The First Tour of the Bike Project. (From Emi)
A motley crew assembled late on Friday afternoon for our planned weekend mission into the surrounding wilds around Bristol. We were seven strong at the outset, ranging from a volunteer with only a month’s experience, and others who work full time at the project. We had many different styles of travel gathered for the pre-departure photo. Some had chosen only the most essential gear, demonstrating the utmost precision in selecting every single one of the items lucky enough to make the pannier. And needless to mention, the other end of the spectrum was also well represented. But nevertheless, we made a contented, cohesive cohort. We had bright sun, and a sweet start with the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path.
Within the preliminary ten minutes one bike’s wheel had to be examined, but never the less it was with a convivial attitude that we shared our first rations of banana and dried figs. Gloves were dug out of the depths of panniers once we started to lose the light just as we reached Bath. We cut a dramatic swathe through Bath rush hour. We made an impression of a mild critical mass, sweeping across the bulging main roads. Seb was a decisive leader, his verdict was firm that we could not afford the luxury of a cosy pint once we left chaotic Bath. He knew we had the mother of all hills fast approaching. Who could say for certain what was in store for our night time, intrepid journey. The hill was long. Its unending slope felt David Lynchian, on turning each corner it seemed as though one was trapped in a loop. It was as if every corner was the same. A further dimension was the maniacs in cars pelting down the slope in the pitch dark. Despite such toil and peril as the night continued to deepen, this hill could not last for eternity. We gradually found each other on the summit, huddled against the night wind. Still we were without shelter or fire.
Seb guided us onwards to the place of respite that he knew of, down a long dirt track. There was only a light rain to hinder our progress, and we were mainly elated with adrenaline from the climb and the excitement of a vast field stretching around us on all sides. We chose to camp close together in a companionable circle, and aside from my minor set back of missing tent poles, we were soon gathered about our heap of damp firewood with unexpected ease. Shelter was found for every person there after a small re-shuffling of sleeping arrangements. Lee and James P suddenly found themselves sharing. So. Fire was another matter. There had been the scent of winter in the air for the previous few weeks. This was evident in the state of the wood we were presented with. I had been shocked when I heard the plan was not to camp wild and forage for ourselves as true tourers would. But at this point it was clear to me Seb’s reasoning in choosing to take us to camp sites. Everything was damp. As the wood refused to blaze as proudly as our spirits, a bold array and range of tranjas were produced. We were collectively unperturbed by the brief explosion of flames that came about when James poured his sauce into the boiling pot he was cooking and nearly incinerated Rob’s trousers. Dinner for hungry cyclists went smoothly. Red wine and flasks of Jack Daniels were gratefully shared. There was much warm debate over finer points of linguistical detail. This cheered our slightly shivering bodies and helped us role happily and fully clothed into our sleeping bags.
We awoke to brighter sunshine than the day before. After gentle grazing on coffee and a varied repast ranging from tourer’s porridge to drippy bacon sandwiches we received a call from another fairly recent addition to our volunteer crew who had beetled out of Bristol early that morning to meet us in the next village along. Hastily we broke camp and set forth in the beginnings of another smattering shower. The problem with touring is how one’s pannier’s swiftly become disorganized. James P encouraged us to treat them separately, keeping bedroom on one side of the bike and kitchen on the other. Joe even had a study in the form of a small pouch secured to her handle bars. But anyway, one issue that still arises from such hefty organization measures is where does one store their waterproofs? Extensive rummaging is impossible to avoid. By the time they are located the cyclist is soaked. This day in particular require much reshuffling of layers as the elements frequently changed condition between extremes of hot sun and driving winds. We enjoyed a pause for lunch in a posh pub and benefited from Seb’s sat nav that allowed us to explore winding back lanes. There was another monster-sized mountain for us to scale which Seb had selectively chosen not to mention until we were upon it. It caused some of us to dismount even. However, once we were on top of the cotswolds our way was sweet.
The distanced stretched wide in every direction and a single wind turbine marked our destination and kept our motivation true. We were well ridden by the time we arrived at the next campsite, welcomed by an impressively bright rainbow. The unexpected company of a large tom cat marking his territory on Tomo’s tent did nothing to deter our lively spirits. We formed a large fire circle, and happily anticipated the next installment of companions that were on their way to join us that evening. There was a mutual feeling of satisfaction after that second day out in the wilds with our trusty bikes.
The Bike Project Micro-Tour Case notes (From Gareth)
It was something of an impulse decision that saw me wending my way on the train to Stroud with the intent of finding the migratory Bike Project in-tent, and in situ in some place called ‘Thistledown’. I had my trusty Google print-off, coming off a bad second to a banana and some Peps by the time I got there, but sort of legible. I had rung Ian, who was en route himself, and swapped what little in the way of notes we had.
I headed toward Nailsworth, and quickly ploughed into darkness. Stately mills and chimneys, industrial ghosts, looming out from the gloom, followed the valley. Then at Nailsworth I took the hill. Of course the hill. If Seb had anything to do do with anything, then there would be hills into the bargain. I rang Ian: “ We’re about a mile ahead of you, take a right past the turbine, follow the track and we’ll wait for you.” I climbed, and some, cursing under my breath. “when your in the middle of nowhere, it’s near there” a taxi driver in town had helpfully advised. I sped down the murky track and torchlight and chatter greeted me. Ian, Josh, etc. had been met by the tour rep for the evening; James Perret. He led us down through a winding path to the clearing and hollow in which a crude encampment had been clawed out of the land, presumably by the inhabitants sat about a lively fire. A happy union ensued, and the mood of the camp was excellent. Some excellent solidarity was shown, with willing hands helping the newbies put up their tents, and the others, equally community spiritedly, stayed by the fire, drinking the wine and offering fatuous commentary when needed. All established, we gathered round the blazing faggots and got down to the serious business of imbibing liquor and talking bollocks, which came very naturally, and went a long way to prove that if the art of conversation is not dead, then it is certainly in a terminal state, if some of the subject matter that evening was anything to go by. Those with SPD’s, toasted their cleats before the open fire, whilst pausing to sample the wealth of charred and blackened titbits those with a culinary bent had laboriously prepared to tempt the assembled gastropods with. All told, it was a sublime evening spent in the delightful bonhomie of the most excellent of fellows and felloweses. The evening was brought to a rousing and appropriate crescendo, by James Perret depositing me wholesale from a wheelbarrow onto Tommo’s tent, as we bid a weary goodnight to one and all. Ursa Major and the rest of the zodiac smiled peaceably down upon us from a cloudless sky. It was bloody freezing though.
Reveille was at around 8.30. Unshaven craggy faces emerged from nylon apertures. Careful attempts to maintain the sacred flame by covering it with a bin lid had failed miserably, but some enterprising soul has coaxed fire where there was none. Rob the Soul, Jimmy P. Lee, Tommo and Carol were all on the case, and breakfast was soon under way. Jimmy P did marvellous things with bacon. What Jesus did with fish, J did with pork. Coffee, bacon, muesli, tea, bacon, bacon, coffee. The owner turned up, an affable and considerate man, who told us fascinating facts about the geological anomalies of the site; namely that we were on a strata of Fuller’s Earth; which is basically a skid pan for land masses. Eventually the last stragglers (Emi and Livvi), joined us for the third sitting of breakfast, just in time to break camp and heave ho, loading up the bikes using a diverse array of panniers and bungee systems.
We settled the bill, and set forth as one, with a healthy descent to ease into the ride. The sky was high and clear, the sun burning frost from the ground and chill from the air. The early stages of the route were across rolling Cotswold landscape. Lee had damaged a knee the day before, and was in some discomfort, but rode well and kept a good pace. Some of the speedsters had a burst every now and again, different folk hitting the pedals, but we all caught up at junctions and the like, and goodly progress was maintained. We got to Slimbridge, close to the wildfowl centre, and made the collective decision to follow the canal southerly, with the instructions to remain courteous to dog walkers and any other pedestrian scum we might encounter. We rode the dirt track for the first few miles, then it got a bit slippy; I took a minor tumble, but Livvi up ahead had done a better job of it, coming off proper and knocking her knee into the bargain. Being a trooper, she was fairly soon putting some weight on it and was back on the case. We walked it whilst the ground was slithery and slippy; we were running out of knees. Finally the path firmed up, and we made some proper headway again, arriving at a small town just short of Berkely, where we decided we would stop for lunch. A pretty village green was our lunching rendezvous. Everyone took it in turns to go urinate in what looked like someone’s driveway. Spirits were high, as carbs were loaded; largely chocolate coated. It was the homeward straight; two big hills left.
We set off and when the inclines came, the pack stretched out a little. Lee was valiant, but suffering considerably, and some ended up walking sections of the steep bits. The run back into Bristol was easier once the big hill at Thornbury was scaled, and it was a contented trundle through Filton towards the Gloucester Rd, and refreshments at the Lounge Bar there.
It had been a great ride out in the best of company, and I felt privileged to be part of such an excellent crew. All credit to Seb for getting it together and leading us so well. Would we do it again? I should cocoa.