…in just over 5 days, with 20 quid and a road map…
Few people sell everything they have to leave the country. But that’s exactly what I just did. With nothing more than my bike, three bags of gear, and some crazy ideas, I’ve packed up and boosted. I’m currently in the Netherlands but just a few days ago I was cycling hard from Glasgow to London, with no plan and nothing to guide me but a £5 road map bought the day before. It wasn’t easy. But you never look back at those easy things and say “I’m so glad I did that”. When you do something challenging like this, you always find another little piece of yourself, another part of the puzzle.
Many touring cyclists spend weeks or even months planning their next trip. I still hadn’t planned mine the night before. That wasn’t intentional. The weeks of chaos that ensued from trying to sell all my things (which was a lot harder than I thought) meant I had left little time for anything else. It’s harder to dismantle a life than you think, and you only find out how hopelessly entwined we are with our belongings when you begin to pick it all apart. All that I’d planned was a train to Brussels from London and that I was cycling to catch that train. So here I’ll tell you a little about the hectic journey to London, and how I did it for less than £20
Glasgow to Troon – The test run
A trial run is heavily advised with any bike tour. Lack of time prior to leaving meant that I had to check everything worked on route to London. So my first leg was a detour to Troon, on the west coast of Scotland, where I knew I could fix or adjust anything if something went wrong. As it turned out, my bike worked better than I did. Half way to Troon I was out of breath, exhausted and feeling lightheaded; and it’s only a 30 mile cycle (compared with over 400 to London, supposedly). I only remembered when I set off at 4pm, that breakfast, the only thing I had eaten that day, was consumed about 8 hours before. In that time I’d already moved the remainder of my things out of my flat, taken things to the charity shops and handed the keys back to the landlord, completely forgetting to eat anything. Good start.
Day 1: Troon to Lockerbie
Muesli, check. Spaghetti, check. Map bought from gas station night before, check. In the morning I worked out some rough route east to join the old main road south to England. I had no idea of how far I would get but had some intentions of getting near the border. I worked out that if London was about 400 miles away then I would need to cycle about 135km (speedo is in km) a day to reach there in 5 days. So, at just after 10am on Monday morning I pushed off, knowing little of what will happen on the way, carrying everything I own, on my bike. The roads were quiet. The windsock at Prestwick airport sagged from the lack of wind. Amongst the grey sky, a storm cloud slumbered above the road I was taking. I knew I would get wet cycling through it, but I did not expect to be pelted by hailstones. The boy that came out the other side of the storm was very different to the one that went in. Soaked and mentally drained, I pondered at the possibility of cycling through rain for the next few days. As I looked at my map, trying to shelter it from the rain and trying to put my soggy gloves back on, I looked at my cold and wet shoes and asked myself, “What the hell am I doing?” I’d never felt like giving up more than at this moment. These first few hours were quite possibly the worst few hours of cycle touring I’ve ever done. By the end of the day I was tired but decided that I had gone too far already to give up and so I would continue to London, regardless of what might try and stop me. I pitched up on a small field next to a railway line, after randomly meeting the farmer. I made some spaghetti, and slept.
Day 2: Lockerbie to somewhere near Newcastle
I awoke to sunshine. Instantly I felt motivated. I packed up and put on my shoes, still wet from the night before, and it wasn’t long before I crossed over into England. I chose to head down the East coast, as I figured the wind would be more in my favour, and perhaps the weather would be better. Besides, I came up the west coast when I did LEJOG four years ago and thought it would be nice to see something new. I began cutting across to the east along some back roads by Hadrian’s wall and I soon remembered the massive difference between riding a 10kg road bike and a 40kg+ touring bike. Climbing the smallest hill can seem like a mountain. And these roads were all very hilly. I was so warm that I drank at least 6 litres of water throughout the day, refueling at friendly pubs. I did a few short stints on main roads to make up some time, stopped to buy some bread and fruit in Hexham, and continued down to Consett, where I sheltered from the evening rain under a bridge. My shoes just about dry now, I spoke to several people walking their dogs under this bridge as I stood awkwardly with my bike scoffing a tin of sardines. One guy even tried to assist me with somewhere to camp, but he couldn’t think of anywhere. I pretended to think too, knowing fine well I was going to sleep in the field right behind him. I pitched up just before dark, and just before a thunderstorm rolled in.
Day 3: Consett to somewhere near York
I woke up about 5am, when it begins to get light so that I could disappear before normal people wake up. Still not quite into the swing of things yet, pitching and packing my tent is taking way longer than when I was touring last. I also rediscovered the joys of camping whilst pinging about 30 slugs off my tent before rapping it up. After cycling south for a while, I stopped at a bench in a town and made a coffee on my stove, eating a muesli/banana combo and watching people walking to work and school in the chilly morning dew. I got lost several times today. I cycled through Durham, Darlington and Northalerton, before taking the main road, the A19, towards York. I never made it all the way because the road was basically narrow, unsafe and super busy, something a road map doesn’t tell you, so I had to take the country lanes from here. The landscape was much flatter now, so I wasn’t burning as much energy as in the previous days. I found a small forest, pitched up for the night and made some more spaghetti, with broccoli, onion, and cheese. I’d only spent a fiver by this point (all on food). That’s one benefit of carrying your bed and kitchen with you.
Day 4: Into York and south to Bentham
Wiping the sleep from my eyes and stretching my legs, I cycled the final 15km to York before 8am. What began as a slow and tiring morning turned out to be the most productive day yet. I was finally getting settled into being on the road again. I was feeling fit and bombed it south on main roads, cycling over 160km in blistering sunshine through Selby, Doncaster and just past Nottingham. Eating peanut butter straight out of the jar on the roadside not only became acceptable but a pretty reliable source of energy. All regards for personal appearance have vanished. Clearly delirious from continual exercise, mounting internal supply of peanut butter and the ever-present lack of sleep, for dinner I thought it would be great to mix tuna, pasta, baked beans and cheese together in a pot.
Day 5: Bentham to Milton Keynes
With a little over 100 miles left to go, I knew I could drop the pace. Pretty sunburnt from the previous days, I sheltered from the midday sun whilst eating breakfast in a pub in Oakland, Rutland, which is England’s least populous county (and the only one without a McDonald’s, Greggs or KFC). I spent the evening in an all you can eat restaurant near Milton Keynes and camped in the field below.
Day 6: Milton Keynes to London
I packed up at around 5am again, as it’s hard to sleep when the light starts shining through the tent. The last leg was a sunny and fairly easy cycle at around 80km with only some small hills to contend with. I was pretty glad to arrive in London and get washed up. I worked out I ate well over 4000 calories a day, and that probably still wasn’t enough. Total distance was 812km (504 miles) which was a bit longer than I expected but I did take an awkward route for the first 2 days.
For me, there is little enjoyment to be had purely by cycling for hours on end. The best part of traveling by bike is being able to stop and explore new places easily and taking the time to do so. Sure there were times where I enjoyed it but generally I found this a hard cycle, especially given how much equipment I’m carrying (because I’m going much further). Obviously some planning, training and less things to carry would make this a much more fun cycle, but taking an extra week would be even better. Properly viewing the surroundings and submerging yourself in a different environment is a much more enjoyable experience for me. But I did it. And knowing I cycled from Scotland to here, is a pretty nice feeling.