Heading for Wales!
I’m woken by the sound of birds swearing at each other. It’s 4am. I only drifted off to sleep about 90 minutes ago but, like the birds, I’m wide awake now. Different birds awake at different times, creating a layering effect; as time passes there are more and more layers of birdsong. Then, gradually the sound of commuter tyres on the tarmac of Darlington starts to permeate the spaces in between. It’s weird how you don’t notice the silence til it’s gone.
Shortly after, my 8am alarm goes off. Finally! Now I’m not worried about sleeping through the alarm I can relax. I instantly fall asleep.
It’s 10.30am when consciousness finally invades my dreams. I’m dreaming that I’m riding through the dales but my conscious mind wishes to remind me that the actual driving needs to be undertaken; I’m already behind schedule due to yesterday’s late departure.!
I break camp, have an oatmeal pancake (I came prepared) and a tin of Mackerel in spicy tomato sauce, then start loading the Ape up. Last night’s weather forecast was way off the mark; it’s a glorious day and I’ve worked up a sweat loading everything onto the bike. I’m just experimenting with mounting the Solar Gorilla to the the top of my roll bag, so I can recharge my laptop, when a traffic policeman drives by in a Fiat van. I think nothing of it but then, moments later, he comes back in the opposite direction and pulls in behind me.
I figure I might be in trouble for camping without a license or something but it turns out that he suspects my number plate doesn’t meet legal requirements. I plead innocent, and rightly so: I haven’t modified the reg – it came like that – plus, I have a part time job working night shift at a Co-Op store and deal with traffic cops all the time, not one of them has ever mentioned a problem with my bike plates.
He’s a nice guy, he lets me off with a warning and advice to get the plate changed at my earliest convenience.
So, with a slight adrenaline spike, I set off. It’s not long before I’m through Richmond, lapping up the flowing curves and rolling green hills of the Yorkshire Dales and into Hawes, where I stop for photo opportunities as this is the hub of the Bike8 route. Penny Garth Cafe is overflowing with bikers on such a fine afternoon (yes, it’s well after midday by this point), so I nip into the Chippie Cafe to refill my Camelbak with water from the bathroom taps. The bladder ends up overflowing, making a mess of the floor, so I hastily mop it up with loo roll and beat a quick retreat.>
The countryside on the way in to Hawes was beautiful but the roads were too much fun to stop and take pictures, so I try and make up for it by snapping a few shots from one of the many hills of Hawes. The village is filled with retiree’s in shorts and a few of them regale me with a list of better places to take my camera nearby – apparently there are a lot of waterfalls in the area. Alas, I haven’t the time to explore, I have to make up yesterday’s missed mileage…
From here on out, most of the day involves snaking back and forth across the Pennines and the Peak District (are they the same thing? They seem interchangeable on the tourist signs). With the weather in my favour, I’m more confident on these twitchy switchbacks and steep climbs, punctuated by long queues of cars, stuck behind a lorry,or a horse & cart, or a cyclist. I make small work of these hold ups but their very frequency – added to the natural caution that comes with riding unfamiliar roads, means I’m not making as much progress as I’d like.
Still, I’m enjoying myself immensely, despite the fact that, for every hour I ride, the Zumo seems to add 15mins to my estimated arrival time. The Peak district seems to have a lot of reservoirs; I stop to photograph a few;:Ribblesdale, Buxton? I forget.
As I’m leaving Buxton and wondering why they’ve reduced the speed limit to 50mph, I run foul of a massive gouge in the road – right in the middle of a sweeping left hand corner, exactly on the line you want to take! The bike is cranked pretty far over and the suspension on this thing is badly in need of an overhaul (if not outright replacement) but it’s too late now; I’m committed to the line. I cope with the pothole okay but, just as I think I’m safe, the loose chippings that’ve come out of the hole, cause the rear wheel to lose traction and I have to straighten up quickly. Doing so puts me on the wrong side of the road for a few har-raising seconds.
Luckily there’s no oncoming traffic and I live to tell the tale (it’s all part of the ‘adventure’ you know).
Eventually I’m off the badly surfaced Peaks and onto more acceptable surfaces. Unfortunately, these roads are all urban areas or congested A-roads (I arrive just in time for rush hour, which seems to last for about 3hrs on a Friday), so I can’t enjoy them as much as I’d like to. I’m focussed on getting to the bottom of Wales though, my Sat-Nav started the day telling me I’d get there for 6.30pm but now it reckons I’ll be there for 10.30pm.
Spoiler alert: I’m not going to make it that far today.
I stop off at the Co-Op in Congleton for refreshments (Pepsi-Max and tinned Mackerel, thank you) and to reassess the situation. Finally I figure out a way to pack the bike that brings the weight more in line with how it should be, which will make a big difference to how confident I can be on the twisties. The New Plan is to make sure I reach Wales, anywhere in Wales, before 8.30pm; which is when I need to start thinking about hanging up and bedding down for the night.
The New Plan proves to be much more realistic and I’m waving Hello to the ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign in no time. For some reason though, things start to go wrong as soon as I hit Wales; the clouds start to gather heavily above; the Sena Bluetooth Headset runs out of battery power; I make a fool of myself when I stop to fill up at the petrol station (Pay at Pump?! What’s that? I’m from The North you know); then, while stopped at a red light, I want to lift my flip-lid and somehow it just crumbles apart in my hand! I only bought this on Wednesday and it wasn’t cheap, now it’s ruined! [Contrary to what I’ve written in my packing list post, I couldn’t get hold of a white, flip-lid Reevu in time, so I paid the same amount for an HJC R-FA Max instead. It’s an incredibly light helmet but it now seems as if that’s the case because they’ve used cheap, fragile parts].
The busted helmet is still wearable, for now, and it’s pushing 8pm, so I press on. The time I would normally spend looking for a good stand of trees, to sling my hammock from, is spent instead, navigating urban areas, road works and ‘The highest village in Wales’.
Then, all of a sudden, the roads turn into awesomesauce. Flowing curves are strung together in a seemingly endless combination; this is the first time that the Garmin has depicted the route as a squiggly line rather than a series of straights connected by (albeit challenging) corners. It’s still light, I don’t want to stop but it’s 9pm and soon it’ll be too dark to set up camp easily. I try going off-route to look for a spot and end up stuck on a one-track road going in the wrong direction. Forget this; I’ll just keep to the route and keep enjoying it, something will turn up.
In the nick of time, something does turn up: a lay-by set safely off the road with a forest of I-have-no-idea-what-these-trees-are-called cresting a hill behind it. Unfortunately, that means I have to stop. If nothing else, I’d like to charge the intercom/headset so I can continue listening to the soundtrack from American Beauty as I ride. I hope the rest of the Welsh route is as good as this last bit was, because I really need to cover some ground tomorrow – and I’d like it to be that much fun.