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Perhaps, before we depart on the second leg of our journey down memory lane, I should apologise a little for part one. Given the title, many of you were probably expecting a retrospective look at the first five years of Bear Bones and instead, you got the three years prior to the first five years of Bear Bones … I’ll try and get us back on track.

Some of you might recall that December 2010 was what could be described as ‘wintery’. Surprisingly low temperatures and snow and ice kept everyone occupied and the majority snuggled up inside their houses to await the arrival of Santa. To help kill the time, my attention and that of others had been drawn to Mr Matt Harvey’s now infamous bivvy thread on Singletrackworld. In amongst the ‘what sleeping bag?’ and ’29 or 26 inch?’ posts, a more interesting sub-thread was unfolding. It was probably ignored by many and passed off as the rambling of fools by even more. Why? Were we predicting the reintroduction of 650b as a viable and popular wheel size or loudly beating the drum for e-bikes? No, nothing quite that mad, what we were suggesting was a winter bivvy – in the mountains, in the cold, in the snow, in the week before Christmas.

The writing’s on the wall  …  just to the left of Matt’s head, it seems to convey the thoughts of many.

Today, such a suggestion wouldn’t raise a lone hair on single eyebrow but I recall at the time we were dubbed mad, irresponsible, reckless and other names my spell checker’s having a hard time with. Taking our irresponsibility’s seriously, we pressed on with the plan and set a time and location. What assembled in Machynlleth on that December lunchtime was akin to the A Team, only much further down the alphabet. After consuming a plate of deep fried sports nutrition at the ‘Dicks Diner’ fish and chip shop, our rag-tag band filed out of Mach’ and headed for the higher ground.

Told you it was slippery out there.

There’d been a lull in the wintry weather at sea level but the further we went, the whiter things became. Above 1000 feet we were riding and eventually pushing through snow measured in inches rather than centimetres and once over 1500 feet, it was obvious that winter meant business and had its teeth firmly sunk into the dormant land. Progress was on the slow side of brisk that afternoon but with lights blazing and noses running, we eventually made it … to what many people would consider to be the middle of absolutely nowhere. I’d chanced upon this particular spot months earlier, when it was sunny and warm. When you could see where you were going and when you weren’t riding on a surface with the characteristics of freshly greased glass.

It would be a long time before it got light again.

A long disused sheep enclosure gave us four walls and the dense canopy of the self-seeded pine trees within, gave us a roof. The addition of a large tarp made it waterproof and a cosy retreat for five and a half … meaning that sadly, someone had to spend the night in a hurriedly constructed and rather shabby annex – sorry Steve. As you might imagine, the evening was largely spent eating, drinking and taking the piss out of each other. It was far too cold to stand around for long and once the five foot flames from Steve’s petrol stove had been extinguished, we crawled into our respective pits and lay in a neat line, staring up at the tarp above us and talking until the sleep monster finally got to grips with the task at hand.

Taylor snoozing, Matt pondering and Pete appearing to rise from the dead.

Everything was frozen. Any item that wasn’t safely cocooned inside sleeping bags was solid by morning … shoes, jackets, gears and brakes had all succumbed to the fierce cold, I do recall having to smash my shoes hard against a tree in order to break the ice and soften them a little before attempting to put my feet inside. Breakfast seemed to consist of a quick brew and a half hearted gnaw on a frozen flapjack but it didn’t matter. We were in the mountains when everyone else wasn’t, it was a calm morning and best of all, breakfast was downhill from where we stood.

Well, at least the bogs were frozen solid.

The hours between our rather measly first breakfast and a much anticipated second one, would have made entertaining viewing had anyone happened upon us. Taylor was the first to go down with an inward dive in the open pike position, which netted him a 9.8 on the score card and a very cold, wet leg. Pete tried his luck with the bobsleigh and by using his bike, was able to slide for a full twenty yards before coming to rest and discovering a very large hole where the material of his Ortlieb pannier used to be. A final and very heavy fall by Ian on black-ice just before Mach’ rounded things off nicely and we pedalled into Mach’ knowing that we’d just experienced something very simple, yet in my mind, very special.

Now known the world over, simply as ‘The winter bivvy spot’.

A beautiful and moving story I’m sure you’ll agree. However, I’m also pretty sure you’re thinking, ‘what happened to the promise of getting back on track?’. Well, that was back on track. It was sometime during that cold twenty four hours, when I realised a number of things. The first and outwardly most obvious, was that everyone seemed to be having a really good time, no grief, no stress, just good old fashioned fun. The second and slightly more complicated thing I realised was that, more people should have the opportunity to have a good time in a similar manner. Lastly, I realised that for this to happen, then ideally, some kind of semi-formal structure might be required to help orchestrate all the good times and dare I say, provide a focal point for those with a shared interest in having a good time riding bikes, without the undue pressure of having to return home for their tea.

Most of the thoughts and ideas that randomly bounce about between my ears tend to disperse quite quickly, perhaps they fail to fully catch the imagination … this one didn’t. It stayed put in my head and would appear at the forefront in those quiet moments when I had nothing else to occupy the space. Contrary to how it might appear, I like thinking. I believe it’s a very underrated and underused activity, so that’s what I spent the next few months doing. 

I’ve never been troubled by any desire to take life too seriously, there’s lots of other people with a gift for it, so I’ve generally just let them get on with it. I also believe that part of the joy of bikepacking is derived from carrying ‘just enough’ and over time, seeing just how little just enough can be, packing only the bare bones if you will. Combine those two things together albeit tenuously and the outcome was Bear Bones and what better way to represent it, than a not too serious cuddly bear with some crossed bones beneath him? As far as I could see there were just a couple of minor issues to overcome before the bear could live, number one – I can’t draw. Number two – I had absolutely no idea how to build a website or set-up a forum. Sharing your life with a graphic designer and having the ability to pull a convincing sad face, both have their advantages. Dee took the reigns and set to work and shortly after the fourth Welsh Ride Thing, on June 5th 2011, Bear Bones Bikepacking was unleashed on a largely unsuspecting public.

Thanks to Taylor, Matt, Steve and Pete for being daft enough to go and Ian for not only being daft enough but also for taking photographs.

Part 3.


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