First up, huge apologies for this blog for being about less pro active than a German yoghurt recently, but I have got a lame excuse for the past three weeks at least.
Yup it's that time of the year when I arrive at random places all over the world to review the latest bikes from various manufacturers. Wherever I go though I can't help comparing the trails I ride with the ones from home, so here's a uniquely twisted and occasionally ungrateful perspective on some of the spots I've ridden recently.
First up, Fairfax California: The Marin 2010 launch.
Fairfax is such a hippy haven it makes Machynlleth look mung bean free. In fact the huge beard, sombrero, squirrel on sola topee safari hat count was completey off our second glance scale. However the hills surrounding it (including the legendary Mt Tam) are where the whole mountain biking gene pool started to divide and multiply. Amidst the multi million dollar lodges cantilevering out through the redwoods are mile after mile of winding contour singletrack. It's seriously buffed smooth too, as there's no real rain to ever create puddles or mud. The flip side of that though is that by this time of year the trails are normally feet deep in dust which makes following anyone a blinding and hard breathing experience. If you think Welsh nettles are bad they've got nothing on the poison oak that's edging almost every trail and the ticks and rattlesnakes waiting for you soon as you nip off for a pee. Oh and did we mention the rangers with speed guns who patrol the faster trails?
Second: Downieville, California: More Marin.
No need for a speed trap as we headed out of Marin into the California Sierra's though. Taking 90minutes to drive the first 35miles puts the M4 rush hour into perspective and the drive to Downieville itself makes the back roads to Coed y Brenin look like a teeming metropolis.
Rocking up unannounced on the same weekend as a Harley convention and a wedding meant there was nowhere to stay within ten miles though. In fact if the owner of the Red Moose hadn't offered us his spare room and the last of his steak and sweetcorn we'd have been homeless and hungry on Saturday night too.
Have to say though the riding is some of the best I've ever done in the world. Swooping, swerving, tree lined singletrack with random rock gardens and switchbacks above beautiful white water rivers isn't an oddity to anyone who's ridden in Wales. Driving half an hour uphill and having most of the 19mile trail pointing firmly downhill definitely is though. In fact if we had to pick a "foreign place you'd most like to go and ride again" Downie would be top of the list.
Comically - well for the Yuba bike shop locals anyway - the weather was all too familiar as well. Saturday morning was bright enough, although there were plenty of puddles and late snow to splatter through on the tops. On the afternoon though we got out of the van in a bouncing hail/snowstorm with lightning ripping around the surroundings butte's. ten minutes in and we were sodden covered in sh*t and the planned photography session was a total wash out. The irony was even more complete when the Yuba shop boys told us that the rain was making it a real 'must go' weekend destination for US riders, because "the trail conditions are incredible, it's just like Velcro up there!". With the sun shining Sunday we could certainly see there point too, although an emergency stop over in Newfoundland for a stewardesses gammy leg and lost luggage at Manchester made a Sunday night drive back from Nant yr Arian seem simple.
Third: Snowbird, Utah. Specialized Global MTB and Road launch.
More air miles dropped us into Salt Lake City where the temperatures hovered around 40degrees and most people had been extras in high school musical. Even the strongest Welsh valley choir would be struggling for breath at 8000ft altitude though and we felt like we were riding with broken ribs for 3 days.
Recent damp weather meant perfect trail conditions again though, with mile after mile of carving soft earth and rock descent once we'd managed to crawl to the top. There's nothing like a visitor centre or even a trailhead map though, so if it hadn't been for the Specialized set up there's a lot of DIY feeding and navigating to be done. Rather than creating loops the one way descending trails rely on either a waiting van or a long tarmac slog back up too.
Hopefully all the altitude means we'll be turbocharged for the weekend's riding though, and with today's rain creating "perfect velcro like trail conditions" it should be a cracker. Enjoy and seeing as our luggage is still yet to appear from it's second MIA adventure in two weeks, don't be too envious of the glamour of globetrotting.