Saturday, August 10, 2013

Out There Somewhere 

I don't even know where this is, but I was there. Aberswyg? Abergwesyn? Is that a place?

The odd thing about this trip to Wales is it is so easy to get lost — I mean, I haven't properly pronounced a single place name since I've been here. That makes it very hard to really know where I've been or where I'm going. Additionally, at least a couple of the rides I've done have been loops, so you might go West, North, East and South just to end up where you began. Today, I partially followed the Irfon River, riding through the hilly Irfon Forest, and along what used to be a Roman road and later a drover's route where they drove cattle from Western Wales to the East.

Another funny thing about cycling is you become a bit of strangely quiet animal in the landscape. I've cruised past cattle and horses who give you the most quizzical looks as you drift by. Sheep are so skittish that they bolt if you come too close and you almost always surprise them because, of course they can't hear you coming. I've made it a habit to call out to them so they bolt away from me and not in front of me. One day I was passing a two horse carriage when the passenger told me to "talk" to the horses when I pass the horses so as not to spook them. I couldn't think of anything to say other than "Hello there" which seemed to suffice.

It's not only animals you can sneak up on. I had just passed through a large wedding group when I saw a handsome stone house I wanted a closer look at. I turned up a single track road to have a closer look when I surprised a man who had stopped and dropped his trousers to fix his shirt (something my father would always do). Upon seeing me he was clearly taken aback and apologized to which I replied, "Nevermind me. I was never here." I had no idea where "here" was in any case or where "there" was for that matter.

Despite having a GPS device attached to my handlebars I couldn't tell you where I saw a neglected hillside stone church which had a curious number of very well kept and recent headstones. Or where I ate a lunch at a nearby Roman fort hidden by a very modern farm, or where I finally used my rain jacket as a cushion when I fell asleep watching clouds sail overhead. Pwnn Bo perhaps? These place names make no sense. Apparently they do, to someone who speaks the firmly impenetrable Welsh. One such place, Llandrindod Wells, apparently means "church with no village" which sounds sort of sad, like all those little abandoned churches, once the heart of someone's life, now empty, overgrown with its roof caving in. There have been so many times when I didn't see a car or another person for 20 minutes or so. As if to highlight this isolation, I notice my phone network appears and disappears randomly and at the hotel the only Wi-Fi network you'll see is their own rather than in the city when you'll see a dozen or more.

In the back of my mind I've had some Straw Dogs scenario but more often people here greet you with a simple question; "You alright?" it's their version of "How are you?" I usually answer "good" or "fine". I guess I am doing fine.



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