For all the road cycling I've done in the past few years, there's still a part of me that wants to explore a bit more. I've ridden my road bikes to a lot of places and seen a lot of scenery, but always from the confines a little black ribbon of road, and rarely stopping for long along the way. I want more! I think bikepacking might be the way to go …
I started out riding mountain bikes in my early twenties in the magnificent and vertiginous scenery of North Wales and it was fantastic — but moving to Cambridge put paid to that! Cambridge city is a lovely place to live, but the terrain around Cambridge is mind-numbingly dull! The plains and fenland around the north of Cambridge are monotonously flat — so much so that residents have 103 different words for "hill", which is anything that rises more than one metre above sea level! And the "hills" to the south of Cambridge are merely minor twitches — the highest points in Cambridge and Essex are adjacent to each other and are lower than 150m ASL.
It's time to get away! To have an adventure! To do more!
Bikepacking is getting a bit of a renaissance at the moment, especially in the wake of the untimely death of Mike Hall, who was killed by a motorist in Australia while riding on an endurance event. But the endeavour of bikepacking has been around since there have been bicycles — and we're at the 200-year anniversary of the bicycle so that's a Long Time!
As I get older — more specifically, as our boys get older (they're 17 and 15 as I write this) — then I feel able to try my hand at more distant pursuits. Since there is no scenery of any note within a two-hour drive of Cambridge then much of my bikepacking will have to be done by driving somewhere first — there's no point wasting valuable time and energy riding to somewhere interesting, because it'll be time to turn around and ride home again all too soon.
Bikepacking is basically cycle-camping. It is a broad church, from touring-campers sticking to roads and camp sites, all the way up to riding a mountain bike up Snowdon and wild-camping on the summit. The premise is that your are largely self-sufficient, you carry your own camping gear, you camp somewhere, and you ride a cycle of some sort to get there.
Wild camping is something I did a couple of times with my good friend Marc — once up Pen-y-Fan in November, when we woke to horizontal sleet and had to get down off the Fan pretty quick, and once in the Peak District, where we got lost in the misty moorland on top and had to walk along a river — literally in the river — to relocate the Pennine Way. This means I have some of the basic, lightweight camping kit already.
I treated myself to a very nice mountain bike years back — one of the early full-suspension bikes available in the UK — and I still have it, and it still works well enough. 21-years-old and counting! One serious mechanical away from the skip, though, since spares are no longer available
So, I have set my sights on doing some bikepacking in 2017. Specifically I aimed to camp out at least one night every month for 12 months, right through the year. I decided to aim for "an event" to kick off the 12 months, that event being The Welsh Ride Thing …
(I'm writing this in May, although dating it back to the new year, to keep these posts in some sort of pseudo-chronological order.)