Thursday, 5 January 2012

Afan, I'm afraid

Sarah Brown is one of my favourite people to go on cycling adventures with. I’ve enjoyed her ever entertaining company on many a muddy, off road trail. We’ve cycled halfway up the country, joyously overtaken lycra-clad men to their dismay and our amusement, found some super tea shops and generally covered a lot of miles on two wheels. So, when she invited me to Wales for a 40th birthday/New Year mountain biking extravaganza, I jumped at the chance. I’ll tell you one thing I learnt about Sarah last weekend though: she’s either completely disillusioned or a massive liar! “You’ll be able to do this Egglet, it’s easy”.

Shaun showing us how a real athlete fuels
up: 12 jaffas in one!
If you have read any of my previous mountain bike related tales, you will know that whilst I attempt most multi terrain rides with glee and gusto, none of that really makes up for the fact that I am technically, very unskilled. Sarah, however, is completely unfazed by my utter lack of off road prowess and appears to be convinced that I have the correct level of competence to handle any trail she has laid her eyes on.

I arrived at the house to a pungent scent which I instantly recognised. It was that smell created by drenched, dirty kit that has been thrown on a hot radiator and left to smother innocent bystanders with its warm, sticky odour. That wasn’t the only warm welcome I received though; everybody was sat tucking into a generously sized lunch: I’d arrived right on time.

Everybody had had the same idea about getting rid of all the naughty leftover Christmas food out of their houses. Instead of being able to share a tin of chocolates out that I would have scoffed myself, I was now faced with several tins of chocolate, many types of biscuit, various cakes and vast, vast quantities of cheese. The fridge was well stocked, not with food, but with booze a-plenty. I decided this was not going to be a healthy, outdoorsy weekend away; it would be the last mass consumption of 2011.

After a very well fuelled evening, everybody was up and ready on New Year’s Day to blast away the excesses and hit the trail. With my concerns regarding aforementioned incompetence voiced and largely ignored, we set off into Afan Forest Park.

A lovely, long, wide gravel trail greeted us and I - very ignorantly - thought that it was going to be a nice, easy day out. Soon enough we turned a steep corner and there it was: rocky, uneven singletrack veering upwards through the woods. I wobbled my way up the track and turned my little legs as fast as I could to stay upright. I want to say I was glad when we reached the top of the first big climb, but that would be a lie. I was filled with a sense of impending doom. The first downhill section was called 'Tramway', and actually it was a reasonably good introduction (read: enough scary that I may not have breathed the whole way down but not quite a near-death experience) to proper singletrack. I met the others at a bridge near the bottom, my heart was going ten to dozen and my legs were shaking so much that I didn't think I'd be able to get pedalling again.. but I was full of adrenalin and eager to see what was coming next.

My confidence built as the next rolling section of the trail was tackled and I realised that the bike goes overs rocks much more easily when you're not squeezing the brakes the whole time. Another big gravel track ascent led us to a fantastic, rock-free, winding trail that we breezed through fearlessly. Bizarrely, I was beginning to thoroughly enjoy myself!

We meandered up another linking track and found ourselves at the top of a trail named 'Energy'. The trail started with a series of huge lumps that I found mildly terrifying but enormously exciting, as I went up each one I just prayed that there would be nothing resembling a drop off on the other side. It then whizzed down through the forest throwing up the odd tight corner to keep you on your toes. I started to go a bit more quickly and twist the bike nicely through the trees. I then came to a screeching halt as I was faced with a steep series of rocks.

After walking the bike carefully down the rock wall, I hopped back on and found myself going over a raised boardwalk which was plenty wide enough to ride on safely, but it's hard to convince yourself of that fact when you're three feet off the floor and your whole body has the shakes. The trail gradually increased in technicality, with really tricky, rocky sections and little drops and all sorts of scary obstacles. Some sections were walked but for the most part I tried to keep pedalling.

We finally hit the end and I was just about ready to settle my nerves and enjoy the easy track leading down the trail centre: our lunch stop. Instead of an easy trail though, we took a 'short cut' down one final trail. This one did nearly kill me. The thin trail was packed with big chunky rocks and my balance was all over the place. Halfway down the trail I took a tumble and ended up walking most of the rest of the way down.

We were glad to see the rain hammer down shortly after we'd sat down to lunch with big mugs of hot beverages. A huge doorstep BLT significantly aided my recovery and once refuelled, we powered on home.

The next morning Sarah and I went out for one last little blast and something very strange happened. We hit Tramway again but this time I LOVED it. Everything went a bit faster and everything was just a little bit less scary. It's almost like my body had grown more accustomed to mountain biking overnight.

It felt marvellous to be back on the bike and now I'm ready for all sorts of scary trail adventures! Sarah was wrong when she said it was easy, but it certainly is do-able and a much better alternative to road riding in the deep dark of winter.

1 comment:

  1. I MISS AFAN!!!! you will have to go back and do all the trails Egg! Its a fab bike park and then there is always the rest of Wales!!! Go for it - you will love it :)