I probably shouldn’t start my story by saying that I joined Intrepid’s 4-day Cycle the Lake District tour after not cycling for 18 months and with a 25-year-old helmet in my possession, but I like being honest.
Before I go any further, I would like to reassure you that I did buy a new, sturdy helmet on my first day. But it was a little too late for me to squeeze in any training!
So, why would someone who has barely had contact with a bike saddle in the last decade book a cycling trip, I hear you ask? If the events of 2020 have taught me anything so far, it’s that being stuck inside during lockdown made me miss the sense of achievement you get from a physical challenge. It was then I decided that once I could travel again, the first trip I was going to do had to challenge me somehow. I certainly imagined myself climbing Mount Everest or running the Inca Trail, but we all know the chances of doing anything like that in the middle of this pandemic are pretty slim. So, instead I opted to join a cycling trip around the Lake District in my home country of England, as it seemed like a good plan B.
I wasn’t a keen cyclist at all. In fact, I didn’t even own a bike. Joining a cycling tour was a stretch, however pushing myself and doing something I’m not good at was possibly the best challenge I could have asked for. Here are some things I learned along the way.
1. The best backyard you could ask for
One of the reasons I was excited to join this tour was because the Lake District has been on my list for way too long. International travel has always been my priority and I simply couldn’t find the time to travel more in the UK. During the pandemic, ‘exploring your own backyard’ became a thing, so I followed the trend and decided to finally tick the Lake District off my list.
It was hard to believe that I hadn’t left the country. Just five hours north from London, the scenery is completely different, with plenty of mountains, forests and lakes. The Lake District is so dreamy and so green that it even hurts your eyes a little bit (in a good way!). And cycling there felt like the best way to experience it, as we were truly immersed in the landscape. It kind of felt like cycling through one of those pictures you see on a Windows default desktop background – too pretty to be true!
2. The tour leader is your rock
If I was asked to name one thing that I was grateful for on this tour, it would be our amazing local leader Kent. I joined the tour with very low confidence around my cycling abilities, but right from the beginning Kent assured me that the most important thing was to enjoy myself. Being a cycling expert, as well as an expert in the local area, he was there to support us all the way through.
He also gave us one piece of advice that will stick with me for long time – that cycling uphill is same as cycling downhill, just the other way around. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
While the Lake District hills were certainly sometimes a little too steep for an inexperienced cyclist like me, Kent still managed to cycle up and down many times to make sure everyone was okay at our varying fitness levels. I must admit, if it wasn’t for him, I would probably still be standing at the bottom of the first hill!
3. The group is there to support you, not judge you
Before joining the tour, I had a fair amount of anxiety about holding the group back. I pictured my fellow travellers to be cycling professionals, turning up with Tour de France uniforms and judging my lack of skill and cool Jawbreaker sunglasses. I was glad to learn early on that it’s nothing like that on any of Intrepid’s cycling tours. People join tours to enjoy themselves and have an adventure. People also join tours to challenge themselves and meet like-minded people. Lastly, they enjoy motivating others and will be genuinely excited about your milestones.
It’s incredible how quickly you bond with people when you’re doing a challenge together. You go from the excitement of being on a trip to being in pain from climbing a hill, then from questioning whether you can do this, to absolute euphoria reminding you that you can do anything you set your mind to. And lastly this ridiculous feeling of freedom when you’re going downhill. Sharing this palette of emotions with others was bliss.
4. Travel might have changed a little, but adventures are still out there
Being back on the road felt so great. Surprisingly, travelling in the UK was just as good as travelling abroad, with the added bonus of being a little bit easier logistically. Due to the pandemic, we had to follow some safety measures, but they were easy to stick to, as everyone in the group was very respectful of each other’s personal space.
At the Welcome Meeting at the beginning of the trip, Kent asked everyone to fill out a health questionnaire, to ensure that no one had experienced COVID-19 symptoms recently. He also explained that our bikes would have to be sanitised after every ride and we were not allowed to touch anyone’s bike but our own. We had access to hand sanitiser everywhere we went – shops, the guesthouse, pubs – and Kent always carried an extra bottle for us, just in case.
Despite being in my home country, I still met amazing people, even if some of them are literally my neighbours! I still appreciated new landscapes, even though it was just a few hours away from home. And, I still ate some amazing food, even though it was fish and chips that I can order at home in London, (but it tastes so much better when you are on an adventure!).
But, probably the best outcome of this trip was… I got a bike! So, next time you see me on a cycling tour, I might be a bit fitter. I’ll probably be wearing my new helmet and a pair of those super cool sunglasses. And if you’re a beginner, I promise to never judge you, just like no one judged me. But I might be a little jealous of you. From the moment you overcome your first cycling challenge, your life will never be the same. Welcome to the club!
All images supplied by the author.