I woke feeling relatively okay. I had expected to stir every hour or so with cramps during the night but it hadn’t happened. When we left the camp there were a great deal of Holstein-Friesian cows crowded together in the field beside us. As we approached they shifted closer to inspect us, and as we cycled by they ran clumsily up alongside us – big brown eyes swirling in their sockets.
It wasn’t long before we hit the foothills of the Clwydian Mountain Range – the climbing steep and relentless yet again. I passed over a patch of gravel on one such climb and the tyre lost traction before a small pop sounded followed by an abrupt hiss. Adam, in mid climb, continued to where the hill leveled out and waited there for me as I changed the inner tube. Another shark-tooth flint.
As we continued we passed through some beautiful areas, following what appeared to be old ceuffords that connected village to village – sunken lanes not dissimilar to the holloways found in the South of England. Rills and nants ran down every hill, road and track, converging in the valleys and basins. Many of these arteries of water encroached onto the roads and here and there we would scythe through shallow fords, the water trailing up off the rear wheel to shower the rider at the rear. We had been riding through Flintshire for most of the morning; Wales most Easterly County, with Chester marking our reentry of England.
After a few hours, without lunch and on empty stomachs, we descended down some sketchy hills into a village, the name of which evades me, a few miles from Mold. In this quiet, ‘closed’ village we met a motorcyclist touring on his own and he applauded us for having made it through the hills but then informed us that nowhere was open for us to grab a bite to eat. He helped us with our map and wished us luck with the rest of our journey like so many others before him.
What I can recall from Mold is hazy, mainly due to fatigue. I remember its church, raised slightly on a patch of well-kept land. I remember a few Tudor buildings that sat huddled amongst more modern and displeasing structures. Like a great many villages, towns, and cities, Adam and I had little time to explore or observe – it seemed as though we were constantly pressured by deadlines and checkpoints. I am sure there was more to the place, but in my weariness and haste I recorded very little mental or physical notes.
We stumbled into a café and bought coffees and lunch, sluiced our grimy faces in the toilets and charged a few of our electronics. The toilets of cafes and pubs had proved themselves bathrooms of the road, places where we could attempt to freshen up. More often than not, visits such as these would reveal just how much travelling in this way affects your appearance. My beard had not been trimmed since setting off, there would be dry sweat around my eyes and forehead, a few times I would even discover the remnants of a dead fly in the corner of my eye – the result of a collision somewhere back on the road. We had both unintentionally eaten our fair share of flies each. Every cyclist knows the unpleasant feeling of a fly hitting the back of your throat.
We finished our break and took flight again, following signs for Chester. As we were exiting the town, picking up the pace on a downhill, I passed over a pothole that sent my handlebar bag flying from my bike. I swerved around it and slammed on the brakes. I gathered the bag from the road and dismounted from my bike to meet Adam on the path. The impact with the pothole had caused the rivets that connect the bag to its quick release fitting to shear off. We spent around 15 minutes on the roadside attempting to fix it with our limited tool kit when a resident came out of her house to help. She was a lovely lady but as nice as she was she couldn’t supply us with the parts we required. When she realized we were having no luck she recommended a DIY store a way down the road that would be open on this quiet Sunday afternoon. We thanked her and hurried off, the prospect of becoming further delayed urging us on.
I purchased some nuts and bolts to replace the snapped rivets and the bags new design felt stronger than ever.
We pushed on and connected with an A-road that had an extremely narrow and precarious verge/cycle lane that we shot down toward Chester.
In Chester we located yet another café (I’m starting to recognize that we drank a lot of coffee) and grabbed 30 minutes rest from pedaling. Still being pushed for time we knew we couldn’t linger and this frustrated us both. It’s a city I have visited twice before and I would’ve preferred to stay long enough to learn something new about the ancient Deva.
We picked up dinner for when we found somewhere to camp and as we reconnected with our route we stopped at a bike shop called Bike Logic. Inside we began speaking with one of the men that worked there, a very experienced, knowledgeable cyclist who seemingly knew every cycle route in the country like the back of his hand. He laughed at our bikes and likened us to his father’s generation of cyclists, steel frame advocates garbed in hiking attire rather than the typical lycra donned by the modern cyclist. He helped us with our route to the Lakes, diverting us from the particularly hilly areas. He had some fantastic stories of rides, crashes, injuries, recoveries and races. He had been cycling his whole life and had memorized an intricate network of routes, roads, tracks, climbs and passes. When helping us he could point out every badly laid road in the area and every road accompanied by a cycle lane – he was a fountain of cycling knowledge that had no reservations when sharing what he knew.
Later that evening we pushed our bikes through a wooded area and sat in the leaves and twigs eating an assortment of cold meats and freshly baked bread. The sun filtered through openings in the canopy, highlighting and illuminating the flies that moved erratically in circles above our heads. We sat content in our surroundings, savoring the food and tranquility, before the silence was abruptly broken. A golden Labrador came bumbling through the bushes and immediately located, using its fantastic sniffer, Adam’s carrier bag of pastries. Before we had time to react the dog had pulled the maple and pecan slices from their packaging and consumed them whole, the only residue being the flakes of pastry about its chops. It took some shooing but then, as quickly as it entered the camp, it left – swift and sloping through the undergrowth.
I laughed at Adam’s misfortune for a long time and was only silenced when, some 40 minutes later; a second camp invader arrived – this time an old, black crossbreed with silver whiskers. The animal latched onto my bag of left over bread and meat and dragged it to a safe distance. I stalked after it, barking commands but it only snarled and bared its teeth. It was unbelievable. It wasn’t as though we were in the outback and I had to fight off emaciated dingoes with a flaming torch – these dogs were spoilt home-dwellers, well fed and groomed. I let him have it, seeing as he had slobbered over all of it in his state of greed and desperation.
Adam and I laughed it off and finally, when the sun had dropped somewhere behind the trees, it was time to call it a day and get some well-deserved sleep.