I learnt something yesterday. Something magical, brilliant, useful and unexpected. However, telling you now would only be half the story, so you can either read on or cheat and skip to the end.
Where does the story start? In Afan Argoed? On the drive down there? In Cirencester the night before? No, it starts several months ago when Jon suggested a trip to the Afan trail centre (in South Wales, for non-UK readers). We'd been there a few years ago as part of a Welsh road-trip and it seemed as if Jon's stellar performance in the Twentyfour12 had re-ignited his mountain biking fire. Needless to say I was mildly ambivalent due to not having done much MTB this year and an underlying nervousness about crashing and breaking. Still, after a Jon repeatedly suggesting dates and me repeatedly avoiding the issue Jon finally came up with a day that I had no valid reason to decline. It was nearly scuppered at the last minute due to various work-y things but kidnapping his manager and locking him in my cellar suddenly solved the issue.
The night before I travelled down to Jon's in Cirencester. He lives half an hour nearer to Afan than I do, so it made sense to get everything sorted at his the night before and leave early in the morning. The evening was spent eating pasta, drinking beer and wine and playing with small children. There was also some toenail cutting but I don't really want to expand on that.
We were up at seven (06:20 for Jon, using the toddler alarm), coffee, toast, arse-lard, bike clothes and into the car by 07:30. Little traffic, more coffee and bacon roll at the services (Jon: "I don't think I've been to these services before". Me: "We stayed here for the Dragon Ride") and in the Afan car park for 10:00. Some minor faffing and we were riding by 10:15.
"Skyline" is the big long trail at Afan and the only one I've not done before. It starts with the same climb as "White's Level", which I have done, but then heads off into the slightly-more-wilderness than the other trails. At 47km it's also a good 3-4 hour ride (4-7 according to the trail guide...ha!). The climb is sort of interesting, in that there a various rocky sections - loose, steppy, nadgery - that kind of thing. It's not particularly steep though, so more of an exercise in power management for the technical bits than an outright lung-burster. I do find these trails tediously repetative - hey, we've built a rocky feature on the climb, let's do it every 20 metres! I think that's at the heart of my dislike of trail centres, and what distinguishes them from natural routes.
So, where were we? Ah, yes, getting lost on Skyline. I say lost - we knew we were on the trail at all times but somehow managed to miss a 25km loop, suddenly finding ourselves at the final descent. Another exercise in repetition - roll down a bit, rocky feature, roll down a bit, rocky feature - times twenty-five.
After the aborted attempt at Skyline we did "The Wall" (much more natural feeling - definitely my thing), rode back to the Glyncorrwg centre for lasagne, chips and Coke and tried to fix my brakes. Did I mention my back brake lever was squishing to the bars before biting? That really helped my crash induced nervousness. I fact, most of the descents involved Jon zipping off into the distance and me being much more cautious - merely terror rather than hysteria. It's all relative though - I was still going quicker than previous visits.
We decided that we were both a little tired by now so we were never going to attempt Skyline. White's Level it was. My fixed brake became unfixed, we rode up the same initial climb and bimbled round.
On the spin back to the car we discussed how battered we were feeling - four and a half hours of rocky trails uses very different muscles to six hours of road riding. I could feel my core, my hamstrings, my calves were burning from all the standing and my shoulders were stiff from all bar control. Either we need to do more MTBing or stick to being wimpy roadies.
Once in the car I really started to feel the ride. The seats were hard, my glutes (=arse) ached, my legs ached... it wasn't comfortable. Thankfully all the traffic and accidents were going the other way so we had a clear run back to Cirencester. We transferred my stuff to my car and I started the drive home.
I then made my magical discovery.
When you are tired, battered, aching and stiff: Heated seats are awesome. It's like taking a long, hot bath whilst having a nagging feeling that you've wee'd yourself.
Now, that was worth the read wasn't it?