Despite getting reasonably good at quitting events in 2016 and subsequently accepting it, I felt I had unfinished business with the Trans Cambrian route. When the opportunity arose to have another crack at it with a group, I jumped at the chance. The power of group motivation, the camaraderie, the banter, the guaranteed good weather. How can you go wrong?
It was abject excitement I arrived at Knighton Car park in the pissing rain on Friday morning to meet my new riding friends, as I only knew one person, Alun who I worked with some years ago. It was also encouraging to discover he had just been on a monster night on the piss and was hungover, as over the years he’s gotten a lot better at cycling than me. We did the customary introductions which of course are pointless as I can’t remember anyones name for the life of me and have to wait for there names to be used several times. However I can utilise the well trusted approach of associating things with them as an aide memoire. For example, the bloke with the rucksack that makes him look like a turtle. (the turtle/anvil). The tall chap (tall bloke) the bloke with a shit bike (shite bike bloke) the bloke with the shit bikes son (the son of shit bike bloke). It does make adressing them difficult, but equally I am sure I am referred to the brummie twat with the big ears, so all things are equal.
We were leaving cars in the long stay parking and all being of the “mobile phone generation” we assumed we could pay by phone park. No, pound coins were needed. Alun dispatched Kenny with three ten pound notes to convert to coins. Something was lost in translation and he returned with a packet of Haribo , two pound coins and two ten pound notes. The faffing had begun in earnest.
Now, its a fair assessment to call me a bike snob. I have lots of nice bikes. Each to their own though, not everyone wants a nice bike. Some go functional. Some even have bikes worth less than their panniers.
This is a Townsend. It was last seen on sale in Woolworths in 1986. And it was about to be piloted across the Trans Cambrian. I admire bravery and foolishness in the same quantity. However not half as much as I turn and see an Apollo lurking in the corner. Resembling a vicars bike, this was truly a piece of shit. It transpired young Reece had found it in his Aunties shed. I did feel that his aunties shed was a more preferable location than Knighton train station car park with 112 miles of rugged Welsh countryside ahead.
Now the other thing that stuck me was Alun had embraced the Bike Packing idea with some gusto and dumped a few hundred quid on the Alpkit website. The turtle had however adopted the carrying on its back. We couldn’t decide if he had in fact brought an anvil with him the bag looked so heavy.
Perhaps the other interesting point to note was Kenny had decided to attempt this with Look Pedals (and cleats) and road shoes………….
As we departed, it was an “eclectic’ mix of trans cambrian athletes.
The Ride begins
After the obligatory photos at the start to compound the faffing about and time delays, we set off. The initial ride out along the road was pleasant enough and the rain was defiantly starting to ease. I had in my mind the navigational errors in Knucklas last time and was determined to avoid them again. I had plenty of time to consider it and discuss with Alun (designated trip organiser and team leader) as we appeared to already be waiting for the “chuckle brothers” on the Woolworths bikes at the top of the very first hill. A quick check of the gear ratios on the Townsend and Apollo confirmed my fears. It was more suitable gearing for a velodrome. There would be a lot of walking and waiting.
Alun doing his best impression of Kenneth Williams Bikepacking
The first part of the trails is grassy and with the overnight and morning rain it was slow going. We made reasonable progress but it was becoming clear that Reece, the Apollo pilot had bitten off a lot more than he could chew. Still, he battled on and defiantly showed he was working, the sweat pouring off him like Kenny Hibbet in the late 70’s bossing the midfield ( I fondly referred to Kenny Hibbet as “The Beader” ).
As we got to a road crossing, I noticed that the Townsend had nuts holding the wheels on. I thought it prudent to check that we were carrying spanners. Kenny very astutely noted that given the size of Phil’s panniers “he probably had an AA man in there”.
As we approached the lunch stop at The New Inn I recalled last time it was shut. Not today. Oh no! Fully open and serving fine beverages and a good selection of food. At this point it was generally decided there was a need for the group to split. Those with bikes go on, those riding on Apollo’s and Townsend’s pedal to the campsite. It was a sad moment for me, what would be the butt of my jokes all afternoon?
After the lunch stop there is the first major rivers crossing to contend with. It seemed somewhat higher than the summer, and the turtle was the first to find out that in fact it wasn’t rideable and we would all have very wet feet.
Post pub river crossing – depth check by Lewis
Wet feet is an issue, as I only carry one pair of shoes with me, some Mavic touring shoes that i can also walk down the pub in. Why i convince myself before every trip i can keep my feet dry is a mystery.
The rest of the afternoon passed generally without incident. Well I say that because the main incident in the afternoon involved me making an absolute cockwomble of myself. After following a fairly rutted section, my outstandingly shit Maxxis Mammoths let me down again and i slipped off and fell straight into a pond. (It was actually a puddle, but that doesn’t sounds as dramatic). The reality was my only pair of pub shorts were piss wet through, as was my rucksack as that also landed in the puddle. In years gone by I am pretty sure the first thing I would shout after crashing wasn’t “I’ve only got one pair of shorts. I’m also sure that I wouldn’t have pulled my foot out of my shoe and left it on the peddle. As I said – cockwomble.
It became more pleasant riding and we were all looking forward to setting up camp and then getting down the pub for a few well earned beers.
The campsite was the same one I used on the aborted trip. Its a good location with good facilities and perhaps importantly for me a tumble dryer. I could sit in the pub in damp shorts and aoposed to piss wet through shorts. After fine food and several beers, we followed the well trodden path of despite having a big day of riding tomorrow, we would have a few more beers. And a few more. And in case that wasn’t enough we had a take out. The 6am depart was ambitious.
After waking myself up with a rather impressive fart, I received a barrage of abuse for being the camp snorer. This of course is bollocks, I dont snore and if I did well I was asleep so it didn’t matter. After consuming our “food of the gods” (wayfarer all day breakfast) we packed up and set off on day 2, with very palatable weather and sadly, a reduced group. Yes, The chuckle brothers had bailed.
I noted that we had gone through the first day without a puncture. This was remedied almost immediately with a puncture.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I had forgotten the first “Bastard Climb”. This is mainly a road climb, but it has the added advantage of three stragically placed grit buckets on flat levels which I like to use for a little pit stop and rest. If the locals had anything about them they would put a few cakes and perhaps a flask of tea in the grit buckets. But they don’t. Alun rode it all in one go, the other three of us laboured up it in an extremely tardy fashion. The obligatory sprint for the last 10 yards resulted in a win for me against the anvil. These days you have to take a victory where you can.
The next significant part of the trail is around the reservoir and as we made our way I took a shortcut. Now technically this is cheating, but I have no problem with said cheating when it cuts out the worst section of the whole trail. You will note from my previous blog attempt, it’s just shit. Boggy, wet and unpleasant and pointless.
As we made it up the road climb we stopped to take the obligatory photos of the dam wall. No, really, its a dam wall, not an annoying one. It’s a truly outstanding piece of infrastructure and we all decided that the houses below would be “fucked” if it burst. The collective wisdom of our group is something to behold.
The route around the reservoir is an opportunity to make up some time, something we had to do after our general tardiness at getting through gates, water stops and the like. As we pressed on it was noticeable that Kenny was not happy with some sort of mechanical aspect of his bike. On closer inspection after the expert feedback of the rider “its wobbling around like a pisssed up bloke” we decided that the bearings were knackered. After several attempts to repair the bearing with a distinct lack of suitable tools meant that we would either have to get to a bike shop OR simply ride on and hope for the best. Option b then….
We made steady progress but it was already nagging at me that we would struggle to make Llangurig before it got dark. Still, it was now approaching 4pm and we still hadn’t had our pub stop. This would simply not do! The pub in question was of course closed. This is the second time I have arrived at this pub to discover it was closed. To me there is a flaw in its business model. If you open, you will sell beer. If you are closed, you will not. However on the descent to the pub we met two very helpful ladies who suggested if the pub was shut just knock the door and then they would open up. Excellent. Failing that the ladies did offer to make us a bacon sandwich at their house. I was all for that, but we instead chose the closed pub. So we knocked. Several times and then resorted to banging . It was 4pm and we wanted a pint. Eventually a rather grumpy bloke turned up at the door to advise us that he was shut. We explained the conversation regarding knocking on the door and he told us in no uncertain terms that he was shut and not opening up. Undeterred, we asked when in fact he would be opening up. His response “in ten minutes”. Ok, shall we wait then? “Alright” he says. Possibly the most bizarre conversation I have ever had.
Once inside the pub, I think underwhelmed was the most appropriate comment. Still, he provided us with a few beers and then ham, egg and chips cooked by his rather more enthusiastic wife. Not bad and he got the best part of 60 quid out of us, so hopefully that put a bit of a smile on his miserable face.
We set off with renewed enthusiasm and a tight time schedule. It was clear we would be riding in the dark later given the distance to cover even on the flat. A sneaky peak on the Garmin and I discovered it was far from flat.
As we made our way to the final climb of the day, its fair to say I had had enough. I think the other members of the party had also had enough, save for Alun who still appeared to be romping up the hills (the twat). As we approached dusk, the road got steeper and steeper. Several false summits resulted in much swearing. That and the cows. The cows were everywhere as were their shit. At one point I was convinced it was some sort of fatigue induced vision, but after testing out a sloppy pile of shit, I confirmed they were very real.
Finally we crested the summit and were rewarded with a steep downhill section (on road) with a head torch lighting the way. Sub-optimal. That and Kenny’s wheel still “on the piss” it made for an interesting journey. Still, we had our lovely campsite to look forward to, a nice warm shower and a trip to the pub.
Upon arrival at the campsite, we found it to be a very damp and muddy field with all the amenities of a prisoner of war camp. Helpfully, the “shower block” was multi functional, that being an outside toilet with a shower head fitted inside. You could quite simply take a shit AND wash your feet at the same time. Still, it was warm (providing you had a pound coin) and we had a nice homo-erotic bonding session trying to get our showers done. Still, a nice little walk down to the pub and we’d be happy. What’s that? Its not a walk? Ah ok then. The kind lady who owned the prisoner of war camp offered to drive us down. Brilliant. If had known I wouldn’t have showered as the car was a shit tip.
Finally we made it to the pub and replenished our flagging reserves.Good job we did because we then decided to walk back to the camp site. After getting lost wandering around a wood, we gave up and diced with death walking along an A road. Getting in to my damp sleeping bag, I was glad day two was over. I fatrted and went to sleep.
The bollocks about me being the snorer started again. A pattern of bullying was developing in our little group and I was having none of it. I would have stayed and argued the point, but sadly I had to sprint across the campsite to the toilet and to be entirely honest I came extremely close to shitting myself. Must have been the curry last night.
We had a rendezvous point booked with a taxi company at Dovey Junction for 3pm, so we neeed to be away a bit sharpish and also not generally fuck about on the ride going through gates and the like. I helpfully lied to everyone proclaiming that the day was “mostly flat, save for a couple of “little hills”. After our standard breakfast, Kenny jettisoned the 12 tins of beaked beans he had carried for the first two days. A quick check confirmed his wheel was still completely knackeered. Would it make the day?? We set off with renewed enthusiasm and an inkling that the sun would be out today.
This was new territory and I was looking forward to it. The terrain had changed a lot from the first day and as we made our way over the first couple of climbs with the sun on our backs, the world seemed like a wonderful place.
We continued on our merry way, some steep climbs being rewarded with some cracking descents. The Turtle/Anvil had perhaps the most interesting technique, hurtling downhill seemingly out of control, only to get to the bottom and produce an incredible pirouette based dismount. Ten out of ten for style my friend. Kenny on the other hand with his dodgy wheel came down at a snails pace with his disc flapping about as the bearings wobbled from side to side. Alun on the other hand focused purely on style. And a look of concentration ………
We made steady progress, and after a few quick calculations I realised that we would in fact make the rendezvous point on time, but a pub stop would be pushing it. This of course filled us all with disappointment. This was short lived because then we realised that in fact there were no pubs between where we were and the finish. I made a note that should I ever ride this again I would factor in a detour on day three.
More stunning views abounded and we were chugging along nicely, even managing to get through gates without spending about ten minutes faffing about. What could go wrong? Approaching the end of the Trans Cambrain, the weather with us, time pressures momentarily off? It was splendid.
One of the golden rules of these trips for me is to follow the Garmin no matter what. Why? Its generally correct and even if it isn’t its only a l;title bit out. So why we collectively decided to ignore it I have no idea. We merrily veered off on a “short cut”, the Garmin protesting loudly. I looked at the overview map and deduced with all my extensive map readin skills that we could shave about 1km off and rejoin the route. Little did i realize that in fact that necessitated a hike a bike over a mountain. And that is not an exaggeration. By the time we got to the top, sweating, brambles and generally fucked, we decided we had gotten nowhere. That rendezvous? It was now back to being tight again. After much procrastination, faffing and indecision, we did what any self resopecting group would do. Send Alun off to scout the route as he was the fittest. And it turns out a navigational expert. We stumbled back onto the route and we were off, after a celebratory pose atop a rather large (but incorrect) hill.
And so we approached the end of our little journey. Some little stretches of fire road, some little road climbs and then the run into Dovey Junction Railways station. We had done it. The mighty Trans-Cambrian tamed by a bunch of bike riding, rucksack carrying leg chafed, snoring, farting piss heads. We made our way down the gravel road to get to the obligatory photo opportunity at what I anticipated would be a lovely old railway station. In fact, its a platform in the middle of nowhere with even less amenities than the POW camp site. Had it been raining it would have been an anti climax. As it happened, it wasn’t and I finally completed an MTB ride in 2016 without packing. I thank you.