Friday, August 09, 2013

Expect the Unexpected 



The Red Kite is a striking symbol of Welsh conservation efforts and has occasionally scared the shit out of me.

In this small Welsh town just Northwest of Brecon Beacons, the quietness is a little freaky. As in "Overlook Hotel" freaky. I'm beginning to wonder if, like Billy Bob Thornton, I'm not starting to develop an aversion — if not a bonafide phobia — of antiques. The more "quaint" a place is, the less I think I like it. Not just in a "don't care for it sort of way" either, but a real and genuine discomfort. Perhaps I was traumatized as a youth in a musty B&B and I don't remember it. Still, I know I am more comfortable in a hotel that is more like a set from "2001: A Space Odyssey" than I am in one that is more like a room in Norman Bates' house in "Pyscho". Unfortunately, I fear the "quaint taint" is around every corner in Wales.

This is where I find myself now. In a charming and eerily isolated guesthouse that is more Fawlty Towers than La Germaine. The setting is tranquil and the doilies are dusty and tea is offered if you stand still for too long. After a fine ride through more Constable painting scenery I arrived earlier than I expected and decided to reject the tea, have a nap, a shower and a good stretch to try and unknot my back which has suddenly decided to take a vacation of its own.

Despite the musty ambiance, creaking floorboards and dusty mouldings I have stumbled into something really unexpected. The proprietor here is a highly regarded chef and has been chosen as a champion of Welsh organic food products. Thus the meal tonight was spectacular. From the goat cheese and ham starter, to the venison and bubble & squeak main (yes, really) to the local fudge served with coffee, everything was amazing. In fact, I've been overwhelmed by the quality, care and pride everyone takes in all of the local fare, such as the cheeses, the lamb, the pork or bread, eggs and jams. Who knew Wales would be Foodie's delight.

Another surprise, and sometimes "surprise" would be a mild way to put it, has been seeing so many birds of prey. I thought they might be a type of falcon but they are apparently Red Kites, which have become a popular symbol of successful Welsh conservation efforts. On a few occasions, one of these striking birds was only a few feet away. Yesterday, I saw one take flight from a fence post maybe three metres from where I was riding on the road and today, one launched itself from a nearby tree only feet from my head and I watched as it glided easily over the pasture and valley below.

There was the freedom of riding on a bicycle that you'd never get from a car or train. I was so close to those birds I could see the yellow of their eyes and I could stop and watch them rather than keep rolling by. For as great as the biking has been, I'm probably going to pick the easiest activity tomorrow for my last day here. My legs are still aching from the 18% ascents and now my back has stiffened up pretty badly. I still think the riding is a little more difficult than it should be because of the bike I'm using. I was surprised by the difficulty I'm having on even slighter hills that I know would be better tackled on a road bike. There's another thing I've discovered about myself. I don't like mountain bikes with squishy shocks on the front forks but I would advocate the 29ers, mountain bikes with large 29" wheels, are a lot more fun to ride than they look, even if you might feel like you're up on a Penny-farthing style bike.

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