Sunday, 23 September 2012

One year on.

The successful completion of the Brecon Beast Event a fortnight ago marked the first anniversary of our return from the two amazing years in the southern hemisphere. Generous sponsorship from friends and family has raised £500 which will go towards new facilities for the Brecon Ambulance Station Crew rest room. The  professional approach and reassurances provided by the paramedics during my memorable transfer over those same mountains in December were so very much appreciated at the time and I am delighted to be able to thank them all in this way - thank you again to all those who kindly chipped in.
The last 12 months have seen as most of you know some profound changes but also produced some very happy memories. Proving to myself that good health has returned has involved gradual exposure to the levels of activity I enjoyed over previous decades and I feel as fit as ever - 5 hours in perfect conditions on the Wall and White's level trails at Afan Argoed yesterday was a part of that.

Last weekend's get together near Brecon to celebrate Jan's final summit as part of a birthday challenge was a happy and sociable occasion - not in my case marked by photos as I managed to lose a second camera during the walk. Thus I also lack pictures of a recent ride in to Moel Prysgau bothy which is looking in top condition and reflects the great efforts put in over the last couple of years by the Maintenance Organisers Chris and Frank ably assisted by the Welsh Area members and other volunteers. In a fortnight we begin a week long project to reroof Nant Rhys bothy - volunteers welcome and details available from myself or via the MBA website here. For a flavour of what to expect check out the video.

En route to Bristol I dropped in to Neville Hall hospital to visit Crad who the previous day had had an unfortunate incident whilst returning from a hack - his stirrup caught on a gate fixing causing a nasty fall that resulted in a fracture of his left collar bone and fibula plus severe ligament damage to an ankle already weakened by an incident 17 years ago. Recovery will be slow and possibly frustrating but even just 24 hours after the event he was in typically upbeat and determined mode - good on yer cobber!
The trusty van was submitted for an MOT in Bristol and required the same temporary fix to the front brake caliper as I had undertaken on the rear ones last June in the dusty outback of the Pilbarra in Western Australia. The use of Dale's drive for the fix and then Ian's barn for fitting new parts (and as a precaution new rear discs and pads) was very much appreciated. With 255k miles on the clock and at 13 years old apparently there is little else of concern so I hope to get many more years service out of the old girl yet - if only everything was as reliable as a Volkswagen as they used to say!!
A quick trip to Coventry enabled a catch up with my parents, attention to paperwork re finances, van insurance and the impending divorce resolution plus an unexpected and much welcomed meeting with Penny who was visiting family in Warwickshire.
Wednesday saw us all travel to Bishop's Castle to inspect the seemingly rather complex systems behind my brother's new wood chip boiler system - several tons of stone chippings were spread around his drive to smarten the place up and as ever my nephew and niece were charmingly sweet and entertaining.
An energetic session of badminton left me as ever more bushed than the Beast event and Brecon town car park provided the usual secure and peaceful accommodation.
Life on the road suits me very well as I have so much freedom and flexibility - I have enjoyed the last year back in the UK but the reports and tales on other travel blogs continue to inspire me and I will be pleased to set off again on the 20th of December once all outstanding matters are finally resolved. These revolve around  moving my GP care to Coventry followed by a review and reduction of medication (I hope to ditch the beta blockers, move to over the counter statins and aspirin leaving me only the ACE inhibitor on prescription - which will make long term travel easier), finalising the divorce and associated details and I hope entertaining a number of friends over the fortnight of 24th November to 8th December in Cumbria - let me know if you can join in for a day or two.
Today I am tucked away as wind and rain lash the land once more - it is a 12 tealight day and I am as snug as a bug with internet signal, TV reception and my weekly dose of iron in the shape this time of two lamb cutlets to look forward to.
I have put together a selection of photos here recording some of the highlights of a memorably unpredictable year and will by next time have mastered the new camera with its various features. Locations via SPOT will appear here and the the slideshow top right covers time in Southern Oz.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Brecon Beast 2012

Our busy few days of signing over 100km of route, establishing and supplying the two feed stations, marking out the camping and registration facilities and a host of other tasks were completed in glorious sunshine by last thing Saturday night. Access to the more remote sections by quad and trail bike required coordination of transport and drivers & some radical twilight riding to get everything done as the camping field steadily filled up with expectant entrants.
Dale arrived from Bristol & after joining in the pasta supper we checked over the bikes before trying to get an early night parked up in the compound.

Sunday dawned bright & sunny with the Beacons summits beckoning away to the the south & after a substantial porridge & nuts breakfast we joined the throng of over 700 riders in the starting lay by. A police escort saw us safely out of town at a steady warm up pace before 5 or 6 miles out the first off road section began. Locals out early seemed to enjoy this unusual sight as we began to thin out with last year's bottle neck largely ironed out & the rougher sections of Mynydd Llangorse persuading some riders to walk the dry but uneven track. I decided not to stop at the first drinks station near Bwlch & shot along the A40 to Talybont having already lost Dale who unfortunately had a frustrating problem with his gears slipping. 

A long climb alongside the reservoir provided great views and a fast descent before another tough ascent of a rocky track had many of us pushing again. The shorter route joined us again before we reached the second drinks station where I was grateful for an energy drink and a choccy bar before setting off apace on the loop round Pontsticill reservoir. For me knowing that the steady climb through the Beacons to the Gap was really the bulk of the effort done was a real boost and I dropped off towards Brecon at a fast pace - the 60psi tyre pressures avoided any punctures but made for a bone jarring descent passing a number of other more cautious riders.
The last off road section in to town included a race against Jason on the support quad before a final pull up to the leisure centre saw me home in just over 6 hours - I have no idea how the lead rider could complete in under 4 hours but was pleased with my ranking in the 40+ age group.

After a hot shower and hotter tea I felt surprisingly good and enjoyed watching a few more finishers with Dale who had managed to complete the shorter course despite the mechanical hindrances.

That evening and Monday saw us complete the dismantling before the weather changed with vehicles cleaned, signage stored away, hire equipment returned and everywhere tidied up.
Without wishing to embarass them I would like to thank Jason, Crad and Al for the huge amount of work they did (as usual) and the barrel load of laughs but also the dozens of other volunteers and marshals whose support and input have over the years created an event to be proud of. Three local charities benefit from the funds raised and full details of the results, some photos and feedback all appear on the  Beast website here 
I will report on the total funds and their destination raised through my sponsorship in a few weeks once I have collated everything - thank you to all those who chipped in. 
Completing the event almost 9 months to the day since my heart attack has given me the confidence to look forward to a return to near normality and start finalising my plans for winter sun - just a shame that it will be another year before I get another choccy bar.
No pics this time as I was too busy hanging on but the SPOT here will give you an idea of the route for a few more days

Friday, 7 September 2012

September Summer

A long awaited spell of excellent weather saw the variety of places visited over the first week of September looking at their best. 
The excellent mountain bike trails at Afan Argoed saw the start of my training in earnest for the forthcoming Beast - some old favourites are closed due to felling but will be reinstated in 2013 but the Wall provided some memorably fast descents on single track.
A return to the small bothy in the Black Mountains with a new broom left it looking spick and span after a brisk walk in from the north as gliders coasted silently overhead.
I then headed off to the Horizons Unlimited meeting high on the Mendips where again an excellent variety of presentations triggered more inspiration for future trips. Perhaps the severest journey undertaken was that by a Polish guy during the hard 2011 winter when in the January he headed to the furthest reaches of Norway arriving in deep snow and temperatures of -34 at the Nordkapp. Using very basic camping equipment and 'cooking' burgers with a blow torch he completed a remarkable journey that few unsupported groups would undertake.
'London to Beijing on Two Sh*t Mopeds' proved to be an appropriate title for an account of another remarkable journey undertaken by two lasses from London and captivating images of Mongolia from other talks sowed ideas in my mind before an evening of chat around the fire pit.
Sunday saw a good cycle round the Sustran's routes of Wiltshire, the Kennet and Avon Canal and then the back lanes in to Frome after which I headed way out west to overnight at Ceibwr in Pembrokeshire as my 3 monthly bag of tablets was due.
Monday afternoon was spent enjoying the trails in Brechfa Forest with Tuesday morning spent at Halfway where preparations for next week's motor rally reduced the choices available. As a result I decided to return to an old favourite - the Sarn Helen Roman road starting near my former home. The track was in better condition as a result of its closure to 4x4s but still provided a challenge as it dropped to cross the nascent Nedd and then climbed to the Ystradfellte road. Dropping through Pont Melin Fach and then reaching the Inter Valley Road I decided to travel down memory lane and pass through Cwmnanthir. Sadly the new owners have to my mind at least somewhat spoiled the place with unsightly new livestock sheds and some rather crude alterations to the house itself. Slightly disappointed at the general air of neglect I passed through anonymously and returned to Coelbren on the green lane that had surprisingly been much improved by the spreading of thousands of tons of hardcore - surely the Banwen bypass isn't imminent?
After a clean report from the dentist I headed to Brecon for an energetic session of badminton where Jan broke the sad but not unexpected news that good old Amber had slipped away that day. True to fashion she had gone with no fuss at the guesstimated grand old age of 18 - coincidentally 3 years exactly since she had gone to live contentedly north of Brecon.
Yesterday and today have seen plenty of hard work by the usual team in preparation for the 2012 Brecon Beast this Sunday. With our largest number of entries to date the need for clear signage is even more important so much effort went in to informing local communities, putting up directions for riders and safety warnings for other road users. Careful planning and co-ordination saw the bulk of the work completed in good time although disappointingly some petty disruption confirmed that as ever a mean spirited minority (very likely just one individual in fact) have only their own selfish agenda to work to. However the support and goodwill from everyone we actually met was heartening and set the mood for what promises to be a busy but ultimately highly rewarding and satisfying weekend of fund raising.
I hope to report on a successful completion of the full course on Monday evening and will endeavour to affix the SPOT device to my helmet so logging on here during Sunday should allow you to follow what I hope will be steady progress.
A few photos are available here.
Lest I forget a big thank you to all those kind enough to offer sponsorship :
 a grand total will be reported in due course.

With fond memories the video below is a touch of self indulgence - turn up your volume and enjoy.