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January 29, 2015 No comments

A Cambium in the Cambrians

Saddles, Bags, Etc. Events Stories
By Jack Thurston
A Cambium in the Cambrians
[caption id="attachment_14083" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="When a track becomes a stream"][/caption] With arrival of an email of a list of a couple of dozen grid references, each the location a ford across a stream or river somewhere in the hills of Mid-Wales, I knew I was in for a cold, wet January weekend. In a moment of ‘let’s blow away the cobwebs and do something different’ I’d entered myself into the Bear Bones Ford Fiesta, an overnight bikepacking event. The challenge was simple: to ride through many fords as possible and to spend a night under the stars. A reasonable definition of bikepacking is 'overnight mountain-biking carrying the minimum of food and shelter'. It sounds like something new, but just like the trends for fixed wheels and gravel grinding, bikepacking is just a new word for something people have been doing since the earliest days of cycling. [caption id="attachment_14080" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Norwegian Bikepackers in 1889"][/caption] The roads were so bad that most rides was essentially ‘off road’ and our hardy forebears owned less stuff than we do today. But while it's possible to carry the kitchen sink on a bike tour, anyone who’s enjoyed riding a modern, lightweight mountain-bike knows that the fun disappears once they’re weighed down with racks and heavy panniers. So bikepackers prefer to travel light by lashing their gear to their bikes with elaborate systems straps and harnesses, a highly efficient form of bicycle bondage. [caption id="attachment_14085" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="The classic modern bikepacking set-up, complete with Ford Fiesta fluffy dice"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_14084" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="A more DIY approach also works"][/caption] As I embraced this new, minimalist approach to packing for a bike trip, out went the tent, the pots and pans, the spare clothes and shoes, the hammock, the assorted paperbacks, the folding barbecue, the telescope, the foot spa, the fondue set, the portable gramophone with a selection of rocking 45s and all of the other little luxuries to which, as a touring cyclist, I have become accustomed. I loaded up with a thick winter sleeping bag and insulated sleeping mat, a bivvy bag, a warm jacket, a miniature stove and its titanium pot, a camera, a phone, some survival rations, a wad of maps and joined around 80 other souls heading off into the hills, in search of fords. My luxury items were limited to a spare pair of socks and a Cambium C17, the new vulcanised rubber saddle from Brooks. [caption id="attachment_14094" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Hmmm...."][/caption] [caption id="attachment_14091" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Fortunately there was also a bridge"][/caption] The heavy rain of the past week meant every stream was in full song. Water was gushing, spurting, trickling and oozing out of every hill and molehill in Wales. I slid my way down tracks that resembled stream beds, pushed my way up steep tussocky mountainsides and generally tired myself out getting from one ford to the next. As darkness fell I chanced upon a couple of other riders getting themselves ready to camp for the night in a corrugated iron sheep barn. I'd been riding alone all day so the idea of company was appealing but a bed of fermented animal faeces under a corrugated iron roof was my idea of a fun Saturday night so I pushed on into the twilight. A while later I was soon joined by a trio of riders and together we rode on through the darkness and into a snowstorm. [caption id="attachment_14082" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Crossing a waist-high stream in a snowstorm"][/caption] By seven o’clock in the evening I was flagging badly and John, one of the guys I was riding with, said he was headed for pub about ten miles away, mostly downhill. It was an offer too good to refuse. The pub was named after George Borrow, the Victorian travel writer and author of Wild Wales, an account of a walking tour around the country. In one episode Borrow sets out to the desolate massif of Pumlumon, the highest point in the Cambrian mountains, in search of the sources of the Severn, Britain's longest river, and her sister, the Wye. Revived and mostly dried out John and I followed in Borrow's footsteps up into the hills and found a sheltered spot to unroll our sleeping bags in a grove of trees on the lower slopes of Pumlumon. As a gale shook the trees overhead I drifted to sleep, content that our bivvy spot was less than a mile from the sources of the Severn and Wye, though unlike Borrow, I didn't get close enough to drink a glass of water from each. The next day I became used to the sight of John dancing away from me on the pedals of his single-speed as we rode a series of long mountain tracks interspersed by yet more fords back to the start, where we were welcomed into the warm by the event's organisers Stuart and Dee, who offered up a never-ending supply of tea and toast and fine selection of cakes. [caption id="attachment_14081" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="A rare front view of my riding companion John"][/caption] I’d covered a shade under 65 miles across the two days. Not a great distance for a weekend’s touring but taking into account the terrain and about 2,500 metres of ascent, I was happy not to have had to do any more. The Cambium was perfect. Unlike a leather saddle it shrugged off all the water and the WAHRQ* of the saddle is satisfyingly high. A sociable first foray into bikepacking, as pleasurable as it was pointless, the Ford Fiesta was the perfect way to kickstart a new year of bike adventures. *Winter Ass Heat Retention Quotient Thanks to Beth at Wildcat Gear for the loan of some superb bikepacking luggage, hand-made in the UK. The next Bear Bones bikepacking event is the Welsh Ride Thing on 2-4 May 2015.