We started in a very hectic Brighton station, it was Pride and the town was full to the brim with colourful and glittery people (around 400,000 people were at the Pride parade this year!) Luckily for us they had barriers so that people leaving the city didn’t get crushed by the immense amount of people getting off the trains (although I do feel sorry for everyone that had horrible experiences when trying to leave the city that evening)
The next 4 hours were spent mainly standing up, squeezing our bikes in to spaces that allowed others to walk by and getting scolded for not having booked a bike space – even though all the bike spaces were already taken up when we got on the train but whatever.
We arrived at Castle Cary after a very pleasant journey with a really sweet, retired train conductor being an absolute hero, and had a fabulous evening with some wonderful friends and then took ourselves off to bed at midnight. I wanted to get a decent nights sleep before riding the next day but that didn’t happen, who knew people still partied all night/morning long.
The music never actually stopped but I managed to grab about 4 hours before giving up and going to find breakfast. This was another experience I’d never had before, as I sort of forgot how many people were there and didn’t really think anyone else would have been awake (again, who knew people still did all-nighters?!) I ventured out in my sports bra and bib shorts… The other party goers didn’t expect to see that after a night of dancing! I stood awkwardly for a little while before realising I was going to be wearing that same outfit for the next couple of days so I quickly got over it and enjoyed a sausage bap before sorting out the last few bits on the bike and getting ready to make a move.
And then we were off! Everything started off well, I felt super comfortable on my bike and loved whizzing fast down the twisty roads and hills, it was exhilarating and I felt like I was flying. C was keeping me updated with how long until the next hill which helped as I’d read somewhere that being prepared for them made them easier (liars). I also read that pushing back in the saddle and breathing deeply will make you more comfortable and trick your mind into thinking you’ve totally got this (this actually did help) We got to a point on the Garmin that showed only one more hill, and when we turned the corner we saw it and gasped! IT WAS VERTICAL. I didn’t even attempt it, no amount of deep breathing would work on this giant monster (obviously C smashed it) After the slog up the mountainous hill we decided we’d stop soon for a drink.
We ended up at Hauser and Wirth Somerset, it was beautiful and exciting as I’d seen it on TV and always wanted to go! After a couple of lemonades and a coffee we were off again. By now my shoulder and neck were starting to hurt, this was from a previous problem but I was still going strong. We rode along for quite a while, taking in the gorgeous Somerset and then Dorset countryside before stopping off at a pub that had, just that day, started serving wood fired pizza, coincidence? I think not.
C let me know there was one more hill before it was “all” downhill to the campsite. This hill nearly broke me, I think I stopped about 10 times but I refused to get off and push, I was determined to ride the whole way up, no matter how long it took me. It was really nice to reach an obstacle that felt impossible and push myself to complete it and it felt SO good when I got to the top. I felt powerful and able to tackle the next hill that came along with a bit more oomph
After riding off road (on a road bike) and eventually having a little break down, due to exhaustion, pain and the inability to actually get back onto my bike (thank you C for pushing it along the trail for a little while, I really needed that) we finished the journey and finally we reached the campsite, a cute field in the New Forest with toilets, showers and sinks (because we’re fancy.) We had spent some time riding around the local villages looking for a shop to buy dinner and at last found an open Tesco where we grabbed a couple of ready meals to heat up and OJ.
The campsite had a little tuck shop, which I obviously took advantage of, and we were able to charge our phones too! The tent was super easy to put up and it was really nice being able to shower and change out of our bike gear (although next time I must remember to pack a dress) We had a chilly night but slept ok, and started the next day full of excitement and drive, even though my hands, neck and butt felt like I’d been beaten up a bit (hands from holding my brakes too hard when going downhill, on rocks, too blooming fast, neck from my already existent shoulder pain spreading upwards and butt, well, that’s obvious) We thought about maybe staying an extra night there and exploring a bit of the New Forest but I’m really glad we decided to carry on our journey instead (the decision was partly based on the shoddy quality eggs at the campsite – we always expect them to be local and free range but were sad to see they were cheap, caged eggs. Something we rarely see in campsites we’ve been to and it was a big shame.)
It was such a good feeling, being on a bike, riding for hours, getting to a campsite and setting up, eating, washing, sleeping, knowing that I completed a whole day of riding and that I am totally capable to doing it all again. I didn’t even question getting back on that bike, even through the soreness and tiredness, it was something I just wanted to do and I felt extremely powerful.
Day 2 started off well, we were really glad we didn’t decide to stay in the New Forest and after going through the trees for a little while we whizzed out on to a long, flat road, which was great fun. But it didn’t take long for the hills to start again and after a cold nights sleep, and my shoulder already being sore I struggled quite a lot. We had a good system though, as we were riding through really lovely, quiet villages for a lot of the way we would just pull over and C would give my shoulder a quick rub, after that I could ride for another hour before it started aching again, and it meant that we had some sweet stop spots where we were able to take in our surroundings for a moment before moving on again. One massage stop was outside an adorable little church and another was outside an incredible, giant house, it was like something out of a Disney movie.
We decided to take a detour into Winchester to pick up another blanket as we were really cold the night before. It wasn’t hard to find our way around and other than the people being a bit snooty and looking at us like we were aliens, the town was very pretty and we managed to find a nice cafe where we got a load of drinks and a sandwich in the sun. We grabbed a new blanket and then headed out of Winchester towards our campsite for the night, an easy 10 mile ride over a lovely viaduct and through some more cute villages. Or so we thought!
After riding pretty fast down some really gorgeous, twisty, tree lined roads, and tackling another mammoth hill my neck and shoulders were not happy at all, I was counting down the miles and was determined to make it to the campsite as quick as I could. We had forgotten to fill up our water bottles in Winchester so I suggested we stopped off at a pub and fill them up there. C’s face dropped as soon as we rolled our bikes into the beer garden and he turned to me and said
“I’ve got something to tell you…”
I was so tired I couldn’t even think what it could have been and just stared at him blankly until he said
“we’ve been going the wrong way.”
I continued to stare at him, then I slumped into a seat and rested my head on the table. I wasn’t angry, I actually don’t think I felt anything, I was just gearing myself up for the extended journey we had ahead of us. I didn’t think for a second that there would be a way for us to get to the campsite without having to ride the now 20 mile journey. C went into the bar and they gave him a number for a local taxi service, we were quoted £50 before they even knew we had bikes too and then we were turned down as they didn’t have a vehicle big enough. I was even more certain now that we were going to have to ride so I was concentrating on preserving my energy. BUT THEN an incredible thing happened, the barmaid came out and asked if we’d had any luck with the taxi, when we told her no she wasn’t surprised, saying that the taxi service around there was rubbish, but she also told us that a guy at the bar had offered to take us to our campsite for £20! I suddenly perked up a little and looked up at the barmaid with the biggest smile I could muster.
The guy had a flat bed truck with sides so we plonked our bikes in the back whilst we rode up front. The journey was over an hour round trip and the guy – Matt – lived in the village the pub was in, so it was purely a gesture of kindness. He was really lovely and meeting him was worth going in the wrong direction. We cycled the same distance we had planned to that day and had our faith restored in the British public, so it was all in all an incredible experience.
The campsite we stayed in was basically just a field, it had a shower block and recycling area and was lovely and simple. In the field next to us they had an old double decker bus that was used as a shop, it was really sweet, but almost empty after the weekend, we managed to get some bread though that we ate in the morning. After setting up our tent we took all of our packs off of the bikes and flew down to the local village pub for dinner. It was soo delicious and a really great end to the day. We ate a load , had the best blackberries ever, and then zoomed back up the hills to the campsite (riding without packs made me feel super speedy!) At the top of the hill we snuck into a field to watch the sun set, the sky was alive and it really made me feel in the moment. I was so lucky to have been there, having eaten great food, with my best friend, flying on our bikes together. It was special.
We slept well, although a little upside down. And then made ourselves a breakfast of coffee, eggs and bread (after an animal had helped themselves in the night – check out the bread in the picture at the top!) The thought of riding another day was hard, I was sore, not only from my shoulder pain but also my legs, my butt, my hands. We decided that a lot of the riding we were planning to do would be in places we’d already been before, and as we didn’t want to have to camp again so close to home we chose to ride to a station 40k away and hop on a train home instead.
Although it was a shame that we ended our trip on the train I am so glad we did. I am able to look back on the trip with only positive thoughts, I didn’t break myself that last day just to make a point, I listened to my body and stopped when I needed to stop. And after the most incredible 180k trip I cannot wait to get back on the bike again.
It seems that this is a recurring thought I have at the end of bike trips, as soon as it ends I want to start again. I love the freedom bike packing has given me, the time it gives C and I as a couple, the experience of pure peace and the gratitude of beauty. We get to see places we wouldn’t see by car or foot, and we get to spend time outside, in the elements, with nothing but our own power getting us from place to place.
It is an experience I am so glad I have discovered the joy of. In this next chapter of my life I believe it will keep me sane, keep me determined and keep me happy.
I can’t wait to see where it takes me, or better yet, where I take me.