Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Adventure in Wales

I was sitting on the front stoop coffee in hand, sunglasses shielding the late morning sun smiling at the empty Friday before me.  As I turned my face towards the beating sun the phone rang. I stared grumpily at Penn’s number. Why on earth was he calling and did he really have to interrupt my peaceful love affair with the long awaited sun?
"Hello?” I spoke into the phone trying to hide my annoyance. Penn responded quickly, “We have an extra train ticket. One of the boys couldn’t come last minute. Do you want to? If you can make it in forty-five minutes the ticket is yours.”
No longer annoyed and all thoughts of a peaceful, relaxing weekend rushed from my head. I jumped from the stoop and into the house. Running into my room, I grabbed pieces of clothing and a toothbrush on the way in and threw them all into a backpack. No idea what to pack, I just tossed random shirts and shorts and socks into the bag, along with face wash and a toothbrush, the bare necessities. The boys had said they were going to Wales for a coasteering weekend and I had wanted in since the beginning but the trip was planned months in advance and did not have room for a fifth person, so I leapt at the chance before thinking it through completely.
It wasn’t until I had met up with the boys and boarded the train I started to doubt my haste actions. Sitting beside Penn as he enthusiastically discussed the coming weekend with Mike and Matt across the isle, I realized this may have been a mistake. Although in relatively good shape, and ready to take on any adventure, I was still a girl heading to Wales with three very in shape men to kayak and climb rocks in the middle of the ocean. What had I let myself get into? I took a deep breath and focused on the landscape racing by outside the window. As we left the city my breath became less forced, and my grip loosened on the armrest. As each field of sheep passed a new calm set in.
Haverfordwest station was surrounded by mountains rich with greenery with little houses tucked into their folds. So long in the city, I had forgotten the joy of seeing only green. We boarded a bus and set off on a half hour ride even deeper into the country. The roads grew narrower the higher the bus climbed into the mountains of Wales. It tumbled up hills and emerged onto Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The lodge was nestled into the mountain, not far from the small town of Mathry. Standing in the drive of the lodge, surrounded only by cows, I looked at the boys. Identical stunned expressions looked back at me. A swell of pride moved up my chest and emerged on my face in a smile. I may have been the only girl on the trip, but I was a country girl and these were city men through and through.

After dinner, the boys and I walked down the road just as the sun began to set. The dusk that crept up around us made the country look eerie yet wonderful. The grey blue sky peeped through the black branches and critters moved unseen around us. The dirt road was narrow with banks rising high over our heads on either side limiting our view of the country. We walked along silently, reveling in the fresh air and quiet. But it wasn’t quiet; it was just a different kind of noise. Not the noise of taxis rushing by or yelling pedestrians or car alarms going off. It was the bleating of sheep, the deep moan of a cow, the rustle of bird wings through the trees. The air was full of sound, but it was peaceful and soothing. Soon the road opened up and the silhouette of a barn appeared. It welcomed us with a pungent perfume and the shadow of large animals pawing in their paddocks.
“Is that a cow?” Mike whispered. I chuckled under my breath at just how city these boys were. He walked closer but stopped three meters shy of the gate. “Is it ok if I’m here?” His voice was low as he looked back at us. I continued to laugh but nodded my head as I joined him. “I have never been this close to a cow before and I have to come all the way to Wales to do it!” Just then a cow near us tried to mount another and Mike hopped away. “Didn’t think I’d ever see that either!” he laughed as he tried to hide his rush away from the fence.

The cows woke us bright and early the next morning and I was lured down the stairs by the smell of bacon. The lodge owners set out a delicious breakfast to prepare us for the day ahead. “Heyo!” A Welsh voice boomed as the four of us sat down. “Name’s John, welcome to Wales! You lads ready for the day ahead? Excuse me, lady, are you ready too? You think you can handle this?” He added when he spotted me standing a foot below the boys. Color rising in my cheeks, I instantly became aware of how frail I was, but beamed back at him.
 “Can’t wait!” My voice sounded only a bit more stable than my legs quavering underneath me. John threw his head back and laughed.
“Don’t you worry; I won’t let anything happen to you. Have some breakfast and I’ll catch you all in a few minutes.” He turned and walked away while the boys laughed at my red face.
Behind the kitchen a shed filled with coasteering gear awaited us. The four of us jumped, pulled, and tugged our way into the winter wet suits. Although struggling with the suits and looking a bit ridiculous, it felt great to put it on. I felt legitimate.
A van took us down to the water. As we hopped out and onto the beach we paused in amazement. I had no idea places like this existed in Great Britain. The view before me was something I had reserved in my mind for tropical islands and the southern coasts of Spain, Italy, or Greece. Jagged cliffs rose high around me, and before me splashed a sea as blue as the sky above. The soft waves lapping against the pebble beach and the call of seagulls flying above set the perfect soundtrack to the striking contrast of the black cliffs and sapphire sea, I was transported to a distant exotic world.
Breaking the silence, the boys began to clip on their gear but I paused a moment longer. This time it wasn’t the beauty that delayed me, but my own apprehension. The worry of the day before crept over me and I once again doubted my abilities. A hard hip check broke through my thoughts and tossed me into the sand.
 “Get your stuff together lady, we’re going in!” John stood above me, his eyes bright with laughter and dancing with mischief as he pulled me back onto my feet. He clipped my lifejacket, double checked my helmet, then turned to the water and with a wave of an arm shouted to the group, “Let’s go!” 
Where exactly they were going, I wasn’t sure. And judging by the surprised faces around me neither did anyone else but we followed him anyway. The group trudged straight out into the sea. At first the water seemed warm but soon enough infiltrated our wetsuits and seemed to turn to ice. “The trick is to get completely wet right away,” John yelled to us as he dove under the waves, “a layer of water will get between you and the suit and your body heat will keep it warm, you just have to get swimming.” And he pushed off towards a rock in the distance. Cautiously I followed, dunking my head under the frigid waters, stifling the screams trying to escape from my chest in rebellion.
The rock poked out of the sea ominously. It was steep with jagged edges and when John yelled to us to climb on up, I thought he was joking. But he jumped on the rock with ease and headed up to the ledge before I could voice my doubt. Penn clambered up in front of me quickly, although not as gracefully. I grabbed on to a jagged edge, thankful for my gloves, and pulled myself up. The gloves latched on to the barnacles speckling the rocks surface enabling a strong grip.
A small channel ran between the rock and the cliffs. The water appeared calm as our group approached but, as the last gloved hand clasped to the side of the mountainous rock, giant waves billowed through loosening our grips and throwing us back to where we started.
“We’re going through there. We can wait for the waves to die down… or we can have a little fun.” John looked at us devilishly. My heart quickened as Penn squeezed my arm – his eyes matching John’s.
“Ready for this?” He gave me a challenging grin. But something had happened to me from the moment I submerged myself beneath the water. As the sea seeped into my wetsuit my hesitations, my fear, all of my worry left me. I was in. I grinned back at Penn and we swam towards the crashing waves.
In a moment we lost all control of our destination as a wall of water came crashing down on us. I felt a pull behind me but tried to swim on into the crest of the wave. It lifted me high above the others. I thrust myself into it and rose further but quickly crashed down and was pulled under. The life jacket brought me back up, and gasping for breath I spotted another coming for me. Penn was nowhere in sight. But there whoops and cheers of the group who had stayed behind. They were having fun, it was all ok. I gave into the next wave but barely caught my breath before another one came. Just as I thought I would never get through I felt someone clasp onto my arm and pull me towards the other end of the channel.
“Just let the next wave take us into the rock,” Penn yelled over the rush of the wave. I grabbed his hand and together we were pushed to the rock. It wasn’t graceful. The wave pushed Penn around so his back faced the rock. Our hands separated and I was propelled forward into him as we both crashed into the jagged surface, Penn taking the brunt of the crash. We clambered onto the rock and collapsed. John and the rest of the group made their way easily through the channel and quickly joined us, the waves having died down just as we reached solid ground.
“Are you okay?” John called out. I struggled to my feet, but was hindered by the laughter billowing from me.
“That was amazing!” Was all I could get out. I was laughing and gasping for air, my legs shaking from the rush of adrenaline now pulsing through my veins. “What’s next?” John laughed as he pointed to a ledge higher up the rock.
“Ready to jump?” He started climbing up. “I wonder if it’s deep enough.” And in a moment he was in the air and into the water. He emerged with a cheer. “Just jump straight out, keep your legs together and arms crossed, it’s great!”
I jumped with a squeal. Surrounded by cliffs on the coast of Wales, I flew through the air and dropped 30 feet into the icy sea. I was free, full of life, bursting with excitement. I crashed into the ocean, my lungs once again rebelling against the cold and the sudden rush of water. 

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