There are a lot of times that I second guess myself. Or, I have this really thought out plan that works perfectly for me, and I forget to inform everyone else that I need to of what I'm doing. There is sometimes a distinct lack of communication between me and those that really need it, otherwise they worry what exactly their favorite wanderer has gotten into.
I'm not afraid to say that I screw up more than I should when it comes to keeping my mother and my sister in the loop with what I'm doing. Especially when this includes taking a few days and going up into mid-Wales - the southern tip of the Snowdonia National Park - and seeing the mountains. Huw had assured me that they were beautiful, and that I would possibly regret it if I didn't see them. Which, I can say that he's right. They were beautiful. It took the natural beauty of the gorge, multiplied it by ten, and put it to shame.
Seriously, when you're coming down the mountain and you can look into the cockpit of a fighter jet as it's weaving its way through the valleys for practice, while it made me want to piss myself with fright, it was also pretty damn cool. The sights - being able to practically see Ireland when the cloud bank shifted with the wind from the summit - that was awesome.
Another really cool thing that I've done this week? Been 300 feet in the earth in a coal mine. Seriously. It's a place called Big Pit, and it used to be a fully functioning coal mine before it stopped production in the late '90's. It's now a museum. They do tours in the coal mine every day.
I'm not kidding. They take you into this area, take all of your stuff that might have a dry cell battery in it (watch, phone, mp3 player, and you leave your bag, too), they kit you out in a helmet with a real light (wet cell battery) and this other little pouch attached to the belt (which turns out to be a gas mask because there could possibly, though it's checked every day, somehow be a build up of methane gas) and pile you into this rickety-looking lift. Then your mind kind of goes all Phantom of the Opera because the only thing I could think of was "down once more to the dungeon of my black descent/Down we plunge to the prison of my mind/Down this path into darkness deep as hell" and I've told you before that I have this thing for doing great worst-case scenarios.
Another thing to note is that I wasn't really sure prior to getting into that lift whether or not I was going to be really okay with the idea of being 300 feet below daylight. In an enclosed space. With no way for me to get the hell out of there if I really needed or wanted to.
But once you're down there and your ears stop popping (mine have been doing that a lot lately, though I think it's because there's a cold sitting in my sinuses), it's really cool. Of course, every now and then someone forgets that they have to "mind your head" and you hear a thunk followed by some sort of curse and look back in time to watch somebody more or less stagger away.
In a way, you start to feel like a miner. And you really can't let yourself think about the fact that there's so much earth between you and sunlight. Or that people died in those mines because, well, when you have something flammable in that small of a space - and you don't have a canary (they have a better sense of smell than a human, so if you're carrying a canary and it keels over, get the hell out of there before you do the same) - or something goes really wrong and the pony freaks out because it's in the dark (yes, they used ponies to carry up the coal all the way almost up to the eighties, and these ponies lived in stables in the mine) and tramples somebody...well, you really can't think about that or you're going to make yourself sick.
Now, you might think that you've seen darkness. That you've experienced the utter, utter blackness that comes with a space that light can't reach. A darkened room, maybe. On a new moon night? That has nothing on what the darkness is in a coal mine.
Yes, we at one point all turned out our lights and while my hand was approximately six inches in front of my face, there was no way that I was going to be able to see it. I didn't. This darkness, this blackness...take the most black thing that you know, the darkest that you've experienced and multiply it by one hundred. This was just ridiculous. And also so, so cool. You get a real feel for what those twelve-year-old boys waiting by those doors for the pit ponies must have felt because the only way they were going to be able to find the door was by a rope. And they had to listen for the pony. But just because you hear the pony coming doesn't mean that it's going normal speed - it could have freaked and be running. And the boy doesn't know it.
What also really impressed me is the closeness and fraternity between the miners. If there was an accident - and you had to get out in a hurry - you don't run (because, well, it's dark and you're going to beam yourself in the face, more or less) but if you passed someone who had beamed himself in the head and knocked himself out, you grabbed whatever part of him you could and you dragged him out. Miners never left another miner in the mine. Just. Not. Done.
For some reason all I could think while I was down there was this voice going, "My cousin Balin would give us a royal welcome" in reference to the mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Heh. Wonder why.
So, for those of you in the audience that know me but don't quite know me enough to have access to my Facebook page but still want to see all the photos from the time that I've been across the pond, just check out this link, which takes you to my Photobucket. And feel free to browse around through the pictures.