Unpacking why

In which I explore why I am planning to cycle around Wales

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This post was originally published on Substack on 19 April 2022. At that time, I was trying out the idea of a newsletter. I have subsequently discovered that it is really difficult to write on Substack on a mobile phone, so I have decided to migrate the content over to my blog.

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Why am I planning to cycle around Wales? Honestly, I don’t remember where the idea came from and I don’t know why it stuck. What I know is that it has become an itch that I feel the need to scratch.

I currently have four possible explanations, all of which are true to some extent.

  1. I am Welsh
  2. I like riding bicycles
  3. I needed a goal
  4. I’ve been locked down for too long

I am Welsh

I was born and raised in Rhyl in North Wales. “Sunny Rhyl” as it is often called.

I can’t be alone in thinking that anything that needs to include an adjective in the title is generally not to be trusted. The “Quality Inn” is almost certainly not a five star establishment. The “People’s Democratic Republic” is unlikely to be a country that holds free and fair elections. You get the point.

I suspect the whole “Sunny Rhyl” thing was started by a Wales Tourism Bureau officer with a sense of humour. I imagine a set of ironic postcards designed for the English tourists who were trapped in their caravans eating soggy chips while it pissed it down outside.

The point is that, despite having lived in England from the age of 20, I remain stubbornly Welsh. I genuinely love the country and the culture. Like many ex-pats, my sense of national identity has grown rather than diminished over the years.

I’ve visited often. To spend time with family. To watch the Welsh team play rugby (sadly, losing more than winning). To enjoy the countryside. Some of my fondest memories have been introducing non-Welsh friends to Wales.

I am not sure any of that really explains why I feel compelled to cycle around the whole country though. Lots of people feel warmly about their motherland (or land of their fathers), without needing to circumnavigate it. I suppose I should just be grateful I wasn’t born in Canada, which has a circumference of 356,000 km.

I like riding bicycles

Ever since my Nan bought me my first bike aged 11, I have loved cycling. It was a bright orange Raleigh with dropped handlebars. I remember it felt like liberation.

I did quite a bit of mountain biking in my youth, where I learned on the Welsh mountains that up == down. As a grown up living in Cambridge and working in London, I’ve pretty much always commuted by Brompton. I’ve cycled for pleasure (occasionally) and on a Peloton for fitness (don’t judge me). Perhaps lycra was inevitable.

I started cycling with more of a purpose at the end of August 2021 when I got bored of getting shin splints from running (what one of my doctor friends rather unkindly called “fat guy running on concrete disease”).

Some friends welcomed me into their weekend cycling group and showed extraordinary patience while they waited for me to catch them up. Sometime between that first ride in late August and writing this newsletter, I decided to cycle around Wales.

I needed a goal.

For most of my adult life I didn’t do much in the way of exercise at all. That changed in 2012 when I was diagnosed with a disease that affected my lungs. Apart from taking copious amounts of steroids, one of the only things I could do to lessen its impact was exercise. Ever since, I’ve tried to exercise pretty regularly and it’s honestly a habit that I wish I’d started sooner (take note kids).

Other than the occasional game of badminton doubles, I don’t do team sports and I’ve learnt that I need goals to keep me going. At one stage I outsourced the whole goals thing to personal trainers, which was fun and expensive in equal measure. I’ve signed up to online programs. Done couch to 5k and even some 10km running programmes. So when I started cycling, it felt like a good idea to set a goal.

I’ve been locked down for too long

The past couple of years have been all kinds of miserable for pretty much everyone on the planet and, while I count myself incredibly lucky in terms of the impact that the pandemic has had on me and my family (minimal), I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling as though my world has closed in a bit. I am craving some adventure.

Having written all of this down makes me wonder whether I am really just trying to rediscover some of that sense of liberation that I felt on a bright orange Rayleigh bike with dropped handlebars cycling around the hills of Wales.

I’m bloody lucky to have the option

I also acknowledge that I am bloody lucky to have the option. My family is perfectly able to cope without me and generous enough to let me have a go. I am able to take the time off work. I can afford the necessary – and some unnecessary – equipment. While I suspect it will be painful in part, my body should be up to the task. Not everyone is so lucky.

That’s all for now. I’ve tried to open up the comments, although I think you need to have subscribed to receive my newsletters to make a comment. Subscribe for updates, you can always change your mind later. I’d love to hear what you think.

Rides since last post: five

35km. 95km. 79km. 62km. 78km.

The short ride was a first attempt with the full bikepacking gear. Spoiler: it’s heavy. All rides benefited from Spring sunshine, not much wind, and largely flat topography. I really need to find more wind, rain, and hills if I am going to be ready for Wales.


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