Bear Bones Bikepacking BB200 2023
To quote Bear Bones Bikepacking themselves, the Bear Bones 200 “is a self supported, long distance bikepacking event. The challenge is to complete the route with no outside assistance, support or back-up, meaning you’ll need to rely on your own skills, fitness and determination to get you to the end.”
After my HT500 DNF, I’d not done too much riding, save for recceing, tweaking, and finalising the Mint Gravel route so looked for an event to do in the autumn. I’d been a long time lurker on the Bear Bones forums, but never really paid too much attention to the event ‘Bear Bones Norm’, aka Stu, puts on each year but having read a few posts realised it could be exactly ‘my thing’, and so it proved to be …
Once signed up you have to wait for just a week before the off to receive the route. ‘Mid Wales’ was all I knew, so when the GPX turned up I loaded it up and started a virtual recce, switching between maps and satellite views to see what was what. It looked good: Forest trails, moorland, and gravel tracks, joined up by the odd road section. Given distance (200km), elevation (5000m), and terrain, I thought that a 20 hour finish was a reasonable target to aim for and as a bonus, a sub-24 time earns you a sought-after black badge.
I drove down the evening before the off, and went to the Wynnstay Arms at LLanbrynmair. I bumped into Allen Boardman on the way in, and met a few other riders in the bar and we grabbed food and drinks while chatting shit. That evening is worthy of a post in itself—you had to be there—but I called it a night shortly after 10:30pm and got a pretty good nights sleep in the van.
7am the following morning after a pot of porridge I rolled around to the start point, signed in with Stu and Dee, the organisers, had a coffee and was on my way at 7:25am, 3 mins after official sunrise.
I made quick progress down the road, along forest tracks through Hafren Forest and down to an unexpected shop at LLangurig. I was carrying enough food to get through the day without needing to stock up and it was only 44km in but took advantage and grabbed a second breakfast of chocolate milk and coconut macaroons. Plus a slice of gala pie for later on.
The road gave way to trails, some smooth, others more technical before the route hit moorland somewhere around 70km in. The weather forecast had been for unseasonably warm temperatures and this was born out. I struggled to drink enough during the day and ended up with quite a dehydration headache.
It’s telling how few photos I took from now on: Things got tough. After stopping to eat some lunch I pushed on and caught up with a couple of other riders, Lee and Kenny, and we yo-yo’d position as we hike-a-biked and squelched through bogs and over ill-defined trods for a ~10km stretch seemed that seemed to go on forever. This was ok though and part-expected. I’d clocked that there were two long trudges on the route and this was the first. Hard work, but expected and I was still on my vague schedule.
From the moorland we dropped down to the westernmost point on the route, Strata Florida. After a blast along the road, I stopped to eat something proper as I was flagging. Little did I know what was to follow: Strata Florida green lanes. It’s worth a search of YouTube to see what this was all about, but my virtual recce had totally missed what ‘fords’ on a map might mean in reality. This was full on riding down a river for what felt an eternity, and I had a proper tantrum. After trying to pick my way around it I did as other passing riders had done and just went for it, doing my best to pick an exit point to aim for at each crossing and trying to keep on pedaling: at one point the water reached my top tube, and I was beyond pleased when the section ended.
Following this, I got a second wind. It can’t always get worse! As the sun started to set the trails gave way to road for a while before the second moorland hike-a-bike section, and the highest point on the route. I was prepared for this to be tough, but it really wasn’t that bad, and I passed a cairn on the summit of Carnau (which may actually mean cairn in Welsh?) in the half-light of dusk. Somewhere in the gloom, I caught up with Lee again, and together we rode towards Rhayader, where there’d be a shop and a takeaway. I hadn’t been paying attention to time or distance but Lee had and knew we had an hour to cover 8km before things closed. We spurred each other on and made good time, and reached the SPAR and a Turkish takeaway with time to spare. I stocked up on snacks, and grabbed cheese and chips.
Being 10pm with 70km to go, I knew I’d be ok getting back within the 24 hour ‘black badge’ time cut-off, save for a catastrophic mechanical or the like. It was mandatory to carry a bivy/sleeping kit and many riders intended to make use of that at some point, but I was feeling ok to ride on. The terrain had looked far easier for this leg and so it proved to be. I pushed on, along lanes, muddy tracks, across fields, and up a viscous road climb before heading back onto the same forest’s tracks as we started on.
From here there was an easy road descent to the finish which I reached shortly after 4:30am, recording a time of 21 hours and 10 minutes, which wasn’t too bad at all. I completed the sheet with my arrival time, and got a few hours sleep before catching up with others finishers and DNFers over breakfast. Comparing notes is always fun after an event and the BB200 had drawn a good bunch of folk to do just that with.
To summarise the route, the first section I thought would be tough was, the second wasn’t too bad, but I’d totally misjudged that section in the middle, which was absolutely awful and I’ve since seen described as ‘the log flume’ which seems quite accurate. I moaned about that to anyone I had to the chance too mid-ride, but a week on can see it for the Type 2 fun it was: Utterly stupid, and utterly pointless, which is exactly the point!