ycling Microadventure - adventures with sightloss

Shropshire union canal tandem microadventure

We had an adventure planned. The specification was a 2 day, 1 wild camp tandem ride to give our kit a bit of a test. We wanted decent paths, so opted to stick to the National Cycle Network. After a bit of research we decided to head towards Shropshire from John’s home town of Birmingham, a route which would mostly follow canal tow paths (great for finding camping spots).

The first 5 miles of our trip were hard work. Quite early on we found that a speed wobble into the side of a narrow bridge might cause us to lose our kit ‘overboard’ so we took things a little more carefully. An uphill lock system slowed us down. We rode what we could, but the steep, punchy and often bumpy climbs got the better off us sometimes and if there was a tight turn or narrowing involved, we just pushed up instead.

Picture shows a canal map of birmingham.
Lots of locks. Each V shape is a lock. We negotiated Aston Locks and Farmers Bridge Locks.

In the first few miles, we saw 2 kingfishers and 3 Heron, which was pretty cool considering we were in the centre of Birmingham.

We continued along the Towpath until we reached Wolverhampton. Up until this point, our route was pretty good. We stopped for some lunch, a curry we heated up in it’s own pouch. Delicious.

Picture shows our bike loaded with yellow bags next to a bench where John is eating some food. Geese can be seen next to the canal in the background.
A spot of lunch.

From here Komoot, the navigation app, got into a pickle, and to be honest, so did we. An hour of pootling around got us back on track but it was pretty frustrating. It was also at this time we realised the cycle network can be a bit weird! Taking shortcuts through muddy fields or ‘longcuts’ that bypass perfectly good towpath for busy roads and muddy paths. On one such detour we hit a patch of wet grass – the marathon supremes that had given us so much confidence in summer slid out from under us spectacularly. We were ok – we both took a knock – Lauren to the head and John to the shoulder but after a short break we were back on the bike.

A picture taken from roughly where we fell off, hence the muddy pannier. This picture also shows the way we transported our LiteLok silvers using the wearable kit around our pannier bags.

We continued on, noting all the great camping spots along the way. There are lots alongside the canal. After a while, we joined the road, a nice change of scenery and found ourselves a Petrol Station with a subway. We loaded ourselves up with food and looked at our progress and plans. We hadn’t made as much progress as we’d liked, the terrain had a lot to do with that – whenever the path got muddy, we had to be super careful – and it was going to get dark soon. Rather than push on and potentially struggle to find a nice camp for the night, we decided head back to a lovely spot we’d found a few miles back. We got there just as it got dark, set up camp and made some dinner.

Our tent pitched by the canal with the moon in the background.

Considering we were close to a village, the area we had camped was quite and undisturbed and a bridge offered us some protection from the wind. As usual, Johh made the beds inside while Lauren got cooking. A feast of Pasta and Sausages. Unfortunately one load of pasta fell onto the floor after a straining incident and the whole thing cost us dearly in terms of fuel and water. We had to have a vote on what we would use our remaining fuel and water on in the morning and forfit our hot chocolate but somehow we eeked enough out for a hot breakfast and a coffee.

Morning coffee with a sunrise.
John eating his breakfast by the bridge

We made steady progress back to Birmingham, avoiding the dodgy bits of path we’d already learnt of and finding new bits too, including a 350m tunnel, gates to lift over and a set of stairs! We wanted an adventure, and it’s certainly what we got!

A map showing the route we took.

Video:

Lauren and John are stood behind their green tandem with windsor castle in the background

Introducing our new adventure tandem: Santos DoubleTravel

Riding a tandem is such a cool thing for us. With John being deafblind, riding a normal bike isn’t much of an option but having a tandem goes far beyond enabling John to ride a bike. There are few hurdles we’re unable to overcome, but most need a little more effort than what two sighted friends would have to put in. Even walking needs lots of concentration from us both; Lauren guiding and looking out for hazards and John carefully following each step. On a tandem, we are 100% a team and John’s disability becomes fairly insignificant. We work together, John supplying the power and Lauren keeping us going on the right direction. This is why we love tandem riding so much and decided to get ourselves something ready for a big adventure: Santos DoubleTravel.

We picked up our bike in Chichester and couldn’t wait to take it for a spin. A few adjustments here and there, predominantly switching the ladies and mens Brooks saddles and we were ready to ride.

A picture of the green tandem
Santos DoubleTravel – In green!

We headed to Windsor, a place with endless quiet lanes, nice views and a few hills to see what we could do on the bike. In the end, we were fairly late heading out and the sun was setting, but it wasn’t enough to deter us. We rode for about half an hour and watched the sun setting over Virginia water, until a 4×4 rolled up, with crown estate wardens inside. It turns out the park closes at dusk and you get kicked out of the nearest gate, for us, a long way from where we wanted to be. The wardens were busy ushering out those on foot so we slipped down the road behind them and hot footed it back the way we came. We thought we got away with it, but more headlights soon greeted us.

”Are you guys ok?” – Warden
”Yes, we’re just a bit lost I think”

the tandem infront of a setting sun
Virginia Water – shortly before the wardens arrived

We we’re not lost at all, but we needed a story. The warden was nice, she tried to get us back through but the powers on the other end of the radio said no. She handed us a map, some directions and opened a gate, so map in hand, we trundled through not quite sure of where we were or where we were going. The lane was dark and cars were beginning to queue behind us when we found ourselves hurtling downhill. We didn’t know how fast but we managed to lose the headlights behind us. We were rocketing downhill in the dark. The reason we lost the cars: we were doing 38.7mph according to strava: The fastest we had ever been on a tandem. We made it back in no time at all!

No bikes, not even tandems, are allowed to ride along ‘The Long Walk’ towards Windsor Castle

Our next trip out was in daylight. We really got to know our bike and get used to it’s features and handling and start to test it’s limits. One thing we really like is the number of bottle cages: No less than 7! Enough for a days supply of water, none of which would have to be carried in the pannier bags. The bike is light, fast and maneuverable. It doesn’t even mind a bit of rough ground.

On the canal towpath

Riding it in John’s hometown of Birmingham was a good test. We took the DoubleTravel into the city via the canal towpath which has lots short uphill sections by the locks. The Santos made light work of them and we managed some climbs we’d never managed beforehand. The bike is light and easy to lift over the bike gates that are impossible for tandems but most of the time we don’t have to. The canal has locked gates for wheelchair uses that operate on the Radar key scheme, the same as disabled toilets and lucky for us, John has one!

john holding the bike next to one of the radar operated gates
John holding the bike having just wheeled through one of the key operated gates

This bike will be perfect for a bigger adventure. We have ideas, but nothing planned as yet. We don’t really do half as much planning as we should do so I’m sure one day very soon we’ll grab the tandem and find an adventure.

Take a look at our video from our first few days of having the Santos

Pushing the tandem through a gate by the canal

What should you do if you have a big idea?

A couple of months ago we announced, live on local radio, that we were planning to ride a tandem from Novi Sad in Serbia to Norwich. Back then, we didn’t even have a bike, and our only experience of tandem riding together resulted in Lauren laying by the side of the road trying not to vomit from the exertion and John pretending not to look worried so an ambulance wouldn’t be called. You’d think we’d vow to never ride a tandem again but it wasn’t quite enough to put us off.

”If we’re not good at the start, then we will be by the end of it” – Lauren

The first thing we thought we ought to do was get hold of a bike – We were thinking of hiring or borrowing one for the trip but then a neighbor had one for sale – we took it for a test ride and while we knew it needed a little care, we liked it a lot. We bought the bike and lots of components; new tyres, cables, levers, fitted a hydraulic brake, switched to trigger shifters. We’d never really worked on a bike much before – but youtube had the knowhow and we got to know our bike.

The tandem with it's green and orange pedals, saddles and grips.
Our tandem now has lots of orange and green!

We rode it for 10 miles with a random german lady we’d just met, we rode it around rutland water, we even took it for a ride to a chocolate factory and then we fitted a pannier rack and decided we were ready to take it 55 miles on a camping trip to the SayYesMore woodland (the YesWoods).

Do you think we can do this? – Lauren

Yes I think we can. – John

As a result of having to cram lots into the day in order to be able to go on our little Yeswoods adventure we went to bed late, got up early and still didn’t depart until 2pm. It all felt a little bit crazy!

It was all going well until we got stuck in a downpour mixed with hail. Less than half way and we were cold, wet, tired and hungry but our fear of losing daylight kept us moving. We spotted a Subway at a garage and grabbed a bite to eat.

Do you want to give up? – John

At this stage, turning back seemed harder than continuing so we pushed on…eventually making camp at around 10pm. We didn’t know if we had a return journey in us and were thinking about alternative methods home.

Morning came and we left, via tandem, with a few bits of good advice behind us (take breaks and eat food ((Thanks Dave)) and made it back before dark. 113 miles ridden in total and it taught us a lot. Mostly, that riding 1300 miles with a 30 day deadline (averaging 40 miles a day) might not be that fun. We’d have to almost always be on the move and it would seem like a shame to travel so far and not be able to stop and explore. We could do it, that we are sure of, but would we regret not spending more time at places? Almost definitely. We have changed our mind about the ride, but it doesn’t matter, this big idea followed by a bit of action has already given us so much.

John is holding a wheel and is pumping up a tyre. The bike is upside down in the foreground.
Repairing a puncture by the canal

We’ve got a bike and learnt how to maintain it and upgrade parts, had loads of fun little rides in the sunshine, met some awesome people, had an amazing two-day epic adventure and have decided that we probably want to do something with a bit more flexibility. Without the big crazy idea, none of this would have happened.

Take a look at our video about our wild camping adventure

If you have a big idea, roll with it, take some action see where you end up. It might all go to plan and work for you, but know if at any point it doesn’t seem quite right you can change your mind – even if you have announced your plans on the radio! We had an idea, we started moving with it and learned some lessons, both good and bad, hard and easy and that’s all part of the experience. We might not be planning to ride back from Serbia anymore, but we’ve certainly done a lot more than we would have done if we’d written it off as a crazy impossible idea.

Think big, #SayYesMore and see what happens!