Monday, May 25, 2009

The Gap (extended)

Yesterday Uphilla, DDave and I made good use of the excellent weather cranking ourselves silly riding The Gap in s.Wales (nr Brecon). The day started early for DDave and I who drove there/back in the same day, meaning a 4.45am start for yours truly :o but behind the curtains lay clear blue sunny skies which soon cleared my groggy bonce. Prop's to DDave who was 100% keen with a fettled rig and at 6am was keeping an eye out for his "taxi". Several doses of strong black coffee later we found ourselves parking in Talybont-on-Usk when Uphilla rpuled up (he's camping nearby at Hay-on-Wye for the week). Under a mild sunny sky it didn't take us long to jump aboard our steeds and head off into the wilderness...

Along a tree lined track, with gradually improving views of the Talybond Reservoir the Taff-Trail provides a steady gradient for around the first hour albeit riddled with small rocks to focus your attention. Admittedly they weren't too much hassle for Uphilla and I on our plush rigs but poor DDave was getting a right batterin' on his h/tail.

Anyhoo, the trail then soon changed from the wooded climb into open moorland ranging from often steep rocky double track to boggy bits as we continued the grind upward. You're then confronted with what initially appears to be an increasingly steep, old road but it transforms into a rocky step fest that requires a level of riding prowess (and fitness) that none of us posses. After a short hike-a-bike the trail levelled before gently descending into a hard worn 4x4 tracks that provided numerous line choices complete with the odd puddle and rocky section to plant smiles on our chops.

Ducking down into the woods the trail became very rocky with plenty of loose rocks that could be heard pinging from our down tubes, rims, spokes, shoes, etc, etc. The mossy wood lined track continued downward eventually turning to asphalt where we cranked our way around to the picturesque Pentwyn Reservoir. A short section of asphalt then brings you to the Taf Fechan river crossing which marks the start of the climb up to The Gap.

A steady road climb leads into a steady off road slog around those ever present rocks as you winch your way skyward alongside Tor Glas. Should you look up there are lovely views of the Neudadd Resv's not to mention the Graig's. Not long after leaving the road you get a sneak peak at the The Gap that gradually gets closer and closer the more feet you crank yourself ever upwards.

Whilst I sun'd myself in the lea of The Gap I saw that the peaks were mobbed with folk and as we hadn't seen many walkers coming up our side of the trail I feared our descent on the Brecon side would be full of walkers. Considering it's a Bank Holiday weekend I was very pleasantly surprised to find our descent was only dotted with the odd grumpy. I wonder if we'd missed the morning rush up and our lunchtime descent meant clear trails - a point to consider for next time.

After a rest (and moan from DDave) we saddle up and cranked into The Gap...

Having tried and failed last time this section previously I was 1k% focused on clearing the next few feet of trail that gently dips between rocky outcrops cut into the hillside. I'd forgotten about the nasty steps that keep appearing yet with loose boulders flying and my suspension working overtime I dived in. Whoomp, slip, drop, twang, eek, drop, phew, twang, eek, drop and plenty of pullin' and a pushin' on the tiller had me spring back into daylight and the awesome view to Brecon. My companions were a little more cautious (perhaps I yelped too loudly!) and after a sneaky peek they both slithered and slipped their way through.

The next 6 miles are ever downward, first on the rocky boulder strewn summit before hitting a twisty asphalt lane all the way down to the pub at Groesffordd for a well earned brew. After braking hard into the many asphalt turns I was just thinking how lucky we'd been not to meet an oncoming car when a jeep roar nto view. Thankfully our anchors slowed us enough to slither safely past although I think we each flat spotted a knobbly ;-)

Re-fueled after a long cold beer and a bowl of tasty soup we headed off into the unknown (non of us had done this northern loop) and these 3 off roaders weren't prepared for what lay ahead. Mile after mile of asphalt :-( We initially thought we'd be ridding off road atop an nearby ridge but the route had us push well beyond that and into a sweaty panting distance past Llangors. With ever steepening roads we gratefully hit dirt again at Cockit Hill, unfortunately the trail was so steep that it we knew it meant another hike-a-bike. Oh how this short steep climb teased us into at least 3 false summits before we all collapsed near the top in the sunshine. The views were worth the effort though, as the valley beneath us was awesome complete with Llangorse Lake and The Gap in the distance.

With just one more climb to go (grrr) we cranked our way along grassy moorland trying to match up the trails with our GPS. It meandered gently down with the odd fast section but the grass meant cranking was mandatory for our tired pins. Uphilla even got carried away and dived off down the wrong way but soon came back after realizing, by which time a whacked DDave had caught up.

A short while later the trail dived down over blind crests which'd be fun to ride again now we know there's nothing too sinister on the other side. A few 2ft drops would also be fun to loft next time :B The trail steepens into tight switchbacks down into Bwlch before hitting a monster long asphalt descent to Llansantffraed which had me cranking and the guys slip streaming - come on lads, there's no "i" in team :x

Back at Talybont-on-Usk DDave whimpered that he never been so glad to see a VW Golf (his ride home) :lol The village had picked up a few visitors since we left and after securing our rigs we nipped into the local for another well earned brewski.

With plenty of techie climbs and descents The Gap loop is challenging and satisfying but throw in the northern slog and you've bagged yourself an Epic Ride. The northern leg adds extra miles, lots of ascending but IMO not the smiles you'd hope for. However this monster loop did help justify the long journey there/back.

Thanks to Uphilla for arranging the ride and DDave for keeping me company for the 6hr journey. Oh and prop's to Volkswagen for 50mpg+ with the bikes on the back :p



Posse: Farqui (5Spot), DDave (Solid h/tail), Uphilla (Ventana)
Mechanicals: None (amazing considering the abuse)
Weather: Absolutely fabulous darlings, barely a breath of wind and sunnier than I can remember in a long time