We packed the bikes with all the gear, pulling stuff out of the Wildcat Gear and putting it back in again. Because we’re ever so organised, we have a spreadsheet to check everything is in the bags and there was still plenty of room.
We only went on a day ride, about 25 miles from the house and back again, but this was a dress rehearsal. On Saturday, instead of stopping at the cafe for cake and tea, we had the new meth stove to try out.
The cloudless blue sky hinted at warmth but the air felt as crisp as if snow had fallen. My winter cycling gloves are on the ”To-be-bought’ list, but a pair of ski gloves worked fine. I felt like I was going on a real adventure.
The weight of the gear seemed heavy on the familiar route, and I was forced to use the granny gears more than once. At Botley wood, the sunlight streaked through the trees, creating an almost strobe light effect as we passed each trunk. Leaves of yellow and gold carpeted the forest floor, hiding the muddy patches and the writhing roots. I yelped as I came to a sudden stop, stamping my right foot ankle deep in mud to save myself from falling. Dan called back to ask if I was alright. A little further along, a young man passed in the opposite direction. I knew he was admiring my courage and sense of adventure, bike packing in the English midwinter. I had a girlie giggle. I liked the idea too.
“Hiya!” He said, obviously in total awe.
At mile fifteen, we reached the shores of the Solent. It was time for tea. I wasn’t that hopeful to be truthful. The stove is about the size of an egg cup with a cotton knot in the bottom and a few holes around the rim. The thing is, it weighs hardly anything – just 22g.
So there we were, with the sun on its westward path, a teabag in each of the two stainless steel cups ready for the boiling water when I saw it. My rear tyre, completely flat and empty. Whilst I removed the wheel, Dan found a spare inner tube. A hiker with an enormous backpack crunched the shingle as he walked the Solent Way towards Southampton.
“Look, the water’s boiling!” Dan said in glee.
He looked like a wee boy whose Christmases had come at once. His smile, perfect. His eyes as bright as Venus on a clear night. I couldn’t believe how fast it worked. The tea was delicious and we each ate a slice of my home made Dorset apple cake. The pot was as clean after we’d boiled the water as it was before it was used. No soot or dirty smoke marks. I was impressed. We drank quickly as the air temperature fell as swiftly as the light.
Between us, the bike was rebuilt quickly. I rode on ahead while Dan packed away the gear. We’d spent over an hour on the beach and I thought of how magical it would be to spend the night there.
By the time we reached Warsash, the Pink Ferry had wrapped up for the evening, I knew it would be dark before we got home. I turned back to pop into the loo at Warsash car park and was rewarded with a view of sunset over the mouth of the river Hamble.
As we reached Swanwick, I turned on my new headlight. A beast, of 1200 lumens. It worked beautifully. Soon we were riding along narrow paths, which looked like tunnels in the torchlight. I’d never ridden in woods in the dark before and although exhausted, I wasn’t spooked. A year ago, I didn’t even own a bike. Going around corners was weird, as I couldn’t see what was coming, and I’ve decided to wear a head torch next time.
I was hoping that pairs of eyes would gleam from the darkness, or I would hear and see wild deer darting through the shadows, but I didn’t. But that was then and there will always be a tomorrow.
Later, in the afterglow of dinner, I said to Dan, “We should really do some wild camping when we’re in Morocco. It would be incredibly good fun, and it would open up so many more opportunities. And there’s room for more in the Wildcats?”
“But I thought you said that you were ‘too long in the tooth and you liked your comfort’?”
“Maybe I did, but I’ve changed my mind now.”
The plan has changed and I’m even more excited. The postman will be knocking again soon.