This week I’m having a recovery week which means a few less miles on the bike and a few more hours planning the training weeks ahead. I need to start building up the amount of consecutive long days in the saddle and that means planning a few mini adventures with overnight stops.
Occasionally friends remark about how brave they think I am for taking myself off on multi-day rides and mini adventures, but if I can do it then I’m pretty certain that anyone can.
For me, especially at the moment while I’m training for the TCR, solo riding is a necessity as I need to get the miles in at a time that works best for me. Although it’s always great to have company on a ride, if I had to wait for someone else to accompany me I might be waiting a long time and could miss out on the opportunity.
It’s not really about being brave, as any good girl guide will tell you, it’s about being prepared. If I’m going off for a few days I like to make sure that I spend plenty of time beforehand making sure that I know where I’m heading and what’s in store along the way. That way I can feel confident in my own abilities to deal with whatever comes along.
However, you can’t always be prepared for everything, so I’d say that as well as being prepared you also need to be flexible. Having the ability to pull a ‘Plan B’ out of the hat when needed can often be more important than planning everything down to the last detail. The most important thing is to have a go and don’t worry too much if things go off-plan – I’ve made loads of mistakes but found a way around them and most of them were a good lesson learned for next time.
So, for those of you who fancy taking getting out there on your own mini adventure I thought I’d share a few thoughts and ideas with you to help you start planning. We all know that there’s more than one way to skin a cat and I’m sure other people will have a different approach that works just as well for them, but this is the way that works for me…
Ten tips for planning mini adventures
I could probably come up with at least another ten but these are good for starters…
Come up with a basic outline
Before planning your adventure ask yourself…
How many days do you want to ride?
How far do you want to ride each day?
How many hours do you want to spend in the saddle?
How much climbing do you want to do?
How many stops do you want to make en-route?
Once you’ve got a vague outline you’re ready to get cracking on the detail
Start close to home to begin with
If you’re a bit nervous about giving it a go then you can still have a great multi-day adventure on your doorstep by building a circular route around where you live. You’re much more likely to feel confident if you’re cycling on roads that you’re familiar with.
If I’m cycling in an area that I know very well, like the Peak District and Pennines, I rarely take a map or plot a route because I know the roads, how to get myself home from there and how long it’ll take, but if I’m heading over to an area that I don’t know well then I’ll spend a lot more time on route preparation and familiarisation.
Learn how to read a map confidently
You might think that these days when most of the routes that we plan or follow are loaded up onto a GPS device like a Garmin or phone, figuring out where you’re going on a map is less important than it used to be – it’s not.
I find it much easier to visualise the route that I’m on if I’ve initially plotted it on a real-life OS map. As I’m cycling through towns and villages there’s something very reassuring in the process of recalling that I’ve seen the name of said village previously on a map. Maps are also the best way to check out hill contours and those little ‘double-arrows’ if you’re trying to avoid steep hills.
If you need to brush up your map reading skills the YHA run some excellent navigation courses at Edale Activity Centre (http://www.yha.org.uk/edale-activity-centre). They’re primarily aimed at hill walkers but the core skills are the same for any outdoor pursuit.
Learn how to use your GPS device properly
If you’re going to rely heavily on a piece of tech then you need to make sure that you’re comfortable with how it works and that your routes are loaded correctly before you set off. There are lots of different brands and models out there. I use a Garmin Edge 510 because I like the simplicity of following a clear line and the battery lasts a bit longer. Other people prefer models with maps as they’re useful if you need to take an unplanned diversion. I have to say that although the tech is improving all the time, they all have their little foibles and the only way you can learn what they are is by getting out there and using your device.
Take a back-up map
Remember that sometimes your electronic device can go wrong, run out of juice, or for some reason you may need to take a detour, cut your journey short and take a short-cut to the nearest train station. I’m not suggesting that you cart along several OS maps with you – they’re bulky and weigh too much – but as a back-up I always take along the relevant pages from a road atlas. They don’t take up very much space (you can slip them in your jersey pocket inside a little plastic bag). If it’s a few pages, to make life even easier, I draw the route on with a highlighter pen so that i can orientate myself quickly if I need to.
Plot your own routes rather than use someone else’s
You’ll feel much more confident about the route that you’re taking if you’ve plotted it yourself. You can plot your own course with the Garmin Connect software or with a third-party app like Ride with GPS or Strava. I tend to stick to the Garmin software because I’ve had a bit of trouble with my Edge 510 corrupting after importing courses from other apps in the past.
When you’re plotting rides online always keep an OS map handy to check that the route you’ve chosen is actually a right of way. Both Garmin Connect and Google Maps often shows bridleways and tracks as roads and I’ve often ended up riding on a track that looked like a road on screen when I was plotting the route. If you want to check the surface of a road then Google Maps Street View is also a good resource. Strava also has a useful option that enables you to look at the most popular routes taken by other riders.
If you have to use a route that someone else has plotted, familiarise yourself with it and draw it out on a road map before you set off.
Don’t rely too much on NCN Cycle routes you’re unfamiliar with
NCN cycle routes can be a bit hit and miss (http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map). Some of them are great – like the on-road NCN 6 from Preston to Lancaster – but some of them are a bit rubbish – like the off-road NCN 68 between Whaley Bridge and Buxton, which is pretty impossible to ride on a road bike. Poorly-surfaced tracks and bridleways can end up adding a lot of time to your journey and unless you know in advance you can get caught out. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Make a note of the addresses and phone numbers of your accommodation on a slip of paper
Again, I’ve learned this the hard way. I used to keep all the info I needed on my phone but if you get delayed and it runs out of power, or it accidentally gets damaged, then you’ve not got any way of getting in touch with your hosts to let them know that you’re still on your way.
Take an external power supply with you
You might not be able to get access to a plug to charge your devices when you stop. A little portable power supply like an Anker Astro Mini only weighs 85g and will set you back a tenner from Amazon. It’ll charge your Garmin or your smart phone a couple of times while you’re on the road.
And finally, the last one isn’t really a planning tip but just a good bit of advice for any rider
Learn how YOUR bike works and how to fix it
Lots of bike shops run maintenance sessions where you get to watch the shop mechanic run through a few basic maintenance skills in an hour or two – what a waste of time! You need to be able to practise doing it yourself on your own bike in order to learn. Try to find a local beginner’s maintenance course where you get to work on your own bike in a supervised environment. This type of course may be longer in duration but you’ll learn so much more. Alternatively see if there’s a local bike kitchen or drop-in workshop where you can hire tools and practise maintaining your own bike.
Once you’ve been on a course, keep practising so you don’t lose your new skills. You can always keep an old inner tube at home to practise fixing a puncture on while you’re sitting at home watching telly. Even if you’re taking a few spare tubes with you, take a puncture repair kit too (a proper one, not self-adhesive patches) Sometimes you can be really unlucky – I once had four punctures in one day.