Travel Gone Wrong: Cycling

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

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 innocently decided to take a single five man tent, this was not an expensive tent which meant it wasn’t light. Each day one of us would take our turn to strap it onto our bicycle and toil for hours with this great weight slowing us down. This was not a pleasant experience and often resulted in mild anger at being left so far behind the rest of the (unsympathetic) group.

Lesson 2 – No sleep without pegs.

Our first attempt ended in failure with only a quarter of the distance remaining as, arriving late to our campsite, we discovered one of us had left the all-important tent pegs behind. Fortunately, as we were now within thirty minutes of home by car, we decided the best solution was to simply give up! Thirty minutes later our parents arrived to take us home.

Had we checked our equipment before setting off that day i'd be writing this having completed the route four times.

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 the village below. Our large tent, having been poorly secured, made its bid for freedom about a third of the way down. Having only enough time to avoid colliding with it and absolutely no hope of stopping in time, we each decided to leave it to the last man who was far enough behind to safely stop and collect 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.

A pub had kindly allowed us to camp at the back of their beer garden. After some much needed food and drink we retired to our tents, we each had our own this time, for some well earned rest. 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.

Perhaps not so vital now, but at the time Google Maps was not an option. Having taken one, or many, wrong turns during the day we could see where we should be in the distance. Rather than try the map again, it was decided we would take the direct route through the Northumberland countryside. One by one we lifted the bikes over a hedge and proceeded through a large empty field. As we pushed our bikes along the ground sloped before us to reveal a severely pot marked landscape interspersed by what looked like tank tracks. I’m not saying it definitely was, but it did look suspiciously like an army testing range.

Lesson 6 – Signal, then turn.

Riding down a hill at speed, I watched from afar as my friend spotted the route marker at the very last moment and realised he had to take the road to his right hand side. Without a thought he leaned into the turn and would have made it – had it not been for my other friend who hadn’t seen the marker and rode straight into his side. Amazingly no serious injuries were reported to either human but one bicycle had a badly buckled wheel and couldn’t be ridden. A long 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.

Having ridden all day it was now dark. We were all exhausted, probably dehydrated, and our campsite was still some miles away. Cycling down a hill I was mesmerised by a floating red light out there 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 blare 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 on through the night with a solitary light, no food and no water to their name. They reached the Cumbrian coast in the early hours having drank from a water butt in someone’s front garden and having ‘borrowed’ a bottle of milk from a doorstep along the way. They had effectively cycled for 20 hours straight.

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