Beyond exhausted, the shock finally set in. Shaking and tearful, I refused to get out of the car – so that’s where we stayed, listening to the rain and waiting for dawn.
Continued from the previous post….
Day Four already felt centuries old by the time a weak morning light finally appeared through the the rain soaked car windows. Sleep having been impossible, the dawn chorus provided the soundtrack as we drove to breakfast in the local town, before heading back to the bike park to report the previous night’s events.
The park and its off-shoot of camping bases are run by a close knit team from the surrounding small communities. They were visibly shocked and devastated by such incident but were equally supportive.
Not wanting to end a great holiday in such a way we were however determined to stay. The staff found us a place in a small lodge in another part of the park so packing up the stuff again we decamped to a third residence!
Time ticking by, after a short nap we grabbed the bikes and headed back out on the bikes.
Covering parts of 24/44km Blade and Skyline trails we tackled some technical, rocky climbs as well as rooty forest single track all linked by sections of fire trail, before the hills and woods gave way to wide open, wind-swept vistas and giant windmills, the construction of which helped to pay for the building of the trails.
After three hours or so however, lack of sleep and last night’s drama caught up and my adrenalin had well and truly deserted me.
Reaching the point of tiredness, I was making mistakes on the trails, the single track was demanding and required a concentration that I didn’t have. Time to head back.
I was just congratulating myself on making such a sensible, adult decision when I realised I had no map and no clue how to get back. My sleep deprived brain convinced me that after a quick glance at the route on my friend’s phone it would be no problem to follow the easy fire trails avoiding the single track and to meet up closer to home.
Of course I should have stuck with the plan. I didn’t. Cycling off into the woods, evening was now beginning to draw in and my body was seriously tired.
Construction works had been taking place and many of the trail markers were ominously missing. No people around, the darkening trees loomed in threateningly. The path also headed stubbornly uphill whereas even my tired brain knew the way home was definitely downwards.
You know that point at which you know you’re lost/going the wrong way and yet you continue because you don’t want to lay waste to all the effort it’s taken to get that far. I reached that point.
After about 5 miles, I finally admitted defeat, I was well and truly lost. With the light was fading, I was very tired and very cold and I was scared.
My rational brain knew I was unlikely to be lost here forever, definitely no wolves or bears to contend with. But cold, tired and scared trumps rational brain every time.
I’d just started a small stress-induced meltdown before, in a tiny window of lucidity I suddenly remembered my mobile phone. By a miracle it had signal amidst all the trees so I called my friend who was somewhere out on the trails, looking for me after I didn’t make the rendezvous!
However I’d gone completely off-piste and with no GPS, no map and no landmarks other than many trees it was impossible to tell where I was. It took a series of frustrating phonecalls and backtracking before, well over another hour later, I finally retraced my steps enough and we managed to meet up. I can say that I have seldom been so grateful to see another human being! It also never ceases to amaze how a familiar face can turn a bad experience around in an instant.
Another hour saw us back to the safety of the start point and the car. A mere 2+ hours and approximately 15 extra miles from the point I’d decided to stop and a whole new level of exhausted.
Day Five was a definite rest day for me. Any residual guilt for not cycling was completely outweighed by the hangover from events of the past 24 hours. A restorative day sitting in the sunshine, reading and drinking beer worked wonderfully however and as the last morning of Day Six dawned I was ready for one final spin on the trails.
It was a glorious sunny day as we headed up (always up!) the fire trails and through the heart of the wind farm. Two Hundred foot high metal windmills dwarfing the bikes like surreal, minimalist trees. The trail then offered up some fabulous pieces of single track, riding over twisting, technical boardwalk, through rock jumps until finally, one long, flowing downhill section, no wider than a sheep track, chipped from the side of a steep ravine.
Flying down the last trails there was really no better way to end what had been a truly adrenalin packed vacation.
[Best singletrack: Helter Skelter (on Blade), a continuous run of berms and jumps, brilliant corkscrewing trail that makes you feel as if you’re flying.]
Definitely one of those holidays which feels like it’s lasted forever at the end of just one day!
Looking back over the past week, I’ve tackled things on the mountain bike which were way out of my experience and comfort zone. I’ve pushed myself physically and mentally. There have even been times when it all falls into place, the cycling and the skills, and you come away from a segment of riding on an absolute high.
The lows are more complex. Tiredness and getting lost on the bike produce strong but transient emotions, they quickly fade with a good night’s sleep, food and warmth.
The camping incident however will linger. I’ve camped, solo all over the world, wild camping in some remote places and it’s been a 100% positive experience. This has rattled me almost more than I care to admit.
With an analytical head on I do think women are brought up to believe the world is a more dangerous place, regardless of actuality. I even wrote about it when cycling alone across Canada and the difference between perceived and actual risk. Between a man being seen as ‘adventurous’ and women seen as being ‘vulnerable’.
This has made me feel vulnerable and I don’t like that.
I’ve already been camping again since and it has helped to put the above incident in perspective. It was unlucky, that is all, but the residue still has me jumping at shadows more frequently than I’d like. On the positive note we were unharmed and the incident also gave a direct experience of positive human behaviour ranging from the police; to the park and lodge staff and finally to the support and strength my companion and I gave to each other.
For now, the person who was arrested has been charged and will be prosecuted. This will also mean returning to Wales to give evidence in court shortly.
To finish, in context, including the above, my memories of the trip are overwhelmingly good ones, of people, of a stunning landscape and of the freedom, the adrenalin and the fun of mountain biking.
Will I go again. Of Course!!
Berms: banked corners which make you fly and go “wheeeeee”
Full-Sus (Suspension): Springs on both ends
Hard Tail: A bike with front suspension only, or a sore bum.
MTB: Mountain Bike
Rock Gardens: Annoying lumps of rock embedded in the ground which spoil a perfectly good trail, or a technical challenge depending on point of view.
Single Track: A narrower bit of path to fall off on
Technical Section/Ascent/Descent: Multiple opportunities to fall off
Wipe Out: Parting company from one’s bike.