Last December I was cycling home from work on a Tuesday evening, I always work a longer day on a Tuesday so I can do the school run for the rest of the week, it’s always a bit of a slog working eleven hours straight but the payoff makes it worthwhile. A few minutes into the ride, I turned a corner to head up a familiar hill, standing up to pedal the first incline….. everything turned upside down. As a kid, my dad used to play that game at the park where he’d spin us around fast as on the rickety wooded roundabout and then challenge us to run in a straight line to the swings, we’d stumble and stagger around before collapsing in a heap. A similar sensation of dizziness overcame me now, perched on my bike I couldn’t move my arms or legs and felt trapped in my body as the world spun around me. Momentum granted a few seconds to try and resolve but the dizziness remained leaving me to gracelessly, but thankfully quite slowly, crash into the curb lay on the ground, feeling confused as everything continued to whirl around.
One person stopped to stare, but did nothing else, given that it was mid December and I was stumbling around town it was a fair assumption that I’d had too many at the office christmas party and had tried to cycle home. The hypochondriac in me assumed it was a stroke or a seizure, I called a friend who works as a nurse and she advised me to have a cup of tea and a biscuit. I took the advice and dosed up on ginger nuts
For the coming weeks I felt awful, laid on the sofa feeling exhausted, nauseous and dazed. The five minute school run left me having to sleep for an hour. A trip to the GP unveiled a diagnosis Labyrinthitis, a viral infection of the vestibular nerve in the inner ear that can cause sudden symptoms of vertigo, not that serious but the average recovery time with lots of rest is three months.
Like an idiot, after a few weeks I tried to do more than I should have, some easy short runs, a few miles on the bike, I managed to get out on Ilkely moor for a few miles for a run (more of a fast walk) after christmas and although it felt wonderful to be out, I soon wished I hadn’t and felt worse than ever. The three months of rest clearly weren’t optional, I cancelled my place on the Edale Skyline fell race, backed out of a Bob Graham support slot and reluctantly accepted that the sofa and I were to become better acquainted.
So that explains the radio silence here. Three months, several box sets, and a house move later and I set off for an overnight trip to Mid Wales for the first trip of the year. Not yet fully recovered, I opted for a shorter distance and saved my legs some work by bringing a packraft. The idea of cutting out some miles and floating towards a camp sounded like a decent way to break back into the hills. In spite of damp weather and grey skies it felt more or less like Spring in the Elan Valley, I even got a nod of approval from a fellow amphibian before setting out across the water. Little wind made for a calm and easy crossing, I settled into a pattern of slow paddling and an occasional lay down to watch a trio of red kites far above. There was a mild sense of disappointment when I came to shore, having to pull on a heavy pack after such a leisurely beginning was a shock to the system. There were only a few miles between the shore and camp, a few easy hills and plenty of hours left in the day to cover them. It turned out the going was quite tough, what appeared to be rolling hills of gentle pale sandy grass was mostly marsh, bog and tussock, it felt like walking through a huge bowl of soggy shredded wheat.
After passing a large locked shooting house, not far beyond Bryn Hir, I pitched right on the edge of the second of two tarns, llyn cerrigllwydion isa. I was happy to find a decent area of flat dry ground as most of the walk in had my feet disappearing into cold swampy water with each step. The first camp in four months gave gratitude and appreciation for everything around me, a silent windless night on the shore of a lake surrounded by hills, sleeping at sunset and waking at sunrise. The morning brought more than a little sunshine and after a coffee I had a quick paddle round the small lake before packing up and tackling more miles of bogs and tussocks. Along the way I found another small green companion who was happy to point me in the right direction. Today felt like Summer from beginning to end, warm and sunny with heatlines fixed on the horizon. The only indication that Winter had happened at all was a small patch of snow near the top of Domen Milwyn in the distance. I took an anti clockwise route back to the water, a long but easy walk over Bryn yr Hyrddod to Bryn Trapau, a narrow but quite deep river made for a perfect place to stop and fry up some afternoon chorizo and a decent cup of tea accompanied by the sound of a bubbling river and a singing skylark. For all of the best intentions to make the weekend a short and easy one, I found myself still high out on the hills with miles of water to paddle as the sun was starting to set, not to mention the three hour drive home and the fact that I was due at work the next morning. Reassuring to see that the bout of illness hadn’t affected my rock solid time management skills. It was a happy accident though, to end the trip heading out in the water under a blood red sky with a warm breeze.
I reached the car just before it became too dark to see without a torch, hands cold and numb from the water, legs stiff and sore after walking more miles than they were used to, the best I’ve felt in a long time.