Learning to ride a bike

I said to someone, not long before I left: “Cycling is great because you can cycle all day and wake up the next morning without feeling it and do it all over again”. Well, I take it back. Around 170 miles down and I have felt most of them! Whether it’s that I wasn’t used to the weight on the bike, or the distance (or the 10 years since the last time I did something similar), the first couple of days on the bike were a struggle. The ‘training’ rides I did were with a lightly packed bike, seeing how many miles I could cover in a couple of hours – then multiply that out for the planned number of hours on the bike, and that was my daily mileage target. The first time I packed all the gear on to the bike was about 5 minutes before I had to pack it all in the car to go and catch the ferry. With my family there, we each took a turn to try to lift the bike which was now close to 40kg – I laughed to counter their concerned faces. The good thing about doing things last minute, as I have discovered throughout my life, is that there are no choices left to make; by that time, it is what it is and the only thing to do is make the best of it!

My first metaphorical steps on the fully laden bike then, were boarding the ferry. As I waited, I realised I might look ‘noteworthy’, enough at least to start a conversation between the family in the nearby car, and I wondered if I looked as clueless and inexperienced to them as I felt at that moment. Descending the ramp to the oily car deck, the back wheel took a side step at one point and almost went from under me; I caught it just in time as a road bike behind with thinner, slicker tyres hit the deck, sending the rider tumbling. He assured me that both he and the bike were fine, and we navigated our way to a small cupboard space where the bikes were to be tied up for the crossing. Having got through that part unscathed, all that was left was to settle down for an uncomfortable night’s sleep before starting out in France…

The night passed quickly enough, and I was soon encouraged off the ferry and on to the public roads. I was keen to play the part of the cycle tourer that I thought I might look like and set off in earnest, overtaking a cycling couple paused with maps out over handlebars. I might have hoped that the ferry to Caen would have dropped us a little closer to the city itself but as it was, I soon discovered I was about 10 miles from the start of my planned route – a small oversight of mine. I began to follow the signs to the city and quickly came upon a main road that ran all the way to the city with the ominous sign I’m certain meant ‘pas de vèlo’. No cycling. I darted up a lane that looked like it ran parallel to the main road and after a detour through a farmer’s field, a couple of dead ends and a lot of guess work, I ended up on a picturesque bike path that ran the length of the river to the city. The creeping thought that perhaps there was a much easier route than the one I took was confirmed when after 20 minutes I overtook the same couple along the path, again looking at the map.

My initial encouragement with the apparent ease of cycling with the weighty bike along the bike path was dispelled when I hit the first mild incline and I began searching for low gears that weren’t there. With this and the slow start, I began to worry that I wouldn’t get anywhere near the distance I had planned in my head for the first few days. Suddenly I began sprinting down hills and pushing up climbs, forgetting rule #1 of cycle touring, Pace Yourself! After only 30 miles, my legs were struggling, and I stopped in a small shop for supplies; bread, jam, and cheese, this would surely give me the strength to plough on at speed. I probably needn’t tell you, it didn’t. I managed another 20 miles slowly and saw on the route that there was a fair hill in the next 10 miles. “I’d rather not have that to do in the morning” I thought, and so I persevered. I hit the bottom of the slope at speed with a boy-like naivety, that I would conquer this hill, but after a mere 50 metres or so my legs waved the white flag and I had to climb down. For the first time in my life, I was pushing a bike up a hill. I learnt to swallow my pride by the third passing car and continued to push rather than pretend my chain had come off and start spinning my pedals. In honesty the pushing didn’t seem much easier than the cycling and at the first plateau I re-mounted and continued up the last bit of the slope. At the top, the joy was only slightly tainted as I dripped with glorious sweat. I thought to double check the map, as the climb seemed steeper than I imagined it should have been and it didn’t take long for me to realise, I’d climbed the wrong hill…

Never mind, just a few extra miles over the top of the hill to get back on track, I found a perfect ‘wild camping’ spot a short walk down a bridleway. Still quite light, I thought I would wait a short while to see if the area was used at all before pitching my tent; I sat down to rest my legs and had a bit more of the bread and jam…when I woke up, an hour had passed, and the light was fading. I’d fallen asleep out on the grass sat up against one of my pannier bags. I was exhausted. My knees felt strained and I had a sore backside. That evening I wondered whether this was the adventure I was seeking out, whether I was ready for it, whether I could do it…

Then I remembered rule #2 of cycle touring, Do Your Own Tour. I’d read about a dozen tours and I think I started out trying to achieve the same. I wasn’t ready for a 60-mile day on my fully-laden bike; I relaxed, took the pressure off and the next days have felt easier with still decent mileage. These were always supposed to be training days after all. Now the legs feel stronger and I’m used to the weight on the climbs. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be ready for another 60-mile day but let’s see what my body feels like and what the road has in store; let’s just enjoy cycle touring.


5 thoughts on “Learning to ride a bike

    1. Hey Rich, loved the first entry. I love your writing style too- I did chuckle a couple of times! I can imagine it’s hard work but keep going- the whole experience will be fantastic!! X


  1. It’s just a settling in period Rich I’m sure it will get easier. We’re all behind you ( not literally obviously!). Keep it up you can do it.
    Lots of love.
    Karen & Andy. X


  2. I’m glad I’m reading this after the fact! It will get easier Rich…..enjoy and stay safe…..Looking forward to the next update!

    Much love Mum xxxx


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