Friday, 23 August 2013

Bikepacking Fright-night

I took the chance this week to give Deb her first taste of bikepacking with a trip up to a great little wild camp spot near Luds church/chasm, Gradbach in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Luds chasm or church as it is sometimes known is a deep gorge that is carved into the landscape at the back end of ridge line of rocky outcrops. There are many tales & story's going back to prehistoric times, it's been used as a meeting place by persecuted religious groups hence church being used in it's name, smugglers, and is also thought to be the location for the story of Sir Gawain and the Green knight. It is a very atmospheric place and has got an other worldly feel to it.

It's quite a trek up to Luds church in day light and not somewhere you would want to go looking for at night but I will come back to that .

Deb & I had planned to ride up to the bivvy spot from where we live which is about 30km and something I've done a few times, but time was against us and with this being Debs first foray into the world of bikepacking, I didn't want to make it some kind of a suffer fest to get there before dark and put her off,
.So we decided to drive up with the intention of getting in some riding the following day. From the car park it's a short rocky decent to a small stream crossing and then a steep rocky push up to the bivvy spot.
The bivvy spot from an earlier trip
As you can see from the pic above it's a great spot for a bivvy. We pitched the tent just before it got dark and the only thing bothering us were the midges, but this is the moorlands in summer so there's no escaping them but it had warmed up the last couple of days so they were out in force, but once zipped up we were nice and cosy and happy. We settled down for an early night. At about 1.30 am we were woken by voices, and by the kind of talk they were using we could tell they were not the type of people you would find around this neck of the woods, they were talking like they were in some kind of gangsta rap video and obviously drunk or off their heads and as we had a few grands worth of bikes outside we were a bit concerned. The next thing we know they've shaken the tent and screamed/shouted really loud over the tent frightening us both to bloody death, at that point I've jumped out the tent as quick as I could expecting a confrontation but they were hiding in the trees making stupid noises, obviously thinking they were scaring us which I'm man enough to say they were but I wasn't going let them know that. I was shouting at them to man up and show themselves instead off hiding and that I was with my girlfriend who they were frightening (in hindsight probably not a good idea). After warning them I was going to call the Police if they didn't show themselves, I did when they didn't respond. After a few minutes a black guy came out from the trees and walked towards me obviously worse for the ware holding out his hand and flashing a torch in my face killing my vision saying he was sorry and wanting to shake my hand.  I was very wary, had he got a knife ? It was very dark with the tree cover and with my night vision gone I couldn't tell. I told him where he could stick his hand and a few choice other words too. Then another fella appeared this time an Asian guy so now it's two against one so now I was even more wary but things were about to take a turn for the surreal. Things calmed down after they apologised and I could see that they were just a pair of drunken idiots, not what you expect to find in this neck of the woods. It turns out these two guys who said they were from Birmingham had seen a program on BBC 2 a few nights before about Luds church and had driven up see it for themselves. They were adamant on seeing it but I warned them that it was very dangerous to go up there in the dark but being drunk they wouldn't listen, I warned them that I had called the Police but they weren't bothered so I pointed them in the direction of Luds church and fully expected to be reading the papers in a few days time about two body's found at the bottom of the gorge. The Police called back and I explained the situation and that we would be ok  and not to send anybody out to us.

About an hour later we had a phone call from the Police who were making there way up to us anyway to make sure we were ok, and just when they found us the two comedians appeared and were promptly searched and questioned. After speaking to them the Police informed us that these to guys were known to the Police in the Birmingham area for various things and that they would be a lot happier if we could pack up and escort us back to our car, I said we would be ok but they really weren't happy about leaving us so that was that. We packed up and had to scramble back down to the car park in the dark just using the torch light from the Police, nearly coming a croper a few times on the way down.

Debs first foray into bikepacking will certainly be a memorable one but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons thanks to a couple of numb nuts from Birmingham, I just hope it hasn't put her off ?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Carneddau Mountains camp & ride

Deb & I had the chance to get away for a couple of days last week so we decided to go to North Wales for some camping and an epic ride or two. I love North Wales and Snowdonia but don't get to go there nowhere near enough,  especially as it's only just a couple of hrs drive away. Snowdonia has got some of the best riding in the UK, road & offroad, but it was the offroad flavour Deb & I were after. We decided we didn't want to do the forest trail centre's but instead search out some adventure in the high mountains. With the summertime voluntary ban on cycles on Snowdon, Wales & England's highest mountain, which asks cyclists to not ride on the mountain between 9am & 5pm, we decided to do one of the hardest, remote and most technical rides in the Wales mtb guide book. The ride is in the Carneddau mountain range situated between the Snowdon mountain range and the Clwydian mountains to the east.

Llyn Colwyd Reservoir

Double track from the campsite in the Ogwyn Valley

Debs trophy shot after carrying her bike 300m up through the pass behind her

Somewhere up there is a pass

As you can see from the photo's the Carneddau is a beautiful place to ride which made up for the ride being anything but, in short the ride was brutal but the guide did warn us so we're not complaining as it was quite an adventure which was what we wanted and it was certainly what we got.

The ride started with a steep double track climb up from the campsite to a gate that was locked, so we threw our self's & bikes over and then for the next hour and half it was a case of pushing and carrying over marshes where there was no obvious trail which meant we went a bit off course and had to double back on ourselves which cost us about an hour.  This was also mentioned in the guide book so we stayed philosophical and trudged on, crossing streams and bridges made from big stone megalithic slabs. It was a relief when we finally got to the top of the hillside and the view of the Llyn Colwyd Reservoir opened up before us. After stopping for some photos & refreshments we pushed on, it would be rocky technical singletrack all the way alongside the reservoir but we didn't realise just how technical, with big drop offs,  step ups and loose jagged rocks just waiting to rip your tyres & legs to shreds. I must admit this was pushing the boundaries of my skills but poor Deb, who's confidence had been shaken recently by a couple of nasty falls was visibly nervous to say the least, and after all she is still a novice and this was graded a black route so she deserves a lot of credit for just being there.  I didn't want Deb trying to follow me and hurting herself especially as this was as remote as you can get in North Wales so I decided it was best to just walk the really tricky bits and ride where we could safely.

After the reservoir we had to climb what is probably one of the steepest road climbs I've ever seen and I'm proud to say I rode all the way to the top. The views from here were magnificent, it was just a shame our batteries on our phones were now running low so we couldn't take any photos.  The houses down in the valley looked tiny, it was like looking down from an airplane , in fact an RAF Herculies transport plane flew by in the valley and we were looking down on it, pretty cool stuff.  After the steep climb came an even steeper decent which took a good half hour with countless switchbacks and two stops to let my brakes cool after they started to fade.

A nice steady climb followed up to the Llyn Crafnant and a quick stop for some scones at the lakeside cafe.

It was a good time to refuel because what was to come can only be described as full on mountaineering or scrambling at least to reach a pass through the mountains.  I've got to say a few words about my amazing girlfriend here as I was blown away how she managed to push & carry her bike which is heavier than mine up the steep climbs, I wanted to push it for her but most of the time she wouldn't let me, she really is a tough little cookie. I was knackered by this point and she is tiny compared to me so I really want to give a big shout out to my mtb goddess of a girlfriend,  Chapeau Debs !

I just want to give Debs a plug, she has started a blog about her slide into cycling obsession that I've saddled her with, sorry Deb,and no pun intended either, anyway her blog is called Gearly Bird . It's a new blog so there isn't a lot of posts yet but she would love a follower or two so please be kind and follow.

When we got through the pass we were hoping the trail would be more rideable but if anything it was even more rocky and technical. We rode where we could and carried & pushed where we couldn't but we were on the last leg and it was now all downhill into Capel Curig. We were rewarded with a nice steady double track ride back to the campsite.

The guide book said 4-5hrs for fit & experienced riders, we came in at 7 1/2 hrs totally spent which is what we had wanted to be and isn't too shabby as we had quite a few stops along the way. Debs has said she wants to go back and do it again when she has mastered a few more skills and built some more confidence.

I can't wait.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Peak District camping & ride

These were taken a couple of weeks ago now but I just haven't had the time to do a proper post with them because of helping my girlfriend Debs move house. We decided that a couple of days camping in the Peak District near Hayfield, would be just the ticket for a bit of a respite from the strains & stresses that moving house can be.

We arrived late at the campsite around 9.45 pm and had a bit of a shock when we were told it was going to cost us just over £50 for a pitch for a little two man tent. Well we decided that we would only be staying one night and proceeded to our pitch, within seconds of being out of the car we were being eaten alive by midges, they were in our eye's ,up our noses,  everywhere.  We got the tent up rapido, and even though there were quite a few in the tent,  we were glad to be zipped up in our little refuge. The heavy rain & thunderstorm in the early hours was welcome and would hopefully break the hot humid air and clear the midges in the morning. The next day the midges were still about but nowhere near as bad and seemed to be leaving us alone now we both looked liked we had the measles,  Debs said we were sporting a King of the mountains look with our red polka dots, always best to try to see the funny side.

I wanted the ride to give me and my new Lurcher a chance to really get to know each other but it probably wasn't the right place for that as it was a very rocky, techy trail, that required a lot of pushing and stop/start kind of riding and I was also having to make sure Debs didn't come a cropper on the steep drop off's. 

I didn't really gel with the bike during the ride but I did realise I had fitted a stem that was too short which I have rectified with a 90mm 10ยบ rise Thomson stem flipped negative, which now feels much better and more like I remember my old mtb feeling. 

I did enjoy the extra control and grip that your told that 29er wheels give you, you really do feel more confident when things get steep and after being a 29er sceptic before having ridden one I can say that a lot of what I had read about 29er's is quite true.

I think I won't get truly acquainted with the Lurcher until I can get out on my local trails by myself for a couple of hours to really put it through its paces, I think Debs will understand.