Friday, October 24, 2008

Return to Afan

When Mrs John announced back in May that she was going to be away in Ireland for a business trip in Mid October, John decided that a return trip to Afan park would be in order.

Over the following months, and numerous emails, conversations and changes of plan, the initial TCA and associate MTB crowd, were as Churchill would have said “whittled from the so many to the so few”. It was left down to Jon, John and a TCA prospect Steve to head up to the land with a unpronounceable language .

For those of you not familiar with Steve, he is a Navy Explosives Ordinance (EOD) diver, an accomplished tri athlete, and had to pass a physical test equal to that of the UK special forces to get his job. However his life time ambition is to join the team of finely tuned, skilled and superbly fit TCA athletes. Many had tried, but were left as physical and mental wrecks on failure.
This weekend would be his initiation, under the watchful eyes of the TCA veteran Jon and newcomer John.

It was decided that the three of us would head out around 2pm on Friday, and Steve would be taking us up in his car. As is customary Jon turned up disorganised and late.

We had arranged to stay at a bunkhouse near to the Afan park, the L&A Outdoor Centre in Goytre. The Outdoor Centre is a venue, set in a beautiful wooded valley, offering log cabin and bunk house accommodation, they offer both catered and self-catering stays and accommodate groups from 5 - 250. John had been in contact with Nigel at the centre and we were allocated an 8 berth bunkhouse for our sole use. Although the accommodation was basic, it was clean, warm; beds were comfortable and had its own toilet and shower.

Having deciding to demonstrate his Royal Navy navigation skills Steve took us the pretty way up to the centre, and four hours later we arrived. This also gave Jon the overworked, underpaid and undervalued town planner a chance to catch up on his beauty sleep on route. We were met by a very affable and helpful Nigel, who showed us to our accommodation. Ordinarily he would have offered us food but as the centre was full with German students and a bunch of Karate kids that weekend, he suggested a couple of local restaurants, and the local football club bar on the site for liquid refreshments.

With bikes and gear unloaded we headed into Port Talbot to the recommended curry house.
I should add that at arrival at the lodge we also met with another bunch of MTB riders, who we subsequently discovered were from Southampton, and rode with a group called the New Forest Mountain Bike Club. John was horrified to see that one of them had the same bike as him; it was akin to two women wearing the same dress at a wedding. Over the coming weekend the two groups would meet numerous times.

The curry was good but the lack of Kingfisher beer was a disappointment to the experienced Indian continent travellers John and Jon.

Back to the centre and over a couple of pints in the football club bar we decided to head up to the site at Glyncorrwg the following day, notably because the excellent “Touchdown Café”

With a later than intended start the following morning, (despite the Karate Kids waking the whole site up with their chants as they kicked and punched the hell out of imaginary people in their morning practise) and over a coffee and large plate of Welsh Rabbitt (a savory sauce made from a mixture of cheese and various other ingredients, i.e., mustard and served hot over toasted bread) we decided to tackle the Penhydd trial (Distance 17km, Climb 550m).

This is a very varied trail which combines forest road climbs with tight, technical, switchback trails through mixed woodland. The open, flowing single-track also crosses young plantations opening up fantastic views. Big climbs followed by technical descents mean that this trail can be difficult and is exposed to bad weather on high ground. To get to this route we needed to use the family friendly low level cycleway route to the Afan forest park site.

In keeping with TCA tradition, this simple task was too prove eventful, with Jon having an instantaneous puncture, causing him later to also to have to invest in a new tyre. (note it was not John who is the usual puncture victim)

We finally got on to the trial, and in keeping again with TCA history further mechanical problems developed for both John and Steve, notably for John on his not yet tried Commencal, with his head bearing, knocking like a grandmothers knees on a cold day, and Steve also having gear selection and head bearing problems on his Claude Butler.

At this stage and jumping to the end of the route, the local cycle shop at Afan Forest and Glyncorrwg, Skyline Cycles offered John excellent support and fixed the issue with removal of a shim and addition of a head tube spacer. At this point Jon also invested in a new tyre, and John and Steve new Buffs.

The Penhydd trial offered us all some challenging situations, John for the struggle to keep up with Jon and Steve on the uphill sections, and Jon and Steve the very fast and slippery single track descents. Steve also was able to impart some good advice on pedalling techniques to John, which he would attempt to put in use for the rest of the trial and weekend. With the delays caused by the mechanical issues and late start we decided to head back to the Glyncorrwg site for some food and to then decide on what else to tackle that day.Anyway, having sat in the warm Touchdown café, having eaten a large excellent meal and seeing the rain outside, collectively at 4.30pm we decided to call it a day.

Back at the bunkhouse we all showered and headed to the football club bar for a few pints of Guinness. It should be noted that at no stage during the ensuing discussions were babies mentioned, but rather the traditional topics of football, fit female TV presenters, bikes, cars and boys toys, which have been missing on more recent TCA outings. We then moved on to the L&A centre bar for further liquid refreshment in the form of Hobgoblin bottled beer, and a few games of pool, whilst listening to a sing along lead by Nigel on his guitar and one of the German teachers on a fiddle.

The next morning with alarm set (with Steve and John agreeing to ignore the grumpy Jon who does not do early mornings) we packed up and headed back to the Afan Forest park, to tackle the Wall Trial. Again the Karate Kids were doing chants in their early morning practise, lucky for them we kept Jon away as the ensuing carnage would have been terrible!

Although not as palatial and extensive as the Glyncorrwg site the newly refurbished and upgraded Afan Forest park site now offers a good café, showers, bike shop and bike washing facilities, and to the café we headed. Sustenance in the form of a full English with coffee set us up for the day.

The Wall (Distance 23km, Climb 450m), offers some of the best single-track descents in the UK, this trail essentially traverses the North side of the Afan Valley on single-track, varying from fast, open and flowing to tight, technical and rooty. Great views of the valley and coastline open out at different points, and in places the steep-sided slopes can feel exposed.

The route lived up to its description, with steep and very long ascents, on which as usual John lagged behind (but not a far as the previous day due in part to no mechanical issues and new pedalling technique) and very technical and fast single track downhill sections where John and his Commencal excelled. It should be noted at this stage that Jon with his new forks was far more confident on the downhill sections and was even heard to comment on “what good value his investment in them was”!

With no mechanical problems or accidents the trio returned to the park centre in good time.
The showers were excellent and a hearty meal was had in the café before heading home.

A quick trip down the M4 saw us home in 3 hours.

(Posted by: John)

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At 1:27 am, November 01, 2008, Blogger simon said...

sounds good!

At 8:35 pm, November 01, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done guys, sorry we couldn't make it, we still haven't really caught up from our various holidays, but hope to get out on the Christmas ride maybe!!! Ad & Jules


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