Now where were we? Oh yes Hinckley, home of Triumph motorcycles apparently (thanks Luke).
I was awoken by John saying my name, keen to make an early start and get on the road again. This was a good thing, I’m not a morning person even when camping and so would have dozed for far too long without the extra impetus to get up and go. John also dashed my dreams of a nice cafe breakfast to start off the day by highlighting it was Sunday. So with everything packed up and on the bikes again we set off through the near deserted streets heading south.
John and I were to start the day together and both head south west along the roads that track the path of the Fosse way roman road. I think it was some romantic notion of connecting with this countries history that had inspired me to include this in our route and it was a bad idea for three reasons. Firstly roman roads are generally straight which leads to motorists driving very fast and on occasion we had a few come a bit too close for comfort. Secondly roman roads are generally straight, i.e. they don’t deviate for contours, bluntly put you have to go over whatever lumps and bumps the earth throws at you in a straight line! Lastly roman roads are generally straight, in this instance straight south west the direction from which the wind was blowing, always fun!
We made slow progress on our journey southwards though and John seemed the stronger rider this morning often pushing ahead up the hills and waiting for me at the top. I wasn’t worried though, I’ve learnt that if I can eat enough and avoid any injury then whatever pace I start with at the beginning of the day I can usually sustain all the way through until the end. A bit tortoise and hare like maybe but on both Saturday and Sunday of this trip I think I maintained a pretty consistent 10mph average be it hour number one or hour number 12 riding.
After about 15 miles riding the Fosse way it was time for John and I to part company. John was continuing along the roman road all the way to Cirencester before carrying on to Bristol whereas I needed to head more directly south. Although my daily mileage had changed I was still following the four routes I had mapped out for a four day trip, shortly after leaving John I hit the milestone that was the end of the route for day 2. I think it was about 12 o’clock and my thoughts turned to targets and plans on how I was going to complete this trip, all with the weather in the back of my mind.
Having turned south the wind was slightly easier but still ever present and my route of small country roads would vary from heading seemingly west, south west, east and south at times. I started to do some mental sums and work out what I thought was feasible for riding today. My ‘stretch’ target (thanks John for using that term on Saturday, I like it) I decided should be to complete day 3 of my original routes which would put me in Salisbury. This would then give me only 40 miles to ride on Monday with the rain and gale force winds bearing down/hindering me. The other idea I was tossing up in my head was an early start on Monday, I figured if I set my alarm for 5am I could be on the road for 6am and that would give me a good solid five hours before the storm was supposed to hit at 11am.
However it was time to focus on the task in hand, Hinckley to Salisbury is approx 120 miles. Carrying weight, only able to manage 10mph and with the wind refusing to let up this was definitely going to be type 2 fun! I still had to remember to drink and eat as well to give me the fuel to do this. On this trip I would survive on the following things:
Cheese sandwiches (three rounds I’d started with and one bought on Monday morning)
Bagels with Marmite (times five, I couldn’t face all of the fifth one on Monday it was just too dry)
Clif bars (I have no idea how many I ate, but it was probably five or six)
Houmous wraps (John kindly donated me three or four houmous wraps he had spare, they came in very handy)
Cashew nuts (I ate most of a bag at one point on Saturday I think)
Clif Shot Blocks (I think I had three packets, one each day)
Clif Builder bars (I ate one each night before bed)
Cola/Fanta (I did have some satchets of energy mix with me but stopping at garages/shops and filling a bottle with pop seemed more appealing)
Water (I have no idea how many bottles I went through)
The idea in my head had been to stop on this ‘leisurely tour’ and consume proper meals at least twice a day, this however seemed to go out the window. On Saturday we had managed a cafe stop in Alfreton, so as it neared two o’clock on Sunday I thought it best to do the same and get something hot in my belly. As I entered Chipping Norton it also started to rain so it seemed an ideal time to seek shelter and food. The first cafe I asked at had literally just stopped serving food, the pub said it would be a 45 minute wait as they had xmas parties in and the third cafe only served cake. Sod it, I’ll just have cake! It was a damn fine cake though, called 50 mile cake and apparently for long walks it actually seemed to do the job and gave me loads of energy. Either that or the coffee I had with it just perked me up.
So on I rode as the sun started to sink and darkness fell. This was where my route of small country roads threw up a something I totally wasn’t expecting to find in the middle of England (Oxfordshire at this point), remoteness. As it got darker I realised that I couldn’t see any towns, they were all hidden behind hills on the horizon. I could see a faint yellow glow in a few directions but where I was it was completely dark apart from my lights and the odd small farm/village I passed through. I often found the level of darkness quite unnerving, I’m not used to there not being man made light around and the moon at this point was obscured by clouds. I definitely want to get out into the pitch black more often now though and try and become more comfortable in the dark.
The darkness, wind and sporadic rain coupled with not really knowing where I was or having towns to use as milestones made me doubt my ability to reach my target for the day or even get anywhere near it. The lack of anything to track progress against bar a few numbers on a screen that change really slowly makes it really hard to break the journey into manageable chunks you can deal with mentally. Despite still feeling able to ride my mind was continually touching upon thoughts of stopping and camping. I also started to think that maybe I should be diverting my route to the nearest place with a major station and that continuing was a stupid idea. To a certain extent though there is an element of inertia and the fact you are still moving keeps pushing you forward. My main way to focus this energy was to set myself the goal of getting past where my route crossed the M4 motorway.
Eventually I reached it, it was raining but luckily my route actually went under the M4 so I stopped under the bridge to dig out the spare set of batteries for my GPS. The first step to this was to find the head torch I had borrowed, however I discovered the batteries on that had also run out. Not to worry I had spare batteries for the head torch more easily to hand, except for two problems. Number one the batteries appeared to have not charged correctly and number two the head torch required three AAA batteries when I thought it only used two! Never mind despite all that I disagree with about the ‘scouts’ movement it did teach me one thing as a teenager ‘be prepared’. So I dug out my spare battery powered bike light (which I was carrying in case of problems with my dynamo light) and used that to find the relevant batteries buried in my panniers so everything was working again. It all made me think about how reliant on battery powered devices we are though, especially if we want to get anywhere or do anything in the dark. Writing this now I wonder about maybe doing a future trip with the intent purpose of only using battery powered devices in an emergency situation and trying to navigate and camp without the use of GPS and torches.
After the M4 I was pretty quickly into Hungerford, and then from there in my mind the next major town was Salisbury. A338, Salisbury 32 miles read the sign, simple? Onwards into the dark, the road rolling up and down and the occasional car speeding past in one direction or another. My knees were starting to feel a bit sore at this point and I was growing tired but still managing to maintain an average speed around 9/10mph. The miles passed slowly and I was again starting to doubt whether I could continue to ride long enough to reach my target. The mental sums in my head were putting my arrival time in Salisbury at somewhere between 10 and 11pm which was pretty late.
At around 9pm I arrived in Tidworth, I’d never heard of Tidworth but it’s a small town 11 miles before Salisbury on the A338. The sight of a major town was the final straw and I decided that those 11 miles would have to wait until the next day. So as I rolled into town I kept my eyes peeled for somewhere suitably secluded to camp. Before I knew it I was coming out the other side of town, however I then spotted a large open space bounded on three sides by trees and set back from the road with a low fence that should obscure my camp from passing cars. It was apparently a building site with a digger sat in the centre of the plot surrounded by the temporary metal fencing. I wheeled my bike off the road and round to the southwards facing side of the fencing. Despite the wind having dropped by this point and the trees on the edge of the plot providing a natural wind break I tied my tarp to the metal fence to create a lean to against any wind during the night. Alarm set, bike locked I snuggled down in my sleeping bag/bivy beneath the tarp to get some rest.
Still more to come…
(For part 3 click here)