Readers of my Facebook page, with its episodes of valve of the week (TM) and selections of Ice-Cream van bells will have joined a growing body of people who have come to the conclusion that I need to Get Out More. In which case, they will be pleased to know that in the coming week, this is exactly what I propose to do. The means will be one of my all-too-occasional long-distance bike journeys. Time was, that I had to blog about these trips on return from the journey, but in these days of 3G mobile phones and iPads, it is now possible for me to do a day-by-day blog. Quite why I like blogging them, I’m not sure, but these trips tend to stand out in my memory years later, so it’s pleasing to be able to record the experience.
To add a certain level of excitement to anyone who ends up following the episodes, I will not reveal my journey plans in advance, although I will give some basic information: the trip will run from tomorrow (Monday) until the evening of Friday, when I will need to have arrived at my final destination. If for some reason this doesn’t happen, that will be something of A Problem, as I have booked train tickets back for me and my bike from the nearest train station. This adds a certain level of anxiety to offset the risk of any sense of being too laid-back.
For this blog, I will simply give some background to these journeys and my two-wheeled companion on the trip. I have been doing these journeys, on and off, since I was about twenty, when I first fell in love with the idea of travelling long journeys under my own steam on a bike. The first couple of these were on a horrific halfords el-cheapo steel framed bike, which I’d bought for about £5 second-hand at a local second-hand shop. The frame was much too small for me and the panniers were cheap, old and nasty. I also insisted on carrying an overweight tent with me, as a backup, in case youth hostels were full. In this manner, I cycled several times from Manchester to Swansea, usually following roughly the route of the A49, using back-roads where possible. It must have been cripplingly painful, looking back, but at that age, you tend to put up with the results of your own follies and lack of foresight, learning the lessons of life as you go along.
My companion on this journey is my beloved tourer, bought in 1987. The frame was made by British Eagle, which in those days were making some rather high-end frames. It cost me £600, which today would be the equivalent of about £2000. The frame is made of steel-alloy, Reynolds 531ST double-butted tubing. Over the years, however – and especially about three years ago – it has been subject to major refits and upgrades. It currently has a Shimano 105 transmission, but I have eschewed the whole groupset. I have retained the old gear lever position on the downtube, and therefore use traditional brake leavers on the handlebars. The front wheel is the original – Mavic rims on a Maillard hub. The saddle is an old-school Brookes B17 Narrow, which long ago either molded itself to my bottom, or vice versa. It makes for a relaxing, comfortable ride. The geometry of the frame is interesting: it was marketed as a “Touristique” tourer, but the angles are somewhat tighter than, say, a Dawes Galaxy. Normally, I run it without carrier, but with mudguards, and the nearest modern equivalent would be a frame designed for Audax riding.
I have spend the past few days, popping into bike shops to do a bit of maintenance before setting off. I’ve forked out about £70 on new tyres, going to town on some Schwalbe Marathon Pluses. Everything I’ve heard from them suggest that they are highly puncture resistent, which is what you want when you are on a long ride over some occasionally rough surfaces and don’t particularly want to waste time with punctures. Time will prove whether this was a good investment.
Tomorrow’s distance is set to be about 44 miles. I’m starting with a train journey, largely to keep Day 1’s distance within reasonable limits. I haven’t done any significant extra training for this, so experience suggests starting easy and working upwards would be a wise move. When I get to the end of the first day, if time and connectivity allow, I’ll tell the day’s story. The weather for the coming week isn’t particularly promising, with some rain forecast for most areas. I’ve usually been amazingly lucky on my long rides (except those I’ve done in midwinter) but resilience is part of the game, so if it’s wind and rain, so be it.