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UK solo five week “Freedom and Friends” tour 2021

On 9th September 2021 I set off on the biggest, and toughest, cycling adventure I’ve ever undertaken. My plan was to cycle 1,500 miles across the UK over five weeks, with a route planned around where friends live. I was to cycle solo, with everything I needed packed in two panniers.

What inspired this madness? The pandemic and its lockdowns had made me more aware of the value of spending time with family and friends, and I had also been reflecting on all the friends I was connected with via social media but hadn’t actually seen in person for years, or even decades. Then in August 2021 I left the job I loved as a result of redundancy. Having worked over 30 years it felt like the time to finally have the gap year I’d never taken, and mark this new chapter in my life with an incredible adventure.

So, these things came together in my head, and my Freedom & Friends cycle tour was born.

Freshwater Bay, Isle Of Wight

Oh my goodness, the planning! I love to organise, but this was on another level. Having never cycle-toured self-supported before I had a lot of research to do. Fortunately there’s lots of great advice out there. I discovered Komoot, a super route planning app. It uses much of the national cycle network, and quieter roads. Packing was another challenge, as well as the best kit to use. How many sets of cycle kit? What maintenance tools? How can I minimise toiletries? (The answer was one bar of tea tree soap which washed face, hair, body and clothes). Hours of reading, online research, contacting friends, planning routes and accommodation. Then finally a massive spreadsheet with everything planned.

I bought new panniers, got my bike serviced and was ready to go.

My route took me out of London through Greenwich, into Kent. The first day was, in all honesty, too long (62 miles) and too hilly. My training had focussed on increasing mileage, but not enough on cycling with 15kg panniers. I used to commute to work with panniers, but was unprepared for how tough climbing hills is with the extra weight. It’s also difficult to manoeuvre the bike. At Greenwich I bought a take-out cappuccino (my daily morning treat when I could find one) and soon discovered I could not hold a cappuccino in my left hand and push my laden bike with my right hand - my bike toppled underneath me and I brought the traffic to a standstill as I juggled bike and cappuccino - not an auspicious start only 10 miles from home!

View from Greenwich. 10 miles cycled, 1,515 to go…