Cycling Britain: Day 1

Day 1, Distance: 57.5 miles, Average speed: 8.6 MPH,

Nearest towns where I ended: St Just in Roseland and Portscatho

It’s the beginning of my second actual day of biking, but I’m writing about the first day, for a couple of reasons. First, as described later, I arrived at a campground later than planned. Although, I did reach my goal of actually putting my tent up in sunlight, something I never accomplished in my training for this trip. I arrived at this very cozy campground about 8pm last night. That left me with very little time to set up my tent, set up my stove, make supper, unpack some gear, wash dishes, have a shower, and look over some photos from the day before dozing off.

The second reason I’m writing now, at the beginning of my second day of cycling, 20 July 2011, is that it’s raining. The sound of the rain on my tent is one of the few sounds that are more peaceful than the birds I woke to. I don’t yet have a clear plan for packing a wet tent or keeping, most of, my gear dry when I store it back into panniers and load them on to my bike. But, that’s a problem for another time. For now, I’m going to enjoy the sound of the rain and write from inside of this tiny but cozy tent.

My first day started in at Youth Hostel in Penzance. The more I stay in hostels, the more I like them. They attract people who enjoy simple things, like reading, playing a board game, and talking with new people. There is a (small-screen) TV, wireless Internet, and some other current comforts, but there’s no pool, sauna, and thankfully, no waterslide. Unfortunately, I had a lot of preparing to do with my bike, gear, and body, so I couldn’t talk with many other folks. Even so, I still enjoyed their company.

The main way I had to take care of my body was to catch up on sleep. I only slept about 4.5 hours the night before, packing and fiddling with my the routes I use on my GPS. I fell asleep in the hostel around 10pm, shared bunk room with 5 other guys. The first time I woke was just after 5am, when an alarm clock went off, from one of the more impolite guys in the room. I quickly switched off my alarm clock and went back to sleep. I woke again about 6am, excited to get an early start. I made breakfast from the food I brought with me, granola and milk, from the powdered milk I carry. I was anxious to get started cycling, but eating made me drowsy, so I went back to bed, after a 15 minute search for my wallet, in the dark room, trying not to wake others.

I’m getting too detailed. It’s already been about a page, and I haven’t even started cycling yet.

I left the hostel about 11:30, 2.5 hours later than planned. I’m still learning how to pack my gear quickly while also putting everything where it belongs. I also tested my netbook with my phone to get internet access from my phone back to my netbook. A last task was working on my bike. The tires were low and the chain was creaking a lot. I carefully inflated the tires and squirted some oil in the general direction of the chain.

About 99% of my trip will be cycling east or north, but my first few miles were west, from Penzance to Land’s End. That part of Britain is a narrow peninsula that gets narrower as you get closer to where the land ends. That means there’s not a lot of room for roads and traffic, so the roads were a little busy. It was exciting to approach Land’s End and see the ocean on 3 sides. Unfortunately, the most prominent part of town is a theme park at the tip of the peninsula, but with a little imagination, you can imagine the rugged and hearty place this was. I took the obligatory photo at the Land’s End sign post, signed the book for “End to Enders”, bought a coffee mug, and headed west.

Another lesson I need to learn is how much detail to include here, or I’ll end up leaving at 11.30 again today.

About 2:30pm, yesterday, I stopped in a sandwich shop on the beach a few miles east of Penzance. They had free internet access, some tasty sandwiches, and treats, and friendly staff. I stayed there for about an hour trying to find a place to stay for the night. I also started running my helmet video camera at that shop.

The route eventually became a lot of small roads. It is hilly in this part of Britain, but that does make for some incredible views of the countryside, and a lot of times when I’m pushing my bike up the hills.

Since I have to make this description shorter, I’ll let the photos tell the story, if or when I have time to come back to this description and add them later.

About 6pm, I used my GPS to find nearby campgrounds. I called the one that was closet to me and asked for a place to pitch my tent. She said there was room, and since it was the busy season, it would cost £20. I was tired from cycling, so I lost my manners a little when I responded, “For a one man tent!?” She responded with similar firmness, so I apologized and accepted her offer to just turn up if I wanted to. I hung up and called another place. It was further away, but the owner was friendly and said I could stay for £9.

On the way there, I saw a sign saying the Prince Harry Ferry was ahead. I thought it would be a town or pub. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a real modern ferry, crossing an estuary in front of me. It was only about a 500 yard crossing, easy to see the other side. The ferry could hold about 20 cars, or a 200 bikes. It was just pulling out when I arrived, so I spoke with a Scottish man about the ferry, estuary, and some ocean-going ships that were anchored nearby. When the ferry came back, it was a lot of fun cycling onto the ferry. After I boarded, a member of the crew stopped by and collected my 50 pence. We also had a few laughs. Just before the ferry reached the other side, the Scottish man I was talking to called out to me from his car. He said, “Isn’t this cheating?” since I was supposed to be cycling across Britain. I laughed and said that I should have put on a pontoon and paddle on my cycle for just this occasion.

One thing about crossing a ferry in a hilly area is that you’re probably in for some big hills when you leave the ferry. So, I pushed my bike up another long hill. My GPS led me right to the campground. The owner placed me in a very quiet place. I told him that I wish I could stay longer, hopefully one day I will. The landscaping in this campground, with flowers, clean buildings, and other goodies is only outdone by the view of the hills around it.

The rain has now stopped, so I better start packing.

3 thoughts on “Cycling Britain: Day 1

  1. Steve,

    Just stumbled onto this today, congrats on the project! I’ve done some single day cycle touring, but never had the opportunity for big trip like this!

    I can see the benefits of a bike like that, but I would worry about transfer of power on hills. Here’s hoping for flat roads in your future! Stay safe and enjoy the ride!


  2. Hi Jon,

    Good to hear from you, and thanks for the encouragement. One small item I should add is that I’ve never done a big trip like this either. Before this, the longest was 3 days. So, I’m either ambitous or foolish. Time will tell.

  3. Glad you were more careful about applying air to the tires than you were in applying oil to the chain! 🙂

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