Cycling the Severn Bridge

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On Thursday 7th of October, we crossed the finish line of our Ride for the Wild challenge.

A world-first 2,000-mile cycle ride to all 15 of the UK’s national parks, completely unassisted and emission-free.

It took…

  • 40 days of camping
  • 2,082 miles
  • 48,718 pedal rotations
  • 168 apples
  • 174 bread rolls
  • 16 malt loaves
  • 20 jars of peanut butter
  • 12 jars of jam/marmalade
  • 3 gas canisters
  • 9 kg of oats
  • 7 kg of raisins
  • 2 cassettes
  • 3 chains
  • 3 pairs of split cycle shorts
  • 1 bike wheel
  • And a ridiculous amount of blood sweat and tears

It was, without a doubt, the most incredible thing we’ve ever done. But also the hardest. Beautiful and brutal in equal measure.

We made friends and lifetime memories, learned a lot about ourselves and about this wonderful bit of land we call home. It left us inspired and motivated, completely in awe of our natural surroundings and more passionate than ever to protect them.

Oh, and we managed to raise £2,085 for Trees for Life – and counting!

When the sun shone, we were able to get a few snaps on the camera and I thought they would be a nice way of sharing our journey. For the full shabang – sun, rain and storms – the video will be out soon!

Ride for the Wild in Photos – pt. 1

We’ll publish part two in the next few weeks. If you want to know when it comes out, pop your name and email below and we’ll keep you posted 🙂

Ride for the Wild White Map
Our 2,000-mile route
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All of our bikepacking gear

After months and months of preparations, we were still making changes and adjustments on the morning of our departure.

Despite that, the ride to our first national park, the Yorkshire Dales, was completely problem-free, all 6 miles of it. Only a few dozen miles later, we reached the North York Moors National Park. This was the only point in our trip where we managed to reach two national parks in one day.

Very lucky to have a national park just down the road from our front door
And another only 30 miles away

Our first evening brought the first hiccup. We’d sent our tent way to be repaired, only for it to come back worse than it had been before. The evening was spent getting creative with zip ties until a reasonable pitch was possible. It wasn’t great, but it held.

“I guess it’ll do…”

From the North York Moors, we pushed North towards Newcastle and our first river crossing. Instead of going over the River Tyne, we went under it on the Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel. It seemed like a good idea until we realised the lift to the underground tunnel wasn’t working. Things got even worse when we realised the ginormous airport-style escalators weren’t running either.

Carrying two loaded bikes up and down those stairs was honestly one of the hardest effing things we’ve done. We came out bloody (chainrings took a liking to my thighs…), bruised and very sweaty.

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That smile soon went
Enjoying the flat before the stair climb

Day three and a few hundred miles later, we’d reached Northumberland National Park, numero 3.

But, more exciting than this, shortly after reaching Northumberland we crossed the border into Scotland. The feeling of crossing national borders and cycling from one country to another is pretty kick-ass!

Number 3
Leaving England and entering Scotland

Reaching Edinburgh 250 miles in, we had our first chilled evening at a campsite. Early dinner, toilet sink clothes washing session, stretching and finding a more permanent fix to the tent issues.

Getting creative with zip ties
A surprisingly good drying rack
Yes, that is a whole jar of vegan pesto in there…

The next morning, with frigid temperatures and nasty winds, it was time to cross the Forth Bridge. It was at this point I remembered I don’t like heights. Probably could have set a Strava record shooting over as quickly as I did.

Moments before I shot off

We’d kept to our 60-mile a day target for the first seven days of riding, but it was catching up with us. Appetites started going through the roof and lunchtime naps started to creep in.

Don’t come between Sarah and her food on a cycle tour!

The riding in Scotland took us on tarmac, gravel and mud, all being very straight and direct. Cycling past so many incredible mountains and landscapes in the distance, I feel like we only scratched the surface. We made it to the Cairngorms but are beyond inspired to go back and explore properly.

Cairngorms – number five!
Such peace cycling through forests

We cycled through dense forests, weaved through glens and along lochs. Even with the questionable weather, the landscapes were completely captivating. It made for some very inspired pedalling.

Riding along Loch Tay – hard but beautiful

Reaching Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was a treat. From here we knew it was a straightforward route heading into the heart of the Lake District.

Early mornings on the shore of Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond – national park number six and nearly the end of our time in Scotland

Nearly at the 500-mile mark, we left the natural wonders of the Highlands for the urban jungle of Glasgow. From here, the riding was easy but bleak. We followed a busy A road all the way from Glasgow to Carlisle. It was used by logging vehicles and hugged a roaring motorway for the whole journey.

120 miles of terrifying trucks riping past at 60 mph, deafening traffic and constantly getting covered in grit. Definitely not the highlight of the trip.

Bad weather, desolate landscapes and busy roads on our way out of Scotland

Lifting our spirits, we met two very cool guys on this surprising stretch. Daniel and Lucas were completing John O’groats to Lands End on foot. On this rubbish section of road, where the closest food or rest stops were sometimes 20+ miles apart, they were slowly making their way, happy as larry. Two truly inspiring lads who have raised nearly £20k for charity.

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At the time of writing, these guys are still walking – wish ’em luck!

Finally getting off the motorway at Gretna Green, we crossed back into England and had national park number seven in our sights. Ditching the busy roads for the blissful hills and quiet lanes in the Northern Lakes felt INCREDIBLE.

The Lakes are a special place
Just calling for a quick dip

It got hot. Temperatures shot to 28C and the sweat started to pour. Nothing could distract us from the landscapes though. It was also ideal clothes washing weather.

Everyone is grateful when our clothes are less smelly!

Then came our first major hiccup – the bikes cocked up. We ended up spending half the day in a bike shop and shelling out a bomb. Very grateful to Ghyllside Cycles for getting things mended so quickly and also giving us long enough to stop by the veggie cafe next door. It was our first meal out in nearly 3 years and Gandhi’s Cafe served up the best vegan burger I’ve ever eaten. The vegan mayo blew our minds too!

Cheers guys!
Can’t explain how good this was. Also got a killer nachos too. And the recipe for their vegan mayo – winning!

The riding through Lancashire was hot with a sprinkling of thunderstorms. It all came to a head close to Warrington when we got caught in the heaviest deluge we’d ever experienced on bikes. The most intense riding of our lives. We followed the Sankey Valley Trail through woodlands, with floor-shaking thunder, flooding river banks and rain so heavy you could barely see. It was too wet for photos but it’s all captured on the GoPro – keep your eyes peeled for the video!

That evening, a Warm Showers host welcomed us into their house with open arms. Milton was such a warm guy who filled us with inspiration. Pippa, the Jack Russel, was also the perfect remedy after such a manic day in the saddle. Cycling touring often orchestrates beautiful human encounters and connections and we’re so happy this ride, although super fast, was filled with them.

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Such a lovely experience!

Crossing into Wales, the riding quickly changed. It got real hard, with lanes so steep and winding it was a fight to keep your front wheel from lifting. The descents were moss and debris-laden so dropping downhill was almost as tiring as going up. Progress was slow and tough. For the first time on the trip, two weeks in, we didn’t hit our 60-mile daily target.

Hard to get a perspective but these lanes were STEEP!

But, within all the mayhem, we had an encounter we’ll never forget. The story is too long for this post, but, in summary, we made some lifelong friends who got us drunk and let us camp in their garden. Ian, Linn and Paul – thank you. We really hope we get to meet you again!

Our pitch in Ian and Linn’s garden

The landscapes and people in Wales continued to blow us away. We reached Snowdonia, national park number seven, but this is when things really began to go Pete Tong.

A big relief finding Snowdonia’s national park sign
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Pants weather but powerful landscapes

The weather really took a nasty turn, with a week of winds, rain and low lying clouds. This is when I realised I’d lost my waterproof – perfect timing, ey? A bin bag lasted for the day but we ended up taking a big diversion to Betws-y-Coed to buy a new one.

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Not sure this trend will catch…
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Wet tents and sock drying

At the same time, Sarah developed an injury that was causing her a lot of pain and our route became pretty dangerous. I’ll be honest, the Welsh roads were absolutely bonkers, particularly with low visibility and heavy rain. We had to route away from busier, more direct roads and onto tiny, off-road routes that added on heaps of miles and ascent.

We felt torn. These remote trails were sensational but had us way behind time. Our 30-day target was becoming less and less likely. The more technical riding was not helping Sarah’s injury either.

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We ended up cycling through a mountain bike park. It was such a cracking experience but not ideal for wracking up the miles.

Steering away from busy roads, it took us through slate valleys and high passes. It was honestly some of the most breathtaking riding we’ve done. Just a shame about our deadline.

Routing away from the roads
Such a unique region. Felt like we’d cycled out of the UK and into mainland Europe.

A day later and we knew Sarah’s injury had to get checked out. A day was spent at a local hospital and Sarah ended up on a course of antibiotics.

This was a really cruddy patch. Besides just wanting a challenge, Sarah had a work deadline she had to return home for, hence the 30-day aim and 60-mile a day target. It wasn’t possible for her to recover and keep at this pace so we were in a tricky situation.

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Playful faces but we were pretty devasted

Eventually she decided to get a train a few days ahead, giving her time to rest whilst I kept going through South Wales. It was shit thinking that crossing the finish line together might not be possible, particularly crushing after a whole summer of training and preparations.

We repacked our panniers so I could take all the additional gear needed. It was a lot heavier.

The new setup, with the addition of two panniers, a tent and a bunch of other gear

I set off on a modified solo route that would keep me off the busy roads. 5 days, 290 miles and 21,000ft of ascent… It was damn wet and every morning was spent peeling slugs off all my belongings.

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These pesky guys got everywhere

It was the first time I’d toured solo and the following 5 days polished me off. Brutal and neverending hills combined with all the additional gear and daily tasks we’d normally share between the two of us… I really struggled.

By the end of day two, I was close to passing out by the side of the road. I was completely frazzled, body aching and head scrambled but just pedalled on in a zombie-like state. The prospect of cooking a camp stove meal at the end of the second day seemed impossible. Thankfully, I found the best portion of chips I think I’ve ever eaten. I sat under a bus stop in the pouring rain, scoffing my face. At that point in time, I couldn’t have been more content.

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My saviour!

I made it to Pembrokeshire Coast and the Brecon Beacons National Park, just. Both areas filled me with a lot of hope. I watched a fiery sunset in Pembrokeshire which warmed my soul and the remote landscapes in the Brecon Beacons are just calling for a return trip.

Pembrokeshire Coast – number 8
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Brecon Beacons National Park – number 9
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Those hills… definitely coming back!

I met Sarah just afterwards and it couldn’t have come sooner. I needed to cut down the miles and cut down some gear, but, most importantly, I was glad to have my adventure buddy back.

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Back together

The prospect of crossing back into England felt very powerful. It seemed as though everything had gone wrong in Wales. Despite the unforgettable experiences, the hills and roads had ruined us.

Just a day’s ride ahead, the route would flatten out and get easier once we crossed back into England. I just needed to get over the Severn Bridge… which we did, together, and also crossed the 1,000-mile mark.

With the 30-day target now out of sight and Sarah still not completely recovered, we knew we had to take a different approach.

Click here to find keep reading Part Two, the final 1,000 miles!

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“Ready for the next 1,000 miles?”
Cycling to National Parks Photos
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