Summary (Baiku style) for those who don't want to read waffle (photos at the bottom):
Train from Hereford to Knighton. Bright sunshine. All is well with the world. Alight at Knighton as raindrops fall. Oh dear. Short road section to Moorland, headwind fierce, rain slashing down. Engage granny gear to ride downhill. Why am I doing this? Arrive in Rhayader after 6 hours, wet and cold. Refuel as rain hammers down.
Day dawns to the patter of raindrops on the window. Put on wet shorts and socks - yum. Oil chain as completely stiff and jumpy. Head off to the Elan Valley. Stunning when a rainbow appears. More rain. More wind. Shortcut via road taken. Very, very steep. Was this a good idea? Wind farms silent but turning on the horizon. Screetching, gravelly road descent to overnight. Wash clothes and refuel.
DÃ©jÃ vu - it's raining. Replace inner tube. Head off as always but with a spring in the saddle - 55km to go. Enter forest. Temperature drops. Make three wrong turns. Long, gravelly climbs. Freezing descents. Stop at pub to thaw out, chilly reception from Mine Host. Visit Co-op in Machnylleth, Belgian Choc Chip Cookies all round. Arrive at station as sun breaks out. All done. Best three days cycling ever.
For those who can bear a longer description or fancy having a go here's a more detailed account:
I'd fancied having a go at the Trans Cambrian ever since I saw it described on the IMBA website (http://www.imba.org.uk/index.php?page=T ... ambrianWay
) and then corresponded with a guy who did it and wrote an account for Singletrack (I have a PDF of it if anyone wants a copy). I originally thought about it for May but in the end late September it was. The IMBA gives a pretty comprehensive guide to logistics and I booked up the overhights no problem although the trains were a bit trickier (they will only take two bikes, you need reservations and as two changes were required all the bits have to match up) but I finally managed it and came away from the train station with a deck of cards, sorry train tickets. IMBA also do a series of maps for a tenner which have annotations and some shortcut routes if all is not well/bad weather/mechanicals - the maps were absolutely great and any misnavigation was down to user error.
Kit/bike selection is crucial - I went with a fully rigid Yo with Smoke/Dart tyres fitted, Dave with a Ti Inbred with suspension forks and cable disks. Clothing was kept to a minimum (although we of course had the essentials to be safe) as we had to carry eveything on our backs so no pants for the overnight stop!
I'm not sure quite what we were expecting from Wales in late September - we'd hoped for an Indian Summer but got intead a Belgian Winter of gusting headwinds and pretty constant rain which began as we left the train.
The first day starts at Knighton on the England/Wales border and after about 4 miles along quiet country lanes you steadily climb on a stony track onto the moorland. The rain that had beeen steady intensified and appeared to be coming from below at times as that's the only way I can explain how it got in under my glasses. This was engage low gear and grind time with a steady rise across the moorland for 6km or so. The viws on a good day would be stunning but we plodded on. We'd planned to stop at a pub for lunch but because it was a Monday the pub was closed - doh! A chicken and mushroon slice from the community shop was cold comfort.
Not feeling brave we avoided the ford and took a half mile road detour to go over a bridge. More climbing followed including a push up a ploughed field of potatoes where we met an amiable farmer and had a chat about Foot and Mouth and Blue Tongue - a pretty dispiriting time for him as he could't move livestock to sell and had to buy wheat that had risen in price in order to feed them. He seemed in good spirits though. The day finished with a short road section into Rhayader and we arrived very wet, very dirty but pretty pleased - no mechanicals and no offs although the abrasive qualities of wet, gritty lycra were noted.
The second day dawned very wet indeed and slipping into dirty, wet shorts, socks and shoes was not pleasant. After a hearty cooked breakfast as nominated (nominal?) mechanic I went to check on the bikes. Mine was very grimy and the chain needed a little oil, Dave's was entirely stiff and I couldn't back pedal it at all. A bit of lube soon freed it up and we set off into the tempest in reasonable spirits. Dave's back had been playing up and we had to stop on a number of occasions to give him a chance of loosening up. This was no hardship as, despite the biblical weather, the views in the Elan Valley are stunning (it's not known as the Welsh Lake District for nothing). There was a bit of excitement when a bullock decided to chase me for a few hundred yards along the road but I saw him off with a devestating turn of pace (5 mph to 6 mph I'll warrant). Dave's back wasn't really easing so we decided to stick to the quiet roads where we could although this didn't mean any less climbing. Lunch was a few salted peanuts and some rhubard crumble as we left the road to climb up and down to the overnight stop in Llangurig. A nearby wind farm looked quite unearthly but stopping to have a look the weather suddenly broke to give the most amazing view complete with a perfect rainbow. The descent off the top was on a very steep and gravelly road/track so I squealed my way slowly into the farm where we were staying just outside Llangurig. Restored by a dose of Welsh faggots we slept like innocents.
The forecast for the final day was clear but cold - it was half right! Thankfully I'd managed to wash some kit so getting dressed after the absolutely enormous breakfast was almost pleasant. Less welcome was my flat front tyre and ineffectual pump but I sorted it out and we headed off again into the rain. This was the day with the least climbing and we enjoyed the ride along by a stream, Dave's back woes having passed. The rain intensified as we entered the forest - well, that's all I can blame for the confusion that had us on the wrong side of the valley three times after long, grinding and gritty (in all senses of the word) climbs. We finally got out of the trees and back on course very wet, cold and with a degree of concern that we had a long way to go and had to make the 3.50 p.m. train at Dovey Junction. This spurred us on to some big ring grinding along the mountain roads. We arrived at the only pub for miles around to a very frosty reception (I went to the loo immediately I got into the pub - and that took some negotiation - to be met with "well, are you going to order anything?" on emerging back out). I had a pint while I tried to dry my gloves out and then we went for the finalish push to Machnylleth, the Co-op for lunch and then the last section on the Mach 1 trail to the station. Job done as the sun came out properly for the first time in three days.
Overall the route is probably about 70% or so offroad, either open moorland or forest tracks. There is quite a bit of climbing - we estimated that we climbed for around 3,000m in 100 miles (although we did extra because we went wrong on Day 3!). I'd recommend it to anyone. Our kit choice was just right and I have no complaints about going fully rigid - the only bits I couldn't ride were very rutted and muddy Landrover tracks and the potato field push. The only thing I'd change would be the weather and while any time in Wales it can be changeable, going in late September didn't exactly help.
If anyone fancies having a go feel free to get in touch re. accommodation, kit required etc. The IMBA pamphlet says that you need to be reasonably fit and that sounds about right - just have a bash!