Updated: Nov 9, 2020
I could present you with a carefully curated version of events in my blog. I could miss out all of the fuck up’s and give you an edited view of continual success on my rides. But what’s the point? Social media is already full of fictionalised lives. I prefer instead to be honest, partly because as said before, this blog started as a diary for me and partly because perhaps there's value in you learning how not to do things at someone else expense.
I have a new maxim: all night rides on unknown roads are adventures. In fact, even familiar roads become unfamiliar if you ride them in the pitch black with only a headlight to show you the way. I wanted another adventure and I wanted to banish the memory of my failed bivvy attempt during the summer. Realistically I had little time left this year to do this with the combination of colder, wetter weather and COVID enforced restrictions coming into play, so I decided to head out on Friday night after work and spend a night wild camping before riding home the next day. I didn’t need to go far, just somewhere new, so I picked out a 170km round trip into Shropshire using Komoot. I had also found a spot which someone else had helpfully marked as safe for wild camping and was planning to use my new one-man tent - there’s no way I was going to bivvy at this time of the year. (Note wild camping is illegal in England so I am not suggesting you copy this).
By the time I had finished getting dressed and packing my bike it had started raining. Standing in my garage, I had a moment of doubt about going, but helpfully my wife has painted the words “If not now, when?” on the concrete floor of the area she is turning into a gym. At the other end of the small square space she has marked out she has painted “HTFU” (look it up if you don’t already know or better still watch this video - warning contains swearing). The woman is prescient. It’s like she thinks two weeks ahead of me and plans for my moments of mental weakness. So rain and cold or not, I set off towards Shropshire.
I have grown to really enjoy riding at night, especially if I am out on country lanes with little or no traffic. There’s something about the silence and the limited view that makes you feel like you are in your own little world. There are downsides though: I ride slower because I can’t see that far down the road, it’s harder to navigate because you can miss turns and it’s easy to miss potholes and other obstacles in the road. All of that means you have to concentrate and can’t really afford to switch off. Even so, within 30 minutes of setting off, I was enjoying myself. As the light was fading my headlight was picking out patches of dark and light tarmac where the tree cover had kept the road dry. The trouble is, that frequently this made the road look like there was a corner ahead, making me slow down which didn’t bother me at first, but became an issue when I was racing against the clock later on.
As ever my Garmin found new and inventive ways to piss me off, this time signalling turns for corners that didn’t exist and missing ones that did. I counted 8 separate times when Garmin missed a turning in the first three hours. At one point, I rode up and down a 50m stretch under a bridge looking for a path that simply wasn’t there. This eventually turned out to be a pathway up on the bridge and I had to climb up a steep wooded bank to get up on to it, pushing the bike in front of me and eventually launching it over the lip at the top because I kept losing my footing. You might say that I’m the one who planned the route so it’s my fault, but it's very hard to inspect every metre of a route on a computer screen and spot every twist and turn. Still, there has to be a better on-bike computer than my Garmin 520. If nothing else it will save late-night dog walkers from being startled by a middle-aged bloke shouting 'for fuck’s sake!’ and turning his bike around in the middle of a path.
At one point somewhere in Worcestershire, my path was blocked by a police car with the officer inside insisting that I had to take an alternative route. The thought of trying to navigate my way in the dark on unknown roads was was not great and I pleaded with him to be let down the road. Apparently, there was an unnamed incident ahead. When he heard where I was going he said: “Blimey you’re miles away”. Well yeah, exactly my point. He waved me through as did his colleagues at the scene of a mysterious incident and at the other end of the road, but I was none the wiser about why they were guarding a 500m stretch of road with nothing in sight. As I rode around the next corner though, something touched my arm and freaked me out. Not a light touch of something flying but a definite long touch and it caused me to lurch to left and almost into a hedge. I stopped and discovered it was a telephone cable that had come loose and was dangling between the two poles diagonally across the road. ‘By the way sir, look out for the black cable dropped across the road at head height’ would have been helpful.
Navigation errors, phantom corners and police assistance had slowed me down far more than expected and I found myself racing to reach the last petrol station that was open in Bewdley at 10 pm to buy some food and water. I reached it with two minutes to spare, treating myself to a dinner of a stale cheese and ham sandwich, a snickers bar and a coffee while sitting on the forecourt. Glamorous sounding eh… The pub opposite emptied 5 minutes later, spewing out a load of pissed up teenagers who were most amused by the middle-aged bloke sitting alone nursing a Costa coffee cup. That if nothing else spurred me to get up and carry on. I was supposed to be riding through the Wyre Forest just outside the town and onto to my stopping point. Sadly my headlight battery ran out 200m into the forest and it was time for a rethink. I had a backup light of course, but this was about as helpful as a used glow stick the morning after a festival, lighting up my front wheel and little else.
I needed to find somewhere to pitch my tent quickly, but it turned out to be tougher than expected to find a flat spot in the dark, away from the road, with barely any light. I eventually rode another 3km before spotting flat ground near a wooden bench. Much more in the open than I was hoping for but beggars can’t be choosers. Now you might think that getting a new tent three hours before you are due to travel and only putting it up in your front room was a stupid thing to do, but in fact, it turned out to be idiot proof. It was up in 7 minutes and within 10 I was inside ready to sleep. Three hours later I was still awake. This time it was not barking deer or the rustling of insects in the leaves, it was the cold that kept me awake. What a surprise, it’s cold outdoors in October. After putting on all of my dry clothes, I did eventually sleep and woke up around 6 am.
With only a few hours sleep I decided to go for a shorter route home. Plus my jersey was still soaking wet from the night before, but thank goodness I had taken a dry base layer and had my down jacket to wear on the return ride. Having been recharged overnight, my Garmin decided that today would be a good day to mess me about, but first, it lulled me into a false sense of security by working perfectly for a whole hour. Spotting its opportunity for mischief the Garmin decided to tell me I was off course while riding in a straight line. I stopped and consulted the route on Komoot. Then on the Garmin app on my phone. I rebooted my Garmin. Nothing. I was still off course. I rode a little further, but still, the Garmin warning sound went off. I was following a straight line on a screen how is this possible? I stopped again, dropped my gloves and some pancakes left over from breakfast then almost fell over my own bike. Where the fuck am I? I shouted to no one in particular. I opened google maps on my phone and I kid you not I was standing in a place called Bell End. If it had a voice, my Garmin would have laughed out loud. Only at this point did it occur to me that I had planned the route the wrong way around and that although I could see the route on the screen, the Garmin was trying to take me back to Bewdley. Bell End indeed.
The combination of crappy sleep, cold and childish temper tantrums had taken all the fun out of the ride and so I was eternally grateful that Mrs B had ridden out to meet me at halfway at a cafe. The remaining 35km was easy because I had company and was distracted. There were also beautiful views on a section of a canal of the way home which always cheers me up.
Nevertheless by the time I got home I was so knackered I went back to bed after my shower and lunch. Still, I had set out to do what I had planned (after a fashion) so I have decided to count this as a successful trip. The chances of me trying another overnighter before the spring seem limited though. However, just this one trip has delivered some valuable lessons:
I need an inflatable pillow
I need a better sleep mat more appropriate for a heavier gentleman
I really should be able to figure out how guy ropes work properly
If I don’t drink enough and particularly drink electrolytes and then sleep on the hard ground I will end up with cramp. everywhere.
Taking along dry kit to change into was a really good idea
The Wyre Forest is really beautiful and I will go back for a ride during the day sometime soon
I need an alternative to Garmin for turn by turn directions before I lose my patience and throw it into a field somewhere