Bristol, England from the top of Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill
The Battle of the Stinging Nettle Part 2
My first four days of living on a bicycle in Great Britain: Days 3 and 4
To read about my first 2 days, look here
Day 3: Reading to ???, 25 miles
So yes, this was another day with measly mileage like day two.
I started out in Reading with Andrew and Martin and a bike that did not have a working back tire.
Andrew took me to some stores in the area. Surprisingly, my savior this time was a nice guy from Decathlon (I usually have very bad luck at Decathlon). I think his name was Andy…or Anthony. Any who, he checked over my tire to see if there was a reason why the tubes were deflating immediately. He couldn’t find anything wrong. He then put in a new tube, pumped everything up nicely and didn’t charge me for labor! I almost hugged him and asked if I could buy him to bring him with me on the road for any future issues.
So, my tire was finally back in business but I do not know why it was being such a hassle earlier. BUT that’s okay, because it led me to meet some other great cyclists and to spend more time in the nice town of Reading.
I was hoping to get a lot of miles in that day, but I spent a lot of time in the morning working on my bike and kind of relaxing and hanging out with Andrew and Martin.
I finally left Reading at 1pm and slowly made my way along a nice gravel path next to the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Along the way, I met a bunch of English men jumping off of a pretty tall bridge into the canal. They stopped me and asked if I had any ‘plasters.’ I had no idea what plasters were but the one who asked was pointing to his bleeding foot so I assumed he meant band-aid or something.
I got really excited because yes I did have some plasters, along with a pretty extensive first aid kit AND I was getting an opportunity to repay the kindness that had so recently been given to me by a few others!
I bandaged up his foot with Neosporin and water proof tape. While I was playing the ‘medic’ the guys were asking me all about my trip. They were a lot of fun to talk to. Then they starting giving me money. (I wanted to say no…but the pound is so brutal to my American savings account…)
Then they convinced me to jump off of the bridge too. I am usually afraid of jumping off of high places, but they were so supportive and great. Eventually I conquered my fear and jumped! It felt fantastic. I was soo glad I did it. Meeting these guys was definitely a highlight of my day.
Afterwards, I continued along the canal -bumping over the gravel, picking blackberries, and taking photos of lots of pretty sights.
I don’t know where the time went but I eventually made it to Newbury for a quick pit stop. As I was leaving, I checked my tires and it looked like my back tire was gonna pop soon. The bumpy roads did not do it any favors.
It was getting late and the last thing I wanted was to be stranded somewhere again because of a maintenance issue.
I rode around and asked some people if there was a bike shop in town. A nice man who was really interested in my trip pointed me in the direction of a Halfords Bike Shop. I raced over there and arrived at 6:03, right after it had closed.
A few employees were standing by the door. I knocked and motioned that it was an emergency. They said “nope. We are closed” bloody wankers…
But then my next knight in shinning armor of the day, Liam, appeared.
He let me into the store, told his coworkers to suck it (in a nice way), carried my heavy bike up two flights of stairs and replaced my tire within 10 minutes. He was wonderful! We chatted and he didn’t charge me labor either.
What a guy.
So behind schedule as usual, I continued on. I rode a bit through the town of Newbury. It was cute.
I then continued west on the cycle path along the canal. As the sun began to set, I realized that finding a decent camping spot was more important than getting more miles in. I veered off of the path through more patches of stinging nettle and found a little obscure forest next to train tracks and a creek. It was beautiful and appeared quite peaceful, but I was still paranoid someone would find me and arrest me or something, so I waited until it was quite dark to pitch my tent.
At first, I had trouble falling asleep, but eventually I drifted off to the sound of rustling leaves in the wind, trains, and honking geese.
Day 4: ??? to Bristol, 80 miles
I woke up to the sound of birds chirping and all of the smells of clean, pure nature. As I emerged from my tent, I felt at peace and very in-tune with myself and the world around me -kinda Pocahontas-y. The place I had camped really was idyllic. Even though it wasn’t as far west as I had hoped for night three, I was glad I’d found it.
I decided I wanted to do my best and power through all of the way to Bristol: one so I could see my friend before she left for the fringe festival and two so I could sleep indoors.
So that’s what I did. I rode all day. All day.
I rode 80 miles up and down the hills of the countryside, then more along the canal.
It was a long day. The ride was beautiful but quite uneventful (which is good and bad).
I arrived in Bath around 7pm. Bath is a beautiful city and the valley surrounding it is absolutely gorgeous.
After a quick dinner break, I powered through the 16 remaining miles to Bristol. I was so mentally and physically exhausted and it was getting dark but I had to get through it. Luckily the path from Bath to Bristol is on an old railway track and it is nicely paved. But it was almost all a gradual uphill.
Despite my exhaustion and the hills, I was riding faster than ever. I was smelling the barn. I really wanted to get to Bristol.
Eventually I made it to town and found my friend’s place using every last bit of my energy and melted brain.
And now, I will be taking a few days here in Bristol before I continue on to Wales.
Overall these past few days have probably been the most challenging, yet rewarding days of my life. I know the road has so much in store for me. Even though it is still very intimidating to have absolutely no idea where I will be, or what will happen even a few days from now, I am excited and know that the only choice is to continue forward!
I have learned that plans are the heaviest of loads one can carry on a bike tour. All you need is a compass to ensure that you are not accidentally going in circles and you are set.
Never before in my life has the saying: “it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey” been more true. My journey is my new destination.
Open road and open possibilities, here I come!
The Battle of the Stinging Nettle Part 1
My first four days of living on a bicycle in Great Britain: Days 1 and 2
You can read countless blogs and books describing what it is like to be a bicycle-tourist. You can read about the peace and beauty of riding free along an empty road, the annoyance of bicycle malfunctions, the frustrations of figuring out where you are on an only marginally-detailed map.
You can hear hundreds of stories about the hospitality you will receive along the way: strangers jumping over hurdles to make you more comfortable and your journey easier, shops staying open a half hour later than scheduled to help you replace a tire, new friends offering food, water, and directions.
You can research over and over what it is like to circle around a road at dusk, searching for the perfect secluded spot to camp for the night. Or what it is like to ride many miles a day, with your life on your back. Stepping into the unknown -never knowing what adventures the day -or even the next 20 minutes will bring you.
You can read all about it. But you can never understand how incredible bike touring will be until you get out on the road and experience it for yourself.
There is no way to fully prepare yourself for what the road will bring you. You have to learn along the way -and heck, I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point.
My first four days living on a bicycle was an incredible experience with ups and downs -in my mood and on the hills of the bright green English countryside. These four days were my chance to learn and experiment. And there will be so much more to learn and see as I journey forward here in Great Britain and then around Europe.
I will do my best to summarize each day with the highlights, lowlights and lessons learned…because even though I have graduated university, I guess I’m a still a Rec Major at heart:
Day 1: The East End of London to Slough, 36.6 miles
Manhattan NYC is a grid, Paris is a pile of scattered toothpicks shooting out in every direction, and London is a squiggly convention -or maybe a glop of over cooked noodles rolling around.
Getting across London was an intimidating challenge. I have always had a good sense of direction, but when the streets are curvy and constantly reinventing themselves, it is very easy for even a bird to get lost. I knew it would be difficult to cross and exit the city, so I grabbed my trusty compass and just followed every twist and turn west, until 16 miles (and what seemed like a year) later, I was somewhere on the outskirts of the London metropolitan area.
I was moving along at a snail’s pace, getting used to my heavy bike, riding on the wrong or “left” side of the road, and the concept that I had no idea what was coming next.
Once I exited the city, I followed The National Cycling Network’s paths towards Slough, England. It was getting a bit late 30 slow miles later. As the sun was setting, I found myself near Windsor Castle.
I was nervous about my first night sleeping alone in a populated area where I could be found, but I ended up stumbling across a deserted foot path next to the castle’s grounds.
It was covered in patches of stinging nettle, but I felt safe covered by these high bushes, so I rolled out a tarp and spent my first night sleeping under the stars.
As I attempted to calm my anxiety of being found, I watched planes flying low in and out of Heathrow Airport and I listened to geese honking in the mote next to me.
All was well.
Day 2: Slough to Reading, 25.4 miles
A map will tell you that there are about 20 miles between these two towns. I know, that is absolutely pathetic mileage for one day…but it’s not a race, right?
I woke up feeling pretty good. I packed up and hit the road west through Windsor.
But as I began riding, I felt lethargic. I was going soo slowly. I hurt all over. I think I was sleep deprived, and I was out of water. My bicycle and load felt heavier than ever.
I stopped in Maidenhead at a nature center to revive myself with food, coffee and water. The guy working at the cafe had done many bicycling tours himself. We chatted for a while and I eventually convinced myself to get back on the road as the afternoon rolled in.
I slowly and lethargically made my way toward Reading as the afternoon wore on.
Okay, I also stopped a lot to take photos, pick blackberries, and listen to the birds.
At one point, a thunder storm joined me and I cycled through a beautiful forest as rain pounded on the leaves above the road.
When I arrived in Reading, I stopped for a quick dinner and electronics-recharge at a Starbucks. Somehow that turned into a two-hour break. Whoops.
As I began to head out of the city so I could hit the countryside and find a place to sleep for the night, I realized I had a flat tire.
I dragged my bike over to a bench along the crowded and hopping with Friday night-enjoyers canal path. I thought, this is okay! I know how to replace a tube. I can do this.
Long story short, I was missing something I needed. I asked someone for the closest bike shop. Leaving my dismantled bike and load of crap locked up to a pole, I ran to a shop 5 minutes before it closed. Evans Cycles replaced my tube, inflated it and charged me 10 quid (like 18 dollars) -I was mad. THEN, I don’t know why, but the tire was completely deflated by the time I made it back to my bike.
The tire was deflated and my frustration was inflated. Evan’s Cycles was closed now, so I could not return to ask for another tube. I could not move from where I was because without my bike to carry everything: a tent and two panniers of luggage is really heavy.
I momentarily freaked out. I was stuck in the middle of a city.
I scooted over to a nearby Starbucks to steal wifi. I looked on Warm-Showers.org, a cycle-touring network. As luck would have it, there was a fellow cycle-tourist living in Reading! I borrowed a kind stranger’s phone (at first they were afraid because I was sweaty, covered in grease and carrying a bunch of dirty bags) and I called him.
Ten minutes later wonderful Andrew from Reading and Martin from Bordeaux, another cyclist, arrived to help me lug my bike and crap to Andrew’s place for the night.
They were fantastic, we had a lovely dinner and even spoke some French.
The following day, they helped me figure out my tire situation.
So I guess it was a blessing in disguise. I am really glad I met Andrew and Martin…and I got to take a shower and sleep indoors!
Holy yikes this is getting long….
Days 3 and 4 to be continued here
Sooo, tomorrow morning I will start the first phase of my next crazy project. I will begin bicycling across England to Wales from London by way of Bristol and some big rocks in a weird formation. Once I arrive in Wales, well, we’ll see. (Try saying that 5xs fast).
I will be updating my blog like usual (because I am addicted). There will be photos and amusing anecdotes, but unfortunately there has yet to be a technology invented to transfer smells over the internet so you will miss out on knowing what it smells like to cycle all day, sleep in a tent, and shower …whenever there is one (or a hose) available?
So. I guess here’s hoping I do not get eaten by bears or washed away by a monsoon.