The week(s) in riding:

It’s been a few weeks since my last installment of The Gravel Diaries. I’ve been busy preparing for the upcoming GBDuro, and it’s turned into a substantial undertaking. For those who don’t know about the event, I (and around 15 others) will be setting off from Land’s End on the 1st August to ride self-sufficiently all the way to John O’Groats, via Wales, over a mixture of road and gravel.

In light of the current Covid-19 situation, we now have to carry everything we need with us from start to finish, and are not permitted to enter any building or go within 2m of another person for the entire event. All the food we’ll need over the course of the ride will be in our bags, and water must be collected from rivers, streams, and ponds etc. This will not only eliminate any chance of us catching or spreading coronavirus, but it also makes for an adventure of epic proportions.

As well as needing to get as much riding as possible in my legs, there has also been a ridiculous amount to get done off the bike. From the equipment that had to be bought or acquired, to deciding on a nutrition strategy, a sleep system, and building an appropriate bike, this took up a lot of time and brain power.

I’m as prepared as I can be at this point, but at the same time I’m pretty terrified at the prospect of embarking on this journey.

It feels like an appropriate time to deploy one of my favourite quotes: ‘If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives’.

As a rookie, I can’t really give any insight into how the experience of this new format will differ from ‘normal’ ultra-endurance events. But for me it has turned GBDuro into a challenge rather than a race. As long as I finish before my food runs out, I don’t have any real interest in how long it takes me when compared to others. This is going to be an internal battle. The achievement here is just to arrive in John O’Groats, and look back on a once in a lifetime experience.

I’ve been out on the bike a good amount over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve managed to fit in a few overnight camps in between rides, but I also know I could be a lot fitter. Life has got in the way a fair bit of late, and I took a pretty substantial amount of time off the bike earlier this year when lockdown started, but for once I’m not going to let that stop me. I am where I am, and I can only ride as hard as I can ride. That will have to be enough.

Route of the week:

This is a ride that I’ve done a few times since my last installment of The Gravel Diaries. The first time I rode it I was absolutely blown away, and each time I headed out on the Kerry Ridgeway the ever changing weather made it a whole new experience. From a bone dry sunny day, to riding it in strong winds and torrential rain, this one is simply spectacular.

The terrain is pretty tough, but the views are stunning. From the hilly back lanes that take you out to the start of the long off-road section, to the rolling gravel of the ridgeway, and then onto the Trans Cambrian Way for some beautiful welsh moorland, this one has a bit of everything. It definitely feels like you’ve been on a journey by the time you get home.

Tech of the week:

One of the big question marks over GBDuro for me has been how I’ll sleep. I’ve still never wild camped, and until a month ago I hadn’t camped at all in over a decade. I knew that getting the setup right for those few precious hours of sleep a night would be really important. With that in mind, and knowing I’m not the most comfortable and relaxed about sleeping under the stars, I began experimenting with different options.

Most people have an opinion on what you should use, but I’ve learnt that this isn’t always a good thing. I think it’s good to get advice from people with more experience, but it’s more important to make sure you find out what works for you.

I started off with the smallest and lightest option: the bivvy. Almost immediately after getting in I hated it. I felt claustrophobic and panicked, especially when I had to close the zip across my face. Although logically I knew that it wasn’t airtight, I began panicking that I couldn’t breathe. I gave it two restless nights of sleeplessness before I decided this wasn’t for me.

After coming to the conclusion that the big problem was having the bivvy on my face, I moved on to the hooped bivvy. This was still a light and compact option, and it felt like it might be the perfect compromise between a standard bivvy and a tent.

Almost as soon as I got into it, I realised that having the cover lifted away from my face solved one problem but created another. I did prefer having some room to breathe, although I still panicked when the zip was closed. And now I also couldn’t roll over. The rigidity created by the hoop and poles meant I had to lie on my back. Being able to move, it turns out, is as important to me as breathing.

It’s okay though, because third time is supposed to be the charm. I brought myself a lightweight tent, and for me this was great. I had space to breathe, there was a little porch to keep my shoes dry, and there was plenty of room to roll around. If I was on a casual tour, or going on an overnight ride purely for fun, then I concluded that I would 100% choose the tent. It’s by far the most comfortable and enjoyable night’s sleep for me.

However, it’s also a substantial jump in size and weight from a bivvy to even a small tent, and more hassle to pitch. So I gave the bivvy one last chance. I was now more at ease with camping out, and I really want to eliminate any unnecessary weight. I squeezed my sleeping mat, sleeping bag, silk liner, and myself into the bivvy, tried to get as comfortable as possible, and zipped it up. To my surprise, I woke up 8 hours later. The best night’s sleep I had ever had outside.

I guess the lesson here is that trial and error sometimes is the solution. At the beginning of this process I really thought this wasn’t going to be something I could do, but just because it doesn’t come naturally or instantly to you doesn’t mean it never will.