The time had come. I had a bike, I had bags, I had some basic camping gear, and a limited amount of camping knowledge and survival skills should this go terribly wrong. What’s the worst that could happen…
In the weeks running up to this I had done plenty of online shopping after trawling numerous websites and watching a handful of YouTube videos. I was fairly happy I had the equipment I needed to embark on my first trip. I was wrong. Not majorly wrong but not right enough to have everything I needed. We’ll get to that though.
The bike had been washed, the chain had been cleaned and lubed, I checked the various bolts on the bike just in case, I had done a test run of getting my bags on and off the bike, and I had neatly laid out all of the gear I planned on taking on the floor of the spare bedroom. It was meticulous. Surely such preparation could only lead to a perfect maiden voyage!
So I stuffed my sleeping bag into the handlebar bag along with a bivvy bag just in case. I even squeezed in my little blow up pillow. It made sense to have the light stuff at the front.
All of my spares, titanium mug, cooker and gas canister, head torch, spare lube, coffee sachets for the morning, and my new but slightly heavy multitool, all went into the frame bag that attached to the underside of my top tube. Again, it made sense for the bike frame to carry the heavy stuff.
Then I got to my favourite bag – The seat pack. I had gone for the larger option because I would rather have too much than too little. My tent went in first, right down to the bottom to give the base of the bag as much stability and structure as possible. Around that I squashed in my clothes, food pouches and a hat and gloves combo. The bags were packed!
Two decent sized water bottles slid nicely into their cages and I attached my water filtration bag to the bungee cords on the seat pack. All that was left was to add the final touch – I attached my rear red, extremely bright, flashing light to the rear of the seat pack. Safety first!
I proudly leaned my packed bike up against the cupboards in my kitchen and took a picture. I took a step back and looked at it with a smile on my face. My little boy is too young to go to school but when he does get to that age I am pretty sure that is how I will look at him. Proud of something I have helped create and something that I feel safe sending out into the world.
Dressed in my comfortable cycling gear I booted up the Wahoo, selected my outbound route, and threw my leg over my bike. The planning was done, the preparation was done, it was game time.
A little beep from my Wahoo indicated it was time to start pedalling. I knew the roads for the first 7 or 8 miles of the ride so it gave me time to get used to the extra weight on the bike and how it handled. This is something I really should’ve thought of earlier but foolishly the first time it popped into my head was when I was about 25 metres into my ride. Better adjust quick!
I was soon out on the quiet country roads spinning away in a nice easy gear taking in the scenery. Something I rarely did when out on my fancy road bike. Average speeds and peak power didn’t mean anything today, this was all about the journey and not about breaking any local records.
I couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sun was out but it wasn’t too hot, there was a nice breeze helping me on my way, and my legs felt pretty fresh.
The outbound route was about 50 miles and the majority of that was on quiet country roads. Towards the end I had intentionally picked a gravel track that took me from Scotland into England and down towards Kielder water.
As I got closer and closer to my turn off onto the slightly looser terrain I was both excited and nervous. There were a few miles in my legs by this point and I knew the ride was only going to get harder. There was quite a lot of climbing to be done and I had no idea how hard it would be and how poor the surface would get. However, as hard as it was the satisfaction of getting to the top and the views I was rewarded with was worth every tough pedal stroke.
It was during this section where I had the opportunity to use my water filtration bag. My water bottles were almost empty and so I stopped at the first flowing water I could find and filled up the bag. I squeezed it through the screw top filter directly into my water bottles. I’m not sure what I expected but the water still came out a slightly murky colour, a little bit brown. This is where I had to trust the technology that was in that bag and in that filter. The water was slightly brown but it was safe. I took a big mouthful and it tasted great! It was cold and refreshing and in a stupid way it made me feel closer to nature. Strange. I put the restocked bottles back on the bike and carried on pedalling. I had a campsite to find.
When my Wahoo beeped at me to let me know I was going the wrong way I got a little bit worried. I was on a rough, rocky, steep climb and I hadn’t even seen another route that I could have been taking. But to give credit where credit is due the Wahoo was correct. Hidden off to my right was a gravel track that that took me across the border from Scotland into England.
This track was definitely one of my favourite parts of the entire journey. It was so high up, so exposed to the elements, and looked like it wasn’t used very often. These are the places I was hoping to find and here I was doing exactly that. Then out of nowhere a massive stone structure caught my eye. Obviously I had to stop and investigate and it turned out that this was the border crossing. Photo opportunity for sure!
After all of that climbing in the hot sun I was definitely due at descent and I wasn’t disappointed. I descended for what felt like about 20 minutes, just freewheeling and enjoying the scenery. It was a forestry fire road and was relatively smooth and clear. It dropped me all the way down to Kielder water where my Wahoo beeped again to let me know that I had reached my destination. It was time to find a quiet camping spot.
As I was looking for somewhere to camp I spotted some buildings about a mile away so I decided to take a ride down and see if I could find some snacks for the evening. I ended up chatting to the shopkeeper who was an older gentleman. He explained that when his shift finished he was one of the guards who patrol the water to make sure that people were not camping and making fires etc. I had stupidly forgotten that in England you can’t just put your tent anywhere. I wasn’t in Scotland anymore!
He had clearly seen my bike all packed up outside of the shop window and asked where I intended to stay. I was honest with him and said that I was going to be camping and I was fully self-sufficient. I didn’t have any plans to make a fire, I was simply going to cook my food, get a good nights sleep, and I would be gone again in the morning leaving no trace that I had been there at all.
I think he appreciated my honesty because he gave me some wise words before I left. He said
“If I can’t see your tent then how can I tell you off for being there?”
We smiled at each other because we both understood what was being said. I would tuck myself out the way, draw no attention to myself, and there would be no problems. I picked up the drink I purchased along with the Haribo (obviously I bought Haribo!) and said thanks to the man in the shop. He was a nice guy.
I cycled back the way I came and from the path I could see some dense woodland. When no one was looking I pushed my bike into the woodland for about 100m and there it was, a lovely little clearing for me, my tent, and my bike. Home sweet home for the evening.
I unpacked my bags one at a time and set about pitching the tent. It didn’t take me long and soon I was sitting down on the grass digging out all of the stuff I needed to make myself a hot meal. Chicken curry and rice was on the menu. Gas canister in hand I screwed in my little titanium cooker, placed my titanium mug on top and filled it with water ready to be heated, and then it hit me… I hadn’t brought a lighter! I had nothing to light my cooker. I’m not going to lie – my head went down, this was a tough pill to swallow and quite a learning curve. How had I forgotten this?!
After shouting at myself internally for about five minutes I started digging around in my pockets for what food I had left. Half of a squashed cheese sandwich, an energy bar, and a fresh bag of Haribo. Well I guess I was going to have to make this work. That sandwich, after all of the riding I had done that day, might of been the best tasting sandwiches I have ever eaten.
The physical exertion along with the excitement of my first Bikepacking trip was starting to take its toll and I could feel myself starting to yawn. The sun was going down and all I could hear was the birds. To say it was peaceful would be an understatement and I was looking forward to crawling into my sleeping bag and closing my eyes for the evening.
But before I could drift off to sleep I had to make sure I was prepared for tomorrow. The power bank came out along with the cables I needed, and the phone and Wahoo went on charge. The joys of modern technology!
I expected to be a little bit anxious about being in the middle of nowhere and leaving my bike out on its own outside. This anxiousness didn’t materialise though. I was at ease out there in the middle of nowhere and as happy as I was doing something I was very much enjoying, the last thoughts on my mind before I fell asleep were about missing my wife and my little boy.
I wasn’t just a Bikepacker, I was The Bikepacking Dad, and I realised just how lucky I was to be doing something I enjoyed with the support of my family.
Keep an eye out for the follow up blog entry covering the inbound journey. Spoiler alert – it was wet. Very wet.
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