If you haven’t read part 1, click here.
Day 2: Ludlow to Nantwich (70 miles)
This is what I look like after cycling 70 miles, and then laying in a field all night without sleeping:
Needless to say, I felt like shit in the morning. I’d had no sleep at all, I had a banging headache, and I was feeling very down in the dumps. I didn’t want to bring the others down as well though, so I tried to keep my spirits high, and made light of my night of woes.
Despite rising early, we took our time getting ready to set off for the second day of cycling. Finally seeing our sleeping spot in the daylight, I very quickly became aware of the fact that the nearest house was actually overlooking this very field, and we were in very clear view. Not long after we’d started snacking for breakfast, we heard the sound of an engine, as a large tractor began pulling up into the field. My heart sank a little, as I imagined us being ousted by an angry farmer.
There was no need to worry though. He was only using the entrance to turn his vehicle around, and as we caught his eye he gave us a smile and a thumbs up. Sighs of relief. Time to make coffee.
Lucy had reassured me that the hilliest day was over, and that definitely helped. Despite being head-achey and sleep deprived, I was able to keep up with the group for most of the day. Lucy was right, the route to Nantwich was much less hilly, and the climbs that we did encounter were far less brutal than those of the day before.
That day we actually made ridiculously good progress, averaging around 20 kph.
Riding through the Shropshire Hills has to have been the highlight of the three days for me. I may have felt rubbish but I soon forgot about it. The roads were smooth and winding, everything was green, the air was clean and fresh, the sun was beating down on us and we were having a lovely time.
Shropshire is just beautiful. We pretty much stuck to the back roads and rolling countryside. It was picturesque. I took my mind off the pain by taking in my surroundings as much as possible. It meant I was probably a lot quieter that day, but I was quite happy just breathing in the fresh air, and catching sight of the odd pheasant, hare and alpaca!
We stopped for a coffee break in Wem, and were welcomed into a curious little sweet shop and cafe by a couple who were clearly used to ushering cyclists through the back garden.
The coffee was much needed, and the banter was welcome as well. I’m still not quite sure what their relationship was, but there was an elderly woman sitting at the table next to us who happily told us all about how the owner was jokingly trying to set her up with another regular customer. She was very much part of the furniture there, and made us giggle. When we told them we were headed for Nantwich, the owners very excitedly gave us lots of recommendations for places to eat, as they knew it well.
Stocked up on bright blue bonbons (it was a sweet shop, after all!), we set off on the final leg of the day 2 journey. Still averaging 20 kph, we rolled into Nantwich at 5pm, completely surprised by how early we were. Places weren’t yet open for dinner and so we found a pub to go and just wind down for a while. As we eagerly awaited dinner time we enjoyed an odd music channel on the TV where they’d clearly dug through the archives to bring you every obscure ‘hit’ from 1987.
We ended up at a Thai restaurant where I had the most satisfying tofu Pad Thai, which I actually managed to finish this time. Over dinner we started to plan where to sleep that night, and I expressed my fears to the rest of the group. I’d been mulling things over on that last section of the ride, and I was torn over what to do that night. I was determined to learn how to bivvy, and I figured the only way to learn was to just do it. At the same time, however, I was absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed with a feeling of dread when I considered the possibility of another sleepless night.
I told them that I was tempted to try sleeping in the tent that night, but felt that if I did, I would have failed to gain the true experience of wild camping that I’d set out to do. That was when Lucy shared some wisdom with me. She said, you need to ask yourself what you’re there for. Are you there for the full experience of being ‘in the night’, to hear the sounds and see the stars? Or are you there to sleep because you need to ride another 70 miles the following day?
She hit the nail on the head. I wanted to learn to bivvy but I’d chosen the wrong time to do it. I’d only gotten myself a bivvy bag because I’d heard that Ania and Renata were doing it that way. I had a very romantic idea of sleeping under the stars, and feeling more connected to nature, but I hadn’t even learned to sleep in a tent yet. What chance did I have?
The fact is, I will learn to bivvy, but it’s something I need to make time for when I’m not cycling 210 miles across the country. It’s something I can do closer to home, on a night where I don’t have to be anywhere the following day. So if I don’t sleep, I can go home and nap, and try again another day.
For the purposes of this journey, I needed to prioritise the rest I so badly needed. So when we found a spot to camp, I pitched the tent. And I slept like a fucking baby.
Part 3 coming soon…