before, the ride had been achieved in just over an hour and half which we did not achieve this year despite part of the trail being closed. However over 1500m of ascent and probably just under 50 km of riding was not bad in one and half days. We all said our goodbyes with some of us, the sensible ones, opting for showers before we got in our cars, and others , the foolhardy ones, deciding to put up with bodily odours and bad mosquito bites, for the M4 and our respective homes.

(Posted by: Ad, Ju, Jon & Gill)

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At 9:33 pm, August 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhh - to be back in Wales again - what an awesome time was had. Jon - bottling out of a South Downs ride next weekend - I hope you're not afraid of losing your title again?

Jules 'Kind of the Hills' Matthews


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