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We nearly died this weekend.... [Aug. 26th, 2008|06:44 pm]
That's myself, tetsuko_ and robrob.

We'd been up to Thetford a few times doing some cycling around their mountain bike trails and thought it'd make a nice weekend to go somewhere with a bit more variation in terrain/scenery.

So, we decided to book some hire bikes and a tent pitch and head up to Afan Forest Valley in South Wales, just outside of Port Talbot.

It's home to a mountain bike centre (well, 2 if you count the one 6 miles up the road at Glyncorrwg) and several waymarked trails (Penhydd, The Wall, Skyline, The Whites and W2) with the first four being graded 'Red' and the latter 'Black'.

Now, we've cycled around Thetford a few times and can happily ride around their Black graded route with no real danger of any big crashes or injury to ourselves, so riding the Red routes here wouldn't be much different would it?

Well, turns out that yes, it can be a lot different.

The first trail we took on was Penhydd, we thought it might be easier as the signs were orange instead of Red. However, the start of the trail was a muscle tearing, spirit breaking climb. A 1000 foot ascent over 2 miles. My body did not cope at all well with this and I did have to get off and push at a couple of points. I was out of breath and feeling sick. I honestly thought I was going to have pushed myself too far and would just have to give up and head back down at one point, when thankfully the top was in sight.

The views from the top were fantastic, only a few scattered buildings in amongst seas of green for as far as we could see, absolutely breathtaking in places.

We set off again after a bit of a sit down on a well placed bench at the top of the climb and the first section was fine, nothing more than we would have seen around Thetford. Mainly consisting of fire-roads, so it was nice and wide and had a decent surface. Boosted my confidence a little thinking that the climb was the worst they would throw at us and everything was going to be fine here on in.

Then we hit the first descent of the day, the Hidden Valley, a rough muddy singletrack zig zagging it's way down the mountainside with sheer drops to one side of you and if you'd managed to miss one of the sharp U-turns I think it would have been an air-ambulance job!

Some smaller climbs and several singletrack descents and I was getting a feel for the bike (and trying to ignore the instant death just to the side of me) and we were nearly at the bottom.

There was one section of track that was marked as 'Rocky Rebellion' which wasn't on the map, but we thought we'd follow it anyway. Bad idea, was like trying to cycle over boulders. Ended up walking the last part of that as well, luckily it wasn't a long stretch.

Down the final sections of Bubble and Squeek and we were at the bottom. Muscles burning a bit, heart pounding from the adrenaline. An awesome ride.

We grabbed something to eat and decided (rather foolishly) to cycle up to the other MTB centre at Glyncorrwg, it was about 6 miles along a forest trail that had a very slight incline. About three quarters of the way there my legs started to burn, I was just glad that we were nearly there so I could have a bit of a rest. We sat around for 15 minutes and headed back the way we came, handed the bikes back to the rental place and headed to Tesco to grab some food.

The rain came Saturday night, pissed it down pretty much all night. Everything was soaked when I got up at around 7:30 and started a fire to cook the breakfast on. I was just thankfull that it wasn't still raining as we'd have gotten soaked riding the trails.

We set off to ride The Wall at around 10am, much nicer start than the Penhydd trail. The first section was a flat trail around to the other side of the river which lasted a couple of miles. We could see our campsite from the mountain opposite as we rode along and started the steady ascent up the mountain.

It was still hard work, but nowhere near as much hard work as the first day. The climb was spread out over nearly 8 miles, switching between fire-road and singletrack. Some nice fun sections on the way up and thankfully it was a fairly rocky track compared to Penhydd, so while everything was wet from the nights rain, it wasn't too muddy.

We stopped at a park bench near the top of the trail, just before we entered 'The Graveyard' section. Had something to eat, chatted to a couple of other riders (MTBers appear to be very friendly on the whole) and got a little worried about the section ahead. We'd been warned about it by several people both before we got to Wales and during the ride.

Following another riders advice, I dropped my saddle before setting off again as I'd be standing for most of the rest of the trip and we off we rolled.

The Graveyard didn't start off too bad, fast flowing single track, rocky sections dotted around and a few small drop offs, but nothing we couldn't handle. Well, until we got to the last stretch. I attempted to ride it, but chickened out of a couple of the bigger step downs and stopped and put my feet down in several places, just rolling my bike over it. Got my confidence up towards the end of the small rocky section, but it just wasn't worth taking any risks. The drop down the side of the track would mean you paid a hefty price for mistakes.

Made me feel a lot better when the next couple of riders along got off and either pushed or carried their bikes over sections, so wasn't just us that couldn't ride it.

The section after The Graveyard was the final descent of The Wall, named Zig Zag. A series of steep descents with tight U-turns every so often, winding it's way down the mountain back towards the fireroad that we'd come in on. It was pretty hard to go slow on this part as it was so wet that every time I applied my brakes the wheels just locked. There were a couple of places that I felt my back wheel slipping on the rocks.

Checking the GPS tracker showed that the course had climbed over 1000 foot over 8 miles and descended all the way back down again in 2.

Sections of both courses were absolutely terrifying, but exhilirating at the same time and the views from the mountains were breathtaking.

I'll upload some of the photo's that I took later on, but they just don't do it justice. I think there's definitely going to have to be a return visit at some point!

[User Picture]From: blonde_ranger
2008-08-27 06:19 am (UTC)
ROFL, as far as im concerned there is never a "slight incline" in Wales!

And i found it hard to adjust up there... i blamed it on the thin air and altitude, but i suspect that i was just out of condition.

Getting up in the mountains for the view is definitely worth the hard work (although i did it on foot... slowly!).
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