As with everything in 2020, endurance cycling events have been impacted by COVID-19. There was no Bear Bones group start this year. Instead, we received the top secret GPX crafted by Stu @ Bear Bones and we were given the option to ride any time in October, starting from any point on the route. After some chin scratching on the route, I decided the suggested start point (Kington) and typical start date were ideal.
I didn’t think twice on bike choice. I went with the Highball, because it worked well for me in 2019. I used basically all the same kit, with a few exceptions: lighter Hunt XC wheelset, full Mudhuggers and Shimano XM9 winter boots (I have horrible circulation). I ran with Exposure lights and Garmin eTrex Touch 35 as usual.
I checked into The Walking Hub in Kington, setup by Ali as cozy B&B for outdoorsy types. I highly recommend this place to anyone biking or hiking around Kington or Hay-on-Wye. Ali is a hill walker, super friendly and thoughtful — and her homemade granola is delicious.
Departing from Kington 07:15, I began chipping away at the climbs to Hay-on-Wye over Hay Bluff and onwards to Crickhowell. I caught fellow boners Rich & James just before Hay who were also riding the 300 from Kington. We rode through Hay together before the Cussop Dingle ford into Wales. Although there was speculation on the forum about a waist deep crossing, the water level had already dropped and the ford was rideable (win!). But my dry feet would only last a short while longer before accumulating ingress from all the puddle splashback (even with the Mudhuggers).
The climb up Hay Bluff was steady and rideable but unfortunately it rose into a low fog before the summit, ruling out any chance of a panoramic view. Perhaps this contributed to me getting a bit off track where I followed a faint sheep trail to the left that just happened to run parallel to the main track for about a kilometer. I cursed myself for my mistake, but all was forgotten when I hit that glorious descent down the other side.
Things began to look more familiar as I approached Pandy, as I’ve ridden around a Black Mountains a few times before. I came across Eugene at the base of a steep climb on a particular lumpy section, which was followed by a gnarly motocrossed HAB through trees. Fortunately it came rewarded by the classic Blaen yr Henbant segment of the Beacons Way descending down towards Crickhowell.
A few kilometers before rolling into Crickhowell, I found Steve Waters, another experienced rider from the Peaks. We shared ride stories on the way into town. I stopped at the toilets for a water refill and Steve went to the bakery. I didn’t stop for any food, because I was packing a framebag full of sandwiches and pizza and my plan was to make it to Builth for a food stop. I gave Steve a wave and rode off.
The long steady climb out of Crickhowell came with a headwind, which slowly wore me down by the time I hit the HAB up to rejoin the Beacons Way. But it came with a vista of Talybont Reservoir just as the sun came out to make this ride look more photogenic.
I had estimated my schedule based on 2019 pace which should have put me in Builth around 21:15, but as I approach the Gap, I realised I’d struggle to get there before the Co-op petrol station closed at 23:00. I rolled in at 22:56 and made a mess on the floor they had just mopped before closing, grabbing coffee and sandwiches and leaving a trail of sheep shit behind me. The Co-op lads were surprisingly understanding!
I stuffed my face outside as the Co-op lads locked up and headed to their cars. I wondered what they thought of me covered in mud, drinking a mocha and eating sandwiches outside at 23:15.
Starting to feel the cold, I layered up and started the climb out of Builth, which led to a series of rolling quiet lanes. But the cruising wasn’t to last, because the route had some more rough stuff up its sleeve for us. At one point I was walking through a field of turnips and later found out I was beside a gravel track.
As the hours passed, the fatigue began to slowly wear me down. I was doing more harm than good and I realised I would be better off with some sleep if I was going to finish the route. Around 03:00 I came across a dilapidated sheep hut a few kilometres before Monaughty and the persistent drizzle helped me decide it was time for a bivy.
The alarm assaulted me at 07:00. I had the usual battle in my head to get out of the nice warm quilt and put my wet kit back on. This is never as bad as I think it’s going to be, but always leads to procrastination. I was soon on the bike again, nursing the familiar sensation of EBC (extreme bum chafing). It forced me out of the saddle more than I am used to.
I arrived in a very quiet Knighton in time for breakfast. I gobbled down a massive omelette and chips, two coffees and a carrot cake. Stiffen the wombats! That felt better! My legs started to work again, my eyes opened up, the sun was shining and I was enjoying myself again. It was another 70km of cruising to the finish, with only a few more climbs and slow sections. It felt easy when compared with my nocturnal meanderings.
I finished at 15:50 on Sunday with a time of 32:34 hours. My total moving time was 24:40. For comparison, I finished the BB300 2019 in 25:07 (22:54 moving time), so even subtracting the bivvy and comfort stops, my pace was significantly slower. The climbs punchy and unrelenting, the mud and spongey ground cover sapped energy and feck me there were so many shitting gates. However, there were some thoroughly enjoyable sections including Hay Bluff, Beacons Way, Talybont Reservoir, Taff Trail, Gap, etc.
Nice to meet Rich, James, Eugene and Steve Waters for brief chats en route. I later found out the Steve Large, Alex Berry, Steve Chapman and Andy Bennett were also riding that day, each of us starting at different times and from various start points. Some were riding the 200 and few riding the 300.
It was certainly odd not having the usual mass start from Llanbrynmair this year, but I think we made the best of the situation, with good pre and post ride bantz on the forum as usual.