or: On just getting out of the door
Anyone who is on nodding terms with anxiety and self-doubt will know that getting out of the door is half the battle.
It’s too easy to say to someone else, knowing they have the right equipment and time to hand, to “just go!” Can you ever really understand how concerns, amplified through the subjective lenses of worry and inertia, hold someone back? This time, however, the “just go” came at the right time, in the right form, from the right person, and I found myself on a train to Holyhead on Solstice morning.
I’m someone who needs a plan, even if its just a plan to take you far enough along to make another plan. On the recommendation of my friend Steve – of Grass Up The Middle fame – the initial plan was to trundle up to the Cemlyn Bay area and find somewhere to wild camp.
It was a blazing sunny afternoon and I aimlessly followed NCN routes Westwards to Church Bay and my first British sea swim of the year. The visceral cold and salty waves reminding me that I need to do this so much more often. It was warm enough to just lie in the sun and air dry. It was the Solstice after all and, with discreet wild camping on the cards, I was in absolutely no rush to get anywhere. Normally when I’m cycletouring I’m so driven to get where I’m going, to know that rest and food and other concerns will be dealt with, that I don’t stop and just let time pass.
After pushing the bike out of Church Bay, I followed glorious lanes along a wandering route to Cemeas. Almost exactly ten years ago I did my first cycle camping adventure up here, and I indulged in nostalgia and a shandy. I struck up a conversation with the woman I was sharing the pub garden bench with. In case you needed reminding… Older lesbians are freaking cool.
Our conversation when something like this:
Me “I did a bike ride.”
Her “I trekked across Patagonia.”
Me “Not the fancy outdoors wear shop? Ha ha!”
She was hiking around the coastal path and had passed the area I was planning to camp in. Taking out her OS map she suggested somewhere else as the Cemlyn Bay area seemed a bit “farmy.”
After stopping at the shop for wine and dinner, I followed beautiful quiet lanes through Cemlyn Bay towards the very North-West tip of Anglesey. While the sun inched Westwards, the sky remained a blazing blue. Whizzing along shade lanes and through patches of dappled sunlight was so cooling and refreshing. These lanes are, to me at least, the epitome of the Grass Up The Middle ideal. Riding on the left-hand side of the lane, hedges brush your shoulders and the grass median tickle your ankle.
As I approached my destination, Fydlyn Beach, I left the lanes and followed farm tracks across fields towards an unseen sea. This was going to be my first-time wild camping alone and I nervously scrutinised the landscape for likely looking bivvy spots. Thinking to myself that the plan was to pick a bivvy spot, then find somewhere to watch the sunset in the company of red wine and Babybel cheese, I started the steep decent to the bay. I’m nervous downhill and was halfway to the beach before I realised I wasn’t alone. A large marquee, a couple of pick up trucks, a selection of mongrel dogs, a sound system blaring balkan… Oh boy, I’d stumbled on a goddamn hippy Solstice party!
I jumped off the bike as the dogs run up to me, their barking mitigated by their wagging tails. Dreads and ponchos, a chap in a waistcoat and top hat, free-range children with fairy wings. These were high-quality hippies. Wandering over to say hello, they clearly thought I was a friend of a friend, rocking up to join the party. I wasn’t the former, but I didn’t mind doing the latter. Soon I had a chair, a cold beer, dogs bumping against my knees. I introduced myself, repeated my story – “Yeah, I’m just a cyclist looking for somewhere to wild camp!” – enough times to figure out that most of the other attendees were already on the way to being out of it.
I refused offers of various substances, drank my wine, had wide-ranging chats with Anglesey locals and incomers. I watched the sun set with strangers who felt, for that moment at least, like friends. As it finally grew dark, the conversations started to get tangential and incomprehensible, suggesting the hallucinogens were kicking in. For them, not me; Refusing drugs offered by folk you meet cycle touring is an act of self-care. I felt as though this was the signal for me to grab my bike, roll it up the beach, man handle it over a wall and bivvy down, not bothering to pitch the tarp.
It was a short night, and I woke with the sunrise and shouts of “Ella!” My friends from the night before had climbed up a rock and were yelling my name. Was it because they could see me tucked in by the wall or were they wondering where I was? Either way, I didn’t rush to them. I dozed a few hours away, listening to podcasts and watching the sun brighten. Still early, I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to the few hardy stragglers from the night before and rolled down to Valley and breakfast. (Relish Cafe in Valley hits a sweet spot between being a bit nice and being a proper cafe.)
I spent Friday following Sustrans routes around the bottom of Anglesey, stopping by Rhosneigr and Newborough Forest, visiting places I’d last passed on my failed attempt on the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch 400km audax in 2015. I spent the evening in the pretty town of Caernarfon. Then a short ride over to Pwllheli, following the Lon Eifion cycleway, to stay on a friend’s new boat on Saturday, finishing with a Sunday of boat painting, sea swimming and a lift home howling the wrong lyrics to classic rock songs all the way.
Three days of sunshine, seaside, country lanes and easy navigation, combined with the unexpected delight of a Solstice party and helping my friend, did the trick and really lifted my spirits. There is no bullshit JFDI moral to this story. We all lead complicated lives. But yeah, the moral of the story IS that when things do line up, they might continue to line up, and you should go. If you can get out of the house and see who the world throws at you, do it. But if you head and heart isn’t, don’t worry, there will be another time.
Bike! This was to be my last adventure on the Pinnacle Ramin, a 29er Evans Cycles kindly let me borrow to me for the Spring. Locking out the suspension on the fork turned it into a sturdy, comfortable and confidence-inspiring touring machine. Maybe not the most efficient, but a reminder that the best bike for a trip is the one you actually have. I’m excited that Pinnacle has just brought out a “proper” touring bike, the Pinnacle Dacite. With a steel frame, a triple chainset and Tubus rear rack included for under a grand it looks like a bargain and a great first touring bike.
Bags! I’ve had a slow conversion to “bikepacking” style luggage. I found the Ortlieb bikepacking bags a bit awkward and over-engineered. However, the Apidura Expedition Handlebar pack is probably one of my favourite things right now. It took a little getting used to, but now I can easily stuff my bivvybag, light summer sleeping bag, and silk liner, plus tarp, cord and pegs, along with some clothes to sleep in and other bits and bobs like tools, tubes and spare food into the 14-litre version. (Then I strap my sleeping mat to the front of that because I haven’t been able to upgrade from the faithful AlpKit Dirtbag.) A pair of Apidura Feed Pouches did the job of holding whatever random stuff I wanted to keep handy. Because this was a short trip, and I really wanted to prove I wasn’t a mad over-packer, I used my 9-litre Carradice Super C Audax saddle bag. If the good weather hadn’t been pretty much guaranteed – Thanks man-made climate change! – I would have needed more carrying capacity for waterproofs and changes for clothes.
Clothes! I went a bit feral on this trip, just taking a change of tshirt, socks and knickers, with a much abused and stretched out Rapha Merino base layer as a light jumper, a Gore Bike Wear Thermal Jersey for the cold bits and my utterly beloved Columbia Titan Lite Windbreaker as a jacket. If you are size 18 or smaller and looking for a good windproof jacket, look at this jacket because I really love it and its still on sale. I didn’t wear padded cycling shorts, my basic outfit was knackered short green MTB short I got in America, t-shirt and cycling cap. I need to replace these shorts, so recommendations for size 18+ touring / mountain biking shorts appreciated.
Holyhead to Fydlyn Beach
Fydlyn Beach to Caernarfon