After the success of my first solo Jenn in 2017, I encouraged a couple of remote cycle buddies to make various long trips from London and Hereford to join me in 2018. Usual caveats with these two-wheeled rogues would apply – the wrong bike, minimal-to-absurd equipment, grating differences of opinion and dietary needs were to be the order of the days…
Tucked up in the campervan in the field the night before, two of us relaxed into cold beers and overdosed on olives, whilst we waited on our third, gently coaxing his eighties Italian supershopper through the M6 quagmire. When he arrived after dark the rains started – but as he’d brought a decent cheeseboard we excused the coincidence and got deep into familiar insulting banter, much to the irritation of our neighbours, no doubt.
A sunny and leisurely wake up call bode well as we made our final and crucial lashings – cured meats, a bottle of rose, flip flops, cigar, a Christmas cracker compass. You might think we weren’t taking things seriously, but for us, this IS taking things seriously! Although we made the official start, we still missed it – no, I don’t understand either. Edwards, cutting a spectacular sight on his CX bike and all white lycra, was being ‘interviewed’ on the start line and accused of taking this bikepacking lark to another level. ‘Another depth’ one can only assume was meant.
‘The Lost Art of Minimisation’
So we three soft pedalled away from the start and headed upwards and away. Almost immediately off-road Edwards was resigned to pushing the CX machine with it’s inappropriate gearing and rubberware. ‘Has he outhought us here?’ I begun to wonder. That lightweight approach sure looked easy to push and lift over gates… However his demeanour soon deteriorated once we started the rock-strewn descents – not noted for much down hilling prowess, the seventies rucksack about his shoulders soon had him walking and sulking the downs as well as the ups.
Blistering sunny skies and epic views as we made slow progress waiting at each gate for the sullen third to regroup – if he wasn’t enjoying it at this early stage how would he last the remaining 46 hours? Fortunately the old post office tearoom at Town End gave us an opportunity to gather our team spirit with a decent cuppa char.
“A man has got to know his limitations” Clint Eastwood once said – Edwards took the sage advice and continued to the agreed Ambleside lunch halt on the road, whilst Kean and I took on the challenge of Skelghyll Lane, with its uber-sketchy descents and, this year, bonus octogenarian NT walkers wandering mid-track. With adrenalin dribbling off our foreheads we relaxed into Ambleside and cooled off outside Alpkit, telling Edwards how much he would have hated the last gnarly section as he wasn’t ‘man-enough’.
A decent lunch and a couple of beers should have reunited us against the challenge, but by now Edwards had a taste for the sweet smooth tarmac, albeit ruined by the swarms of non-eco car tourists, and I guess he was keen to pretend he was doing the Fred Whitton, so he headed off solo for Hawkeshead. Kean and I travelled west to Loughrigg, up a snorter of a tarmac climb out of Ambleside then rewarded with a rollicking rollercoaster downhill towards the Drunken Duck.
Our pitiful average speed for the day meant we would never make the official route to Coniston and beyond, but at least our lengthy palmares of shame meant we could realistically assess our ambitions. Hence we cut down to Hawkeshead for a strangely refreshing Baileys on ice, more beer and a re-stock of victuals at the Cooperative, before seeking camp at dusk. A slow, weary crepescule climb up from Near Sawrey into the creepy landscape of Claife Heights, suitable as a future Dr. Who venue, I’m sure.
Voices in the gloom, then meerkat bodies popping over an escarpment – friends! We made camp with the most amazing sunset vista one could want, as the sun majestically disappeared leaving a burnt golden-purple trail in its wake. A perfect night of group chatter was perfunctorily dismantled by the onset of rain. Those few of us who had chosen to lug a tent were secretly feeling pretty smug, whilst those of us with a more minimalistic approach were about to pay the price!
In our gang there were three distinct approaches to sleeping out. One – an orthodox tent with an airbed and even a chair; Two – a self-curated contemporary ‘sleepsystem’, which for the uninitiated, means a bag within a bag with some Bacofoil underneath; along with a tent that thinks it’s a tarp but has no sides, and is supported by a handy bicycle wheel; Three – a bivibag and hat, feet downward-facing…
I awoke feeling pretty fresh and ready for coffee and porridge; Kean even more fresh, but mainly due to his exposed face being subjected to an all night spin cycle. Edwards?? There was no Edwards, just an impression of his not unsubstantial physique in the long grass – after 5 hours of waterboarding Edwards had cut his losses and dragged his sorry selection of kit, flip flops and all, off into the night. By the time coffee was brewed Edwards had rung in – he was already at home in Hereford in his slippers. The time – 0630. God loves a quitter!
A slow pack up enabled most of the dampness to be dried off as the sun was finally up and we were able to see the epic views in sharp relief. The Lakes – just wow! Slushing through the damp forest and down to the waters edge of Windermere, a bright ride into Ambleside for a decent fry up and morning ablutions. Now down to two we made for more continuous riding, aided in part by being able to bitch endlessly about our ‘lost’ colleague.
The long gradual descent made for a triumphant finish, despite our underachievement in cutting the 100 mile route to 50 miles of ribbons. Endorphins and weariness jostled within, whilst we ordered big at Wilf’s Cafe and begun the recovery and the review.
Soon it was a reluctant return to normality – down the various motorways to our dwellings, the hot showers and the need to keep eating. Another Jenn – another fantastic experience in riding, landscape and friendship.
Words and pictures – Neil Ruddock