My overnight ride to London didn’t go according to plan but lessons were learnt and things could have gone a lot worse!
I got organised and ready for the road at about 9PM on Thursday evening. It had been raining all day so the ground was soaked but with clear skies pushing over I was optimistic that I’d miss any bad weather along the way.
With the roads quiet and my mind focused I cracked on out of Huddersfield and towards Barnsley. The sleep deprivation wasn’t as much of a challenge as first thought, as my friend Tom mentioned, keep drinking and eating and it shouldn’t be an issue.
The start was all pretty much up one hill to come down another with very few flat sections. This was actually a blessing in disguise as all the climbing meant I’d get really warm on the way up and cool down on the descent. The flatter sections further on into the ride were a little more difficult to maintain a good body temperature.
I made my first stop in Worksop at about 1:30AM when I thought a quick refill of water bottles at a service station would be a better idea now then at 3/4AM when many places would be shut.
About 125 Kilometers in my exposure joystick began flashing red thus meaning it was almost out of battery, in previous tests it’s run from an external power supply with out issue, this time it wouldn’t work for some reason.
Despite my efforts to fix it I couldn’t get the power pack to power the light.
I had no idea how long the light would last flashing red so with this in mind I began to get a little anxious, no back up light and no signal on the phone. I explored the main street of Long Bennington to see if there was anywhere I could pitch up for the night, a shelter or bus stop etc but I couldn’t find a thing. Frantically I started panicking and contemplating knocking on doors where I could still see lights on. I couldn’t bring myself to do this though as given it was about 2:30AM I knew how odd/inconvenient it would be for a fully clad cyclist to appear on a random door step asking for a floor to sleep on. I wasn’t desperate enough at this stage.
My only option was to push on to the next village, hoping my light would last, get reception, find a services station on my phone and take shelter for the night.
I got 10 kilometres down the road to Bottlesford when my front light started to become intermittent turning on and off. Anxious about being stranded in the cold I started desperately seeking any kind of shelter. I managed to find a wooden bus shelter and figured my only option was to pitch up for the night, sleep for a couple of hours and continue on when the sun begins to rise.
The floor was dry and the whole thing was sheltered, making the best out of a bad situation I suppose. I hadn’t really contemplated how cold I’d become though. Even in my sleeping bag I had no floor matt and my feet and legs were soaked from the ground water so I simply couldn’t contain any warmth.
I made an attempt at an hour and thirty minutes of inconsistent sleep, being woken by either the shivering of my body, owls or even at one point the sound of gun fire!
^ Not the greatest photo but illustrates the view from where I slept…
At 4:30 My arms and legs began to uncontrollably shake and once again I started to panic. What’s worse? Having to call the police/medics and explain your stranded and feeling close to hypothermia or getting your shit together and boosting cautiously to the nearest train station?
At that point the hour and half of attempted sleep had totally destroyed any energy I had left, my mentality on finishing the route was out the window and all I wanted was a warm drink in my hands and the feeling of being safe.
I spent about 5/10 minutes waiting for my phone to render google maps and show me where a trainstation was, as soon as I had that I threw everything back in my bivy, strapped my luggage up and got on my way.
7 miles to grantham train station with one A road to contend with. My light gave me 1KM of power before I was submerged in absolute darkness. What a total head ****.
4:30AM having had little sleep, freezing cold and with no front light I cautiously made my way through the back roads of Woolsthorpe. My eyes were playing tricks on me as the road was covered in puddles, I couldn’t make out which were puddles and which were holes! I spent more time bracing up thinking I was about to hit a huge pot hole then concentrating on where the road was verging off too.
I made it to the A road junction feeling a sense of relief.
That feeling passed within seconds as three large HGV lorries flew past at 50/60mph. I looked down the A road to see if I could see the light of grantham ahead, surely it’s got to be close I thought, but I couldn’t see anything.
There was no other route. I pressed on and with the adrenaline of feeling as if I was being chased by HGV’s.
I arrived at grantham after going full gas for the remain 3 miles, luckily without issue.
I arrived at the station at about 5:20. The sun was only just beginning to rise as my train back to Leeds pulled in at 6. I was generally pretty naive when I took shelter in that bus stop, expecting some form of light from about 5:30, thinking I’d be warm enough to sleep and wake up feeling as if I could continue.
Better to learn the hard way early than during the main voyage though right?
I’d contemplated a back up light prior to the trip but given I’d already tested the power pack I thought I’d be okay without it. I didn’t intend on stopping for sleep during the night so I choose not to take a floor matt, something I won’t leave without the next time I choose to do a long ride with any aspect of night riding.
As unsuccessful and disappointing as the trip was, in some sense, it was probably better it panned out like this. The experience gained from this adventure was far greater then if I’d rocked up in London without problems along the way.
One thing I have learnt is the over night rides can wait until the lighter, warmer nights in May/June!