B is for BikePacking
We had booked the “Introduction to Bikepacking” trip with MTB Guiding a few months ago and three of us from the relatively flatlands of Wiltshire were really excited to be going on our first over night bike ride.
Meeting Tom Hutton at the Elan Valley Visitor Center at 10am on Saturday we discussed the plan. Along with the ins and outs of a guided ride we had the added complications that camping would bring to the ride and the extra gear and precautions we would need to take.
When bike packing in the mountains you have to carry all your usual gear that you would take on a long bike ride as well as a long list of other items to support an overnight stay.
Typical list of extras:
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping bag liner
- Sleeping mat
- Tent (or bivy bag and tarp)
- Dry bags
- Extra food and snacks
- Plenty of water (method of filtering and purifying collected)
- Cooking pot(s)
- Plate/bowl and some for of cutlery
- Soap/toothpaste etc
- Spare clothes – more than just a clean pair of socks especially if it rains
- Warm clothes – for the evening once you have stopped moving
And you need to carry all of this gear on your bike, we used Wildcat Gear bike luggage carriers and were very impressed.
After an extended pre-ride faff dividing out some of the gear, loading the bikes and making sure that everyone was clear on the plan, we set off heading roughly South West to navigate our way around the Caban Coch reservoir.
A quick thanks to the Elan Valley Visitor Centre staff who took our contact details and importantly our planned return date/time
Today’s ride was not going to be technical or gnarly, but would be a relatively slow paced ride taking in the country side as we carried a few extra kilos of gear on our bikes. This meant by no means it was going to be dull!
With extra weight on the bars and on the saddle as well as extras in the backpack, you soon realise that negotiating simple things like opening and closing gates require a bit more thought as your bike wants to flop to the ground a little more readily than usual.
Rocky tracks that I would normally skip and hop down, were now a slightly different story too and to be taken much more cautiously as I got used to the bike’s weight and handling.
The Claerwen Dam and reservoir was our next marker and we climbed to a high point on the north of the reservoir and stopped for lunch. The rain began to fall as we ate our sandwiches (thanks Steph!) and we watched as our view of the valleys ahead became obscured by low cloud and mist.
It was now obvious we were in for a wet day and the next few hours of puddles, ruts and hub deep stream crossings managed to soak us all pretty well. Keeping moving was key as we cooled quickly on the exposed hills in the rain.
B is for Bothy
All good plans should have a back up plan, or at the very least a “what if” contingency. Especially if there is the chance that if the original plans goes a little wrong and there’s going to be some sort of danger or considerable inconvenience. We had already discussed the possibility of riding further and seeking out the Nant Rhys bothy rather than pitching tents, and as the rain continued to fall, heavier at times, the Bothy sounded like a great plan B.
To reach the Bothy we would have to ride further than planned – more than 16km further in the rain and (I can’t be sure) but around another 400m of climbing.
Tom Hutton (our guide if you remember) was a little disappointed as the plan was to stop at one of his chosen camp spots, erect the tents, make some food and hot drinks and talk about our experience and learn some more about wild camping.
In truth we would have all liked this, but the fact of the matter was it had been raining for 6 hours and we were wet, and getting cold whenever we stopped. We adapted and would have been foolish not have used the bothy option. We needed to stop somewhere we could dry properly and in every practical sense not stand around in wet clothes trying to figure out how to put up tents that were new to 3 of us.
Arriving at the bothy we were met by some friendly Scouts on a Duke of Edinburgh challenge who had already got the fire going and were busy hammering nails in the overhead beams to hang wet clothes. Never had a dank and dirty run down old house looked so welcoming!
B is for Boiling Water
We set about figuring out the sleeping arrangements and finding ways to purify and filter the water we collected from a nearby stream. The fire was warm, the JetBoil boiled our water and we shared out the whisky and Baileys to cheer ourselves up as our freeze dried food slowly hydrated and cooked in their tin foil bags.
The stream water was a little peaty and populated with a number of floaty bits but the water we collected in a few dry bags was filtered through a clean piece of cloth and then boiled to remove any nastys on the JetBoil Flash.
It looked like a pee sample but it was getting dark and we were hungry and needed to warm up and replace the calories burnt that day.
B is for Day Break (sort of)
The next day we let the Scouts gather their belongingss, pack and leave before we got moving. Tom made some amazing coffee and we all had warm muesli made with the purified pee coloured water again.
Packing for the return journey didn’t take too long and everyone put on a mix of damp and dry clothes for the now shorter and theoretically easy leg back.
After cleaning and tidying the bothy we loaded the bikes and set off – in the rain again!
After some short climbs we were heading down to the Wye valley floor towards Llangurig where we would pick up NCR 8.
Known as the Lôn Las Cymru, its fully open and signed between Cardiff and Holyhead (Anglesey) via Brecon, Builth Wells, Machynlleth, Porthmadog and Bangor. This would take us almost back to Elan Village, and if we stayed on it we would eventually pick up the Taff Trail and arrive in Cardiff… Sounds like a plan for another day!
While it was a much more sanitised route back with lots of gravel tracks and cycleways it was just what we needed after the wet slog of the day before. And whats more within about half an hour of the journey the sun started to peak out from behind the clouds and we would finally catch a glimpse of the stunning scenery Mid Wales has to offer.
B is for Back to Reality (but not just yet)
As we rolled into the Elan Valley Visitor Centre with the sun shining, our thoughts were now on a well deserved late lunch and maybe a bacon sandwich or chocolate bar from the cafe. But we hadn’t used our pasta and Tom’s battered baguette from his pack yet.
So a stones throw from the visitor centre, on a picnic bench in the sun, we broke out the stove once more and boiled the remainder of our water to heat some tomato pasta, broke the battered baguette up and had our last meal.
We may not have been in the wild countryside but it seemed like the best way to end the trip, in the same spirit as we set off, to support and feed ourselves for 2 days.
We discussed the previous days ride, talked about the bothy experience, what we learned and generally all agreed it had been a superb way to spend the weekend.
Now it was time to give Tom his gear back, pack the bikes away, have a proper wash, use a proper toilet and then go to the cafe for a latte and a slice of cake!