Riding through a trench in mask and snorkel is a highlight of the World Alternative Games.
When a tiny Welsh town held the first world mountain biking bog-snorkelling championship, organisers weren’t overwhelmed by entrants. You can understand why.
Cycling at full pelt into a deep, murky bog on a bike laden with lead wearing a diving mask and snorkel isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
“But you’d be surprised how competitive it gets,” says co-organiser Karen Perkins. She’s been busy trying to wake up African snails with hairdryers for the annual snail race, which is part of a two-week celebration of the bizarre sports of the World Alternative Games, hosted by the mid-Wales town of Llanwrtyd Wells. Bike bog-snorkelling is included alongside stiletto and office-chair racing and husband-dragging.
Since mountain bike bog-snorkelling first ran more than 10 years ago, it’s attracted a cult following. This year there’s a race for children too – albeit in a shallower, shorter bog. But it’s undeniably hardcore.
Competitors are laden with lead weights so they don’t float away. Their bikes are weighed down with lead and water-filled tyres, to grip the bottom of the slimy Waen Rhydd bog.
As they cycle along the 30-yard trench, all that can be seen is a bobbing bike helmet and the top of a snorkel. Visibility is just a few inches.
Two divers stand either side ready to hoist the cyclist to the surface should things go wrong. The best technique, say veterans, is to pedal like mad.
While some competitors wear wetsuits, the hardier opt for fancy dress. “Some even go with nothing on,” says a surprised Mrs Perkins. “It’s a bit like survival of the fittest.” Competitors say there is a dark side to the bog.
“These bogs are deep and dark and filled with eels,” says Danny Bent, former world mountain biking bog-snorkelling champion, on his blog.
“Water scorpions scurry over the surface. I’m told a dead sheep was found in there…” The biking event is a spinoff from the longer-running bog snorkelling championships, which began in 1985. Competitors don flippers and masks and swim along two trenches.