Making the downhill bits a little easier

I fancied a night away in the tent and decided to see if it was possible to carry everything I need for camping on my bike.  When I go away for just one night, I try to reduce the weight on my back.  I try to go “fast and light” – so I often take just my bivi bag or my Vaude bivi tent….. but, at this time of the year, the midges eat me alive.  Carrying all of the weight on my bike should mean that I can take a tent – to protect me from the midges – but without feeling every ounce of weight through my hips, knees and feet.

However, I did a Youth Hostelling trip by bike a few (20?!) years ago and I remember how heavy the bike was with full panniers.  That was on my 3-gear, 20″-wheeled “shopper” – so not really designed for long trips – so I had reasonable expectations that this trip would be a bit easier on a 21-gear, 26″-wheeled mountain-type bike.

I cut my camping gear down to the essentials and was amazed at how much I could fit in my Argos panniers.  I had assumed I’d need a small rucksack too but, with my tent and sleeping bag bungied on top, everything fit nicely and I could have taken a bit more if I’d wanted too.

P1040226_Loaded_BikeWith a vague destination in mind I headed off towards Wales.  I had two maps in my panniers and a compass in my pocket.  Looking at my GPS track now, I can see that more use of the map would have saved me several miles of pedalling.  I did wonder why the sun kept moving around 180 degrees.  Still, the circuitous route kept me off the nastiest roads as much as possible.  I noticed that any road which has crazily fast motorised traffic also has a road surface which is completely unforgiving to cyclists.

I’ve cycled around the Burton Marshes / Deeside area before and there are plenty of cycle-lanes and -tracks ……. but I can never remember where they go or make any sense of the signs.  To keep things easy I just headed for the old Queensferry bridge ..

P1040227_Old Qferry Bridge… which is a prettier bridge than the new one carrying the A494(T) over the Dee..

P1040228_New Qferry Bridge… although, of course, the best view of the Old bridge is from the New bridge.

The weather was hot and sunny.  I stopped and applied suncream to my legs.  I also wondered if I’d brought enough water with me.  I was sipping water little and often but wanted to have plenty for camping and it was clear that I wasn’t going to have enough for that.  I considered buying some at a shop – but this would have affronted my self-sufficient spirit so I kept going.

I was heading towards the Horseshoe Pass.  This is a journey I make often in the car; there are a few ups and downs but it’s easy enough.  Oh!  The arrogance of the motorist!  There were a few downhill bits – and I took full advantage of them – but most of the journey was UP.  Really, really UP.  I did my best to keep my pedals spinning and creep up the hills but, after about 35km, I just ran out of energy.  I ate some tea loaf and tried again.  No, my thighs felt like lead and I couldn’t do more than about 10 yards uphill without a rest.  It was at this point that I wondered if my preparation had been comprehensive enough.  September 2014: Put bike in garage for the winter.  July 2015: Blow up tyres, load up panniers and pedal off into the unknown.  I admit pushing my bike up a few hills and free-wheeling down the other side.  I do wonder why so many cyclists pedal downhill?  All you need to do is sit there, and it’s an advantage that cycling has over walking.

At Llandegla / Pen-y-Stryt, having passed the area I’d considered camping but not seen anywhere suitable, I pulled into the commercial campsite.  Hm?  Could I stay here?  My brief conversation with a young, slightly drunk chap carrying a crate of beer convinced me that this was not really my kind of site, so I filled my water bottles and pushed on.

Not much further on I saw a decent field through the hedge so backtracked to the gate and let myself in.  There was a plumbed-in water trough in the field and I got all of the water I needed from the feed pipe.  I have no idea where the water originated from but I filtered it and I’m not dead yet.

P1040229It was the first time I have used my Hilleberg Akto since buying my Terra Nova Laser Competition 5 or 6 years ago.  The Akto went up quickly and easily ( the continuous pole sleeve is so good! ) and it was like coming home to an old friend.

The view from my tent was very familiar to me….

View from the tent…. being my usual Horseshoe Pass stomping ground.

I’d brought very few clothes and my lightest sleeping bag so did have to put on my windshirt at 4 o’clock in the morning when I woke up a little cold.  Now that I’ve proved that I can carry everything on the back of my bike I know I have room to take a warmer sleeping bag in future if required.

The sun was bright and warming up at 6am as I made my breakfast….

P1040232…. but the forecast was for rain at 9, so I was packed up and pedalling by 7:15.  The rain came half an hour early but only drizzly at first.  I made it as far as the Eureka Cyclists’ Cafe, where I stopped for a second breakfast, before donning my waterproof trousers.

By the time I got home I was soaked, exhausted and aching – but I’d enjoyed my two long-ish bike rides and overnight camp and had only been away from home for 21 hours.

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8 Responses to Making the downhill bits a little easier

  1. louse4 says:

    Chuckling first thing is good, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. AlanR says:

    Great stuff Judith.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura says:

    Looks great fun – and you are so right about the downhills!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. John J says:

    Well done Judith, let me know if you fancy another bikepacking trip….especially if it includes that cafe!


    • Judith says:

      Hi John. Maybe we could start at the caff then pick out a gentle and flat bimble around the Cheshire Plain? I’ve just looked at the elevation profile of my route on MemoryMap and I now have evidence that North Wales is hilly!


  5. Ian says:

    Good trip Judith! – I did think you’d have quite a push into the wind which was pretty strong on the Dee estuary

    Kind regards


    • Judith says:

      Hi Ian.
      The wind was fine. It caused no trouble when I was cycling. The gentle breeze in the evening kept the midgies away and I had almost no condensation in the tent. No,it was the hill climbs that caused the problems. My legs are a wee bit achy today!


  6. Fellbound says:

    Excellent. I hope to emulate your feet soon. Or perhaps your feat.

    Liked by 1 person

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