Screaming All Around
It’s morning… not sure what time. The sun streams into a hotel room that strikes me as very European. Our pile of bicycling gear and bags line the wall in front of me, but other than that, the furniture is modern and minimal. Zara is tapping softly at the door, offering morning tea to Matt and I. You tend to sleep well after an all-night flight and a full day of additional travel.
The plan is to get organized and on the road as quickly as possible. The bikes had been reassembled the evening before, witnessed by a few fascinated onlookers. Two local boys had ridden up, unable to resist their curiosity. A few dozen questions later, we sent them on with a couple souvenir coins from the land across the ocean; both grinning ear to ear.
Zara’s a real gem on the road. Because of her shoulder problems, she was driving support vehicle for an average of half the day each day. Not far out of town she’d pulled off in a layby and to our surprise quickly extracted a small gas burner, pots, bowls and porridge from the car. Never did we want for nourishment on the trip. Between the hot tea, homemade flapjacks (bars made of oats and honey), healthy supply of Welsh cakes and stash of homemade chocolate chip cookies her sister sent along for us, we were living like kings, if smelling like paupers.
We spent the morning rolling through the Isle of Anglesey, the northernmost portion of Wales and home of Prince William. The Menai strait separates this island from the mainland of Wales, meaning we’d be at sea level twice today – once at the start, and once halfway through the ride. The gentle hills on the isle were a light appetizer for the region of Snowdonia, looming up on the horizon before us.
The Menai bridge is a pretty site– tall stone arches tiptoeing over the river in a stately row, topped by sweeping suspension cables drapped over either side of the narrow roadway. Below, the straits lay calm, fleckedwith small fishing boats and sailboats. The northern bank is full of small cottages crowding the high tide line. Across the strait, old stone mansions are peering down from high gardens at the top of the steep bank.
Navigating the small town of Bangor just over the strait proved a challenge. I remember realizing we’d hit the same roundabout three different times… not exactly homing pigeon instincts. We did finally make it out of the maze of one-way streets, stacked roundabouts, and closed roads and into the heart of Snowdonia. Snowdonia is the most mountainous region in Wales, and home to Mt. Snowdon, Wales’ highest peak. I had specifically planned the route to pass alongside the mountain, over Llanberis Pass. It added a couple hundred feet in elevation gain for the day, but when you’re climbing over 4700 vertical feet anyway, what’s a couple hundred more to say we saw Snowdon?
I’m riding a 20 speed cyclocross bike, outfitted with road tires. In all my training in Texas, I’ve never felt the need for lower gears, but after several miles of standing over the bike in the lowest gear, pumping like a madman just to maintain forward motion, I was a warming up to the idea of another gear set. Likewise, I’d been quite confident on the factory cantilever brakes until I found myself screaming down a 16% grade on the other side…
Zara was on the bike by the time we hit the foothills of Snowdonia, Matthew having relieved her of driving duties. Sarah was in the car as well, nursing groin pains. It’s tough keeping pace with a girl half my size going up those hills… well, that’s my assumption anyway, I can’t say I ever did keep pace with her on that climb! Hours drug past a we crawled uphill. I was grateful that the scenery was awe-inspiring enough to drown out the screams from my legs. When we finally reached the crest of Llanberis Pass, we stopped to soak up the victory, and stare with sparkling eyes over the descent ahead of us. The road curved along the side of the mountain, carving out a path dropping right to the base over the course of a few miles. The rain started in large drops before we pulled out of the scenic little lot at the crest.
The next few miles were among the most enjoyable of the trip. Despite the soaking chill from the wind and rain, the beauty and the thrill of that descent, and those following it from there southward was… well… words escape me. The sun broke through before we reached the end of the valley we were following and began the climb over the next rift of hills. A panorama of green spread out underneath us, broken into a patchwork quilt of sheep pastures and stone walls, stretching to the edge of a great lake in the lowest quarter. Higher on the opposite slope the meadows gave way to rugged hillside; huge blotches of bluebells covered whole portions of the hill like blue cloud shadows.
As we moved to the southern edge of Snowdonia, and the remaining miles began to dwindle, I felt a premature sense of accomplishment. Little did I know our riverside campsite was accessed by what I remember as twelve miles of grueling uphill out of the river valley itself, only to find ourselves at the level of the river all over again, on the upstream side of a huge series of waterfalls. One good climb deserves another I suppose.
Our accomodation for the night was a pleasantly little bell tent, fully furnished for four. After scoping it out, we peeled off layer after layer of dripping lycra and polyester and availed ourselves of every open tent line and fence wire to hang them out in the still-humid air. Then we clambered into the car in search of food. Chinese takeaway, it turned out.
That night the peace of the Llechrwd Riverside Campground was broken a couple of times with desperately agonizing cries. I don’t know what kind of impression it left on the other campers, but I couldn’t help it. Muscle seizures (Charlie-horses, we call them) gripped my inner thigh without warning as I lay down to stretch for the night. When one of those hits, it’s impossible to choke down a scream. Again, Zara came to rescue with a tube of Icy-Hot, and we all fell into a mixture of slumbers, snores and dreams of handlebars and spinning wheels…
It's just day one.
I hope you'll continue to follow our journey, and perhaps begin your own between the covers of your Bible at nevercease.org.