Travel Gone Wrong: Cycling

Updated: Mar 10

My first taste of travelling without parents came in the form of a UK cycling holiday in the late 90's. The Coast to Coast cycle route stretches for 140 miles from Sunderland, across the North Pennines and Lake District, to the town of Workington, reaching heights of 609 meters or 1,998 feet along the way.

It’s a journey my friends and I have completed three times over the years. Always under-prepared , each attempt resulted in at least one new travel fail. Here are eight lessons learned from those journeys.

Lesson 1 – Big tents and big hills don't mix.

On our first journey, we decided to take a cheap and heavy five-man tent. Each day one of us would take our turn to strap it onto our bicycle and toil for hours with it slowing us down, often resulting in mild anger at being left so far behind the rest of the (unsympathetic) group.

Lesson 2 – A tent needs pegs.

Our first attempt ended in failure with only a quarter of the distance remaining due to the loss of tent pegs. Fortunately, as we were now within thirty minutes of home by car, we bravely gave up and soon after our bemused parents arrived to take us home.


Lesson 3 – If it drops, you stop.

Electing to take the more adventurous and direct option, rather than the smooth tarmac road, we bounced our way down a steep rocky track to a village below. Our large and poorly secured tent made its bid for freedom about a third of the way down. Fortunately, the last man was sufficiently far behind the rest of the group to stop in time and safely recover it. After he appeared without the tent a heated debate broke out, this resulted in the guilty party trudging back up the steep track amid much ridicule.

Lesson 4 – Check your pitch.

On our second attempt, a pub had kindly allowed us to camp at the back of their beer garden where after some much needed food and drink, we retired to our individual tents (no more heavy tent for us!). The following morning one of the team complained of an uncomfortable night’s sleep, the cause became apparent as we packed away the tent; a sizeable, rusty, metal spike - the only remnant of an old fence line - protruded from the spot in which he had ‘slept’. I'll never understand why he didn't simply get up and move his tent.

Lesson 5 – Navigation skills are handy.

Having taken several wrong turns during the day we could see where we should have been in the distance. So, rather than try and navigate by road again, it was decided we would take a more direct route through the Northumberland countryside. One by one we lifted the bikes over a hedge and proceeded through a large empty field which soon sloped before us to reveal a severely pot-marked landscape, interspersed by what looked like tank tracks. I’m not saying it definitely was one, but it looked suspiciously like an army testing range.

Lesson 6 – Signal, then turn.

Riding down a hill at speed, I watched from afar two of the guys came together at speed after one had failed to communicate his intention to turn onto a side road. Amazingly no serious injuries were reported to either but one bicycle had a badly buckled wheel and couldn’t be ridden. A long, argumentative walk to the nearest cycle shop was followed by several hours of repair time. The incident cost us over half a day’s riding.

Lesson 7 – It’s probably not a UFO.

It was dark, we were all exhausted, dehydrated, and our campsite was still some miles away. Cycling down a hill I was mesmerised by a floating red light in the middle of the countryside, the most logical conclusion my brain was capable of at that moment was - a UFO. No sooner had I reached my conclusion did I hear the screech of wheels, a high-pitched scream, and a horn sound up ahead. Following a turn in the road, I passed a car and was confronted by a narrow bridge with a one-way system in place. On that bridge stood a shaking friend who’d just had a brush with death. The UFO was now obviously a traffic light. We later discovered the bridge had a separate crossing for cyclists and those on foot.

Lesson 8 – Book ahead.

Arriving at our last overnight destination it was agreed that I and a friend would stay with relatives whilst the other three would go to a campsite used on each previous journey. Unfortunately it was fully booked - as was every other form of accommodation for miles around. Rather than giving up and calling parents again, this group of intrepid cyclists simply cycled along the A66 through the night with a solitary light between them, no food and no water to their name. They reached the Cumbrian coast in the early hours having drunk from a water butt in someone’s garden and having ‘borrowed’ a bottle of milk from a doorstep. They had effectively cycled for 20 hours straight.

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