Above the clouds

View from the top of Y-DAS

There are those days – many more than before – where you just can’t ride for shit. Well not you, me butin a misery loves company sort of way I fervently hope you’re suffering just the same. Because you must know what I’m talking about; leaden legs demanding at least two easier gears, brain entirely disconnected from reality soignoringconfusedlimbs failing toclear the simplest of obstacles.

It should get better, but of course it doesn’t. Point the bike downhill and the evolutionary miracle of a modern mountain bike founders on the rocks of the DNA pinging about in a rather more ancient evolutionary conduit currently mainlining a three legged stoat with a serious head wound.

There was a time when the most appropriate response to being dangerously rubbish was to flip it the bird and attempt to ride faster. Faster is always better we’re told. Right up to the point when it isn’t. That generally being the confluence of too much testosterone, too few bike handling skills and a tree.

Nowadays I just sigh a bit, shout at my legs while consulting the ˜book of many and varied excuses‘. Today’s ride had all of that with a frankly obscene side order of sticky mud soconsigning the day to the file marked ˜why the fuck did we bother?

Except of course it didn’t. Because we spent most of it above the clouds. You don’t generallyget such a view without owning your own charter airline. Not at 8am tho. Heading over the border to Wales in 10/10 clag, the day started with the level of ambivalence traditionally associated with riding big mountains duringNovember. No matter, we were up and at ’em shedding layers on a 30 minute grind up a usefully placed fire road.

Top of which, I headed off with my normal navigational uncertainty to capture the rarely seen ˜clouds in the valley‘. Squatting between distant peaks, a heavy fog obscured civilisation below leaving us to feel pretty much on top of the world. That’s a special feeling. Last time we were here – back in April – the trails were dusty dry, but a cruel wind blew away the warmth and cloud clamped hard on the tops.

Not today. The trails were somewhere below a water table topped up from a weeks worth of rain but we cared not a jot. The sky was a deep and unending azure blue, the temperature was rapidly climbing and far horizons beckoned us through the splashy tracks. We broke the protocol of following previous routes to head onto a first summit positioned to look down to those poor fog-bound bastards in the valley. On days like this you really get why high places were so important to our forbearers; you cannot help but feel like gods.

We camera-mugged for a while before gravity dragged us mostly downwards and amusingly sideways right into the valley bottom to where the fog was waiting. Pah, we have no time for that – climbing past the hermitage to gain the river crossing opening up the epic 4km climb to the saddle of Rhim Tramau. That looked hard so we stopped for lunch accompanied by asound system of the gurgling river and a few jokes not entirely appropriate for men of our age. All while chewing sandwiches in shirt sleeves. A win all round.

Did the climb. Didn’t really enjoy it. Didn’t really care once I’d sweated myself to the top and checked out the view. Always good but today really very special indeed. The fog was a sea – swamping entire settlements with meteorological candy floss. We stood above it and wondered what time it might get dark. Had it not been for urgings from the rest of the crew, I might still be there.

And based on my descending performance in the blue-cast daylight that’d been a disaster. All over the place and nowhere near where I needed to be. Gave up, outed camera, took a few shots of those doing it right. Found previously scary rocky descent pretty much mitigated by ace bicycle mostly left alone by rider staring slack-jawed at the CGI landscape.

Arrived alive at the bottom which is an excellent adjective describing exactly what it’s like to be a thousand feet under the summit you need to crest. The start of which was predictably muddy – but not even registering on the horror of 2014 – which somehow synapse’d Cez into forging upwardon the first ascent of ˜Y Das Direct‘ which involveda 30minute push up a grassypath beforea bike-on-the-back yomp to the ridge. Blimey that was hard. The view though needs bottling tightly in a vessel labelled ˜when it’s REALLY REALLY SHIT, uncork this’.

The photos are great. They are not even ciphers for being there. We sat and we stared and we didn’t want to move. High places are always like this but when you’re an island in the clouds, nothing can- and really there is nothing – get close. John Donne – you were wrong.Every man is an island when the world looks like this.

And that was pretty much that. We had a difficult trog to summit overGrwyneFawrreservoir. Then the ground conditions suggested webbed feet in our immediate evolutionary future.

Still time for me to perfect the ˜gentleman’s dismount‘ during a race to the bottom involving many ruts and much giggling. I was laughing at Alex getting it amusingly wrong at the exact point my front wheel fell into a deep V-shaped rut with a diameter of something a bit less than my fat, flat pedals. The bike stopped, I didn’t but – after a day of being entirely useless on a bicycle – I somehow stepped off the bike and over the bars leaving me with the small problem of decelerating from 15kph with a 10kph gait.

Icaught the rest of the fellas up eventually. Only to lose them again when my˜light snob’ eye took a singleblink at the still waters of the reservoir andinsisted digital imaging must get involved.

We dropped back to the van on a final rockychute – in my caseriddenentirely with brake pads mud-filed to nothingness – with happy 100{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} mud splattered faces. Not because the trails werefantastic. Not because we’d completed somethingattempted many times before. Not even for the simplejoy of riding bikes with our friends.

No, because we spent a dayabove the clouds. And that makes it a very special day. But also a bittersweet one,because our lives are full of work, ofmeetings, of rooms with windows tothe clouds, of reasons to embraceadulthood. Weknow these days are fleeting, no more than a last gasp ofseasons long gone, yet for allthat rationality a single golden thread draws ustogether. Maybe it will be like that tomorrow.

It really might be.

No one should live their lifeon someoneelse’s agenda. Those rooms have no view. The ones outside really do.Don’t die wondering.

2 thoughts on “Above the clouds

  1. Nice pic Alex.

    I’ve stopped riding now, since having a bone re-shaping off about 3-4 years ago and then going over the bars on my first ride out after that. I finally got the hint. 😉

  2. Alex

    Sounds nasty! I could never stop riding tho. I’m looking forward to annoying the young with my electric mountain bike in a few years 🙂 The thing is Toni I was never very good, so I can maintain mediocracy for quite a while yet 🙂

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