DAY 7, 8 & 9: Rolling Home


Did not want to get out of bed this morning.

After seven days of robust physical activity, especially after months (some would say years) of nothing more strenuous than elbowing pint glasses through a well-groved right angle and the occasional Greco-Roman bout with a stubborn pub door, I was knackered. I needed a rest day from all this bloody exercise, cumulatively compounded by struggling down every mountain slope as well as pushing up its contrary antecedent. Thanks to unrepairable brakes, my cycling tour had morphed into something usually sponsored for charity.

There are those who say one should train for things like this: build up some core conditioning to prepare for the lung-busters. I'm not one of those people: I get bored too easily (I suspect most people think the same, which is why all this go-for-it motivational behaviour is so prevalent among the 'work out' crowd). For me, doing is the practice, and I'll recover as required. Unfortunately, this 'required' bit couldn't be catered to; successful wild camping necessitates moving on in the morning, as yesterday had proven. I swore down tomorrow I would rest, determined to find somewhere remote I could lounge for a while and work on sweet bugger all. I prepared for another long day in the saddle.

Saddles are important equipment for the touring cyclist, as well they should be -- no one cherishes a groin sore. Thus the market is awash with bum support technology, and the cream of the crop are the British Brook's saddles; old-fashioned leather numbers that mould to one's hindquarters over time. No new technology even remotely compares, and global confidence in the brand is literally overwhelming. The plastic gel saddle that came with my bike became painfully debilitating after the first couple of hours into any long ride, so I plonked the sixty-odd quid down for a Brook's, and it blew me away. Even without padded cycling shorts, I never had a problem. Here on tour, the last thing I ever thought about was pressure on the ol' perineum.

(I've since discovered a company called Spa Cycles in Harrogate who make identical Brook's copies for half the price; the price Brook's saddles used to cost before they took off.)

After so many days on my lonesome, punctuated by engaging interactions with country folk, I was shocked by the spralling conurbation of Ripon. Hardly a large town, and often thought of as visually fetching, I disliked every street and indifferent pedestrian. As soon as you enter any conurbation you have to remember to stop acknowledging passersby, but with Ripon, for some reason, I felt the transition even more starkly than usual. It's a curious thing that the more people around, the less we interact. The entire population of 16,000 seemed to be out choking the streets, so much so I had to dismount and walk on the narrow, busy streets to the library, which, like many libraries, just happens to be right by the bus station.

The first words said to me in Ripon were from a startlingly ugly teenage girl in a gaggle of contemporaries 'chillaxing' on a bus station bench. I say 'teenage' because that's the age she looked to me, but I'm no zoologist. 'Giz a go on yer bike, mate?' She ooked, eliciting appreciative chatter from her subordinates.

From my egocentric perception, the monkeys were taunting the silverback. To them, I was a target. I don't know if it was her casual disregard for civility that annoyed me, or the realisation that I must look like an utter wally in my cycling get up, or that verbally admonishing today's children is a thankless task typically culminating in loud accusations of pedophilia. Best left well alone, I shrewdly thought. But then I suddenly entertained the idea they'd get hanged up the road in Hartlepool (the population of Hartlepool have been locally ridiculed as 'monkey-hangers' since the Napoleonic wars after a dead monkey washed ashore. They hanged it for being a French spy. The fact it was already dead didn't appear relevant), as they bore a remarkable resemblance to, perhaps not dead monkeys but some certainly in dire need of a National Geographic cover. I toyed with the idea of tossing a banana onto the appropriate bus and buying four tickets northeast. Significantly cheered by this notion, I nodded knowingly at the smirking simians as I locked up my rig, and swore to myself if I saw, through the library window I'd strategically parked in front of, any of them knuckle over to the bike racks I'd speed this doomed evolutionary oversight to its inevitable conclusion.

In the library I discovered there was no WiFi. But of course! This is Ripon, after all. Relieved to find a connected electrical socket and even one or two unchewed books, I charged up for a few minutes and spent my time unsuccessfully attempting to tether to my phone's data connection. This being a Saturday the library closed at 2pm, so thereafter I fought through the crowds by the somewhat plain cathedral and headed to the river to fill up on water, discouraged by civilisation in general.

The rest of the day was spent on a very pleasant ride east with a helpful tailwind. As dark approached I bought half a dozen free range eggs from a farmer's roadside honour stall, and camped down in some remote woods to a dinner of Bachelor's Chicken & Mushroom Pasta, poaching three of the eggs in the sauce as the pasta was almost done. I wolfed it down with six slices of bread. Nothing to shout about, but dining al fresco after a day of hard physical work always tastes better for some reason, and I was looking forward to a day off tomorrow.


"Who gave you permission to camp here?"

"Didn't know I needed any," I replied evenly, soothing his glare with a grin. The farmer had driven his Land Rover slowly past my tent earlier that afternoon, set back into the sparse pines off a dirt road, and returned with a minder. The newcomer was a big man, but like the smaller farmer, well into his fifties. "I didn't see any signage or fencing."

"There doesn't need to be any. You're only allowed to camp on established campgrounds."

Horseshit. The British people wouldn't allow politicians to strip away their rights to enjoy nature so, would they? Besides, no goddamned way was I sharing a field with the shrieking kids, shitting dogs, obnoxious drunks and suspiciously ungypsy-looking gypsies that typify a commercial site. I made a mental note to google this new assault on personal freedom the next time I achieved a phone signal. "Since when?"

"Since the Right to Roam Act. No camping anywhere without permission."

"Sounds very 1930s Germany. I've been living abroad for the last twenty years, y'see, so I'm a little behind on the more recent rounds of the government's immoral legislative villainy."

The farmer pursed his lips, apparently warming to this dig at authority. "How long are you planning on staying?"

"I'll be gone at first light."

"I don't want to see any fires."

"I cold camp." I don't, but I wasn't going to give this miserable twat a reason to make me exert myself in a physical altercation. I'd cycled 40 miles yesterday, fully loaded through hilly, twisting terrain with no brakes, so was in no mood for smacking around old people.

"How do you cook your food?" Piped up the minder, suddenly inspired.

"I cold camp." He quieted, obviously confused by the cunning repetition.

Changing tack, the farmer asked the minder if he was going hunting in these woods tonight: a tediously transparent attempt at shotgun intimidation. Barely stifling his enthusiasm for the opportunity to scare an unarmed 'townie', the minder told me to beware of noises in the night and how I should keep my head down if I knew what was good for me. I chuckled at their thin charade and purposely made no overt move towards my very, very itchy bumpkin-slaying hatchet. Instead, I forced out something congenial and uninflammatory. They went on their way. What a pointless waste of interaction.

I spent the rest of the day watching movies and relaxing in general, finally enjoying some respite from the grind. Take away something as simple as the downhills and cycling becomes exponentially more of a chore.


I was up, packed and gone by 7.30am, dismissing the urge to shallow plant a loosely-tied bag of shit as a booby trap for the farmer's inevitable return. I rode through the Howardian Hills to Malton, on a route I'd never in my life traversed before. The amount of lovely scenery, regal country estates, and jigsaw-worthy villages was truly surprising.

Once through Malton, I hit the A64 cycle path, put my head down and was home by lunchtime.


For a group that's so looked down upon by a significant portion of the motoring population, the cycling community is really quite fractured. I noticed this as I trawled for tips on the touring cyclists' forums. Ordinarily when a group of people are faced with prejudice, they band together in a cohesive solidarity. Not cyclists, though, oh fuck no.

I've always associated snobbery (or any other kind of prejudice) with useless people, and the overwhelming majority of the time I've been proven correct. The idea that a motorist is somehow superior to a cyclist, or one type of cycling is more worthwhile than another, is absolutely ludicrous, and the preserve, quite obviously, of the coward. To look down on someone exerting real physical effort to get around in an as environmentally friendly fashion as possible only serves to confirm what an honestly expendable sack of shit is doing the driving.

I did notice a recent trend of cyclists wearing helmet cams to record traffic infractions that put them in danger, then loading their videos to YouTube. Many of these auteurs seemed to actually pursue confrontation rather than politely give way to two tons of vehicle, which tends to be my more discerning modus operandi. I decided against wearing one, as I'd prefer to have as little evidence as possible when forced to drag a raging motorist through his car window for an etiquette refresher.
I must say, though, I didn't experience a single instance of road rage, or even a horn beeped in annoyance. The occasional car did pass too close for comfort, but I credit that to ignorance rather than malice.

So what did I learn?

Yorkshire is big. Far bigger than I credited, and breathtakingly beautiful. I mean, I knew it was going to be fantastic to look at -- I grew up here -- but memory proved to be a poor reference.

20 years of Texas scrubland and desert had ill-prepared me for the uncontrived friendliness of the people (towns discluded), the sheerness of the landscape and, of course, the depth of the colour green.
I also learned what equipment worked, what didn't, and which bits became invaluable. I'd been surprisingly accurate in my pre-tour predictions, so there wasn't much to discard as I prepared for my trip around the world.



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