Saturday, 21 July 2012

Around the Gower

The previous late night catching up with friends at the South Wales Caving Club meant a slower start than ideal for the trip. High water at Penclawdd was around 08:00 which is when we arrived. The idea of setting up the car shuttle is ditched in favour of getting on the water. The tide moves quick here and soon it will be extensive mud and sand  - we'll somehow get back to the start!

Lou sorting boats

Tim looking forward to the days adventure

The day is idyllic. Little wind, low tides and really good weather - a real treat after weeks of gloom and rain. We set off through the channel in the salt marsh on mirror waters. Around us a wealth of wild life. Little egrets hog the banks and lines of curlew skim the water in front of us as they cross the Loughor estuary.
On the estuary

Glass like sea

The dropping tides pulls us steadily along as we cruise towards the distant disused lighthouse at Whiteford Point. Once round the point the waters turn from the estuarine silt laden waters to crystal clear. We make a comfort stop, and soon after stop at a small beach by Burry Holmes to eat and savour the day.
Whiteford Point lighthouse

Comfort break!

Slightly bouncy waters are encountered around Burry Holme which is about as lively as the sea got today. Once around the island we are greeted with a fine view of Worms Head some 6km straight across the bay. A good steady paddle with a seal for company and we're fairly soon paddling along the northern side of the headland.
Keen SUP boarder off Burry Holmes

The superb Worms Head coming into view

Here lives a colony of seals. Unfortunately some senseless fishermen on a motorboat get too close and the seals start disappearing and it looks as though a close encounter with any seals is out. However as we moved away from the other boats in the area the seals started to appear all around. At one point a seal was happily watching Tim whilst still on the sea bed whilst Tim watched the seal from his boat! The two seemed to happily admire each other for some time.

We quietly round the head and into the mass of fishing boats that hang off the point here. Meanwhile we spend some time happily watching the manx shearwaters effortless skim the water between our boats on a glassy sea - very magical.
Leaving Worms Head

Compass Jellyfish

We quietly paddle on enjoying the day and the changing scenery of the Gower coast passing the various classic climbing spots found along the coast here and reminding ourselves of past days climbing these cliffs. More wildlife is spotted including a small group of the enigmatic Choughs that live on the cliffs here.

Another food stop in a small and beautiful day and its to the final destination of Port Eynon after almost 40km of paddling. Here we get the boats up the beach, get changed and find a taxi to get us back to the cars. It all works out extremely well! And what a fabulous day.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Mud, blood, sweat and (knackered) gears

The Bontrager 24/12 hit me hard. It wasn't so much the misery of the event - more the rather too chaotic lead-in. Too much going on with home, work and other commitments. A lack of specific bike training also didn't help but good endurance levels usually see to that.

I really needed a quite weekend. So did my team mate Simon! Instead we're up very early and heading down towards Plymouth into the eye of a 'red' level weather warning from the Met-Office for 24 hours of mountain biking.........

We arrive at Newnham Park for the event. Despite almost having to evacuate the event campsite and base area due to flooding risks during the night the event was still on - this is Britain after all!

Watching the rain

We start to get sorted and set up a big 'gazebo' thing as base. We're soon joined by Matt and his partner for the event Martin, plus Matts lovely better half, Sue, who was coming to act as support.


Midday arrives and its go...... well its more a muddy slurp...... We go for a couple of laps each. Initially we guessed at 45mins a lap for the 7-8 mile loop but in reality this soon turned to being over the hour mark as the course soon gunged itself up and the bikes became coated in deep glop.

The start

Simon does the first two laps. I wait at transition for a mud splattered figure to appear. Duly it does - we change over and its my turn to face the gloop......... The first hill is only a few minutes into the course and is a decent enough grind, initially on tarmac but soon a track that becomes a mud fest.

However I feel really sh1te... and I haven't even properly started. I grind it out. Its only misery after all. The first half of the course turns out to be very ridable and I start to enjoy the experience though feel I'm riding pretty poorly.

Some where within the first half  of the course I opt for whats looks a fun short cut only to encounter a short drop off. This goes wrong and I crash, falling onto the back wheel. Its quickly back up and ride off, but the gears aren't happy.

Some good descents are had but blindness sets in as the mud coats the glasses and hits the eyes. I can't see as I swoop and slide. Attempts to clear the lenses on the move serves to smear the mud... Fun all the way! The final section is a bike push, though the top boys and girls can somehow ride it!

Shoes in the mud somewhere

Just over a couple of hours later and its Simons turn again. I head off to try and reclaim the bike and get some food, The free bike wash is out of water! A flooded river is thus put to use.

Back at our base gazebo and Sue provided the magic words 'tea' as I set to work try to fix the rear mech and hanger that I'd mashed in the crash, before overdosing the chain and bike in teflon lube and wet lube (Whayhey!).

Back at changeover and a beautifully mud coated and additionally trashed Simon appears. Its my turn again. The rain has stopped and the course is changing texture. The earlier mud becomes stickier and my tyres protest at keeping a decent track!

The drive train is soon protesting again. The chainsuck becomes more and more horrendous, and the gearing is jumping everywhere. I somehow nurse the bike round another two laps and its Simons turn again as the course starts to turn dark.

Back to base and back to the river to attempt to clean the bike, and indeed me! Again the magic words from Sue - 'tea'! The drive train is cleaned and lubed, and the gearing fettled so its seems to work again. Some food is stuffed and I briefly catnap.

Back to changeover - Simon appears to be taking more time than expected. This is soon nicely explained as he appears with a lack of seat attached to seat post! Fortunately he avoided impaling his back side on the projecting post......

One ex-easton seat post rammed into frame!

Its now fully dark and my new Hope light brought into play. The night laps are great and incredibly quite, but my drive train is shot again. I really should have spent some money on the bike before this event! Back at transition its close to 1.00am. I see Simon but he's lacking bike kit.....

We've got problems - the seat post wont come out. We had a spare singlespeed bike but the freewheel broke on a test ride before the start. We have another go at getting the post out but no joy, so Simons heads out on a lap with Matts spare bike, another aged singlespeed conversion....

Its close to 4am and Simon returns. Some 10% of the course had been readable but the mud clagged the old V brakes over much of the course and the bike was effectively unridable.

Here we kind of grind to a halt. My bike is struggling, Simons is knackered and the spare is no fun! We've lost the psych of the changeover grind. After a bit of a doze I decide to go for another lap in the early morning light.

The morning is light and sunny and despite the bikes chainset still struggling, its an enjoyable ride. Agin the trail is very quite but after one lap the bike needs cleaning to work again. I settle for a relaxed morning from this point onwards!

Matt applying the style on the last lap

Matt and Martin play a blinder though. They keep it steady, the bikes keep going and they churn out the laps. This sees them win the pairs outright, whilst somehow myself and Simon got the 4th place.

Matt and well earned beer!

So in summary a great event - very friendly and a good course. The weather really upped the misery quotient but thats the UK summer for you! For us though we were 'winging' it too much and our bikes needed far more pre-event love than we gave them (especially me). Definately one to do again though, and an excuse to change my knackered mtb!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Trig pointing on a 'crosser.

With a bit of a monster mountain biking event on the now very near horizon, its been a return to the bike over the last couple of months. The trusty old 'on-one' steel mtb has been dusted down and found to still work (no all travel super carbon special here!), but the truth is the heart is more in the way of the 'cross bike.

A few weeks back and on rare dry day I succumb to desire, abandon the newly oiled mtb, and go the way of the 'cross for a few hours. No real route plan other than to keep the terrain lumpy, and armed with the local landranger map.

The first few miles are quickly soaked up by the 700c wheels as the bike and I blast along old rail routes that are now cycle trails. First stop is Eglwysilan Common gained by a quality long grind up a minor road before hitting the local off road trails. The local farmers must be getting a bit pee'd off by fly tippers and dirt bikes as the gateway onto the common had been deliberately blocked. So its lug the bike over shoulders and jump the fence.

The dirt road is loose and gravelly in places, and tyres bounce around the loose rock surface. No suspension to soak up the hits and narrow wheels skiting across the surface help keep the ride alive. Gradually body and bike get quietly battered.

The first trig is reached and its a sad sight, lying forlonly on its side. This is not a fitting end to a trig point. They represent a pinnacle of surveying achievement, and they have long formed that point to reach, marking the summit of many a hill. Any outdoor person will know what these triangular concrete lumps really mean.....

I ride on, but where next? Mynydd Machen maybe? A fast descent brings back urbanisation, but I miss a turn. The plan istantly changes and its full throttle through the streets of Caerphilly and then up a quality road grind to Caerphilly Mountain. A quick dance on the single track around the summit and its trig point two. But this one is upright and still doing what trigs should do - marking somewhere prominant!

In the distance the Garth Mountain now beckons and a'cross we go. A quick swoop off the hill, into the next bit of common land and then eventually into the Castell Coch woods. Here some more dancing along singletrack is had before blasting quickly through parts of Taffs Well.

The writing is on the footbridge wall.....

Once across the River Taff its time for another quality up hill grind , but this time mainly off road. Eventually its too steep to ride so its time to don the cross bike in its other natural state - across a shoulder - and to stomp the final steep bit.

Trig three is Garth Mountain. Its difficult to know how many times I've stood here, but it's always good......

The phone goes. 'Where are you?'. Almost home, almost..........