Words by Allen Boardman (@allen.boardman), photos by Allen and various participants
It’s January, and it’s cold, wet, and windy, which means only one thing: it’s time for the Bear Bones Winter Event. This kicks off the year with a plan to get people out and about on their bivvy-a-month challenge early on in the calendar. Stuart Wright of Bear Bones Bikepacking has run the Winter Event along with the Welsh Ride Thing and the infamous BB200 for many years with great success.
The format for the Winter Event is the same each year, but the adventure can take you any which way you choose. A series of grid references are shared on Christmas Eve, which leads people to reach for their nearest OS map of mid-Wales, rather than that extra chocolate that really doesn’t need to be eaten. The planning begins usually on Boxing Day by making a short or long route to take in every grid reference ever, or you can completely ignore the grid references and go your own way. There’s nothing at the grid references, anyway. Nobody will know or care if you’ve not ticked any of them off.
Starting in Llanbrynmair the night before, we met at the Wynnstay bed and breakfast to drink some beer and catch up with old friends. Some of us will drink too much and end up with a hangover the next morning, while some of us have more self-control. The doors to the Llanbrynmair Community Centre open at 8:30 a.m., serving from a bottomless kettle and a seemingly never-ending supply of toast and jam. We’re encouraged to set off before 12:30 and ride at least a little bit.
Bikepacking in the winter can be a lot of fun if you are well-prepared. It’s a great time to start, too, as it only gets easier (and lighter) the warmer it gets. The route was only short, around 35 miles, and it stayed relatively close to the start point to keep the second day more manageable. There’s no need to make this a BB200. That’s what October is for.
Our route took in some quiet lanes and empty bridleways with a couple of rather sharp climbs – mid-Wales is far from flat. We set off in the sun, and it was warm for January—too warm for a jacket, but that didn’t last long. At the top of the first climb, it started to rain. The jacket went on, and we set off towards the local post office in Staylittle for biscuits, coffee, and whatever else was in stock.
The wind picked up, as it usually does in January, which made holding a line next to impossible. We were constantly blown off course and into bracken almost every other minute. A decision was made shortly after the first climb at the T junction of the trail. The group knew where they were staying, and they were keen to get there as quickly as possible. The Welsh weather may have been a catalyst, maybe the roof over their heads, or maybe it was their stash of beer and steak.
I carried on with a smaller group on the rest of the route, taking in some more luxurious bridleways with increasingly amazing views, slowly making our way along sticky wet grassy trails with a headwind from hell. We kept on pushing hard into a headwind feeling like we were barely making any headway. Before we knew it, we were on the last descent towards the secret stash of luxurious items that you’d never consider squashing into a handlebar roll pack or folded into a frame bag. Well, I have considered taking a steak on a 100-mile ride in the Lake District and have been known to carry bacon and sausage for breakfast in the morning.
The ethos of bivvy-a-month is that you are to spend at least one night a month outside. Your own garden doesn’t count, and a bicycle has to be involved. You can cycle to your friend’s garden and sleep there, and you can’t pay for accommodation. We did almost all of this but paid for private accommodation, so it didn’t count.
Deep in the Welsh mountains, we arrive at our accommodation for the night. It’s a large private yurt with a huge firepit built inside with room for many air mats. It’s not a place where folks like us tend to end up, but a friend of a friend knows a man. We cooked our steak, drank our whisky, and laughed the night away. I wonder if I will end up with another hangover. Until next time!
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