It’s not just about the bike says Nina Rosner, reminding us that a three week tour with Brake the Cycle is as much about community, chuckles and our inner journey as it is cycling the length of the UK.
Everyone on the LEJOG trip with Brake the Cycle is tasked with waking up the group at least once or twice. There’s 18 of us and we’ll find over time that each person has their own special way of handling the duty: some are unashamedly loud, others soft and gentle. James is the soft and gentle type. It’s Day 3, about 6.30AM when his soothing summons arrives: “Breakfast ready in 5 minutes… Breakfast will be ready in 5 minutes!” I hear him chant outside the tent, first right in my ear, then in a different direction. His voice, and the pat of his feet on the ground, grow fainter as he circulates the sleeping campsite to announce the morning. I hear a few distant groans from other tents around me.
Last night was the coldest night yet, and luckily my thermal sleeping bag, with its promising ‘ZZZzz’ printed down one side, has not disappointed me. At first, the thought of crawling out of it is impossible – but the minute we unzip the tent and let the in the morning light I realise I’m well rested and ready to step into the fresh, inviting air. That’s the thing about cycling eight hours a day — you fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow, and you sleep well.
The challenge of kitting oneself up in cycling gear, in a tent, cannot be downplayed. Despite the fact it’s fast becoming a daily ritual, it’s not getting any easier. Fully executed in a horizontal position: I reluctantly smear ‘chammy cream’ on the nether regions (this, I’ve been told, prevents all cycling ills). I move on to my bib shorts, legs flailing madly in the air as I have a mini wrestling match with the straps — a force to be reckoned with. Some days I forget an under layer or the chammy cream, which then requires me to strip and start over. I’m sharing the tent with my boyfriend Ed, so we’re normally doing all of this at the same time, inevitably bashing heads and locking limbs. Occasionally one of us loses our balance and rolls over onto one side, struggling a bit like an upturned tortoise.
Once this performance is over, I’m actually quite warm and definitely ready to get out of the tent. Wearing lycra from head to toe, I head to breakfast, which consists of expertly prepared porridge and a series of embellishments: mixed nuts & dried fruit, agave syrup, or the famous cacao nibs (rumoured to give you an overwhelming morning boost, so to be treated with caution). Breakfast is a great time on the tour, morale is high and we’re all over sharing toilet stories and, for those of us with mild injuries, Ibuprofen. In Morning Circle, Joe, who’s leading the tour, gives us a brief overview of the day: “It’ll be undulating… some up, some down”. This is both vague and reassuring. Before we set off, people undertake last minute preparations: oiling chains, packing panniers and fitting as many snack bars into pockets as possible.
We set off for another day and how exactly it will play out can’t be predicted. Every route has a marked level of difficulty on paper, but in reality it’s a subjective experience where each day feels different to each person. Some fare well on the long, hilly rides through Cornwall and Devon, others struggle initially but catch a new wind of strength later down the line. What can be guaranteed, though, is that the breathtaking scenery, hearty food stops, and the laughter and encouragement of fellow group members, is always enough to push us all through to the end of each day. And I can vouch for this even at my lowest point in the tour: injured Achilles’ tendons, finding a relatively small hill a nightmare, tears of frustration bubbling in my eyes. On this day, everyone is happy to slow down, allowing me to take my time towards the night’s destination. When we arrive for dinner, I know I have these individuals, and the spirit of the tour, to thank for getting me there.
This spirit, this ethos, cultivated by Joe and the other crew members, is probably what distinguishes a Brake the Cycle tour from any other cycling experience. As we travel up the UK - legs growing more fatigued and appetite just growing – it quickly becomes clear that this is as much about the cycling as it is about everything else: the friendships, the land, the community principles and the places we visit, often tying all of this together. Pedalling at our own sweet pace through communities and eco-projects, the tour invites us all to embark on an inner journey in parallel with the outward one: assessing our everyday life, habits and perceptions. I begin to notice patterns in my behaviour, as well as new strengths and weaknesses I never expected. Meanwhile, my normal life in the city begins to feel quite clustered and disconnected.
One word about the cycling: it really is the best vehicle for a journey like this. Fast enough that we can cross the country in three weeks; slow enough that we can really take in (to name a few) the quaint Shire-like villages in the South West, the sweeping downhills of the Lake District, and the jaw-dropping spectacle of the Scottish Highlands. As we traverse 60 or so miles each day leaving little to no trace, we cycle two by two (or three) and chat for hours, strangers becoming great friends with each day that passes. Within a week or so, we’ve cultivated a purposeful, supportive community where each person plays a valuable role. It’s amazing how organically and quickly this happens. Some days it feels like we’re a kind of travelling circus, 18 people of different ages and occupations, all here for a slightly different reason. This all culminates in the self-initiated talent show that we put on in a barn, on one of the last evenings of the tour. The show spans everything from cycling-related songs, to juggling, to poetry. Our repertoire, mostly conceived in the saddle over the last few weeks, is magnificently mediocre - with the exception of Suzie who silences the group with her professional rendition of an Andrew Lloyd Webber number.
The talent show in the barn is one of the scenes that will stay with me forever. Like so many other moments over the last three weeks, it demonstrates what happens when people are allowed to just be with each other, free from distraction, and without expectation. Spontaneous performances, displays of generosity and selflessness, and the willingness to be open and adapt to every situation. And above all, tons of fun and laughter at ourselves and with each other.
Our LEJOG dates for 2019 are now available to book.