Battling the Abominable Bear Bones 200

WHY!?

This is the question I heard repeatedly when I explained that I would be away for the weekend cycling over 200km off-road, riding through the night just hoping to finish as quickly as possible without stopping. I didn’t have a good answer before the Bear Bones 200 and I still don’t have a good answer now. Whatever the answer, it didn’t matter on the day, because my expectations for the Bear Bones 200 didn’t align with reality… not even close!

I was expecting 200km of gravel grinding through a maze of sheep shit puddled backroads, snaking through and around Snowdonia. For the first part of Saturday, it was lovely gravel roads and singletrack. However, once the sun went down, we continued riding into the cold, soggy night; that’s when the BB200 reared its darkest evil bastard grin. Just as dusk came, we encountered the first hike-a-bike section. I was moving along with about four other riders at the time. We turned off of the main gravel road onto what looked to be no trail at all! We could detect the remnants of a disused footpath, now a soggy, boggy overgrown über-tussock nightmare! We carried our bikes on our backs for a while and then pushed them feebly when we could not longer carry them. Someone joked about whether 29″ or 26″ wheels provided more of an advantage through nightmare tussock bogs. Little did we know when we finished this first hike-a-bike how much more carnage lay ahead, with three more long hikes through the night and well into Sunday!

This was my first Bear Bones 200, as well as my first 24+ hour endurance event. What a diabolical introduction it was! I am not completely put off, in fact, I am keen to try some similar events. Self Supported UK seems to be the place to find more events like this. I will be on the lookout for routes with a higher percentage of rideable terrain!

Here is the route for the 2014 Bear Bones 200, which vaguely resembles a massive cock and balls. The theme was certainly apparent by the time we reach the northern most tip!
Here is the route for the 2014 Bear Bones 200, which vaguely resembles a massive cock and balls. This theme was certainly apparent by the time we reach the northern most tip!
Some riders made some slight deviations in the tussock bog sections. The full GPS track comparison is here, courtesy of pixelbreaker (aka mountainbaker).
Some riders made some slight deviations in the tussock bog sections. The full GPS track comparison is here, courtesy of pixelbreaker (aka mountainbaker).

Some mistakes were made

  1. My pace at the start was much too fast. I had an average of 13km/hr by the time I reached Barmouth. This was foolish considering my lack of experience and what lay ahead (ie, horrendous tussock torture fest). My pace slowed to a crawl for the latter 80km and I finished with a time of around 32:30.
  2. My nutrition plan was … oh wait… I didn’t have a nutrition plan! I had some flapjacks and peanut butter sandwiches a few of which I ate just before Barmouth. By the time I got to Penmachno, I was so nauseous I couldn’t stomach more than a few bites for the rest of the route until a strange bowl of lentil soup in Dinas Mawddwy!
  3. Most of my gear was spot on, but the hike-a-bike sections made me wish I’d been more of gram counter. I was carrying a bunch of food that I couldn’t palate and not enough warm clothes for the night time.

High points

  1. What a friendly group of riders! I really enjoyed chatting with everyone along the way – Karl who I rode with for while up until Barmouth when I punctured and couldn’t keep the pace, brothers Adam and Matt during a frigid descent into Penmachno, Charlie who I hiked with over the 1am tussock monster before a 4 hour bivi on the other side (after hopping that barbed wire fence), and Adrian who helped pace me towards the end when both my GPS and body had crashed.
  2. The weather was (mostly) lovely. I never would have thought to bring suncream to Wales, but I did catch the sun on my face yesterday. I dread to think of the additional misery that we would have incurred in bad weather.
  3. The rideable trails and fire roads were ace. I especially enjoyed the riding from the start to Barmouth, the contouring descent after the ‘C$$T’ hike-a-bike (the name suggested by the only finishing female rider) and the penultimate dirt road climb between the A494 and A470.
  4. Although slogging through tussock is not my thing, I must admit some of the views were stunning… especially towards the end of one of the later hike-a-bikes (OS map shows two hills named Moel Llyfnant and Craig y Bychau). The Instagram photo with my bike on the ground is towards the end of this section.
  5. When I finally rolled back to base, I was greeted with not just any bacon sandwich, but a massive double decker bacon supreme and tea. Thanks Stu, Dee and Chew for the warm reception!

Downsides

  1. I think the second half of the route had too much hike-a-bike and far too much road (especially the finger numbing section at 3am around the reservoir after hopping the barbed wire fence). It seemed to alternate between tussock and tarmac for a lot of the second half. I would be interested to know the percentage of hike-a-bike by distance vs riding time by various riders. Not an easy one to data mine, but I am just curious what percentage I spent hiking. It seemed like almost half for me, but perhaps that was my pain doing the thinking!!
  2. I don’t mind a bit of hike-a-bike if it is followed by some otherwise inaccessible reward (eg, a secret patch of single track descent). However, I don’t really see the point of imposing it just for the sake of ‘type 2’ fun. Perhaps I just need to harden up! It must be personal preference.
  3. As someone just the other day suggested might happen, at 3am in the tussock after Penmachno I was definitely hallucinating!

Would I do it again?

I would like to try another event like this having now learned a lesson on nutrition and pace. However, I would prefer a route with more backroads and trails and less tarmac and hike-a-bike.

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Carb loading…

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…mid ride snacks which I was later unable to stomach…

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Ready, set, slow!

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The pack spread out nicely after the first climb…

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… and we started riding as if there were half way there.

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… the weather was lovely…

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… those with fewer gears did more pushing. This is Karl, who finished in 5th place overall. I kept up with him until Barmouth where I had to change a puncture and then it all went pear shaped for me after Penmachno.

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After four big climbs, we had a well deserved descent…

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…into Barmouth on the sea, where many riders decided to take a well-deserved late lunch and consider options of abandoning the ride. I stupidly ventured on without stopping in Barmouth…

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Shortly after this late afternoon photo, darkness descended and much pain and cold ensued. After a bitter cold descent on the main road at around 4am, I’d had enough and decided to warm up in my sleeping bag…

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… The morning fog after 3 hours sleep with my bivy buddy, Charlie. We said goodbye to the cows and hopped over the fence to pick up where we left off…

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Back at it… on tussock toil duty in the morning with a few others who had carried on through the night without stopping. I admired their tenacity, but I could see the wrath of Bear Bones in their eyes.

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As we continued, we encountered gorgeous views amongst the tussocks, but I was beyond appreciating aesthetics at this late stage! This final shot was taken in the late morning on Sunday, about 26 hours from the start time on Saturday! I didn’t have the energy to shoot any photos after this point!

Celebrating my idiotic achievement after a shower and sleep!
Celebrating my idiotic achievement after a shower and sleep! The bike still sits neglected like a filthy ‘outside’ dog.

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