Welsh Extravaganza (Day 1) – 24th March

"So where exactly do you think we are Steve?"

An early start saw us pulling up outside Clive Powells bike shop in Rhayader at 9:30 as arranged. Steve, Jake and Paul were waiting outside, so we parked the car, got bikes and kit sorted and we were off.

The 9.5kg back pack I had on didn’t feel too bad, but I had a feeling I may end up hating it at some point 🙂 We headed out of Rhayader towards Glyn on single track lanes and bridleways. Soon we can to a bridge across the Elan River a cable jobbie that when two or more people were on it bounced all over the place. 3 people with bikes made it really bounce, so much so that at points it was easier to stop and let the thing settle a bit.

Once over, there was a kit removal session, the sun was getting higher in the sky and the temperature was gradually creeping up. A short road hop and we turned hard right, up and over Bwlch Coch much to the amusement of some farm workers who watched as we slowly inched up the first real climb of the day.

Once up the top the views were stunning, something that repeated throughout the next two days. What goes up must come down and we flew down into the next valley.  Another climb followed, this time a real killer road one, up towards Crugian Bach, but once again we were rewarded with a stunning descent. As we approached the bottom I suddenly couldn’t see, my helmet had been pushed forward by my back pack! The top of my pack was hitting the tensioned mechanism, which was loosening, which then allowed it to move forward.

We stopped for a break next to Afon Claerwen at a point where it had eroded some weird shapes into the rock, the overhanging trees giving us some shelter from the sun. I took this opportunity to redistribute some stuff to try and stop it the helmet issue happening again.

Continuing up the valley, we eventually came to Claerwen Reservoir, and took the track around it’s North Eastern shore, the cooling breeze coming over the water from the South West was very welcome. Rounding some of the arms of the reservoir it turned into a headwind, but to be honest I think it was still very welcome, it’s not often you can say that about a headwind.

The Fisher now started to have some brake squeal, not much to start, but as we continued on it got worse and worse. The only way to stop it was to either drag the rear brake which would stop it, or grab the lever enough to lock the rear wheel, which would give a minute or so without the noise or vibration.

The noise stopped after a while, as we carried on heading North. We stopped for a break high above  Llyn Teifi, where we realised we had overshot our turning and would have to go back a mile or so. Looking at the rear brake everything seemed OK, the holding spring was still there and the pads looked fine. Steve had noticed a split in his tyre so put an old piece of tyre sidewall I was carrying between the tube and tyre to stop the tube from eventually bulging out.

Once we got back on track, we dropped down past Llyn Egnant and got to the road section to Strata Florida and it’s ruined Abbey. No time for sightseeing, the old monks trail lay ahead. The Fisher had started wailing like a banshee now. But I pressed on, the legs were tired and the thought of stopping and faffing about with the bike did not appeal. I’d put up with the noise till the next break.

The food stop at the foot of the next very rocky climb to Rhyd Y Meirch gave me time to realign the rear wheel, and bingo it sorted the rear brake. Good job really as it really was beginning to get on my nerves! Once at the top of the climb the trail started to descend. It’s a byway so 4x4s had made big pools on either side, some had a dry line up the middle but others didn’t and soon shoes and socks were getting a bit moist. Pretty soon though the whole track was submerged in places with no obvious route around. After the first one our feet were soaked so after that we didn’t even try and find a dry route, and rode through with the water up to our knees in places.

Further down as we followed Nant Gwinau we came to Moel-Prysgau where we stopped at a river crossing, and Paul showed us a Bothy (No, I had no idea either) a free shelter for walkers etc. A basic stone building with a roof , windows and a fire, no locks…. We looked inside and there was a guest book. Looking through it showed that two walkers had stayed on Friday night, and that a group of 4 had celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2011 there, cooking a 4 course meal! They”d even left a laminated copy of the menu!

We pressed on down the valley, eventually getting onto tarmac and looking down at Dolgoch, the hostel Paul had originally tried to book. They were full, meaning we’d got a few more miles to do. Not a problem, but the thought of one more monster road climb followed by the off road climb from Soar Y Mynydd up and over into the Doethie Fach Valley did not appeal.

Once at the Doethie River Paul announced we only had one more big climb to do to get to Ty’n Cornel bunkhouse….. uggghhh I really was beginning to hurt by this point! One more climb was probably all I’d got left in my legs! Head down and press on…..and suddenly the track opened out and there was a small stone house with a YHA sign on it. Turns out Paul had been winding us up about it being a big climb!

The bikes were put in the shelter, kit taken to the dorm, and showers had. In the meantime food was being cooked, a kind of chuck everything we’d got in together recipe. Apart from Steve’s sardines…..

The warden got the log fire going and we sat eating in front of it while our shoes gently steamed. The Jura Superstition I’d carried went down a treat as we sat and chatted mountain bike talk. We then decided that we’d switch to British Summer Time early to avoid any confusion in the morning, so at 10pm BST (9pm!) we headed for bed. I remember taking a photo of Ivan looking out of his bunk and that’s it…..

Total Climbing – 1652m (5420ft)

Ride – #50     Bike – Gary Fisher Paragon 29’er

Miles – 41.1     Total 2012 miles – 1104.2

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