The WRT has moved. If you're looking for info, entries or anything else bikepacking related try Bear Bones Bikepacking, the Bear Bones blog or the Bear Bones forum - ta.

Yea, yea, yea, but what is it?

The WRT is a 3 day and perhaps more importantly 2 night ride through and around mid Wales. You'll be expected to be self sufficient, carrying everything you need and sleeping out in or under whatever you think best. It's not elitist, entry is open to anyone who wants to try it. All the money raised by the WRT goes to the Wales Air Ambulance charity ... an organisation I hope you'll never need.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Worlds heaviest shelter?

While out riding on Monday I came across this. There's plenty of room inside for sleeping and even cooking. It'd certainly keep the worst of the weather at bay.

Nearly enough room for 2.

There must be loads of these all over the country. Just think of the weight saving advantages if you knew where they all were!

Natural Shelter at it's best.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2011 WRT Grid References

The grid references for this year will be emailed out at 9.00am on Thursday April 28th. If you don't receive them, then first check your spam folder. If they're not there then email me. There's a couple of forms without an email address so I'm expecting at least a few anxious emails ... enjoy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Help for tarpists ... Part 2.

Erecting a tarp can be as easy or hard as you want to make it. In it's simplest form as either a ridge or lean- to it can be thrown up very quickly and if pitched with a little care and consideration to the conditions, should offer adequate shelter ... obviously, that depends on your understanding of adequate!
Even these simple tarp configurations will require something to support the material of the tarp though, trees, sticks, walls or your bike can all prove useful for the purpose - simple!

Last summer I found myself riding down through a small, high sided valley. It was starting to get dark and I was looking for a spot to set up camp. Flat ground was at a premium so the first bit I came across became the evenings spot. Obviously the first job was getting a brew on and the second was sticking my tarp up as the folk who know had promised heavy rain in the night. Did I use sticks? No there weren't any. Did I use trees? No trees, hence no sticks. So you used a wall or fence then? Nope, didn't have the option of either. In the end I took my front wheel out and used that to support one end and my upturned bike to support the other. So there I was sorted, I had shelter ... I also now had everything in my bags upside down so looking for stuff in the dark involved emptying everything out and losing it in the grass, fantastic!

122cm tarp pole ... erm nice!

I lay under my tarp, listening to the rain and thinking. My main thoughts were about finding something else to help hold my tarp up, something that I could pack easily, didn't weigh much and would actually be a benefit rather than an ill conceived burden ... the picture above shows my solution. This foldable aluminium pole is 122cm long, weighs 120g and folds down to 33cm, so it fits the criteria I mentioned above with regard to packing and weight ... but is it a help or hindrance?

Yes, I know I've used this pic before.

Well, I can safely say taking a pole along with a tarp makes a massive difference not only to where you can pitch but also to how you can pitch. With a little practice and thought your tarp can become much more than a basic ridge or lean-to. The big advantage with a pole is that it allows you to support the tarp from underneath and 'inside', so much more coverage is possible than if you only support it from the edges.

I got my pole from Ultralight Outdoor Gear, they are available in 3 different lengths, 90cm, 115cm and 122cm ... bear in mind that when packed, the 122cm pole is shorter than the 115cm one due to it folding into 4 sections rather than 3.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Food for thought.

If you're riding you've got to eat ... it's that simple. If the riding is a 2 hour blast around the trail centre then chances are, any eating can wait until you get back, if it's a 'proper' ride then you'll have to re-fuel at some point. One of the big problems with food can be weight, if you carry the stuff you really feel like eating then you'll possibly also end up with a big increase in the weight of what you're carrying. Compromises may be the only way!

Another consideration is the energy content of what you're carrying / eating. You might have reduced the weight of your food down to ultralite acceptable but if you've sacrificed its energy content in the process, then it may all be in vain.

Yum yum

I'm informed that when mountain biking, you burn 3.9 calories per pound of body weight every hour. That means that if you weigh 11 stone and are going to be riding for 8 hours, your body will use 4805 calories ... that's a lot of calories when you consider that government guidelines advise 2000 calories per day for the average adult.

There's also health issues to consider. Fat contains more calories per g than any other food type ... however, stuffing 4 blocks of lard down your throat isn't going to do you much good in the long run, although it will supply you with lots of calories. I once heard of an ultra runner who survived on nothing but pork pies throughout a rather epic run as they contained the highest number of calories per g than anything else he could carry.

Obviously the figures above are going to vary for numerous reasons. However, if you only use them as a rough guide it's still surprising how much food you might be eating and unfortunately carrying.

Monday, April 18, 2011

T, T, S and S Part 4 ... Six Moon Designs.

While searching the internet for something I payed a visit to Six Moon Designs. I haven't been to their web site in a while so it was a nice surprise to find their new 'tent' the Skyscape.

Skyscape Scout

The Skyscape is a double skin 1 man tent. It pitches with a single pole and has more than enough internal size to sit up and even the tallest will be able to lie down without contacting the tent walls. What's interesting is the fact that the same tent is available in 3 different guises, just factor weight against cost to determine which is right for you.

The heaviest version is the Scout and it weighs 960g ... yes that's right, 960g and it's the heaviest model! At the top of the tree is the 'X' which although the same size weighs a silly light 450g!

All 3 models are available to pre-order (you won't get one in time for the WRT though) and both the Scout and the middle model Trekker (680g) have special pre-order pricing with the scout coming in at $90 and the Trekker $175 ... that really has to be a bargain and remember those prices are $ not £.

If you're on the look out for a light, 1 man shelter that should stand whatever nature throws at it, go and have a look at and yes, they do other things too.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Light, Cheap and Compact.

No, not really but 2 out of 3 isn't that bad. The good old, closed cell foam camping mat ... it's been around for a long time and kept thousands of people off cold floor's the world over. Let's be honest though, it's old hat. Modern technology brought us the self inflating mat so we had more squidge and you could fold it up so it was more compact. Then came the new breed of inflatables, supremely comfortable, easily packable and if you bought wisely, pretty light ... so what am I doing messing about with this thing for?

The most boring pic I've ever taken ... std £4.99 mat

Well, the foam mat does have some things going for it, even in today's blow up world. Firstly price, the mat above was the grand sum of £4.99. The second thing to consider is weight, this mat in it's full length guise weighs 180g. Lastly it's nearly impossible to damage, it won't puncture and it doesn't matter if it gets wet. The big drawback is how much space it takes up, however I'm wondering if this is a real issue when packing your bike ... After all, I have a dry bag harnessed to my bars, that bag is roughly the same shape as this mat once it's rolled up. If I roll the mat around the dry bag then it adds virtually nothing to my pack size.

When something costs less than a fiver you're more inclined to have a play about with it, which is exactly what Mr Stanley knife and me did. First job was to shorten it (it was bigger than me anyway) 30 seconds later and it was now a 3/4 length mat. Then we tapered the sides from about waist height down ... no point carrying stuff around I'm not going to be using.

Just a few minutes later

Whatever kind of mat I use, I always stuff a dry bag with clothes (or anything I can find) and use it as a pillow. This works great until the bag / pillow rolls away from me in the middle of the night ... I wake up, retrieve it and go back to sleep until the whole process starts again an hour later. The idea of an integral pillow seemed like a good one. I cut the top of the mat so I was left with 2 arrow shaped 'ears'. When the top of the mat is rolled over these ears line up with 2 holes. Push the 'ears' through the holes, stuff the tube with pillow material and there you go ... an inbuilt pillow which can't escape in the night.

Integral pillow ... just Stuff 'N' Go

With the addition of a few more holes (for added weight saving effect) we were finished. The mat now weighs 115g and fits quite snugly around my bar mounted dry bag. I know it's not going to be the most luxurious of mats but I think for shorter trips it'll be fine ... After all, what did we do when that's all we had?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

10 Questions ... Aidan Harding.

Here we go ... 10 questions with Aidan Harding. For those who don't know, amongst other things Aidan has competed in 2 Iditarod Trail invitationals and raced the Tour Divide last year. He'll be racing the TD again this summer but I'm sure the highlight of his year will be the WRT ;o)

You can follow Aidans adventures via his web site

• On last years TD you rode singlespeed, was that for simplicity, weight saving or just because?

Mostly just because. There's no doubt that gears ought to be faster, especially on a route with as much flat as The Divide. There were definitely times when I would have killed for a big ring. But, singlepeed does impose a certain rhythm to long distance riding. You can't get to the top of a hill, whack it up a few gears and stay on the power - you have to slow down a bit when the going is easy. I like that. And if you ride singlespeed all the time, hulking up climbs is just normal.

• Are you going to have another go at the WHW double and how fast do you think it could be done in perfect conditions?

I'm not. I didn't enjoy it at all. That's not entirely the trail's fault - I did go there to train for the Iditarod Trail Invitational so I wasn't 100% committed to finishing the WHW double. What I got was a lesson in mental toughness and how much I'd let it slip. That was a useful lesson and helped me to get my head right before Alaska.

The thought of carrying around Loch Lomond again fills me with boredom, so I can't see the temptation to go back. I think someone will make it this year. The best person for the job would probably be a 24 hour racer rather than a multi-day rider. When I get tired, I just want to go to bed. To make the WHW double, you'll be going way into sleep deprivation.

• You ride a Singular, do you believe 29ers offer a big advantage over long distances?

I don't think that wheel size is the whole story. I absolutely hated another 29er I rode a few years ago, but the Swift is the best XC bike I've ever ridden. I was a sceptic when I first met Sam for a test-ride, but I rode the tightest trails I could find and it was great.

So, it's hard to speak from personal experience about 26 vs 29 without having ridden enough 29ers. But the numbers on a race like the Tour Divide are pretty compelling. In 2010, there was only 1 rider on 26" wheels. Maybe we're all sheep, but I think there's something to be said for having big wheels for long distance.

• Do you have one piece of kit you wouldn't be without?

In Alaska, my neoprene face-mask was the best thing ever. This year was the first time I've used one and I had no idea how much my perception of cold was dictated by my face getting chilly.

But overall, it's my Leatherman. Ever since a wet ride in The Chilterns when my brake pads wore out and my fingers were too numb to change them, I've always made sure I have those pliers. On that ride, I had to limp home in the dark with one brake and a light that kept cutting out. Eventually, the other brake was worn out too, I lost feeling in my hands and feet and I started to feel dizzy. It all started from not having the tools to sort my brakes out. I've used that tool loads of times since and it considerably increases my bodging options. With that, duct tape, and cable ties I can get out of pretty much anything. (Just ask Aron Ralston!)

• What keeps you motivated during an ultra endurance event? ... there must be times when you just want it all to stop.

The truth is: every single time, I reach a point where I don't want to carry on. Then, I have a sit down, eat and drink, and eventually realise that I couldn't quit if I wanted to. When you're a day or more away from help, quitting isn't very practical.

I like to read books about Polar exploration and I'm greatly heartened to find that those guys go through the same thoughts. And they reach the same conclusion, once you're committed, you're not going to be able to give up so you might as well get on with it. They also face much harsher challenges than I ever have and come through them.

In general, though, the places I've raced through are so amazing that they motivate you. If you can postpone your bad feelings, eventually some view or some section of trail or some local person will blow you away and then you realise why you're there.

Aidan ... Tour Divide 2010

• You're racing the TD again this year, will you do anything differently from last year?

I'm riding a lighter bike - a Singular Pegasus; and trimming down my kit. The biggest difference in kit is switching from a 35L drybag on the front (cheap but difficult to keep off the front tyre) to a smaller front bag and more stuff directly attached to the frame.

I'll also be going harder tactically. I slept in hotels a lot last time and that meant some days ending earlier than they ought to. I know I can do the distance, and just finishing isn't my aim so I can risk more in the direction of possibly breaking myself :)

• How many calories a day did you get through on this years Iditarod?

I have no idea. When I rode to McGrath in 2009, I had spreadsheets with calories per gram and all sorts. The food that I took as a result was dreadful. I didn't want to eat it, so I was undernourished for the whole trip.

This time, I just took the kind of foods I know I crave and guessed the amount per day by sight/heft.

But, I can tell you I ate about 2000 calories in one sitting in Kaltag (the village at the end of the Yukon section). My food had gone missing and the stuff I managed to get hold of had the calorie totals written on it.

• If you could ride with one person who would it be?

It's always fun to ride with my friends and I don't get to do that enough.

Aside from them, it would be Mike Stroud. He is a polar explorer, adventure racer, medical doctor, and researcher into endurance sport.

• Which do you worry about most bears or moose?

Moose. They're belligerent animals that will take you on just to have supremacy on the trail. Bears aren't generally that interested in messing with people.

• Is there anyone you'd like to thank?

There are way too many people, but here's a short-ish list:

Emily and my family for putting up with me.

Sam at Singular Cycles for making great bikes and helping me out loads.

9 Bar for helping me out with food for Alaska. Tastier, more nutritious, and easier to eat frozen than anything else out there.

And all the race organisers: Bill & Kathi Merchant, Matthew Lee, and your good self.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Something to suit everyone.

I came across a couple of interesting things while I was out today. You stand a fair chance of coming up against one of them on this years WRT ... I think you'll be (un)lucky to find the other one!

A picture doesn't really do this justice, when I say it's steep I do mean steep. There are 148 steps in total and quite a few switchbacks like the one in the picture ... it is quite mad!

Hopefully you should be able to make out the zig zag track in the picture. The track in question would appear to be about the only way to cross the ridge. For a sense of scale, all the trees you can see are fully grown! It was one hell of a climb to get above it.

WRT ... How hard?

That is a difficult question to answer. The nature of the WRT means that it could be as easy or as hard as you want to make it. Doesn't really answer the question though does it? Yesterdays scouting trip might be a little more helpful. Knowing the facts and figures still won't answer the 'how hard will it be?' question but it might help put things into perspective ... If your longest ever ride is 4 hours around a trail centre you might want to skip this ;o)

Silly bike in nice place caption

The bad points ... I chose a silly bike to ride which made things harder but I have to say, lots of fun.

The good points ... I knew where I was going so didn't have to navigate. The weather was just right, dry, sunny and not too hot. I wasn't loaded. I was running 'special Welsh 29er' gearing of 32:20.

Total distance covered was 30 miles (48k) and the total height gain was 3015 ft. We (hello Sally) had 2 fords to cross and did stop for the odd breather. All seems pretty straight forward so far. However, add the fact that we were out for 7 hours and actually riding for 6 and the picture starts to look a little different ... an average speed of 5 mph is not massive. We could have gone faster in certain places but not much faster!

When you receive your list of grid references and you start to plan your route just bear the above in mind. Due to the terrain and the load carried, your average speed will possibly be quite a lot lower than you imagine it will ... you don't get far by going fast, you get far by going for a long time! (but obviously that doesn't always work either).

Return of the spoon

As an aside, you'll all be glad to know that I was able to retrieve my AlpKit Ti spoon ... it was still hanging in the tree where I'd left it 3 weeks ago.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Define Bikepacking ...

Someone asked - in their mind bikepacking was just a different name for off road touring. At the time I struggled to give them a decent answer but I knew, that to me bikepacking is different, so here's a few thoughts on what makes bikepacking different to off road touring.

At first glance the 2 things are the same. Take a bike, load it up with what you need and ride it from place to place, spending each night somewhere different from that mornings starting point ... I think the differences are a touch more subtle than that though. To me, off road touring (ORT from now on) places a real emphasis on the final destination and the actual bike riding, in much the same way road touring does. Covering a certain mileage each day, staying in a predetermined location each night with a schedule to meet. B&B, hotel, hostel or campsite pre-booked and waiting at the end of a long day ... always close enough to the real world that you can jump back in for a hot shower or pub lunch.

I think that bikepacking shifts this emphasis and whilst the destination and riding is still important, it's the nights away that define a bikepacking (BP) trip. I believe that BP has much more in common with backpacking (that's proper backpacking, not lazy students having a year off) than anything else. Perhaps that's why there's such an interest in kit and and an almost overwhelming desire to minimise the weight of kit with BP. In my mind, where you choose to spend the night also plays a role in deciding whether you're BP or ORT. Self sufficiency is a big part of BP, so once you leave the 'trail' and head off to the B&B or pub you cease to be BP and have become an OR Tourer. If you roll out a bivvy bag, climb under a tarp or erect your tent right there at the side of the track then it's BP.

Trip duration or at least its importance could also be a factor. The word touring seems to imply at least a few days away. On the other hand, a valid BP trip might only involve a 10 mile, 2 hour ride out and the same back the following day ... remember the emphasis is on the 'night out' with less importance placed on the ride itself. It would also appear that how you choose to carry your kit could have a bearing ... BP does seem to have developed a certain style and has come up with solutions to problems that ORT doesn't seem to have considered.

Like I said at the start, these are just my thoughts and I'm pretty sure not everyone will agree ;o)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Salsa Anything cages and rack.

I'm glad to report that the Salsa Anything cages I've being waiting for have arrived this morning. It's been quite a struggle to get them but thanks to Adrian in the US they're now fitted to the orange Inbred. The Salsa minimalist rack arrived last week but that was in stock at the UK distributors so didn't require any underhand tactics to buy!

The rack has a weight limit of 5kg which doesn't sound like much until you consider that my entire kit only weighs around 6kg. The cages don't have a stipulated limit but I'm thinking you wouldn't be putting anything heavy in them ... just bulky. I did have a few concerns about clearance between whatever was in the cages and the frames downtube but these seem unfounded as long as you don't go too mad with the height of the dry bag you fit ... the pic shows a 5l dry bag in there. The rack and cages come with some rather nice Salsa straps which while not a deal breaker is a nice touch.

Even with a loaded rack there's still room to run a bar harness if required without the 2 things getting in each others way. I'm hoping that teaming the rack and cages up with a frame bag and bar harness will open up a few different carrying options particularly for winter trips or longer multi- day excursions ... I'll let you know if I'm right.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Being blessed with an iron constitution and burdened with a cavalier attitude to personal safety means that I've never really bothered with any form of water filtration or purification. I've never suffered any ill effects from drinking straight out of streams, rivers and lakes. Obviously I use common sense when sourcing water ... only taking water from fast flowing streams, checking for dead animals upstream, collecting water away from paths, etc.

A few weeks ago I found myself in a position that made me reconsider things a little. We (Taylor, Steve M and myself) found ourselves in a Welsh forest in the rain, which in itself isn't very unusual. What was unusual was the fact we were struggling to find a source of water, no rivers, streams or springs. The forest in question was however about the wettest, boggiest forest I've had the pleasure to sleep in. The only (just about) running water source we could find was in a drainage ditch!

My super sense of, 'tasting for nasty water' led me to believe the water we'd collected would be fine to drink, even if it was brown but you could be easily mistaken. To cut a slightly long story short, we did drink the water and no one died but we'd filtered the water first! As luck would have it Taylor had brought along a Platypus gravity filter and everything we drank went through that.

Water good ... Sheep poo bad

Yesterday while walking around the outdoor emporiums of Betws I came across this water filter. It filters out 99.9% of Giardia and Cryptosporidium, both of which would end anyone's ride very quickly. You can use it in-line in conjunction with you normal bladder or screw it onto a water bottle or platypus pack. The filter is good for up to 50 gallons before it requires changing and the best bit is, they're selling them for £15 at Cotswold Outdoors. It's small enough to loose in a pocket and weighs 50g so there shouldn't be any issues with packing one. There's a few of these on the market from different manufactures but I've never seen them at this price, so if you've any concerns about whether the water you find is safe to drink it might be a sound investment.

Don't think that you need a filter for the WRT though, you shouldn't have any problems finding clean, safe water, as long as you're sensible ;o)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Last Chance!

So, March 31st was the final day to enter this years WRT, however there's quite a few forms still coming through and seeing as I'm such a nice person, I've decided to extend the entry period until April 15th. After the 15th you'll have to offer some substantial bribes to get in!

If you meant to enter but didn't ... get on with it. If your riding partners forgot ... tell them they have one last chance. As forms arrive back I'll add the names to the start list a few posts down, so keep checking.

Friday, April 1, 2011

AlpKit make (k)it easy.

I received an email this morning telling me that AlpKit had put some more bikepacking related stuff on their website. This email reminded me that I needed to buy a new Lahoon long handled spoon, as I'd left mine hanging from a tree a couple of weeks ago, so off I went to AlpKits website.

As I was reading and browsing it dawned on me that AlpKit have made entering the shady world of bikepacking as simple as can be. No matter how minimal your kit is (or how minimal you'd like it to be) there's certain items that you pretty much can't do without. Shopping for said items can be a literal minefield, particularly if you buy your stuff from an army surplus outlet. There's just so much stuff out there and so many choices ... buying the wrong stuff can be both costly and uncomfortable.

I whizzed my mouse around a bit and came up with a little list of AlpKit items all of which I'd consider to be pretty much essential for UK bikepacking. I haven't necessarily picked the lightest or least expensive products either ... here you go.

Sleeping Bag - SkyeHigh 600, 1215g and £100.

Sleeping Mat - Numo air mat, 468g and £40.

Bivvy Bag - Hunka, 420g and £30.

Tarp - Rig 7, 515g and £45.

Some pegs for your tarp - Candy Canes, 15g each and £6.50 for 10.

Just so no one says I've forgotten something - 3mm Fredd cord, 85g and £4.50 for 20m.

So, lets tot all that up then ... £226 and 2.85kg. Now, obviously there's lighter stuff out there and there's cheaper stuff out there too but light and cheap are most certainly at opposite ends of the scale. I think that AlpKit have done a superb job in bringing those 2 ends much, much closer together ... they've also achieved it without sacrificing quality.

Don't forget that they produce other stuff that's equally suited to the needs of people who should really know better, titanium cookware, dry bags, lighting and my favourite Gourdon backpacks are a few that spring to mind. If you're looking for some new gear get over there and take a look, if you've more gear than you'll ever need, still get over there and read about other peoples adventures including Nick and Kenny's, Snowdon - Cadair - Snowdon trip, both of whom will be taking part in this years WRT.