Adventure biking can take many forms, from epic transcontinental journeys or delving into the wilderness and surviving only on your wits and equipment stuffed onto the bike. But, there is a simpler and just as rewarding experience by rolling out of your front door and with no plan in hand and finding the treasures that lurk on the fringes of normal society.
A wisp of crisp morning air breathes through the small opening of my cocoon stirring me from sleep. Subconsciously and in a desperate attempt to save a few more precious moments of rest, I shuffle my body moving the opening away from my face, only allowing more annoyingly fresh airflow into my bubble and succumb to my fate that’s it’s time to get up.
Dozy fingers toy awkwardly with the bivvy bag toggles as I resentfully break free from the lingering warmth of my sleep system and thrust my head and torso into the cold stark day. The initial shock is replaced by the visual glory that surrounds me, morning dew covers everything, low orange sun reflects a millions times in each bead of water turning everything into an exquisite jewel against the low hanging pillow of mist. God it’s beautiful.
You would be forgiven for thinking that I had just woken in one of nature’s paradises, maybe a forest surrounded by redwoods and that unmistakable alpine fragrance, but in fact I am tucked beneath a long disused boat, bitten by wood rot and covered in a weathered blue tarp. My temporary accommodation is small harbour tucked quietly beneath the red iron Goliath that is the Forth Bridge and appears to be the last resting place of many once seaworthy vessels.
So how did I find myself here? Coming from a predominantly Road Racing history and completing many of the cyclist bucket list items including following world tour races, conquering epic climbs and the obligatory Lands End to John O’Groats. It was during my time in France, ticking off (and never to be ticked again!) the Paris-Roubaix event, that my friend Jamie mentioned how nice it would be to be able not rely on hotels or driving to get to our destination and not to mention the money we would save! The seed of cycle touring began to take root (Jamie neglected to tell me that his ultimate goal is for us to pair for the Transcontinental Race) and I discovered ‘bikepacking’.
Armed with my new adventure bike and Restrap bike bags, I thought the best way to learn to bikepack effectively was just go out close to my residence and trial ideas, allowing if something went wrong or an important thing was forgotten, it would only be a short jaunt to the safety of home. On my first outing I simply started on the same route I’ve used a million times whilst training on my road bike, turning down a dirt track that I has always played on my imagination of what could lay beyond its leafy canopy. My discovery was better than I could envisage, a centuries old watermill, crumbled and recaptured by the nature surrounding it, like something out of a movie set – for years I had lived here and never known what was a few miles from my door – and so began my urban adventures.
Luckily my career involves travelling constantly and I find myself, at time of writing, in Scotland which is quite simply one of the veritable hidden treasure troves of beauty, both natural and manmade. Buildings made to withstand the inclement weather cycles or left to perish in them, the mottled hues of brown and green dapple the once bright paint work and give everything that aged look that only Mother Nature can.
This is my love I harbour with bikepacking - it connects your more with your environment, allows you to move off the beaten track, route planners and data crunching. Just you, the bike, what you have squeezed into your bike bags and the world. So at the moment I am content, pedalling down alleyways and tracks to find another visual spectacle, trying my hardest to capture the sense with a quick photo and moving on until either the darkness or my inability to move forward make me pull out the bivvy and start all over again the next day.
And no doubt in the near future, Jamie will fulfil his master plan and we will experience the Transcontinental Race…
…All I can say for now is, go out and #carryeverything
Follow Tom's urban explorations @despatcheur