Mud vs Sheep vs Bike 2009

Last year, when I was an intern in Oxford with the Fritz Institute, I was invited by my boss, Fraser Stephens, to go on his annual mountainbiking trip: Mud v Sheep v Bike. This year, I got him to invite me again. He chose Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales for this year’s trip, and it was amazing!

Leaving London Paddington train station to Wales on September 18th:

I got to Cardiff in the early afternoon and spent a few hours walking around and reading my book, then caught my bus from Cardiff up to Brecon. Fraser drove down to Brecon to pick me up, and after a nice evening chatting with him and some of his friends, I went to bed. In the morning, we all got our bikes ready to head out into the hills. I was very lucky that Fishy, one of Fraser’s friends, brought an extra bike just in case. I had planned to use Fraser’s rigid bike, but Fishy brought one with front suspension, which just happened to be the exact same one he lent me last year!

The first obstacle we encountered was bovine. Well, actually we were just waiting for the stragglers to catch up on the road leading to the trails, and this is where we chose to wait:

To get to the mountainbiking trails, we had to cycle for a while on the tow path alongside the canal near Tallybont. I’m decent at taking photos while cycling now…

…and working on improving my behind-the-back shots too:

Some nice views:

Me and my ride:

Mike took a tumble end-over-end coming down the steepest part of the trail – I’m very surprised he’s the only one who did! It was really tough! Luckily his bike didn’t land on him as it came down, which is a common way to get injured – it hopped right over him. But his glasses did cut his eyebrow:

Nurse Dawn had her first aid kit, including medical superglue (used in place of sutures to close wounds). I noticed one of the tires had partly come off the rim so Fraser deflated the tire, put it back in place, and re-inflated it:

A few minutes later we were at the pub for our midday lunch break. Outside the pub was a tiny pony:

Soonafter, we were back on the trails. We passed through the gap / over the saddle between Pen Y Fan (the highest point in South Wales) and Corn Du, and then it was back down, down, down.

It didn’t take long before two bikes got flat tires at the same time on a section I chose to walk because it was quite tough.

One of the two flats was Dawn’s bike, so Mike wasted no time in fixing it for her, which was a nice way to repay her earlier help with his eyebrow:

By the time we got back to Cantref Farm, where we were staying, my GPS unit showed the following figures for the day’s trip. I took the photo because it was strange that all of them were multiples of 5:

This plaque is on the building, but it doesn’t actually say why it’s there. It just says when it was unveiled. It’s basically a plaque that just describes itself, and says nothing about why it was put there (obviously it’s somehow linked to the Foot and Mouth crisis, but what about it?)

That night we had a massive feast. Fraser made his traditional banoffee pie that he does every year:

Fraser’s girlfriend Kate led the cooking effort, and it turned out very well – a bunch of super tasty Indian dishes.

The next day, September 20th, six of us went out for a second day of cycling. Although Fraser always says that the second day will be much easier than the first, I think most people have figured out that it’s never really that easy, so they all stay back and relax. Paul, Kate, Fishy, Adam, Fraser, and I had a great time on our second day, so I’m glad I forced myself to go.

Adam and Paul on one of the easier sections of the day:


Cycling back along the canal to Cantref Farm:

On the ride back, we had ice cream, then relaxed at the farm for a little while before everyone took off for their respective homes. Adam kindly drove me to Newport, and I walked around town for a bit before catching my train back to London. Here’s the only
photo I took in Newport, near the train station:

All in all, it was a great weekend. The mountainbiking was tough but fun, Fraser’s friends were very friendly and interesting, and somehow the weather was perfect too! Hopefully I somehow manage to attend a few more editions of Mud v Sheep v Bike in the future!

Mud vs Sheep vs Bike 2008

My boss during my 4 week internship, Fraser, will soon be turning 40. Most years since 1993, he has organised an annual bike ride with friends, which they call Mud vs Sheep vs Bike. This year he organised to hold the event in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, for the weekend of September 5, 6, 7 and invited me to join him and his friends. One of his friends lent me a decent bike with front suspension and we hit the trails. Having had knee surgery at the start of June, this was the point at which my new Anterior Cruciate Ligament should theoretically be at its weakest strength as it has lost its original strength (from when it was actually 2 lengths of hamstrings before the surgeon turned them into a single ACL) and is just now establishing a blood supply with the bones against which it is held by screws. So, while my knee feels fairly good, I have to be even more careful right now to avoid injuring it.

I took it quite easy on the ride as a result, walking when the uphill or downhill slopes were too difficult or risky. It’s been years since I’ve been out on trails, and I had a tonne of fun sliding through mud, fishtailing along slippery tree roots, and not falling off any of the cliff edges. The stuff I used to do with my brother Dan in Vancouver was tougher in terms of jumps and stuff, but this was more difficult in terms of endurance, as we did something around 44 km on Saturday which was 3 hrs 40 mins of movement (felt a lot longer than that) with 524 m of total climb. On Sunday, what was supposed to be an easy, one hour trip, turned out to be 2 hrs 40 mins of movement (this is the figure from Fraser’s wristwatch GPS, but I actually spent a lot longer than this as I wasn’t with Fraser the whole time) covering 34.6 km (in fact, I went approximately 6 km farther than Fraser as I was at the front of the pack following two people who took a wrong turn, so the three of us had to turn around after a long time and find the correct way; I’d say I cycled about 42 km on Sunday). The total climb that day was 459 m for Fraser, but that extra 6 km I did was a tough 19 m of extra vertical climbing!

All in all, the weekend was a great success and I got a helluva workout for my legs and lungs. My knee held up well, and it only took 4 days for my shoes to dry after I cleaned the mud off them in Bristol on Sunday afternoon.

Well, wasn’t that interesting. Photos might be a little MORE interesting, so here they are:

This is the map of our Saturday ride. The yellow bit is where everyone else went, the red is where I went (I was going too fast for the others on the way home and they had told me to just keep going straight, which turned out to be wrong hehe).

Info from Fraser’s wristwatch GPS:

Ready to start off into the trails after a few miles of road cycling:

High up somewhere, looking westward, we could see the bridge from England to Wales from here but it doesn’t show up in this pic.

There were around 20 people riding the first day.

Getting started again after a short break:

At the end of our trail riding, about to enter the pub where I ate two plates and two drinks to replace all the energy I’d lost on the ride! The mud was worse than it looks in this pic:

Adam’s legs show the mud a bit better:

That evening we had a bit of a birthday celebration for Fraser, as he’ll soon turn 40. This is the cake his friends got for him, showing a photo of him on a Mud vs Sheep vs Bike many years ago:

Here’s our Sunday trail map. The bit between the two yellow spots is the extra 6 km (3 km each way) that three of us did accidentally on our way home. We nearly went to Gloucester!

And the info from Fraser’s GPS:

Starting out, it was pretty easy going on the roads, but it got nearly impossible soonafter and I had to walk up a steep road for about 10 minutes as I just couldn’t manage the hill.

You’ve seen mud, you’ve seen bike. Here are the sheep:

When we finally got to the top of the hill, called Frocester Hill, we saw two large gliders appear from nowhere in near silence and float around above us for a while. Very cool!

On top of Frocester Hill:

Cliché, but I was never strong enough in the past to lift a bike over my head like this so I had to do it! As it is, I barely could hold it up there!

Adam posing with the scenery:

More scenery of Gloucestershire from another hilltop:

Just before we finally headed back down to the hostel, someone spotted an ice cream truck and Sandeep kindly bought us all ice cream cones with chocolate sticks in them. Fraser definitely enjoyed his. See the look of happiness on his face?

Whew. All done.