Not just an inner tube
I gave myself two goals this year: firstly, prove to myself I could compete and have fun racing at the next level, and to retain my second category race licence. Secondly, to undertake a bike packing tour. Last year I became determined to build up my own do-it-all bike, so I was more than well equipped, with an incredibly versatile Kepler disc frame from Brother Cycles.
Having completed the first goal a couple of weeks back, capping off a long seven months of training and racing, I was ready to take on my second endeavour. Staying in the UK was the focus; I couldn’t face lugging a bike box down some European cobbled street again, so I set my sights on Snowdonia in northern Wales. In the height of summer, there was even the lingering hope that I might avoid the rain.
I’m going to take a quick moment to mention that there are a couple of firsts for me here. I have never carried anything more than a gel and an inner tube while riding, so hauling an extra 10kg strapped to my bike (using a Restrap saddle bag) was a little daunting. Also, my only aim over the last three to four years has been racing. To either beat someone up, or around something. So it was going to be a serious mental exercise to hold myself back and look up!
Having travelled up to Bangor the evening before I spent the night in the Plas Tirion B&B in Pentir, the gateway to the Ogwen Valley. Day One’s route was to take me up the valley, through the climbing mecca Capel Curig, and over the Pen-y-Pass. It very quickly became apparent that Snowdonia can rival the Alps when it comes to dramatic and epic scenery. This is made yet more dramatic by a whistling wind, some drizzle and a generous spattering of sheep. Having made it over the pass with a quick detour via Llyn Llydaw, a lake half way up Snowdon, I whipped on my Mono Gilet and descended down into Llanberis for coffee and welsh cakes – ready to take on yet another dramatic valley ascent.
The day then took me up around the Llyn Cwellyn, a lake on the A4085, under the south side of Snowdon for one last look. I descended once again back out of the National Park and down to the coast at Criccieth for some serious castle action and well needed food. The last short leg took me to the Golden Fleece Inn at Tremadog for fish and chips, beer and sleep.
As a self-confessed yuppy and coffee fiend I headed into Portmadog, Tremadogs larger brother, for an early breakfast at the the Big Rock Cafe. This went some way to preparing me for another 100km day with a huge dose of Welsh climbing. I have yet to find ascents anywhere that rival the climbs that day; notably the coastal ascent on the Fronlief Hir road, starting at Llandecwyn, heading up past Bryn Bwbach and eventually topping out overlooking Harlech to the south. The gradient regularly wound up well beyond 20%, but reaching the top paid off after seeing the views over Portmeirion and beyond.
Having recovered, I descended down past Harlech and along the coastal road to Barmouth, a little seaside town with impressive steam train history. Then across the old wooden rail and foot bridge that crosses the Afon Mawddach estuary. I intended on heading inland along the riverside gravel trail and up over the headland road that starts in Dolgellau. But, on reaching Dolgellau I lost my three top gears that would have rendered me stationary on what would be another gruelling climb up over the cliffs. Taking the coastal road, back along to Fairbourne I was then within sight of my second night’s stay.
I want to quickly mention the generosity and warmness of my Airbnb host Barry at the Bryngwyn farmhouse. As I have found with most Airbnb hosts he went over and above, helping me fix those gears, setting up a BBQ and giving me the inside scoop on how, in the TV drama Midsomer Murders, a small quintessential English village, had the numbers to sustain such levels of human loss! Why anyone would stay in hotels nowadays is at a loss to me.
My final day started with the best views of the trip. What I didn’t know was that the Bryngwyn farmhouse was the unassuming entrance to the beautiful and isolated Dysynni valley, giving me private access up and through to Llyn Mwyngil. The water resembled glass with a small collection of row boats mystically hovering between the hills, like one of those butterfly prints you do as a kid, folding your paper in half to print a perfect mirror image.
Descending down out of the hills to Machynlleth I was in blissful ignorance of what was to come. The route was going to take me through the Machynlleth hills visiting Aberhosan and Staylittle, and finishing in Newtown in time for my train back to London. What I was unaware of was the 13 km ascent up to the summit and a collections of small lakes. This was in fact the biggest climb I did over the three days and in hindsight I think this was a good thing I had no idea what was to come.
Having spent sometime exploring the self-timer mode on my camera with the incredible back drop of these lakes surrounded by countryside I was ready to fall back down to Newtown station.
In total my first bikepacking adventure topped 300km and was close to 4000 meters of climbing, taking me through the stunning Welsh countryside that again can rival anything the continent has to offer, if not a touch damper. Having now got the bug for non-heart rate topping rides I may have already booked the next one!
Oh yea obviously none of this could have been possible without my well designed Mono kit which you can purchase right here 😉