A guy you meet over the internet emails you the coordinates of a number of remote locations in mid Wales. You spend a month plotting how to visit them, and geeking over the outfit you’ll be wearing and what accessories you might take. Then you drive 6 hours to Wales to hook up with a bunch of other guys also met over the internet, in a random field. You spend 3 days visiting said coordinates, getting sweaty with some of the internet men, sleeping close to others, eating breakfast with yet others and then come home for tea and cake, again with other random guys met over the internet.
This could be the overview of some slightly seedy story, but it’s not; its the Welsh Ride Thing.
Organised by Stu of Forest Freeride, and publicised through the Bear Bones Bikepacking site and forum, the Welsh Ride Thing started as a group of friends organising a ride in the spirit of the Tour Divide Race and has grown to around 100 riders a few years later. It’s not a race and no one else really cares how many checkpoints you made or how far you rode; the aim is simply to point you in the direction of some nice riding and encourage you to spend a couple of days and nights being self sufficient, riding and camping in places you might not otherwise come across.
The group of riders includes first time bikepackers and bikepacking veterans, with the odd endurance athlete thrown into the mix. The atmosphere is very informal and friendly with not even a sniff of any elitism.
I rode with an old school friend Aidy, on the left, who rides an old school Kona Blast (see what I did there?). Trying out my new Howies merino Tech Tee, which seems to be excellent. I didn’t notice I was wearing it all weekend. Lovely bit of kit.
We took the trails down to the Nant yr Arian trail centre for a lunchtime full Welsh breakfast. A constant stream of WRT riders flowed through the cafe. Here we left Danny and John to catch a taxi back to Pennant. Danny had broken his rear derailleur the previous night and his bodged single speed setup was sounding like it might not last the day. Aidy and I headed east from Nant yr Arian on the road for a few miles towards Port Rhydgaled and then north on a bridleway, towards Hafren forest. Being on the main road again just pushed home how much I prefer riding away from the tarmac.
We’d been warned that the bridleway was particularly hard to find, and that wasn’t an exaggeration… Even the farmer insisted we couldn’t go that way until I showed him the map and insisted that the large dashed green line was in fact a bridleway…
We headed up the forestry tracks looking for somewhere for the night. Years of forestry has left the ground a lumpy, soggy mishmash of stumps and puddles. Luckily, just as we were about to try to settle down on a small patch of dryish, flattish ground, another WRT rider pedalled past. Neil had bivvied in Hafren before and kindly took us to a much nicer location. Aidy is happy we have shelter, although Neil slept just in his bivvy bag without the need for a tarp.
Rather helpfully, there are facilities close by. We waited until the last remaining people at the visitor facilities had left before making a little camp. We were up and packed away the next morning before anyone was in the area. Although we were right by the forestry road, we were pretty hidden from view.
In all we covered about 50 miles. Many riders did twice that distance but we were happy – our group was of mixed fitness, we spent a fair bit of time looking at maps, taking photos, eating and looking at the scenery and had some mechanical issues. It’s hard to put into words the additional freedom that being able to pitch camp wherever you want gives you. Your day isn’t defined by having to get back to a specific location by nightfall, and although we had aims to reach certain places each night, ultimately we had the capability to be more flexible and pitch camp elsewhere if we needed to.
A great weekend, some lovely riding, unexpectedly good company and interesting folk, and lovely tea and cake provided by Stu and Dee at the end!
In my pre-WRT enthusiasm , I appear to have booked trains and planes to take me to Spain next weekend with the aim of riding the 500 mile Camino de Santiago across northern Spain from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic. Whilst the Camino is an ancient pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostela, I have no religious reasons for wanting to travel the route. But I’ve never visited northern Spain other than Barcelona, and think it will be a beautiful, interesting route to travel.
In the post-WRT aftermath, the trip is nearly upon me, so once again, the flat is a pile of partly packed gear, and I really should be sorting out the bike rather than spending time on here. If only I didn’t need to work in the week and could just spend a few days preparing! Looking forward to two weeks of riding, camping, wine and tapas…