Monday, 29 March 2010

Goddamn it's gonna rain

I only brought my socks.

Importantly the weather was suitably terrible, to make sure everyone knew that they were still in the UK. It felt like it would be the longest four days of my life and also the worst. Clearly on showing up at a rain-swept campsite, which was nicely waterlogged already, having to throw together three tents in what was ever so much more than a pleasant breeze was demoralising. Luckily there was somewhere to stash our bikes so there was no messing around with QR skewers and tent porches for the next few days.

Happily there were a few highlights to this phase of the moving in process, after seeing the borderline play-tent chosen by one of us I would have been moved to tears if I hadn't known that he would be sleeping in it. Funnier still was possibly the sterling job this fine construction did for the duration of the three nights, standing up to some conditions far worse than the manufacturer had designed it for. My tent was the slightly superior model in the range, with the old-skool cotton inner it was warm enough overnight and along with my faithful imitation Therm-a-Rest and my slightly over the top choice of sleeping bag I was feeling well rested come the morning.

Come the morning, well, weather had remained much the same but at least there was a degree of natural light, something of which we had only an hour or so of the night before, I was preparing myself for a day of activity. This involved the first visit to the excellent Drop-Off Cafe where their huge pieces of toast along with a coffee set me up nicely. At this time, possibly twelve, it was action time. Of course I felt it worth slowing proceedings down somewhat, grabbing a pair of sintered brake pads (which went on not to fit correctly and needed a degree of elbow grease) costing us around about an hour. With this out of the way nothing could stop us.

You'll be pleased to know that at this stage we weren't stopped. Bikes on the car and the short drive to Afan where we unloaded, changed, filled bottles and bemoaned the shyness of the slightly better weather that had only just come to greet us. We took on the Penhydd Trail, which at a fairly short 17km includes half a kilometre of ascents. Nice. The middle singetrack sections were excellent fun, the steep and sharp Hidden Valley and Sidewinder proving the main highlights. In spite of the poor weather the trails rode very well, clearly there was enough moisture in the ground to get tyres to dig in but not such a surplus as to be riding on what would seem like an oil slick.

This being the first real use of my fairly expensive refit of cranks, brakes, bars and transmission. Throw in a kitchen counter service of the forks the bike felt like a whole new rig, in a good way, with the same familiar handling and solid feel as before. The brakes feel great, stop great, my main reservations are regarding the rear CPS (or whatever it's called) mounting system where it seems nigh on impossible to get the back brake to quit dragging due to the tiny rotor clearance. This isn't a massive issue that can't be sorted with a little time and maybe some washers.

Roll on day two, poached eggs for breakfast and another attempt to overcome the elements. This time the trail of choice was White's Level, with it's singletrack climb this is probably the most enjoyable top-to-bottom experience I've ever ridden. It rides in the same way as it did in my much drier visit of '07 which is again a real credit to the design and hard work put into these man made trails. The black section is a whole lot of fun with it's steep inclines, massive berms and boulders from babyheads to whole families of overweight teenagers. The new section called Energy which I believe wasn't open when I was last there, was signed as closed. We decided to jump the gate and ride it anyway, during which I managed to clout a tree with my shoulder, slightly later down the run we were told off for our presence, clearly in breach of the closure notices, but really who cares?

Come the final day the weather looked almost pretty, with a little ration of blue sky and a polite breeze, we began to bulldoze tents and gear into the car. We were done in good time and ready to get rolling, we heading up to Afan again to do The Wall. Now I'd say I was mostly hitting the wall throughout the climb, as my rear mech had decided not to play nicely (not misbehaving as much as Ross' brakes, mind) and I was stuck in my lowest gear. Now, rolling a 1x9 setup with a 36t chainring up front had been okay thus far, but spending all day in that gear was hardly ideal and my legs quickly tired on anything flat and the gear still isn't soft enough for harder climbs where really it's a battle of the mind not to get off and slog up on foot. I think I may switch out for a 32t ring to keep the 1x9 going, which performs very well and with all the mud around I was fairly thankful not to be depending upon the crude and flawed design of the humble front mech. I lost the chain just the once, this due to the bashring and N-gear Jump Stop device I was using. Pretty good.

The downs on the Wall are much like that of the massively long Skyline trail, the final descent being possibly and almost certainly the best downhill section I've ever ridden. Long, tough, quick and at times really rough. A section of rocks in the woods gave us a point to stop and have a couple of goes at a very difficult, owing mostly to the slippery rock, combinations of step-ups. The low speed and moist rock made it a really fun quarter of an hour or so, all while the rain held off, resulting in scraping my new cranks (sigh) and not quite making a complete run through the problem area. Always something to go at next time though. Upon finishing the trail it dawned on me just about how tired I was after three days of riding in awful weather, still the feeling of achievement was there for the whole team. We are, of course, now, a team.

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