I’m writing this from the west coast of Wales, as the wind picks up its suitcase and prepares to shake out the contents onto the bed of land that I ride through. Storm’s a-coming.
Talking of inclement weather, and continuing the Bob Dylan theme of the past couple of newsletters, today’s letter is inspired by A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.
Dylan once said that every line in that apocalyptic song was just the first line of a whole other song that he worried he’d never get around to writing before music itself was wasted by nuclear winter. Take these lines from the first verse:
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
It’s evidence of the density of the writing and the concision that we’re sometimes forced into by the sheer fact that to write it all would be to fill six volumes – and who has time for that?
So, without wanting to stand my scribblings shoulder to shoulder with Dylan’s Nobel Prize winning catalogue, imagine that behind every sentence there are stories that I don’t have time, space or skill to expand right now. Just like the weather, the last week has been thick.
We cycled too far and forced stops in the churchyard stocks, following the hay trucks billowing dust in the wheat-gold afternoon.
We walked into a welcome as warm as the sundown, plated up salad, that coleslaw, barbeque and hair-dryer damaged paddling pool.
We ate stacks of Rogue Welsh Cakes: stacked and loaded with ice cream, before lying in the shade of an ancient Cypress that’d seen a hundred summers like this one.
We sought out the most southerly point of Wales, slipped our feet into the sea, and watched two women carry home two huge bags of rubbish, left by campers in the nature reserve built up around a former lime works.
We played Uno. We played rummey. We looked into the night and watched as the moon grew full and fat.
We ate melted flapjack on the cliff edge, while overheating sheep sheltered behind a dry stone wall.
In Bridgend, I replaced cycle shorts that had grown obscenely thin in the decaying tropical miasma.
We collapsed from the heat at the top of a deer park, the smoke stacks of Port Talbot pluming on the horizon, and slept in secluded splendour.
We sat in the shadow of Lidl, one of us breakfasting on salad with pomegranate and cashews, the other trying to make a meal of cold frankfurters and smokey cheddar slices. We will always have Lidl.
Swansea came and went in a slow afternoon of tea and company, piecing together tired muscles, sea swims punctuating the hills and rocks of Mumbles and the Gower.
We stayed with a UFC fighter and his family of seven dogs, wife and young baby, lying in the hot bed while he built up flat-pack garden furniture outside.
We rode the coastline fast, baking our backs in the desert sands, while 4x4s make like Jesus in the shallow water.
We wade out to sea and dip our heads before one last climb together, bicycles being now the instrument of our purpose.
At Carmarthen, heart hurting under cool canopy of oak, I cycle on alone.
That Wales ends; this Wales begins. Tens of metres become hundreds; hundreds become thousands: climbing, always climbing. Then coasting, always coasting.
The flying ants burst from the ground. One insect draws blood. A sheep runs out into the road. I chase it back to the flock.
Distant memories return, of a flick comb souvenier, bought at a gift shop in Tenby thirty years ago. I drink tea served by a woman whose legs are cut off below the knee.
I meet Ana, a cyclist from Ukraine who once rode from Luton to John O’Groats with no money, spending two months on the hospitality of strangers.
At St David’s I meet a woman who, in the 1990s, cycled 3,500km over the Andes on a £90 mountain bike.
I watch the glow of the dying sun through the ruined wheel window of St Davids Bishops Palace. I remember this moment from ten years before.
I climb and keep climbing. A man sitting in his garden leaps to his feet to applaud at the top of the hill: ‘Not many make it,’ he says, ‘but you’re past the worst now.’ I tell him that seems unlikely, as I’m bound for Snowdonia.
I collapse into a field of hospitality, exchanged for three barrowfuls of soil, and watch the red sun burn up into the Irish Sea. I sleep long and wake to fresh winds and tea and cereal from a new-found friend.
Too much more to come, but now it’s time to ride again, up towards Aberaeron, where I hear legend of an ice cream shop not to be missed.