S24O Cycle Camp – photos

I have woken from my winter slumber. Last weekend, in preparation for the Annual Explorer Unit Cycle Camp on the continent, Mike and I took some of the Explorers on a Sub-24 Hour Overnight cycle camp. This is a pastime proposed by Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycle Works, referred to as  S24O – from the Rivendell site:

“If you have to work for a living and don’t have summers off, bike camping is easier to fit in, and the easiest way of all is with Sub-24 Hour Overnight (S24O) trips. You leave on your bike in the late afternoon or evening, ride to your campsite in a few hours, camp, sleep, and ride home the next morning. It’s that simple, and that’s the beauty of it. You can fit it in. It requires almost no planning or time commitment”.

(Read whole article on the Rivbike site)

It was a rainy start on the Saturday afternoon, we loaded up the bikes with the full kit. My poor Lemond Etape groaned under the weight of the tent, and as we left the village and headed towards Tellisford, a spoke snapped musically on the rear wheel. So I wheeled the bike back to the village while the others went for a cup of tea at Barrow Farm. I swapped the racer for my ancient mountain bike and we set off again.

Our route took in the enormously steep hill at Wellow, a Long Barrow, more hills, Faulkland stocks and the remains of the stone circle there, some hills, more hills and then some really big hills.

By the time we arrived at the campsite, hauled the bikes over the disappointingly locked gate and pitched the tents, the sky had turned into a solid sheet of grey and the rain started coming down in earnest. We cooked tea, got a fire going, then decided to call it a night, at 8:30pm. Inside the tent I read a book on my phone, eventually lulled to sleep by the gentle patter of rain on the flysheet, and the melancholy hooting of owls.

The next morning, I woke at 5:50am and went for a walk in the forest as the sun came up, it was anything but peaceful as Pheasants wandered croaking through the clearings, blackbirds and robins worked out their territorial rights in chirrups, tweets and loud, dazzling displays of tonal virtuosity. I arrived back at the camp at half six, the grass in the clearing was steaming as the sun rose fully over the treetops and illuminated the soft green fuzz of emerging buds that coated the branches. By 8:15am we had left the campsite, dropping the Explorers off at their houses as we rode back to the village – and taking a second breakfast on the way. We were back in the village by 11am, job done.

Bikes at the top of the hill Wellow

A brief water stop to celebrate making it up the hill at Wellow

Bikes parked

We locked up the bikes to make it to the Long Barrow on foot

Inside the Long Barrow

Deep inside the Long Barrow

Morning at the tent

The remains of last night's rain on my tent in the morning

Planning the route home

Planning a route that doesn't involve hills - impossible.

Breakfast

Second Breakfast

foot cog shadow

Somewhere in Frome

Crepuscular Riding

John turned up bang on six thirty as he said he would. I was, however, not ready. Astute and regular readers may remember that I flatted the rear tyre of my Lemond Etape at the end of my last ride. I did not remember so I was still waiting for the glue on a patch on the tube to set when John arrived. First thing he did was admonish me over the state of my bike. It’s true that it had not been cleaned for a long time, not only that but instead of maintaining the chain properly, I had simply been adding more oil. Mud caked the stays and saddle, the protective sticker on the rear stay had been smothered under a film of oil and the whole machine looked dull and sad. John was eager to get on, so he gave me a spare tube, then showed me an incredible way of putting the tyre and tube back on that I have never read in any book, or seen anywhere else. It was so easy! I will film him giving a demonstration in the near future and post it here.

With the bike roadworthy again we were soon riding at an insistent, but by no means taxing pace towards the main road. I elected to take us down the lanes I had got lost and chased by dogs along a few weeks back. The evening was yet young, but we knew we would be returning under cover of darkness. This time I took a map, and as we ambled along it afforded an occasional stop to get our bearings, with John hardly breaking his narrative stride while he filled me in with the details of his still new job at Moulton Cycles. There was a hint of cloud though the air was reasonably warm considering this was mid-September (yes I am that far behind in my blogging), and we hardly noticed the dusk slipping quietly around us as we made our way through Faulkland. As we headed towards Stony Littleton we put our lights on, John’s was on his helmet and incredibly bright, throwing my shadow to the grey blur of the road as I rode in front. The ground dropped away and shot us down a steep hill – this was the same valley I had been sucked into when I cycled road-shocked into Wellow, on this pleasant early Autumn evening it seemed less threatening. Certainly the omission of slavering farm dogs snapping at the pedals made for a much more pleasant ride. At the bottom of the hill John exclaimed ‘We’ve got to get up this slope somehow in order to get home!’. I ignored him, too busy trying to control the bike as it skittered over water-damaged tarmac – an impromptu and recent ford, not mentioned on my map. The slope bore us up again, past recently harvested fields of stubble and the road surface became ghostly smooth in comparison to the tarmac we had just ridden down. Now I was eager to see the long-barrow at Stony, so I coaxed John onto a rutted farm track. Now it was really getting dark, and as I dragged John grumbling over a field, we could see the ancient burial mound hugging the horizon.

John checks the map - Long-barrow on the skyline

John checks the map - Long-barrow on the skyline

The map was no longer any help, and we found our way to a wooden footbridge and crossed the small but fast flowing river. Having been dragged over a sodden field, John was in no mood to continue looking for a way up to the monument, he was already going to be later home than he said he would be. So I snapped a picture of this alarming sign here and we powered up the hill.

We were soon in Wellow, a picturesque village, seemingly deserted as we saw not a single soul. Out of the village underneath a viaduct that John tells me carries a cycle path to Limply Stoke, then, o Lord, up that hellish hill. One of those gradients that seems to go on forever. Where every horizon reveals a further horizon, unfolding like some fiendish trap or puzzle, first the lungs and then the legs (though for others I know it’s the other way round, jelly-legs then gasping for breath). John’s fitness has improved much in the last year that we have been riding, and he was able to pull way ahead, I’m pretty sure he was pushing bigger gears too. At the top we headed for Hinton Charterhouse and then on to Norton St Philip. The darkness had well and truly settled in now, the witching hour was over and we were in evening and heading for night time. On the main road, I hit a bump and lost my back light, which shattered as it hit the ground with a horrible plastic skittering sound. I spent a few minutes gathering all the pieces up and shoving them tinkling into my pockets. Luckily we were mere minutes away from my home, so by riding in front of John I kept up the illusion of law-abiding safety. Thank goodness for my hi-viz vest, which I imagine is visible from space when illuminated by headlights. A cheery farewell to John, who still had a five or six mile ride home to go and I was back at the house. We didn’t put in a huge amount of miles, but we did get a good workout on the hills. Crucially though, I had exorcised the shattering ride along the same lanes of a week or so before.

A couple of days later, I took the Lemond apart and carefully washed the whole bike, tyres and all, and vowed never again to let it get into such a poor and muddy state.