How can you tell you have the best friend in the world?
You drag her on a 142 kilometre bike trip and at the end of it all she still thanks you for the time spent together.
I wouldn’t call my friend crazy, but lord… we certainly weren’t qualified for that trip. My friend rides horses for a living and I ride my bike for 20 minutes to and from work. We’re not super fit and yet we decided heading out on a massive two day bike trip would be hilarious.
But around the cursing and wheezing I rediscovered the joys of hanging out with a childhood friend and even picked up some philosophy somewhere on the backside of a monstrous hill.
First let me say, the National Cycle Network in the United Kingdom is AWESOME.
However, there were a few moments when my friend and I got completely lost because we put all our faith into its directing abilities.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the network, it’s a web of routes laid out across the UK and it’s mapped out with stickers on traffic signs.
When it comes to newbie marathon cyclists like my friend and I this was perfect because we hadn’t tracked down a physical map of the route and the 3G network constantly cut out on my phone (dang-nab it technology!).
Besides, when you’re cycling it’s difficult to constantly check a map, especially when your route zig-zags across country roads.
With the National Cycle Network system we’d see a blue sticker with Route 1 on it and an arrow pointing left so we’d know to go left. Then we’d roll up to another sticker with an arrow angling right and follow that direction where we’d find yet another arrow further ahead pointing straight.
It was a game of spot the sticker, but when no sticker could be found my friend and I would slowly dissolve into panic.
“Where’s the next sticker?”
“I dunno, maybe we took a wrong turn?”
“Oh god, not Norwich again..”
There were two times when we did not spot any stickers during rather pivotal moments.
The first time we played a game of return-to-start was in Norwich where we began our journey. After hopping off a train from Cambridge we’d joyfully spotted the stickers leading to the network right off the bat and set off with glee.
Of course, we went off track to check out some of the local sights, such as the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
It took a little bit of effort, with some creativity required to navigate a few one-way roads, but we successfully found the cathedral and made our way back to the route stickers.
Then something went wrong.
Rouen Road—which was all hill—quickly became our nemesis as we rode up and down it looking for a way out of the city on the National Cycle Network Route Number 1.
Earlier we’d noted a sign at the bottom of Rouen Road promising the route at the top of the hill, but it was nowhere to be found despite at least three checks.
In the end my hawk-eyed friend spotted the problem. It turns out the awkwardly placed sign was meant to point to another mini sign on a signpost slightly further up the road. This mini sign pointed rather definitively down another perpendicular road.
Regrettably the angle we’d consistently read the sign from ensured that we didn’t see the second sign because it was perpendicular to us!
By the time we found Marriott’s Way, an off-road path along Route 1 we were very happy to put Norwich behind us. The largely downhill path was greatly appreciated too as we cruised out into the unknown.
Built on a retired railroad track the path was blissfully flat in most places and astonishingly beautiful. With bridges in place to ensure the smooth passage of antique trains our progress was largely unimpeded by car traffic.
It was just the trees, the two of us and some passing folk out for a stroll.
In time Marriott’s Way faded away and we shifted back onto the roads as we continued to follow Route 1. Despite how it sounds, riding on the roads was largely peaceful as well. Most cars were zipping down the big motorways running distantly parallel to our roads so we owned the single-lane country lanes.
When we did meet a car the driver would flick us a good-natured wave, squeeze the car by and continue on.
Our biggest problem, unexpectedly, was actually our snack supply. Riding a bicycle for that long is pretty tough on the body and we were craving food halfway through Marriot’s Way. We dug into our collection of peaches and grapes, but all too soon the food was gone.
There were no stores on the route thereafter. Pubs were constant, but heavy pub food didn’t seem very appropriate for this kind of exercise. Plus we were travelling cheap.
Just before we reached Fakenham we skidded to a halt beside a tiny general shop store in some small village on the route. It’s glistening ice-cream sign had our attention at “come in”.
I think we locked our bikes in record time. The store’s door hadn’t even finished swinging shut before we’d zoomed in on the crackers, fruit juice and chocolate. The pleasure of nibbling on a ginger cookie could only be compared to stepped out of desert and sipping water for the first time in weeks—except we had far too much water in our packs and I was happy to swig some milk instead.
By the time we reached Fakenham we were running out of energy and incorrectly assumed that Route 1 didn’t go all the way to our next destination Wells-Next-The-Sea.
Just so you know, it does. Those of you thinking of using the route should note that.
After consulting a map we found in the local Fakenham library we decided to finish the day with our usual head-strong tactic—just straight barreling through.
We took B1105 up to the ocean-side town, which nearly killed us with all its rolling hills! We’re prairie folk, born and bred! Nothing but flat plains at home in Canada.
As we cranked our way up each incline only to be confronted by another stairway to heaven my friend took to repeating “just keep pedalling, just keep pedalling, just keep pedalling, pedalling, pedalling” in tune to Dory’s song from Finding Nemo, while I cursed each and everyone one of the hills we struggled over.
We might have different coping mechanisms, but when it came to celebrating the completion of the first half of our trip that evening we were in total agreement. A fine meal would be our reward and sleep would be the virgin maiden attached.
Little did we know the next day’s stretch would prove to be a real test of our stubbornness.
Of course, we are two pretty damn headstrong women… Instead of wondering about giving up I was stuck on another thought.
To be continued.