How to escape by bike: Part one.

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Wonderful campsite: Kerry, Ireland.

I keep looking at Trevor, my trailer, sat in my shed with nowhere to go. I wonder where we might head next, after a summer spent in singular days, cruising around with no particular destination in mind. I’m beginning to get a little twitchy, wanting to explore again, to travel slowly through the landscape, absorbing everything I see. I want to get out and meet people, share stories and food, and more than anything, bring some colour into a life that has often felt monochrome for the most part this year.

It doesn’t need to be an extravagant journey to far-flung lands. I’m more than happy in my own backyard, with plenty to still explore and enough roads to last another lifetime. So often now there are posts and blogs online pertaining to massive overseas journeys that can easily lead you to feel you are not a proper touring cyclist unless you do something similar. Adventure is a state of mind, not a destination in a far-away land.

And that is why you should try and have one, an adventure that is. Cycle touring is one of those experiences that doesn’t increase in enjoyment exponentially with the amount you spend on equipment. Granted, you need enough to travel safely, but people often make the mistake of thinking they have to have all manner of things they don’t need, before even trying it out.

If you have a three-speed bike, that’s fine. You may have to walk up some of the hills, but does that matter? You don’t need posh panniers and bags to start. Just remember the golden rule of packing everything in plastic bags, regardless of whether your bags claim to be waterproof or not. You may only have a simple dome tent, one that will wobble like a jellyfish in a strong wind. By being careful where you pitch it, it should be fine until you have a better idea of what will suit your needs best. The message is just go and experience the local area and spread your wings gently.

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Arriving in France, we took a breath and drank coffee before setting out.

People tend to try and find security in their equipment when in reality they should find security in their experience. By listening to what you feel and pushing the boundaries when you are ready, you build confidence and take responsibility for the situations you find yourself in. We are not all made to spend months alone in the wilds, and it’s better to know that before finding yourself there. Learning to judge the right and wrong time to be in a certain place means you can have fabulous adventures, tailored to meet your own needs. These will give you a good deal of satisfaction and encourage you to go further from home.

If, like me, you suffer from a long term condition that affects your day-to-day living, you have to learn to judge how you might react to any given situation before you head off to France where the language is another barrier for most to overcome. If on your worst day you can hardly bear being away from home, you may need to be more realistic about where you head. Judging it by your best day could lead to serious trouble and a state of mind that you cannot cope with. Touring should be fun after all.

You don’t have to be a camper to enjoy travelling by bike. Today there are so many choices for staying overnight:  AirB&B, Warmshowers and good old Youth Hostels as well as the usual hotels and B&Bs. You can always find somewhere to aim for without breaking the bank. You may find great reassurance in having an initial destination in mind, especially when you first start touring. I know I did, and often still do.  Who knows, you may stumble across a campsite or place where you feel you have to stop, regardless of any plan you had to begin with.

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Different strokes for different folks: Trish and Darren Whittacker have travelled the world on their folding, Bike Friday, New World Traveller bikes.

Having a plan ‘B’ is always a good idea. You will soon learn that you don’t have to be a slave to your earlier decisions. Being able to change your plans to suit how you are feeling, or the prevailing conditions, is a sign of good health, not failure.

I’m not trying to frighten you off, but so many people bite off more than they can chew initially and that’s a shame as it can scar them for a long time. With a little more forethought they could have had a great adventure, full of positive memories. We all have our own fears and misgivings about any journey we undertake. Most are irrational and won’t ever happen. Many are just our brains adjusting to a new and unknown way of being. But some you have to listen to because they are there to protect you from yourself.  Your job is to ascertain which are which.

Planning is one area where many fall down. I tend to give myself plenty of time to think and explore ideas. I usually place maps on my wall along with a wall planner. I then add things as I find them out: places to visit, must see attractions, campsites, ferries etc. I try to find out if a route will suit me and my method of travel (recumbent trike). Not all routes are possible on a trike, so simply downloading a route from one of many internet sites is not an option without further investigation. One person’s idea of heaven is another person’s hell.

Once you have some answers to the basic questions about your route and the type of terrain you are likely to be in, then you can then allocate the right equipment for a particular tour, including the type of bike you might consider. Taking the same stuff regardless of your route often leaves you carrying an unnecessary and heavy load or walking where a different bike would let you ride: A route to northern Norway will require some different equipment from a trip around the coast of Spain. For me, planning is where the adventure begins, regardless of the destination. If I have decided to ride it, then the idea of it must excite me or I wouldn’t bother.

People have been travelling the world by bike since the 19th century. Wherever you decide to roam you will find that somebody has been there previously. The attractions have always been the same: cycling provides a slow and simple pace of life that suits many people. You travel fast enough to progress over huge distances, should you wish, but slow enough to notice the world that passes you by.

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Meeting new folk with different views on life.

In a world where communication has never been easier, you can easily feel closer to home when you need to. There are so many ways to be in touch now that people begin to expect you to be just that. But be careful with technology. If you over-rely on its presence, it can detract from your experience and the feeling of getting away from it all.  Only you know the balance that works for you. If you are new to touring, you have all of these aspects to learn about to find a balance that suits you.

When I travel I like to switch my phone off, or at least to silent mode. I prefer maps to GPS, despite it being much harder in some ways to follow routes. For me, it’s simply more involving, requiring decision making skills that seem to make it easier to change your plans rather than blindly following a route that I simply downloaded before I left home.  I always take a written list of contacts, just in case. My iPhone did expire on me during one trip, leaving me glad to have done this.

By using this approach, I enter a quiet, non-digital space, where all of the stresses of modern life just fall away. Other than occasional charging of my phone, I want for nothing and gain the freedom to roam where I wish, when I wish, at a pace that suits me. In this place there is a great sense of belonging and you may well find yourself opening to the world like a flower in springtime. Other people notice this and will want to support your journey and hear about your experiences. By travelling, you will see a side of humanity that is not always apparent at home. It’s a side that is so much more positive and accepting than you may have ever imagined. And that is why I travel by cycle.

Until next time…..RIDE 4a