I woke up about 7am to the sound of absolutely nothing. No cars, no people talking, no television or radio, and no jingle of a mobile phone. Perfect. I lay there for 5 or 10 minutes just enjoying the peace and quiet knowing I was in no rush to get up and get everything packed.
There was no hiding it though, there was definitely a chill in the air and I knew a new sleeping bag was on the shopping list. I had woken in the night and put on an extra layer or two just to keep the chill off. Thankfully my new favourite jacket (a Rab synthetic down hooded jacket) had kept me super toasty throughout the remainder of the night.
As I unzipped my tent and poked my head out I was greeted with a heavy, grey, overcast sky and a definite moistness in the air. That feeling of not being in a rush quickly disappeared because I knew I wanted to get packed up before the rain came! The tent came down first followed by all my sleeping kit getting packed away. I dressed in the warm clothes I had brought along including a longsleeved base layer and a longsleeved top. The rain was coming, it was just a matter of time.
Once the majority of my things were packed away I sat down for 10 minutes to enjoy some breakfast… A breakfast which consisted of an energy bar and some Haribo all washed down with some beautifully filtered water that I had collected the day before. Not an ideal start to my day but a problem of my own doing having not brought a lighter for my cooker. Yes, I was still beating myself up about this. That lesson had been learned the hard way.
The bike was all packed up and I was ready to go. I had a good look around my makeshift campsite just to double check I had not left anything behind. It made me happy to look at the space and see that it was fairly obvious no one would be able to tell I had been there. The idea of leaving no trace was a principal I really liked.
I pushed my bike out of the wooded area and back to the path that runs around the perimeter of Kielder water. Just as I was approaching the path a lady came walking towards me with her two dogs. It was still quite early in the morning and she definitely looked a little confused as to where I had come from and what I might have been doing. If she had asked I would have happily told her, but she didn’t. As she was still staring in my direction, and who wouldn’t with me wearing a pair of tight bib shorts, I smiled and said good morning. She smiled back politely but I could see on her face she thought I was a bit odd. Fair assessment I guess.
As soon as I was out of the trees the breeze felt a bit cooler and I could feel the drizzle coming in already. I switched on my fully charged Wahoo (just in case people don’t know the Wahoo is my bike computer) and whilst it loaded up I took my Endura race cape from my back pocket and popped it on. A highly recommended piece of kit that somehow, despite its weight and thinness, keeps out a lot of water and is a complete barrier to the wind.
Not one pedal stroke had happened yet and already I had my first problem. My return route was not loaded onto my Wahoo. It turns out my Komoot mapping privileges did not extend to the region I was in! Perfect, that was another thing I needed to add to the shopping list, especially if I was going to be going further afield on these trips. I looked at the offline map I had saved on my phone and decided I needed to head towards Kielder itself. Once I got onto that road I knew I could follow it back to Scotland, then it was just a case of following road signs until I knew where I was. Not quite as intended but it was all I could do.
Trying not to be too annoyed at myself I threw my leg over my bike and set off on my way. As it always does, the wind and the drizzle felt heavier and colder once I was moving on the bike. Even at that point it felt like it was going to be a long day of pedalling but I had to stay positive, you can’t let a little bit of bad weather and poor planning get in the way of the rest of your adventure I told myself.
I was probably only 5 to 6 miles into my ride when the rain really started coming down. It wouldn’t be an understatement if I called it torrential. My race cape had kept most of the water off my top half but my head, legs, shoes, socks, hands, and any other part of my body that wasn’t covered by the cape was well and truly soaked. It was pretty dark due to the rain but I had to keep my sunglasses on just so I could keep my eyes open. Occasionally a car would come in the opposite direction and I would glance inside just to see the occupants looking at me and wondering what the hell I was doing out there in that weather. Even I was beginning to wonder.
I had to stop and fill my water bottles up about 20 miles into my ride and thankfully there was plenty of running water around. I pushed my bike towards the stream and stood it up against a fence post. Water bottles in one hand and my water filtration bag in the other I walked down towards the streams edge. It was quite awkward to crouch down and fill the bag up and after about 20 seconds of struggling I realised my feet were already soaked through and so I stood in the stream instantly making my life a lot easier. Bottles filled I jumped back on my bike and got moving, I was far too cold to be standing around.
Finally, I came to the first big junction that had road signs with place names that I recognised. It was slow going considering the weather but I was getting there. I had emptied what Haribo I had left into a small top tube bag and every time I crested even the smallest of hills I treated myself to a sugary snack convincing myself I deserved it. Yeah, I definitely deserved it.
After a few more miles I stopped at the entrance to what looked like a gravel road that went up and over a hill. As I was trying to work my phone in the pouring rain, having little joy on the touchscreen, a local farmer pulled up alongside me on his quad bike. I explained what I was doing and where I had come from and asked him where the road went to. He told me it went over towards Bonchester Bridge and that was a place I had passed through on my way out. If I could get back there I knew I only had about 25 miles to get home. He said the gravel didn’t last too long and it turned into a field but by this point I was willing to try the shortcut. This was a stupid, energy sapping, mistake! After about three quarters of a mile, half of which where I had pushed my bike through thick mud in heavy rain, I decided to cut my losses and turn around. Back to the road it was. About 10 minutes later the same farmer passed me in the opposite direction on his quad bike. He smiled as he passed and shrugged his shoulders and I shrugged mine back at him. I felt like a right plonker.
The miles went by quite slowly and my Haribo reserves steadily came to an end. I reached Bonchester Bridge via road and continued to follow the signs that would take me back to Hawick. Local knowledge told me there was a Morrisons supermarket in Hawick but I didn’t have quite enough knowledge to know if it had a café or not. If it didn’t have a café when I first made Morrisons my food destination I’m pretty sure I willed one into existence with how desperate I was for a warm meal and a hot drink.
When I got to the front door of the supermarket I got off my bike and wheeled it straight inside. A member of staff looked at me and I was pretty sure they were going to tell me I couldn’t bring it in. After all, bike and rider were soaked and mud splattered. However, I smiled at them as best I could considering how cold and wet I was and I think they felt so sorry for me they just let me through. A friendly old lady greeted me at the café and told me I could stand my bike up by the window. She asked me what I wanted and I asked for the biggest breakfast they had and a large coffee. As I was paying, out the corner of my eye, I saw a selection of pastries and doughnuts. Somehow one of those doughnuts ended up on my tray…
Whilst I was waiting for my food to arrive I took off a few of my wet layers and draped them over a nearby radiator to try and dry them out before I jumped back on my bike. Breakfast arrived and shortly afterwards it was nowhere to be seen. I was full of hot food and coffee and only had about 20 miles until I was home. I could do this!
I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this sooner but I opened my seat pack and took out my winter gloves and skullcap hat. They were dry and warm and made a massive difference for the remainder of the journey. If only I had thought of this 25 miles ago I might’ve turned up at the supermarket a little bit warmer. Oh well, another lesson learned the hard way.
Now I was back on familiar roads the final few miles back towards home didn’t feel too bad. I was excited to see my wife and my little boy and I was also excited for a very long, hot, bubble bath. I know what you’re thinking – and no, not one bit of me is embarrassed about telling you that. Not after the 50 miles or so I had just ridden!
However, getting home was great but the trip wasn’t really over. I had bags to unpack, I had a bike to at least wipe down, and I had some very wet and smelly clothes that needed a good wash. Part of me considered leaving these jobs for later on in the day or even for the day after but the more I thought about it the more it made sense just to get it done. No half measures, no putting off the miserable and boring bits, just getting the job done so that when it came to pack for my next trip everything was ready to go and in good shape. My future self will thank me for this I thought.
With everything neatly packed away, my wet smelly clothes in the wash, all that was left to do was to air out my tent, my sleeping bag and sleeping mat, and wipe my bike down. Trip completed. Bubble bath here I come!
All in all it had only been a small overnight trip. A little taster, a starter, an introduction, into what was going to be my new favourite hobby – Bikepacking.
Had I enjoyed it? Yes, definitely. Had I already learned some very important lessons? Yes, very much so. Did I need to do some shopping in preparation for my next outing? Indeed I did. Would I be doing it again? Of course I would be!
Even though it had only been a small trip the sense of achievement I felt made me feel quite proud. I might have only been 50 miles from my house but the route that took me those 50 miles was the route less travelled by many others. I had seen some places that not many people had seen, some views that not many others had gazed upon, and ridden my bike along some trails that rarely saw a bike.
The Bikepacking Dad was born and it was time to start planning trip number two. After a little bit of online shopping of course…
I hope you have enjoyed the two parts that documented my first Bikepacking trip. My goal was for it to be informative, slightly amusing hopefully, and to be an honest and genuine account of my first time Bikepacking.
We all have to start somewhere and there’s always a first time for everything. Don’t let the unknown or the lack of experience put you off trying something new. That doesn’t just go for Bikepacking but that’s applicable to everything. You’ll never know until you try it!
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