Calm vs crazy in a crisis

I realised today that it has been a while since my last confession – just kidding, but it has been a while since my last post. In between now and then I have been to California and just returned from a lovely weekend in Pembrokeshire…which is what has sparked my post today.

Are you calm or crazy in a crisis?

I have been both and to be honest I think people veer towards the latter. What’s even more interesting is that if you communicate your crisis people automatically go straight to the negative – ‘OMG I am so sorry to hear this.’ ‘What a nightmare for you.’ ‘Oh no what a disaster.’ ‘Oh how awful.’ ‘Totally dreadful for you.’

That isn’t to say those people aren’t being kind – truly they are being empathetic and showing concern for your welfare.

I love an adventure but usually it is always organised by someone else. Mainly one of my brothers. It isn’t that I can’t organise an adventure, just that I have never done it. I am always on holiday or away with some adventuring kind of person. My brothers are all that way and so generally I just leave them to it and tag along.

I’ve always struggled with fun. I know that sounds a bit silly, but as children we were told off for having fun. If we laughed too loud we were told off and to be honest I was told off so much I don’t think I really dared have fun. I was quite sad as a child and so really for various reasons, I just grew up not really knowing how to have fun.

I’ve learned over the years, however, that I love the outdoors. I love a good hike, climb (so long as I am climbing uphill with my feet on the ground and not hanging off some precipice), being by the ocean or in mountains and generally just ‘wanging’ around in nature. Don’t mind getting muddy and now own some pretty decent walking boots. It has taken a few years to ditch white trainers while camping, but am getting there.

One of my brothers introduced me to Pembrokeshire a couple of years ago and my kids and I love it. The coast is rugged, there’s some crazy hiking and climbing up and down the coastal path to secret beaches and in some ways it reminds me of California. The sky gets that same kind of blue as it hits the ocean and I am transported 5,000 miles across it.

We’ve now been a few times and this past weekend I took my two kids – hardly kids at 19 and 15 but there you go. We had planned a last minute trip and I’d decided I was going to be the adventure planner. My older brother has a book called ‘Wild Wales’ which basically breaks Wales up into regions and maps out some pretty spectacular wild old places to visit. They are well off the beaten track, not really for the average tourist but reward you with some spectacular adventures…if you can find them. I bought the book and was excited to start organising adventures…I mean how hard could it be?

I voiced a slight concern to one of my brothers about planning the adventures and he assured me that I had all the skills and attributes to being a great adventure organiser, I’d just never done it before.

I spent some time the week before mapping out our adventures. We were only going for 3 days and 2 nights, so I wanted to get as much in as possible. I figured if we stopped somewhere along the way it would give us our first adventure and break up the four and a half hour drive to Pembrokeshire. After looking at a map I figured Brecon Beacons was a good stop. Wasn’t sure what was there but Wild Wales had some ideas. Chartists Cave looked interesting to me. A great long cavern in a hillside that dropped down 30 metres into a cave below. It looked pretty impressive and the little paragraph gave a nearby postcode and a few directions. I disregarded the ordinance survey map codes as wasn’t too sure what they meant anyway.

Our adventures began in the car with tunes and tantrums…I tried to get the kids to stop along the way at a couple of castles but they were having none of it. After a couple of hours we started to head towards the village where the postcode given by the Wild Wales man was. We arrived at that destination and followed the directions. We were soon surrounded by nothing but massive barren Welsh mountains either side of us. It was like we were on another planet. We were travelling on a deserted road and went back on ourselves and headed further up the mountain. The track ended with a quarry and we had no idea where we were or where the cave was. How hard can it be to find it, I thought, I mean it is in the book, right? We followed the directions and figured it must be up over the ‘peak’ that the book talked about. Trouble is one peak turns into another, and another and we just kept climbing. We said we must be in the wrong spot and my daughter tried to navigate with her phone, which was useless because no-one really knows where Chartists Cave is anyway, certainly not Google!

We came back down towards the quarry fence and found a few cottages nearby. Two old Welshmen were outside one of the cottages, repairing windows. We asked them about Chartists Cave, ‘ooh yes Chartists Cave,’ one exclaimed, ‘just back up that peak and about a mile or so in front of you, you can’t miss it.’

‘Chartists Cave?’ the other asked. We nodded. ‘Yes, yes,’ he said, ‘up just over the peak like maybe a mile or maybe two but you can’t miss it.’

After walking for so long we were elated at the thought of finding the cave and we headed up over the peak with zeal in our stride. The peak turned into another peak and every few rocks on the horizon looked like the top of the cave. However, each turned out to be just another crater in the ground. We found live sheep, dead sheep and met wild horses and bones in the craters.

Soon the blue skies disappeared and the sun went in. The sky darkened and the rain came sideways. It was as though we just left August and found November. We kept telling ourselves we would just go to the next peak, but it just looked like a peak and when we reached it, it was just another dip in the landscape only to be met by what looked like another peak. We started questioning what a peak was – a mountain, a hill, or just a slope? The soft grass turned into marsh and we found ourselves sinking into water. We stopped and tried to get our bearings, but realised when we turned around that we were completely surrounded by moorland – we were lost.

We didn’t realise how long we had walked for but we were totally disorientated. We had foolishly left the car with no food and no water. We thought the cave would be a short walk from the car. The directions were not specific about how far away it was at all and we just figured it would be on top of a peak. [If I never hear the word peak again it will be too soon.]

We had to turn back. We were wearing trainers and we were soaking wet and cold. We had not drank for hours and we began losing it. We argued over the direction to take, whose silly idea it was to walk that far and finally agreed we did not give a damn about the cave. My son declared the cave a complete myth!

After a 3 hour round trip we saw the car – never have I been so happy to see my car.

It turns out (according to an experienced orienteer in his article about Chartists Cave) that it is actually 6 miles from where our car was to reach the cave and it should not be attempted by anyone inexperienced and certainly not without a map, compass and hiking gear. To be fair to Mr Wild Wales it did say take a map and I just figured we had found the location, the phone would do the rest if need be. It was not, however, like we were trying to find a petrol station, Google does not know the exact location of Chartists Cave nor can it give you walking directions to it.

We learnt some lessons. Never underestimate the weather in Wales. Never leave the car without water and food. Always take walking boots to Wales and wear them. Never believe what old Welshmen tell you. Never assume anything. Learn how to use a map and compass and take them with you!

Despite being slightly crazy in that crisis we put the whole thing down to our weekend adventures and decided to see the funny and positive side of it. We got off the moors and were in good shape. My son’s dad later told us that they do army training in the Brecon Beacons because of how harsh it is. I’m sure the cadets don’t wear trainers either.

We arrived into Pembrokeshire in good spirits and excited about our weekend ahead. We found our beautiful pink converted mill cottage located in remote countryside about 7 miles away from Newport Beach.

Our first night was lovely. We drove into Newport and ate dinner at a lovely pub who welcomed our dog, Lenny, like he was a little king. We caught the sunset on the beach and returned to the cottage happy.

I lit the wood burner in the living room and didn’t realise you had to open the vents. I closed the doors and the fire went out. I lit the fire again and left the doors open. The cottage filled with smoke and the smoke detectors went off. They continued to do so every 10 minutes, despite opening the doors and windows. I remained calm but ignoring it was not an option. Shortly after midnight the cottage owners came and disarmed the smoke alarms, well removed them actually. Rather than thinking how awful it was I decided to see it as part of the adventure. Weary I finally went to sleep.

The following day we had some great adventures from hiking across from Whitesands Beach to visiting our favourite spot, Blue Lagoon and finding the Strumblehead Lighthouse and a secret beach in Aberfforest. A few of these places were through figuring out some directions from the Wild Wales book! Adventure organiser, check!

Shortly after dinner that second night, however, our adventures took a slightly different turn. As we drove back to our cottage, with about 6 miles to go, warning lights flashed on the dashboard telling me to stop the car safely. I figured I would get back to the cottage and call for assistance then. The stop safely notice turned into stop the car immediately and I slowed down trying to call for assistance. There was no phone service and my daughter started freaking out. I knew that the car wouldn’t blow up but I was concerned something might happen.

This time, I stayed totally calm. Unfortunately, it did not calm my daughter who, after I took a wrong turn, jumped out of the car as I stopped to turn around. She ran off and said she would find her own way back. I still remained calm as I drove a mile down the lane in front of us and pulled over. I finally go through to the car ‘assist’ company (associated with my lease car), who told me to switch the car off immediately. We were stranded on a grass verge in the middle of nowhere on a single lane road. My daughter was god knows where and my son had decided to keep getting out of the car and roaming in the middle of the road on his mobile phone. The dog was keeping his head down but was clearly a bit wobbly.

The ‘assist’ company operative told me I had to stay with the vehicle while they sent for it to be recovered. We were losing light, had less than 20% battery on my phone and my son said he’d spoken to my daughter who was 3.5 miles away from the cottage following phone directions with a phone battery that was dying and at 15%.  We had no idea of our location because we were simply too far away from anything.

I remained calm and at the direction of the lady on the phone rang 101 for help. They weren’t too helpful and said just to Google my location. I did and so ended up with our latitude and longitude. The lady on the end of the phone found that helpful and finally agreed to have the recovery driver pick me up from our cottage and come back to the car with me, rather than us having to wait for the car.

My son and I, with dog in tow, headed on foot with Google maps to find the cottage. I realised I still had the phone number of the lady who owned the cottage and called her for help. She said she would find my daughter and come pick us up. My daughter had made it back to the cottage and after we had walked almost 2 miles they found us too.

The recovery man made it (have no idea how he got the truck down the lanes) a couple of hours later and took my car off to a storage facility.

You could not have put so many ‘unfortunate’ factors together. We were four and a half hours from home. The lease company policy is only to recover your vehicle to a dealership within 50 miles of your location. You then have to get the car back yourself if and when it is repaired. Due to the fact it was going to be Sunday the following day and then a bank holiday Monday, the car would not be taken to the dealership until Tuesday. You have a hire car until Thursday but because of the remoteness of the location and the bank holiday weekend the closest car hire branch with a vehicle was 96 miles away and they could not deliver it until 3 pm on Sunday. The cottage owner needed us to be out by 10 am so she could clean the cottage for the next family and leave by 1 pm to take her motor home to meet her husband. Seriously.

Back to Saturday night, I realised that at this point the situation seemed a little dire (first world problems and all but still) but I made a conscious decision that I would view it as part of our adventure and see the funny side of it and find the silver linings. I remained calm, had a cup of tea and went to bed.

The following morning I spent a couple of hours on and off with the car hire and assist companies trying to figure out how we were going to get home. The lady who owned the cottage said we must stay put and she would clean around us, although I finally managed to get her to agree to let me help by vacuuming and mopping floors….it is part of the adventure I told her. She also suggested giving us a lift to the service station on the M4 where she was meeting her husband and we could get the car hire company guys to meet us there as it was an hour closer to Cardiff, making it easier for them to get the car to us.

I reflected that had all this turn of events not happened the way it did we would not have met the couple who owned the cottage and got to hear about their amazing unconventional and interesting life on the two hour drive from the cottage to the service station on the M4. Did you know that you can do a motor home swap with people all over the world? No, I didn’t either. We would not have learnt the lessons we did being lost on the moor in the Brecon Beacons and I don’t think we would have appreciated our adventures as much as we did. I realised I don’t have as much faith in myself as I deserve to and I say sorry for things that are out of my control and, therefore, not my fault. I also got to drive a brand new Mini Countryman all the way home.

We made it home Sunday evening and although tired and weary, I realised how much of a difference it made being calm in a crisis. That really it didn’t seem like a crisis at all, but just another adventure.

Buddhism talks about finding the middle path…it is of course a metaphor and truly means being centered, finding your centre or peace within whatever is going on around you.  I have contemplated that no matter what life throws at you, see it as an adventure. When you see something just as it is, rather than good or bad (dreadful, awful or otherwise) you find the lessons in it, you see the funny side and are given a silver lining.

So when the boat starts rocking or totally overturns, remain calm…


[This image is taken just at the outskirts of the Brecon Beacons]