I have a Wales Mountain Biking guide open in front of me. As ever, planning. As I searched for something perhaps North Walesish, my eyes glanced over the mid Wales section, and there it was, Rhayader, and with that came memories.
Rhayader came in the middle of a solo holiday. My first real go it alone experience, my first attempt to fill my leisure time with solitary activity. It's hard to describe why or how this came about or to pull the significance into words. I had never known it was possible to be contented, or perhaps even happy in an experience which wasn't shared with other folk. Yet somehow, in that summer, there I was, giving it a go on a very very safe and small level. Did I choose to plunge in with an experience in a foreign place where they speak no English? No. Did I choose to try death defying soloing or cliff diving? No. It was enough of an emotional risk taking this time out, true time out of everything, alone.
I don't even remember it being a conscious decision, just something I drifted into because it seemed the natural and obvious thing to do. Not really a woman against world train of thought involved. Yet, somehow, with the clarity that the passing of another half decade brings, it did feel a little that way. A small, self contained individual, armed with a car, a tent, a wetsuit, a bike, a camping chair and a box of wine. I did feel small. Looking back, I still see myself back then as small, but as astonishingly self contained.
I remember riding the green lanes, arriving with hesitation at an unwelcoming farm with no clear view of the ongoing bridleway. An encounter with the farmer, whose concern was his moving herd of cattle bearing down on me from the trail. A conversation, a wait, a sense of surreal as the cows passed me by. Then up and up and up until the broad trail became virtually nothing and then became boulders through a stream. Up to the road, a short spell of tarmac and off into the greenery, where there was nobody, not a soul, a whole load of nothing for miles and miles and miles. An unexpected ford making me giggle as I desperately pedalled up to my axles in water, hoping and praying that I would make it through to the end still in the saddle. Some kinds of wet are simply not necessary on the bike. There were village tea rooms and there was cake and it was a wonderful day spent just being me. And the bike. This is us at the bewildering where did the path go moment. It went across ...
Since the tame going it alone holiday, there have of course been more and more times when I've gone it alone. Suilven in Scotland, two days hiking, carrying my everything on my back and spending a night in a bothy with just the bothy mouse for company and the sounds of rutting stags throughout the night. Six weeks in New Zealand including a 5 day hike along the coast, again my world in a huge purple pack. There has been France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg.
I wrote about this ride here, on this blog, back in July 2011. Memory has re-written the ride, as it re-writes so many things. History is rounded, curved, completed by the present and by the future. Experience paints it different colours and brings with it new meaning. But that first moment of brave, of discovery of possibility, that yes, it can be not only done, but done with smiles and laughter. That won't be equaled. There'll always be Rhayader. And certainly if 2005 felt like an ending, 2011 felt like hope.