If you don’t want to read all this – and who can blame you – then more pictures and less words here:
A month has passed since so many of us do things we don’t really want to because we’ve always done them before. That’s right, tradition.
Or as I really like to think of it ‘the things we do because we lack the ability to think beyond pagan festivals‘. I’ve never really understood the annual firework event that is ‘let’s pack flammable DNA matched individuals, with nothing else in common, into a small area and ignite with alcohol to see what happens’.
We know what happens. Controlled explosion of the ancient relative. Hard stares over under boiling sprouts . Passive aggressiveness spilling over to slurred finger pointing. Old grievances and new stupidity. Goodwin’s law upgraded to ‘Do your own research‘
Thankfully we don’t have much of that, and even if we did fucking off on the 27th of December is as close to tradition as our MTB club has. If we had one. But we don’t have one of those either. We do have a history of setting out more in hope that expectation to ride the classic ‘Gap“loop.
Previous escapes have seen us mired in snow, broken by wind, terrified by ice and faced with imminent benightment. Which is pretty much why I love it. A fuck you to the the previous year and a thumbs up to what’s coming. Ride this route in summer and it’s lovely. Busy but convivial. Finish in the pub by the canal and toast the awesomeness of the South Wales valleys.
Winter tho, it’s a different beast entirely. 2021 was all globally warmed rather than the epic snowy death-march of 2017, replacing snow and ice with dankness and endless rain. Which seemed an ideal time to test the new heavy and un-mudguarded bike against a trail well known for a full body water-sports experience.
it started well. Mostly I’m terribly hungover for this ride after we host a Boxing Day ‘All my friends, all the booze‘ event which tends to end with at least one individual* promising to give up alcohol for ever. Knowing how these things go, we pushed the ride back one day so my arrival was not accompanied by ‘piss eyes it the snow‘ or any lack of kit**
No snow but it wasn’t warm. Blue sky flirted with us but it was nothing more than a temptress. The north wind was keen to find any chinks in our winter armour. The van to trail transition was somewhat delayed by the need for some GoPro footage. On reviewing said footage not sure it was worth standing about in the cold for.
We began climbing on the old Tram Track. I’ve ridden this so many times. Today – regardless of my increasing years – I felt pretty good. Sure the Giga is heavy but it’s still a good climber if you don’t rush it. I was in no way keen to rush it.
Even so, the awesome grip mentioned often by proper reviewers failed to compensate for my lack of commitment on the two steep pitches.
Still the sun was out*** and so were we. Next up was the climb from to the moor. Upside amazing view to your right of your Talybont reservoir. Downside a 30 MPH wind making that whole climbing thing somewhere between tedious and endless.
Got it done. Had some shouted conversations “WINDY ISN’T IT” that I’m not sure anyone heard. Slogged across that very wet moor which wasn’t much fun until it turned downhill, at which point two weeks of rain became focused on an increasingly damp arse.
First proper descent. On my new bike. That’ll be awesome. It was. It was also wet. So very, very wet. Every rock was a skipping stone offering occasional grip and frequent terror. It was like riding down a river. Hold that thought. The next 5km are mostly traversing a fire-road mostly known for its bastard headwind. Today it wasn’t so bad. Again hold that thought.
Matt decided this was the perfect time to add another trail to the route. That was a 20 min climb in chilly rain to access what was most definitely a river. Honestly a kayak would have made a whole lot more sense. In fact sitting in a pub by a roaring fire would have been the preferred option. Still we’re here now.
We were here for a 25 min climb to the Gap that names this trail. It’s never fun with lots of loose, slippy rock for ages, then more of that and some unwanted steepness at the end. It’s considerably less fun in the aforementioned 30mph headwind. When I finally made it to to the top, Matt and I emptied our rucksacks of any and all clothing before pitching into a maelstrom headwind funnelled through 30m of rock.
180/170mm of travel doesn’t really have a lot of truck with rock. It assumes you can accelerate to a decent percentage of light speed. I had a go with variable success but the views and the lee of the hill made everything really rather splendid. There are millions at home biting their tongue, watching shit TV, managing perceived butt-hurt while we’re living in the moment.
That moment is a sun streaked valley mapped out by higgley-piggley dry stone walls and two hundred years of community. It’s a brilliant thing and I feel so privileged to be seeing it. Even with my wet arse and damp feet. Still not as bad as Matt who squeezed out about a decent sized pond from his socks.
Before that we’d dropped into the fall line where big rocks and high speeds meet. I was astonished on how good my new bike was. You can call it a skills compensator and I’d be fine with that. But for me, it’s maybe the best all round trail bike I’ve ever ridden***
We’ll see. There have been a few. Anyway, we yomped the 5km on the canal and declared it done. Tradition ticked off. Just the best day. Feeling alive versus being alive. It’s a hoary old metaphor, but this really is our church.
** Forgot my helmet. Bought the only £15 one available. Dog ate it. It was a mercy killing.
*** this didn’t last as long as I hoped.
****Early days, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here!