Its 4AM in the morning and as I had only just finished planning my route three hours prior, it was an effort to drag myself out of bed. I was off to Euston station to catch a train for my next adventure to begin. This was my first proper trip of 2017 and the idea had formulated to ride from the North to the South of Wales. I was hoping to start at Conwy but the train was over £100 each way so a friend suggested to look at the price of a train to Liverpool, and so I was booked on the 5AM train for under £20.
I arrived at Liverpool at 8AM with my Genesis Longitude 29+ loaded with 7 days’ worth of supplies and food. The first day brought mixed weather and moody seascapes to ride alongside. The powerful head wind slowed down progress but I made it to Conwy in good time, it was there I turned south into the mountains of Snowdonia. The route I choose showed how the landscape of Wales varied as you worked your way down the country - from the slow pace rocky mountains of the North to the fast undulating hills of the South.
I awoke on day three to the sound of rain hammering my tent. The previous day had been slow going and I was hoping to get back on course. No dallying around as I was packing up, not that I had much choice in the pouring rain. I set off pushing my bike up a steep slope through very boggy ground and in an optimistic mindset, I thought once I topped out I would then be flying down the other side. I reached my max altitude and the path had completely disappeared. There was a small lake to my right which had a submerged gate in the middle of it, I pushed on with every step dreading that the gate was actually my planned route, and yes it was. My feet were already soaking so I just got stuck in and waded up to my knees into the lake. It was surreal opening the gate and then making sure it was closed behind me in the middle of a pond. The pain never let up, my descent was two hours of squelching though stagnant water and disgusting gloop up to my knees, this is not what I had planned.
Later that day I was riding along a ridge as a vista expanded in front of me. Sun rays popping out of the clouds, their light casting moving spotlights along the valley bottom. I flew along rocky double track as I entered a forest and an area I knew very well. Coed Y Brenin was one of the first trail centres built in Britain and one of the first centres I had ever visited when I started riding. But this time there was one major difference, I was on a rigid bikepacking bike fully loaded. This you may think would be a hindrance, but oh no - I was riding along as though I was on my full suspension bike, as long as I didn't look down to see the bags on my bike bouncing so vigorously that they looked like they were trying to launch themselves into space!
That night I had seen the forecast for the following morning and things were meant to be changing for the better. I pitched up in the dark behind Cadair Idris with only one thought in mind, to wake to a spectacular view. I woke on a very wonky pitch in a pile at the bottom of my tent ready for the magical moment of unzipping my tent not knowing what would lay before me. I was thrilled to see mountains laid out into the distance bathed by the morning glow starting to awaken the landscape. Soon the area around me looked like a small explosion as all my soggy clothes were spread out trying to make the most of the morning suns heat.
Day five and as usual I was behind schedule, I had some miles to catch up on but I was tired and struggled to get going. I was riding along an off road track when to my surprise trail centre style signs started to appeared in the direction I was traveling. I had been climbing and when the decision to either turn left and follow my planned route to get back on track OR turn right and keep following the signs came about, it wasn't a hard choice... Plans out of the window, I was hammering singletrack trails built with so much flow I was carving turns once again forgetting what bike I was actually riding. The signs took me to the start of the main descent which was spectacular. The full use of the contours provided an unexpected long descent on perfectly made trails. It was at the bottom when I still didn't know what trail centre I was at, when the track started to climb. This trail centr wasn't like others, the visitor centre was at the top of the trails, so a long stiff climb took me to the last descent dropping me down into the café. It was only when I approached the café and seeing the dream built pump track did I realize where I was. I had seen photos of this place all over the Internet of this new skills area - I was at Nant Yr Arian, and the opportunity of riding the pump track could not be missed. It was a surreal sight to see me fully loaded flowing around the trails as though I was on my jump bike!
The real trail centre test came towards the end of my journey. I was to ride through Merthyr Tydfil which is home to BikePark Wales, another venue I have graced many times with my full suspension bike. I was nervous that it was going to be a silly idea to ride it fully loaded and with that thought how could I pass up the challenge. Knowing they wouldn't take me up in the uplift due to my plus sized tires (let alone all the baggage), my first hurdle was the climb up. After riding through Wales for seven days, it turned out I was the fittest I had ever been and it was a non-stop ride to the top! My favorite track at BikePark Wales is Sixapod, so after making sure all the bags were strapped on tightly I was off with a face like a Cheshire cat. I though I was on the edge of the bikes abilities but it just kept giving, the only thing to contend with was as I was launched the bike into the air, the weight over the front made gravity kick in very quickly and it returned to terra-firma very fast almost sending me over the front. With screams of joy and fear I had the ride of my life - how is it possible to have this much fun with the contents of my life for seven days attached to my bike.
I had done many bikepacking trips, but this was the first that took me on such varied trails. From the natural, technical rocks of Snowdonia to the man-made bliss of Wales’ best trail centres. Now my barriers of what is rideable on this bike have been lifted, who knows where it will take me next…