Sunday, 27 May 2012

My First Venture in to Bicycle Touring/Camping

Bicycles have always been a great interest. They can give anyone freedom of travel at a more respectable pace than walking, and with some simple knowledge, can be kept on the road for very little money.

Aesthetically I think the bicycle, in all its many varieties, is a work of art.

My only regret is that I don't ride my bike enough! So in a conscious effort to reverse the tide of lets-jump-in-the-car mentality I've got so used to, I decided to head off out for a couple of days cycling and would have to carry everything I needed.

Blue line outward journey, Red line back
 I wanted a route that was somewhat familiar but with a sense of entering the unknown. So I decided to head out of Horsham towards Crawley but to keep going East towards Turners Hill and East Grinstead. I've never explored this part of the world except for fleeting visits when I was much younger.

I announced my plans, quite triumphantly, on a Wednesday. I wasn't to leave for a few days but felt I needed to tell someone! (And also to gain their opinions!) I always find it funny when I propose a 'ridiculous' idea to people and enjoy their 'can't do' attitudes. It makes it all the more important to do it!

With surprise Kerry's dad showed great interest. "When are you going? Who you going with? How long for?" all flew from his mouth, half-Geordie-half-Mackem accents clashing to make, sometimes, no sense to a Southern Fairy like me. The questions made sense though, not only aurally but semantically too. He was weighing up whether he was able to come! Mike isn't one to turn down a good adventure!

I knew then that I had a companion! And one I was grateful for. I should think the hardest part of a lone cycle camp would be just that, being alone. So I welcomed Mike's company and we frantically readied the bikes for departure the following Saturday.

Disaster struck in the early hours of Saturday morning. I woke to a massive pain in my face. Its difficult to describe but that's the best I can do. A pain IN my FACE. I couldn't get rid of it, I couldn't allieveiate it at all. Just a dull, numbing pain behind my cheek bone but enough to keep me awake for hours on end. I text Mike to tell him I couldn't cycle. I had slept all of 4 hours during the night. I was gutted. I drifted off to sleep at about 7am, disappointed.

But I was determined to get out cycling. I knew Mike would be feeling as gutted as I was and didn't want to let him down. I was up again at 10am and rang Mike to ask if he could still make it. He could! and we arranged to meet at half past 10. Thirty minutes to get ready. Easy, the bike was already packed, all I needed was to get dressed!

Mike out on the road
All set I hurriedly cycled to meet Mike, we arrived at the rendezvous at the same time, handy! We already knew our biggest issue. Rusper hill. Whilst not in any way big, the hill is quite steep at one section. The bikes felt good. It was the first time I had ridden with it fully laden and I couldn't tell there was any weight on the back. Until I hit the hill that is! I had to get off straight away. I struggle without any panniers but with this weight any incline felt like a tug of war match with a stern bull.

Once we had made it up everything seemed plain sailing. The first 5 miles were all very familiar territory. I ride this route to work sometimes so know exactly where I will need to push harder or where I can afford to relax a bit. It was a pleasant ride, the sun shone gloriously through the trees and we were soon in Ifield where we had decided to stop and grab some lunch from a shop.

Two 'meal-in-a-can's' and a few bread rolls strapped to the back and we were off again. We would traverse Crawley and stop just outside town in some woods to cook up the cans and generally chill. We found a nice green just off the road and I could try out my new stove.

The 'White Box Stove' is a nice little aluminium meths burning stove that ... comes in a white box! It is awesome. It's amazing how such a little amount of meths in such a tiny stove can produce good, sustained heat for 10 minutes, easily heating our food which we ate dipping bread rolls.

Stomachs full and the pace slowed. I was certainly feeling pretty tired at this point so the sight of a pub a few miles down the road was welcomed! Pint in hand and sun on face I thought about how I could easily get used to this! Then when I stood up my legs reminded me its not all rosy! The last miles were difficult. We hit Turners Hill which is not to be estimated. The 16 cans of lager we bought then hampered our ascents even more. We needed to find somewhere to camp.

I'd set my heart on camping next to Weirwood Reservoir, a view across the water and a decent camp fire. A few dead ends later and we found that it was impossible to get to the water edge. Tired and weary we settled for a nice bluebell wood. A small copse of mainly birch trees just next to the road. Just what we needed after cycling 24 miles.

The tent was set up with ease and we settles down to building the camp fire. It turns out Mike has some sort of compulsion to find any piece of wood and put it in the fire. So I was left to sit back and enjoy the countryside.

The cycle had really tired me out. It was very hard, alot harder than I had thought it would be, but sitting back against a tree watching the fire made it all better. And it was keeping the midges away! I cooked up a nice 'Curry-in-a-can' meal with one piece of chicken in no bigger than my little finger nail. I'd regard that meal as more a curry flavoured soup!

The beers went down very easily, and soon the light was fading (as was I) to the point where we had to retire to our sleeping bags. It was fairly cold through the night and we both had to get up for the toilet, cursing at how cold it was outside!
I woke up at about 06:00 and successfully managed to get the fire re-lit from the embers. The orange flames were perfect for warming my socks. Mike slept slightly longer, however I think this was to make up for what sleep he hadn't got through the night.
We were both knackered, even putting the tent away was a struggle and packing everything back on to the bikes took real time and energy. We were in no rush to get back on the saddle. I had a suspicion that the first few miles would all be up hill which made it even worse. I kept these dark thoughts to myself!

Lo and behold! we hit hills as soon as we left the reservoir. Big ones that seemed to go on and on. Cycling up them with a very tired and aching bottom wasn't fun. Each corner just gave way to another long incline. We'd only eaten a bread roll each. toasted on the fire that morning, and it was very hard to muster any energy. This is why I've never been so pleased to see a Costcutter shop in my life. I grabbed meat pasties and bottles of water which we wolfed down quickly and we soon felt a bit better and ready for the journey home.

After walking the bikes up Turners Hill for the second time in two days we decided to take a more direct route home. And we were so pleased we did! We seemed to roll on and on through the countryside, not a hill in sight except for the gradual descent we were on. Mike shouted in delight "Now THIS is more like it!"
The journey seemed to take less time and we stopped just short of Horsham to have a quick pint in The Dragon at Colgate. It wasn't even midday yet and we were only a few miles from home!

I could tell the mix of cycling and a restless night had taken its toll on Mike. I too was tired but had atleast done some cycling the weeks before hand. That and I'm half Mikes age!

Whilst supping our beers and admiring a large group of old MG cars growl past I spotted this little hitchhiker! He must be from Weirwood reservoir and had made it all the way to Colgate with me! A quick 10 minute blast and we were in Horsham. I bid Mike farewell and headed to the local shop to load my panniers up with wine. I needed it after all that cycling! 20 miles back, a shorter distance home which was appreciated.

Ever done any Cycle Touring or Camping? Epic bike rides?

1 comment:

  1. Wow that sounds like hard work!
    Also what the hell happened to your face? Did you see a doctor about it? :-S
    Btw I am envious that, like Nick, you are an early riser! It takes real effort for me to wake up early - if I don't set an alarm I can sleep in till the afternoon! Then I feel groggy - but it feels so good at the time! Lol