Mrs Williams who owned the cottages must have heard the van pull in as moments later she was there to welcome and show us around the cottage. Downstairs was made up of a front room and a kitchen with a dining table in the middle. It was obvious that most of the tenants were mountaineer bikers as the inner cushions under the covers on the sofa were wrapped in plastic bags. Upstairs was consisted of two rooms of bunks and a toilet. Dad and Martin shared the smaller room with two bunks and Andy, Mike, Tom and I took the soon to be windy four bunk room. I was impressed with the cottage; it felt homely and had everything you needed. Downstairs had a cozy feel to it and was just big enough for six. Dinner time was a bit of a squeeze and a little like playing twister when struggling to stretching from left leg green to right arm blue.
Shortly after we arrived Mike got on with the dinner, while us others unpacked the van. I was hungry anyway so smelling the food cooking didn’t help matters and by the time the prawns, in chilli sauce with a side of salad was ready, I was ravenous. To satisfy my hunger I got stuck into the prawns a little too enthusiastically and probably should have saved a little more room for the steak. I didn’t really care though as one of my plans for this holiday was to enjoy the food and fill my boots each meal and I’d without doubt started the way I meant to go on. For mains we were served a massive door stop steak with dauphinoise potatoes, and a mix of onion, mushroom and tomatoes in steak juice. It was my kind of meal; rich, meaty and absolutely divine. To be honest I was done three quarters of the way through my steak but managed to push on through and was very happy when Mike mentioned carrot cake for dessert. My greed wanted the cake but I was more than satisfied after the feast so Mike suggestion gave me a good excuse to be greedy.
The breakfast made getting out on the bikes much harder. To be honest the weather didn’t help as it was raining on and off and was grey and miserable. An hour or so later we were finally on our way to tackle a ride named ‘Whites Level’. The start of the ride was only a mile or so from the cottage, on a path about 2 or 3 bike widths wide running alongside the valley. The air was fresh, the path was scenic and the only noise was made by us. I really enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle, being in a natural environment and giving my lungs a good workout.
I found the riding much harder than I expected and struggled throughout the ride. I had only been going a couple of minutes when I rode off the trail and had to dump the bike before riding down the hill leading into the valley. To stop motorbikes riding the trails, sty’s are put up that are just wide enough to fit a mountain bike through. After going through a sty, I lazily got back onto my bike and pushed off before getting properly set. By the time I had my feet on the pedals I was needing to pick my way through the rocky terrain and still off balance I had no chance and rode off the trail at a right angle. This wasn’t the best of starts but put it down to a lack of concentrating and tried again.
The bottom line was that I just wasn’t used to riding the terrain and it was much harder and technical to what I’m used to. While riding you have to pick your line through rocks, tree roots and over slabs while keeping to the trail which is only 3 feet wide. At slow speed my balance on the bike isn’t what it used to be, chuck in constantly bashing your pedals on rocks, while riding up hill and the space restriction of the trial and I was all over the place and had to keep putting my foot down.
As the ride went on I got more disgusted with my riding and started to get frustrated. I wasn’t able to keep up with Martin and Andy up hill because I kept having to put my foot down and get restarted again, and I wasn’t able to stay with the pace going back down. I told myself that it was because I had to take it easy as I didn’t want to fall off and hit my head again but the truth was that I’d lost my bottle. I realised this when I actually felt scared while riding a down hill section and had pushed my bike on three separate occasions. This is something I’ve never done before, previously the scarier and more dangerous the trail became the more enjoyment I got out of it.
After my realisation I decided that I should just enjoy the ride, take it at my own pace and hope that I could improve. I didn’t want to put a downer on the trip just because I couldn’t keep up with the pace and decided to just enjoy the social side of the ride. I was trying my best to stay positive but my head was dropping and I struggled to let it go. Tom told me that I should be happy that after just 7 months I was able to do this kind of riding and it shows how far I’ve come. I knew he was right but my competitiveness was getting the better of me and it was frustrating when I know how I used to ride.
My frustration soon ended when we rode past Dad with his bike upside down on the side of the trial. Tom and I stopped to see what was wrong. His front brake had seized up and was stuck on. He was in a right mood and was throwing his toys out of the pram, saying that he hates this fucking place, every time he comes it’s fucking raining and he’s never coming again. We were on the final stretch of the ride so he wheeled his bike down on the back wheel while Tom and I rode off highly amused. Dad finally got to the bottom and was looking at his brakes when the banter started. Martin was joking how this trip was the best he’s had in Wales, I was telling Dad that he should maintain his bike better and Andy was taking the piss when the camera came out.
We got home cleaned the bikes and spent the rest of the afternoon down the pub. On the way home we saw a kids climbing along a roof and hanging off the side of the clock tower. Extreme climbing must be rife in Cymmer as earlier in the day we had seen some lads climbing along a railing to a block of flats. The flats were conveniently built right next to the valley. For dinner Mike was making a chicken curry with all the trimmings including samosas, onion bhajis, home made sag paneer, and a spicy chick pea dish. The flavours were intense and it was a top curry. I was really happy as the dinners seemed to be getting better and better.
Again I was up and ready to go at 7am. After all the food I’d eaten, I felt full but hungry. I guess my body is in the habit of getting fed in the morning so it was telling me I was hungry when really I wasn’t. Again all that went out the window when the fry up was put on the table.
Today we were going to tackle the Wall and after if our legs felt okay ride Whites Level again. I knew that after riding the Wall everyone would be pumped then half way round Whites Level the legs would go and the ride would drag. First though we had to get off the sofa and on to the bikes, which was made harder as the cottage didn’t have a dryer or anywhere to hang the clothes. We did our best hanging them in the garage but as we were happy lounging on the sofa after another big breakfast, it was hard enough to get up without the thought of putting on damp clothes.
As Andy had set the pace yesterday we let him lead on the first climb. My riding had improved loads and although I still needed to put my foot out, it happened a lot less frequent and I felt more in control. Even though my riding had improved I still preferred Whites Level to the Wall because a lot of the climbs were on fire road and seemed really long. All the climbs on Whites Level take place on the trail so you need to concentrate and pick your line. When climbing fire roads they’re flat so you don’t have to concentrate and can look further ahead of you. The combination of not having to concentrate and being able to see how much more hill you have left to climb make the climbs seems longer and bring more attention to the strain of your legs.
The Wall’s down hill sections weren’t as steep as Whites Level and were more cross country so gave me chance to feel more comfortable on the bike and build up my confidence. I discovered that I rode the trails better if I broke less as it was easier to ride over the terrain at speed. By breaking less I could hold my speed which meant I didn’t need to pedal as much and could stand up more. This helps with your balance as your body acts like a spring to soak up the rocky terrain and puts you in a better position to deal with the technicality of the riding. The final two downhill sections of the Wall were good fun and the steepest. My riding had improved so much that I was able to keep with Dad on the down hill and pull away from the others. Before I knew it the wall was over and as predicted everyone was pumped and eager to ride Whites Level again. We stopped off at the cottage between rides to let Mike know what we were doing, fill our camelbaks up and eat some chocolate. Within 30 minutes we were riding on the path alongside the valley to the start of Whites Level.
The terrain of Whites Level was much rockier and technical than that of the Wall and I could see why I had struggled so much yesterday. The first climb was also longer and harder than I remembered but I still preferred it to the fire road climbs of the Wall. Tom and Andy were struggling with having already ridden the Wall and now attacking the steeper Whites Level. Even when coming down hill you don’t have a chance to rest as the trail is so bumpy your legs are working to set the rest of your body while trying to soften the impacts of the terrain. Unfortunately it was Andy’s turn to get frustrated as he wasn’t happy with his riding. I was feeling good as my fitness is still fairly strong and as I was so pleased with the improvement of my riding, I was on a high and eager to improve some more. I was now at the front with Martin climbing the hills and at the front with Dad coming back down.
On one of downhill sections Dad could hear someone behind him and shouted out to see who it was. As I was getting better at judging my braking I would catch Dad up loads coming into the corner but lose him a little on the flat as I wasn’t pedalling as hard. On the next downhill section Dad could hear I was right on his back wheel and let me past. Yesterday I had to push my bike over two sections as I didn’t fancy the look of riding it but today I went down with minimal hesitation. At the end of the trail Dad congratulated me and welcomed me back. I couldn’t believe the improvement I’d made. I knew I was capable of riding better but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.
On the ride back I speed off back to the cottage so that when they returned four cold Stella’s were waiting to be drunk. Tom said he thought I was up to something and Dad had slated me for speeding off but they were all glad that I had when they were drinking the Stella.
That evening I felt superb, my legs were tingling and felt tired and heavy from the ride and I was looking forward to chilling out and not moving in front of the TV. Mike had saved the best for last and made a Sunday roast with belly of pork and apple and rhubarb crumble for dessert. I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a roast so much, it was heavenly. Shortly after dessert I said I needed a comfy seat and headed to the sofa to veg out. To Martins delight everyone followed so he helped himself to the left over crumble. Mike said his eye lit up when he saw everyone get up and the crumble was in his bowl in a flash.
The evening went just as I wanted it to, I didn’t move from the couch because a), my legs just wanted to be lazy and b), I was so full that I couldn’t have moved even if I wanted to. Its days like these that make a mountain biking holiday worth the effort keep you coming back for more. There was talk of Tom, Andy and I fitting a quick ride in on the Monday before leaving but in the morning no one could be bothered. It’s probably for the best that we didn’t go as we left on a high and wanting more. All in all I had a fantastic weekend and enjoyed every minute of it. Lots of things happened on the trip that will have us reminiscing for year to come. I think the fondest memory will be of Mike and his culinary delights.
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