An Absolute Beginner, no practice, no experience, not even a regular cyclist! I must be crazy :)
Stephen Peel

Stephen Peel

Cycling Around the World

England - Warrington to Portsmouth

The start of my first ever cycle tour. 12 Days of Rain and Pain :)

Day 1 - August 1 2017

Well it's chucking it down here but my tent went up just in time, and I managed to do 24 miles before it got too bad. I'm at a great little caravan and campsite called Yatehouse camping and caravan park in Middlewich.

The owner told me to give the fees to JUMP children's charity instead of to them, which was really nice and I will do that just as soon as I find a place to access the Internet properly on my laptop.

I didn't pack food for today and will not be taking a ride to the shops in this weather, so looks like I will be a little lighter tomorrow:) lesson learned. The owner gave me some plums though.

Day 2, and it was a real mixed bag, with real mixed feelings

After the thunderstorms and torrential rains of yesterday, I managed to fall asleep around 9pm, but awoke an hour later in agony. My right thigh to the front felt like it had just been stabbed through. I'm OK with pain, but wow, this was a shocker. I think because I had never had this pain before.

I couldn't contain my yelp, and then it stopped for a about 30 seconds and did it again 2 more times. My left leg had a cramp in it, but that was just cramp, and although not nice, not too bad to sort out. But this was very different.

I truly thought that if this continues one more time, I will be going home. But then it stopped. I lay there on my back, waiting for it to start again, but then fell asleep. In the morning there was just a slight throb.

At 6am, after a shower and packing up, I decided to continue cycling. It was still raining continually and the wind was strong and coming right at me, so it was very unpleasant to say the least. But I managed 28 miles, so pretty good really.

2 Good or fair first days wouldn't have been too much to ask, but this is the UK, and summertime, so expect the worst :)

I was very tired and achy, and still a bit down due to all that had gone on with the weather, that pain, and the farewells at home before I set out, so I decided to blow my budget for the day.

I have now just had a large carvery meal and making use of their wifi. All my other stuff is on charge in my hotel room next door, and I washed my smalls in the bath and they are dry. I had a bath to sooth the new muscles I have found :), and I will be diving into a huge bed instead of small tent tonight. I just needed it.

I'm sure I will settle in, my muscles will adapt, and the sun will come out soon :)

All that said, I met some really nice people along the way and on the canal, and although most places were not to nice that I passed through in Stoke-on-Trent, it would been different on a sunny day.

Day 3 - Canal Cattle near Stafford

Passed these young cattle in the canal just outside of Stoke-on-Trent today, and really hadn't a clue what to do. They were had fallen in by the barrier, and could get out farther up on a sloping bank, but because all the others were hanging around them, they stayed there.

I went for help about half a mile down the canal to a pub. The landlady knew the farmers and was straight on it. My good deed for the day :)
I also met in person, my first cycle tourer today. Lara has cycled up from Cornwall, and in just one day had cycled 75 miles. We talked about diet and even yoga, as she teaches yoga for cyclists. We had a great chat and I was the first person she had met with panniers on my bike.

We compared total weight, as she thought my bike was huge and that I was carrying a lot of gear. My total weight including me is 206kg. Lara's is just 90kg. No wonder my legs are sore :)

Day 4 - Tow Paths and wheat fields

Day 4 - And it was dry, the wind on my back. 34 miles to my campsite and not one inch was cycling on the road. Google took me on the the toughest 34 miles of canal Tow Path. Bone shaking and butt hurting the whole way :) 

But Im now typing this on my phone at the campsite and it's time to relax and plan out my route for tomorrow. Although one little part took me across a wheat field to cut a corner off the canal, and it was pretty special.

Day 5 - Ham and Eggs

I had washed some clothes in the shower room at the campsite last night, and as the dryer room was closed until morning, I strung the lot up in the trees behind my tent.

Sadly, it rained all night, so I had to beat everyone else to the dryer room this morning, which I did :)

Two women with their children were camping next to mine. And they were lovely enough to offer me a coffee this morning, and even charged my battery bank. Really nice of them.

Although rain and thunderstorms all day, I passed through some wonderful places.

I'm ahead of schedule at the moment, as my ferry doesn't leave until the 13th, so I have given myself some room if I don't do so well one day.

I'm adjusting, it's not easy, as it's a completely new way of life, but I'm doing OK and know I will soon adjust.

As I tossed my last handful of dried apricots into the bushes this morning, I felt 4 days of fruits, nuts, and berries, were just not food enough for this big man. I needed meats, fats, breads. I'm growing all new muscles and need to feed them.

So I said to myself this morning, that the first place I can get a Full English, I will be on it like a tick on a bloodhound. About 4 miles in, I passed a gaggle of bikers eating outside at a greasy-spoon. My head nearly turned the whole way around.

Sat there outside chatting to the lads, one of them told me that he saw me coming around the corner and looking over, and that he knew I would be turning around. We had a good laugh, my Full English, and 2 of the lads have already contacted me telling me they are now following me.

Onward, through thunderstorms and rain, I sent myself to Coventry :). I looked for a place to stay there, as there was simply no way I was setting up my tent on sodden ground in the rain, but nothing, so I then headed farther south and found a nice little pub with a room, and, it includes a Full English for breakfast tomorrow :) Great.

I'm then setting out to a campsite near a town called Banbury, about 23 miles south. My total miles today; 25, yesterday 34, and given that my target for each day is just 20 while I settle in to this, I'm doing really well. 5 days of cycling I had planned for a total miles of 100, but I am now at 129, a full day ahead.

Ham and Eggs for tea. I'm still in the bar now typing this. Off to bed in a while to rest my sore butt :)
 
 
 

Day 6 - Not a bad day at all

25 miles covered and hill after hill like a roller coaster ride and it was exhausting.
I'm now in Banbury, not too far from Oxford. Charging my cameras and gear is hard going and of course trying to edit and upload video, unless I'm in digs is hard too. 

I stopped at a shop today to get some water and some food, and the owner was very nice and we chatted for ages. He was from Sri Lanka, and I told him I had been there and loved it. He told me all about the Tamil Sri Lankan war and how he was Tamil and had to flee with his family. 

His wife made me a coffee. It was the first coffee she had ever made and it was up there with the best I've ever had. I continue to meet some lovely people.

Found a launderette this morning after setting off. It's peeing it down so thought a couple of hours to wash and dry all my clothes and who knows, the rain might stop, besides, they really need doing :) Washing them when in digs in the bath with me is not so good :) I'm blue!

Sat in the coffee shop next door through the wash. In case your wondering about the bike outside on its own, there is a lock that clamps the back wheel, so they would have to carry it. I can only just lift it. It's like taking a small child around with me, you just can't let it out of your sight.

Day 7 - The most challenging hills 

Well what can I say about day 7? Well, for starters it had some of the most challenging hills. I am now in Oxford, and between Coventry and Oxford the hills abound. Not mountain sized hills, but rolling fields of wheat and other grains as far as you can see.

It really is beautiful, but also very hard going on my new to cycle touring legs. Climbing the hills with all this baggage and the weight of the bike and I, was sometimes so tough that I had to stop many times before reaching the top of the longest steep climbs, just to catch my breath and rest my legs for a minute.

But climb those hills I did. Not once did I get off and push. Not that I have a problem with pushing if need be, but I was just so determined that I was going to conquer each and every hill today.

Other cyclists passed me by, built like cyclists and with bikes weighing no more than a gram :), they passed steadily. But hey, it won't be long before I'm doing a little overtaking myself, I'm sure, and fully loaded too, as these legs are having to work so much harder, and I'm driving them day in day out. Soon I hope to pass one of these featherweights and give them a shock :), OK, that's some way off.

I awoke in my tent this morning, raining once more. I packed up the gear all wet, and headed out to make it to Woodstock where my next campsite was to be. 22 miles away.

Before leaving the campsite this morning, I spoke to a really nice couple who offered very kindly to look after me once I reach New Zealand where they live, they only visit the UK during our summer. A few miles down the road, I stopped for a coffee at a greasy spoon roadside cafe, and after chatting with the owner, she offered to fill me a flask if I had one, with coffee. I didn't have one, but still enjoyed a coffee there.

I arrived in Woodstock, only to be told they don't offer tent pitches, and the nearest tent site was 5 miles back. It was sad to say the least, as it was now 4pm and I need a place to rest. So it was time to look for digs once more. I don't really mind taking a few nights in digs, as I am still settling in to all this.

While sat on a bench outside of the Woodstock caravan and camper site, the lady came out from the office with a bottle of water for me. So many nice people, and I get to meet more than I imagined in such a short time.

I found a hotel 5 miles farther south, and so with it being in the right direction, I took the room. Tomorrow I will be going the a launderette to wash a pile of clothes that are now in need of a real and proper scrubbing :)

Day 8 - My cute tent

Well day 8 to the base of The Chiltern's was wet wet wet, and problems with the bike!

It was raining heavy and the wind was in my face, but it is actually starting to feel quite normal now, so off I went. I had just 20 miles to cover today, but 8 miles in and there was a terrible clunking from the pedal crank, it felt like the pedals were both going to fall off at any moment.

I was unhappy about it to say the least, as I paid such a huge amount of money for this bike to get me around the world. I thought, here we go. So a call to my dealer and I'm told it will be OK nothing to worry about.

I further 4 miles on and I pulled into a car mechanics garage, where would you believe it, there just happened to be an ex bike mechanic working named Rob. He told me what he thought the problem was, and then told me about a guy who might be able to help, bu t it was a further 8 miles away.

Funnily enough, it was a few hundreds yards away from where I had planned to camp that night anyway. Bridge Villa Camping and Caravan park, who by the way reduced their fees because I'm supporting a charity, and of course I will pass that on to the charity.

The town is Wallington and the Bike Shop is named Rides On Air, and the lads were straight on it. They dismantled the pedal crank and cleaned it all out.

They tightened it all up and put everything back together there and then. They even brought me an amazing coffee from their coffee shop next door. They told me that if there is nowhere to keep my bike safe at the camp grounds, I was to bring it back to the shop and they would store it until tomorrow. 

I got to my campsite and there wasn't anywhere that I could lock it up safe, so tonight was the night I would add my little gear shed to my tent. Its an add-on that weights in at less than a pound, but gives me a little shed on the back to hide my bike in :)

I'm all showered and sorted, and now I'm going for a Ruby Murray, and I'm fancying a nice Windy Loo (that's a Vindaloo curry for those outside the UK :) )

Day 9 - Mud and a lost tent

Guess what, another horrible rainy day. Brought my mood down once again. I got 6 miles down the road and mud and found a place to have breakfast. Just as my food was arriving, a guy asked me if I had a tent, and as I looked at the bike, to my horror there was no tent!

The strap had snapped and it had fallen off, but where! I had already paid for my breakfast but that mattered not, I got on my bike and started pedalling back the 6 miles. I found it on the muddy track, right near where I had started.

So once again I start back on my travels, the noise in the crank had started again too, so you can only imagine my mood.  Half way back to where my breakfast had surely gone, I sat in a bus shelter out of the rain, sulking.

A wagon driver pulled up and we got chatting, he then offered to put my bike on the back of his wagon and drop me off near my long gone breakfast. What a great guy. I had already cycled those miles in both directions, so it wasn't cheating in any way. It's 2pm, I'm soaked to the bone, and haven't a clue where I will end up tonight. Oh well, onward I go.

A good few miles farther on across the hills, and the roads became tight but still busy, the rain became torrential, and after some more miles I decided that I was never going to reach my campsite after all the messing around earlier, and couldn't just set my tent up in the bushes in this weather, so I started looking for digs.

I can't keep staying in digs as it's far too expensive, but needs must in these horrid early days. I found a Bed and Breakfast called the Weir View in Pangbourne, 65 miles from Portsmouth. I now have 4 full days in which to reach my ferry, and could cover half those miles in just one dry day. I know, forget about getting a dry day :)

The B&B is run today by two lovely ladies who did everything they could to accommodate me and my bike. They took the bike into an office section adjoining a rear kitchen, and the cost was reduced too due to my cause. Just wonderful people everywhere I go. The room is toasty and snug, and is right across the road from a bit of a posh bar and an amazing weir with boats. I'm going over in a minute to take some pics.

So, I'm showered, snug and warm, and charging all my gear.

Day 10 - Bike shop, tired legs, and wild camping

Set out this morning after a continental breakfast at the Weir View Guest House, after a lovely kip. 12 miles to the bike shop in the sunshine for once.

The guys at Pedal On near Tadley, worked hard on the bike for a good hour or more, stripped it right back, cleaned the crank out, checked for bearing wear or other wear or issues, and gave it the all clear, everything in the crank area is good to go, and we haven't a clue were the noise could be coming from.

There is no chain, so not other gear bits showing, only an internal gear hub at the rear, and it doesn't feel to me that it is coming from the Rohloff Speed Hub. It's really strange. I spoke again with my own dealer, and he said things are just bedding in. Maybe, but I don't like it :)

Onward then to Basingstoke city to have a look at their multi-fuel burners, but they didn't have the one I wanted from MSR in, so I left there and carried on cycling in the hope of finding a camp ground or cheap digs.

I have never climbed more than a curb on a bike before setting out on this, let alone the hundreds of huge (to me) hills I have climbed in just 10 days. My legs are twice the size they were I'm sure :). I will get good at hills though, and who knows, I may be the first person to cycle to the top of Everest :)

No such luck down this part of England looking for cheap digs, they are crazy expensive, and no joy with a campsite either. The campsite I had on my satnav took me until 5pm to get to, only to find a big padlocked gate and no campsite, so I cycled on until about 7pm, found a hole in a hedge into a farmers field, and here I am writing this, all tucked up and very very tired.

Day 11 - They burned their tent

I'm now just 20 miles from Portsmouth and my ferry leaves on Sunday to France. I think I have done well given I have never done this kind of thing before and have had been beaten by terrible weather.

I did 15 miles today that's all, as I didn't need to rush to Portsmouth with three days left. So stayed at a campsite I reached before lunch. I met up with two gents on their motorbikes and one of them had brought his son. They were all very nice and we set up our tents together.

We ended up in a local pub, which was a sort of "local pub for local people" and a tiny bit strange. But that didn't stop us from having a few well earned pints. We had a good laugh too, and on returning to the campsite tried to start a fire in the fire pit in the centre of all our tents.

One of the gents put a little too much fuel on to get it started and then set himself on fire. The flames chased the fuel to the bottle, so he dropped it and it splashed on his foot, then he was trying to kick the bottle away from his tent and it was now heading towards the motorbikes. But all turned out OK as we stomped out the flames everywhere. The gents tent got a little singed and he lost a few hairs off his leg :) So we had a good laugh at he and went to sleep.

Day 12 - Mods in Portsmouth 

After a little 20 miles slog over the last of The South Downs and into a pretty unpleasant looking Portsmouth (at first glance, and second), I arrived at the last point before departure to France tomorrow.

When I first started a vague plan of this trip, it was important to me to cycle from my home town, right down to Portsmouth, 287 miles. Now I appreciate that those miles are practically nothing to a regular cyclist, but to me, riding the tank of a machine I have, carrying a further 40kg, and also carrying a mans man too :), its a hell of a slog, given that I have never cycle toured before. But here I am, and I'm quite proud of myself.

My ferry to France leaves tomorrow at 8pm and I will arrive in St-Malo, France, around 8am on Monday morning. So I have 12 hours in which to become fluent in French :) I have eyed a campsite just 16km from the port, as now I will need to adjust to riding on the completely wrong side of the road :) It was great to meet up with those guys last night and have a beer or 4.

A hundred Vespa and Lambretta riding mods were cruising through Portsmouth today and a good few thumbs up from them for the camera as they past.
The ferry from Portsmouth England arrives in St-Malo Monday 14 August, and from there it will be somewhere in the region of 600 miles to San Sebastian in Spain.

It has taken me 12 days to cycle half that distance from Warrington to Portsmouth in the UK as a first timer, so I'm expecting to get to San Sebastian in around 4 weeks, as I am planning now to take more rest days and not have any real deadline to work to. Time to relax a little, if I can :)

That said, as my muscles and fitness develop, I believe I will be able to cover many more miles with less effort. I'm glad I took this on with no prior cycle touring training, as I am learning new things each day.

The broken blue line you see after San Sebastian, is the route I first thought of some time ago. Everything I do is subject to change :), of course. But I shouldn't get ahead of myself, for now I am just planning to get from St-Malo to San Sebastian. Sounds like an old Spaghetti Western.