Two disclaimers about this series of posts:
- We did not make it to Scotland. We knew this might happen from the beginning with my thesis due at the end of this month, but we figured we’d give it a go anyway and get as far as we could.
- We thought we would be able to update the blog whilst riding. That could’ve been possible without kids, more experience, or a lot less sleep. We decided to sleep more and share pictures and our experience when we returned.
So… Without further ado, we give you: The Cardoza’s (attempted) Scotland Trip! We’ll do a series of posts outlining each day of the trip, some pictures, and things we learned about bike touring with kids. This is the post about day one.
Day 1 – Cambridge to Denver – 46.5 miles – 664 ft elevation gain
We had already attempted to leave several times, but had been held up by my thesis (I needed to get a draft in to my supervisor before we headed out). We also didn’t leave once because of the rain. Finally, however, we decided to give it a go. We had packed the night before (a must do) and were all ready to go (after finishing cleaning the house) around 10:00 AM. The forecast predicted some showers around 11:00 lasting for about an hour, with sunshine for the rest of the day.
As we chatted with the neighbors about the trip, as we finished attaching the last of the panniers on the bikes, it started to lightly rain. Not so bad. The neighbors snapped a pic and we were off.
About a mile down the road it started to pour. A monsoonal deluge, with lighting and thunder, hail… cats and dogs. We waited under a tree for a minute debating whether we should continue on in the rain, stay there (one mile away from home), go home and wait it out, or… delay the trip again?
Ashley determined we should just push on, in the rain, come what may.
After about 15 minutes of hardcore rain, it reduced itself to ‘spitting’, and after about an hour the clouds cleared.
We had ridden the first 24 miles of the ride several times and so—despite the rain—we burned through those miles. Riding routes you’ve already ridden always goes faster. For one, you don’t have to look at the map. Well… That isn’t really an excuse, because the National Cycle Network routes here have signs marking every turn… We rarely looked at maps, and only Google Maps when we had to. Anyway, we ride faster when we’ve been on the route before.
At mile 13 you enter the Wicken Fen Nature Reserve and the path is packed dirt. This meant lots of mud. The best way to start a tour! Covered in mud!
Halfway through Wicken Fen there is a bridge that you have to carry your bikes over. We knew this was coming, so we were able to quickly unload the bikes and carry them over. Sophie only got into the nettles lining the path once, and before long, we were on our way.
We stopped at the Wicken Fen visitor’s center for a hot chocolate and millionaire (for our Yankee friends, this is a delectable Scottish caramel shortbread) to pep us up, and to use the toilet. The girls were hungry, so what was supposed to be a quick break turned into a longer food break, and we had some PB&Js we’d packed at home.
Because of the rain we were running a little behind schedule, but pushed on making good time. Ely flashed by, and we were into unchartered territory. Miles and miles of farmland. The monotonous scenery is beautiful… But psychologically draining. The only thing the fenlands really have going for themselves is that they are incredibly flat (664 feet of elevation gain over 46.5 miles is as flat as it gets). Ashley started to talk about how excited she was for the coast, hills and all, around mile 30. A change of scenery would be nice—especially since we do our daily rides in the fens surrounding Cambridge all the time.
We passed a lone farmhouse in the middle of nowhere that was selling massive baggies of plums for 50 pence. That made Ashley a little happier.
The girls pooped out around mile 44. That was lucky.
We rolled up to the campsite and got ourselves checked in. Camping in England is tricky. There is technically no unowned land in England and so you must have permission to camp. That means there is almost no wild camping (safe to say no wild camping). Some people say that you could get away with wild camping, but we figured it was best to start in a ‘Caravan Park’. Essentially this is an RV park, but all the campervans and trailers (RVs don’t really exist here) just park out in a grassy field. Also, this Caravan Park had a playground, showers, and a place to wash up. Also, they have a stocked fishing pond (more on that tomorrow).
We set up camp and made dinner. Dinner tonight was simple: tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The Sea to Summit X Pan worked really well for the grilled cheese—and despite the negative reviews out there, it was super easy to scrub off the burnt cheese and crusties from the pan.
The girls made fast friends with the girls in the neighboring tent, which meant getting them to eat dinner was tricky. Bribing them with cookies worked, and soon they were fed and ready for bed.
To save weight, we each brought three pairs of clothing. So, after the girls were down, I went to try out our new Scrubba bag. I washed the clothes in about 30 minutes (three loads to get all our things from one day), and since there were no trees from which to hang a line, I strung a line between the bikes to dry the clothing. It worked okay, except the dew meant that nothing was really dry in the morning. While I was doing the wash, I charged the phones and the battery packs in the facilities so I wouldn’t have to leave them unattended overnight.
By the time I was done, Ashley and the girls were fast asleep and it was about 23:30. Time for bed.
Lessons learned from day one:
- Plan to leave early and have your bags packed the day before. If you plan to leave earlier than you’d really like to, then you’ll be more likely to actually get out the door on time. (Sophie had to run back inside like five times to pee before we could actually leave… and who wants to leave dirty dishes in the sink… oh crap! We forgot… and it cascades from there)
- If it is pouring rain, push on and reward yourselves later. The trailer, despite not being waterproof, kept the kids dry from some of the harshest rain I’ve ever seen. The sides of the trailer eventually soak through from water kicked up by the wheels (on the trailer, I have an extended mudflap on my rear tire that nearly reaches the ground). This splash up is inevitable and the girls’ bums would get a little wet from the water bleeding through the sides. We prevented this in future storms by putting down a plastic shopping bag on the seat under the cushion. Wet bums’ problem solved.