My bike with bikepacking gear

How does it feel to have two weeks to go?

In which I talk about my hopes and fears with just two weeks to go until I embark on the Slow Cycle Around Wales

A quick recap for anyone who is new to this blog or just forgetful: my plan is to cycle (slowly and clockwise) around the circumference of Wales. I’ll be starting in my hometown of Rhyl and the route is around 1,400 km with around 15,000m of climbing.

I am doing it solo and unaided, which means carrying my camping and cooking gear, clothes, repair and maintenance kit, and everything else on the bike. And no, I’ve never done anything like this before.

As part of the journey, I am raising funds for the fabulous charity Llamau, who are on a mission to end homelessness in Wales. If you can’t be bothered to read the blog, do the decent thing and donate by clicking this link (takes you to Just Giving).

Once more with feeling

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve had some lovely comments, feedback, and advice from friends and strangers (thank you). One of my dearest friends was a little critical (the quote below is abridged, but reflects the general sentiment of a very long WhatsApp message).

I am reading a lot of facts. I’d like to read more feeling. I’d like to know more about your fears, highs, lows, your insights. I think you need to write more about the human experience.

Becky

This is feedback that I’ve only heard from one person, so presumably everyone else is happy with the lack of emotional connection to my feelings in these blogs. For you, normal service will resume shortly.

That said, I have read that repressed feelings are bad for one’s health and, so, in the interests of pleasing this one reader and perhaps providing myself with some health-inducing catharsis, here are some of my hopes and fears about the Slow Cycle Around Wales. In no particular order.

1. Will I be able to finish? This is the big one and it’s about pride and shame and ego, all bundled into one horrible Freudian mess. My original plan was to do this ride very quietly. Maybe tell my wife and kids (lest they report me as a missing person), but otherwise sneak off and have a go safe in the knowledge that if injury, mechanical failure, or lack of legs prevented me finishing, it would be a mostly private pain. Then I launched a blog and a fundraiser, and suddenly the stakes feel much higher. They call it a commitment device for a reason. I hope that you will be kind, gentle reader, if ill-fortunate thwarts my plans.

2. Have I got the legs and lungs? Really a subset of (1). Two weeks ago, I was pretty confident that I had both the legs and the lungs to get round the course. Yes, I was properly scared of the hills and there are a couple of days on the route that look bloody hideous (we’re looking at you days 10, 11, and 12), but my training was going well and a couple of practice bikepacking trips had given me confidence. Then I got my third dose of Covid. It hasn’t made me particularly unwell, but my training has taken a hit and both legs and lungs are feeling weaker. I am trying to convince myself that this is tapering, but the truth is that I am worried that I lost some conditioning at just the wrong moment.

3. Will I learn something about myself on the mountains? This is more of a hope than a fear, although I guess it depends what I learn. I talked about motivation in a previous blog and incidentally this was the one that elicited the “constructive” feedback about a lack of emotional connection. Danny Kaye said that “to travel is to take a journey into yourself” and truth be told, I am looking forward to the opportunity to get to know myself a little better. At 49 years old, I have a lot of shit to process and this is marginally cheaper than therapy. Who knows, I may even find some redemption up there on the mountains.

4. Eating and shitting. Speaking of processing shit, I suspect that my time for self-reflection and introspection will be somewhat curtailed by the overwhelming concerns of finding my next meal, followed unavoidably by finding somewhere to safely evacuate my bowels. If this is too graphic for you, I wish you luck when reading the daily updates when I am on route. In any case, I have emergency rations and a Cathole Trowel. Toilet paper however is going to be a constant concern.

5. Do I enjoy my own company? A subset of (3), but following on immediately would have ruined the “processing shit” gag in point (4), which I quite enjoyed. Credit for this hope / fear goes to Tom Allen, bikepacker extraordinaire and author of How to Hit the Road, one of the many great books I read while preparing for the Slow Cycle Around Wales. Tom cautions that anyone planning a long bicycle journey is going to get know themselves really well and there is always the risk that you won’t like who you find. I feel that there’s only one way to answer this question. Let’s call it a hope.

6. What happens when I get lost? Speaking of finding myself (see what I did there), regular readers will recall that I have no sense of direction. I have planned a route, which will be loaded onto a GPS device and a phone (see power anxiety below). However, I am assuming that getting lost is an inevitability and will – at best – lead to unnecessary kilometres and at worst to something altogether less pleasant.

7. Power anxiety. My fear of getting lost (and cycling in the dark) gives rise to “power anxiety” a condition that afflicts riders when their electronic devices run low on electricity. This isn’t just my safety at stake; without power there will be no daily blog post for you to enjoy. My friend Fran who has cycled around countless countries suggested that I get solar panels. I reminded her that I was cycling around Wales, to which she responded “oh yes, that’s not going to work is it”. The big debate is whether to install a dynamo (expensive, heavy, slows you down) or carry more battery packs (expensive, heavy, need charging). With less than two weeks to go. I need to get off this fence soon.

8. The kindness of strangers. One of the common threads in bikepacking books and blogs is the kindness of strangers that they enjoy on the road. I have high hopes of meeting fellow travellers and locals who cheer me on and offer small kindnesses to help me on my way. I have already been touched by the lovely folks at Abbey Farm Llangollen who offered me a night’s lodging for free when they heard that I was raising funds for Llamau. I look forward to meeting many characters and learning more about the Land of My Fathers, the people and their culture. For some reason, I expect to meet the NPCs from Darren’s D&D adventures (although why there would be Mexican accents in Wales I have no idea). Nevertheless, I hope to get drunk with them and hear their stories and songs. Blanche DuBois, eat your heart out.

Catastrophic breakages, impassable mountains, extreme weather, man-eating dogs, highway robbery, running out of toilet paper – the list of adverse scenarios on a bike tour is as long as you want it to be.

Tom Allen, How to Hit the Road

9. Mechanicals. Bikes are wonderful machines. There’s a reason their design has barely changed in hundreds of years. But like all machines, they are prone to wear and tear. I will be loading mine up with too many kilos of human and too many kilos of stuff and then throwing it around mountains and trails. Things are gonna break. (Them’s the breaks as BoJo would say). Some I will be able to fix. Others I won’t. Pray that the catastrophic mechanicals happen within a reasonable walk of the nearest bike shop. Let’s chalk it up as a hope.

10. The weather. Finally (although honestly I could go on for much longer), the weather. I grew up in Wales, so I have no romantic fantasies about the weather being kind. It rains. A lot. Even in the summer. There will be wind. Sometimes there will be wind and rain. Occasionally, there will be sunshine, but that will only serve as a cruel reminder of how much wind and rain there is. I have waterproof clothing. I am not afraid.

That did feel cathartic. Thank you Becky. Over the next few days, I’ll be finalising the kit list and starting packing. Subscribe for updates. Don’t forget to donate and remember that it is okay to donate more than once.

Rides since last post: none

Covid has prevented me doing any training. Let’s call it tapering.

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