WELCOME! I've been cycling through the Southeast Valleys of Wales since 2010 and I can't say (or show) enough about the place. I just love it. So if you've got the interest and would like to spend some time... sit back and let me show you some of the fabulous places I've discovered.

July 29, 2015

Carolina Summer

I miss the sun. I miss the bright shining summer-days-on-end when it's just non-stop heat... glaring, blank relentless heat baking everything. When the heat from yesterday seems to add to the heat of today and the humidity is thick and sticky you can taste. Warm air you can feel on your forearms and neck as you walk through the yard. Wet and green and mixed with the smell of cut grass and dirt, pine sap and soapy laundry hanging on the line...everything all together, all at once, all over you in a thick summer soup.

I miss seeing the heat radiating off the empty black top country roads and the faint stench of a dead animal off somewhere to the side... where? No matter, it makes you look. Way outside of town, late on a Saturday afternoon folks have stopped doing much of anything... just sitting on the front porch now, maybe having a lemonade. The occasional car passes. A hand held out the window waves. The horses are gathered under that shade-tree far out in the middle of the field. The grass needs a good bush-hog. Wonder when the last time they used that ole tobacco barn... the red-rusted tin roof is bent and warped like boulders from the heavens have fallen on it. Once the water gets in, she's a goner.

The rank, acrid smell of standing water from a dark bog along the bottom of a shadowy hollow, down by the single-lane bridge, just over a spooky creek. You can see catfish two feet long weaving back and forth through the deep spots. Must be twenty of 'em down there now. It's too hot for birds, but the cicadas are starting to buzz on and off and there's a family snappin' turtles sunnin' on an old log over by the far bank.

Driving hard and fast up the steep hills and feeling the car lift just at the crest. Then dropping down hard again and down faster, faster as the car bottoms out and suddenly the rush of cool air before you bounce back up the other side, heading out of the shade, back into the glaring sun with thick pines a hundred feet tall on both sides of the road. Racing fast, windows down, wind roaring. Rusty with worn tires, bad shocks, rattles like Hell, but damn she’s a classic!

And then late in the day... as the air is cooling slightly, coming across the top of a wide ridge the sun sits in a yellow haze just over the tree tops and off in the distance, across a dry rutted field dogs are barking, a screen door slams and you can hear kids laughing. A mother hollers something inaudible.

Bright southern summer sun in your eyes… there's no place like it.

July 24, 2015

Cycle Instructor Training

In November it's cold... often it's raining. From 4:30 in the afternoon until 7:30 the next morning it's dark. I awake at five am. It is seven degrees, dark, and raining. This is the day I am to begin my cycle instructor training.

I like to get up early. I like to have enough time in the morning to relax as I prepare for the day. I want to have a couple of cups of coffee, a small breakfast of cereal, juice, and fruit. I like to sit and sort my thoughts before venturing out. I want to organize my gear then pack my bike efficiently, and check everything over before I get on the road. I want to travel comfortably so that I get to my destination early.

This day, however; will be unusual. Setting off in the rain is always difficult and requires a special effort - physically and psychologically. I will need my full rain kit including; waterproof jacket, trousers, gloves, neoprene shoe booties, and helmet cover... pretty much everything in order to attempt to keep dry. I'll also need front and rear lights. I need to see AND be seen.

I will also need a change of clothes to wear during my day at the training centre; something dry and casual. Most probably I will also need another cycling outfit (which is dry) in which to pedal home. That's three outfits for the day. Then in addition to the essential gear I haul around in my handlebar bag, I'll have a packed lunch. So all this means that I'll need two panniers. That makes three bags and a total weight of about thirty pounds.

Today I'll be travelling to the lovely suburb of Gabalfa just north of Cardiff. Its just over 25 miles down, but because I take a different and longer route coming home; it works out to be a total of 55 miles round-trip. The class I'll be taking is from 9:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon; Monday through Thursday.

To get there, I'll cycle over to Maesycwmmer where I'll head down Pandy Lane into Bedwas & Cearphilly. There I'll get on the Taff Trail and continue on mostly traffic-free paths for the remainder of the trip. It's an easy ride actually... mostly all down hill with just a few short, but busy sections between Taff's Well and Tongwynlais. Gabalfa is just off the trail in a rather busy shopping and industrial estate.

Cycling in the rain always takes a bit more effort and usually requires more time. You've got to ride much slower and I generally make more stops to check gear, adjust my clothes and what not. Of course, it's going to be dark too. Dark and cold and raining. I hope to make the trip in 2 hours. Thankfully in this part of the world no one with any sense is out at this time of day, so I can count on a very quiet ride... in the dark, and in the cold, and most certainly in the rain.

But let's pause here for a moment... As I read back over this objective introduction, I sound rather stoic and methodical. And in my own way I guess I am. I do plan extensively, perhaps some may say excessively. But the fact is... I'm thrilled. It's going to be an adventure! Sure, it's gonna be cold. Yes, it will be dark and most certainly, absolutely, I will get thoroughly soaking wet... wet to my very core. But it's going to be a blast!

I'm going to see the day come to light as I cycle down tree-covered lanes all to myself... rolling through the dark green morning, the sheep will be baaing and the cows will be mooing in the wet grassy meadows, and little yellow lights will be flickering to life in the windows of houses far off across the valley.

From under the dark canopy, just below the high ridge I'll see over the fields to the far off mountains as the sun begins to rise and light the sky with a blue pink haze.

I'll glide through the narrow streets and around the corner shops just waking up, past delivery trucks with men and hand-carts loading vegetables... slipping past with the clickty-click of my rear derailleur, hunkered down over the handlebars, wet and gleaming like an arrow.

As I roll along the Taff, I'll see the heavy rush of a river come to life... high on its banks, roaring over the weirs, the water brown and grey and white... racing beside it, looking to see who is faster? Then there's a sigh as it gurgles through a rocky cutback... And suddenly it widens and slows... almost to a stop and then all I'll hear are my tyres slicing over the wet pavement. Slick quick splashes, swish, swish, front then back, through the narrow spots while dodging branches and leaves slapping at my helmet.

I'll have all the time I need to get where I'm going. I'll have dry clothes in which to change once I'm there. I'll find a little coffee shop and warm up. I'll watch the cars speeding by and the people scurrying about, off to work and school and all the important places, with their cars loaded full, and pale faces pressed behind foggy windows, sleepy blurry eyes. They'll be blinking at my skinny legs and slicked down hair and wet goofy smile... wondering who is he?, and what's he doing, and why?

And then I'll head to class and meet some new folks and learn some new things. And when all of that is done for the day and the sun starts to set and the rain begins to dribble... I'll get on my bike and look up the road, at the trees blowing in the wind... and I'll do it all over again... coming home.