Hurray, hurrah, whoopeee, and root-tee-toot! The summer is over!
Now don’t get me wrong – I love the summer as much as the next man, it’s just that the summers here in mid-Wales are when ‘The Outsiders’ come.
The school holidays bring tourists by the bus load, car load, van load, and train load, all eager to sample the beautiful delights of the splendid Welsh countryside.
Queues of traffic snake slowly along the normally deserted lanes, fumes turning the green air grey and filling the sweet air with noxious exhaust gases, the sounds of engines replacing the bleating of sheep and the gurgling murmur of streams and waterfalls. Crowds of people fill the open spaces, tread the lost paths, and ride the silent trails.
It’s crazy busy at the bike shop; a never ending battle just to keep all the bikes running smoothly. Chainrings lose teeth as inexperienced riders grind through rocks. Hangers bend, and derailleurs are torn apart, as gears are mashed up the steep climbs. Brake levers, gear shifters, spokes and rims all give up the ghost during the innumerable crashes that mark the season and leave marks in the dirt.
The stock in the shop disappears like its being stolen. I struggle to keep up-to-date with the ordering. No sooner does new stock arrive than it’s gone and I’m back on the computer trying to find replacements. Jerseys, helmets, cables, chain links, cassettes, spokes, pumps, knee-pads, glasses, rucksacks, and bladders, pour into and out of the shop at an inexorable rate. The lads in the workshop become hollow-eyed with tiredness as they wash, fix and service bike after bike; only the constant flow of strong coffee keeps them standing. Half-empty cups pile up on every flat surface.
There’s no time to ride the bike. The commute to work is definitely out of the window. Who knows what time work will finish, how long it will take to escape the daily bike-service schedule, whether the till will balance, and if I’ll ever actually make it home?
All in all it’s just the craziest time of the year; a non-stop, frantic whirlwind, and it feels like I’m at the epicentre. By the end of August I’m a nervous wreck, smeared in Green Oil and Dot fluid, battling through piles of discarded cardboard boxes, gibbering randomly about the flaws of X9, staring blankly into the middle distance, and occasionally found lying face-down in the jetwash trying to cool off.
But now, finally, here’s September. The kids all head back to school. The families all pile back into their giant campervans and disappear back to the flatlands. The dogs stop barking, the toddlers stop crying, the sounds of engines fade into a distant memory. It all goes very, very quiet.
I finally find time to get back on the bike. I ride along empty lanes and deserted trails. I watch the leaves change colour. I enjoy the silence and the slow slide into the dark winter. I fall in love with Wales all over again.
And it’s now that I remember: this is what the visitors come for. This ideal of peace and quiet, solitude and escape in a vast landscape. And it occurs to me that it’s because they come that I’m here. Without them there is no bike shop. There are no trails. I don’t have this crazy job.
I realise that I’m the lucky one: I live here. This is home. I get to enjoy this all year. And I get to share it with those less fortunate.
So roll on next summer, when I get the pleasure of riding through this beautiful landscape with the visitors for whom this is an occasional treat; when I get to show them the best trails, fix their broken machines, and help them to take a break from their lives outside of this little bit of paradise.