Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Araf 


Welsh Skies
Somewhere between Hundred House and Pains Castle where sheep mingle along the road.

There is a London Transport poster that simply says "Look after your jam tart and jump on your Dick Van Dyke". Assuming it's a play on words using Cockney rhyming slang you can guess the meaning. Today I did my jam tart a right world of good after riding my Dick Van Dyke a mere 65 km.

I say 65 km but that does not do the route justice. I discovered a route that was described quite literally as a bit "lumpy" was probably the most difficult single day of riding I've ever experienced. The "lumps" would put both rides to Cape Spear and Lake Placid to shame. Tim at The Old Vicarage said there's no shame in walking. In my head I thought, "of course there is; it would be shameful". I now think differently. Let me say I have never got off a bike on a hill and walked it, until today when I probably did it 4 or 5 times. On two of those occasions I could barely push the bike up. I have no idea of the grade but at times it looked greater than 45 degrees. It would be akin to putting planks on some stairs and pushing your bike up that — for a kilometre or two.

I will say firstly it was a mistake to take my luggage on the rack with me as it could hardly be well secured and added 15-20 lbs to the weight of the bike. Secondly I found riding the hills on the rented mountain bike frustrating as whenever you got up on the pedals half your energy seemed transferred directly to the squishy shocks. Thirdly, the hills were bloody mad!! I thought if I had my own Tricross with me now, I could at least carry the bike on my back.

The trip started fine enough until a bolt fell off the rack and my bag with it. It was the bolt that connected the down strut of the rack to the rear fork. As I had two bags with me I couldn't really continue without it. I had just passed someone going for their mail and I thought, "well, everyone here looks to be a farmer so no doubt they'll have tools." He wasn't a farmer but he was starved for conversation evidently. After a bit of looking around for an allen key he eventually found one and as I was stealing a bolt from one location to put in the place of the important missing one he proceeded to tell me how his wife of fifty years had just up and left him and how he had just come back from Canada after visiting a pregnant girlfriend. Maybe I got the story wrong but I think you get the idea.

There were parts of the route where the road lay out before me rather than rising over me. At one section I noticed a camping area where in one field clustered dots of white sheep and in the next were clusters of brightly coloured nylon tents. I called out, "Baaaahb" but only the sheep answered.

My first stop was at Abbey-Cwn-Hir which marked about a third of the day's trip and is where the last Welsh Prince of Wales is buried — well only his body — his head made the journey to London; sounds like a funny story. My next stop which would be my halfway point was Hundred House. By the time I had got there I had only done about 30 km and I'd been on the road for about four hours. Seemed as good a place as any for a roadside refreshment and nap. Normally, on a Saturday, a short 65 km ride would be finished in about 2-1/2 hours. Are you getting an idea of how slow the going was? I hadn't even hit the "lumpy" bit yet.

Between Hundred House and the aptly named Pains Castle was the toughest riding and walking I'd ever done. At some point I thought I may run out of sunlight. Then I remembered how late the nights have been here. But when you climb high you will get some stunning Brigadoon-esque, magical views of the valleys below. Also, what comes up must come down, and fast. But you can't even descend at full speed as there are so many blind corners on these small hedgerow-lined roads that it would be easy to smash into a wandering sheep, a parked tractor (I passed one whereby the tractor driver said cheerily, "Wur 'avin' owuur wake-lah chat!" to which I did not interfere) or a fish tailing Subaru - as I discovered. Thus I kept the brakes firmly clamped upon descent. In fact, at some point I was sure something felt loose in the front forks and when I stopped to give the front wheel an inspection, the rims were hot to the touch.

I was blindly following the GPS screen when I noticed I had entered Llowes - and the map sort of just ended. No more line to follow. I had finally reached West View, the second B&B on this trip. 65 km in about 7 hours. It must be a new slow record for me. Throughout Wales everything is marked bilingually in Welsh and English. On steep hills the pavement markings read "SLOW / ARAF". The roads are forever taunting me.

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