I`m not convinced about the title “adventure”. I think it gets thrown around all too easily these days in a lazy attempt to make a fairly normal activity like cycling or walking sound more exciting for the reader, or even just to boost the ego of the rider and make him/her feel like a true outdoor hero.
The actual truth is, this wasn’t an adventure, it was just a long bike ride split over two days, with a camp out in between. That doesn`t make it any less exciting, interesting, or challenging. It just means I am not trying to make out that it was something akin to scaling Everest or getting lost in the Amazon Jungle. At no point was I near starvation, death or even mild peril !
I first got interested in the idea of bikepacking a couple of years ago, probably like most people, through watching those awe inspiring videos on YouTube about races like The Tour Divide, or The Trans Continental. The ideas bubbled away in my mind for a while until I got interested in gravel bikes. Then it was only a matter of time before I jumped right in as the two things are fairly synonymous.
The last multi day bike tour I did was at the age of 16. Once our GCSE exams had finished, myself and two of my mates chucked a two man, steel poled ridge tent (it was the 80`s) and some sleeping bags on our bikes and took off across Wales to Newquay, where we camped for a few days before heading back. Life was simpler back then, and I am amazed looking back at how care free we were. There was minimal (if any) planning and our kit was so basic and cheap that I am surprised we survived. All we had was a road atlas and some cash to find our way, but you know what? We survived, we found our way, and had a right laugh in the process.
Fast forward 30 years and life is very different. I obsessed over every detail of this trip and the equipment I would carry. Hours were spent starring at online maps. I now know every type and make of bikepacking bag on the market. Sleeping bags, tents, stoves, every minute detail was meticulously researched and obsessed over. Those carefree days of being a teenager are long gone. They have been replaced with a 40 something, middle management desire to mitigate all risk and prepare for every eventuality.
As this trip was to be a dry run/kit test for bigger rides I wanted to carry the sort of gear I would on a longer ride. Here is my kit list (notable emission is the sleeping bag which had been lost in transit by Hermes. The morning of the trip I raced into town and picked up a Mountain Warehouse Extreme Lightweight Down bag for half price)
- Down Jacket
- Fire Maple Stove and gas
- Food – Super noodles, M&M`s, Coffee Bags, Snickers x2, Porridge, Mug Shot pasta.
- Tent – Naturehike Lightweight 1 man
- Microfibre towel
- Sleeping Mat
- Toolkit – Blackburn wayside multitool, Squirt lube, tyre levers, patches, spare tube, zip ties, inside bamboo tube – spare link, tyre boot, tubeless bacon strips, emergency five pound note. All stored in a 76 Projects dry bag and mounted on 76 Projects Piggy mount.
- Anker 22000mha battery back and charging cables
- Lights – Bobby Dazzler battery bank front, basic rear light.
- Wahoo Bolt
- First aid kit
- Wash kit
- Digital pressure gauge
- Thermal socks for sleeping
- Chamois Crème
- Wooly hat
- Arm Warmers
- Flip Flops
- Spare base layer
- Spare riding socks
- Windproof gilet
- Waterproof riding jacket
- Shorts for off the bike
- Thermal underwear for sleeping
When packing this lot up I decided to drop the following.
Digital pressure gauge
Spare Base Layer
Pod Sacs Saddle bag (11ltr)
Contains – sleeping bag, spare clothes and stove.
Restrap Frame Bag (small)
Contains – food, cutlery, wash kit, tea and coffee.
Blackburn Outpost Top Tube Bag
Contains – Anker charger and cables, trail snacks, headtorch.
Lotus Explorer Front Roll Bag (8.8ltr)
Contains – Tent, Footprint, Sleeping mat, first aid kit, towel.
Wanting to stay within bail out distance of home (there`s that middle aged desire for control again) I decided to catch a train to Shrewsbury and ride back to Hereford using as much off-road trails as possible. The total distance was 78 miles taking in a couple of accents of The Long Mynd along the way.
I have since extended this route to cover Shrewsbury to Newport. Details can be found on my routes page soon.
To me there is nothing more boring than reading every minute detail of someone else’s ride. So, I will spare you the detailed description of every inch of trail, every up, down and turn along the way. Instead here are are some of my highlights amongst a brief description of the trip.
Shrewsbury is quite a busy place when the sun is shining, so I was glad to find my way out of the city and onto the quite country lanes and bridleways that would take me south and up onto The Long Mynd. This is an old favourite of mine that I used to ride 15 years ago when I lived in Stourbridge and Bridgnorth. After descending the Carding Mill Valley into Church Stretton I topped up with supplies from the local shops and stopped of at The Green Dragon for a lovely Bacon, Brie and Cranberry sandwich with a side of chips.
Next was the climb of Minton Bach (on a full stomach). This is better known as one of the best natural singletrack descents around, but in my planning I had decided to try it as a climb. The lower slopes were fine, but the top half of the climb was hike a bike with a fully loaded bike. It was worth it though as the views from the top of the low sun over towards the Welsh hills in the west was stunning. The following decent off the hill with the setting sun was one the best things I’ve done on a bike – just stunning!
Next mission was to find somewhere to pitch up the tent. Being new to wild camping, and a little anxious about being on my own I found this very hard. Every time I thought there was a suitable spot, it would be to close to a road, house, trail or just not flat enough to pitch. I kept riding on and on and daylight was starting to run out on me.
Eventually just as the last remnants of the suns rays were disappearing into darkness I found a field alongside the trail I was riding. It was atop a hill and had views out across the valley to the hills far in the distance. Better still it could not be seen from any houses or roads. I quickly setup, made a brew and got into my sleeping bag.
This was the second highlight of the trip. As I sat in my sleeping bag, drinking hot tea, and watching the super blood moon rise over the hills in the distance, it was a pretty magical moment and a scene I will remember for a long time.
At around 11pm I was awoken by the sound of a Land Rover driving along the track on the other side of the hedge. This made me nervous about camping here without permission and thoughts of being asked to leave while looking down the barrel of a disgruntled farmers shotgun were entering my head. I lay still in my tent waiting to hear the footsteps outside.
Luckily they didn’t come, but it was enough to put me on edge for the rest of the night and stop me from sleeping.
At 5am I decided it was best to get up, pack up and carry on riding. It took me another 30 minutes to get out of my cosy sleeping bag and out into the dark to pack up.
I was back on the trail by 6am, lights on and heading to Ludlow to find breakfast. I arrived in Ludlow after an hours riding, just in time to see the castle light up with the rising sun. I don’t think I have ever watched the sun set on one day and rise the next day while riding my bike. This was highlight number three.
Google maps provided the goods in the form of a 24 hour garage on the outskirts of town just a short detour for hot food and coffee.
Feeling a lot happier after breakfast I retraced my steps back to the Castle and set about the long climb up into Mortimer’s Forest. Another cracking view half way up over the town and castle provided a midway rest point.
The rest of the ride, covered more back country lanes, bridleways, stunning views and forest before being spat out back into reality at Mortimer’s Cross. From here it was a long road slog to get back to Hereford.
The route to this point (Mortimers Cross) had been stunning, and proved that you don’t need big country for some great riding and scenery, there is plenty of it right on my doorstep.
I am now hungry for more bikepacking riding (note the absence of the word adventure 🙂 ). The route is great and I am going to work on extending it to run from Shrewsbury right down to Newport. This should make a three/four day trip packed full of great riding, big views and great scenery.
Check out my routes page soon for full details of the ride and a downloadable gps file.