I rode the BB200 at the weekend and, for those that don’t know, it’s a self supported ride/race over a 219km off-road course in central and northern Wales.
I camped at a site about 2 miles up the road from the start and, as usual, my annoyingly regular body clock woke me up bang on 7 o’clock. I gave my Rudy Fat one last check before heading down to the meeting point. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know anyone, plus this was my first experience of doing something this extreme. Stuart, the organiser, welcomed me with a cup of tea as I signed on. It turned out that everyone was very friendly and we all took the spare time before we rolled round to the start to prod and poke each other’s kit and to try and surmise if we had enough or too little kit/food.
We headed to the start, which was 5 minutes from the school where we met. This should have been a clue to how hard things were going to get as the climb up to the start called for the smallest gear and a bit of manhandling the bike up. The actual start was quite a casual affair with all of the riders spread out across a small country lane. Stuart then looked at his watch and said go. I slotted into about 10th on the first killer of a climb. I was feeling comfortable, so just moved up through the riders and sat on the leader’s wheel. Little did I know what was round the corner, the trail got boggier and steeper before we reached a gate that was closed. The leader opened it but from this point the ground was too steep and wet to ride up, I suddenly regretted my years of neglecting stretching as my calves were on fire from the walking. The rest of the first hour went on like this with a mix of riding and walking, when we finally came out on anything that resembled a track I looked down at my Garmin, we had covered about 8.5km. It didn’t take much working out that it was going to be difficult to do this in 24 hours.
Over the next couple of hours the trails became easier with our average speed picking up with a mixture of country roads, single track and the odd stream to climb up. As we approached Bryncrug we were treated to a long road section which was extremely picturesque. We rode up one side of the river Afon Dysynni then back down the other. This was the calm before the storm! As we approached the bridge at the end of the river valley I looked up to the right and was glad that Stuart wasn’t sending us up the rather imposing mountain that loomed over us but, silly me, it wasn’t long before we started climbing on the road on the opposite side of the river and what once looked like a big mountain was now below us! The climbing just went on and on. Just when you thought it was about to end you turned the corner and the road turned into a gravel track and snaked off up into the distance further up the mountain. The route then followed a similar profile, long road climb followed by continued climb on gravel all the way up with some equally enjoyable rocky descents, which the Rudy Fat screamed down all the way to Barmouth. It was on one of these descents that I caught one of the rocks a bit wrong and it bounced the saddle into my (how to put this politely…softer underbelly) not long after this I stopped for a call of nature and to my alarm it stung like crazy and I had blood in my urine!
The final decent into Barmouth was just amazing, the views across the estuary were stunning and the actual descent was fast and relaxing until we hit the road part. To say it was steep would be an understatement. The road wound its was down the valley side with a central ridge of slick algae/moss ready to catch you out if you got slightly off line and, by the bottom, you could smell the brakes burning…which is the first time this has every happened to me. Riding into Barmouth across the causeway was a bit of a culture shock with us smelly, dirty mountain bikers mixing with the holidaymakers out for an afternoon stroll. I stopped here for a burger, drink and a top up of the water bottles. This was the last sight of civilisation until the finish, except for the odd house dotted on the mountain side.
The first part of the climb out of Barmouth was as steep as the descent into it and I had to resort to pushing nearly straight away. At this point I still felt quite good and like I could make it to the end but this was the start of the end for me. Barmouth was 70km into the ride and, on its own, would be pretty extreme as it had already taken 6hrs to get to this point. The next 20km were quite pleasant but I was unable to eat anything and nothing would stay down. The only thing I had left that was palatable were gels and these were all gone by the 90km mark. This is where the course really turned evil. I met a rider at a gate and we figured out where the course went. It looked like it turned sharp left but the only trail we could see was a small waterfall/stream, so we followed that until the the course again took a sharp turn to the left, straight out into a marshy, boggy area. At the start it was possible to push the bike beside you and straddle from dry section to dry section. We were no longer on a track but, at best, a boggy stream which was getting more and more deep. At this point we had to just walk through it, sometimes knee deep, pushing and pulling the bikes the best we could. After about 30 minutes we reached a stream too wide and rocky to jump so wading gingerly was the only method of crossing. The arrow on my Garmin pointed up the hill side so with relief I rested at a ramshackle old building for a few seconds whilst I filled my bottle from the stream.
My natural assumption was that because it was a hill the water would drain and it wouldn’t be boggy, how wrong I was! Not only were the sides of the hill getting steeper, the reeds/grass was getting thicker. It took about 1h20m to cover just 3km of this terrain. There were points when I was up to my armpits scrabbling to get out of a hole… Did I mention it was also dark at this point? The only way through was to drag and lift the bike whilst thinking up a new swear word for Stuart every couple of steps! By this point it was impossible to see the reeds that had been squashed down because of the dark, but mainly because everyone had taken a slightly different route through, so you had to stop and check the Garmin every couple of steps just to make sure you were not drifting off course too much.
Finally, I broke free of the bog to be rewarded with a fast flowing downhill. I could see a rider ahead of me and I let rip, caught and passed him. I was feeling good again! I couldn’t open the gate at the bottom so I manhandled my bike over and checked to see I was still on track. Ahh, the track only went slightly down the hill then turned right, but because the descent was so fast, I didn’t have a chance to glance down at the Garmin in the dark. I had no choice but to push the bike all the way back up with the other rider and, even worse, when we finally got there it led us straight into another bog! Luckily it was down hill so some of the drier bits were ridable, but still the majority of it was walking/wadding.
After what must have been another 30 minutes of bog snorkeling we finally hit solid ground that lead out on to quite a main road. I had stopped half way across the bog to try and eat but I was conscious of losing the small group I was with and thought it would be easier to follow them rather than navigate on my own. This, in retrospect, was probably a mistake as I had pushed myself way beyond empty. The group of 5 of us split up over the next road section, I had held the gate so was a bit off the back but soon caught up on the climb. My legs were still fine but I felt extremely nauseous. At the top of the climb I laid down on the side of the road and took a piece of malt loaf out. I chewed on this for a couple of minutes but I just couldn’t swallow it and when I eventually did, it came straight back up again! The next rider along could see that I wasn’t in a good way and asked me if I had a bivvy or tent… He then kindly helped me find a flat piece of land to sleep on-sorry I don’t know your name, but thanks for your help. I placed my bivvy on the ground and crawled into it but, as soon as I started to drift off I had a massive wave of sickness again. I had nothing left in my stomach and all I could do was shuffle down the bank a little so I didn’t roll in it. I must have set my alarm on my phone because what seemed like seconds later it went off. I put on some dry gloves and a gilet with the intention of carrying on, but reality dawned on me that I was down to less than half a bottle of water, but still had lots of food which wouldn’t stay down and heading back was the only option.
I set my Garmin to return to the start and for some reason it wouldn’t pick up the loaded maps, only the basic ones that came with it. You can imagine in central Wales it gave very little information, even when zoomed right out so I decided to stick to the main roads to be safe. This part of the journey was just a blur…in my head it took days but looking at my Garmin it was about 5 hours, 60km in 5 hours…this must be a record! I was desperately looking for water but the stream by the road didn’t look clean enough, so I made do with the half a bottle I had left. I also wasn’t able to eat anything else even though I tried several times. Some of the highlights were: I remember laying down at the side of the road in the gutter, stopping in the only bus shelter I found on the way back, I must have drifted off here as the seat was quite thin and the weight of my leg relaxing pulled me off onto the floor. There was also one climb up a mountain that just went on and on where I remember waking up leaning on the handlebars. Going down the other side was interesting, as frozen low cloud had formed in the valley, I could only see metres in front of me and my helmet light was just reflecting back in my face. All I remember thinking was “this is quite dangerous but I am too tired to brake.” Looking back at Strava I was doing over 60kph.
I eventually made it back to the start/finish area to report that I had pulled out to find Stuart huddled in his car waiting for the finishers. He told me I was the first one back and my heart sank. I was frustrated to have pulled out, but to be the first one and the leader was still over 2 hours away, he must have thought I was a right southern softie. With my head down I said my goodbyes and rode back up to the campsite to find bikes outside all of the tents except for one. I was out on the road for nearly 20 hours in total. Will I try it again? I am not sure, I have already started to think about different food and kit options I could try, maybe the WRT will be my next Bear Bones camping experience and we will take it from there.
I would like to thank all the riders who I had banter with encouraged and was encouraged by along the way. Some of you told me your names, I am not good with names at the best of times but at the end I was struggling to remember my own name. Same time next year 😉