A weekend with the van

It’s been donkey’s years since I rode the Marin and Penmachno trails in a single ride. I remember that it wasn’t particularly long at around 50 miles but it wasn’t easy either – I mainly put that down to the fact I was riding an Orange Patriot with heavyweight tyres and a lot of suspension. God I loved that bike. I did the ride on my own in the daylight and the weather was pretty bad. Even 5 years ago it was raining in July.

Fast forward to last weekend and Phil, Dave and me finished work, I picked them up in the van and off we went to Betws-Y-Coed to do the ride again, this time in darkness.

Arriving at around 8:30 in the Marin trail car park at Gwydir Forest we faffed, got changed and set off down the road through Betws and along the climb to Penmachno, some 9 or so miles away. It’s been really warm for January and that night was no exception. Hitting the top of the long ride up the road jackets were removed and we started the long first offroad climb of the Penmachno trail.

I’ve decided to race at the Strathpuffer on a singlespeed again so I was trying to keep up with the other two lads with one (pretty tall) gear. 34:16 on a not-very-light 29er isn’t much fun when you start riding it up long, steep North Wales hills but I was getting to the top…just. I made mental notes about gear ratios for my pre-Strathpuffer bike prep.

Beautiful, rocky, fast singletrack was ridden at silly speeds, we were anticipating a four or five hour ride which would mean returning home just in time for breakfast so none of us was keen on messing about.

Lighting up the forest with our new Exposure Six Pack lights (thanks guys) we polished off the 20-odd miles of steep climbs and fast singletrack sometime after all the pubs had shut and made our way back along the road to the van. A quick change of lights and water bottles and we cracked on with the Marin Trail.

A fair bit shorter than the Penmachno trail and a quite different ride – even though the Marin is man-made, it’s been there so long that it’s about as ‘natural’ as many other ‘natural’ trails out there. The amount of climbing that it packs into its modest 11 miles is enough to give anyone a good kicking and perhaps as a result it’s one of my favourite man-made trails. It was even dry in places – very dry. Dusty, even. The first time any of us had ridden dry offroad trails for months and it was the middle of the night in January. The weather really is broken!

We got back to the van after the epic final descent, grinning, sometime after 3am. Dave and Phil chucking Jaffa Cakes and strong coffee at me, I drove the van back to civilisation and dropped them off – I got home just after 6am a little bit tired….

As a continuation of my current “riding my bike for fun because it’s winter” Strathpuffer training strategy, I met up with Phil, Budge, Simon and Guy Martin (yes, that Guy Martin – starting his 24 hour solo ‘career’ with the Strathpuffer) for a ride in the Peak District near Macclesfield on Sunday. Not everyone wanted to ride for hours and hours so I fiendishly (or lazily) devised a route that was pretty much a classic. Up into the forest, down Charity Lane, Cat & Fiddle, Three Shires, Cumberland Clough, Macc Forest and then back to the van. Those that wanted a longer ride (Phil, Guy and me) would then go and do the whole thing again. Which we did 🙂

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I’d learned (or rather re-learned) some painful lessons about singlespeed gearing on the previous ride so I’d fitted a different cog to the bike that gave me an easier gear (34:18 this time).

The trouble was, I’d forgot just how bloody steep the climbs are around Macc Forest so it was even harder this time (having said that Friday’s gear would have made my back and knees explode).

The big uphills were more than rewarded by the utter quality and fun offered by the rocky downhills though – Macclesfield Forest and the White Peak really is one of the best places to ride a bike offroad in this country and I’ll be making regular trips there from now on.

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