Battle hymns for the recluse youth (hostel)

So it was off on a tour again this weekend, however it was a bit different to what I’ve been doing recently. Back to the lightweight option and strapping as little as possible to the road bike. This trip had been in the pipeline since January or February when Sam at work had invited me to join him and some of his friends on a trip starting in York and heading out west to the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire. We were staying in youth hostels as the two other members of the group Chris and Tim work for the YHA. I hadn’t stayed in a youth hostel since university so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
20140627_132924The plan was to set off from York at lunchtime on Friday so in a fit of enthusiasm I decided to ride there from home. This would have made perfect sense were it not for the fact that the actual planned route for the day passed within about 8 miles of my house. However extra miles in the legs is generally good. Less good as there was a headwind all the way to York and I got lost navigating into the city centre. The headwind however did mean that we had a tailwind as we left York together and headed west.
20140627_151214The destination for the day was Haworth and Tim was going to join us there. It was a nice ride on generally familiar roads. The weather for the weekend wasn’t forecast to be great and when we stopped in Otley to refuel late in the afternoon the rain started. It didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits though and we set off over the south tip of Ilkley moor to Keighley and then on to Haworth. Naturally the main road from Keighley to Haworth would have been far too boring so we took in the cobbled and at times 20% climb of Hainsworth lane for a bit of ‘fun’. It seemed a lot harder than the last time I rode it but Strava says it was a new personal best so I must have been going faster despite the damp conditions. Sam’s comment was that there was no shame in walking any hill steep and slippy enough to warrant a hand rail! Once the climb was conquered it was all downhill to the YHA in Haworth. It’s a really impressive building and I have to admit it was good to have a comfy bed, hot showers and a drying room to get clothing dry at the end of a days ride.
20140627_181757The hostel in the morning also did a decent breakfast for £5 where you could pretty much eat as much as you wanted. So loaded up with Weetabix and a cooked breakfast it was time to set off for Lancashire. The first part of the day involved a steep descent followed by a climb to cross the valley to Oakworth. After that it was along the tops on a really nice smooth rolling road before descending into Pendle district. It became apparent that Chris and I were fairly evenly matched in terms of fitness and that Sam and Tim were happy to pootle along a bit behind and catch us up at the top of hills.
20140628_111542The first major climb of the day was the Nick of Pendle which was steep but relatively short, stupidly I hadn’t started my GPS on the descent into Sabden so stopped to do it halfway down. This put me behind everyone else and try as I might I just couldn’t catch Chris by the top of the hill. After we had regrouped the descent over the other side to Clitheroe was sketchy to say the least. Corners, newly ‘dressed’ roads (i.e. gravel), traffic and a cattle grid on a corner. We all got down safely though and stopped in Clitheroe for a pastie.
20140628_114824After a few more miles we came to the second big climb of the day which was Birdy brow. I rode up this hill last year and on that occasion found I couldn’t shift into the inner ring at the bottom so then had to chase everyone up the hill after fixing the problem. This time I was in front and the hill felt a lot harder than before. The two teeth difference between running a compact 50/34 chainset last year and a 52/36 this year seemed to make a big difference. Once over the top there were a few more lumps and bumps before a lunch stop at the Cobbled corner café in Chipping. After lunch it was decision time as our options were 45, 47, 61 or 66 mile routes.
20140628_150912We decided to split up with Sam and Tim taking the more direct 47 mile route to Slaidburn whilst Chris and I headed off around the back of hills and through the Trough of Bowland to complete 61 miles to the same destination. It has to be said that the Forest of Bowland is pretty lumpy. A couple of short steep climbs directly after lunch certainly seemed to take their toll and I was feeling pretty tired at this point. However the view from the other side of the hills was fantastic the landscape dropping away to the west coast. The drizzle had lifted so you could see Blackpool, the lake district and the Isle of Man. Eventually we had to turn back into the wind which was gruelling at first but as we entered the Trough of Bowland it became more sheltered. I also seemed to get a bit of a second wind on the climb through the Trough possibly as my body had managed to process the large lunch I’d had. The descent after the climb was again a bit hairy mainly due to having to squeeze through a 1.5 metre gap between a sheep sat on the road and a car parked looking at it! After a final push we reached Slaidburn before the hostel opened at 5pm so joined Tim and Sam in the pub.
20140628_170906After we had all slept for about 9 hours there was sadly no buffet breakfast at the Slaidburn hostel. We had thought ahead though and bought ready brek from the village shop the day before so that gave us some initial energy to get us going on the journey home. The night before in the pub we’d planned a route that would take us to Skipton without a huge amount of climbing as people were starting to tire. At Skipton the plan was for us all to go our seperate ways. Sam to get the train home and Tim to cycle to Haworth to reclaim his car. Myself and Chris could then press on towards Leeds and he could take a left turn and head back to York. The weather was a lot better on Sunday and we made good time on the 25 miles or so to Skipton. There were a few climbs between Airton and Hetton which I had somehow completely removed from my memory after riding them on last years White Rose Classic. However with relatively fresh legs everyone seemed to cope with the climbs pretty well. At Skipton we had a nice lunch and said our goodbyes.
20140629_101237Chris had decided to join me heading over the gated climb to Bolton Abbey and along the Wharfe valley as he hadn’t ridden those roads before and it was really pleasant zipping along in the sunshine at around 18mph. After passing the rugby club at Ilkley we picked up Lars and his son and gave them a tow. This meant that when Chris turned left at Askwith for the drag up and over the moor towards Harrogate I had some company and a good chat down through Otley to the base of the Chevin. Even with three days and over a hundred miles in my legs the final spin up the main road and into Leeds seemed a breeze and I actually felt much better than on Saturday afternoon. The rolling road down the Wharfe valley was so much less taxing on the body than the sharp ups and downs of the day before.

Another great trip out on the bike with good company and covering 187 miles over the three days put my cycling total for the week past the 300 mile mark. Always a good achievement. I definitely will use youth hostels again in the future too. The facilities are good and if you’re trying to travel light they provide most of the things you need. You can hire towels for a couple of quid a night for example. I also think that if I was doing a longer camping trip then I would probably try to stay in a hostel at some point to get clothing dry if the weather was bad.


Apologies we’ve all been busy again which means neglecting our little corner of the internet. However this weekend we all got together for another night out under the stars. I guess when planning this trip we didn’t really think about the fact it was the solstice which meant we had plenty of daylight and not many stars.
Solstice3We decided to revisit the route Carl and I did in fairly inclement weather the other month as on that trip we never actually made our intended destination. What a difference good weather makes. Our pace was much quicker and there were no raging torrents to ford!
IMG-20140622-WA0008Solstice2The Yorkshire countryside really is beautiful and it’s always nice to get out and about where there aren’t many people. Although our route was relatively ‘cheeky’ we didn’t come across any issues (aka people telling us we couldn’t ride). In fact at one point we met the land owner who suggested we ride down ‘his’ road rather than the bridleway so as not to disturb nesting birds. Cheers Duke! Our destination was Simon’s seat and the views were magnificent and well worth the fact you have to push the last mile or so to the top.
Solstice5 Solstice6 Solstice7Once we had reached the summit it was time to head back down to find somewhere less exposed to camp for the night. Walls and fences on each side with clear ‘no public access’ signs were a touch frustrating as we didn’t want to be too brazen about camping somewhere we shouldn’t be. However a track with no signs threw up a nice little area of woodland for a secluded wild camp.
image[6]Despite not falling in a river this time for some reason Carl was inexplicably sick after eating his dinner. To be honest we still don’t know why. Bad beanfeast or ill advised application of insect repellent? Everyone was pretty tired after a long, hot day in the saddle with a fair bit of climbing so we turned in pretty early. I think I was last to fall asleep and I remember it was still pretty light when I did. It’s also a bit odd being under a tarp in some woods and being able to hear cheering for the World Cup football game on TV somewhere else in the valley.
image[4]As usual we were had to be back fairly early on Sunday but even with these constraints we managed to do a bit of exploring on the way back and also retrace a few steps so it wasn’t just the usual roads home. We all arrived home safely with a only insect bites, nettle stings and bramble scrapes to show we had actually left.
IMG-20140622-WA0002 image[8]All in all a successful trip out with some great weather and good company. It’s nice when things go completely to plan. Well almost.

I love cyclocross.

Tonight was my first ‘cross race in a while and I fell in love all over again. 45 minutes of pain, suffering and fun! The course had ups (so many) and downs (too few), roots, mud and boards.

After 2 laps I missed my pedal trying to remount and had a comedy sideways crash into a hedge. After 35 minutes of racing I felt like I was done and I had nothing left. However upon hearing that bell for the final lap it was head down, all out, final push. I was determined that the guy in front of me was not getting back to that line before me and with half a lap to go I passed him and then opened up a gap to make sure he didn’t.

Job done, the results will show me in the bottom quarter of the field for sure but I finished and I wasn’t last. I ask you in what other cycling discipline can you turn up on a bike with one gear made of bamboo and not come last?
Otley 2014Photo thanks to Sam Gate.

Rainy Day

Not perturbed by the weather we’ve been off into the hills again this weekend. This really was a short ‘adventure’ as due to work commitments we couldn’t leave until 5pm on Saturday. However we did manage to get a good 15 miles under our belts in pretty inclement conditions!

Stream crossings are a rapidly becoming the bane of my life though and because of the amount of rain and run off yesterday they were far from easy. Often the water was a pretty fast moving torrent which it was actually pretty dangerous crossing. It’s not great to look back over your shoulder to see your friend clinging to his bike chest deep in water! Luckily everything was ok, but it’s a reminder to be careful especially when I’m often off doing these things on my own.

Due to the constant rain and having to cross multiple streams by the time we decided to find somewhere to camp we were both pretty wet. Luckily I spotted a makeshift hut and although it wasn’t totally weatherproof it kept the worst of the wind and rain off overnight.

Naturally this morning we didn’t really hang around and took a pretty direct route home, a challenging overnight trip. It is good to know though that even when the weather is terrible and things don’t go entirely as planned we can keep our spirits high and still enjoy ourselves.
IMG-20140511-WA0004 IMG-20140511-WA0003 IMG-20140511-WA0002 20140511_083254

Riding the Trans Cambrian Way

On New Years eve I excitedly entered the Bear Bones two ton ‘o gravel a 200 mile ‘gravel race’ in Wales. I was then disappointed when the event was postponed due to red tape. However I had a back up plan, take a touch more time off and ride the Trans Cambrian Way in both directions.

The original plan was to get back to Knighton and then ride the 45 miles to my aunts in Malvern. However although I am slightly crazy I’m not stupid. So I purchased train tickets to bring me home from both Malvern/Worcester after a week and Dovey Junction after four days. As April approached I knew that a double was becoming more and more unlikely, I just hadn’t ridden enough. Most of February I was wiped out with a cough I just couldn’t shift and getting back into the commute after this was hard with any more than three days riding on the trot rendering me exhausted.

However with all this at the back of my mind I was on the train from Leeds at 6:30am last Wednesday with an open mind. I’d just see how the first day went and take it from there. I knew that I’d pretty quickly know what sort of shape I was in. It took 3 trains to reach Knighton but the journey passed relatively quickly and so at 10am I was ready to depart.

The start.
The start.

All the reading I had done on the route had failed to mention that the first part of it is on the road for a good couple of miles so I was confused and feeling a bit unsure of my course from the start. Also the .gpx file I had was such that it never quite sat on the path correctly which always makes for some interesting navigation. Eventually the tarmac ended and thanks to a local farmer I was on the right track. The first few hills were grassy but steep with gates to open/close. This meant that sometimes just as you were starting to feel like you were getting some momentum you had to stop. One climb was so steep and long that there was nothing for it but to push, this wouldn’t be the last time.

After a while I was up on the ‘top’ and the path was a bit more rolling, so progress should have been quicker. However I then realised that I hadn’t really considered the time of year that I was choosing to ride the route during. Most of the time the ground at this point was like riding through treacle. Not out and out gloop but just wet enough to suck at the tyres. In addition the path was dotted with puddles of varying sizes. I made a bit of an error when riding into the first one that was sizeable which suddenly ended in a dead stop and a wet foot! From then on I was a bit more cautious and often had to stop to walk the bike through them whilst staying dry.

Say goodbye to the grease in your bearings!

What lurks beneath?

Eventually the path started to descend which was easier going, however you had to be vigilante because if you picked up too much speed and then hit a muddy patch the front wheel had an alarming tendency to ‘wash out’ and start to slide sideways from under the bike. I was then back on the road and descended to the A483 at Llanbadarn Fynydd. This then presented the first ‘ford’ or official stream crossing of the route. I knew that if it was high there was an alternative route around it via the road and a quick glance at the map seemed to confirm it. However after some consideration it didn’t look that deep so I reckoned I could get across ok. I however was mistaken, so now both my feet were wet!

Deeper than it looks.

Generally the first day was slow going and I realised that my speed off road was not that quick especially with the boggy and wet state of the trails in places. I pretty quickly decided that based on how quickly I was moving and how tired I was getting a one way traversal of the route was probably the best option. There is a suggested 3 day schedule for riding the route and the first day is Knighton to Rhayader. Even with a middle of the day slump which was something I experienced everyday I had reached Rhayader by 4pm about 6 hours after I set off. I knew though that it was time to start thinking about where I was going to stop for the night.

The section after Rhayader on the route is along a cycle path in the Elan valley and was pretty flat so it meant I actually managed to put in a small burst of speed/miles that I wasn’t expecting. The Elan valley is really pleasant and I could see it would be a nice place to visit in the summer and have a nice stroll. After a short road climb, the route then wound up a farm track/bridleway and back on to the top of the moor. It was time to pitch camp and choose a suitable site. First up I pitched the tarp under the overhang of some trees by a small wood but quickly realised that I’d inadvertently set up camp in a drainage channel so if it rained in the night I might suddenly find myself very wet. So instead I used a fence at the top of the adjacent field to pitch the tarp.

Not a good way to do it.

To be honest it was a pretty terrible idea and relatively exposed with the tarp open to the elements on a number of sides. It did however have a nice view. I got away with it though because when it rained in the night it only did so for a short period and my bivy bag remained waterproof. After setting up camp whilst making some tea suddenly a shepherd appeared on a quad bike checking on the sheep which were in the surrounding fields. I was a bit worried he was going to tell me I couldn’t camp there but instead he gave me a cheery wave and just carried on about his business.

I actually slept pretty well and awoke to the world shrouded in mist. I decided to get moving rather than take the time to make coffee which meant I felt a bit sluggish from the offset but after negotiating another descent that alternated between being rocky and being grassy/boggy/muddy I felt like I was getting into the swing of things. I passed through a gate and could see a farm ahead at the bottom of the rocky farm track I was following.  Then all of a sudden my saddlebag detached itself and fell to one side! The Carradice Bagman quick release clamp I was using had broken and I’d lost one of the pins. Then in addition the zip tie that attached the plastic part to the bag itself had then decided to break. After some unsuccessful attempts to bodge it into place behind the saddle with short straps I elected to just use the long straps I had with me to tie it onto my rack like a rack bag which worked pretty well for the rest of the trip.

The next portion of track was again slow going due to it being very waterlogged with more deep puddles so despite it being relatively flat you couldn’t really get up much speed. The annoying part was that it ran parallel to the road with the river in between and then you had to ford the river to get back onto the road at the end. Crossing the river unsurprisingly resulted in my feet being wet again and in hindsight I wish I’d just ridden down the road instead.

Here we go again.

The track however brought me to the dam of the Claerwen resevoir and this was one of my favourite sections of the ride. After filling my bottles from the ‘not drinking water’ taps in the public toilets at the base of the dam, I climbed the road to the top of the dam and set off along the gravel track that winds along side the reservoir behind. The reservoir was very eerie at first shrouded in mist but the track was a pretty easy ride and as I continued the mist started to lift and the sky brighten slightly. The views across the water are pretty spectacular with slopes rising majestically up from the waters edge. I think it would be a great place for a microadventure if you were in the area as you could park by the toilets then spend a couple of hours walking out along the reservoir before camping higher up on the hill side and enjoying the sunset over the water.

Through the haze.

Eventually I reached the farm at the far end of the reservoir and was surprised to find I was sharing the path with a number of cows. These were a real novelty as I had become accustomed to the thousands of sheep that roam the hills but wasn’t suddenly expecting a cow in my path. They were very friendly though and made a welcome change to the surroundings. The track became a bit more rutted and muddy were it became access to the farm rather than the reservoir but soon brought me back onto a rolling road section. The good thing about the gravel/road sections was that I could get into a good rhythm without having to worry too much about gates, mud or bogs. This naturally led to a bit more speed and the ability to admire the surroundings without worrying about where your front wheel was heading.

Oddly you may think, these reminded me of someone.

The paper guide to the Trans Cambrian Way suggests two itineraries, one in 3 days and a more leisurely one over 4. These itineraries start and finish each day at a town where there is camping and B&B accommodation and usually a pub. This had made total sense when I had cycled through Rhayader on day 1 although all the pubs looked shut to me. However halfway through day 2 the penny dropped that the route doesn’t actually pass through any of the other settlements mentioned in the itineraries! I stopped for a rest about 1pm and had a look at the OS maps I’d brought along for back up. The 4 day itinerary suggests Rhayader to Pontrhyd-y-groes for a short day 2, however working out where I was on the map I was well past that point and hadn’t even known the settlement was close.

Shimano MT91 boots and Sealskinz socks are great, until the water is up to mid-shin level!
Bodged rackbag

Despite having lost time faffing with my saddlebag I seemed to be making good progress but as 4pm rolled around, again I was starting to tire. With about 30 miles under my belt thoughts of finding a camp site became paramount. After leaving the road shortly after Tyllwyd and pushing up a long climb the trail dropped down to the Bryn Diliw forest. I knew that there was going to be some prolonged rain that night so setting up camp under the cover of the tree canopy appealed. I found a nice flat area under the trees but as it was situated between the river and the wind farm I made sure I dug my ear plugs from out of my bag. It doesn’t take long to get in to swing of things for setting up camp. Tarp up, bivy/sleeping bag out and then stove on to boil water for cous cous and peppermint tea. I also started a fire on this night to try and dry out my socks, however I didn’t have much success before it started to rain.

A better pitch than the first night.

The rain started about 7 or 8pm and was constant and heavy well into the night. I think I finally fell asleep about 10pm but until then it was torture listening to it coming down through the trees and hitting the tarp even with ear plugs in. The tarp did it’s job well though and when packing up the next morning there was a neat dry patch on the forest floor which it had sheltered. I took my time packing up although I managed to burn my mouth on the coffee I made which then left me with a weird taste in my mouth for the rest of the day.

Day 3 passed in a bit of a blur to be honest. I wasn’t sure whether I would reach the end or have to camp for another night. I was also aware my train tickets from Dovey Junction were actually booked for the day after. The day started with a 25 minute fire road climb followed by a 2 minute descent and this set the trend for the rest of the day with long fire road or road climbs followed by quick descents. As the day progressed it was noticeable I had to walk more and rode less of the climbs. I’m not sure why but I seem to have a definite lull in the middle of the day where I feel very tired and then perk up again towards the end of the afternoon.

Early on either still in the Diliw forest or possibly in the Hafren forest I had another ford to negotiate and thought I could ride across. Sadly I picked totally the wrong line and my front wheel disappeared into a crack in the stream bed I hadn’t seen. Suddenly I found myself keeling over sideways into the water and had to put out my hands to stop myself! Brilliant, now I had two wet feet and wet hands and forearms as well. I sat on the board walk that was the other side of the ford and rang out my socks. Suddenly a woman out for a run appeared and asked if I was ok, fine thanks was my reply. Then a walker also appeared and said good morning. I wasn’t used to seeing this many people, it was then I spotted that I was next to a car park with a toilet. I prayed for a hand drier but when I investigated the toilets were locked.  I set off again and my gloves and socks did dry out over the course of the day but it wasn’t the most pleasant feeling at the start to be squelching along.

Should have kept left.

I was really starting to tire at times and was constantly worried about running out of water. I’d so far hadn’t suffered any ill effects of drinking water from streams but it did make me nervous. Whilst riding up yet another climb I passed a woman collecting her mail from the mailbox and asked if I could fill up my bottles. Thankfully she said yes and also suggested I visit the local pub further up the climb for a sandwich if I was hungry which was ‘set back on the right’ as she described it. It was indeed set back on the right when I reached the top of the climb but also down the bottom of another hill that was a detour from the route and I just couldn’t face having to ride back up again after lunch.

After eventually working out the right path to follow when I’d inadvertently missed a right turn I came to probably the most technical descent of the route. I’d been very happy riding everything up until this point and felt that my skills course with Ed Oxley had definitely paid off. However I elected to walk down the steep path as there was a pretty big drop on one side. The other side of the valley also involved a pretty tough scramble upwards. I knew I was getting really tired by this point as I’d started to look at the elevation profile of the route on my gps which I only do when I start to feel mild desperation about how much climbing I have left.

The technical bit.

Looking a the profile it suddenly dropped off steeply downwards and for a minute I thought that I was close to the finish. It was quickly clear that I wasn’t but this was the second descent I walked as it was what appeared to be newly laid large chunks of shale on a very steep twisty path down. After a while this gave way to rock and grass and with the surface providing more grip I got back on the bike and enjoyed the rest of the long descent.

The top of a climb…and rest.

 Finally I realised that I was on the last climb of the day and it was literally pretty much all downhill from there. Having thought I wouldn’t make the end that day I suddenly realised that I would be there by 5pm. The final descent was down through a wood and should have been great a nice fast forest road without too many gates to block the path. Sadly whoever had been felling trees in the forest had decided to leave them all in the middle of the path, so after clambering over a few I had to then take a detour off the path and round them pushing my bike through the undergrowth.

Before I knew it I was on the A487 which was a bit of a shock as I had grown used to the lack of traffic on the rest of the roads I’d used. I also remembered that I’d driven this road last year and so there was a weird sense of familiarity. The turning for the station appeared and then I was there, Dovey Junction, the end. The gps said 109 miles for the entire route and it had taken me a total of approx. 54 hours from start to finish. 4205
I had a bit of a weird euphoria moment on the platform perhaps because my body and mind realised that I didn’t have to ride any more. I did have the small matter of the fact my train ticket wasn’t valid for another 24 hours to worry about, but I didn’t need to as it appears that train guards don’t actually read the date on tickets. I also had to contend with about 30 drunken teenagers who got onto the train at Welshpool en route to Shrewsbury for an under 18′s disco. They were in varying levels of inebriation with one lad being paralytic and promptly sick on the floor.

So what of the two ton ‘o gravel? I’m still nowhere near the level I need to be to ride 200 miles off road when it’s rescheduled but I reckon I can get there. Although that would be a 24-36 hour event with probably only a short sleep so I would be carrying less gear as well. Maybe I’ll enter the Dorset Gravel Dash as another training ride.