So, scratching the bike packing itch has been a while coming for me, this trips been brewing for a while, its my first. I wanted it to be a ride from my doorstep in Stroud & into Wales. I wanted it to be a challenge but achievable.
I wanted an N+1 on a budget (£1000 for bike & all the kit) for this and other trips, I was initially looking for a small Inbred 29er to run rigid with 2.4” tyres but ended up with a small Surly Krampus from the STW classifieds. It was running i21 rims and I had always fancied the look of those 3” tired Krampus when they came out, so I broke the bike down, sold some bits on, raided my parts bin & brought some i40 rims & 3” rubber for it. I built the wheels using the Halo hubs the bike came with, opted for an On One Geoff bar, 2x gearing with 24/34 front & 11/36 rear, fitted a load of accessory mounts and cages, botched some brakes and was sorted:
Only a mother could love it. by martinddd, on Flickr
I used it along the canal locally, I took it on one trail ride & that immediately showed that those bit wheels slow down on inclines, and that it was in fact rather hefty.
I’ve had a previous bad weather experience where I didn’t have the correct gear for the weather, so a shopping spree was required as I don’t own any proper outdoors kit. I used a number out outlet stores & ended up with my bigger purchases of: Montane Prism insulated jacket, Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent, Gore C3 jacket, Madison Zenith zip off trousers / shorts, AlpKit Skye High 500 sleeping bag & Berghaus Peak Pro insulated mat, Sawyer water filter, Belkin 15000 powerpack.
I’d been on the look out for routes, those of interest were:
https://katherinebikes.com/wales-off-ro ... rough-way/
i figured I could ride from home & pick up a route from Aust, head on as far as I wanted and return via another route. My final route & direction wasn’t decided until the day before, I opted for: EWE from Aust – Machynlleth, GBDuro from Machynlleth – Bala, and then I’d reverse Katherines route from Bala – Aust.
Bar resupply points and a profile of the route, I didn’t research the route, I just down loaded the files onto my Etrex.
Uppy downy by martinddd, on Flickr
I was aware of biting off more than I could chew, this became my grounding thought process:
I was nervous, I had no safety blanket as my partner & son were overseas, I had no friends to come & get me, no family available. I didn’t have a Spot Tracker. I did sign up for Strava Beacon which I pinged to my partner but failed to make a plan of what to do if I don’t move. I did however have a whistle, a tent & bag, always had some just in case noodles. If able I could hunka down dry & warm for a while and wait it out.“Enjoy it, don’t lose sight of how lucky you are to be out there and above all, manage your expectations. If we treat all things as a pass or fail test we can torture ourselves over the outcome, but if we consider it more as an experiment with an uncertain outcome from the start then at least we always get an answer.” M.H.
Being a small frame & having no frame bag, a lot of my weight was on the front, I was a bit concerned about this & could for see some over the bars moments, but it was unfounded. It may have helped having no benchmark.
Loaded and all set to go. by martinddd, on Flickr
Day one was an early start, good weather forecast with rain tomorrow.
Aust & westward bound. by martinddd, on Flickr
The first 100km were on the road, I did have a little panic thinking that in my GPX file faffing I’d maybe hit the “follow roads” button, but after Abergavenny the tarmac broke and the contours really came, tightly packed contours soon became the norm:
First off road contours. by martinddd, on Flickr
Groovy by martinddd, on Flickr
I camped out up high after Talybont On Usk:
Outside of Talybont On Usk by martinddd, on Flickr
I loved the simplicity of being high up, on trails you could see off into the distance, just riding, eating & drinking. I knew that getting food in was a priority, along with water & I tried to vary my intake: sweet, savoury, sandwiches, nuts, fruit etc.
Sunrise by martinddd, on Flickr
Its amazing how dry sheep poo just doesn’t stick. However, when wet, and boy did it rain on day two, it sticks like the proverbial. And there a lot of sheep out there all pooping.
Poo bottle by martinddd, on Flickr
I was glad of my front mud guard & gore tex rain kit. I had to knock on a farmers door at one point & ask to use their car port for shelter as I put on more under layers. It was warm though, not cold, but if I stopped my heat was lost pretty quickly.
Brecon Beacons National Park, when the tarmac ends the adventure begins by martinddd, on Flickr
Being soaked, and heading into Llanwrtyd Wells I opted for a night under a roof at Stonecroft Lodge Backpackers, probably the most bike accommodating place I’ve ever stayed, the land lady said “just pop your bike in the lounge” – I had to actually insist I hosed all the sheep poo off it first!
Neuadd Arms Hotel curry went down a treat.
Neuadd Arms hits the spot. by martinddd, on Flickr
Forest roads. by martinddd, on Flickr
The EWE from Llanwrtyd Wells was mean to me, some of the trail were overgrown or had disappeared. One bridalway sign had clearly been recently replaced by the county council, but it pointed into wilderness. On one section of trail, I had to leave my bike behind in order to cut out the thick brambles that criss crossed the trail with my Opinel before returning to my bike to drag it through thick gorse, up a steep rut of a stepped trail. This was slow going!
Bushwacking. by martinddd, on Flickr
Then I hit a few bits of the most stinky bog that ate my bike up.
Bog stench by martinddd, on Flickr
Then my King Cage USB broke:
Oh dear by martinddd, on Flickr
Secret stash by martinddd, on Flickr
Sorted by martinddd, on Flickr
These events all slowed down progress.
Claerwen dam. by martinddd, on Flickr
The section of gravel track after Claerwen reservoir really lifted my spirits, as did the size of the reservoir, I loved it & the bike ate up the track.
The next camp spot was superb, up high, no wind or midges, no moon, silent sheep, perfect.
Pukka by martinddd, on Flickr
Morning view by martinddd, on Flickr
Putting on damp kit had been a worry of mine, it wasn’t cold, I managed to air it a bit, so it wasn’t too bad. For night time I’d packed cotton boxers & t shirt and I always treated all cracks & crevasses with athletes foot talc before bed. I probably didn’t clean my teeth as often as I should have & I was beginning to smell a bit.
My front fork mounted bag bodge with the cable ties was now becoming a liability, so I headed into a sunny Machynlleth for a more robust solution.
Machynlleth bathed in sunshine. by martinddd, on Flickr
Return To Base. by martinddd, on Flickr
Breakfast first though:
Mach bap. by martinddd, on Flickr
I should have just used these in the first place, much stronger and the cage plate is in full contact with the fork leg:
Reinforced. by martinddd, on Flickr
I had already decided that Machynlleth would be my turning point, Bala will have to wait for another day, so I started my return. It wasn’t failure, just managing expectations & not treating my trip as a pass of fail. I was content with my choice, after all I wasn’t even sure about my trips final outcome.
Graaaavel. by martinddd, on Flickr
I struggled to find a “nice” spot for the next night, I thought about riding into the dark, but didn’t want to pitch my tent in the dark, I settled on this midge infested, humid spot in the end.
Just up from Llyn Brianne by martinddd, on Flickr
Day five, turned out to be my final day. I set off from just before Llanwrtyd Wells, the weather was dry & sunny
Beautiful. by martinddd, on Flickr
I got baked proper ascending The Gap
Cribyn by martinddd, on Flickr
On the descent, my troublesome small seat pack finally wore through. My small frame & 29+ tyres clearly didn’t offer enough tyre clearance. I took most of the kit out & put it into my bum bag (I should have done this days ago) and carried on the descent without any more dreaded tyre rub. A rear rack is the solution I think, but ones for 3” tyres are hard to come by & pricey.
Pontsticill reservoir. by martinddd, on Flickr
The section after the work of art that is Pontsticill reservoir, was bizarre, an old quarry, set high up, huge, disused & a bit earie. A perfect rave spot.
The more westwards I got the opportunity for camping out high diminished, I though I’d just keep riding and sleep rough somewhere when tired, I kept going and made it home at 02:30.
Final Count by martinddd, on Flickr
29" x 3" by martinddd, on Flickr
Day1: 103 miles / 10222’ / 11h44m
Day2: 56 miles / 6293’ / 8h32m
Day3: 60 miles / 8142’ / 9h33m
Day4: 64 miles / 8309’ / 9h03m
Day5: 120miles / 10330’ / 14h19
Total: 403miles / 43296’
All in a fantastic baptism into the world of bike packing, I enjoyed the weather, I didn’t mind the rain but if it was solid I’d have reassessed my options. The 29”x3” tyres rolled really well if I could keep it on the 34t chainring, but with my little engine as the powerhouse any incline of gradient or length meant dropping into granny & winching. Those huge tyres are dead comfy, and technical ascending like the Gap, and smoothing out rough fire road rocks was their strong point. Thank god for tubeless as all that gorse would have been so much worse. I wasn’t keen on the tent, a bit faffy to set up right & a low ceiling overhead, I might sell it on & try another. My 3 season bag was too warm, but I could only buy one & I made my choice. My poor Porcelain Rocket seat pack despite setting off with an anti sag Voile strap it just didn’t have the space it needed on the rough stuff, it cost me a lot of time faffing with it, its now a bit holey, definitely a rack needed for next time. On One Geoff bars were fantastic, I loved the multitude of hand positions & the ability to just strap a dry bag to their underside without the need for a harness. My arse suffered badly, it took 3 days to figure I needed my saddle further forwards, but by then the damage was done, thank god for Charlies bum butter is all I can say. I’m rather amazed my legs did what they did, I wonder what else they can do, but I think in these things its equally about mind. Voile straps are simply fantastic. I faffed a LOT, but that’s ok. My bike weighed a lot, a lot of fire road gates were locked and needed the bike lifting over them, it was a feat to do it especially as some are rather high. The Krampus took the whole added weight in its stride, it didn’t bat an eyelid, i’d like to take it unladen to the Lakes / Gap and try it there. If I were to do similar again I may look at 2.5 / 2.6 tyres, maybe. Really happy with my clothing purchased beforehand, they worked a treat. I absolutely loved the remote areas, particularly when up high & loved seeing the trail disappear on wards & upwards. I loved the simplicity of the daily challenge of just riding, navigating, eating, searching for camp spots. I like those big open spaces.
I got home at 02:30, I was still buzzing the next day until about 16:00 when fatigue hit me, more food sorted that (and beer), I’m having a few days resting now & allowing my butt chafing to recover.
Wagon Wheels are great.