Lazily basking in warm Cotswolds summer weather, I feel a world away from the Freedom riders preparing for RASA 2023. Scrolling the animated WhatsApp chatter, I recollect the pre-race excitement and it is hard to believe a year has gone by since I was flying south to start my adventure. I easily focus on memories of delightful hosts, misty valleys, infinite mountain ridges, deep orange sunsets, ecstatic moments flying on the trail and forged friendships. Maybe that is why I feel a deep sense of envy for those about set off. Less readily I recall the hike-a-bike sections both up and down rutted, rocky and muddy tracks, bloc headwinds, deep limb ache, cool evening turning to colder night long before the planned night stop. Maybe never again was uttered way too soon without the benefit of a year's reflection.
Recently I had the pleasure of a brief cycling visit from historical sage and legendary buffalo herder, Mike Roy. Cycling a few local bridleway paths and encountering sufficient winter mud looks to be excellent preparation for Freedom Mud of 2023.
Encouraged by Mike’s passion for discovering historical accounts of places he travels I uncovered this anecdote of cycling adventure written by the Wayfarer, a prolific English cyclist and regular cycling columnist in the early twentieth century. In this article, Wayfarer appears to fully embrace the philosophy of the Freedom Challenge (assuredly no GPS) and would surely have coveted the reward of a blanket. He clearly articulates the timelessness of pushing on despite adversity and basking in the glow of success always part of an adventure cyclist's mindset.
OVER THE TOP
CROSSING THE BERWYN MOUNTAINS IN MARCH
by "Wayfarer" - (Walter McGregor Robinson) Reproduced from "CYCLING" dated 8th May, 1919.
…… we supped and yarned. It was the plan of three of us on the morrow to attempt the passage of the Berwyn Mountains - to scale the lofty and rugged barrier which lay between us and the Valley of the Dee - and we were in some doubt as to the feasibility of such a trip so early in the year. Conversation on the subject with our hostess afforded little encouragement or comfort. The crossing was out of the question, we were told. During the week, a woman, anxious to visit a sick relative in the next valley, had been imprisoned in a snowdrift up the mountain side, and was providentially rescued alive the following day. Our prospects of getting through to Corwen were not very rosy, but we suspended judgment till the morning.
The track we were to follow crosses the Berwyns was at an altitude of some 1,700 feet above sea-level, I reflected. Would our journey to-morrow be possible?
It was snowing when I got up at 8 o'clock. I took a walk up the hillside before breakfast and returned to find the Old Gentleman looking over our machines. He at once began to pump his views into me. "I think", he said, "that they're exaggerating the condition of affairs on the mountain. Things aren't as bad as they say .... I think we might venture. What do you say?" I decided that what was good enough for him was good enough for me, "and anyhow", I added, "'twill be an adventure". The Choirman took the same view, and so we sat down to breakfast with our minds made up, our hostess still dwelling on the impossibility of the crossing. "We'll take our chance", I said.
We had a fair enough start, the sun shining as though it were Midsummer, and the sky of a clear blue so far as we could see it. And thus we were lured to our fate. We rode quietly up the narrow lane that leads to the mountain, following one another in single file, and then, when we were fairly on our way, a shutter slipped over the sun and it commenced to snow heavily! There was but one possible course for us to pursue. We "carried on", hoping that the snow would be nothing more than a passing phase. This proved to be the case, and by the time we became pedestrians the storm had blown over.
We obtained no sight of the path which we were following save at one place where it was a running stream. Sight was there vouchsafed to us simply because snow will not lie on moving water! The first gate we struck was amenable to reason and consented to let us through. One other gate we managed to force sufficiently open to pass our machines through, but the rest of them were blocked by deep drifts and immovable, and we had perforce to lift our mounts over and scramble after them. Keeping close to where we thought the track to be, we picked our way as well as possible, now on this side and now on that, sometimes sinking into the snow up to our knees, and occasionally carrying our machines over a drift. The worst disaster that befell us was when the Old Gentleman, who was leading the procession at the time, travelled part of the way through to New South Wales. The snow suddenly gave way, and only the upper half of him remained to us. When he considered that the "joke" had gone far enough - and told us so, with emphasis - we pulled him out again.
In spite of all our difficulties - and it was no easy matter to fight our way through the snow and against the brisk north-wester - we had time to admire the wonderful world in which we found ourselves. Everything - or nearly everything - was pure white, which glistened in the sun and dazzled us. Our crowning joy came on rounding a bend at the highest point. Then we glimpsed that promised land. The mountain side fell away and rose again, and in the misty distance we saw the snowy peak of a great fellow thrust up to the clouds. The nearer mountains were wrapped in what looked exactly like satin coverings.
A question arose as to the way, but, on arriving round a shoulder of the hill, we saw far below us the snowposts which were our sufficient guide. Afoot - for cycling was impossible - we reached and passed the posts, and felt that our difficulties were over. Vain thought! Walking was still the order of the day. If the snow had been soft, I think that we would have had to return the way we came, thus acknowledging defeat.
One or two more recalcitrant gates followed, and then we found ourselves below the snowline. Thus did we three travel over the top of the Berwyn Mountains on the penultimate day of March. At Llanarmon, it had been a case of - "'Try not the pass,' the old man said", but we decided to chance it - to face such risks as there were, and, in the event, our enterprise, or courage, or folly, or whatever you like to call it, was rewarded.
"But was it worth it ?" cries somebody. "And is this your conception of cycling?" asks another. An emphatic affirmative reply is given to both questions. Was it worth it? I am more than glad - I count it a privilege - to have crossed the Berwyns on a "white" day in March.
And is this cycling? Per se, possibly not altogether. Some of the way over the mountains was ridden, but for the most part it was a walking expedition, as has been made clear. It should be emphasized, however, that only through the medium of cycling was the outing in any way possible. Prefaced by a 60-mile ride and followed by one of nearly 50 miles. I claimed that, broadly, this is cycling. At least, it is cycling as I understand it, for my conception of the pastime includes much besides main roads and secondary roads and much beyond the propelling of a bicycle. And, though I am almost a "one-pastime man", I fling wide the boundaries of that pastime and include whatever is incidental thereto. Some of the best of cycling would be missed if one always had to be in the saddle or on a hard road.
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