Epic Brenin!

March 5, 2015

 A tale of derring-do from the depths of the dark Welsh forests…

What are you up to this weekend? Off to a trail centre? Lovely. Only time for one loop, or going to try and squeeze in two? Oh, what the heck, it’s the weekend – let’s ride all the trails here, then go to the two up the road and ride all of those for good measure, too. Even better, let’s ride between them. Yeah!

“Guys! I’ve had a brilliant idea!”

Sounds mad, doesn’t it? But some people really do think like that. They look (almost) like you and me. They have (mostly) normal jobs. They do the washing up after dinner and change their pants daily, just like the rest of us (we assume). But when it comes to keeping themselves entertained throughout the winter months, well, slobbing in front of Countryfile with a pie and a pint doesn’t really cut it. They are not the same.

You might remember last year’s Epic Afan story. Well, not content with ticking off all of Afan’s trails in ten – winter – hours, nutter endurance rider Matt Jones decided he’d set his sights on the other end of Wales. And what’s more, he (once again) managed to talk some mates into doing it with him (he won’t have many left at this rate…).

We’ll let Matt take up the story of…

Epic Brenin.

Today is a day for Star Wars pants.
“Today is a day for Star Wars pants.”

‘Epic Brenin’ was the second in a series of rides that I’ve been cooking up to keep me enthused for big winter mileage. Just as with as last December’s ‘Epic Afan’, the aim was a big fun day in the hills, in the winter, on all-weather trails. Smiles and miles. Probably more of one than the other though!

Coed y Brenin was the first trail centre I ever tasted and it seemed like a great place to go with the epic. There wasn’t quite enough at Coed y Brenin for a truly big ride, though [See? We told you he was mad.], so the plan quickly changed as we added on Penmachno, the Marin Trail and the Sarn Helen trail. You know – why do one trail centre, when you can do three? The ride would clock up 85miles and nearly 4,000m of climbing which felt easily enough to keep us busy for the day.

Perhaps the only sensible part of the ride was the night before. We started with a good sleep and comfy accommodation at Cadair View Lodges, which is a stone’s throw from Coed y Brenin and very happy to accept late arrivals and tired mountain bikers! We stuffed ourselves with homemade chilli, got some faffing done and hit the hay.

Rise and shine!

The first real challenge was an early start the next day and a mission to find the rendezvous, which turned out to be (like all mountain bike rides) in a dark, cold pub car park. The Marin Trail lay to the north and Penmachno to the south. The Sarn Helen trail, a long distance route through Wales, conveniently linked us to each trail centre.

“Riding bikes is chuffin’ ACE!”
“HOW FAR to the chip shop?!”

With Garmins locked and loaded and Dave and Jason’s ‘expert’ local knowledge to guide us, we were off. With the promise of mammoth climbs, 30mph winds and low clouds promised, we were keen to crack on.

The all-natural Sarn Helen came first. It was wet but very rideable and had some amazing scenery to gawk at through the clouds. Spirits were high and we quickly linked up to the Marin trail. The singletrack and the chat both flowed and we kept a steady pace, just enjoying the rhythm and twisting our way round the classic trail.

A little too nicely in fact – despite our two ‘locals’ and two Garmins, we chatted our way past the all-important link back to the Sarn Helen. Two miles later we wearily U-turned and plodded back up to where we should have switched trails. Dave (our resident hill-climb lover) claims it wasn’t deliberate, but I’m not so sure.

“Family duties”? A likely story…

We spy no pie.

Back on track it was time for a short hop over to Penmachno via some easy fire roads again. The weather was holding up and a quick feed had us fresh and full of energy. Family duties meant Jason left us at this point and three of us pressed on around a very wet trail. Despite the filthy conditions, the trails were great and the hard work of the volunteers kept us rolling on (you can support their great work at penmachnobiketrails.org.uk).

We hit both loops and were treated to a ride with super swoopy, newly-built sections and steep, technical chutes. We were back to the van in no time. Dave peeled off claiming he had a birthday party to attend and three became two. Fifty miles down, 35 to go. Next stop, Coed y Brenin.

The plan was to include all the trails here, which meant grabbing ‘The Beast’ by the horns and then the ‘Tarw Du’ and ‘Minor Taur’ in turn. Massive climbs, rocky trails and the miles we’d already clocked up chipped away at our energy and we upped the pace to match the challenge. About an hour in, the weather finally announced its presence with hefty gusts and pouring rain.

Welsh winter reality bites: dark, dank, cold…

Again, we upped the pace and were grateful that the group had halved in size so we were able to get our heads down. The chat died down and we both realised that we were now starting to find it pretty tough going.

Wet rocks needed extra caution and the prospect of night riding in the rain on tired legs became even more apparent. This was enough for Chris and at our next pass through the car park he said “enough is enough” and let me take the glory of the final miles. Very generous of him.

“Wait for meeeeee!”

I necked a couple of Torq bars, stashed a caffeine gel in the back pocket, got the Exposure lights on and went for Tarw Du. Last man standing, onwards!

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

A temptation too far?

In hindsight it was a bit stupid to continue on at this point as the wind, the rain and the lack of light meant I had to ride with my eyes fixed on my front wheel. I was tired, I was struggling to ride the technical sections and the fear of crashing was magnified thanks to my achy legs and lack of company. I definitely didn’t want to have to give the mountain rescue guys a call.

It was a relief to hear the sound of the road at the end of the trail and to know Chris would be there waiting in the van. At 8pm and with the pub beckoning very hard, it was time to call it a day.

I’d dispatched 89miles – more than the planned 85 due to some dodgy navigation – and was happy with that. In truth, we were one trail short of the plan but a bigger mileage meant that I had definitely earned my pie and a pint! It was a brilliant, tiring, wet and at sometimes frightening day out. Definitely an epic ride.

“So. Very. Tired…”

A massive thanks to Cadair View Lodge for putting us up in their quality lodge – do check them out if you’re planning an attack on all or part of Epic Brenin. The ride was supported by Tenn Outdoor, which kept me dry and warm all day; Exposure Lights, with Toro and Axis lights being my only companions to the bitter end; and Weldtite, whose TF2 extreme wet lube fended off even the most severe of conditions.

Words by Matt Jones (@mattjonesMTB), photos by Rob Barker (robbarkerimages.com)

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