An absolute mission is on the horizon! In a few short days, I’ll be strapping my life to my bicycle, hopping on a train to Penzance, cycling the final 10 miles to Lands End, Cornwall and then gazing across the Atlantic Ocean at the very southernmost point of the UK! Then, with tent, sleeping bag and stove in tow, I’m going to turn around, and head North for 4 weeks until I reach John O’Groats at the very North of Scotland! On the way I’ll be spending most my nights in the great outdoors, wiping my arse with leaves and cooking porridge on my stove for breakfast! When it rains I’ll be seeking shelter in my tent, when its mild and the night sky is clear I’ll be sleeping beneath the stars! I’ll be camping in the wild when I can, though I may duck into a few camp sites when I need a bloody good wash! I’m also fortunate to have many friends across the UK who have offered me places to stay and after a few days of roughing it, a warm bed and a hot meal will come in very handy! But mainly I’ll be aiming to sleep in wild places, setting up camp as it gets dark and leaving as it gets light, leaving no trace behind. So why am I doing this?
I started cycling about 18 months ago, at this point I’d never even cycled up a bloody hill but my friend invited me on a 60 mile bike ride and I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to cycle that far. But I challenged myself and embraced the mission, and although I was utterly exhausted the next day, I had also fallen in love. There’s something about travelling through beautiful landscapes for hours on end, surrounded by nature, which nourishes the soul. This enriching feeling of being part of the great outdoors, combined with the slow release of endorphins and adrenaline you get from cycling for hours on end, makes me feel alive. There’s nothing like the pure natural rush of energy you get from standing on top of a hill with stunning scenery all around you, knowing you’ve arrived there under your own power, upon your trusty bicycle. Its the closest I’ve ever felt to complete and utter freedom, and my life has changed since I’ve began embracing it. Cycling isn’t about the cycling. Cycling is about the feeling of freedom you get travelling across the land, surrounded by the beauty of nature as you do so. Its an escapism, its a meditation, its a way of connecting with the great outdoors.
I did have some reservations at first, however. All my life I’ve seen these steely eyed cyclists whizzing around in brightly coloured lycra and it just never appealed to me at all! Without giving it much thought, my initial assumption was that cycling looked incredibly boring. You just pedal and pedal and keep going, and thats it? Sounds dire. Also, the lycra? What the hell is that all about? Even when I began cycling more regularly, dressing up like a multi coloured bicycle man never really felt right. On one hand, I wanted to cycle from Bristol to London, I wanted to turn on Strava and test my average speed and see how fast I’m going, I wanted to get stuck into my new hobby. On the other hand, whizzing around wearing lycra, I just didn’t feel like myself. That’s when I discovered a whole new niche. A niche which I have spent hundreds of hours researching. A niche which lifts my soul when I even think about it. A niche which combines all the things I love most – cycling, travel and adventure. The niche of the adventure cyclist.
Until last year, I never knew, or hadn’t spent any time thinking about, the fact that there is a small but insanely passionate minority of people pedalling the world upon their bicycles, with their whole life strapped to it. Kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, everything they need to survive on the road, and in the wild, condensed into the bare essentials and strapped to their bicycle, and these pedalling nomads explore the planet in this way. Stumbling across this sub culture was incredible for me. I couldn’t stop reading about it and learning more. Some of these trips last a few days, maybe from one town to the next. Some involve crossing whole countries for a period of weeks or months. Others last years, traversing whole continents or the entire planet! There are no rules- you can cycle 10 miles a day or you can cycle 100. You can follow a river from one side of a country to the other, or you can do a tour of major cities. You can pack as little, or as much, as you like. All you need is a smile on your face, the spirit of adventure in your soul, and maybe a bit of a stubborn streak for those rainy days or cold nights. I realised how much I wanted to experience this, and so I began planning this trip.
Many people take a 9 or 10 days to travel from Lands End to John O’Groats. This is at a very fast pace of around 100 miles a day which would be utterly exhausting. Going at this speed would involve packing as light as possible, taking a stove and a tent would be uneccesary extra weight, and after travelling that far in a single day you’d probably want a big hearty meal and a bed to to sleep in. I’ve got a slightly different approach. As I said, for me, cycling is not about the cycling. It’s not about logging as many miles as I can each day, or going as fast as I can. For me, cycling is about appreciating your surroundings, taking it all in, smelling the flowers in the garden. I want to stop in pubs, frolic with the locals, spend some time relaxing in the evening watching the sunset, climb a tree, find a river to swim in, cook my own food and read a book or listen to a podcast in my tent. I don’t want to be stressing out worrying about how far I’ve got to go before it gets dark, or feel unable to explore off route for a few hours because I haven’t logged enough miles. I want an adventure, and the best adventures require complete freedom, combined with the spontaneity to change your plan at the drop of a hat.
I also want to take the scenic route. The first 5 days of my journey will take me through the Cornish hills and into Devon, then across the Somerset flats. After a quick rest in Bristol, I’ll continue from one side of Wales to the other, travelling through the Brecon Beacons and the Shropshire Hills area of outstanding natural beauty, which I hope will be the location of some beautiful wild camping spots. From there, I’ll quickly visit Liverpool as I’ve never been there before, and then pass through the Lake District, where I may stop and embark upon a cheeky climb of Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. I’ve trekked up Scafell Pike once before, in mid November, and tried to have sex with my girlfriend on top of it, but it was too cold. It was just too damn cold… From there, I’ll continue up into Scotland and after a short rest in Glasgow, I’ll head over the Scottish Highlands and towards John O’Groats, where my journey will end on the coast of the North Sea.
I can’t wait to get on the road and embrace this experience. Some days will be tough, both physically and mentally, no doubt. But I sincerely hope the richness of the experience, the feeling of achievement I’ll have after traversing this great land, and that connection with the outdoors will make the fruits of my labour far outweigh any struggles I may face! So lets get this ball rolling. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single pedal stroke!