By Phil AOR
First published in ORB 208, Spring 2258
Sweat ran down Dylan’s face, despite the sub-zero temperatures. He knew he had to rest; just for a few minutes in order to get some food inside him. A rocky outcrop appeared along the path, and Dylan quickened his pace. Moments later he was squatting down beside his rucksack, out of reach of the icy wind. He stuffed his map case inside his coat and flexed his hands in an attempt to get the blood circulating, then rapidly sought out his flask and sandwiches. The hot, sweet coffee revived him somewhat, and Dylan smiled as he recalled recent events which saw him spending a few winter days in Snowdonia rather than down the pub in front of a warm fire with ale in his belly.
His meeting on New Year’s Day with the old man in Garth’s Music Shop had been ethereal, to say the least. There had been a dream like quality to that day – everything which related to the old man’s words he could remember with clarity, but almost all else had faded from his memory. He could remember receiving the note, but not what he ate for breakfast; he could remember walking into town, but not the faces he’d seen along the way; he could remember all that the old man said, but not how he’d gotten home. But most of all he could remember how much he’d been moved by what was said in that meeting. So many questions had been answered; questions which Dylan had silently asked for years without ever actively seeking an answer to. But it wasn’t just hard information the old man had imparted, there was emotion too. Even if Dylan hadn’t understood a word, he would still have left with an overriding feeling both of wellbeing and concern; there was a sense of wholesome honesty in the old man’s voice, and this honesty was never more apparent than in his parting question: “If you do not stand, who will?” he’d asked, before handing Dylan a scrap of paper.
* * *
Dylan still had the scrap of paper, but his memory faded at that point. Just as if he’d awoken from a dream. It was only when he had been tinkering with his bike later that New Year’s Day that the memory of the meeting came flooding back. He’d reached into his pocket for a spanner he’d put there moment’s earlier, and with it he’d pulled out the handwritten note. On one side it listed the address of a camping shop in Betws-y-Coed, a small Welsh town famed for its surrounding scenery, with a contact name of Mike, and on the other side was a map number, grid references of way points and a final destination along with a date and cut off time, printed boldly in red.
The ride into Wales had been dry but cold, and Dylan had no idea what to expect when he rolled the Triumph onto the car park of the bed and breakfast he’d booked over the ‘phone. He had nothing but the clothes on his back and a wallet holding the last of his available cash as he climbed the wooden steps of the tidy but basic motel and checked in. Minutes later he was striding out across town in search of the camping shop, his thoughts full of curiosity.
* * *
The camping shop detailed on his instructions was a small military surplus store, and not immediately obvious amongst the other bright and colourful outdoor equipment suppliers, but Dylan had found it soon enough and proceeded inside. Note in hand, he introduced himself to the only man behind the counter. The owner, Mike, had given knowing smile and busily selected an array of items both from the shop floor and the stores out back. Soon the counter overflowed with items including rucksack, one-man tent, smock, stove, cutlery, sleeping bag, compass, map, knife and other expedition essentials. All of this was done in silence, until finally Mike took a long look at the equipment, then packed all the items into the rucksack, mentally checking them off as he went. “There you go,” Mike said, then shook his head as Dylan reached for his wallet. “All taken care of.”
And so Dylan, feeling slightly bemused, had returned to his lodgings.
* * *
Rain drizzled down from a grey sky as Dylan awoke on 9th January. He’d washed, dressed, ventured to the kitchen and eaten a hearty breakfast before returning to his room. There, he took stock of his equipment and made a few final preparations. Reference points had been clearly marked on his map, and he’d estimated the time it would take him to reach the destination specified in the old man’s instructions, taking into account the bad weather and so forth. A bricklayer by trade, Dylan was in reasonable physical shape but he took nothing for granted and strived to ensure that he wouldn’t be late. He checked his watch and relaxed for a while on the hard single bed, thinking back to what the old man had said. Despite the information he’d imparted, Dylan had no real idea just what lay at the end of this particular journey. The old man had said life itself was a journey, and that long journeys could be broken down into many smaller journeys. Dylan had thought long and hard about this, and had rationalised that in order to achieve any kind of success, each small journey had to be completed in order to proceed.
His only problem was that he had no idea of where this journey would lead.
But he had a map and a plan, so he would see where the road took him. There was no turning back, and furthermore, he was intrigued.
* * *
Dylan shivered violently and snapped out of his daydream. He’d rested on the mountainside for too long and risked exposure. He saw now how easy it was to fall prey to Mother Nature’s power, and fought against the desire to sleep. He shoved the flask and sandwich wrapper back into his rucksack and pulled out the map from his coat. The wind whipped against his face as he rose stiffly to his feet, hauling his gear onto his back. Cloud was rolling in thickly now, and visibility was down to thirty yards or so, but the path was clear and his compass led the way. He let his mind stray back to the best part of the day trip so far; the fifteen minute ride he’d hitched from Betws-y-Coed to the lay-by near the lake where he had begun his ascent of Glyder Fawr. Nevertheless, despite the poor weather, the mountains appealed to Dylan. In a world which at many times felt overcrowded, the feeling of isolation which the mountains provided was more than welcome. And no doubt, were it not for the poor weather, there would be people up here in the mountains too. So Dylan welcomed the harsh conditions also.
He gritted his teeth and pushed on along the rock strewn trail. Out of the rolling cloud there loomed a mountain lake which looked like something out of legend. The surface rippled and churned as the wind blew, and Dylan checked his watch. He was still on target for his mysterious rendez-vous, but he stopped abruptly with the sudden realisation that he would be spending the night on the mountainside. This was something he hadn’t considered before, even though he’d packed his newly acquired tent. He merely presumed that there would be some kind of camping spot in a nearby valley, but it was obvious to him now that considering the time of year and the late afternoon meeting which had been specified by the old man on the note, there would be no time to descend the mountain in daylight hours.
A slight nervousness gripped Dylan, and he took a drink of water to calm his stomach before continuing on his way, scrambling up a steep incline into thick cloud. Questions bullied their way into his thoughts as he walked, and for the first time that day he considered turning back. But this was his journey, and to turn back on one journey may mean turning back on a whole series of important events. He remembered the old man speaking with him of evolution, and that this was a concept that should be applied to every hour of every day, rather than as an aspect of historical significance. Every journey was a process of evolution, and Mother Nature is only concerned with improvement. To recede is to fail in her eyes. And so Dylan moved ever forwards, doing Nature’s bidding.
* * *
Almost without realising it, Dylan broke through the cloud and the world opened up before him. The wind dropped and the sun shone brightly from the western horizon, and he saw a picturesque village in the valley below. Shadows were cast across the uneven terrain, long and dark in contrast to the sun’s evening glow. Dylan turned and looked up towards the peak of Glyder Fawr and followed his own shadow up the mountainside, one eye on his destination, the other on the Snowdon range, rising menacingly to his right.
* * *
Breathing heavily, Dylan reached the summit and looked around. He was on time, almost to the minute, but he could see no one else. Despite the awe inspiring views and sense of accomplishment, Dylan’s heart sank. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but he felt an overwhelming desire to share his experience with someone. Just then a gentle breeze brought the sound of voices to his ears and Dylan turned his head slightly to ascertain a sense of direction. He descended carefully from the peak, and listened intently as the voices grew louder.
Just then, Dylan rounded a cairn and looked down into a hollow surrounded by large rocks. A fire had been lit, and around the fire there gathered a group of twenty or so people. Some kind of ceremony was about to begin, and Dylan stopped, unsure whether to move forward or merely to observe. The decision was made for him, however, when one of the participants beckoned to him. Dylan squinted against the sun, and saw it was the old man from the music shop. Moving down the short slope, dropping his rucksack to one side, he approached the gathering as they formed into a circle. A pretty girl in her twenties reached out her hand to him and Dylan took it, closing the circle.
Then it began.
* * *
Follow this part of ‘The Journey’ on Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL 17
Route Begins: 650 603
Route Ends: Grid Reference: 644 579