“What if we facilitated an off-site WEEKEND away?” the MTB Coaches mused. “The Roadies do this every year when they travel to Assen – why not the Mudslingers?” exclaimed the children! “What if we explore the opportunity for our young Mudslingers to “go BIG” and apply their well-earned mountain bike skills to some of the most varied, scenic terrain the UK has to offer?” considered the Coaches. “After all, what is the point of these skills if you can’t apply them?!” they averred…
Needless to say, there was consensus all round to proceed and excitement kicked in. But… we had never done this before to this scale and caution mode kicked in. After all, it’s one thing mountain biking in Hillingdon, Swinley or Dews Farm – but Wales posed a whole other level of safeguarding and logistics to contemplate! And so our team read every single safeguarding document they could find, risk assessments were undertaken, advanced outdoor first aid courses arranged, FAQs were drawn up, packing lists and equipment guides compiled, accommodation co-ordinated, itineraries arranged, T-shirts designed and printed… You name it, we thought of it!
And thus, after months of meticulous planning, the very first annual Mudslingers MTB away weekend came to pass on the 12th June 2015; where 13 Mudslingers, 8 parents plus 9 volunteers descended upon Afan Lodge in Wales, ready for a weekend adventure. Obviously, the weather didn’t quite play along, but spirits remained high and nothing was going to deter the group from having an epic time. Not even the nasty midges! Two days of full-on cycling through the magnificent Afan Valley, coupled with the electrifying and contagious enthusiasm and camaraderie of our Slipstreamers saw to it that the weekend was an overwhelming success.
But don’t take our word for it – read on to find out what those who attended thought…
Enjoy the following reports from our fantastic Coaches…
By Alex Araujo, MTB Coach Extraordinaire, Weekend Big Chief
“The inaugural Mudslinger away weekend took coaches, volunteers, riders and their parents across the border into Wales; and as if on cue, the heavens opened and the rain began to fall as most of us crossed over the Severn Estuary!
Our destination, the Afan Valley north of Port Talbot, boasts some of the loveliest singletrack in the UK, and a vast trail network throughout the Welsh hills. On arrival, the mood in the Afan Valley Lodge was light and enthusiastic and we were warmly welcomed by our hosts, Richard, Wynn, and their staff, who served up a well-received pre-ride dinner on Friday night.
Saturday brought more rain, which instead of disappointing our merry band, made for the most epic of conditions in which to put to use all of the skills and techniques our young Mudslingers have worked on during the year. A group of younger riders, dubbed the Hedgehogs, took aim at such forebodingly named trails as “Blue Scar”; while another group completed the aptly named “Y-Wall” (Welsh for The Wall), and all the climbing its name implies – not to mention the harrowing final descent dubbed Zig Zags. Lunch was eaten trailside, and core temperatures were raised back at the lodge before dinner. Entertainment was provided by Mark (in close collaboration with Orla), which involved red laces, paper plates, cups, marshmallows, and ‘Chubby Bunnies’!
Sunday brought sunshine and perfect conditions for a second day of riding, joined by our host Richard, and with our local guide, Nigel, taking a group on secret trails which involved stream crossings, a harrowing section called “Boulderville”, and plenty of ‘off-piste’ adventure. Another group made explored the extensive trail park at the top of the Valley and a fast descent back to the lodge at the end of the day.
It was all smiles (and maybe a few cuts and bruises thrown in) at the end of our offroad adventure, and sights are already set on a repeat experience for 2016. In summary, a great opportunity for our young, aspiring off-roaders to put all their hard-earned skills to work in the wild, all with the camaraderie and support of coaches, families, and volunteers to add to the experience.
We hope you’ll join us next year!”
By Mark Devlin, MTB Coach Supremo, Weekend Social Chief
“Now That’s a Mountain!
Hilly Hillingdon isn’t the ideal preparation for full-on mountain biking. As we drove down the beautiful Afan Valley with its steep slopes towering either side, I was beginning to wonder if we’d bitten off more than we could chew! Were the kids going to be able to cope? Would they have the strength and stamina to get up the climbs? Would they have the technical skills and courage to navigate the sheer rocky descents?
A delicious meal on Friday night and the fantastic rooms at the lodge meant we slept soundly. We awoke to a drizzly Welsh morning. Our room looked straight out across the rich green valley, it looked like a scene from “Gorillas in the Mist” – I added cold, wet and slippery conditions to my list of worries. We went down to the dining room, there was no such fears there – a buzz of excitement filled the air, the kids couldn’t wait to get going, and I couldn’t wait for my full Welsh breakfast!
After some initial fun on the pump track outside the lodge, we split into two groups and made our way up the mountain. Ten minutes in, and still on the nursery slopes I was struggling to pedal – I looked down and saw my back tyre was flat as a pancake. I was riding at the back of the group so radioed ahead to let the group know I’d stopped. Marco and Martin were quickly by my side and helped me get a new inner tube in and pumped up in no time. We set off again and re-joined the group who had stopped to wait for us.
It wasn’t long before the terrain started to get steeper… we were now on rocky singletrack zig zagging our way upwards, I was breathing heavily now just focusing on picking a good line round the tight bends so I didn’t lose any momentum. Up and up we rode, until eventually we came out of the trees onto a fire road. Everyone was still together and all in good spirits. We had thought that we’d need to split the group further but it wasn’t necessary as the younger riders were much stronger than we gave them credit for.
The fire road would be welcome relief, a chance get my breath back I thought – I was wrong. The loose gravel and stones made for a rough surface. It was going to be a long climb, spiralling sharply up to the summit! After ten minutes my thighs were burning. Each time we turned a corner, I hoped to see the top – but it seemed endless! If I’d been riding alone I’d have stopped by now; but no one was going to be the first to give up. Orla to my right, and Lucy and Hope just ahead of me; none of us spoke, we didn’t want to waste energy, we just kept a steady pace and hoped the next corner would be the last! Every single rider made it to the top without stopping – an amazing lung busting achievement; Kings and Queens of the Afan Mountains!
Now we could descend, but we needed to concentrate, pick our lines, keep our hands and arms loose to absorb the bumps, and keep our weight back for control. There were some extra large rocks and drop-offs, so quite a few of the riders were nervous at first, gripping their bars too tightly and a little heavy on the brakes. But as they relaxed, their technique improved and their confidence grew. In no time at all, they were whizzing through the berms with exhilarating screams!
It was a long day in the saddle, riding from 10am until about 4pm, raining for most of the day. As a Coach I reflected on the day… I was incredibly impressed with the level of riding, the kids’ ability to adapt and learn as they faced new challenges. The spirit both individually and collectively, was so positive, I didn’t hear a single whinge or complaint, everyone encouraged each other, and there was lots of laughter. It had been tough, but we all felt we had achieved something. In the evening we all sat together, ate a fantastic meal, shared stories of the day and then played a few fun games. It wasn’t a late night, we were all tired and ready for our beds.
Next morning the sun was shining, we had a breakfast feast and gathered outside ready to take on the mountain again, this time with two local guides to take us on some secret routes. It was a fantastic weekend, great banter with the kids and parents, excellent venue and great riding.”
And a few words from some of our marvellous Mudslingers…
By Spencer Rijkse, U8 Mudslinger, Conqueror of Blue Scar!
“I liked it at the Afan Lodge!! There was a private skills course track outside but there were also lots of midges…!! They were really annoying but when we rode on the bigger trails, we left them behind.
On Saturday we split into two groups and my group (The Hedgehogs) rode the Rookie trail before lunch, in the rain! After lunch we rode the Blue Scar trail. It was a tough climb, with a hard descent called the Widow Maker. I had two crashes, the first one I went over the handlebars! The second fall was down a berm.
On Saturday we all played fun games and my dad won the” chubby bunny” game by stuffing the most marshmallows in his mouth and saying “chubby bunny”!
On Sunday the weather was great and we cycled up to a cool bike park and I had lots of fun!!
I loved the trip to Afan Valley.”
By Orla Devlin, U14 Mudslinger, Chubby Bunny Marshmallow Queen!
“School Fair or a Wet Welsh Mountain?
My experience at Afan Forest was brilliant. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the weekend because I wanted to go to my sister’s school fair, but I decided that biking in Wales could be more interesting.
The first day, we rode a route called the Y-Wall. I was really excited to go up the mountain because I prefer hill climbs to downhill. The uphill was really tough though. There was this one part where we had to cycle up a fire road. It sloped up and up and just as I thought it ended, I turned another corner to find yet more track stretching out in front of me. Everyone persisted and made it to the top without stopping.
The weather was terrible; raining and misty. We stopped at a cafe to eat our lunch and dry off. There was a log fire which we put our gloves on and stood around.
Then it was off to the part I dreaded, the descent. I’m the type of person to usually walk the downhill, but this time I decided that I would try, even though I was scared. It turned out to be amazing! As I let the bike speed down the rocky path, I felt a strong breeze rush past my face. It was exhilarating!!
I was tired by the end of the day yet I was still looking forward to the evening entertainment. We played a game involving strawberry laces and a tower building game. However the best part was the “Chubby Bunny” challenge. It involves each person trying to stuff as many marshmallows into their mouth as possible, and after putting each one into their mouth they had to say “Chubby Bunny”. It was hilarious. I managed 10 marshmallows – although I did feel fairly sick afterwards.
Overall I had a great time riding on both days, and I would recommend that anybody who wants to go next year to give it a try.”
By Seth Kanaris, U14 Mudslinger, Zig-Zag Daredevil!
“After the roadies’ trip to Assen last year, it got us Mudslingers thinking: why don’t we have annual riding trips like them? So after months and months of speculation and planning; and a 3 hour drive on the 12th June, we found ourselves at Afan Lodge in the magical land of Wales.
Once everyone had arrived, and after a bit of getting organised, we had a very nice dinner (which included hands down THE best brownie I have ever had!); some friendly catching up with each other, all anticipating the next day of biking. The pump track, the dirt jumps next to it, and the mountains with seemingly amazing trails from a distance all added to the excitement! None of us could wait for two days full of what we were expecting to be awesome trails and some amazing riding!
So, after a good night’s sleep, Saturday morning arrived, I gobbled down breakfast as fast as possible, and off I went to install my new dropper post and get the bike ready. After a bit of fiddling, dropper finally on, checks all done, and we were all rearing to go!
The riding started with a LOT of midges in the air, so Tim and I went to ride the little drops and jumps next to the pump track to warm up a little, and to get rid of the midges that were eating us alive! Considering the amount of rain, I was quite surprised at how hot it actually was – it was incredibly humid and I very quickly went to take off my thermal. However, the heat didn’t change the fact that it was absolutely soaking wet and extremely muddy! As soon as I hit the first rocky section, things got a bit sketchy as the rocks were so slippy; and all of 5 minutes into the ride I managed to get fairly muddy, partially helped by the massive puddles scattered everywhere.
As we got to the top of the mountain under our own steam, we were rewarded with some amazing views and even more amazing descents! One of my favourite parts of the day was when we stopped at the Afan Bike Park at lunchtime; it had tabletops and doubles and drops and berms of all shapes and sizes to please people of all abilities – and was great fun! I have to admit that I was fairly sketchy on my first couple of runs, probably down to the fact that I didn’t know the trails that well and it was extremely slippy (Bontrager XR3s are anything but wet weather tyres!); but towards the end I was clearing all the massive doubles that I was previously casing horribly!
My other favourite part of the ride was the end of the Y-Wall trail, as it was consistently techy and flowy and fast! An honourable mention goes to Coach Alex, who I was following on one of the trails, and very nearly had a massive tumble on his 40mm travel vintage bike!
Also, I should probably mention that I was a bit “silly” after the ride… Basically, I was doing the jumps by the pump track, and I took the plank out of the last double so that it was actually a double not a tabletop. I was clearing it very smoothly on all my runs, but the last time I did it I managed to overshoot the one before it, resulting in my foot coming off the pedals and taking me time to get it back on, meaning I didn’t have enough speed for the last one so I 50/50d it and went straight over the bars! In retrospect, I have no idea why I hit it when I had zero speed, but either way I walked away covered in extra mud and a rather deep gash in my side! Thankfully Mum came prepared…
Our evening was spent enjoying dinner (and an amazing brownie, again!) and presentations! I received an award for saying ‘can I go in front’ most times! The Coaches managed to remember little things unique to everyone during the day, and certificates were awarded along these lines. After which we all played a few games that Coach Mark and Orla came up with, the most fun being Chubby Bunny… In essence, who can stuff their mouth with the most marshmallows and still say “Chubby Bunny” – needless to say, it ended up in a mallow face-off with myself and Spencer’s Dad Mark both left standing!
Sunday was a bit different in that we weren’t riding the regular trails, but we were riding some natural trails! We had a guide called Nigel who knew Afan like the back of his hand, and he took us through some amazing technical terrain that nobody would ever have known was there! Richard, the lodge owner, also came along which helped make the ride great fun. We rode some astounding terrain, and especially at the end when we had finished climbing to the top of the mountain; experiencing the epic long descent to the bottom was something quite exhilirating to round off our weekend!
An honourable mention of the day goes to Alex Uphill (not Coach Alex!), who was absolutely flying up the climbs! Unfortunately, both Lucy and Sam managed to injure themselves towards the end – but thankfully nothing too serious and at least they got to ride! I think everyone who rode deserves major credit as the terrain really wasn’t easy, albeit utterly awesome!
All in all, it was a great weekend of riding, and I am sure that a lot of riders really did improve their skills by riding some proper trails out in the mountains for a change. I can’t wait for next year!”
By Angela Basit, Mum to Yasmin, U14 Mudslinger, Y-Wall Challenger!
“The weekend in Wales was fantastic fun for Yasmin and myself. We loved the friendly staff at the lodge and the great food they provided after a hard day’s biking. We have not stayed anywhere with a pump track in the back before and it was great that everything was focused on cycling. Yasmin didn’t even want breakfast on the first morning – far too keen to get on the pump track.
Bike hire was reasonably priced for a full day and I treated myself to a full-sus which was very good on the terrain. All the locals were friendly and really made us feel welcome in their valley – maybe something we are no so used to around here as cyclists.
We had never been to the Afan Forest before – it was amazingly green with great views along the trails and misty forests. The evening games were inspired as they brought everyone together and the awards very imaginative! Yasmin is very proud of hers. The biking was hard both up and down and challenged us all but I was pleased there were slightly more gentle options available to me on the second day! Yasmin particularly enjoyed the specialist bike park in the forest.
Thank you so much again to all the amazing Coaches and organisers at Slipstreamers who made this a very special weekend that we look forward to joining again. It was great that parents and youngsters could go out together in such a lovely valley. Definitely put the mountain back into mountain biking!”
And finally, we asked our Mudslingers for feedback on their weekend experience. Click on a question to find out what they thought…
What Did You Think of The Lodge?
- Katie says: It was cool because the bed covers were bikes!
- Spencer says: Cool, comfortable, comfy beds.
- Lucy says: I liked the lodge a lot because it was tidy and had great service.
- Alex says: Modern, warm and inviting. I liked the duvet covers with bikes printed on them!
- Sacha says: Cozy and relaxed.
- Hope says: Nice! Comfy bed!
- Orla says: Modern and cosy.
- Nathan says: Very comfortable, and everywhere was bike themed!
- Seth says: Comfortable and hospitable. Best location!
- Tim says: Great rooms and a brilliant view!
- Yasmin says: Highly comfortable. Great pump track.
What Did You Think of The Food?
- Katie says: It was very posh!
- Spencer says: Brilliant! Loved the ribeye steak!
- Lucy says: Good because it was all home made and the bar was really old fashioned.
- Alex says: Really good, the bbq ribs were enormous!
- Sacha says: BIG portions and yummy!
- Hope says: Massive portions; too much for me… and a lot of Quorn on the menu! 🙂
- Orla says: Breakfast and desserts were delicious.
- Seth says: Scrumpdeliumptious. Those brownies are amazing…. YUM!
- Tim says: Chocolate fudge brownies – my very own slice of heaven!
- Yasmin says: Very tasty, plenty to go round.
The Saturday Adventure?
- Katie says: I liked all of it because there were not too much downhills and not too much uphills.
- Spencer says: Tiring and hard, the Blue Scar climb was tough and the descent was tricky!
- Lucy says: I enjoyed the Saturday ride even though it was raining a lot. It was cold but I liked riding through the puddles.
- Alex says: Big adventure, rocky climbs, forest trails,climbing through the cloud was amazing.
- Sacha says: Up-HARD… Down-FUN!
- Hope says: Scary descent of ZigZag without brakes; epic trails.
- Nathan says: Memorable for being wet and lots of hills climbing the Y-Wall!
- Orla says: Steep, rocky, wet and demanding. Oh, and MUDDY!
- Seth says: Wet, humid, monstrous hills, flowy drops!
- Tim says: Stunning trails, a pleasure to ride…
- Yasmin says: Extremely fun, quite tiring, good single track.
- Katie says: I had ice-cream with Asti and a nature adventure. I liked the pump track jumps at the lodge!
- Spencer says: Lots of big climbs and then a cool bike park. Sunny and warm!
- Lucy says: It was a LOT of fun because it was drier and quick!
- Alex says: Even bigger adventure with our local guide – epic ride including big bogs and streams.
- Sacha says: Technical, rocky, flowy.
- Hope says: Awesome rocky climb to Bike Park.
- Nathan says: Better day for some really nice views – and Tom and I chased some sheep!
- Orla says: Relaxing and enjoyable.
- Seth says: Exhausting! But so worth it for the funtastic natural trails and awesome views!
- Tim says: Sore legs, but fun at the Bike Park!
- Yasmin says: Great views, extremely fun, excellent forest, downhill park!
What Did You Think of The Location?
- Katie says: The view was amazing!
- Spencer says: Nice views and lovely forests.
- Lucy says: You could see a lot of amazing views!
- Alex says: Perfect – riverside, forests, mountain landscape and loads of trails
- Sacha says: Amazing scenery!
- Hope says: Amazing scenery!
- Nathan says: The views from the lodge were incredible – even when covered in low cloud.
- Orla says: Remote and beautiful
- Seth says: Breathtaking, magnificent, awesome!
- Tim says: Amazing! Definitely worth the 4 hour drive!
- Yasmin says: Beautiful views, good weather, range of routes.
Your Favourite Moments?
- Katie says: Doing the big ride on Blue Scar! (I bet Asti wouldn’t say that!!!).
- Spencer says: The descents, the Saturday night games!
- Lucy says: The Y-Wall down because it was the highlight of the trip!
- Alex says: Going down zig-zag!
- Sacha says: Zig-zag, bike park, and CHUBBY BUNNY!
- Hope says: The Bike Park, Y-Wall going up!
- Nathan says: The best moments definitely included the jumps, and the bike park.
- Orla says: Saturday night entertainment!
- Seth says: The Bike Park, Y-Wall DOWN, Nigel’s guided ride on Sunday.
- Tim says: Mark doing the ‘Chubby Bunny Challenge’!! Riding-wise – the Graveyard and the Bike Park.
- Yasmin says: The park, Y-Wall.
What Were Your LEAST Favourite Moment/s?
- Katie says: I don’t have a least favourite moment!
- Spencer says: Crashing head over heels on the Widowmaker. And the midges!
- Lucy says: Falling off and hurting my arm.
- Alex says: Midges, midges and more midges.
- Sacha says: Midgy midges!
- Hope says: Definitely the midges… Oh, and swallowing flies!!
- Nathan says: The blood thirsty midges that bit every piece of uncovered flesh.
- Orla says: Waiting for the other group on Sunday
- Seth says: Dealing with pesky midges!!
- Tim says: Being devoured by winged beasties!!!
- Yasmin says: Nothing in particular
Your Overall Weekend Experience in a Nutshell?
- Katie says: Tiring!
- Spencer says: Epic! Cool!
- Lucy says: OUTSTANDING!
- Alex says: Incredible. I want to go again, but with insect repellant.
- Sacha says: Adventurous, exciting, and a GREAT experience!
- Hope says: Best weekend ever!
- Nathan says: Hard, but great fun. Would love to go back soon!
- Orla says: Challenging, interesting, great fun!
- Seth says: Epic! Fun! Awesome! Memorable!
- Tim says: An epic adventure in the heart of Wales. Can’t wait to go back!
- Yasmin says: Loved all of it!
Watch this space for details on the next Mudslingers trip – we would love to see MANY more of you join us during 2016 for an unforgettable weekend of fantastic fun! Don’t forget to visit the photo gallery for some pretty epic snapshots of our Mudslingers in action in Wales!