The Fat Tyre Festival is a yearly ‘celebration of mountain biking’ held in Coed y Brenin in Wales. Basically everyone comes along and camps for the weekend, does a few rides, drools over bike stuff etc.
A while back Roger posted on the uk unicyclists list that they were interested in having some unicycles along to the Fat Tyre Fest this year. I read the mail, looked up where it was (7 hours drive away) and thought no, can’t be bothered. Then off I go trials riding up in London with Joe R and Phil, at which point Joe R says he’s thinking of heading along to this and has a space in the car. So of course I change my mind and by Friday evening, we’ve driven all the way to Snowdonia. We got there about dusk on Friday, pitched up and met the people camping near us and then headed down to the event centre and had a bit of a play on the slalom course there and then head off to ride the flightpath trail which has been recommended to us. It gets a bit darker, so lights on for this and we whoosh down the trail, it’s narrow singletrack, with lots of rocks to roll over and is pretty tough. We get to the bottom, stopping only to fall off several times, this is probably the most technical riding we’ve done. Then it’s off to the campsite for dinner. We’ve just ridden about half an hour and maybe 2k and already it’s pretty knackering, this is slightly worrying for tomorrow, when we’ve signed down for a 20k ride.
When we get up on Saturday morning, it’s lovely weather, bright sunshine and we pootle down to the event centre for a healthy nutritious breakfast from the burger van. We sign in and collect timing tags and get going on the ride. It starts off on the Flightpath as before and then starts heading up hill. Several sections of uphill fireroad and single track later, we’re almost on the top of a great big hill and there’s an ominous path heading across the hillside. Looking down we can see a line of bikes who’d just passed us, but they’re way way down like little toys. We ride round the hill and suddenly the path is falling away steeply down the hillside, with great big rocks making up much of the slope it’s definately an interesting ride and I crash several times, Joe R rides down to the bottom in one (the swine) really really fast, I suspect some disengagement of brain was occuring there. The next section he’s not so lucky, a big crash means it’s blood through roach pads again. There’s a water stop and then we ride on. By now, we’re getting used to rolling over stupid things and we ride on fast until the trail suddenly goes into dark woods and Joe R crashes off cos he can’t see anything through his sunglasses. The end of this section is a beautiful set of switchbacks with dropoffs that have me flying yet again, down to a bridge over a beautiful gorge with a river in the bottom. Now we’re over the bridge and head up a really steep tarmac hill, to what simply must be the final section, this is a rolling track built up along the side of a hill, by now the short but steep ups and downs are killing us and we’re really getting quite tired, this section goes on almost for ever, until it suddenly starts heading downwards to a fireroad. We get to the fireroad, and ride off down it, when Joe R spots an arrow heading up the hill again and groans, but fortunately the marshall there points out that we’ve already ridden that hill and we’ve almost finished and Joe decided not to do another lap. We rode as fast as possible down the track to the event centre and whooshed into the finish, for a time of 3 hours 33 minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever taken that long to ride 20k in a race before, but the terrain here was just silly.
We spent the rest of the day playing on the dual course and looking around at the bikes and advertising unicycles and giving out unicycle.com stickers to pretty much everyone we found. We also cunningly altered some of the “warning cycles” signs which are everywhere round the centre. We also watched Martin Haynes doing Trials in a bike stylee, who was pretty impressive. Then it was up to the campsite for food and for a big bonfire. We taught some people the basics of unicycling and Joe demoed jumping off something that the bikes were having much trouble with, admittedly by sidehopping which might be considered cheating.
The next day, we had some bad news, Joe R’s cranks and knee had decided to go on strike after all the hard riding the day before. So it was left to me to represent in the 27k ride that day. I was still pretty tired from the day before, so I filled up my camelbak with lots of energy drink and decided to take it really easy. The first bit was several ks of climbing, including much of the Red Bull Route (a technical built trail, mostly downhill singletrack) in the wrong direction, which felt a bit like a particularly bad joke. By the top of the hill, I’d got all excited and the red mist of racing had come down, I decided I had the energy to ride this fast. The series of descents which followed the uphill more than made up for it, the Snap Crackle and Pop trails, which are tight singletrack paved with great big rocks at random angles and with nice dropoffs, followed by a new route down to the bottom of the flightpath, which was really technical and had my legs aching like mad. The rest followed much the same trails as the day before, except I was feeling much more used to the terrain and was really stomping it, even riding up some of the more silly hills and clearing some of the stuff at speed simply because I couldn’t slow down in time. By the end, I was really blasting the last track along the hill and I did a great superman crash, which strangely enough didn’t hurt at all as I landed off the rocks on something soft. For the second half of this section I had some bikers behind me, who’d said they didn’t want to overtake cos they wanted to see some unicycling, so I was really pushing it to keep up to their speed and staying on the track I know not how, by the time I got to the last little drop through a ditch, I was absolutely dead, but I knew I was doing a good time, so forced myself to ride as fast as possible back to the event centre, to get in with a time of 3hrs 45mins, only 12 mins more than the 20k the day before, which I was well pleased with.
I grabbed some lunch, found Joe R, who had been doing some trials and stickering people and had also networked his way into being made the IMBA UK unicycle representative and generally selling the unicycling lifestyle to all and sundry. Once more up the hill and down the flightpath, during which my legs decide they’ve had enough and then we’re back into the car and off on the long drive home.
This was the best weekend of riding I’ve had in a long time, well worth the travelling, the trails are just so long and technical and different to anything else I’ve ridden. My legs were still aching till wednesday they were that tired.