Wednesday, 23 November 2011

biking on empty

Just lately I’ve been suffering. Illness is the curse of the common masses, especially at this time of year and doubly so when you’re running yourself down by working all hours of the day and not getting to bed until gone 1am each night. So yes, I caught the annual cold. It’ll be nice if I don’t catch another for a while, because to be honest, spending two weeks barely able to focus let alone do anything, really isn’t helpful or motivating in any way. Sorry to moan.

This weekend just gone I was still coughing and croaking, but having begun to feel as though I had at least started to partially resemble a human being again (so long as you didn’t look too closely), it was time to get out and do something. The plan had been for Matt and myself to head down to South Wales to spend the weekend mountain biking at Afan. I’ve been wanting to head down and check out the trails there for goodness knows how long, and this weekend was meant to be it – we were going. Anyway, predictably we didn’t go – me having barely (i.e. not) recovered from my cold and Matt becoming seemingly more and more convinced that his last ‘off’ at Penmachno may actually have done some real damage to his wrist (bud, if you read this, go get an x-ray ok?). With the two day epic postponed, we did decide we’d at least get the bikes out for a run on the Saturday, and having heard that a new section of black graded trail had recently been opened up at Llandegla, and neither of us having ridden said new section of trails, off we went.

Of course no trip to Llandegla would be complete without an hour or two’s procrastination in the cafe over a cuppa and a bacon sandwich/slice of cake (depending on what type of mood you’re in – both are really good). Eventually we were also joined by Adam of fame, who had decided to come up and join us to test out his new BB and cranks, and then we were off. Out into the mizzle and mist we charged, wheezing and whinging our way up the fireroad to the top of the hill (yes, ok, it was just me wheezing, but I’m proud to say it wasn’t actually me that did all of the whinging), whizzing our way down the initial few km of red graded trail until we were off onto the black.

For anyone that hasn’t ridden at Llandegla before, the black trails aren’t really black. They’re red. There’s very little full on technicality and the severity only really becomes apparent when you ride at some considerable speed. The singletrack is smooth, flowing and littered with jumps, berms and the occasional small drop. The steep climbing switchbacks and the intimidating looking boardwalk are also for me minor highlights (am I odd for enjoying the climbs?) and the whole thing has always been just really rather enjoyable fun, until you get to the end of the fun stuff and are faced with a few km of dull, tedious, flat track back to the car park…or at least that’s how it used to be.

The new section of trail, for those that know the forest and the old trails, has been built starting just before ‘The Twins’ on the red trail (so you’ve already ridden the old black trail and have re-joined the red again). It’s after the run off into ‘JJ’s jumps’ and is blindingly obvious as it starts with an epic long section of fast, undulating built up boardwalk.

I should admit here and now that the one and only part of the trail I did not ride was the initial rock drop onto the new boardwalk – I was being a coward, I hold my hands up to it. The rest of the trail was just fantastic fun, with long fast descents strewn with jumps that just beg you to carry enough speed through them to let them just fling you skyward with virtually no effort whatsoever, interspersed with some brutal, hell climbs (ok so these were by this stage in the day for me quite unpleasant as my sub-optimal health levels were catching up with me). I won’t say any more actually, just that the new section of trail really makes the venue fully worthwhile now – I always enjoyed riding there before, but now it really is something quite fabulous. There’s still no real technicality, but the grin factor when you just let go and let the trail carry you is immense.

The sunday did in the end also yield some mountain bike action, with all three of us returning (after a bit of an issue with a certain party member’s van that had to be left in the car park overnight), just having a play on the jumps in the skills area in between eating cake and drinking hot chocolate. Adam and I also decided to have a crack at the blue trail once it had gotten dark – I have some new lighting combinations I was wanting to try out. Unfortunately by the time we’d wombled our way back to the top of the forest we were in such thick fog that neither of us could even see the obstacles we were riding over. Sheer sensibility dictated that we simply rode back down the forest tracks to the car park rather than stumbling on with our eyes unfocussed in the thick foggy gloop. A good call me thinks.

The lights did work incredibly well in the clear, and at some point in the not too distant future I have every intention of writing a post detailing my setup and talking about how and why I think things do and don’t work for night riding, not just from a rider’s point of view, but from an electronic engineer’s too (for that is actually what I am in case you were unaware of my professional background).

Anyway, to cut a long, rambling story short, the new sections of trail at Coed Llandegla are well worth a ride if you enjoy fast, flowing, jumpy trails (and the cafe is still fantastic), and my fitness levels are still remarkably good considering how ill and lazy I’ve been lately, which is nice.

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