Preparation for travels on a bike

2008-04-28 00:00

I previously outlined for you my plans over the next year or two. Having settled into my retirement cottage and at last finished unpacking, I’m about to undertake the first of my projects: seeing Britain by bicycle. It will be spring when I arrive at the beginning of May – think darling buds, bluebells, daffodils, cuckoos and lambs. At the end of June I return here to sunny winter and politically begotten chaos.

I will be visiting my son Guy and his family at first (coinciding with the anniversary of Gwen’s death, so I hope they can put up with my inevitable gloom), then going off alone. Jeannette was coming with me but she was sentenced to major surgery and is in hospital even as I type. It’s a blow to me as much as to her. I’ve travelled in England twice before, once alone and next with friends: the difference is vast. Sharing pleasures — and responsibilities — turns a nice experience into a memorable one. But it can’t be helped.

There has been much to do. Most attention has been devoted to routes, bicycles and kit. The upshot is that I have no fixed itinerary but will wander around as mood dictates. Guy has a smart bike for me, and I have explored numerous web sites and been advised by experienced cycling friends on equipment.

We initially decided to take our own bikes with us. Then Guy said I could use his, which he has most generously adapted for my purpose, fitting it with panniers plus bags, mudguards, etc. He works on a refuse recycling operation (a high-tech rubbish dump) and he retrieves the most amazing things. This virtually new bike is one such. He has also bought a little van for my use, adding a whole new dimension to my trip. Jeannette and I were going to ride the South Downs and Isle of Wight, New Forest, Devon and Cornwall, the Cotswolds, Wales, Ireland, and possibly the Lakes District. Now I can think of including Yorkshire and Scotland too. From any selected location, where I will leave the van for a day or a week, I’ll explore the surrounding parts by bike and on foot until I’m ready to move along. This isn’t your common holiday trip – it will be a Grand Tour.

My kit consists mainly of clothing, especially to cope with cold, wet weather. I’ve always avoided cycling in rain, and may have gone overboard on the protective gear. The van obviously changes things. Moreover, youth hostels and costly B&Bs are no longer prominent on the agenda. I can now think in terms of camping with equipment which I couldn’t even dream of putting on the bike — tent, mattress, gas stove, and whisky jar for starters.

One of the sad facts about growing old is that I’ve lost the capacity for enthusiasm and excitement. I cannot get worked up about this tour — not in the way I used to get wound up as a child in anticipation of a birthday, say. I turn 72 just before setting off — it’s just as ho-hum as the impending tour. That’s actually good, for great expectations invariably precede great letdowns, so I won’t be overly disappointed whatever happens, short of disaster.

While on tour, I will report to you regularly. I trust you will find my experiences worth following, for they will surely be worth reporting, present temporary lack of enthusiasm notwithstanding.

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