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The dodgy phone call and a ride in the wild….

It began with a call, doesn’t it always?

Sometimes, there are calls that leave us feeling less than good about ourselves, and this one had taken most of the morning. I'd not expected it to, nor did I expect to feel the way I did at the end of it. Calls like these are the dodgy ones. The ones that can take our time and dominate the rest of our day. I'm sure that most of us have taken one of these at some point. If you have you'll know what I mean when I say that they leave you feeling bewildered, and pretty much in a state of 'What the f*** was that?'. At least this was how I felt that day. Little did I know then was that the call would be the start of this story, a ride in the wild.

It was a Friday morning in the middle of winter. I'd finished the call with mascara streaks down my face from unexpected tears and revelations I had not wanted to hear. Before I could delve deeper into rumination, J appeared from the garden covered in mud...

“Get your jersey on, we’re going for a ride”

“Erm ok, really, right now?”

I’m used to this. Our rides are often an impromptu event. They have to be living in the wilds of West Wales, where winter chants ‘RAIN-ON-YOU’ and any gaps are acted on with a rapid change into bib tights and thermals. This was one of those gaps, but in all honesty, after The Call, I didn't really feel like doing anything other than thinking it all through. If I'm honest, I was quite weirded out.

So, there I was sitting with the phone still glowing in my hand and J now telling me that we were going out. "It'll sort your head out", he said. And to be truthful, he was probably right. After weeks of rain, this particular day was anything but grey, and the wind was good. Escaping what that call had left me with was probably exactly what was needed.

So, after a somewhat reluctant change into my cycling costume, off we went down the local lane which long and short, was a really bad idea. I live in a place where the tractor is king, and sure as anything it was not long before we came across one. Within not more than a mile, we ended up in a convoy with another cyclist following the weekly s***-spreading celebration, leaving all three of us coated in brown sludge. That ride ended at a pitiful three miles as the roads were completely trashed with mud, churned-up verges and whatever else it is that tractors exhume.

If you think that's it, the end, shows over, I’m pleased to say that this wasn’t the ride I'm going to tell you about. A semi-wild moment it may have been, but it was definitely not a ride in the wild. I just wanted to drop it in here because it is part of this story all the same. One that shows that there are times when we have to ride through the sh*t times to get to the good ones.

So, here it is, the actual ride...

Into the wild...

Later in the day, following the phone call and a fresh change of clothes, we took our Plan B. Living with social anxiety, any trip out usually involves a few backup plans so this wasn’t unusual. It’s just that this time it had more to do with the practicalities.

Throughout winter we’ve had to become a little more creative with where we choose to ride. Basically, the higher we go the less drama. Neither tractors nor crowds tend to make it so far up into the hills so it’s a win-win. You just need the legs for it.

A black and white image of two bikes overlooking a standing stone circle.

Riding in this area is beautiful. It’s the kind of place where there is so much to see and so much space to think. Whether we are hiking or biking it, it's one of the few spaces where I can go to clear my head and escape from the stress of this wild world.

Setting off..

After setting off from our usual lay-by, it was just minutes before we hit the open road, fresh air and then the public toilets at the bottom of the first incline. We all know that toilets are highly sought after when out in the wild but seldom are they found. To compensate, I have one or two 'wee rocks' that I frequent when out in this area, but thankfully on this ride I didn't need to visit them as these toilets were open for service as usual. As gross as public toilets can be, I will say that the locals really look after these by offering free sanitary and hygiene products. It's also a bit less awkward than walking into one of the few pubs in the village as a stranger with a questionable accent (if you've heard us on our YouTube channel my accent is a mish-mash of all the places I've lived - I'm somewhat of a dialectal nomad). This village is one of those small-knit and cosy places where everyone knows everyone. When we came here in the COVID period there were actual pitchforks surrounding the village with signs saying 'We are watching you'. I kid you not, this community has fire.

If you think that starting a story talking about toilets isn't exactly painting a sophisticated off-grid wilderness picture, wait until you actually really need a wee when in the wild. It happens to the best of us, I'm sure you've been there. Toilets that aren't hillside mounds or rocks are to be treasured when you're out for a long one. From what we've seen, and having ridden on the discomfort of full bladders for many miles we would always say, find your toilet(s) and plan them into your route, every time.

Pretty fly for a fast guy...

So, after the toilet stop we got a few miles and climbs beneath our belts. It was around this time that we had our first fly-by. I don't whether you use Strava but in recent months this new feature has come about where whoever you pass (and providing they are also tracking on Strava), they show up as this little face on your ride screen and it's actually the person you just saw. Honestly, it cracks me up, it's just really funny. Anyway, this fly-by was a surfy-looking type on an old road bike who waltzed passed us with long hair, good grace and a huge smile. It was made complete with the small brown paper parcel tied to the back of his bike with string. It's funny what you notice when you're in those moments of endorphin-fueled highs. The kind of moments where nothing else really matters apart from what's around you.

After the long-haired wonder had flown off on his way, that left me and J puffing on and a few moments of grouch realising that perhaps our fitness wasn't up to scratch. That didn't last long though. Within moments we had reached a junction where we often stop for a quick drink and breather before tackling a monster hill into another local village. It's a pretty place for that little moment of 'phewth' and I'd just swallowed a fly so needed to sort that out. So, as the old woman who had gulped her fly, I didn't know what J was going on about when he said, 'Hah, I knew it, see! We're doing good!".

An image of two bikes on a rural country lane with a small white van in the distance.

As I looked up there he was. Sure enough, just a few hundred feet away there was our fly-by puffing away up the monster. In all fairness, he was doing well but we were surprised at how close we were behind him. It's another one of those things in life - we can think we are terrible at something or 'falling behind' when really, so much of what we see out there is for show, whether it be out on the road or on social media. Life is already wild enough of a ride. We don't need to compare our own to others, we just need to enjoy the good parts in the moments when they happen.

It was now our turn to tackle the monster. Hill climbs are widely spoken about in the cycling ether. Even Geraint Thomas said that Pembrokeshire is more hilly than you'd imagine it to be. It's true - West Wales is continuous hills, big ones, small ones, some that have no end. When we first started riding in this area around three years ago, we were on steel-framed bikes and well, let's just say we had little idea as to what we were letting ourselves in for. Back then we'd do small sections of the hills, stop and then turn back when it got too much. I will add though, that it's really not a defeat to do this and we still take breaks on hills now. If I'm honest, I like taking a break whilst on a climb just to see the view. You can be completely puffed out with your legs on fire, but after just a few minutes your legs spring back into action and those pedal strokes that felt like a deadweight just a moment ago become light as a feather once again. Here's J, enjoying his breather halfway up the monster...

An image of a man wearing cycling clothing and a helmet. He is stopped on a road holding two bikes and there are hills in the distance.

The Village

After a swift sweep down the monster's back, we arrived in the next village. I like this place. One of my favourite people lives here for one, and it's just got quite a peaceful feel with it being nestled in the hills. The last time we rode here was completely different to today. It was during the late summer heatwave last year and we were absolutely covered in sweat and flies by the time we reached the village. Today it was really cold, the kind of cold where you can't stop for more than a few minutes, so we had to quickly scope out what we needed if anything. Cue J with another champion moment here. He'd found another toilet stop and one that didn't involve traipsing through a cafe. Again, these things make such a difference when you're someone who lives with social anxiety.

What I've learnt since I've been cycling is that when you're on the bike, you are free. No matter who is around you, you can insulate your focus away from that situation by focusing on your ride, very few people will stop you for a conversation when you're on a bike compared to hiking or walking. But there are still a few anxiety-infused moments. Things like stopping at traffic lights with your bike in front of a huge queue of cars (people tend to stare), going into public places such as cafes or pubs, basically anywhere where there's you as a cyclist and then the wider non-cycling world. Cycling clothing draws a lot of attention and for safety reasons, it's designed that way. But I will say, that despite what we see online about the hate towards cyclists, we've mostly found that people are generally either friendly (e.g. other cyclists) or they leave us be.

So, off we went to our newly found pitstop. We'll definitely remember this one for the future to save piling round my mate's house. It was a busy time of day and there was a man doing something with a drill, so the noise was a bit intense as was the situation. So after a swift wipe to remove the remnants of flies from my eyes, a quick hand clean and water refill, we were ready to roll.

A black and white image of two bikes against a building overlooking a tennis court.

One of the amazing things about cycling is that it doesn't take long to replace one scene with another that is entirely different. Within minutes of leaving the village, we were back out into the wilds once again with nothing but the road and hills around us.

A photo of an empty road in a hilly landscape. There is a low sun and road bike in the foreground.

After some fresh miles behind us, we arrived at one of our favourite spots. If you're a standing stone enthusiast, this is a place to be. So much untold yet so powerful. When you're up here, riding or walking to them feels even more otherworldly, as though you've earned their presence. We'd also earned a small flapjack to share at this point so we sat amongst the stones for around ten minutes eating, thinking and just taking in the view around us. These moments are so often the sanctuary of being out in the wild. Away from the chaos of society and its ills, just you and nature. It means so much to both me and J whenever we are able to do this.

A black and white close-up photo of a bike overlooking a hilly landscape.

A photo a lone standing stone in a hilly landscape.

A black and white photo of a prehistoric standing stone on hillside.

The ride home.

The final few miles of a ride always feel the longest, and this day was no different. By this point we were powering right against an ice-cold headwind along 'Treacle Way'. J recently called it this as it's such a weird stretch of road. It's flat and tarmacked so you'd expect to be gliding but whenever we ride it, it's a slow slog. Might just be us, might be the after-effect of the standing stones. Whatever the case, it's a tough stretch but the views along it are some of the best.

A black and white photo of a wild Welsh mountain pony crossing an empty road
Treacle Way.

The final miles

As we rode those final few miles the sun was starting to set as the perfect backdrop to the last climbs of the day. It was also an opportunity for me to reflect on my own day and the dodgy phone call that had taken so much from me. The call itself was not 'dodgy' as such but it was heavy going and had resulted in running over things and returning to places I'd long moved on from. That was dodgy for me, in the sense that it brought up a lot of unpleasant memories and resounding emotions. Yet it also reminded me of how much had changed, and for the better.

At the end of that call, I had been given a choice. A choice between returning to the therapy room for regular appointments or continuing with the things that have now become my pillars in this wild world. Writing, being outdoors, exploring new places and cycling with J, all things that I didn't have space for many years ago when my life had been a series of mental health appointments and crisis moments. I'd asked the man on the other end of the call, 'What if therapy were to take up time that could stop me cycling?".

After all, I knew from the therapy I'd received from years gone by that time and commitment are two of the prerequisites for it to 'work'. The man's response was simple; 'Laura, this is completely your choice'. And he was right, it was my choice. A choice that had taken me on this ride in the wild, and as I rode those final miles with the sun setting ahead of me and J beside me, I knew that I had made the right one.

An image of a sunset in a field shining through the spokes of a bicycle wheel.

A photo of a tree at sunset.


If you liked this story, head over to our new YouTube channel for further exploration of the wild, urbexing, hiding in hedges and all of the other things we do to avoid the crowds...


Mar 02

That's a lovely read! Getting outdoors is our go to when things become a little too much here too. Glad you had a great day out.

Mar 03
Replying to

Thanks for reading! Completely agree, being outdoors (especially on two wheels) has been a complete game changer for us. It was a great ride, glad you enjoyed reading about it :). Thanks again - L

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