Welsh Ride Thing Part 1 Bikepacking

By Paul Pomfret

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I always fancied the idea of ‘adventuring’, out in an apparent wilderness, overnight, protecting yourself from the elements, and fuelling yourself with the all essential food. I’ve done my fair share of hiking and mountain biking over the years but have never really had a proper adventure. I’d take small steps in preparation like buying an MSR Whisperlite for a family camping holiday, just in case, one day, I’d take that epic lightweight trip in the middle of nowhere… one day!

Well, as the years rolled by and responsibilities grew, thoughts of any type of adventure continued to dwindle… until I read Issue 54 of Singletrack magazine. With articles by Jenn Hopkins completing the Great Divide, John ‘Shaggy’ Ross completing the Iditarod trail and finally the article on the 1st Welsh Ride Thing I finally decided to crack on and do something about it and entered the 2010 WRT.

The WRT has a very simple format of a self supported MTB orienteering challenge over the Bank Holiday at the end of May. It started at 2:00pm on Saturday and finished at the same time two day later. Stuart at Forest Freeride organises the event and he issues the thirteen checkpoints four weeks before to allow countless nights of planning, deliberation and comparison on the WRT blog.

I had never wild camped before and still had very little kit and so in preparation, the essentials were bought and shelter designs improvised. A week before the event I headed off up to the Ridgeway to see what it would be like to camp ‘in the wild’ and all went well!

Just as with bikes the desire to have the lightest, minimalist amount of kit is strong when you read the WRT blogs and so my kit was packed and unpacked numerous times in an attempt to keep my bike feeling like it will handle single track. In the end I had a 7 kg pack on a rear rack, 3-4 kg in my back pack and another 2-3 kg in the form of a bar bag and tool pack, effectively doubling the weight of my bike. A change of gearing from my usual 34:17 to 34:20 was the finishing touch to my preparations.

Following a planned early lunch to meet fellow entrants at nearby Carno we arrived under relentless rainfall at the start in Pennant at the northern end of Powys. Stuart issued our final instructions that were to be completed at each check point and then in dribs and drabs we set off under the grey and wet conditions.

I had quite a long trek to my 1st checkpoint; a bothy called Nant Rhys and had planned a route through Hafren Forest that takes you past the source of the River Severn. Two bothy workers appeared to have settled in and judging by the number of beer bottles on the windowsill were there for the long haul. I warned them to expect continual interruptions over the next few days as our instruction was to count the number of rooms upstairs.

The next checkpoint came quickly enough at the bottom of a long fast fire road descent that ended in the village of Llangurig. I then headed west over the hill to the next checkpoint but the conditions worsened with visibility reduced to 20m or so, this combined with a complete lack of the bridleway that was on the map resulted in me taking over 2 hours to cover 3 miles. Now cold, wet through, hungry and with very little visibility I decided to knock the next checkpoint on the head and instead rolled downhill on the road towards Cwmystwyth. As I descended what must be a lovely road on a good day the visibility improved as I came out of the low clouds and there in front of me was a camp field!

Half an hour later my tarp and bivvy were set up and the trangia was on. With 40 odd miles in my legs the warmth of a hot meal and a good sleeping bag I slept very well.

Part 2, Part 3

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