Once the United Kingdom, along with the rest of the world was put on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic, everything in my world stopped. I was about to begin a new job, a job that would have been a big step up in my career and opened many doors in the future. Once lockdown was announced. The contract was canceled. Limbo, my friends, a great big pile of limbo.
My former employer, whom I worked with for nearly three years didn’t want to know. They refused me any help, refused to re-employ me and put me on furlough which would have cost the company nothing. All in all, a pretty big kick in the face for me following years of hard work and putting my heart into the company and watching it grow.
My studies within the industry continue. I am currently undertaking a Historic Building Conservation Degree course. I had coursework due, so on top of all the news encapsulating the world, the news of global death tolls reaching my eyes and ears everyday, world governments seemingly more interested in saving and/or making money rather than saving lives, I became increasingly despondent and completing my coursework was a task on its own.
On top of all this, living in London, my closest family member of my immediate family was around 300 miles away. For three months my only contact was text and video calls and whilst I am in no doubt that this is better than nothing, It was, and has been a hard time.
I completed all my coursework on time and decided it was time to leave London. There was nothing keeping me here now. I have been applying for work and have been contacted on numerous occasions but the building industry is slow to start and more specifically, the historic building industry and the prominent buildings I work on. There is enough red tape surrounding the jobs now with social distancing that you could wrap christmas presents for a lifetime. So, until I got something concrete (pun intended) I decided to go home.
Komoot was my app of choice this time. Following the success on my recent trip to The White Cliffs of Dover, I decided to only use this app. I chose a start point, my house in London and an end point. My family home in the Yorkshire Dales. I then delved deep into the route and adapted to suit my riding. I wanted gravel and single track, villages and towns not main roads and cities. It didn’t take me long. Alongside Komoot, I use a Wahoo ROAM. This alone has opened up my riding to more adventure. If I veer off track the ROAM will automatically route you back which is a game changing feature and one I use on every ride.
It was then a waiting game for the great British weather to give me the go ahead. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long and the next weekend it looked ideal. The day before setting off I shopped for some essentials, cereal bars, energy gels, cup-a-soups and anything light and small that would give me sustainable energy on the road. Then it was the bike’s turn, handlebar bag, frame bag, seat post bag and cargo bags loaded and full. I was ready.
3:30 am the next day my alarm woke me up from a deep sleep in my London bedroom, the house is dark and eerie, everyone was asleep, I crept downstairs to get a final feed. Porridge with fruit and yogurt and a fresh coffee. I double checked the bike, I triple checked the bike, I attached the lights and the wahoo, I squeezed the tires for the 50th time that morning. I could have forgotten something but the sun is coming up, I check the weather, maybe showers, should I wait? I stop myself making excuses and leave the house. I complete the hardest mile, the doorstep mile. I roll down the road, Yorkshire here I come.
My route out of London was a delight. Away from the roads, I followed the canals paths North-West from my house. I had no idea this was possible. This is why I chose an application like Komoot, they have somehow managed to gain enough data from around the world to ensure you only ride the surfaces you want to. Pretty bloody good if you ask me.
It was early morning, a faint fog lingered on the rolling canal, sporadic fisherman lined the bank hoping to catch something to brag about. I raced passed on the gravel, the sun was breaking through and it felt good to be back on the bike with an adventure ahead.
I reached Buckinghamshire. the sky changed, the sun had different thoughts now as it hid behind the darkening clouds. The smell of damp gravel and grass filled the air. I smelt the rain was coming. I emerged from a canal path and looked to my left. Apocalyptic cloud formations ahead, time to get the jacket on.
Reaching the historic village of Chenies in the Chiltern District of England, I was just in time. The village famous for its royal history, notably where both King Edward I and King Edward II were known to have resided, was now my emergency residence. The sky filled and poured with rain, I took shelter in the bus stop. Was this going to last all day? I hoped not. I had a cereal bar and some water and looked at the buildings. Beautiful brickwork lined the streets. I wonder what the Edwards’ would say if they saw me now?
Continuing on through Buckinghamshire and onto another sleepy town, this time Winslow, a farmers market kept the locals entertained. I sat and enjoyed my second coffee of the day. A strange mix of 50’s blues music and “buy one get on free’” noise encompassed the market. I sat and watched the world go by enjoying how utterly bizarre it was.
Stowe School, just outside of Winslow was established in 1923 is a private boarding school. A building designed very much with Palladio in mind is now cared for by the National Trust along with the school board. Sir Richard Branson was schooled here. Unfortunately, you are not normally allowed to take bikes into the grounds, but on this occasion, as I was passing through and I am assuming due to the pandemic, very few staff manned the gate. I peddled on. I had a lovely bike ride, took some pictures, got some questionable looks from onlookers and continued on my journey.
It was getting to that time of the day now, I had put down some good opening miles so I decided that once I found a good spot I would begin shut down for the day. It was then, just outside a town called Kelmarsh, I found the tunnels.
The first, approximately a mile long carved under the road and through the rock face, large enough to fit pedestrians and bikes and maybe a single car but nothing more. Filled with darkness. Not the kind of darkness you get when you close your curtains, this was pitch black. Entering the tunnel all you can see is the exit at the other side. The exit, the size of my little finger at this point was the only source of light. Realising this, I reached to turn my front light on, nope. The light was gone, I must have lost it during the single track riding. I just had to go for it, hoping for the best.
My legs progressed tentatively, my senses alert to every small bump on the gravel floor, I could hear people but couldn’t see them. The musty atmosphere seemed never ending. I can only compare it to a rollercoaster, flying blindly into a tunnel when you have no idea what is coming next. However, at least on these you have some resemblance of safety. My hearing flattened, the hairs on my arms stood up, my face became tense. I had no option but to go towards to light. I pushed forward focusing on the light coming towards me, slowly growing with every push. The bike was shaking, or was that me? I continued. The exit came and a let out a sigh of relief.
Riding a further couple of miles along the cycle way, I came to the second. I stopped at the entrance. I took a breath and rode in, immediately surrounded by darkness, my eyes raced to catch up with my brain, my hands squeeze the handlebars and my legs turn slowly. Voices at the end, people with small lights approaching and the sound of dripping from the rock above. I press on, bumping up and down with every undulation. Emerging from the end, I prized my hands from my handlebars and let out a sigh of relief.
Thinking back to these now, it was an amazing experience! Sure, riding with lights would have been a good idea, a safe idea, but where is the fun in that.
I pushed on for a few more hours, metally rejuvenated from the tunnels. The wind was really starting to pick up now. Everytime I turned towards the West I was exposed to the blistering head winds. My legs were telling me to stop. I found a field and camped. As my tent fought with the wind, the sheep in the neighboroughing field heard the commotion and came to watch. I closed my eyes. It had been a great day.
View the ride.
The wind didn’t stop all night, I woke up shifting in my sleeping bag wishing for a couple of hours of peace. Like a proud father, I patted the wall of the tent and thanked it for keeping me warm(ish). I got up and made food around 4am. Back on the road at 5am. I was excited for what the day had in store. Yesterday was up there with my favourite days bikepacking.
Leaving my field hostel for the night I was gifted with another glorious sunrise. Standing in awe looking down the valley I had to capture the moment.
Much like my first day I didn’t have any targets, as I didn’t have an in depth route planned, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself. I wanted to experience the ride. This, thankfully is exactly what I did. The route took me once again along canal towpaths and through fields. The only indication of the trail highlighted by the gaps in the growing corn.
After pressing north for some time, I reached woodland. A lot of woodland, in fact, I reached Sherwood Forest. Famous for its historic association with Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve encompasses 423.2 hectares (1,046 acres). Reportedly, the forest attracts over 350,000 people each year from around the world and thankfully, given the recent situation that number was significantly lower today.
The winding tracks in and out of the trees spark the brain into action, bird song fills the air, the trees battling with the winds above me seem to be attempting to blow England over to Europe (if only). Thousands of wildflowers burst into life on either side of my wheels, the floor crunching with every rotation.
I take it in, I devour the moment like it’s my last, I stop to take pictures. I look around and wonder what it must have been like to discover this place, unknowing of your surroundings or the outside world. I imagine the thought process behind writing the story Robin Hood and if I was on the same paths as they once, figuratively stood. Simply magical!
It wasn’t long before I had reached a town situated horizontal on the map to Doncaster. All day I had been enjoying the ride and now, my mindset changed. It was 3 or 4 pm and by my calculations (Bare in mind, I left school with no GCSE’s) I figured if I pushed on I may be able to reach my Dad’s house which is just outside of Harrogate, by the end of the day. The thought excited me! I haven’t seen my Dad for months, he has had a hard time during the lockdown also, due to his pre-existing condition called COPD he is on the ‘At Risk’ register in England and has been self isolation for over 130 days, on his own. I called my dad and told him my plans, he sounded tired and surprised. I wasn’t supposed to arrive for another day.
Excited by the thought of a warm place to sleep and a pizza my legs came back to life, thumping down on the pedals I started to see more and more street signs I recognised from my childhood. I was nearly home.
I reached my Dad’s house around 7:30 pm that evening. It was a special moment to see him and to see him so happy. I ditched the bike and jumped in the shower. Once out a pizza was already in the oven. I slept well that night.
View the ride.
The next morning feeling refreshed I was safe in the knowledge that I would reach my family home with most of the day to spare. I have ridden harder and further than I had before in the past couple of days leaving only 40 miles to my final destination.
I waved to my Dad as he stood on the doorstep and pressed on, crossing the bridge over the Nidd Gorge and headed north, finally into the Yorkshire Dales. If you have ridden this area before you will know that a short 40 mile ride is never a short 40 mile ride. The Yorkshire Dales has hills. On top of these hills, there are hills and below these hills, there are hills. It is stunningly brutal. Villages built from local sandstone line my route and vistas of farmland, as far as the eye can see. Colours seem to be more vibrant here. Maybe it’s the air, the lack of pollution, maybe I was just excited to be home. Maybe I was just tired, it is beautiful.
I reached my destination exactly at 10 am. I was ready for a rest and to my shame left the bike in the garage untouched. It was amazing to see more of my family away from a computer screen.
View the ride.
Once again, I had planned the ride to be longer than it was, Initially I planned an extra day. I need to change my mindset and stop underestimating myself. I now know that I can ride 100-150 miles a day quite easy and in comfort.
There are a few things I need to change on the bike, new lights and maybe a different handlebar set up. On my person there are various kit changes that are needed. My shorts are growing holes, my jerseys are seen many many miles.
Until I can source an income these things will have to wait.
For now, it’s about the adventure. Smiles over miles.
Ride by the numbers
23.97 Hours of Riding
16,243 ft Elevation
If you have any questions, leave a comment below.