March 10th has been a prophesised date of reckoning ever since I decided to leave on it. The logic of that decision was that it gave me a week upon returning from holiday in Lanzarote to finish off everything. Everything. By this point, I’d already dropped one film project and numerous other creative things for lack of time, and so ‘everything’ consisted of Student Finance, sorting accommodation, organising my travel finances, one last shift at work and a leaving do with my colleages, seeing off friends accross two groups and numerous other close ties, as well as family, ordering a handlebar bag, memory cards and spare batteries, testing out panniers, getting a packing list, clearing out all my footage from Lanzarote, hoping and praying my laptop arrived in time, designing and pressing a shirt for the trip, ensuring I had places to stay, looking at routes, making a playlist for the trip and a couple of others and finishing off a secret film project, as well as another little video.
Much of this, as you might imagine, didn’t get done. Some of it I managed to do in the opening days of the trip, some of it still hasn’t been done. Another video got dropped, the secret project was finished filming the day before I left, and still needed editing and all the rest. My friends started to arrive at my house at about 3pm to set the fated ‘Last Supper’, an evening of music and food that pleasurably continued well beyond midnight, I drifted off every hour or so to edit, and finished a couple of films in their presence with headphones on. It really was coming down to the wire, but the nature of the project meant I was convicted to finish it, there were people at the very table I was sat who had to see the finished products, I could not leave this one undone.
Festivities continued until 4am, and once I’d said what would be my final goodbyes to most of my friends, I set off to my Mum’s to pick up the last of the stuff I might need to take with me. I’d given out 8:30am as a departure time, with that four and a half hours away I looked at my bedroom floor – a mass of stuff, countless varied items of luggage splayed all over the place, and two empty panniers sat beside an empty handlebar bag. Packing would take two hours, and when I crashed into bed at about quarter past 6 I had to delay the departure, for what felt like sake of my life.
I slept troubled, unsurprising given the weight of excitement and nerves that accompanied me once I had nothing else to think about, and so despite being absolutely exhausted (this night had not been a one-off, they had become almost par for the course, unhealthily) I was happy to set about things again at 8am, the last video of that project was close to finishing exporting, and then it would take 20 minutes to upload. I’d have to ‘release’ them on the road somewhere. A madam slithered through my door whilst I was getting changed, and set about making absolute sure that I didn’t forget anything. I had no packing plan. The one thing I had learnt from my reading was ‘practice, practice, pracitce! Don’t tour without knowing your kit inside out.’ That was beyond the realms of possibility now: I hadn’t pitched my tent outside, I hadn’t ever packed the panniers yet, let alone ridden with them, I hadn’t bought shower gel or anything, I’d never familiarised routes, or made space for food, or anything for that matter. I was still packing for summer, it was 5 degrees. I had one fleece. All my various batteries and devices were packed and then I was basically, in-effect, almost ready to go. I’d said goodbye to my Dad before he’d gone to work, Mum would be at the pub – the natural Wells place to set off from. I bid farewell to step-mum Vanessa and Madam and I set off for ‘Spoons. My brother put one last entry on the long list of breakfasts he has now bought me and we, along with Myles, Leo, Mum and M had a nice, jolly, spirited laugh, delaying the inevitable another hour or so.
I left at half 11 in the end, following a short session of signing white items of my belongings – my ‘ass saver’, helmet and bottle. And once all the informalities were done or as good as, it was time to actually depart. I gave the bike, fully loaded, a trial run up and down the street, as did Leo for the experience. And then all the preparation, all the planning, all the countless conversations about what I would do if-, or the many ways in which I could come to harm, all the hyping up and toning down and general huffing and puffing came to a head, a pretty anticlimactic head really. After some standing around and chuckling, I realised it was me who actually had to go, not those idiots watching me, probably getting impatient, taking jabs at me amongst each other. How do you set off on a trip of 6 months? Potentially not seeing some of the dearest people in your life for half a year, with all that lays ahead of you? It’s simple, strangely so, having spent long enough looking at each of them dumbfounded, I clipped in and shambled down the road away from my leaving party without another glance. That was it. Goodbye, I suppose.
And now what? Well I know the way out of town, in-fact I knew of many ways to Haworth, my first place of interest, having planned to cycle there for over a year with Leo. I took the first left turn onto the main road along the coast and tried my best to think about how I felt. I think it was either a moment too familiar to contextualise with the trip, or I simply had too much to consider to actually feel a thing of any note, my system overshot. But still, I was up and away, I knew that much, and the road before me would be ever-changing for the next 12500km.
I’m not too sure how I made it through that first day, with 130km upwards of cycling on 2 hours’ sleep, all the while learning how to ride the bike with the bags on. The bike now weighed three times as much as normal, I was slower in starting off and by the end of the day my right knee had a nasty ache from propelling 30+ kilos by itself at every junction, while the bike itself now took about as long to stop as a speeding train. I’d started breaking in Preston to stop in Haworth, but that’s at-least a sign of the positive too: momentum. Getting up hills is actually easier in a way, the real hard work has already been done in years of cycling, as if there’s a calculation at the bottom of each hill, and provided my strength and stamina are enough to defeat the gradient of the hill for longer than a few seconds, I’m pretty certain to make it up the hill. I’ve tried explaining it with some very adept cyclists, most of them touring cyclists too, and it’s hard to put. I suppose the bike being cumbersome, and all the weight being at the back, makes pedalling like a madman up hills a bit more regular and rhythmic. There are also added benefits given that you spend a lot more time sat down with panniers on, standing up and powering down on the pedals is a rare act of bravery, putting yourself even more at the mercy of the bags of dark matter hanging off each side of the bike, capitalising on every single lean you make. The toughest part so far has been walking the bike, as it happens, when the leaning is harder to deal with. On more than one occasion Lunette has completely flattened herself after finding herself at an angle any more than 5 degrees or so from upright, and then you really have no idea what might happen, if your wrists aren’t broken by the fracas you might be able to correct it reasonably smoothly, but on the other hand all this movement has given the bike momentum and the back is significantly heavier than the front, and so once or twice the bike has reared up like a vain horse, and then the only subtle way out is to continue walking the bike on its rear wheel for a bit. All in all, she’s a heavy beast, and I miss the sensation of having a feather-light bike below me, one which I realise now I took for granted, but then I’m packing light as it is so I should still be glad to consider myself a sportive tourer, and that I have to admit would be true, my average speed is only a slight nudge lower than my usual, without the bags, which confused me at first, but it was a godsend on day 1.
I made it through Preston and all its brothers and sisters in the Ribble valley, and stopped for food, very briefly, as briefly as possible, in Burnley, before heading out towards the hills, I kept an eager eye out for the turn-off towards Haworth, fated for so long, it felt very strange actually riding on it once I reached the junction. Having been on A-roads most of the day, the contrast couldn’t have been more marked. The business (or busyness, who knows), the noise, the misery all cascaded away behind me within the opening 100 yards and gave way to birdsong and the sound of streams. A mile or so further on, I’d climbed above the trees and up into the Moors, and I was moved to stop in shock. First of all, it was completely silent. I couldn’t hear a thing, it was like a point of complete separation from the outside world, looking out at the landscape, as impressive as planned. Today was a bit of a geeky venture, I was headed excitedly towards Bronte Country, and descriptions of the rugged terrain that I’d so enjoyed reading came to life with even more vividness than I had thought possible as I rolled up and down around the side of a moor. I stopped to put on a song, one which I’ve long associated with this place, and had myself a little moment of indulgence. This is what I saw and heard:
Following that I arrived in Haworth and looked around, bought some lovely cake and made my way to Leeds, via another short stop off at Salts Mill in Saltaire, which I bet is much more interesting when it’s open. On the way through Keighley I got talking to a fellow cyclist. In true first-day fashion I’d adorned myself with the t-shirt I’d made and the countries running down my back sparked his interest. He was surprised a tour of Europe could take me to such a place as his hometown, which he clearly didn’t see the merit of. I didn’t stay long enough to make my own opinion, but I’m sure it isn’t that bad. Leeds certainly wasn’t. I had my own little uni experience with friends James and Amber, they fed me well and we played poker until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It’d been a long day. A very long day, but I had made it.
Morning brought with it a tour of Leeds, including Wetherspoons and a bit more of the Uni, where I got completely ruined at pool by both of them. For the first city of the tour, Leeds was far from unpleasant. It was quiet and the weather was murky as it would remain for days to come, but it was young and lively despite that, and pleasantly urban, if that’s a thing. Cycling wasn’t bad at all either, even on some pretty meaty A-roads on the way in. It’d been nice to see James and Amber, after being ill the last chance I had, and so I stayed as long as I could. Setting off close to 5pm seemed like a bit of a bad habit to be getting into, but it was worth it for the lulling around with friends, and finishing off that film project. And so off I went into day 2, the first big ride I think I’d ever gone on that didn’t start at home. I was going to have to get used to that feeling, that’s for sure.
Day 1 of 179
135km (85 miles) cycled
0 Bronte ghosts encountered