Ever since I was a boy I’ve been inquisitive about what lies around the corner or over the next hill. Almost as soon as I could ride a bike I would set off to explore the boundaries set by my parents. I would frequently travel far beyond them, feeling self sufficient even at an early age. Accompanied by friends, or my big sister, I began to learn the topography around the area in which we lived, navigating the myriad of country lanes that linked the villages. Sometimes we would head for Everdon Stubbs, a woods where we would find chestnuts or conkers. At other times we would head to another village to see what it had to offer or just meander around without any great purpose.
As I grew, my desire to explore expanded. From then until now, and despite poor health for some years, I’ve managed to keep on searching out special places. Wherever I’ve roamed I have always been left feeling that you can only scratch the surface in one lifetime. But it’s better to keep scratching the surface than never to have had the chance or desire to explore, which is the case for so many other people. Another thing I learned early on is that I’m happiest most of the time in my own company and that self reliance has been tested on many occasions during mountain walks, solo climbs and long distance cycle rides.
I often get asked questions related to how far or how fast I travel when I’m touring. I always struggle to answer them as it is so dependent on the day, what I’m carrying, the terrain, weather and my given mood state. My goals, and I suspect many of yours, are more oriented towards the quality of our experience: having fun, seeing things and meeting people. The above mentioned variables ensure that no experience is ever the same twice.
I love touring over long distances, but maybe this year I need to do something a little different. Maybe this is the year to free the reigns a little and to venture forth without any plan. Previously I have relied on having a plan to be able to get away. There’s a certain reassurance and comfort if you have a direction and distant goal, but it also detracts from your freedom. Too much detail leaves you simply following an itinerary and I have the sneaking suspicion that this year I’m supposed to let go of that and to travel more openly.
Even when I’ve tried I haven’t been able to make a plan and stick to it. Each time I’ve considered a journey I’ve been let down by my body and mind with its various niggles, outpourings and pains. Instead, I found myself standing at the door marked exit, feeling that leaving should be on the cards, but without a clue as to what to do. My thoughts went haywire for a while. Perhaps I should stay at home and not try to travel anywhere? As is often the case when I’m totally unsure about where to go or what to do next, I headed out on Kermit for a gentle circuit, just to see how everything was progressing on the injury front and to clear my ever-foggy mind.
I soon found myself moseying gently along the lanes, not bothered by my emotions or any thoughts of travelling and without any signs of my recent injuries. I smiled, and in that moment noticed a group of calves that were lined up at a gate, itself set back from the road. Their heads, at least ten of them, protruded through the bars of the gate as they craned their necks as far as possible to eat grass from the forbidden area beyond their field. It made me smile and I stopped for a short while to watch, something that didn’t seem to bother them at all. They were enjoying something special that lay just a small way outside their normal territory. Perhaps I should try that too?
The next instant it came to me. I’ve read so much about Alistair Humphreys ideas on micro- adventures , taking yourself off for a night or weekend to explore your immediate environs or to see them from a different angle.The idea that there are plenty of adventures to be had locally holds for almost anywhere in the country whether urban or wild. My parents encouraged us to explore our homeland as well as striking out further. So thinking about that I struck upon the idea of going on a macro adventure, where the purpose is to see and feel as much as possible from a relatively small area over a period of a few weeks.
This would suit my current state of health and readiness. I would get to explore the minutiae of some of the places I had always cycled past on prior journeys without giving them too much of a thought. Better still, I don’t need a plan outside of a starting point. Day one could be planned and the rest would be whatever I made of them. All the while I’d be close to home should the dreaded gremlins kick in again.
The more I considered it, the better I felt about it. I could hop from cove to cove around the coast of the south western peninsular or explore inland as I saw fit. I could do that without the restriction of having to be at some other point the next evening, day, or week. It would be more Josie Dew than Sean Conway and it felt as though it would suit me and my recovering body just fine. A day here and there without being too worn out to enjoy it would leave me to explore on foot those places I can’t reach using my trike, like beaches. It felt just perfect.
When I rode around the coast of Britain in 2011 I kept finding myself saying: “I must come back and explore this further.” Needless to say that I never have done that. While it was fantastic to ride the whole coast in one push, you need far more time than I had available if you want to explore properly below the surface. I guess that this is true of most of the places that we go and most holidays. Cycle touring is always a compromise. My nature and history tends to tempt me into seeing as much as I can while rolling along, rather than getting a proper feel for fewer places. I feel that it’s time to begin to challenge that.
My body has kept on slowly healing. Last weekend I rode from home to Barnstaple, a route that involves many steep hills its first half. I went the longer way around, the one that National Cycle Network route 27 follows, only deviating from this at Petrockstowe where I kept to the tarmac rather than riding down to pick up the Tarka Trail. Despite feeling tired, I had no real aches or pains as a result, something that felt reassuring after so much uncertainty. I just rolled along gently, anticipating the stretch along the estuary from Bideford to Barnstaple. On arrival at that point the wind had swung to follow me, accelerating my progress and providing considerable and much needed assistance. People were out in droves, despite the strong wind that was blowing and the trail felt alive and full of purpose as a result.
A few days later, in sweltering heat of almost thirty degrees, I pedalled a ride similar to the one when my knee and back both gave up on me a few months ago. The hills rolled slowly past as I headed toward Dartmoor in a relaxed mood and I stopped on quite few occasions to admire the view, talk to local farmers, and just to rest in the cooling shade for a short while. My legs felt good throughout and once again there were no real signs of any pain or niggles in my back or knee as a result. During both these rides I have been careful not to over exert my knees or push too hard on the seat. Instead, I have used Kermit’s wide gear range to the full and taken it easy.
So a new plan has hatched. I am going to go away toward the end of this week, weather depending, with just a few sheets that I’ve removed from my map book. I have no set plan and no daily distance expectation. I might ride five miles or I might ride fifty. It all depends on what I spy on the map or road signs that draws my attention. The weather will play a part, as will my body and mind. I’m hoping to learn to relax more on this trip, one that should open my eyes more than any previous effort to the beauty that lies at my feet, rather than always staring towards the next hill or dreaming of far away mountains.
I wonder where my legs and thoughts will lead me?
Until next time…………………