Christmas is here and we’re supposed to put our feet up, eat a lot and have a drink or 2. This enforced break from work also gives plenty of time to reflect on your year, and plan for next. A few days of sitting around talking to friends and family and the relaxed mind starts to form new ideas and new challenges. A few drinks with old friends can turn into a sportive/race/challenge recruitment drive followed by a drunken bet and before you know it you’re looking at the cost of flights or ferries and checking out google maps. Welcome the excitement of planning adventures.
The best thing about adventures is that you know that along the way lots of things will happen, but until it does you have no idea what it will be: The people and opportunities that crop up, along with the nature and sights along the route may be completely unique to a single trip. Whatever the adventure, if it’s a worthy challenge, there will need to be some training to make it a comfortable experience. And it’s this need for training that will guide you through the next couple of cold and wet months before spring. If you need a little more motivation check out this post.
Be honest with yourself and ask why you would do something like this? Are you doing this to impress people? Are you doing this just to push yourself? Is it more important to you that you can say “We rode 200/300km every day”, or are you doing it to break free and drift about as a travelling experience? Choose your challenge to reflect what you want to get out of it. Cycling trips are a fantastic way to see the world, you’re face to face with the locals/nature and experience every inch of the route as it unfolds. So whether it’s a laid back exploration or hard-core sufferfest that appeals to you, make sure you’re clear about the factors that need to be met before setting out the idea.
All challenges or trips need an idea, a start point and a destination. From sea to sea is popular and there are many popular routes. Popular routes are a good idea for a first trip as you will meet other like minded people along the way and they may offer help if you get into trouble. Don’t feel confined to any set route, feel free to make it your own, it’s doubtful you’ll do a single challenge/trip again so see all the bits you want to whilst you’re passing through. If the trip you want to do doesn’t sound interesting enough add in an extra clause like a time limit (12 or 24 hours?) or a specific type of bike (fixed wheel challenges are becoming popular).
If you can’t think of an idea at first think about what you want to cycle through; islands, mountains, woodlands, coastal areas, any particular country you feel drawn to. A word of warning though, islands don’t work well if you’re aiming for high daily distances because waiting for lots of ferries will eat into your riding time.
After the fun of dreaming up an idea comes the reality check of making it all work. Many a trip has been changed by the application of logistics. Is it a loop (start and end at the same point) or an A to B route? A to B routes sound more interesting: “I cycled from Lands End to Manchester and back” sounds less exciting than Lands End to John O’Groats. Any adventure that is A to B will require some logistics, how to get to the start and back from the end should be considered. Do you travel first and cycle back, or out and need transport back? Friends and family might help out if your challenge is local but when it’s another country you’re going to need to have some kind of plan. It doesn’t need to be extensive or even booked in advance, but will you use a train, plane, or hire a car? Where can you sleep on the evening you start and finish?
Another thing to think about is travelling with a bike; will the train require you to pack your bike in a bag? Many French trains enforce this rule strictly so you may need to plan for this, and how you’ll carry something suitable with you. I was not allowed to board a train in Lyon, France with my bike and missed the last train out one evening. In the hotel I wrapped my bike in my tent, secured with the guy ropes, and boarded the first train out in the morning.
If you’re flying you’ll need to know that to fly out of some airports (all major London airports included) your bike will need to be packed in a rigid box with the tyres fully deflated. If you’re not returning to the same airport how are you going to package your bike for the return flight? Most local bike shops will happily provide a cardboard box big enough for you to fly out with, which can be broken down and thrown in a recycling bin upon your arrival. For my trip across Norway from Stavanger to Hell near Trondheim (Trondheim airport is next to Hell) I carried a CTC plastic bike bag some packaging tape, and a marker pen. The rules for flying out of London airports are not the same for your return, so as long as your departure airport accepts the bike it’s as good as home. For my pannier bags I wrapped them together using kitchen Clingfilm (available from any supermarket) to make my single item of hold luggage. You may be able to locate cardboard for packing your bike to return but you’ll also need to get the box to the airport with your bike packaged inside, or on your bike.
Now the boring constraints of logistics is taken care of it’s time to look at your kit list and buying those shiny new bits of kit in the January sales. Are you missing anything essential like panniers, rack, Tent? Shiny new titanium cooking equipment? Insect repellent, sun screen and a good camera? I would recommend new tyres and inner tubes, chain and a full set of cables replaced so you know the bike is going to be fully serviced and dependable.
The amount of kit you’ll need depends on the trip length and also on your budget. If you’re staying in hotels and bed and breakfasts it will cost more per night but you’ll carry only a toothbrush and a dry set of clothes. A budget version of this would be using Youth Hostels. If you’re aiming for more of a wilderness adventure tents and bivi bags add more weight but also more freedom (stop where you want and camp down in a secluded spot). If you’re planning on wild camping it’s best to arrive late and leave early so take that into account when deciding on how long to be cycling each day.
Often the most important part of committing to the adventure is to make sure you’ll look stupid if you back out. When in the exciting planning stage you’ll be full of enthusiasm for the challenge; come the week before you’ll probably have second thoughts, wondering why you’re giving up comfort (safe and warm) for adventure (much harder work). If you’ve told enough of your friends what you intend to do then you should feel committed to go through with it.
Plot a route, or if you’re very confident just buy a map and make it up as you go along. As most people have a time limit due to work commitments it makes sense to have a daily distance average and an idea of the total distance. Be realistic about how long to be in the saddle cycling each day? Will you pack up early and be half way by lunch time, or set off late and be finished early? With for example 8 hours in the saddle each day you can cover huge distances, with a leisurely lunch break and plenty of time to relax in the evening. With only 4 hours in the saddle there will be lots of time to fill each day, long breakfast, long lunch and a whole evening exploring.
Be prepared to go alone
Many of your friends will back out of these kind of arrangements just before departure. That’s fine if you knew that might happen, go anyway it’ll be a better trip. The safety of friends will keep you in a bubble of comfortable conversations hiding behind your friends. If you travel alone you’ll be forced to reach out to people along the way. Everyone will want to talk to you and hear about your challenge/trip, so there will be plenty to talk about to get conversations started, even for the shy. Cycling alone also means setting your own pace and destination for the day, no muttering under your breath about each other and getting annoyed over petty things because you’re tired and impatient. If you pluck up the courage to not only challenge yourself, but also go it alone, you’ll be open to more opportunities and you may just have the time of your life…