And so it begins…
As I watch some pretty heavy rain fall outside in a roadside hotel in France, I decided it’s finally good time to reflect on the first days of my round the world trip. I meant to do this earlier, but what I hadn’t anticipated is that my schedule so far was packed full with cycling and catching up with friends, and didn’t really allow for much more than this. A bad thing? Not at all, as I am slowly but surely sinking back into the wonderful travel mode, that makes you forget most of this ever so important things of everyday life, that turn out to be ok if you forget them. No one actually minds if you do. With day after day on the road I am adapting more and more to the means of travelling, trying to find a routine that works for me, trying to find solutions to those little problems that occur on the road. It’s not easy, but with every day on the bike I like the journey I have let myself in for more and more.
It all started a bit frantic and in the usual way, leaving later than expected, sticking to the original schedule by cranking huge miles. When I left Edinburgh much later in the afternoon than I had expected on 3 September I had doubts of how long I will be on the road, and if I will make my first appointment of the trip, the Singlespeed UK Champs in Helmsley in Yorkshire. I could have easily dealt with a day more sorting things out before I left, on the other hand I was determined to start the trip on time, anything else would have been a dissapointment, and there’s not much point in starting such a huge adventure into the unknown with a setback. My friend George accompanied me out of town and joined for a fish supper in Haddington, and with IRN BRU in our bellies we climbed towards the Lammermuir Hills into an amazing sunset. Shortly after enjoying the stunning evening light George left, and there I was, on my own. The thought of cycling the first night with lights didn’t fit with me, and so shortly afterwards I pitched my tent on the roadside and settled for some sleep, watching the lights of my beloved Edinburgh on the horizon.
Waking up in the morning I knew that I had to pull a massive day to make it to Yorkshire in time, as I only cycled about 40km on the first day, much less than originally expected. I knew very well why Charlie told me to stop pissing around the day before, but I also needed more time the day before to get ready. And there I was, knowing that I had to do at least 200k to have a good chance to arrive at the Singlespeed UK Champs in the evening. In the end I ended up with 255km, considering that I was on a fully loaded 32-18 Singlespeed mountain bike this was a massive effort, even for my standards. And the Yorkshire Moors did their very best to impress me with their steep hills in the end. Just as everyone was goind to bed I arrived at 1.30 at a beautiful country estate, the quick beer was more than earned.
The next morning I woke up to beautiful sunshine, but also to a massive and cold wind. Glad that I brought a down jacket I wondered over the ground and was delighted to see so many likeminded singlespeeders. The race itself was nice, but I felt a tad tired and didn’t want to risk anything, so I left racing to the others. The whole event was great, and I was glad to have pulled a good effort to be there, and pulling my weight was kindly awarded with a SSUK cap, which I am now carrying around the world with me. I loved taking it easy in the afternoon chatting to as many people as I could about my plans, but in the evening I was knackered after the first two days, too knackered to stay at the party. Instead I slept throgh the band playing virtually next to me as I was camped right at the event tent, but woke up to some beautiful sunshine.
After wishing people well I was on the road, and after the first miles it dawned on me, even though I had almost four days to get to Swanage, it would be another tight one. Never mind the two days to get from Swanage to Salcombe. I had overestimated what I can do daily with a fully loaden bike, but also had no wiggle room left, as things were prearranged. Without spending too much time to think about things I cycled through beautiful Yorkshire, with the simple plan to get as far as I could on Sunday. As darkness hit I tried to find a good spot to camp near Doncaster, but carried on instead to find a room, I just didn’t have a good feeling pitching my tent so close to a massively populated area. The hotel provided for some entertainment as the couple next to me decided to fight in the middle of the night, but stuffing my bEmmy with some good breakfast and the fact that my bike was safe made up for the disturbance at night.
Cycling through the Midlands was stressful and something I would neither recommend to anyone else or do again. Flattish roads, bad driving, I was glad when I found some rural streets and camped north of Coventry on one of the canals on Monday evening. A few dogs and their owners passed while I enjoyed the first supper cooked with my stove, but in the morning I wone up inside a big foggy patch. With a wet tent th bike was even heavier than it already was on the front, but I was excited to get to Coventry, the home of the bicycle industry in its heydays in Britain. There’s not much left of it, but leaving the town I spotted the former site of Cycle Works, now an Ibis Hotel. Times change.
After Coventry I finally hit some hillier country again, and cycling in the evening sun through the Cotwolds was an amazing way to wrap up Tuesday. The chap running the hostel in Stow was kind enough to give me a dorm to myself and I treated myself to some very tasty ale and pasta, blowing the budget. And while sipping the ale I recognised that I was passing Stonehenge the next day, one of those things I always wanted to see. So Wednesday was an earlier start than normal, trying to make up some time for visiting Stonehenge on the way.
Getting to Stonehenge involved cycling on the A 303, on of the busiest roads in Britain. Only 2 miles on there were sheer hell, and I was glad to spot Stonehenge and a gate to my right. What I could also spot were loads and loads of poeple, and I was rather happy about my view from the other side of the fence, for free. A few photographs later I was on the road again for the final miles to Swanage, where Charlie and co waited with a BBQ for me. As much as I liked it, th ride into Sandbanks to catch the ferry was endless, but I finall arrived at 9.30 with 192k in my legs in the home of the famous Bikemonger.
The next morning we swapped my rear wheel and tyres, Pat from Ison had sent me some spares to Charlie. The support I had from Pat before the ride has been amazing, and yet again he had pulled all stops to make sure I am rolling fine. Jon and another Pat joined me and Charlie and we thoroughly enjoyed racing around the Globe at Durlston Country Park, a genius idea from Charlie. More genius was the pint and look at Woodhenge at the Square and Compass, one of my favourite pubs in England. Pat and Jon left shortly after, and Charlie and me enjoyed another amazing dazy cycling through Dorset and Somerset, before arriving to a beautiful meal at Martin’s place, and hugs from my girlfriend Sophie who had come out for the weekend. A couple of miles before we stopped, got a beer and drank it while crusing along the lanes. Charlie was more efficient with the beer than me, I tried to balance it along the rather enjoyable gravel track that Google routed us on.
Friday had more stunning ricing in the bag, and the hilliest 4 miles I had so far on the trip, not less than 5 massive ones on such a short stretch. But cycling the last miles in tthe wet with lights was amazing fun, and go Charlie hooked on cycle touring again. We had some more big climbs that day. The road leading out of Sidmouth was a killer, especially on a singlespeed. I made it though.
After a weekend to relax I had some more of the wet stuff before boarding the ferry to Roscoff, thanks to Brittany Ferries for booking me into a cabin, that made drying the wet gear much easier. I tried to wite this first blog on the ferry, but it was way to choppy out there, so I opted for sleep instead, a wise decsion.
As I headed into France I was looking back on a great start of my round the world trip in Britain. I tried to change my original plans by booking a ferry direct to Spain, as I have to average about 130k a day to male it in time to Lisbon to finish Europe on 28 September. All ferries from Plymouth were full, and as I didn’t want to go back I stuck with the original plan, and sitting in a nice wee hotel in France with two glasses of wine an a superb coffee I think I have done the right thing. Slowly but surely my mindset changes, back from the very race orientated Markus to the traveller again, taking things a bit slower and simply enjoying the randomness that makes travelling such an adventure. I am glad that I didn’t go for a reord, and wiill cut my daily miles down a bit once I am done with getting to Lisbon. But being able to cycle 255k on the bike gave me the cofindence that I can pull a big day if needed, sometimes things migh not go as I planned them to go.