After a good nights sleep, the plan was to get up early and get back to Pennant as soon as possible, picking up the last few remaining points en route.

A quick sandwich got me through the first 10 miles or so, out to Llanidloes and up to the first point at the edge of Hafren Forest. The final drag up a bridleway was tough, and we were freezing. As soon as we reached what we thought was the point, we turned around and were treated to a great, fast descent down to Llyn Clywedog.

I dispatached my final "real" food, a Ginsters steak slice and we started the massive road climb up alongside the reservoir. The views on our left were truely beautiful, and at the top, we stopped for a few minutes to take it in. We also spent a moment thinking just how lucky we had been with the weather. One blue sky / sunny day is rarely found in Wales, and we had three consecutively!

Top of the world by Paul Williams, on Flickr

The majority of the morning went well. More beautiful quiet roads, some great if slightly energy zapping bridleways through the forest overlooking Staylittle and a fast decent to the main road near Pennant.

Only a couple of miles left, and one point. Unfortunately, it was at the top of the hill overlooking Pennant. We crossed the main road, and entered a small wood, but as soon as we tried to navigate the bridleway heading towards the hill, it quickly disappeared. We crossed several streams, got stung by nettes but were finally met with barbed wire fences. No getting through this. Tired, hungry, and keen to get back to the car, we retreated. It was the only planned point of the weekend we failed to gain, and being the last one, stuck in our minds for a while.

All that remained was a quick dash along the road to the farm, sign in to say we've finished the event, grab some cake, and drive home.

Welsh Ride Thing 2014 - Done!

Over the last few weeks, since the event, I've pondered and reflected on our plans and adventure. Through this process, I've discovered a few lessons.

Firstly, maximising use of quiet country lanes rather than bridleways was a winning concept. Althought it probably adds a few miles, the efficiency gains are tremendous, and the pedalling easy.

We both felt the faff and logistics of caching different stuff at two places was onerous. Next year, regardless of camping arrangements, I'm going minimal, and self sufficient, at least in terms of carrying accomodation and sleeping equipment. The forced reduced gear reduces choice and faff, although will obviously add to bike weight.

The last thing regards training. Neither Jason, nor myself had done the training we did last year. Doing more 40+ mile mixed riding with lots of ascent would have made this years challenge easier.

However, all in all, it was a great weekend. The weather was great, the riding good if tough and it's certainly set me up for a good 2014 riding year.

Welsh Ride Thing 2014 - Day Three

After a good nights sleep, the plan was to get up early and get back to Pennant as soon as possible, picking up the last few remaining points en route. A quick sandwich got me through the first 10 miles or so, out to Llanidloes and up to the first…

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Sunday was always going to be the tough day. Our only full day in the saddle, 53 miles and 2,000 metres of climbing would ensure a good appetite for dinner and a good nights sleep that evening.

In reality it was a day of two halfs. We completed most of the climbing in the morning, mainly on small lanes. The afternoon was primarily offroad and much more challenging.

The morning

After a great nights sleep, some rank porridge, and the luxury of a warm shower, Jason and I got to work on the Shropshire hills early. It was cold - maybe 3 or 4 degrees so I wore an Endura MT500 over a jersey for the first 15 miles or so. It's amazing how tarmac helps when climbing hills an we both enjoyed this period of the morning.

Less pleasurable was the final haul up to the second point of the day on Stow Hill & Holloway Rocks. It was meant to be an out and back but we noticed the bridleway continued past the point and towards Knucklas where we'd planned to have lunch. The bridleway up to the point was rough and technical and we didn't want to return down it, so we continued onwards. It was a good idea as it reduced our mileage and we covered much of the ground quickly. We did find a really boggy section which slowed us down but we found ourselves at Knucklas for around 12:00; an hour earlier than expected.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

On entering the Castle Inn, we were apprehensive that we'd get good food, but looking at the blackboard, coupled with suffering real food withdrawal symptoms, we plumped for starters and mains, genuinely to mitigate risk of small portions. We needn't have worried though, I was half full after the garlic mushrooms starter and the main course of lasagna comprised of 2 large slices of lasagna, chips, garlic bread and salad. I couldn't have finished it if I tried, and I didn't try as to ensure I could still ride the bike all afternoon.

The afternoon

Waddling out of the pub around 13:00, we initially struggled with full bellies. The large road and then bridleway climb onto the Beacon Hill was a challenge. Unfortunately, once on the plateau, it became apparent than climbs aren't the only challenge this hill would provide. Grass, peat bogs, and tough singletrack resulted in a 3 hour epic for only 12 miles travelled. It was disheartening - we still had another plateau to cross before reaching our campsite at Llanidloes and it was higher and longer than this one.

The second climb of the afternoon onto this plateau was going well until we reached a saddle. Glucose levels were low, and we struggled to navigate properly. Jason's sat nav refused to stop spinning for a while, and we followed compass bearings and the map for a short while before finding the final climb up to the wind farm. Again, navigation was difficult and we ended up climbing over a locked gate to follow a service road between the turbines. Energy levels, tiredness and frustrating were kicking in, but the great 2 mile descent bucked the mood for a short while.

The windfarms at last..

We really were glad to complete the final busy road section to Llanidloes where a shower, change of clothes and promise of food raised morale.

A great dinner

Being nearly 8pm on a Sunday evening, the prospect of food in Llanidloes was marginal, so we decided to drive into Newtown. As passenger / navigator I found La Terrazza on the internet, phoned them up and booked a table. When we got there, we were a little worried about the chance of having our bikes stolen off the roof racks, but the excellent and friendly waitresses allowed us to bring them, mud and all, into the bar. They even had to move some customers to facilitate this!

It was a great family run Italian, the menu simple, but the food was excellent. Maybe it was the Italians love of bikes, but the chef came out to give us a free course to ensure we were fuelled sufficiently for the last day of the event. We eat until we popped, and then returned back to the campsite for another early evening. Jason even slept well in a tent...

WELSH RIDE THING 2014 - DAY TWO

Sunday was always going to be the tough day. Our only full day in the saddle, 53 miles and 2,000 metres of climbing would ensure a good appetite for dinner and a good nights sleep that evening. In reality it was a day of two halfs. We completed most…

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Update: Please note that due to a ghost.org / theme issue, my embedded photos should link to my album on Flickr but they don't so follow the previous link if you want to see me at higher resolution...

I'm currently enjoying a fortnight off the bike to recover from the 2014 Welsh Ride Thing (WRT), and what better time is there to belatedly blog about our adenture?

It's my 3rd WRT. My first challenge was with Chris and his mate Ben. Last years was with my now ex-neighbour Jason. Reflecting on these 2 attempts, I've gradually traded the challenge of self sufficiency with that of gaining more points through travelling further and ascending more.

Last year we cached a tent near Devil's Bridge, and tried for all but three points, but recall actually failing to get 5. This year, we planned to get all but two points, using roads as much as possible but how did we do?

Early start

Whilst I was planning this years route, Saturday presented far more of a challenge than the longer sunday ride due to the large distance between the obviously defined start point, and closest civilised accomodation - Bishops Castle. It is around 30 miles from Pennant as the crow flies. Add Category Three and Four hills contributing to nearly 1,500 metres of ascent and 43 miles of actual riding. And we wouldn't start riding until 13:00.

As we were caching gear at both Bishop's Castle and Llanidloes this year, I left home around 06:30 and met Jason at the Shrewsbury Little Chef for a light (Olympic) breakfast. After swapping gear between our cars, I drove to Llanidloes to pitch the tent for Sunday night, and cache clothes etc. Jason drove to Bishop's Castle to cache gear in a camping pod and met me at Llanidloes where we drove to Pennent together.

After the mandatory faffing, further eating and tredding in loads of sheep crap, we watched the raffle and impatiently ended up first out of the gate.

Rest at the top of the first climb

We warmed up with a sharp climb over Newydd Fynyddog, after which we covered 15 or so fast miles to Newtown aided by a pleasant, quiet and smooth A470. We then started a series of large road climbs past the Anchor Inn and onto the Kerry Ridgeway.

Nearly at Bishops Castle

We were denied an easy high level passage along the ridgeway; instead we had to descend half way down the other side to gain a deliberatly frustrating point before turning around and painfully regaining all that lost altitude. It wasn't all bad though; once back on top, we were greeted with a lovely, fast road descend on a beautiful quiet country lane to Bishop's Castle for rest and refuelling.

Luxury at Bishop's Castle

Once at BC, we quickly showered and changed into casual clothes to enjoy a lovely meal at the Castle Hotel with a good cycling friend and ex-colleage Jez and his wife Kim.

The pub was lively, the food tasty and plentiful, the ale refreshing, and the atmosphere lively. We were entertained with lots of colourful locals, singing and a good chat before we retired early to the camping pod for sleep.

And with 2,000 metres of climbing planned for Sunday, boy did we need sleep...

Welsh Ride Thing 2014 - day one

Update: Please note that due to a ghost.org / theme issue, my embedded photos should link to my album on Flickr but they don't so follow the previous link if you want to see me at higher resolution... I'm currently enjoying a fortnight off the bike to recover from the…

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A couple of months ago, Jason and I agreed to repeat and remix last years February wildcamp. A couple of weeks ago, we agreed on the Peak District. Splitting the Edale Skyline is an obvious choice for our first Peak District wildcamp.

The Edale Skyline..

As wildcamping isn't as tolerated in the peak district as in other national parks, we followed the 'arrive late, leave early' mantra planning to camp in the shelter of the Woller Knoll wood. As it turns out, the wood was less generous with shelter than we thought...

Friday

We had arranged that I pick Jason up early afternoon, and a quick morning phone call about gas and wayfarer meals suggested all was well. However, I received a text from Jason maybe an hour before I was planning to drive over from work; family circumstances looked like we'd have to postpone. A couple of hours and another phone call later and things we back on again - I left Leamington around 2pm, picked up Jason and headed towards Hope.

On arrival, we had a quick dinner at the Old Hall Hotel , where we quickly dispatched grub and couple of pints of IPA. Back to the car to finalise gear, get the cold weather clothes and boots / gaiters on and then... back to the pub for a cheeky whisky - to keep us warm;-)

We finally left the pub around 7pm, walking up Brinks Rd towards Hope Cross and our planned camping spot at Wooler Knoll. All was going well for the first part of the climb - whilst in the shelter of trees along Brinks Rd, the forecast strong winds didn't reveal themselves, and the clear sky with clearly visible stars suggested a cold, still and peaceful wildcamp.

Unfortunately, once out on the open hill the winds started and as we arrived at the Hope Cross saddle, they were causing concern and even trouble walking. We made a beeline to the woods, but 20 minutes of walking around failed to present a decent pitch. We struggled to find flat ground, and the little we did was out of the shelter of trees.

As we started to walk towards Crookstone Knoll, our 2nd choice of camping spot, we noticed a corner meeting of two drystone walls which appeared to provide shelter from the strengthening south-westerly wind; so much so that the grass wasn't moving at all. Unfortunately, this perceived shelter was either an optical illusion or wishful thinking as the night was miles from peaceful.

We hopped over the wall and then pitched the tents. It's been nearly a year since I've pitched my Terra Nova Laser Competition so it was never going to be the quickest pitch considering the wind. However, I must have packed it strangely as the inner and fly were twisted and became quite difficult to straighten out. After 20 minutes of wrestling, and thanks to a little help, I managed to secure it. Jason had no trouble in getting his tent up, and had started to brew up whilst I lofted my down bag, inflated the mattress and so on.

On completion, I sat with Jason for a while, drinking whisky until heavy rain started to fall at 10:30pm. Unfortunately, the whisky didn't boost my confidence in the tent's ability to cope with such strong wind and I bedded down quite pessimistically.

Room for the night

I usually sleep well in tents, but my concerns coupled with being a little cold prevented me from sleeping well. I kept waking ever twenty minutes or so following strong gusts of wind. I had two loo trips, and both times I took the opportunity to check the guy ropes, pegs, and fastenings to ensure the tent was okay - they were. It was only after this second recce at around 4am that I felt confident the tent would make it through what was left of the night. With peace of mind, I managed to get a couple of hours of decent(ish) sleep, finally getting up just after 6am.

Saturday

Following our 'arrive late, depart early' mantra, I got straight out of my sleeping bag, tidied things into appropriate stuff sacks, and repacked my rucksack. The tent was packed by about 6:30am although this was made more difficult as, due to the complications when pitching it, I'd inadvertently positioned both ends of the single pole in small cow pats. I quickly and efficiently redistributed the cow shit from the tent to my trousers via my hands. The alcohol gel and wipes may have disinfected it, but I had brown hands all day. #LessonLearnt
Edale wildcamp

Jason packed up, and we decided to enjoy porridge and hot drinks at the foot of Crookstone Knoll. Fuelled up, we made quick work of the first hill, then Ringing Roger and the top of Grindsbrook Clough whilst being surprised how little the rain had affected the peaty ground. Maybe my nemesis, Brown Knoll, would be kind to us.

Jason at Grindsbrook Clough

After Grindsbrook, we got onto Kinder proper. The Woolpacks and other large stone formations embedded in peat bogs proved difficult, and the scrambling started to fatigue my hill-unfit legs.

This difficult walking continued along the edge of Kinder Scout, and down to Brown Knoll. The extended paved stones towards Brown Knoll suggested the whole notorious bog might have been paved which left me with mixed emotions; I would be grateful for an easy crossing today, but I did feel slightly sad that the challenge of Brown Knoll might be no more. These emotions soon stopped as the paving stopped at a stile just before the Knoll.

The next 3 miles took us 2 hours due to peat bogs, peat hags, sphagnum moss and heather bashing. It dampened any remaining spring in my legs, and my ankles started to hurt due to the uneven and unpredictable foot falls. We even stopped for some hot food half way across, just to give us a break.

The tough ground conditions, added to the required climbing up Rushup Edge were tough and we were glad for the easier flat walking on the edge. All that was left was the triple of Mam Tor, Back Tor and Losehill - a popular single day walk, but just the last third of today's epic for us. The paving combined with constant climbing or descending concentrated our focus on painful feet, and legs. Fatigue even had us singing, and talking nonsense.

Just three hills left

After another hour or so, we were glad to arrive at the Losehill summit cairn, in my opinion the best spot to see the whole Edale skyline panorama. It's impressive to see how far humans can walk in a day. By this time the wind was fairly strong, and we decided not to camp Saturday night, but to return to our homes. What remained was an excruciating, and seemingly never ended descent across muddy fields back to Hope. My quads really did hurt, and stiles ever 100 yards or so definitely didn't help.

Back at Hope around 4:30pm, we returned to the Old Hall Hotel for protein, and a cheeky IPA, before driving back to Burton upon Trent.

Finally thoughts

With my focus on mountain biking, I haven't done much hill walking over the last couple of years. With weaker legs and shoulders, combined with this challenging route, I really appreciate the low weight, and packability of my gear selection. My dry pack weight of 17lb wasn't bad considering I generally kept warm in fairly harsh weather conditions. I also really liked the security of fitting all my gear in the 45 litre pack - I really don't like strapping too much to the sides as it reduced stability, and causes difficulty when scrambing between rocks.

I really appreciated the relative comfort of my tent compared to the tarp / bivvy combination. I was pessimistic of my tents abilities in strong winds. I know I shouldn't be; it's a very able tent supporting Steve Perry's winter munro round a few years back. It's also survived strong winds in Patterdale, and on High Street before. What doesn't help is watching it flex in the wind; I understand this movement is what enables it to survive but it just doesn't bolster confidence. Surviving Friday night, and seeing the Alpkit y-beams not even move has given me more confidence though.

Best of all, although both knees are a little tender today, neither played up at all yesterday. Having had all the ITBS problems in my right knee, and patella tendonitis in the left, I really did think this challenge would be a little foolhardy for unprepared legs. Running gears and a higher cadence for the entirety of 2013 seems to have solved my tendonitis, and I firmly attribute my lack of ITBS with previous osteopathy by John Williams at the Atlas Pain Clinic and conscientious use of foam rollers. My previous one wore out, and I've recently upgraded to an Escape Roller which, whilst incredibly painful to use, reduces pain in the long term.

I recorded the Saturday segment of our journey on Strava, and have uploaded a photoset on Flickr.

Edale skyline wildcamp

A couple of months ago, Jason and I agreed to repeat and remix last years February wildcamp. A couple of weeks ago, we agreed on the Peak District. Splitting the Edale Skyline is an obvious choice for our first Peak District wildcamp. As wildcamping isn't as tolerated in the peak…

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For a while, I've been procrastinating over blogging, primarily due the yak shaving involved in choosing, and transferring my blogs over to a better blogging platform.

Whilst Wordpress is okay, I've always felt constrained by it's wordpress.com hosting solution. I've become more and more frustrated by the inability to edit themes on their free tier. This was particularly frustrating as the themes I've used tended to hide hyperlinks by choosing subtle colour differences to plain text. Without paying, I couldn't fix these daft issues.

I then tried, and transfered Walking with Williams and The Photographic Me to Octopress/Jekyll. I liked this solution; especially my ability to edit posts in markdown using Vim. However, it also meant naming files particularly, ensuring metadata was set in text files correctly etc. This effort often preventing my from getting blog posts out.

Now, I've chosen ghost.org - another open source blogging platform and will be transferring content and comments as quickly as I can. It's combination of simple hosting, markdown editing and stylish simple themes seem to tick all the boxes. Let's see how it goes...

Jason Underhill and I will be attempting the Edale Skyline again this weekend so I promise to blog about it. Weather permitting, I'll try to take the DSLR so will hopefully be able to get some nice golden hour pictures if the sun every turns up.

Blog move

For a while, I've been procrastinating over blogging, primarily due the yak shaving involved in choosing, and transferring my blogs over to a better blogging platform. Whilst Wordpress is okay, I've always felt constrained by it's wordpress.com hosting solution. I've become more and more frustrated by the inability to…

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Well, over a year has passed since I last posted. Don't worry, I have still been walking, although not as much in the hills as in the past. However I have been riding my mountain bike a lot. This has increased even more so over the last couple of months as a couple of mates and I train for our first Welsh Ride Thing attempt in June.

Well, yesterday, I broke the 20 mile ride for the first time this year. I followed the Hope Tour route from the Vertebrate Graphics White Peak book. 22 miles, and > 1000 metres to climb was the target, and my singlespeed Orange P7 the weapon.

Mam Tor ridge from Hope Cross - first climb done!

I was out of the house early so I could start riding around 9am, leaving the main car park at Hope, Derbyshire. The weather was beautiful, though slightly cold - this would be perfect for the drag up past Win Hill to Hope Cross. Riding at my own pace, it actually went quiet well and whilst I did get off and push for the steeper sections, my 20 tooth rear cog allowed me to ride most of the climb.

Over the top, and there's my favourite descent of the Peak District down to Rowlee Farm. Rocky descents where momentum is your friend is one area where the low ratio gear caused problems. I could not maintain the speed I'd have liked to, and thus my legs and arms got more of a pounding than if I could have pedalled through it. I had to stop a couple of times just to give my limbs a rest!!

Over the A57, and I actually managed to clean the climb out of Rowlee Farm and was delighted to get the top for the descent past Lockerbrook Farm to the reservoirs. I managed to ride past Fairholmes without stopped for a pastie and was soon climbing (well pushing) up the steep bridleway back up towards the crossroad above Hagg Farm. I met a great couple half way up that I actually rode with for most of the remaining miles. The drop to Hagg Farm is another classic, I really love my P7, and am so glad I recently sorted the seat post out...

Over the A57, and after another short downhill blast comes the pain. A long slog along the reservoirs, then up and over the flanks of Win Hill takes you to Thornhill and my riding nemesis - Aston. I hate Aston. Yes it's a pretty little hamlet and beautiful surroundings. But it's always the signal for a painful drag up Win Hill, and this was the 3rd time my bike was pointing towards the sky on Win Hill today. This last climb took me within 300 yards of Hope Cross, and after 18 miles or so, it wasn't a great warm down. At least at the top, you get the chance to point the bike back down the hill down the slightly rocky though disappointing straight downhill back into Hope.

As I rode back toward town, I stopped suddenly to help a Duke of Edinburgh student who had collapsed. She was been looked after by local walker but unsure whether they could get an accurate call through to the emergency services, I rode into Hope and reported the incident from 18 Bikes.

I finally managed to reaquiant myself with the car about 3pm. 5 and a half hours I'd spent in the saddle, and boy, does my back end know about it!! In fact, when home in evening, I started researching Sudocream and chamois creams - I'm not looking forward to the 3 day event in Wales anymore!!!!

Big ride around the Peak District

Well, over a year has passed since I last posted. Don't worry, I have still been walking, although not as much in the hills as in the past. However I have been riding my mountain bike a lot. This has increased even more so over the last couple of months…

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