I had forgotten how much I like the smell of two-stroke, pine forest and sweat.
The chap in front had brought his own bike which was just singing along. We blasted along the fire roads and every now and again he would give it a cheeky squeeze sending gravel shooting back at me. It wasn’t a race, we were heading to the next area of technical trail to tackle, so I just hung back and enjoyed the view, the smell and the experience of handling such a wonderful machine.
We had come back to mid Wales this weekend, to the Yamaha Offroad Experience guys, where Gerant Jones, his sons and the other fantastic instructors were coaching us to ride enduro around the Hafren forrest.
Ever since I came here for my 18th birthday I’ve loved it, and now it’s started to become a bit of a tradition. As soon as the dates are released it needs to be booked up sharpish because it’s always very popular. Aimi wasn’t too bothered about coming, but the week before she really wanted to. Last time she came and loved it so I phoned up and luckily there was a space left. In total there were 8 of us in the party. Mike, Eddy, Stephen, James F, James P, Adam, Aimi and me.
It wasn’t looking good weather on the way over, with torrential rain and gloomy skys, I was a little worried it would be a mudbath. A few of us were all converging on Shrewsbury around the same time so stopped for a Pizza Hut and a catch up. Luckily by this time it was dry , warm and quite humid. It sort of felt like a meal out in America, driving to a big mall for a meal.
We all arrived at the campsite at roughly the same time. James P had brought his courtesy Ferrari, while his deer-impaled one was being mended. He left it at the campsite overnight rather than leave it parked on the street outside the bnb he was staying at so we looked like a very eclectic bunch with DIY campers, hatch-backs and a supercar in our party.
When we had all pitched up, we settled into some boysterous banter and van planning with only a couple of beers. We wanted to be fresh for the main event after all.
The morning routine went smoothly and we all arrived fresh to the farm ready to get biking. The Jones boys were there and gave us a great orientation before plopping us on bikes and taking us up to the top barn, way up into the hills. Here we were sent around a loop on an open gravel area so the instructors could teach us how to use the bikes properly. Ostensibly this was for us to improve our riding skills, but also so we didn’t just improvise with these powerful bikes and take off too hard and too fast to control, and end up doing a load of damage. It was a worthy way to spend most of the morning, even if its not what we really wanted to be doing, we knew it would make us better riders later.
After lunch, which for “covid” reasons we had to provide ourselves…. We were straight back into it. We had been split into A, B and C groups by rider ability so people didn’t get left behind and others would be challenged enough. Steve, James F and I were in A group, which I found suitably challenging. Last time I came here, I really suffered and struggled to keep up mainly due to my endurance and fitness level. Since then I’ve taken up mountain biking and my stamina is much better, altho my grip strength did start to fatigue by the end of the day.
Literally straight out of the gate after lunch we took a right into the woods and onto a steep winding track. We went slowly around it following our instructor to start with and then he let us tackle it at our own pace. I tried to implement the techniques for cornering as much as I could, but in one place there was a deep rut that basically prescribed the line you had to take. No matter what I did around that corner, I either slithered around not making much progress, or got stuck in the rut and had to fight to keep the bike upright. This was the track Steve took a spill down a particularly steep hill which knocked his confidence a bit. Once the bikes are on their side, they are hard to pick up, especially when your fighting just to stay standing on the hill.
This was a pretty brutal introduction to the terrain after a leisurely lunch and demonstrated our level of riding (or lack thereof) to the instructor who did well to tailor the trails to what we could do. After that we spent the next few hours blasting around the forest tackling all sorts of stuff. Nothing much stood in our way, and I only had one small issue where I was going slowly through a deep rut and a slimy tree branch sent my front wheel off one way and me off the other. I had basically come to a complete stop as I toppled neatly into a ditch beside my bike. The ruts are definitely the hardest bit to ride neatly.
One section I was particularly proud to have tackled successfully was a steep rocky outcrop in one trail. At the start of the section the instructor had given us some advice to approach it relatively slowly and then give it a boost of power at the bottom and ease off towards the top to maintain traction. The start of the rock was a steep face so approaching with speed was not an option, as he said, it was all about finding traction as you went up, without spinning or flipping the bike. It was very satisfying to surmount this obstacle first time and we all managed it without issue.
We met up with the other groups for some water in the middle of the forest after a while and heard tale of how Mike had chosen the softest looking bush for a face-first bail-out. Aimi was enjoying the riding too, even with a cold. The concentration needed to pilot the bike meant there was no time to feel ill. We have all been to this experience day before, but this was the first time for James P who was loving it. He’d bought a pit-bike to mess around on in the woods near him, but only used it a couple times. I thought he knew how to ride, but admitted this was only the 3rd time riding so he was doing amazing to tackle these trails.
At the end of the day we were all knackered, sweaty and grinning from ear to ear. The team took the bikes back for a jet wash as we de-robed and dunked all our gear in vats of Dettol. We drove back into town, feeling like the roads were too smooth, to the pub for a couple beers and to decide what to do for the evening meal.
James P wanted to get an Indian takeaway so stayed in the BnB for a shower and would then meet us at the campsite to eat. We made our own tomato pasta with pork and cheese (classic camping food) and washed it down with a few bottles of beer. It was dark and we had finished eating by the time James turned up, blaming his tardiness on falling asleep as soon as he sat down in his room.
It had been an amazing day, as always. The bikes are such a dream to ride, always well maintained we didn’t have any mechanical issues all day. The instructors gave us all tips to improve our individual riding and help us in areas we were struggling, so that by the end of the day we all felt much improved and safer. I can’t wait to book for next year, and said as much to Geraint. He told us that Voucher holders were sent out the dates to book about 2-3 weeks ahead of public release. It’s a useful trick so I’m going to get myself a voucher to make sure we can book dates ASAP next year.