6 weeks to go!!!
With time slipping away from us and the weekends being quickly filled and booked up with pre-trip preparations, we opted to make the most of the beautiful weather and undertake a ‘S24O’ (sub-24hour overnight stay) trip on the bikes, hoping to pick ourselves back up after our less than successful previous attempt to Bala.
There were a few significant differences with this trip that made it far more enjoyable for all 3 of us, and a far more successful (albeit shorter!) trip overall. You live, you learn…
1.) The weather –
Obviously not actually under our control, but enjoying some sunshine and the lack of hailstones (!) made for a far nicer ride. The temperature was perfect and we found the ‘layering’ of our clothing allowed us to adjust easily and remain comfortable throughout. Having the right clothing- absolute must.
2.) Less hills!-
We looked at the route carefully and tried to avoid any unnecessary hills where possible. Although this meant, at times, that we had to add additional mileage, on balance it worked out for the best. Climbing hills with our heavy loads slows us right down and can be exhausting and frustrating; we found we could easily cover twice the distance on level ground as an alternative. Of course, hills are part and parcel of any landscape and can never be avoided completely; nor would we wish to do so, given that some of natures most spectacular views are rewards for a difficult climb! But a more balanced route, with longer level stretches, did wonders for our morale and made the overall experience far more enjoyable.
3.) Taking it slow-
Learning from last time, we decided not to be overly ambitious with the mileage we hoped to cover. Even if a route is flexible, having a number in mind can be both motivating and stressful- and last time around, we found that aiming to cover long distances and then being unable to achieve our goals produced a feeling of failure and disappointment. We want to enjoy the journey; so aiming instead for a lower mileage kept us motivated, and made us feel far better when we exceeded our expectations! Removing that pressure also meant we were able to relax more, and as such, enjoy our surroundings, the views, and generally talking to each other as we rode- rather than pushing ourselves to go faster in order to go further.
Setting up camp at Plassey campsite
4.) Arriving early-
Tied in with our ‘take it slow’ approach, we also reduced the number of hours we were hoping to cycle and aimed to arrive at our destination late afternoon, rather than evening time. Being able to set up the tent in broad daylight (rather than by the light of a torch…!) and then chill out for a while without rushing to make tea meant we were more relaxed and able to spend some decent time with Theo, helping him burn off some energy and have some fun after the time he’d spent in the trailer. We weren’t exhausted or overly hungry- again, essential when you have a tiny single-ring camping stove that takes a considerable length of time to boil water!- and felt that our time was our own, much more like a holiday than a chore.
Theo enjoying the slide in Plassey park
5.) A CAMPSITE!-
Who would have known that simple facilities such as a toilet, a sink, and warm showers could make such a difference? Being able to go to a registered campsite had a huge impact on the overall experience for us; we had no need to ration our water as a clean supply was readily available, there was a nice park and other children to entertain Theo, we could grab nice hot showers, wash up after our tea and brush our teeth! Admittedly, we did develop some slight ‘trailer-envy’, as our tiny tent was lost in the huge plot and surrounded on all sides by caravans and campervans of all shapes and sizes- but simplicity and a ‘back to basics’ philosophy are ideals we are adopting for our trip and as such, we’ve learnt to adapt. After all- when you have to carry all you need in panniers, items such as chairs or a table become unnecessary luxuries! Even so, having level ground on which to pitch our tent and a safe enclosed area in which to relax seemed a true luxury in our eyes after two nights of stealth camping- and ensured the overall tone of the weekend was far better than our previous expedition.
Our two ‘training’ weekends have contrasted in a number of ways and as such, have altered our perception and our philosophy towards our big adventure as a whole. Although our trip will be a challenge, we don’t want to spend the entire length of it pushing and pushing ourselves- to reach certain goals or destinations, achieve a pre-determined mileage or to fill every day with just cycling. Bicycle touring is unique in comparison to other forms of travelling in that it is normally a great deal slower, more personal, and closer to reality in comparison to the more rigid routes of buses or trains- and allows the traveller to really see as they journey along. And that’s what we want- to see. Not rush past.
We’ve adjusted our anticipated average daily mileage for the ‘big trip’ as a consequence, and considerations of climate, hills and facilities will influence our route both in the planning stages and as we go. We hope as our fitness improves and we gain more experience, our pace will naturally pick up as time passes- but will continue to factor in plenty of rest days, and keep our cycling days relatively short. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us, and we really hope and want to enjoy it as best we can!