Sorry it’s been a while! I don’t have much time to write anymore, but I’ve finally managed to set aside enough time to write about a recent adventure of mine. Admittedly, it was a few weeks ago, but it’s better late than never, right?
As this second May bank holiday draws to a close, I look back on the first, or at least, the few days leading up to it. On the 4th-6th May, I attended my first Cycle Touring Festival, organised by Laura and Tim Moss. You may know them from their many adventures, from The Next Challenge, The Adventure Syndicate, Tim’s recently published book, With the Sun on our Right, or from the time they supported me as I struggled my way around the Yorkshire Dales.
Held on the beautiful grounds of Waddow Hall in Clitheroe, what better way to get to a Cycle Touring Festival, than by cycle touring?
Technically I’ve had a taste of touring before, from when Adam and I cycled from Bristol to Steyning over two days, camping in the New Forest along the way. However, this was to be my first real experience of self-sufficient touring, complete with wild camping, over multiple days.
Over three days, myself, Lucy, Ania and her friend Renata, took ourselves, our bikes, and all our luggage from Bristol to Clitheroe. This is how it happened.
Day 1: Bristol to Ludlow (70 miles)
We decided to start off on the right foot by getting the train out to Severn Beach, rather than have to navigate out of Bristol city, which isn’t the most pleasant of rides. When we left around 10am it was grey and drizzly, but it soon brightened up as we found our rhythm.
The first part of the route was familiar, as we rode over the Severn Bridge and up through the Wye Valley. I’ve ridden there before several times and it’s one of my favourite road rides. The Wye Valley is incredibly beautiful, and despite following the A466, the roads themselves are smooth and fun, the climbs aren’t too brutal, and the descent into Tintern is thrilling. When we arrived there, we decided it was time to reward ourselves with a coffee, and some light gear indexing.
It was around this time that I realised I’d packed way too much stuff. We’d joked about it at the train station, but after the Wye Valley climbing, I found that I had struggled a lot more than I’d expected.
The problem was, I hadn’t had long to prepare for this trip. I’d only decided about a week beforehand that I was definitely going, and the others told me we’d be wild camping along the way. I had visions of four tents on a farmer’s field, until Ania and Renata confirmed they’d be bivvying, so I decided it would be the perfect time to pop that cherry. I’d bring the tent for the festival itself, but the bivvy would allow me to be more inconspicuous en route.
Really, this was the big mistake, though I eventually came to embrace this decision. But we’ll get to that later. For now, my bike weighed a ton and I was carrying a lot more than everyone else.
We continued our route up through Monmouthshire and into Herefordshire, where a fellow cyclist asked us if we were doing LEJOG. I sheepishly said no, but regaled him with our plans anyway in the hope that he’d still be just as impressed. I’m not sure he was, but we didn’t need his approval anyway. We were on an adventure.
Overall it was a really nice route, but I struggled so much with the hills. Despite being the only one on a touring bike with a triple chainset and a really low gear, the other three were miles ahead of me a lot of the time.
I really started to question my capabilities. I know I’ve done this sort of riding before but I haven’t kept it consistent, and I just felt like I was rusty and out of practice.
Could I really do this for another two days?
The prospect of bivvying for the first time that night was starting to play on my mind. I was excited, but I was nervous. You may remember from my camp in the New Forest that I am not a happy camper when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. I’ve never been able to shut off at night, and always arise the next day having had no rest at all. Now I was about to throw myself past the deep end and into a baptism of fire, with the prospect of another 70 miles on no sleep.
When we pulled into Ludlow I felt such a sense of relief. It’s a beautiful town, with lots of old medieval architecture, and a Pizza Express that we really appreciated that night! Having said that, I soon lost my appetite about halfway through my pizza. Perhaps it was nerves, or just that I was overworked and not ready for a big meal, but either way I let the others polish it off, and set my focus on the night ahead.
We stocked up on food from Aldi, then pushed off into the darkening night to find a spot to sleep. This was when the nerves really set in, because I’d never felt like I was trespassing before. Lucy led the way to a farmer’s field where she’d spotted a wooded area on the map. Sure enough, there was a small clearing shielded by trees and invisible from the road. Head torches equipped, we set ourselves up for the night.
I had a bit of a nightmare getting settled. When I was at home I’d tested out the sleeping bag in the bivvy bag, and found I had lots of room. But then I saw Ania and Renata putting their air mats inside the bag as well, so I did the same. Big mistake. My air mat is very thick (I have the Alpkit Numo) and let’s just say once I was inside, I could barely move. I tried to get changed while inside the bag which didn’t work. I didn’t have enough room to manoeuvre so I gave up on trying to take off my sports bra. It was all a bit stressful.
I then struggled to figure out how to close everything up around me. My problem is I need some sort of pillow, and I like to sleep with my arm or hand underneath it. In a mummy-style sleeping bag this just doesn’t work, so I tried to bodge it, resulting in a real struggle to line up the bivvy’s opening with my face. At first I buried myself deep down inside the bag and tried to seal it up. This resulted in me struggling to breathe, so I then poked my head out of the opening, getting really cold.
I spent the entire night tossing and turning, readjusting the opening, trying to keep myself warm and failing miserably. I got out to pee three times and used each opportunity to reassemble everything. In the end I got so frustrated I cried. I didn’t sleep at all.
Instead I laid awake for most of the night telling myself that I wouldn’t be able to do the next 140 miles over two days without any sleep. I had to come up with a Plan B, or go home.
Part 2 to come…