5 Pages: Enjoy!
I had a wild ferry ride from Ireland to Wales on a stormy Saturday morning with such crazy weather half the boats were canceled that day and there were reports of major flooding. With just a few winks of sleep from my last night in Dublin it was a rough one indeed. The boat would hit a huge wave every few minutes and send all the passengers into a screaming frenzy as I tried to catch up on some sleep on the floor. But I managed to get some sleep and we finally arrived in Holyhead, Wales where the winds were so strong I was almost blown off my bike when making my way to the train station.
At the station I was informed that the trains were in a state of total chaos with many tracks under water and I may not make it to Swansea in time. I was excited to meet my Couchsurfing host Janina who had Argentine tango lessons booked for us so I ignored the warnings with blind optimism and hoped the first train heading south. I had a few guardian angels watching over me that day that were in the loop on the latest weather updates and made sure I got on various trains and busses on this huge day of turbulent travel. From 6AM until 9PM I made a journey in this crazy storm that included a lightening strike that took out the tracks, multiple changes of vessels making me lug my gear up and down stairs and being amongst dozens of grouchy travelers. But I made it just in time to Swansea and was greeted by the smiling Janina ready for our tango lessons!
The tango lessons were just kicking off when I arrived so we decided to just wheel the bike right into the venue and dive in. I have always been petrified of partner dancing and actually still am. But this lesson and demonstrations of the amazing tango dance got me so excited to learn and by the end of the lesson I was doing the tango baby! Janina was quite good from doing several lessons in Salsa and Tango and it was fun to watch a room full of Brits tangoing around.
Janina is quite a traveler and athlete so she really wanted to hop on the bike for some tandem adventures. It just so happened that she had Monday and Tuesday off work so we opted to head out the next day in the afternoon to explore the stunning Gower peninsula to do some riding, camping, hiking and possibly surfing. I was told by several people that I must explore this region and by the time we got pedaling out there I could see why. It’s a precious slice of paradise, very unspoiled and loaded with diverse regions of pristine nature.
Janina was excited to show me to one of her favorite spots on some beautiful sand dunes near the town of Llanmadoc. We set up a tent overlooking the ocean, had a wicked good meal and slept like babies with the sound of wind and the ocean lulling us to sleep. The next day just played like kids out frolicking on the beach, hiking around, swinging on a big rope swing and munching on yummy food. We did another afternoon ride up and down the curvy green hills passing cows, old churches, farms, picking blackberries and sucking in the fresh air while chatting away and building a great friendship.
The destination that second day was over to Rhossili Bay where some of the regions best waves and scenery are. The waves were non existent but the sights simply spectacular with big cliffs falling down to the ocean, sweeping bay views and rocky outcrops of various shapes and sizes. We found a campsite right on the ocean with crashing waves just feet from our tent. We went to bed after dinner and the weather seemed calm and cooperative with the sound of waves rocking us to sleep.
But one thing about Wales that most locals will tell you is that the weather can change anytime, and it can get downright nasty. This was the case just a few hours after we put our heads on the pillows. The sound of the waves were quickly replaced by howling gale force winds that sent the tent bending almost to our head and heavy downpours of rain peppering the rain fly. Even with earplugs in it was extremely difficult to sleep and we both did our best to catch a decent nights rest but boy was it a challenge. By morning the storm showed no signs of letting up and the wind had been blowing rain under the fly all night. My tent was not designed for these kinds of storms and needless to say, we were drenched by morning.
We decided to make a run for refuge at a café up the hill called The Bay Café where we grabbed a nice cup of coffee to break the chill. We met the owner of the café named Sue and we had a nice connection right away. When I told her I loved this region and may come back to look for some surf later in the week she told me her son Sam owned the surf shop next door. And to sweeten up the offer to return she offered to loan me a board, wetsuit and even put me up for a night if I came back. Janina had to get back to Swansea to work the next day and luckily as we were sitting up at the café the weather began to break a bit and we saw our chance to make it back to Swansea without getting totally blown off the road or drenched.
We chose a challenging ride back to Swansea over some of the peninsulas highest mountains and the views were astounding ranging from wild horse crossings to sweeping sea vistas and more. When we made it back to the bike trail the rain had stopped and we decided to do some filming and captured a powerful rolling dialogue between Janina and I. Janina is a very spiritual, mature and cultured woman with a big vision and huge heart. She had some great things to say to the world and you’ll enjoy her many messages soon enough. At the end of the ride we treated ourselves to some of her favorite Italian ice cream to celebrate an unforgettable 3-day adventure together in the Gower.
Janina had her weekly Salsa lesson that evening but I opted to catch up on my life, including offloading video footage, charging batteries, website stuff and all that jazz. We met up again after her Salsa class and continued to share great stories and experiences. She had to work the next day and I continued my administration, bike and camera equipment repairs and media work. That night we had plans to reconnect with Sue, the owner of The Bay café in Rhossili, and her husband Paul at a live jazz performance followed by a visit to the open mic night at one of Janina’s favorite pubs. This was our last evening together as the next day I was off on a solo mission back to explore the Gower peninsula more, meet up with Sue and Sam and search for some waves now that the swell had picked up with the report predicting 4-5 star days.
The evening of jazz with Janina was just right, chilling with Sue and her husband Paul as smooth horns and vocals kept the feet tapping. After the jazz the open mic night offered more quality entertainment before calling it a night and getting a nice sleep before the adventures back to Gower. Although I rarely backtrack and there were far more “traditional Welch experiences” up north of the country, something was calling me back to Gower.
The next day I sent Janina off to work and we made a plan to meet up before I left Wales towards England on Friday so fortunately it was not a real goodbye. The weather was looking quite threatening and the winds howling the wrong direction so I kept no expectations for the surf and knew I’d be battling a mean headwind. I setout on my adventure a bit later than planned and as I turned south onto the Gower peninsula I was greeted with one of the meanest headwinds I’ve experienced on my entire trip. I was pedaling with all my might and my bike just inched along at a whopping 8 kilometers and hour. It was humiliating and frustrating, especially considering the fact that I had already ridden the terrain with Janina and was not super excited about spending 5 hours into a headwind.
Since the goal was to reconnect with Sue and Sam and do some riding around Rhossili anyways I tamed my ego and turned the bike out of the wind to head to the bus station back in Swansea. I knew there was a more meaningful voyage than five hours of back tracking into a howling wind. I arrived at the bus station and as I was inquiring about the bus to Rhossili I saw a woman with her mountain bike looking at a map of the Gower Peninsula and apparently lost. It turns out this woman’s name is Eilish and she’s a Canadian mountain bike fanatic who has been out riding the trails of Europe and this was her last escapade before heading home.
I told her about the epic single track terrain I just saw near Rhossili, right on the ocean with sweeping views, and her confused look turned to excitement as we made a plan to hop the same bus and venture off together. I quickly made my bike into a single, ripped off the panniers and trailer and we loaded it all onto the next bus that came just minutes after we made the plan. The driver was a saint and let us stack our gear all over the front end of the bus and it fit like a glove with no disturbance to any passengers. Bonus!
Eilish and I got along great sharing travel and mountain bike stories and it was refreshing to be amongst such an adventurous North American. We chatted away as we moved towards Rhossili and eventually decided to get off the bus to allow us some time to tour together the last few miles. I built the tandem back up, loaded the gear and off we rode, directly into that nasty headwind. Eilish took the front and blocked some wind for me and eventually we arrived in Rhossili with big sun shinning off the glorious bay and rich mountains.
My jaw dropped when we looked over at the bay to see massive waves pounding the beach. My only worry was that the swell was too big and that the wind was making it all far too messy for surfing. When we arrived at The Bay Café my hopes of cycling with Sue or Sam were shattered as they were both super busy with the business and there did not seem to be any takers around for tandem riding. But there was one person ready to ride and that was Eilish, but I knew she came to hammer her mountain bike so I turned my tandem into a single and we made a plan to hit the trails together.
The sun was out in full force but it was still quite cool with views so crystal clear you could see forever. It’s been years since I’ve had great weather, scenery, epic trails and riding companionship all come together so perfectly. I’m glad I made the decision to turn back from the nasty headwind as we were now ripping up postcard perfect single track terrain right on the ocean and rocking through sheep, cows, small villages, under rainbows and over piles of animal shit.
It was bliss in the shit! Eilish was the best female mountain biker I’ve ever ridden with and handled the technical terrain like a champ with only one good fall. I also had a nasty fall and we both were properly banged up, bruised, bloody and fully spattered with mud and crap when we finished our ride. But we were grinning ear to ear and so pumped with positive energy neither of us will ever forget that ride.
Just at the end of the ride Eilish’s derailleur cable snapped so that made the decision to come back to Rhossili a no-brainer since the 25 mile ride without gears would be brutal. She was also suffering from some cramps so we took it easy as we made our way back to The Bay Café where I hoped to meet up with Sue finally and organize where I’d be staying that night. Eilish and I had some food and drinks before she finally caught the last bus back to Swansea. I’m happy to report we’re still in touch and we’ll be riding together again in Canada next year!
After Eilish left the wind started to die down and I felt good that the next morning could bring some epic surf. Sue and Paul were busy working the restaurant’s busy dinner shift for most of the night but they treated me like royalty with huge portions of yummy soup, fresh seafood and delicious wine. Sue was able to break away from time to time to have some chitchat sessions and even went on the camera to share why she choose to invite a stranger to stay the night with her family.
I had a great night’s sleep and woke up to perfectly clear blue skies, warm weather and yes, offshore wind (perfect for the waves)! The Jamie surf rainbow followed me from Ireland and Sam and his brother Tim both got to work getting their morning chores done at the restaurant to take me out to a nugget local spot. Sue set me up with a few cups of coffee and a few bowls of muesli so I was all fueled up and ready to rock!
Sam set me up with a perfect 7’2 surfboard and wetsuit and off we went! Just the walk alone was priceless through several farms with tons of happy animals and views over the ocean making us all grin. We ended up at a lovely beach break with scenery from the water that was so jaw dropping I did not mind that I was surfing like crap that morning and ended up cramping up from the cold water and way too much coffee. I was frustrated that my session ended earlier than I wanted but I sat on the cliff and watched the guys having the time of their lives and eventually made my way back to the café.
“Everything happens for a reason”, I always say. Turns out that I lost track of time surfing completely and I just barely made it back to the café in time to get myself back to Swansea to meet up with Janina before hoping my train to Bristol, England. As I made my way back to Swansea I was filled with a warm glow of gratitude. Here I was smiling ear to ear, totally blissed out from all the great hospitality, new friends, the flawless mountain bike ride and a world class surf session. Although it was not traditional “Peace Pedaling” and I did not see all the castles and old Welsh culture it sure was fun and I’ll never forget my days in the Gower!
Back in town I arrived the same time Janina did and I got all my gear ready for my journey to Bristol, England. On one hand I was excited to meet my hosts English hosts Paul and Jo and to reconnect with my fellow vagabond Aquarian Emma in her home country. But the main feeling at that moment was sadness since I was having so much fun in Wales and especially with my soul sister Janina. We had grown very close in my week in Wales and saying goodbye truly brought tears to my eyes.
But before we get too mushy we had to solve one challenge and that was my leaving one of my bike helmets back up in Rhossili and needing to get it in time for my train. Luckily Sue stepped into action and, like the angel she is, sent Sam down into town to do some errands and drop off my helmet just in time to get my train to Bristol. At the station Janina gave me a sweet gift of a toy dolphin she carried around with her on her entire South America trip and I still carry it with me to this day to remind me of our great times together.
In closing, Wales was a completely different experience than I imagined it to be. It was actually totally different than any style of touring so far on my expedition. But a the same time it was exactly perfect in so many ways. I’ll never forget the magical times with Janina, Sue, Sam, Tim and many thanks to Richard and Asad for sharing your home with me.
Over n out from Luxembourg!
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