“I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like”
I think it’s fair to say, cycling is a huge part of my life. My experiences in the last piece, Perspective, are mostly down to cycling. I find it incredible to think of the multitudinous serendipitous events that have happened to me entirely because I got off my flat arse and went to the 2010 European Singlespeed Championships held in Forest of Dean by, my now good friend, Sheldon Attwood. We never would have gone to Belgium, Floressas, Catalunia, Northern Ireland, Italy or Slovenia if I hadn’t have gone.
Some things can’t be unseen, me ‘racing in Slovenia’. It’s an incredible country. Go.
I wouldn’t have met all the incredible people involved in the Belgian Singlespeed community, Bruno, LeDav, Hannelore, Nicosss, Emelien, Florent, Dirk, Tom, Dave & Steve Zombiker. Neither would I be privileged to spend time with Hugo’s family every year for the Gogo Hellcross event. Nor would I have been hosted by Valerie, Dirk, Dave Z, Emelien’s dad, & LeDav’s mum on our Tour de Belgique last year. I wouldn’t go to the incredible night race that is Schlaflos Im Sattel held in Weidenthal, Germany by the mighty Christian Kramer. Just going to that one race back in 2010 has had an immeasurable effect, all for the good, on my life.
My dad often says to me “You only get out of life what you put in”.
Turns out the old bugger is right!.
Cycling season is nearly upon us. Not that cycling has stopped over the winter, I’ve done about 500 miles this year, through all the winter weather. We’re trying to schedule a couple of rides. The problem is there isn’t enough weekends. I have too much stuff I want to do. My calendar is filling up fast and we haven’t really got any bikepacking (we’d have called it ‘touring’ years ago, cycling, but carrying your tent etc. with you) dates sorted yet. I’ve signed up for an event called the Welsh Ride Thing (WRT). It’s a freeform bikepacking experience, that combines mountain biking with orienteering. A month before the event, the organiser will release a comprehensive set of widely spread map coordinates. Some will be easier to access, others, bitchingly difficult. You then create a route that visits as many, or few, locations as suits you. Some will go balls out and try to do loads, riding through the night, sleeping in bus shelters, others will base their route on the availability of pubs and cafes. You have 2 days to ride around Mid Wales. I’ve never done it before and really like the sound of it, what’s not to like? SWMBO often refers to me as “Martin, a man and his maps”, amongst other things. I’m seldom ever happier than when I’m poring over a map, figuring out how feasible a certain route is. Things have got much easier with the arrival of Google Maps and RideWithGPS. You can usually take a look and see if the bridleway, clearly shown on the map, actually exists on the ground. This is Wales, they often don’t. We’ve been here before, following planned routes only to find there is no trace of a track to be found. This once put us in a hell of a scary situation.
Five of us, The Bum’oles, were backpacking on our way to event held by the organiser of the WRT. We appeared out of a wooded section of trail onto a forest access road, but one with a difference. The surface was exactly like wet cement, same colour, same texture. And on every corner stones seems to been thrown to the outside of the track. Odd. We made our way along the fireroad trying to find the clearly indicated bridleway when an unmistakeable noise, a car being THRASHED, became apparent. WTF? A Mk 2 rally Ford Escort came drifting around the bend a short way down the track and pulled to a fairly abrupt stop when he saw us, I’m not sure who was most startled! “What on earth are you idiots doing on here? Didn’t you see the signs? This is a LIVE rally track!” We had genuinely not seen any signs, mainly because there weren’t any. After a brief discussion, we agreed to get the fuck off the track as quickly as possible. “Our bridleway is just down here on this corner….” Except it wasn’t. Definitely on the map, sod all on the ground, just a swamp. So we’re now stuck on a rally track with no egress point. It’s said that discretion is the better part of valour, so we were sadly forced to beat a swift and hasty retreat back the way we had come. As we neared our only possible exit, we could hear the sound of another car rapidly approaching. If only we had a video filming us….. oh the panic! Five large grown men literally diving for some sort of cover, dragging their bikes into the undergrowth….. priceless ! The second car never actually appeared. We attempted to regained a bit of composure and hurriedly left the area. It was certainly an ‘experience’, much like slamming your fingers in a door is an ‘experience’. But that’s the fun of bikepacking, you get to places you’d never go otherwise, and meet some incredible people, like the Postmaster who doesn’t have a license to sell alcohol, so he gave the five of us a beer each out of his own fridge, or the five of us Englishmen turning up to a pub in Wales exactly as the England vs Australia rugby game started. The place was heaving, full of corks hanging of hats, inflatable kangaroos… you’ve never seen so many ‘Australians ’ in a Welsh pub !!
All these experiences are exactly why I love cycling so much. You can travel further and faster on a bike, though the faster bit is questionable with us, than walking, but you’re still intimately connected to the contours and textures of the countryside. You can travel in silence, unless Minty is with you then you’ve no hope. It can be done solo or in a group, both have a time and a place.
It’s you and the bike against the terrain.