Not long now until our epic adventure and everything is starting to come together… or at least almost everything! We are still short of the new bike and despite multiple phone calls and emails our plan to get the frame wrapped with our sponsors design has completely fallen through. The wrapping company who initially offered to do the wrap as sponsorship came up with a number of delays and what was meant to take a week took the best part of two months… only for the bike to arrive badly wrapped in the wrong colours!!
Lesson learnt and out of time we are having the wrap stripped and the Tandem Shop are coming to the rescue to build our new machine ASAP! We can’t wait to see her…
Barring this, we are getting most of the other kit together and it was time to try it on the road. Using the last of Laura’s holiday, we planned an epic training trip ahead of our epic ride to circumnavigate a country instead of the World but at the same pace: Around Wales in 8 days was born!
The plan was simply to ride as we will be around the World and, as much as the distances were similar, the elevation was not and even the flattest days in Wales were near equivalent to the hilliest countries around the World. Route planning through Ride with GPS helped flatten things out slightly and also helped us figure out the best roads to ride, not dissimilar to RTW (round the World).
The new tandem not being ready we were on our reliable Dawes Galaxy twin and this did have some benefits in terms of not wearing out parts before we set out but we will still need to make a concerted effort to make sure we have thoroughly trialled the new bike before we go. We were able to load her up with our new panniers and frame bags from Cycle Touring Life and work on our packing strategy. The panniers not only look stunning on the bike but worked really well in terms of our packing, we quickly twigged it was worth labelling which one went where to save time loading up and settled for S1, S2, P1 and P2 (starboard front/back, port front/back; we are captain and rear admiral after all!)
We knew from previous experience that the front end needed to be light so this was packed with spare clothes, sleeping mats and bags. Laura’s back pannier (P2) contained emergency food, kettle, pot, gas and stove, battery packs and leads, day to day spare layers and food. Stevie’s (S2) had the tooling and more of his spare clothes in as well as the luxury of a pair of flip flops!
We also had one large frame bag on the back (Laura’s waterproof, windproof, spare garmin batteries and GoPro), one small top tube pack on the front (sun cream, hand gel, tissues, vaseline, strepsils, caffiene gum) and two Almighty Cups on the handlebars for snacks!
This set up worked really we and we had plenty of space, the panniers had lots of pockets and different spaces and were easy to access, we had a slight problem with some of the clips on the handles vibrating free but this was easily solved with a bit of electrical tape. Stevie was delighted to finally have his own nosebag so he can sneak in a snack!
The other main kit to trial was the sleeping system and the stove. We are still hoping for an Ordos 3 lightweight tent from Alpkit, especially as Stevie doesn’t really fit in our current 3 man!
The combination of our Cloudbase inflatable mats easily put up in seconds with the air pump dry bag proved very comfortable and arguably more comfortable than the thermarest type ones we used to use, but the best bit is how tiny they pack down and how light they are. We agreed we will likely take a folding foam mat which will fit on the back where the tent is currently (the smaller one should fit in panniers!) as this will be a good back up in case of puncture but also functions as table and seat.
Despite only using the air pump to inflate the mats they did develop a bit of moisture on the inside and have now been thoroughly dried but we will have to monitor this on RTW (although hopefully it won’t always been as damp as Wales!) The new pipedream sleeping bags were a complete revelation for Stevie, not only dreamily soft and warm but also the long version he has is long enough he can get his head comfortably in the hood. Combined with his down booties he was snug as a bug in a rug!
Camping was made infinitely more pleasurable by having the tiny Kraku stove to make a brew or a pot noodle in the mornings and didn’t slow down proceedings in terms of packing up- in fact we figured out we lost more time packing up and then trying to find breakfast as you are never as efficient as you think when tried and gagging for a cuppa.
The trip in general was a good test of all these sort of strategies and what seems like a good plan when comfortably sat at home may well fall apart on the road. We quickly settled that splitting the day into thirds ~35miles then ~65-70miles to have a main stop worked best and the days where we didn’t follow this routine e.g. stopping for breakfast we lost more time. These stops would often be major breaks of 30-45 minutes adding up to 1.5hours to our ride time but add on shorter stops for loo breaks, taking layers off or putting on or numerous other distractions soon add up to hours off the bike during the day. We decided we need to minimise this as much as possible but focusing on the two main stops and maximising them by e.g. making sure we have enough water, buying breakfast for the next day at the last stop and considering layers before we set off.
Another trick was to plan where we were going to stop/ what we were going to do beforehand otherwise we would end up having a discussion as to whether we sat down in a café or pushed on the find the next chippy! We hope our ride time day to day will be less some days than on this recce as even on the flatter days we were foiled by busy beachside cycle paths, poor road surfaces, convoluted routes through cities or headwinds. Overall we were really pleased with our progress and strategy day to day and have lots of ideas to continue to improve on this.
Part of the strategy too was using a variety of places to sleep/accommodation. We almost bailed out to the Travelodge the first night but after a bit of scouting found a quiet spot near Flint to wild camp. Following the rules of wild camping of arrive late and leave early and leave no trace we were perfectly comfy and not bothered at all. By sitting down in a warm Indian restaurant for dinner before had us going to bed warm with full bellies that helped and we implemented this startgey again later in the trip (complete with another curry) feeling more confident this time.
The only downside was we did faff about a bit too much both times before making the decision to camp but hopefully we will get used to this routine on RTW where necessary. Otherwise we had 3 nights in Warmshowers. Warmshowers is a organisaiton for cyclists to provide somewhere to sleep for the night, to access the host you must agree to host yourself and pay a small subscription fee. Hosts and guest have profiles and reviews so you can suss each other out and the only rules are no money is charged and a warm shower is provided and somewhere to sleep- but this may just be somewhere to camp. As it was our first host was away but in a wonderful demonstration of trust allowed us to camp in his garden and access his garage (with shower) to get clean, cook and charge devices. We camped for the following and were treated to dinner as well (and a homebrew beer… which is where things can get dangerous!!) and the final one not only fed and watered up but let us sleep in a bed in the spare room! It seemed too good to be true on paper but what a fantastic organisation this is and we met some great people who were all keen to hear about our trip: Gareth, Carolyn & John And Brian we cannot thank you enough!
We had one further night with a good friend and after spending too long trying to decide between a campsite or wild, bailed into a B&B with a vacancies sign in Porthmadog. This may seem like a bit of a cop out but actually created more work in some ways and everything went on charge, we both got clean, we washed some clothes and then still had to go and hunt down dinner (as opposed to wild camping where we’re straight to bed). It did feel quite luxurious though and the Owner was really friendly letting us store the tandem in her garage, even if she couldn’t quite believe how much Laura ate for breakfast!
These aspects are all absolutely key to success but of course we cannot ignore time on the bike! Our two new Brooks B17 carved saddles arrived just in time (Stevie has the champion, Laura has the short) to start breaking in. Now normally you would break in a leather saddle over numerous short rides over weeks to months, but we were so excited with our beautiful new saddles we went for it on this trip and weren’t surprised to experience a bit of discomfort and have certainly made good progress toughening up our derrières! Stevie was particularly happy with the cut out with has helped with pudendal nerve pressure and also provides more ventilation.
Other new kit included transition sunglasses and helmets from Exustar- we had never appreciated how simple it makes things to have transition lens adapting to the light without having to worry about switching lenses and they are so light Stevie forgot he had then on his face! Stevie chickened out of trialling his Exustar SPD sandals for this trip but with some spare thick socks packed Laura decided to give her trial pair a go.
These proved not only comfortable and suitably stiff but also plenty warm enough even when Stevie was getting cold feet in his normal shoes. We suspect we will still need full shoes (provided by Exustar) and toe covers/overshoes (provided by Huub) for Canada but we have a lot of confidence in these for the warmer climes. We were also treated to such good weather our Exustar windproof/showerproof jackets were all we needed and also looked quite snazzy as a pair, we’re still on the look out for waterproofs for RTW however.
In terms of clothing our Huub kit is still doing us proud and by layering the beautifully lightweight short sleeve with the lined thicker long sleeve jersey and gilet we were able to deal with the whole range of temperatures from chilly mornings to sunny afternoons. We are lucky enough to be getting new sets of kit for RTW and can’t wait to trial these too but are convinced by the quality and comfort- Stevie has added a mango gilet onto his kit list he was so impressed with the version we are training in for keeping him warmer on the front.
We were lucky not to suffer any mechanicals but the front brake did need pulling up sooner than expected… but that’s the hills on the Pembroke coast for you! The navigation from the Garmin Etrex went well and usb rechargeable batteries worked well, lasting just over a day but we will need to be more cautious/efficient with battery charging on RTW and will take a solar panel to assist with this. The GoPro filming from the back was a bit of a chore at times, but the footage looked good. It was tricky to narrate so much when tired and easier to film the view.
In terms of comfort Stevie is very much looking forward to the custom built frame and different gear levers being a better fit and taking the pressure off his left arm/ shoulder as he changes with the right and also looking into some mini aerobars to improve comfort.
We carried some excess stuff e.g. my socks but also didn’t carry a full trauma first aid kit or solar panel for this trip so we hope this will even out for RTW packing so are overall happy with everything we took but the verdict is still out on flipflops or not! Other things we skipped on a relatively shorter trip than RTW were getting a full kit wash done and managing days without power or internet, we did try an focus more on nutrition, swapping haribo for apricots and getting the veggies in wherever we could but one of the main learnings was that sleep is key and we definitely struggled more when we hadn’t had enough!
We covered 821.6 miles in the 8 days (including one “rest” day of “only” 80 miles so are tremendously pleased with our fitness and endurance and certainly felt like we could keep riding at the end… especially with a beautiful evening descent over the Dolfor hills.
Riding around Wales was an absolutely amazing experience, 8 days and seeing the country change between farmland, industry, coastline and cities really gave us a feel for travel at the speed of a bicycle. We are full of confidence for our upcoming trip now, but there is still plenty of work to do to get to the start line on 5th June!