Pie. I need pie, today. A twelve inch berry pie with a nice double crust and homemade flavor. And a quart of that super rich Channel Island milk they’ve got over here.
What do they call fruit pies here? Meat pies seem to be the general rule instead of the exception. A tart? A pastry? I don’t know… but I’m bound to find out. I’ve got the route memorized, today, and I know if I can just pull away from the others by ten minutes or so, I’ve got my ticket to cyclist paradise. Such were my thoughts anyway…
We passed village after scenic village, full of little farms, dairies, and quaint bed and breakfast nooks. No bakeries… No cafes… Most places in these little villages start serving food mid-afternoon, I guess. We were over twenty miles into the ride before the first open cafe came into sight. I promptly parked my bike against the “Cafe” sign at the roadside and sauntered into “The Little Chef”. By the time Matt rolled in, a little confused at my bike on the roadside, I had an apple rhubarb crumble on the way, drowning in custard - not quite my usual pie and milk, but pretty close. Zara wasn’t far behind, looking around for me after seeing the roadside signal, wondering what was up. Sarah came in just afterwards. She wasn’t the least bit confused. She parked her bike right alongside mine, popped off here helmet and walked right inside. She knew all about my pie stops… but that’s another story.
Today, I’ve got to appreciate Sarah. Rewind a few short months ago. Here’s a lady, just lost her dear mother, goes out and buys herself a commuter bike out of the online classifieds and tells me flatly, “I’m doing the ride.” I replied with something like, “You realize it’s 300 miles through two of the soggiest countries in the world, right?”. She wasn’t phased. “It’s 50 miles a day, and it’s not flat riding, either,” I continue. “I can train” she sad resolutely. And train she did. She was pumping out 50 mile rides like they were afternoon strolls by a couple weeks before the trip - not to under-appreciate the pain, sweat and miles that got her there. She poured herself into it.
And guess what? Today she’s in mid-Wales, with that secondhand commuter parked outside a Little Chef, calmly scanning the menu in full cycling attire, deciding on a hot drink and some nourishment. That’s a portrait of inspiration if there ever was one. She told me more than once before the trip, “The truth [of the Bible] and my biking, those are the only two things I’m focused on right now.” Sounds like a pretty good summation of a NeverCease ambassador.
Before flying out, I recall her saying, “I just remembered, I’m a homebody.” You ain’t a homebody, no more, girl. You’re an international adventure athlete.
We made it out of Snowdonia, but Ceredigion was the next region. Known for it’s hills and rugged coastline, it didn’t sound much different from Snowdonia, just perhaps less famous. According to Strava, we’d pumped out over 4,700 feet of elevation gain the first day. This second day? 4,400 feet. It was make-or-break day. This was the day you either adapted to the hills, chills, rain and saddle sores, or you withered into the fetal position on the roadside. I was aware when planning the trip that these first two days of riding would be the hardest. From here, the hills got more reasonable, the mileages were a bit shorter, and the jet lag would be wearing off.
By grace of God, we did make it through day two. By the time we did, we had two wheels in need of repair. Sarah had popped a spoke on hers at some point, and I’d bent one of mine enough to pull my wheel out of true. I know exactly when mine happened. Zara and I have this real itch for speed on the downhills. Even the shortest slopes get us racing for an adrenaline high and a speed record. It was on one of the short-but-fast downhills that day that I’d stood up to pump hard a little too soon. My chain hadn’t completely engaged in the higher gear yet, and it jumped around just as I was leaning full force on the pedals. The jolt sent both of my feet straight out of the pedal clips and slammed me down on the seat (thankfully). The bike was all but out of control, sweeping widely to the left, then the right still zinging downhill. On the first sweep, the heel of one of my flailing feet caught the front wheel, smashing into a spoke and bouncing up and back out immediately. I have no idea how I kept the rubber side down through all that chaos. Zara heard the crack of the chain jumping and looked back to catch the second or third sweep of the bike as it zigzagged across the lane. She was sure I was going to eat pavement. …but somehow I didn’t. A surge of gratefulness came on full strength as the adrenaline subsided. Whew! That was a thrill…
We had a real treat that night, staying in a couple of rooms at the Plas Dolau Country Estate near Aberystwyth. After assessing the bike issues and awing over our beautiful accommodations, we headed into the famed Tynllidiart Arms up the road and had an absolutely incredible supper; my stuffed chicken and French style potato plate was quite possibly the best dish I’ve ever put down. They say hunger is the best sauce. I say cycling is the best way to pour it on.
As for the bikes, it turns out there was a great bike shop just up the road from the country estate. Tomorrow looked like another ridable day.
I hope you’ll continue to follow our journey, and perhaps begin your own between the covers of your Bible with nevercease.org.