So, on the highly dubious basis that the campsite was about 100k from here, and I'd just bought a new tent
, I decided to join in on this little trip. The further suggestion of meeting jogler and Emily at Stone rather than riding there directly seemed like a good one, as it would be a bit more sociable and involve a lot less riding through Birmingham and Dudley.
So, after a week of warm sunshine, I got up at early o'clock on a grey Saturday morning, and rode to Mordor Central in the drizzle. The forecast was looking somewhat grim, and after 20 minutes of standing around on Stafford station, I was the coldest I'd been for several days. Jogler rolled up to Stone station a few minutes after I'd arrived, his mountain bike nicely loaded with two people's worth of camping kit.
Stopping briefly at a petrol station (which, I noted, had petrol) on the outskirts of Stone for supplies, we headed up the A51 for a couple of kilometres, then out into the lanes. The drizzle soon gave up, though the cool, hazy greyness stayed with us for most of the day. I was amused by a sign pointing to "Cold Meece", just the start of the silly place names on this trip. The lanes were pleasant enough cycling, but it became readily apparent that we were heading across the grain of the land - endless little ups and downs, that made for hard work with a heavy camping load.
After about an hour, we were at Loggerheads. From there, it was an altogether more satisfying 5km of gentle descent along the A53 to Market Drayton. You can't waste an opportunity like that, so I told the significantly less aerodynamic jogler that I'd meet him at the next junction, put it in the big ring and gave it a bit of welly, carrying enough energy to roller-coaster my way up the climbs.
We stopped at a café in Market Drayton, where the plan was for Marj and Emily to meet us, and Emily join us for the rest of the ride. Unfortunately, she was suffering with lurgy, and while quietly enthusiastic for the camping, didn't feel (or look) up to the cycling aspect of the trip. So common sense prevailed, and with some clever redistribution of kit, jogler managed to somehow offload Emily's stuff while simultaneously making his bike even heavier.
Refreshed, we set off down the, fortunately reasonably flat, A53 to Hodnet, and then onto a much quieter road at Hopton. This ultimately lead to a bridleway, crossing the River Roden at Papermill Bank. We decided to investigate the bridleway, as it was much more direct, and not too big a detour if it wasn't passable by bike. Naturally, we were soon exploring the gamut of Comedy Off-Roading, inclding potholes, gravel, tree roots, steep gradients, sudden drops and a couple of hundred metres of skittery railway ballast. Pretty much everything except boggy mud, which I'm sure would have been in abundance if it weren't for the previous week's unseasonal weather. While jogler was in fact on a mountain bike, it was rendered Mildly Inappropriate by merit of the semi-slick tyres and simply obscene amounts of luggage. I just lay back and tried not to over do it on the brakes, with a pleasingly high degree of success.
The climbing resumed on the way up to Clive, followed by some descending and then, about halfway to the campsite, a navigational error at Myddle, which inevitably lead us to places with 'Hill' in the name. Backtracking to avoid more places with 'Hill' in the name easily cancelled out the distance saved by the bridleway route we used earlier. Through Baschurch (where there are no loos) and up another hill, pausing only for a hedge inspection, to Ruyton-XI-Towns - which doesn't have anything to do with cricket (I checked).
Up the hill, and across the A5, where I had an inverse clipless moment, which I present in choose-your-own-adventure book style:
After giving way to the traffic, I set off across the junction, and during the second half of the first pedal rotation, my somewhat worn left cleat suddenly decided to go all multi-release. Setting off on the recumbent uphill usually requires some pulling action from the clipped-in foot while the other one finds the pedal, so I was pulling back quite forcefully at the time. As luck would have it, the steering position was such that my unexpectedly detached foot shot back and collided with the front wheel, resulting in a surprisingly painful bash to the Achilles tendon. Fortunately I'd got my right foot engaged at this point and was able to continue across the junction and come to a controlled stop.
After waiting fucking ages for the fucking cars to stop on the A5, I set off on yet another fucking uphill slope, and my fucking foot just came out of the fucking pedal and hit the fucking wheel. It hurt like fuck! I was fucking lucky to not fall off my bike, but managed to wobble across and slide to a halt in a pile of fucking gravel, where I realised I'd bashed my fucking Achilles and worried that it would be fucked for the rest of the ride.
Then, fortunately, some more sensible gradients to Knockin, which lacks an apostrophe, but does have a little shop:
At which point I received an exquisitely timed SMS from andrewc, so I explained what we were doing...
Having paused to allow jogler to fight off the bonk, we made a final push up to the campsite, where andrewc greeted us, and provided handy hints on the finer points of Akto-wrangling. Unfortunately in the excitement of playing with a new tent, I'd remembered to check for gradient before pitching, but not poo. Fortunately, it was only rabbit, and in the absence of a footprint (which will be a useful addition, given the large porch area), I positioned an empty Back-Roller to protect the main kneeling position.
I can't tell you much about whoever installed the (sadly, single - which limits the usefulness of the site for group rides) shower/toilet cubicle, but I can say they were very tall. It was a wet-room arrangement, with a toilet bowl that bolted to the wall for ease of floor-mopping. An excellent setup, if only they'd put the seat at a sensible height: I've got bike saddles that allow me to put more foot on the ground! Similarly, the shower head was one of those annoying fixed-to-the-wall type, and had a hollow circular spray pattern. All good in theory, but in practice utterly useless for washing your hair when it's so far up that the ring of water is of a diameter several times larger than your head, and 9/10ths of the water ends up uselessly on the floor.
Down the towpath to the Navigation Inn for dinner, where they did an excellent effort of poshifying fish'n'chips (log cabin chip arrangement and all) and the conversation covered lots of dubious audax-related plans and an assortment of new things to add to my list of reasons not to join the RAF.
As we retired to bed, the cloud cover, which had maintained a reasonable 8C, was rapidly departing. As, it seemed, were a flock of giant mutant geese, who I expect would have easily eaten us whole if we'd been trying to ride past them on bikes rather than loitering within tent.
Through appropriate use of various extremely non-vegan items of outdoor equipment, and - somewhat bizarrely - sleeping on my side
, I managed not to freeze to death in the night. The temperature dropped by two degrees in the half hour before I went to sleep. Waking at about 4am for the inevitable loo visit, I discovered that my tent was literally encrusted with ice, and andrewc's was looking fairly frosty. My bike computer inside the tent was reading 4C, but it was clearly well below zero outside. If I'd realised it was going to be a proper FYBO camping trip, I'd have brought a proper max-min thermometer with a remote sensor.
I awoke briefly around 6am, stuck a hand out of the sleeping bag to grope for the bike computer, saw 2C on the display and wisely retracted said hand and stayed put for a couple more hours.
By the time I was woken by campsite activity noises, the sun was out and the tent was warm again, so I emerged and pottered about, watching the adjacent field fill up with an eclectic collection of motor vehicles. Unsurprisingly, after a while an assortment of weirdo petrolheads wandered up to the fence and examined our bikes. "I've got a Streetmachine" says one, not recognising mine when viewed end-on, so I rotated the bike and we had a short conversation about the merits of amidships panniers.
Giving up on hope of drying the tents out properly, we packed up, did the baton handover, and set off up the towpath (and then switching to vastly superior parallel tarmac) in the direction of Ellesmere, where we stopped for lunch before parting ways with andrewc.
Careful analysis of the map suggested that rejoining the towpath and following it as far as Dobson's Bridge would be fruitful, both in terms of directness and avoiding gradients. This began with a short tunnel, for which I had the sense to remove my photochromic glasses, and continued in a random assortment of hardpack, singletrack and excessively lumpy grass. As off-roading goes, this was less comedy, but some of it was hard going with a 20" wheel, and my knees were protesting at the uneven acceleration.(this was the easy bit)
There was an obligatory annoying bridge, which was obviously more appropriate for walking that riding over...
And because no camping trip is complete without them:
Leaving the towpath at Dobson's Bridge, it was lovely flat lanes, nominal tailwind and warm sunshine as far as Prees, where a short sharp climb came as something of a shock. We joined the motorcycle-infested A41 as far as Bletchley, and then took a back-road route into Market Drayton, where we stopped for a loo, a faff and a petrol station sandwich.
Opting for the shallower gradients of a main road route back to Stone, we twiddled (or should that be slogged?) up the A53 to Loggerheads, where, as it was cooling off, we donned waterproofs to prevent freezing on the fast descent down to the A51. Which, it turned out, is where we parted company. For the benefit of my knees, I went on ahead at a more comfortable pace, with the agreement that jogler would be breaking off just after the bridge over the M6. After a couple of substantial climbs and some more big-ring descending, by the time I reached the bridge I decided that he would be a long way behind, and that if I got a move on, I wouldn't be hanging around for ages at Stone waiting for the Sunday trains. A short sharp descent to the junction with the A34 took me slightly by surprise, but fortunately the BB7s did their thing. I continued through town and arrived at the station in good time to wait around confusedly for 15 minutes while various information sources gave conflicting messages about the existence of the 18:28 service.
It turned out that the inkjet printout by the local trainspotters had it right, and with a last-minute dash over the footbridge as I realised I was on the wrong platform, I made the train.
The bike space was full of heavily armed LARPers, but I was only going one stop (which I only realised after discovering the train was going to Stoke, not Stafford, and that I really didn't want to end up in Crewe), so stood in the vestibule.
At Stoke-on-Trent, I changed to a CrossCountry dangly bike space service to Brizzle via Middle Earth, where anomalous gaydar readings lead me to hypothesise that the NUS:LGBT conference was somewhere up north this weekend. Barakta confirmed it, while I listened to the whippersnappers talk enthusiastically about bi inclusion; the poor representation of transpeople in the media; and WTF George Lucas was thinking when he made The Phantom Menace (without a single mention of Jar Jar Binks!). I felt old.
A quick and incident-free ride home from Mordor Central, and I was in the land of food, showers and tent-drying facilities. All in all an excellent impromptu Silly Bike Adventure.
I make it 84.6km on Saturday, and 79.5km on Sunday, not counting the ride to and from Mordor Central. I don't know if it's a blood pressure thing, or changing the surface area or what, but I've recently noticed that I feel much colder when sleeping on my back. Changing position can make a noticable difference in a few minutes. Anyone else get this?