Yes, There Are Mountains in Wales

Cold water has never been my thing. Not swimming in cold lakes, ice cold springs, swimming pools (I prefer the hot tub), or any other cold water activity (surfing, ugh!) that some find very pleasurable but that I in fact do not. I would rather run a marathon than dive into freezing water – walk over hot coals, get something pierced, do a monster pile of dirty dishes, sleep on the floor, receive a bikini wax or even frankly suffer a sunburn than stand under or dip into cold water for even a single second – because once you do, you’re wet; therefore committed to NEVER getting out of that cold cold freezing water again. Because then you are just wet and cold.

Wet and cold, Kyle and I cycle miserably through the town of Bala looking for the Bala Backpacker’s Hostel that had been recommended to us earlier that day by the Snowdonia National Park staff. We had spent most of the day climbing monster hills through terrain and weather akin to the Pacific Northwest in the states, literally crossing Snowdonia National Park from one end to the other in strong winds and relentless rain, trying to ignore the endless mountain sheep taunting us with their warm woolen coats. Another cyclist, a blond woman in a skirt, her long hair piled on her head in a scrunchie, zig zags her bike around the town, eyeing us with interest. We see a sign for the hostel on a corner and take a turn, approaching a white building on our left with signs in the windows. We groan as we see that the prices are rather high for a hostel and even the linens are an extra charge. With the hope of finding a nicer accommodation at an equivalent cost, we bike back to the center of town to find a patch of open WiFi.

“Are you trying to find the Backpacker’s Hostel?” says the blond woman with a Welsh accent; we run into her at the corner. We shake our heads, telling her no, with the dreadful feeling that this is the owner and we might still be back. Sure enough, we do find WiFi and the internet tells us it is the hostel, a wet campsite, or $100+ out of our pocket. Circling back to the hostel, we encounter our friend in the scrunchie again, still spinning circles outside on her bicycle.

“So you’re back are you?” grins the woman. Then her expression melts into a look of pity. “Unfortunately enough, I have a choir group coming in at 8. Lots and lots of little Welsh kids, running around,” she says disappointingly, “However, I may be able to offer you a spot on the floor with your things, like indoor camping. Is that alright?” At this point, we’ll take anything to get out of the wet and into somewhere warm and dry so we nod our heads and follow her inside. She shows us around, warning us that if we need to boil water, we should do it before the children arrived. Leaving the main building, she takes us across the street to show us our first option: to camp in her yard, using a little disconnected apartment with a small kitchenette, bathroom and shower as an indoor hideout. Passing by a room, she points inside to where there is already stuff laid out inside. “I have three backpackers in there, also indoor camping. Maybe if it gets really bad they will take pity on you and let you squeeze in there.” The little separate cottage is as cute as can be, not more than 100 square feet, but we aren’t sure about camping in the wet so she takes us to option 2: camping out on the floor at the back of her café in the children’s area. There, we are out of the cold and wet, also having access to the café’s bathroom and shower (and children’s games), but no kitchenette. “You can just leave your bikes in my yard and in the morning I will trade you key for bikes; this is my only one you see.” Option 3 turns out to be the “call a friend option”. Not wanting to leave our stuff, we decided on option 1: camping outside and using the little cottage. Thankfully, she halves her price for us after all that; we’d already had issues in Wales trying to negotiate (a man with a campsite had just about bitten Kyle’s head off our first night at the mention of negotiation, driving his pick-up truck off in a huff so that Kyle had to trail after him with an apology). After trying a few times to sell us on staying in Bala for a few days, even offering to show us where we could stay after tonight, the woman leaves us to our own devices, only reappearing once an hour later to tell us her indoor floor sleepers had bailed on her and that if we wanted, we could take their spots. Of course, at the time we had already pitched our tent, so we thank her kindly for the offer, leaving the option open in case it gets really wet.

I pop into the shower, dodging cob webs in each corner of a hobbit-size door, and avoiding the frantic scurrying bugs that had been hiding out there in peace until I had shown up. Warm water pours over me, massaging the cold out of my skin. Warm and dry, I hang out in the cottage, laying out or hanging up all my wet things anywhere I can find a space, as the water pelts the roof and Kyle heats up water for some tea. Dreaming of the sun hitting our skin and warm sand between our toes, Kyle and I begin to come up with all kinds of creative ways to get us off this island and down to the Mediterranean. Who really needs to see awesome bicycle infrastructure up north anyway? Not us! We plan a whole new route – take the train to Paris and bike down to the coast, maybe go to Barcelona. With our new plan in place, I fall into a deep slumber, right on the cushioned bench around the table (Kyle toughs it out in the tent outside). The next morning, the sun plays a trick on us, coming outside just long enough for us to get the idea to hang up our things to dry. Kyle goes to the store and I get lost in the sound of my own typing until a sound registers on my brain – is it raining? I look outside and it is showering! Everything is soaked. I debate whether I should go out there, but everything is already wet and I am in my only dry outfit. Kyle comes back and we lament over our misfortune. The sun comes back out and we make a run (cycle rather) for it. We haul out of there with our wet things, getting the hell out of Bala.

We climb a mountain, 1500 feet, with our bikes. The sun comes out. We look back on some of the most beautiful vistas imaginable and we laugh about the adventure we are having. We reach the top and begin the decent, looking down into our reward, a valley surrounded by mountains, prettier even than the vista from the other side. Our silly plans from the previous evening discarded, we ride on to Shrewsbury, leaving Wales for England. Oh the joys of bike touring!

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