I Ate So Much Candy: Biking the Length of Britain

[Emma Hooper is a professor of pop at Bath Spa university, where she also used to teach various kinds of creative writing. She plays lots of viola, writes in most genres, and moved to the UK from her native Canada a little over eight years ago. She’s stayed for so long mainly because you can ride a bike year-round and get to other exotic places real quick and quite cheap.]

That’s it. I biked the length of Britain. From the northeast tip of Scotland to the southwest tip of Cornwall. Total mileage: 978 (miles) in eleven days. This was my first ever bike event/trip/attempt. Why start small when you can start gigantic?

The equipment:

  • A beautiful brand new 2010 Trek 1.5 WSD
  • Two water-proof panniers
  • Loads of other water-proof stuff
  • Loads of food. Especially candy (Scottish tablet!)
  • A tent and sleeping bag (thanks Tori!)
  • Naivety, inexperience, and an awesome spork

The ride:

  • An average of 90 miles a day, broken up as 30 miles (sorry, um, 48 km) before breakfast, 30 before lunch, and 30 or more before camp and dinner.
  • So many hills. Scotland has mountains. Did you know that? It does. And Dartmoor Forrest is the most beautiful place I wish I’d never been. I thought moors were flat? Silly Canadian.
  • Headwinds. We learned that most riders do this trip the other way. Because of these winds. Oh. Yeah. Being pushed up a hill you’re supposed to be riding down is a little disheartening. There may have been a point, somewhere in Scotland, when I actually had to yell at the wind. “Stop it, wind!” I yelled. It didn’t even listen.

The accommodation:

  • The breakdown: We didn’t want to have to stop riding until we really really had to (i.e., the sun was down and it was danger-time), so we didn’t have any prebooked places to stay. This, actually, wasn’t the best idea, always. Because, actually, there weren’t lovely campsites dotted at even 10 km intervals along our route. In fact, there were hardly any dotted anywhere at all. So.
  • Campsites: we did find a few. Some even had running water! None of them, sadly, had firepits. No heat allowed in Britain. Ever.
  • Other places: The side of the road, a farmer’s field, the front yard of a nice lady named Anne, etc.
  • B&B: One night. ONE. After a day of rain and rain and wind and cold, when all our laundry, tents, sleeping bags, and selves were soaked and pretty much dead, I convinced Sue that a B&B would be worth the 22 pounds. Once. It was heaven. Except when we woke up and discovered all the things we’d hung up to dry hadn’t. The never-ending wetness of Scotland.

The people:

  • Other cyclists. Although it’s pretty ambitious, this is actually a fairly popular ride. Except most people do it with support vehicles and B&Bs. But, still. You see lots of comrades up and down the roads, especially near the beginning and end. Wonderful community camaraderie.
  • Normal people. Are all shocked and disturbed when you tell them what you’re doing. Perhaps more so when you tell them whilst washing your socks and padded shorts in a grocery store bathroom sink.

The conclusions:

  • I scraped up my knee and ankle. Got chilblains and sunburn. Have never been so cold or wet or tired. And had a really really amazing time.
  • My favorite thing: the cycling.
  • My least favorite thing: the not-cycling.
  • Though not one I could continue indefinitely, it’s a fascinating way of life, to wake up just before sunrise and work toward one goal as much as physically possible until sunset. Nomadic and anciently resonant. A life based around movement and light.
  • Already planning the next one. Maybe with a few more B&Bs…

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