On Saturday the 10th of October I found myself in Llanbynmair in deepest, darkest Waleshire along with 63 other bikepacking loons ready for the 2015 installment of the Bear Bones 200.
I felt I had something of a score to settle after failing to finish last year due to an disappointing saddle-sore episode and so it was with great gusto and determination that I set off at 08:05 with high hopes of a good performance.
Things started off in less than prefect style with the chain snapping twice on the first climb of the day (less than 5km into the route). This meant not only that I’d used my spare powerlink so early in the day but also that each time I had to remove the damaged link I shortened the chain sufficiently that I was down to 9 gears (of the original 11) before I’d even really gotten started.
I’d usually carry extra links too but the chain was exactly the right length out of the box and so there were no spare links to be had – bugger!
Ok, so not ideal but my legs were feeling fresh, the bike was riding really well (with the exception of the chain) and spirits were high.
The 29+ loveliness that is the new Singular ‘Rooster’ was flying along and within 6 hours a full 60km had been achieved which made me dare to dream of a sub 24 hour finish for the first time.
Things then went a little off-piste with Stuarts’ wacky sense of humor meaning everyone had to endure some of his trademark trail gems such as the ever popular ‘bog-trotting’, more than one game of ‘where the f*ck is the trail’ and a new one for 2015 which we imaginatively entitled ‘neck high bracken forest hell’.
All of this took it’s toll on the pace but all was not lost as with 12 hours gone an almighty half of the route had been covered and so (using mostly foolish optimism, some naivety and more than a pinch of unrealistic-ness) I still reckoned that I could do it in under 24 hours by simply upping the pace and not stopping to sleep.
I’d been riding with Rich and on/off with a couple of rookies who’s names escape me (sorry fellas!) but one guys rear mech hanger had torn clean off and so they were both out and it so was just the two of us who headed off into the dark after a stop at a life-saving Spar which doubled as a bailing point for riders who were dropping like flies with mechanical troubles, injuries and more than one bruised ego.
Rich seemed to be flagging a little and when he got a puncture he said that he was planning on bivying soon anyway and that I should carry on and so I did.
Within an hour we were back riding together as I’d taken a wrong turn and was sat on the ground eating a Scotch egg when I saw his lights bobbing along the ridge I’d just descended from at around midnight.
A couple of hours later and we decided to bivi in a field when it became apparent that we were both falling asleep in the saddle.
So…..18 hours of non-stop riding done, 130km ticked-off and a paltry 70km (ish) to polish off in the morning – simples!
We gave ourselves 4 hours to sleep and were back on the bikes at 06:30 on Sunday morning.
Things started off well enough with us both feeling knackered but that was to be expected and the mood was generally jovial as we tootled along.
We came to a challenging river crossing which made for some cold, wet feet first thing in the morning but even that wasn’t really a problem as we soon warmed up again and the river was fairly easy to cross.
It was mid-morning when the rot really started to set in for me.
I’d been getting more and more sore from the extended time in the saddle (I really like the Charge ‘Spoon’ but I start to suffer after about 12 hours in the saddle and there’s no coming back from the onset of saddle sores) and by the time we bumped into Taylor and Jason (Taylor was on his way to round up folks who’d bailed and Jason had come along for the ride as he’d arrived late and didn’t fancy the event and so joined us for a while just to get out and have a nice gentle ride) I had my gloves, waterproof and a drybag strapped to my saddle to try and increase the padding and ease the pain.
I added some foam matting, my buff and an innertube to the seat in order to further lessen the suffering but nothing seemed to work and before long I couldn’t sit on the saddle at all which was going to be problematic as there was still over 50km to the finish.
After the disappointment of last years DNF I was 100% determined to get the bloody thing done and so I winced on slowly, ever so slowly, towards the finish.
The day wore on, my spirits flagged and after many apologies to the others for my slow progress we were eventually getting close to the finish.
To add mechanical to injury my chain decided to really give up the ghost and snapped a further 4 times which meant that as I was reaching peak-suffering I was reduced to only 4-5 of the original 11 gears which made the hills almost all impossible to ride up and slowed me down ever more – nice!
Jason had to shoot off as he had a life to get back to and so me and Rich plodded on with him suffering silently and me more vocally – two broken blokes too stubborn to know when they’re beat, we made quite the pair.
And so it came to pass that at 16:35, a full 32.5 hours after starting, we rolled in the car park to a welcome of a t-shirt, pats on the back and most importantly a bloody lovely bacon sarnie (the idea of which had kept us both going in the darker moments).
It’s now a few days later and I still can’t really walk, my ass looks like someone dropped a monkey in a blender and the bike is still sat covered in mud in the garage.
You would be forgiven for thinking that I didn’t enjoy myself or that perhaps we bikepacking folks are stark raving bonkers (I’d struggle to argue against that particular charge) but on the contrary I had a wail of a time and can’t wait until next year so that I can do the whole thing again (but this time quicker!).
So so many thanks need to go out to Stu and Dee (and the helper monkeys) for all of their hard work, time and effort in making this happen – you guys rock!
Right, I’m off to have another soak in the bath to ease my poor broken body.