Strata Florida

My idea of a good trail ride is a small but well formed group of riders flowing along the trails, riding as one, in a brisk but unhurried manner, mostly unseen as they glide by, just there in the moment, and then gone…
…and so it was that on a bright frosty morning I set out to ride Strata Florida on my own. My route would take me from Rhayder up over Rhos Saith-maen, then through the lanes to Strata Florida, returning via Claerwen. All carefully plotted, and stored in my GPS the night before.

I parked up just outside Rhayder, it was one of those freezing cold blue sky mornings, by the time I had wrestled my bike out of the van, and got my riding gear on I was nicely warmed up. A short pause while my GPS aquired satellites and I was on my way. There was a little ice here and there so I took it steady, but you know what it’s like, after a while your confidence grows and you start to relax a little. What could go wrong on such a beautiful day?

As I climbed Rhos Saith-maen and left the tarmac behind I was congratulating my self on an excellent choice of route, the track was in superb condition, and I was reassured by evidence of trailbike activity. After a couple of miles things started to get a bit boggy, but I just followed the obvious line staying clear of the worst of it. Next came a slightly more serious bit of bog. Weight back, keep the throttle open….. Just then the little voice in my head says, “be careful, remember you’re on your own”. I backed off slighly, the front wheel dropped in, and the bike stalled. Cursing myself I tried to pull the bike backwards, but it wouldn’t budge, so cross with myself I hit the go button, gave it some stick and ‘dumped the clutch’. I shot across the short boggy section, hit the far side, and stopped. Front half home and dry, but back half still in the smelly stuff. 5 minutes of rock’n’rev’n’shove’n’sweat made no difference. Time to rethink.
out of the bog at last
I could abandon the bike and walk back down the road for help, but it was about 10 miles to the nearest house, and I wasn’t sure what sort of a welcome I might get. Whilst trying to decide what to do for the best I found an old fence post that allowed me to test the depth of the bog where I was stuck was. It seemed to be about three foot deep, but had a hard bottom to it. Only one thing for it then, I stripped off (helmet, rucksack, gloves, scarf), and got in behind my bike and tried to lift her out. For the next forty minutes I struggled on, and inch by inch I made progress. Eventually I managed to pull the bike onto her side and drag her clear. By this time I was covered in the stinky shitty filth that is a bog. I was sweating heavily, but my hands were numb from the cold. I couln’t believe how stooopid I had been. Why hadn’t I stopped for a few seconds to check my line?

After cleaning my self as best I could, I walked onwards to see where I should go, but things looked worse up ahead. Feeling a little beaten I decided to turn back. I’ll bet some of the locals would have just blasted through and made it look easy. Anyway, I found myself a little detour that would take me back through safe ground, remounted, and gunned it out. As I rode back down the lane I pondered whether I should give up or not. It was still only eleven o’clock, might as well miss that bit out, and continue with the planned route eh?

I have been up the Strata Florida once before, and in my minds eye I had a picture of what it looked like at the start, which was absoloutely nothing like what it looks like in real life. So when I reached that point, although my GPS told me I was going off route, I thought I knew better, and that it was something to do with a poor signal in the valley or something. I continued up the valley road a further 10 miles, getting colder and colder before I had the sense to stop and look at my map! Realising how far wrong I had gone I toyed with the idea of continuing on tarmac to Tregaron, then I retraced my route, and with the help of my map I found the start of the Strat Florida track. It looked nothing like I remembered it until I was on it, and “Oh yeah, now I remember it”, said the dufus inside my head.

Lovely trail, started to enjoy it, started to warm up, splashing through water cleaning some of the shite off me and my bike. Hmmm a little bit more water here then when I rode it in August. Through the first river crossing quite fast, glanced at my bike, looking a lot cleaner now, boots looking a lot cleaner too. I was happy. Into the second river crossing quite fast, and feck me!! Deep, very deep, engine note changed dramatically, water almost up to seat, I open her up a bit, can’t stop here. The back wheel drops of a rock as she surges forward, but I make it to the other side. I can’t believe it! Following the bog incident I’m back berating myself. The voice in the head, “How totally stupid can one person be? What if you’d drowned it ? What if you’d slipped and gone in? Never mind hypothermia derbrain, it ain’t like they’d find you still twitchin is it?”.

….and so I continued. At each crossing, I would put my bike on it’s sidestand while I waded in, to find the safest shallowest path before going back for my bike and riding. Doing what I should have done all along as a punishment was slow progress, and my feet were freezing. I remembered reading somewhere that although feet and fingers might go numb, it’s never really cold enough in the UK to do any real damage, so that’s OK then.

With the river crossings behind me I really enjoyed my run into Strat Florida, there’s some great rock steps, and swoopy bits. Rejoining the tarmac I pass through Ffair-Rhos in the direction of Claerwen. It’s getting late now, and I’m well behind schedule. I decide to stop at the top to call home with my ETA. I stop near Llyn Tiefi, the sun is setting, but there’s also a full moon, sureal. No signal on the moby. A quick drink of water, and I’m on my way.
Sun goes down as moon rises
Along the side of Claerwen I make good progress, it’s an easy track, there’s nobody around, it’s getting dark. I feel like I’m really going fast, but actually I’m only doing 25-30 mph. “Plenty fast enough if you bin it”, says the voice. Back on the tarmac near the Elan Dam I spot a phonebox. A quick call to my wife to let her know I’m OK (she’s heard it all before).

Back at the van, it’s very dark now, and I’m very cold, with 90 miles on the clock. Once loaded and changed, with the heater on high I warm the van up while I eat my sandwiches, yep, the ones I should have ate for lunch. On the way home I consider the days ride, the error of my ways, and make a mental note to be a bit more careful when riding on my own. “Yeah right. Until next time”. 🙂

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