Friday, 22 November 2013

Throwing myself down a hill as fast as I can repeatedly: 2 Wheel Version*

This week I went off to the Valleys in Wales to take my bike on a tour of the brand new Bike Park Wales, located just outside of Merthyr Tydfil.

Not going to lie here, Merthyr as a location isn't quite a glamorous a base as say Whistler in Canada, or Arequipa in Peru which were the locations of my last two proper Mountain Biking excursions (Arequipas was down a Volcano not a hill). Nor does it have the quaint tranquility of rural Somerset my other usual biking location. What it does have however is big hills and a dedicated mountain bike trail centre with (and the kicker) an uplift facility.

I was in Whistler & Peru during Summer/Spring so to compare the weather would be a little unfair. This is the end of all comparisons to those aforementioned locations. Read about them here and here.

I arrived in Merthyr around 5pm and elected to make myself at home and watch tv for an hour before heading out for dinner and a movie. I opted for 'Pulled Pork Potato Skins' and Spicy Meatball Calzone from the 'world famous' Frankies and Bennys. To call the PPPS disappointing would be an understatement, it had the tiniest amount of pork and came lukewarm (an thats being generous) Correct me if I'm wrong but to make 'Potato Skins' you remove everything but the skin from it and ie don't leave any potato...?. The Calzone faired a bit better despite an out of the jar sauce and lots of grease, plenty of meat this time though. I know I shouldn't have expected much but this was  pretty poor. I then saw THOR2 which was enjoyable and went home to bed to prepare... no I didn't, I watched homeland instead.
Huge room 
I awoke to see snow on the nearby hills and confirmed this was the case, I happily donned my four layers of biking gear and lamented not having brought my neck scarf. After a quick bagel I headed off to the park where although cold it was rather sunny. I signed the 'dangerous sport activity' waiver and hopped on the minibus to the top of the hill where I found snow awaiting me.

The trails are graded much like Ski Slopes are in to colours (Green/Blue/Red/Black). I started on the easiest (besides the 'family' green trail) at the top to get me warmed up for the harder more technical trails. This one was named 'Sixtapod', I navigated the slippy services and zipped down the hill in to the woods before leaving these in to an exposed side of the hill. This trail then becomes known amusing changing name to 'Willy Waver' for more rocky mini jumps as it circled back towards the uplift finally getting a bit more muddy with puddles as you got closer to the bottom. Having achieved one successful run I opted for a red run this time, 'Wibbly Wobbly' which was much more rockier and found a large drop off right after a corner which if not properly prepared for could throw you. The track continued like this entering the woods as before where the trail became slippier and more rooty. Wibbly Wobbly crosses a path and turns into 'Rim Dinger' - a very rocky bumpy trail that again turns a bit muddy as you get to the bottom of the hill.

After a quick stop off to stash my phone in the car next up was 'Vicious Valley' which sounded scary but wasn't too bad, similar to Wibbly Wobbly but with more roots and tight turns in between trees with a small uphill. This then turns in to a blue named 'BlueBelle' which takes you round the side of the hill before heading back gifting you with 'stunning 'views of Merthyr and flowing hilly trail allowing you to get plenty of speed before heading under a bridge and being offered a choice of Red/Black and Blue runs to take you back to the Trail Centre, which I did for lunch down one named 'Bush Wacker'. Lunch consisted of a Pulled Pork Sandwich from Tesco (to restore my faith in pulled pork after the previous nights debarkle).

First snow of the year

Oh grow up!

Muddy already after two runs

Right after lunch I wen't back down 'Vicious Valley' for more rooty mayhem, just as I began to join the uphill section to head in to 'Blue Belle' I heard a snapping noise of metal and looked down to see my chain in pieces lying on the floor. Powerless I drifted down the rest of the trails back to the Trail Centre. Luckily they have an onsight workshop with spare parts and new if required. The cause was identified as a bent rear mech which the technician happily bent back in to place, fixed the chain and told me I'd need a new one 'within a few months' he also gave me some helpful tips to avoid such an occurrence again.

Bike repaired (for the time being) I decided to be adventurous and try one of the more serious trails, a 'Black', named 'Enter the Dragon' this starts with some huge table tops and big drop offs, I navigated these successfully (without injury to me or my bike) before getting bogged down in a rather muddy patch of the trail. This led me back to the road path where I rejoined 'Willy Waver' before jumping on the bus again. With light fading and coldness setting in I made one last whizz down 'Vicious Valley/Blue Belle' before going back to the Hotel for a needed hot shower and a welsh biscuit.

Blue Skies over Wales
This time my evening plans were vastly different... not, this time I went to Nandos and feasted on Chicken before heading to the Cinema again to watch Gravity in 3D. This was surprisingly actually very good visually and I enjoyed 3D for about the first time ever. The temperature had dropped to around -1'c while I had been in the Cinema and so I promptly headed home for the warmth and to prep for the same again the next day.

Figured this might be useful!
Day two began as had the first with one major difference, the weather had turned from snowy with blue skies to miserable grey and wet. I donned an extra layer in an attempt to allay the wet which did not work as on my first run I went straight through a puddle soaking my feet which mean't they never fully regained warmth all day.

The trails however were not too muddy (to the extent of impeding you) just a bit of extra slippiness and more puddles to splash through. I did all the same trails as yesterday, deciding that 'Sixtapod' was actually my favourite for sheer levels of fun. Everything was going well until my second to last run when I heard a loud 'crunching' sound and my gears stopped working. Looking for a piece of metal on the floor the problem was discovered, a snapped rear gear cable. No doubt also caused by the bent rear mech. Not taking this as a sign to go home, one can still cycle with one working gear ( as any hipster fixie type will tell you, they'll also tell you you don't need breaks, the nutters) I hurtled down one last time.

I had a cold shower at the trail centre which sort of made me wish I hadn't bothered even trying and drove home safely to Bristol.

Muddeh, and that's just the front!
My bike is now out of action essentially until I get repairs sorted, Xmas gifts I think and some of this weekend will be spent giving her a good wash! Until the next time, Sayonara x

Getting Clean!

*As opposed to the Ski/Boarding option - which it appears I did not blog.

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