Thursday, October 08, 2015

Surprises - Part 1 (September 8th)

The first surprise came 2 days after Bala triathlon.

I took phoenix out for a cyclo-cross ride. 

I carefully devised a plan which involved just popping off the map to mysteriously reappear farther along the page, where I wanted to be.  I would find this mysterious route using my Garmin.

I rode through Bala and just as I'd got too far out to do a U-turn I realised I was actually quite hungry and not carrying any lunch.  Fortunately a random tourist attraction was just open for the day and served me Bara Brith with butter and a packet of mangoes for emergency if I didn't find any lunch.

The trail I was looking for was across the road from the driveway and I set off up three different routes before Garmin showed me which one the path actually was.  

Initially it led through a steep sheep field then turned into an old walled "road" with trees growing overhead.  Finally, it opened out into a bouldered field again and I really enjoyed myself. Unfortunately I then forgot the plan.  I got so excited by having found the path in the first place, bouncing around in the field with some confused looking sheep, I just kept riding and riding.  By the time I stopped to enjoy the view and look at the map I had forgotten what the plan was and where I was.  

A half hour ensued of me trying to remember what the plan was both with a 1 inch screen and the full paper map.

Turns out I was flipping miles away from where I wanted to be so I devised a new plan. It took me 20 minutes!  There was no point in riding down the road so I sneaked a footpath.  Initially I felt a little bit bad about it but soon that feeling disappeared with the disappearance of footpath signs and stile maintenance.  Most of it was rideable except a small  ex-sheep pen which was filled with stone sheep - ie. boulders.  Still, the Garmin came into its own and I followed the approximate route of the path across the landscape using the little blue arrow on the screen.

I approached a stream-crossing with mud everywhere and that really nasty brown water that looks like cow poo dissolved in cow pee and you know smells completely gross.  There were 5 stepping stones around the downstream edge but they just led me to more mud.  There were 3 stepping stones at spacing of a bit of a leap across the upstream edge that I thought I'd go for.  On closer inspection they turned out to be a pebble, a sheep's scull and a cowpat.  On second thoughts, I'd get muddy.

Finally, back on course, I found myself another bridlepath or two before the road leading to the big one - the one that streaked out across the Bala map like a highway cutting its way through the forest. 

There was a long descent to the village of Parc which had less cafes than it sounded like it should, before things turned upwards again and I climbed 250m up, starting to think, this path better be bloody open.  All the more fuelled by the Garmin which appeared to suffer a misprint and wasn't actually showing the bridlepath going all the way to the road but instead stopped somewhere deep in the forest.
All was well and that demanded some celebration (mango).

 An hour had passed.

The path started out as a hike through a bog. Not promising but when you've gone to that much effort to get somewhere, you hope it will improve.  It did - on and off, with some rideable bits.  I could see a forest clearing ahead not a natural one but a fire-path - and they are not good news.  They usually contain various tree stumps at various stages of decomposition making for tough-going.  

Before that though, I had to cross a serious bog.  Without mud this one, but mostly water.  I could tell it was a bog by the plants growing on it and pretty much knew I was going to get wet feet but the question was, would I drown?  Not normally a question I'd worry about but when I stood on a tussock and all of the neighbouring ground around me momentarily sank and then gently bobbed up and down, I got a little worried that I would at least lose my bike to the depths.

I got wet feet but I wasn't wrong about the fire path.

Still, I was out for a hard ride (hike-a-bike) as 3 Peaks training and so it was just what I needed.

I stuck to the side of the fire path where I at least had a clear pine-needle surface to walk on.  The blessing of a rubbish path is you get to walk it alone and there was no-one in sight.  Several creatures were disturbed by my passing but to be honest I was too busy walking over tussocks to notice them.  I kept walking, sweating and drinking.

The path finally topped out into more bouldery open fields before following what was probably a drovers trail but now a ditch between two walls.  Few had brought bikes this way but plenty had brought horses - or there had been cows.  I couldn't really get any traction to ride because we bounced from foot print to footprint.  Off the bike, I was still picking my way around the worst of the mud.  We rode what we could - usually with a lot of effort for not much speed but after hiking the bike up the hill, any riding felt easier than none and was probably faster than walking.  

For a while I gave up and then some downhill started to happen.  We left the edge of the forest behind and we were on the high moors with hills rocketing up to our right.  I ate some food, sent a text and looked at Phoenix.  How can I get rid of that bike I wondered?

Another hour had passed.

Fed up with pushing and carrying I bounced over rocks and cow prints as far as I could.   Each pedal stroke brought me treacherously close to falling off and eventually I did.  The bike went one way, I went the other and as I put my foot out to catch me, there was nothing there.  I kept moving through space until finally, my over-extended knee engaged with something hard and, before anything snapped, my knee bent the right way and I rolled out of it, landing back kneeling on the ground.  I stayed there for a while and waited for the pain to go away.  My mind already deciding what to do if I was injured.

But I was OK.  Once I lifted my head from my knees, I managed to stand and then limped on for a while.  The knee was weak though and I had to be very careful now not to over-extend it again.  Every little leap onto rocky ground thrust it back on itself.  I spent the rest of the day walking with my knees bent.

Over the lip of the edge where I fell, the path crossed a marshy bog.  From my earlier experience, I didn't really want to cross it but it was a long way to go around it so I set about carefully carrying my bike over.  A few tentative steps warned me that I had read that bit of grass wrong and I tried another approach.  That was also deep in water.  I tried again and the tussock that I stepped onto with my third step completely gave way and sank me up to my knees in water.  

I looked up at the sky and shouted, "Arghhhh! Fuck off!"

I looked around just to make sure that there wasn't anyone around for me to apologise to.  A flock of sheep had gathered at the top of the edge and were staring at me.  It looked like they had come to watch the shambles that I was making of myself, to see if I would also drown half way across and be eaten by a fox.  Even I felt like I was going to be eaten by a fox.

"And you lot can fuck off too!" I shouted, partly in anger, partly embarrassment and mostly because it made me feel better and I knew no-one else was listening.

I got across the bog.  I still had wet feet but I wasn't going to wade across the river and have completely sodden feet.  There was no easy crossing point.  The river ran discretely 3 feet across and 2 feet deep.  The stones were slippery.  I'm not surprised it was a small river - most of the water was in the bog.  I took my shoes and socks off and waded across then reinstated shoes and socks on the other side.  I had to hike the bike beyond the up-side of the small valley.  From there, finally I saw the road.  I've never been so happy to see a road.
It didn't take me long to get fed up with the road.  I rode down it for around 10 minutes max before reaching the next bridlepath that I had the option of taking.  

Would it be just as much of a nightmare?  (Potentially). 

Was I tired? (exhausted). 

Did I want to give it a go (absolutely).

It started well, an old lane running  along side the Afan Lilw.  So well I decided to send my parents a, "this is where I am and I am still alive" text and have some more food... in fact, I think the last of the emergency supplies.  A dog bounded over to say hello and I had a chat with the owner of the house I had just passed before turning off.  In retrospect I could have asked her about the trail but I didn't. 

After a couple of bridge crossings, the trail set out across fields again.  There was a quad bike track and a bridlepath (marked on the map) which seem to have grown into mutually exclusive things.  The fence crossings no longer existed on what was the path so I took to following the quad bike trail across the field with occasional forays up to the bridlepath because I felt bad.  Finally, the quad bike trail turned up hill to meet the footpath around a farmyard from where I dropped down the hillside past the cutest shack.  The field became like a grassy cliff face that I had to dismount to cautiously pick my way down.  That put paid to recommending the path to my parents who don't really do steep ups any more.  It took me half an hour to get down off the mountain.

Once on the forest logging road, things became a bit dismal.  There was a brief forested descent before I was spit out into a caravan park.  From there, I had a short trek to the south end of Bala lake and a pleasant yet roadie ride around the lake shore to get back to the campsite.  Except for the surprise of blatting along the A road home at 18 miles per hour up hill, the ride home was unremarkable.  

I was back at the campsite before anyone else so I lay down in the sun by the car, leant my feet against the vertical surface and ate a magnum icecream in the hot sunlight.

That was my surprising day out in Wales.

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