Welsh spine #5 – Bearable wetness of being

Burt’s Bees “Music from Nature”

     A solid roof over our heads, wooden floor beneath our mattresses. These and other luxuries meant we didn’t get to notice the bad weather outside until later into the morning. We had a good night’s sleep, only Radek, or rather his snoring woke me up somehow prematurely. Three roll-overs to the other side, two kind “Oi’s!” and one battery throw later, I could continue my slumber. Mind you, the battery didn’t woke Radek up, oddly enough it just stopped his snoring.
There was no hurry in morning’s preparations. The official weather forecast for toady we heard from our English neighbors excluded any long distance cycling, even more so when one’s about to ride over exposed hill tops. And so it was, another day to be spent around getting to the next bothy.
While reorganizing ourselves we made a fire, get some heat into our bones before hitting the road. Rain was steadily flooding our bothy’s windows. Breakfast, packing, bike-checks. All is good. We bid the Englishmen goodbye as they leave. After cleaning up our mess and leaving an entry in the bothy log book we leave as well.
Start goes quite well. It rains alright, but the forest road is good and apart of constantly overheating in waterproof gear, there’s little to distract us from the pleasure of riding. With time the rain eases up, time to sport some short sleeves – it’s not summer for sure, but it cools us down and makes for a brighter day.
As it happens in Wales, the joys of dry weather don’t last to long. First, there are single droplets falling from the sky, then they seem to come in pairs just to pour down on us a second later. We pass by a Red Kite reserve, and although the nice duckboard paths are tempting, we don’t feel like spotting birds of prey in the rain. We only stop at The Arch – the “entry” to Elan Valley – for a group photo and head towards Pont-rhyd-y-grose.
Rain thickens making fast descents a sight-impaired escapade. As another hill crossing is ahead of us, we stop for shelter in the hopes of better weather to come. We pass time with chit-chat, gummy bears and singing silly 90s hits.

“…Walkin’ in Memphis,
do I really feel the way I feel,
I’m serious as a cancer…
btw. how much is the fish?”

This top of the pops goes on for another 1.5 hours in which the weather didn’t change at all. This won’t get us to the bothy, let alone the finish at Worm’s Head. We decide to push and sweat into our waterproofs.  It’s just the route that makes us think. Looking at the map, we try to judge the terrain ahead of us. For a brief moment we consider taking the tarmac road, but finally decide against it. Cross country seems short… let it be, adventure. 
After leaving the tarmac behind, we get to a rubble road that doesn’t last very long. Further ahead is a typical Welsh trail, and all the rain didn’t do it any good. We find ourselves pushing against the wind pretty quickly, jumping over puddles we can spot and falling into the better camouflaged ones. Where the surface is firm enough to ride, there are deep grooves in which bicycle wheels fit perfectly – pedals less so. Radek falls behind, me and Pawel circle each other within shouting range.  On the bald hills we’re passing, the wind can do all the mischief it wants, and it makes a pretty good use out of it. Nonetheless, in those rare moments, when I lift my head from behind my jacket’s faceguard, I feel that the views we are given somehow make up for all of that. I don’t know if the guys felt the same at that time. Unfortunately I didn’t get my camera out of the waterproof bag being afraid of it getting flooded. Memories will have to suffice.
Leaving the hills behind us we get to ride a long downhill into Pontrhydfendigaid, last chance to resupply before heading to the bothy. Once there, everything seems to be closed for business Everything apart from a small shop that also served hot snacks. The kitchen is closed at the time we arrive, but the owner is kind enough to offer us some toast, hot tea and… heating up Polish sausages we find laying around in the fridge. We enter a small room full of clobber, seat ourselves at a table and enjoy this feast, a calorie frenzy.
Past Pontrhydfendigaid we drive by the Strata Florida Abbey, which is – as everything else – shut . Just behind the abbey a long and slow ascent is lurking at us. Tarmac, gravel, trail – the path deteriorates by the second. The further we go the more puddles there are. First come small ones, followed by wide ones, getting longer, deeper… better (by puddle standards of course). There doesn’t seem to be an end to the steady erosion of our path. Constant rainfall causes streams to swell, quite often changing them into fast rivers overflowing and flooding. Each crossing is harder that the previous one. At some point we notice that the river we follow is in fact our track and we are hiking it’s sidewall.
Slowly I start to doubt if it’s the right decision to push to the bothy, the highpoint was when we get to a point where our track (now river) and a swollen stream cross. Unfortunately for us, we are on the wrong side and have to ford two times. One by one, bike after bike, we get to the other side. Feet are cold from constant water crossings and our hands are no better. Pushing and carrying bikes over clumps of grass doesn’t aid progress. A glimpse of the map shows we have one more crossing to do and we’re home.
After that it’s only a couple hundred meters to the bothy. Because it’s located in a valley, I cycle a bit further uphill to confirm we’re in the right spot and we can carry down our bikes. I had no idea in what state we would find the bothy, how many places it offers or if there will be other guests. After a short while I can see a small house poking through the trees, there it is! I wait for the guys to catch up. There’s no smoke coming from the chimney meaning we’ll probably have it all to ourselves. I was just about to turnaround when a loud BANG! came from my rear wheel, the tire deflated instantaneously. Lucky me, it happened here and now – is my only thought and we begin our way down to the bothy.


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