We are absolutely tearing down the road at Llanberis Pass. The sound of rain pelting my face, the wind ripping at my jacket, and the whir of the wheels beneath me drown out everything else. On my left the long dry-stack rock wall lining the descent is only a grey blur. The dashes of white line on the road are flicking past like dots, and off the far side of the road the mountain drops right out of sight and view is opened to the cliffs and mountains across the valley, hazy with the thick rain. A few yards behind me Zara is screaming along as well. We're still pedaling faster. At 30 miles an hour I run out of gears and pedaling becomes useless. I crouch over the saddle and tuck down into the handlebars. The pressure of the wind tearing past shifts from my chest and focuses on my shoulders and face. I can feel the acceleration as gravity takes over the bike. 35 miles an hour becomes 40. My focus is extended along the pavement farther out in front of me. It still feels a little crazy to be hugging the left side of the road, and by hugging I mean hovering over it, connected to it by perhaps less than one square inch of narrow road tire rubber. 45 miles per hour now and still accelerating. The surging thrill of the speed drowns out the instinct of self-preservation and I tuck even lower. 47 mph and it feels like tunnel vision is setting in as perspective vision fades out and focus is stretched farther and farther down the road, to the pavement 40 or 50 yards ahead. The sting of raindrops driving into my cheeks becomes impossible to ignore. We’ve paid the piper, and this is our reward. We’ve ground the gears up almost a mile of elevation gain, and now we’re drinking in this overwhelming setting and this incredible rush. It’s like flying without wings.
But this isn’t where it all began, on the high slopes of Snowdonia. It began at sea level. Elevation: 0. Two unsightly cardboard boxes are being dragged by sleepy travelers through the security hall in the ferry terminal of Holyhead port.
Our flight had left the Dallas-Forth Worth airport on Sunday afternoon. The night previous, I’d enjoyed a stay with two very hospitable friends near Denton, Texas. After an encouraging Sunday meeting, we took advantage of our last chance for Tex-Mex food and headed to the airport. The two gangly boxes carrying our disassembled bikes all but filled the rear of the SUV. Besides them, Sarah and I carried only a small bag or two each. I’m usually of a pretty calm mind, but I admit I was a little anxious about flying with a bike. Air Canada had recently changed their bicycle policy. It was cheaper now, but there were specific packing procedures, which I hadn’t seen originally. What could we do now, though? Just hope for the best and handle any snags as they came.
You get a glimpse of the celebrity life when you drag a four and half foot box into an airport. Every other traveler there looks your way, wondering what on earth you’re thinking. Sarah’s box has “Diamondback bicycles” printed largely on the sides. We’d both snatched a secondhand box from a local bike shop. Now and then I’d catch the word “bike” or “box” from the conversation of someone nearby as we caught their attention.
The agent at the ticket counter looked curiously at my box, the smaller of the two, as I stepped forward. Sarah’s was still behind her, hidden from view. She pulled up my flight information and tickets. I mentioned I was traveling with a bicycle as my checked luggage, as if it was something I did on a weekly basis (I'd never done it before in my life). It was placed to the side and I was asked to wait for someone who could deal with oversized luggage. Sarah then stepped up and the poor lady was shocked to see another box, even larger, ready to be carted on to the plane. In the end, we were well-blessed to see both boxes disappear down the conveyor, free of charge. I sincerely hoped they’d survive the baggage treatment, but there was no sense worrying for them now. They were on their way, and so were we.
Air Canada seemed to be full of favors. After taking our huge boxes free of charge, they upgraded me to first class on the Toronto flight, and treated me to a nice in-flight meal. The trip was already going much better than I could have expected. A short night (read: 6 hr time zone change) saw us across the Atlantic and the morning sun watched us touch down at Dublin Airport.
The bikes were just about the first thing off the carousel. Despite a couple of ripped out corners and the fresh “TSA inspected” tape now holding them together, they seemed in decent shape. My box had the axle quick connects poking through the sides, and I hoped the spokes hadn’t been completely crushed. Our cabbie was a little late, but he made up for it with his colorful character and cheerful welcoming manners to Dublin. It made for a short ride to the Dublin port were we booked a ferry and waited, sipping strong coffee and enjoying the view of the port.
Ferries on the Irish Sea are big things, not like the short-route boats I’ve seen on the Texas coast. These are like cruise ships – cars below and seats, restaurants and tables up top. Sarah immediately passed out in a chair, her head bent over her arms on the table in front of her. I grabbed a couple of motion sickness bags from the men’s room just in case. We were on the Jonathan Swift, the fastest of the ferries on the Irish Sea... and also the roughest. Fortunately, we’d caught the sea pretty calm. Other than everyone walking a little tipsy-looking, the swell didn’t seem to affect things much. Ten minutes later Sarah was wide awake, thinking an hour or two had passed. I chuckled as I realized the mixture of exhaustion and excitement made for a pretty tough combination.
A few scenic lighthouses made an otherwise uneventful passage photoworthy. In Holyhead, we met Matthew and Zara at the ferry port. They’d driven almost the full length of Wales to meet us. Two smart looking Cube bicycles on the roof rack made them easy to pick out.
We exchanged hugs and started scratching heads as to how we’d get two giant boxes, four bodies, luggage and food for a week into a British-scale car. Britain is the epitome of compact. The houses are small, the cars are small, the roads are tiny. The kind of trucks that rule the roads in my hometown are non-existent here. The roads are simply too narrow to have a full-size pickup on them.
We eventually decided to unpack the bikes right outside the terminal on the covered walkway. I ripped open my box and we fell into work together – sorting through bike pieces and passing around the wrench set as we fitted them on the frame. In no time it was ready to ride and the box reduced to manageable pieces of cardboard stuffed in a nearby trash can (dust bin if you’re British). We did the same with Sarah’s box and fit the pieces in the car to run up to the hotel. Matthew and I cycled there, just across the river from the port, only a few hundred yards as the crow flies. We checked in and then found some first-rate fish and chips to enjoy on the seafront promenade. A solid night’s sleep was well appreciated that night. It’s good it was, too. We’d need it to keep the wheels turning through the mountains of Snowdon tomorrow. We wouldn’t have the rush and thrill of the Llanberis Pass descent until we’d put in 40 some-odd miles of demoralizing pedaling from the coastline to the highlands…
I hope you'll continue to follow our journey, and perhaps begin your own between the covers of your Bible at nevercease.org.