Jon gave us his GPS. Matt and I exchanged glances (cf., Samuel Beckett, Watt), shrugged, and Matt put the GPS in his pocket. We followed the arrows on the signs (except for the one time when we didn't, after climbing a short hill into a weird residential neighborhood that resembled to my naive American eyes the opening credits of "Coronation Street"; a fat little girl was barreling towards us on her bicycle; she yelled, "Go right! Go right!" We went right, avoiding collision; we came to a deadend; we turned around; Matt suggested a gander at the GPS; I rolled my eyes and/or gestured rudely; we went back and continued up the hill the other way, and found another NCR4 sign.
Soon we found ourselves on an open pasture, slipping around on a muddy/gravely track. It wasn't the first, nor last, gravely track, but it was the muddiest and graveliest to this point. I followed Matt at a safe distance, keeping in his line, watching his back tire skid occasionally. I thought, "Hm, it might be a good idea to unclip my left foot, just in case I really slide." I attempted to unclip, but realized the mere action of twisting my foot while riding on what any self-respecting football pundit would call a "greasy surface" would only provide the exact force necessary to topple me; so I stayed clipped in. I watched Matt's wheel slide out again, but Matt remained upright; I thought, "Hm, I'll slow a little;" my next thought was, "Oh, I'm falling." Don't worry, Ma! This is the tumble where I land with almost comical gentleness on a bed of long grass, laughing as I tumble because I was traveling about 2 k.p.h. (I'm beginning to get the reputation for these inconsequentially slow nosedives). We decided to walk our bikes to the end of the pasture.
Soon thereafter we came to some little village/town or another--honestly, these names all completely escape me--where we discovered, opposite a gas station, Smithy's, which was a greasy spoon/sandwich cafe. Smithy's sits pretty much literally on National Cycle Route 4. Smithy himself is missing a finger or two. We ordered cheese sandwiches. Smithy instructed his son, who made them. We got cheese sandwiches. Here's a full ingredients list:
2) Cheese (shredded)
I suspect Smithy, had he made the sandwiches, would've included butter, and that his son, nervous on his first Saturday of work under the the old man, simply forgot that sandwiches usually come with butter as a standard feature. Whatever. We were hungry. The sandwiches were good. Smithy was very friendly.
Back onto the bikes, over a little river, and for the next stretch we were cycling on paved pathways that meandered past sheep pastures. When I say "paved", I mean, they were asphalt, and covered in sheep- and horseshit. Before too long we came along a mother riding horses with her two daughters. No idiots, we, so we slowed right down and waited until they'd seen us. We spooked the littlest horse (ridden by the littlest horsewoman) [note to self: idea for TV show: "The Littlest Horsewoman"] anyway. The Littlest Horsewoman, who was probably no more than 8 or 9 years old, tried twice to control her horse, and I was impressed with her horsewomanship, and suspected that a certain retired suomalainen upseer of my acquaintance would've been too; at this point, the Littlest Horsewoman said, "I think I'll get down now," and hopped out of the saddle and walked her horse to the side of the pathway. Smiles and thank yous bounced back and forth from mother to cyclists.
Further along this paved travelway I found myself playing chicken with a terrier that was barreling full-steam towards me. I assumed the dog would divert; suddenly it seemed that it was hellbent on taking as straight line, its tail flapping wildly, ears back, stupid look on its face; so I changed course a little and began laughing my head off as the dog continued past. A little further up, its owner looked at me and said, "Oh God, he didn't give you trouble, did he?" I assured him not at all with some friendly words and continued. Matt was further ahead, and turned to ask me what I was laughing about. I began to explain as I hit a small bridge.
And then I was on the ground with my bike on top of me.
My right palm and wrist hurt, but only in the way they would if they were bruised. My feet were still in the pedals, and my bike had landed entirely on top of me, so I wasn't too worried about it. I could see my knee was bleeding, but it didn't hurt outrageously, so I figured it wasn't much more than scraped. My main concern was my shoulder, which felt as though if I were to move at all suddenly, it would dislocate from its socket.
"Matt," I said. "I'm fine. I'm fine. But don't touch me. Or my bike. I'm fine. But please just don't touch anything." And eventually I felt like my shoulder wasn't going to pop out of its socket. An inspection of the little bridge revealed that the wood was covered in chicken wire to prevent this kind of slide, but there was a gaping hole in the chicken wire. I wiped the blood with an antiseptic wipe, decided I'd live, and we climbed back on the bikes.
Between here and Port Talbot, we hit the part of the trail that really called for mountain bikes; Matt had a puncture.
It was weird riding with basically no idea how far we had to go to get to Swansea. Finally we hit Port Talbot, and rode along the very edge of it, between an industrial estate and some houses. the route jogged up two blocks, then back down two blocks, to avoid going in a straight line. We came through a little parking lot and then had to go over a curb to get onto the wonderful seaside pathway. I was sick of falling off my bike at this point, so I put my foot down and gingerly went over the curb. Matt vaulted himself over his handlebars in what was easily the most spectacular and elegant, if also least injurious, tumble of the trip.
We entertained (read: fooled) ourselves with the notion that the wide and lovely seaside pathway would lead us all the way to Swansea; I phoned Rich, who lives in Mumbles, to say we'd be there within an hour. The National Cycle Route 4 then diverged and we spent most of the last stretch beside the A-road, Matt's chain/gears howling like a banshee. But we got to Swansea. And made some decisions.