Words and Images by Jess Morgan.
The romance around travelling home is universal. Something about leaving the bustle of the city behind for the comfort and quiet of home – a place where food is plentiful and the mundanities of adulthood are cast away – makes it a very compelling destination. My first thoughts of riding home bubbled up around five years ago, but the logistics and route planning aspects put me off more than the 345km distance between London to Swansea.
This year, as bike packing reached the same trendy heights as gravel riding, and some help from route mappers Komoot, I decided it was time to make the pilgrimage. Two days and 345km may not seem like a very long trip to people who actually do bike touring, but for someone whose monthly menu of riding comprises mostly of 100km loops of Essex or laps of Regent’s Park, it was intimidating to see a line stretching from one side of Britain to the other.
WHAT DID I TAKE?
I’ve never done a multi-day ride before and the first question was obviously HOW AM I GOING TO CARRY ALL MY STUFF?? I have an extra obstacle of being 5’3 so my resulting tiny bike doesn’t have the clearance for a regular bar pack or frame bag. I ended up getting a Rapha Rear Pack, and into this I packed everything I didn’t expect to need on the ride like clothes and shoes. In a bar bag mounted on my handlebars went more ride-critical items like tools, a waterproof jacket and battery pack (for the ‘gram).
BUT WHAT ABOUT FOOD?
Not to fear, I had Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts, which feature not only a pocket on each leg for easy access to food/phone, but also has two additional pockets on the back for reserve snacks. Add the usual three jersey pockets to the mix and suffice to say I had the capacity to carry enough food for the entire trip (and more). I went for a mix of real food like Nakd bars, chocolate filled crepes and dried apricots and Secret Training gels for quick boosts of energy. My kit list was finished off with a pair of waterproof Velotoze overshoes and gilet with hi-vis stripes for extra visibility on quiet country lanes.
The final part of the puzzle was a pair of Hiplok Z-Loks to keep our bikes safe if we stopped at shops or cafes. With weight being a prime consideration, the Z-Lok Combo was perfect as something robust enough for peace of mind when out of sight, but light enough to be completely unnoticeable when riding.
The ride started in North London with clear skies, sun and a nagging headwind. My boyfriend Ben, who was joining me on the adventure, luckily had no qualms in acting as a windshield, and my gratitude was boundless as he protected me from the worst of the wind for the entire trip (apart from the few times I’d try to take a turn, inevitably causing our speed to plummet). With 210km planned for day one, the first 70km was tactically designed to be flat and fast, taking an unscenic yet direct path past Heathrow. However, there’s no avoiding the Chilterns, and the road soon started tilting up. I can confirm that Streatley Hill, a 1km long snorter (that’s hill climber slang for a particularly disgusting climb) with an average of 11% is even more soul-destroying when loaded down with several extra kilograms of luggage.
Drops of water started to pitter patter down at 100km, announcing that we had finally hit the bands of rain that had been darkly lurking on the horizon all day. Cue a strategic lunch stop (bikes secured outside with the Z-Lok Combos) to refuel and shelter. The rest of the ride featured spells of rain, and after the long descents and climbs of Somerset we arrived at our Airbnb having clocked up 211km, ready for a shower and a lengthy sit down. Not to be. A missing key meant we were locked out for almost two hours. So close and yet so far. Eventually we gained access and to celebrate treated ourselves to two gigantic takeaway pizzas – precisely what we needed to boost morale and replace all those burned calories. Our kit got a good scrubbing in the sink, true bike packing style, and hung up ready for the next day.
The morning forecast featured a large rain cloud over Bristol, so we waited two hours for it to pass before setting off. Why did we bother? As soon as we reached the border and crossed the old Severn Bridge into Wales, the heavens opened. Of course they did, it’s Wales! We soon encountered the signature punchy climbs of the country, which sapped the legs and became treacherous when descending down 15% lanes awash with rainwater and debris, leading to the decision to tweak the route and follow an A-road to Newport. From there we snaked up and over valleys, down through tiny mining towns and whizzed along secluded bike paths. All, naturally, through sheets of rain. This day, though only 140km in length was infinitely more challenging than the first, and when we reached the outskirts of Swansea my heart swelled with joy. I even regained enough enthusiasm to start pointing out places from my childhood to Ben, who was rather less excited to see the house of my first piano teacher. Topping it off was my mum cheering us from the balcony as we rolled up to her house. Goodness knows how long she’d been waiting there. We were presented with cups of tea and a glorious spread of food to feast on, and collapsed into an exhausted cloud of contentment.
Did I enjoy my first experience of bike packing? Hell yes! Although the conditions were less than ideal, there was something very enjoyable about packing nothing but the bare essentials onto your bike and riding into the distance. The luxury of having nothing to do that day but ride to your destination was perhaps the most liberating aspect, with nothing to think about other than the next big climb or what to eat next. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, although ideally with less rain next time.
FOLLOW JESS HERE – https://www.instagram.com/scoot__/