Having competed in the Strathpuffer recently, my first race of 2014, I thought I’d better catch up on the races at the end of last season!
The Bear Bones 200 is an off-road mountain bike event based in mid Wales in the middle of October. The rules are simple. You follow a single 200km loop route across rough and exposed terrain. You must carry a sleeping bag and bivvy or tent and you do it as fast as you can. Perfect for an end of season blast before I put my feet up for the winter – well, for a few weeks until training for Strathpuffer starts (I had more than a few weeks…). My plan was to get round as quick as I could and see if I could beat the course record from the previous year set by Ian Barrington.
Stood at the start with about 30 or 40 other riders, I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to get back first. Ian Barrington was again present and with his local knowledge and good form following his second place in the Highland Trail, he would be difficult to beat. Alan Goldsmith, Phil Richmond and Steve Heading were also riding – all very strong riders who wouldn’t be coasting around.
We all headed off down the road and from looking at the course, the first section was mainly on narrow country roads until we got to Rhayader. I decided to just push from the start and see if I could create an early lead. The legs didn’t feel great but I thought they’d warm up after a few miles. Apart from an altercation with a river crossing, the first section was uneventful generally following country roads and some sections of bridleway.
The first big climb was over Gro Hill and then on to Carnau. I knew navigation over this stretch was going to be difficult, so I would need to be careful. However, no sooner had I got on to Carnau and I had lost the path and was up to my thighs in mud and bushes. If the rest of the route was going to be like this, then it was going to be a long day. I dragged by bike across the barren landscape, trying to follow the GPS and get back to some sort of path. That didn’t happen until I’d walked, dragged and tripped my way across the moor. At that point Ian had caught me up by riding most of the way, following what must have been a camouflaged path. Local knowledge was definitely an advantage.
I pushed on trying to recreate another gap and pretty soon I was out on my own again. My legs however, hadn’t warmed up and they were burning during every effort I was putting in up the hills. The 3 Peaks cyclocross race had taken a lot out of me, but that was two weeks ago and I should have recovered by now. I started to wonder whether I had it in me to keep up this pace or whether I should ease up and do a bit of self preservation. Nah, in for a penny….
The next sections were a bit of a blur. There was a lot of up and didn’t appear to be much down. I scrambled up Devils Staircase and made it to the Ty Cornell youth hostel, which I’d planned as my first fill up for water. I knew that there was a tap there, but could I find it? The army had taken over the place for the weekend and one of the squaddies took pity on me and filled up my bottle and camelback. Nice chap.
I cracked on knowing the next section skirted round a number of reservoirs in the Elan Valley. Should be easy going as I assumed it would be flat, which it wasn’t. Numerous stream inlets meant the path snaked in and out of the landscape, climbing and descending and the section turned out not to be as quick as I’d expected. At this point I started to feel a little stronger. My legs must have realised that I wasn’t going to stop and therefore settled in for a day of punishment. I couldn’t see anyone behind me, but it is difficult to tell when riding off road, as you never have a clear line of sight. My second water stop was at the loos at the last reservoir in the Elan Valley. I had hoped to get here before dark, which I had just managed to do. The light was fading and also the rain had started. I filled up, put my gillet back on and then began the ride/walk up towards the Roman camp above the reservoir. At the top of the hill I looked back down the valley and saw a light approaching the loos. This must be Ian and I reckoned I only had about a 20 minute lead. Going into the night, I knew I might struggle to keep hold of this lead if navigation became difficult.
I rode past the Roman camp and onto a road section, which continued for quite a while. I pushed on hard trying to open the gap further to give me more of a contingency for the last 30 miles. From discussions with riders before the race, the course had a sting in the tail. I knew this meant a lot of climbing, but wasn’t sure whether this would be rideable or easy to navigate.
I passed the 100 mile mark, knowing I had about thirty left. Over the next twenty miles there were some brutal climbs. All were just about rideable but my earlier exertions were showing and I was starting to feel pretty fatigued. It was at about 120 miles when the fun started. The route took a right turn off a perfectly rideable stone bridleway up a very steep, grassy hill with no defined path. It felt like climbing Ingleborough on the 3 Peaks again, but this time with a bike weighing twice as much and in the dark! I could barely get a good foot hold and every two paces forwards, I fell back one. This was hard but I knew everyone would feel the same.
Somehow I managed to drag myself over the hill only to find another one equally as steep and muddy, on the other side. It’s at times like this you start to question why you put yourself in these situations. At this moment, I wasn’t enjoying myself but I was enjoying the ride. I knew that my brain would forget about this moment in a couple of days and I would only choose to remember the good bits. And I know that in a few months time, I will find myself in a similar situation on a hill somewhere, not enjoying that moment but enjoying the challenge of whatever it is that I am doing. Call it a challenge, call it punishment, call it crazy, call it what you like, but it is addictive.
I made it over the hill and I knew the ride was nearly over. A few more gates, a few small climbs and then a downhill back to the finish.
I got back first in 13 hours and 8 minutes, which was a new course record. Unfortunately, I’d just missed closing time! I had planned to sit around and wait for other riders to finish but I was wet, cold and hungry and I knew that there was a big piece of cake waiting for me back at the tent a couple of miles up the road.
The next morning everyone who had returned through the night congregated at Stuart’s farm for a complimentary breakfast sandwich, swapped stories and welcomed back riders who had bivvyed out and were returning in time to complete the ride within twenty four hours. As expected Ian was second, not that far behind me, followed home by Phil Richmond and Alan Goldsmith.
This was a great event and definitely a great way to finish another year of great mountain bike adventures – well, apart for the small task of riding pairs at Relentless 24 a week later! Thanks to Stuart and all the organisers for putting on a great event and thanks to Dee for the biggest and best breakfast sandwich I have ever had and also letting my girls feed the llamas. Also, thanks to my wife Jaqs for supporting me during training and over the weekend. And finally, thanks to USE for making the night time, feel like daytime.
As for Relentless 24, I never got round to writing up a report and have forgot most of what happened. In summary, me and Jaqs rode pairs, did loads of laps and won the mixed pair vets category (we were the only ones!). However, we did beat all the other mixed pairs and came third overall compared to all other pairs in the race 😉 Oh, and Jase won again, but you already know that!