Saturday, March 10, 2007

Back to Wales

I cannot beloive that I have now been to Wales three times since I've been in the UK. OK, so it's only an hour's drive, but it's basically a different continent. I learned that Wales is pretty much buggered because the coal mining industry became more efficient, so people have got nothing to do except work in motorway service cafes and serve the worst coffee in the world.

Yes, that is right. We stopped at the Magor road services cafe as we were driving to Afan for an MTB ride/TV shoot. I got a coffee and a large stale scroll. The coffee looked promising in that you were given a plunger full of grinds and boiling water, and you could plunge it yourself. Unfortunately, the water:coffee ratio was approaching infinity, and the result was horrible brown liquid. It could be improved by adding UHT milk and several sachets of sugar. But then it only tasted like very watery and slightly sweet UHT milk.

I couldn't finish it. That's how bad it was.

We did make it to Afan, which is a very different place to the Forest of Dean. It's typically Welsh, with towering hills and pine forests on either side of a valley, cut in half by a mountain stream. It has two great trail centres/bike shop/cafe/bike wash/other facilities, and four trails to ride, all of which are reasonably challenging. All you need is a mountain bike, and you can even hire these from the centre.

We spent several hours being filmed for a spot on SBS. During which, I got to do some fairly ridiculous bits of downhill, one bit of which I just had to walk down. And there was a raised boardwalk that I ended up walking most of. The consequences of falling off it weren't so bad, as I found out later, but I just wasn't prepared for it. Still, I kept body intact, and that was the main thing.

After an enormous lunch, we did an 18 km loop called White's Level. It basically involved a lot of climbing in the first half, and a lot of descending in the second half, including some of the bits we'd ridden previously. There was very little mud compared to FoD, but a lot of rocks which made it tricky at times. It helped that we were riding with the two trail builders, Russell and Gareth, so were in good hands.

It's pretty much all singltrack and it really carries you along. The downhills have lots of little ups that kill your momentum enough so that you can just roll over everything. I even rode most of the boardwalk the second time through. If you fall off it, you land in a bog, so it's not so bad. Again, the ridiculous things that a full suspension MTB can do are incredible compared to a road machine.

I'll hopefully get back there in a couple of weeks and do the Skyline trail, which is a 46 km loop that they reckon takes about 4 hours (you tend to stop a lot on MTB rides).

John is enjoying his fitness now. He's been riding with me three times a week and got his time up Kingsdown down from 12'30 five weeks ago to 9'02 with me pacing him last week. So he could keep up with Russ and Gareth on the uphills today, no problem, and even keep them in sight on the descent. That's no mean feat when they know the path backwards.

Weather: fairly good now, although we've had a hell of a lot of rain. It's getting up to 13 and I'm seeing a lot of blue sky. Jolly good.

Sunday postscript: I did a slightly harder version of the Mendips ride I did a couple of times with Will. 29.5 average with more than 2000m of climbing and a lot of wind. Whee!

No comments: