Hi adventurous types!
I’m very pleased to have some space on the BikeShopHub blog to spin some stories about bike touring, and share some words of experience along the way.
If you read Josh’s introduction you’d think I’d been travelling the world by bicycle all my life. The truth is, however, my bike touring ambition had humble beginnings when I bought my first proper machine, aged 24. I had some big plans like everyone else, but before that, I just got out there.
My first ever journey was on my steel framed, fully rigid Claude Butler Dalesman touring bike. (It’s still my one and only ride.) My panniers had arrived in the post that morning and I remember hastily zip-tying them onto my back rack (not recommended) in my rush to get going. I had a short 3 day trip planned in the UK, from my home in South-East London to the northern city of Sheffield. It was an ambitious goal, covering about 200miles of rolling English countryside. (Post about what to pack coming soon!)
These byways and back roads of Britain are unknown to the majority of English folk. Most journeys between the major population centres in England are done by car on the spiritless motorways (Yanks call these highways). This leaves the quieter roads for the cycle tourist to discover, with their hedgerows full of bird song, sleepy villages, tea rooms and picturesque churches known only to the locals (and the popular American imagination.)
Whistling along that first day, on those roads less traveled by, I navigated using the torn out pages of a national map book. I ticked off the names of the towns and villages as I went; occasionally peeling back overgrown branches of oak and creeping ivy to reveal the name of the settlement I was approaching. I ate pre-made sandwiches from a Ziploc I had taped to the frame, and scrumped (a British pastime involving the theft of fruit) apples from heavy autumn trees at the side of the road. In essence, I was discovering the simplicity of bicycle travel, which, thousands of miles later, is still my main source of joy and drive for setting out on adventures today.
Strangely, my second reason for loving bike touring, came from a herd of midnight cows (see future post about choosing ideal wild camp spots and avoiding bovine bed fellows.) I laid my bedroll down that first night in the lee of a blackberry bush and brushed my teeth in my underpants, whilst looking up at the moon. I plummeted into the deepest sleep I had ever known until, WOOSSHH! My sleeping bag dragged off me, and 20 long faces were staring down, the boldest of the herd chewing provocatively on the stolen bedding.
Okay, so this wasn’t my most glorious moment cycle touring. But it did mark a moment. An indelible memory. When I woke up the next morning, the fence of paracord I had built around my sleeping bag with dangling keys, whistles and bike bells was still standing. From then on I would almost always sleep in the protective housing of my tent, and seek out better wild camping spots well before dark. But I had survived 24 hours outdoors because of my own resourcefulness. I was discovering the pleasure of sleeping where I wanted, eating when I chose from my rolling buffet bar bag and of heading in any direction I desired. Bicycle touring brought freedom.
I did successfully make it to Sheffield over the next two days. I had made a lot of mistakes and was assisted along the way by the kindness of strangers – the incongruous site of a C21 human being loose in the world on a bicycle always seems to bring out the best in people. Most importantly, I had started something. And once you drive away those excuses, crack the inertia and get rolling, it’s a long old open road to simple living and freedom. Let the adventure begin.
Next Up: Planning Your First Cycle Tour – “Taking off on cycle tours”
Matt Maynard is a British outdoor journalist, environmentalist and photographer based in Santiago, Chile. 2016 credits include: BBC Travel, The Guardian, Men’s Fitness and Red Bull. His stories seek to draw on that clarity we have when living life with determination and truthfulness.