Jul 182014

Part 1 can be found here.

Morning View

Day 2: What is it about waking in a bivi bag on the side of a hill at 5am and 3.5hrs sleep is it that makes it worthwhile? I toss in my bag for another 30mins before I have to get up to join the sheep in my morning ablutions. Jacket off, jersey on, cram some cheese into my mouth, some granola bars in my pockets. Helmet, shoes, gloves on, hit the button on my GPS. 30mins from awake to rolling, a slow start to the day.

A quick up and over a shoulder before dropping down fast loose gravel into a valley trail on towards the sea and the bridge crossing at Barmouth. The fast trails fly by as I deplete my food and water supplies. I start to wonder if I’ve taken enough when a river comes by, I fill up and move on wondering if my watch is off. It can’t be this warm at 8am. Can it?Brutal PushUp and over fast bridleway trails, down grassy hills, and up the inevitable climb the other side. The general store in Llanygryn gives me an early morning laugh as I inadvertently insult its octogenarian owners poor sight, but I turn on her fridge and all is forgiven. Apparently, I’m lucky to be tall. I run out of water about 10km outside of Machynlleth but shrug it off as I know it’s mostly down hill. As ever, something goes wrong and the wind picks up for the first time cooking my body even more as the heat is driven into me. Hot, headwind, hungry. Not a great combination.

I arrive in Mach cooked, physically and metaphorically.  I raid the Spar buying nearly 3 liters of various fluids and calories beyond measure. Cheese and Haribo – works. Peperami and yogurt – works. Coke and orange juice – not so optimal. 30 minutes sat in the shade before my body temperature starts to plateau. The thermometer on my GPS says 28 degrees, in the shade, at 10am.  The biggest climb is yet to come and I know its out in the sun. I buy some suntan lotion and slather everything in the sickly sweet smelling coconut lotion.

It's me!

The climb up to the lakes is long and brutal. Out in the sun for all of it, carrying a belly and bike full of fluid. Holding me back, but allowing me to continue. By the time I crest the climbs 4 hours have passed since I’ve left Mach. 4 hours to cover <20km. Brutal, but with a huge payoff. Massive vistas, a lake that begged me to swim in it, free roaming horses wandering over for a petting. Best of all, no one but me. Not a soul. This is why I do these things, to be here and now, with no one else. It clouds over and I am grateful for it. My arms a bright red despite repeated applications of coconut smelling stickyness.


The next few  hours are a bit of a blur. I ride along a trail that ends at the end of a sheep run. I have vague memories of having ridden here before and they grow with every push. I recall the river I climb through, the bank I scramble over. I’m here, that Valley that I rode though back in 2008 that I could never locate again, the one that goes on forever with the most glorious singletrack I’d ever experienced.

THAT valley

Bags checked, suspension opened I throw myself at it with all my legs can muster. The bike is heavy but the trails are perfect. On and on it goes before I drop into Afon Hengwm and strip to climb into the river submerging my body with the ghosts of the long deserted farmstead.   The valley is a bowl with a push in, and a push out. I know I’ve not ate in an hour so I take my time enjoying the breeze and filling up my water stores. It’s good to just sit and enjoy the silence.

BathClean as I’ll be until the end of the ride I start the long, dull push out. Were the weather not treating me so well I’d be angry. But I can’t complain. A light breeze, not too much sun, and nothing but my bike and I. After a while I open up again on some singletrack before the fire-road comes – fast and sweet on big wheels – distance covered is good after a slow going day. At least most of the climbing is behind me now.

I reach for a bottle and get air. Nothing. I go for my spare and find the same. I’ve finally done it, I’m out of water. Bugger. I think ahead. I’ve passed all the lakes and the rivers are running dry. My next chance is the visitors centre at Nant Y Arian. It’s 4pm and it closes at 5pm. I’m about an hour away. I rummage through and find a can of Redbull, warm, sticky and bitter. It does little to quench my thirst. I don’t grow wings. I do get a bit angry. I need to get there to get water. Food would also be good.

I should have filled up here.
I should have filled up here.

I ride on and on cooking in the heat which decided now would be a good time to come back. 30mins to go, 15, zero. I’m rolling into the trail centre at 5:05pm. They’ve gone home. Closed up. I’d have done the same. I grab some water in the toilet block, but I need food. I’m close to running on fumes when I pass a garage. Time to practice the Tour Divide diet; chocolate, lots of chocolate later I’m feeling a bit better. I pick up some shitty cheap white bread and sweating salty ham and cram them in my bag for dinner/breakfast.

I roll on, and on, for what feels like forever through hedgerow climbs of 20% pushing through vegetation and its inhabitants. The flies get to me, I swat out in anger at them, releasing my stress on the trail on insubstantial little black blobs. It’s pathetic how something so small can make me so angry. I sit on top of an old Roman fortification eating  my dinner at 8pm. The wind keeps the flies off and I find myself reaching for my jacket for the first time.

Golden Hour

I’ve entered the Elan valley now and I know what is a head of me. A mix of road, fast riding trails inter spaced with pushing. Lots of pushing. I had an idea it was going to be bad. I had no idea just how bad. As I roll along the trails are drier than I’d expected and I get further along faster. I drop through dried river beds being aware that I’ve not got huge water supplies left. A climb over a running river bed has me filling everything, I’m not running out again today, sod the extra weight.

Fireroad leads me down before the signpost to the Monks Trod chirps on my GPS. It’s the one section I’ve not been looking forward to. Aidans description didn’t describe it as something I’d enjoy. He’d had a hard time, I was expecting no different despite the warm weather I’d had. What I hadn’t expected was to take nearly so long to trudge through knee and thigh deep swamp to get across 10km. It was mentally harder than it was physical, but only made better by the thoughts that it’d be over soon. Finished, something I’d never bother with again. If  the Sarn Helen has a Fisherfield equivalent where you’re likely to break – it’s here. As an added bonus – you get the wonderful sign at the end.

The sign

Another trudge – when I decided the trail should be changed to the Monks Trudge – allowed me to wash all the accumulated sheep shit off in a stream. Up, up, up until I saw on the horizon something that made my day. A raised set of rocks, off the trail, out of the swamp, and on a ridgeline with wind to keep the flying nasties away. 10:30pm and I was done for the day. I stripped and bedded down taking a chance to dry out my kit. The sight of a lone sheep standing guard over me, or her flock, made me smile before bedtime. See you in the morning Fluffy.


Day two: 10hours 30mins ride time; 112km; 2,774m of climbing; 16hrs 30mins on the trail.

This turned out to be beside a megalithic tomb...oops

  One Response to “Sarn Helen Trail – A touring ITT (Part 2)”

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