Planning a bike packing adventure – the reasoning and the route

So September should have been a busy month for me, I would have been taking part in the Boston Marathon and then Ironman Portugal…

But – COVID-19 happened, Boston 2020 swapped to being a virtual event and Ironman Portugal has been pushed back to November.

Early in the year I entered the TransAtlanticWay bikepacking event that should have been taking place in June. Again – COVID-19 decided to throw a spanner in the works and the event was postponed until September 2020. It hadn’t occured to me that I might be able to take part as I had the other events booked for September, so I figured that was my bike packing plan for 2020 over and done with.

Then as the year went on and events started being cancelled for the later months my mum suggested that TAW was possibly the most likely event to still go ahead (not mass participation, riders are naturally spaced out around the course etc…) this had not even entered my mind, but as the year progressed and my other events were cancelled it became more and more likely. Oh goodness, I had completely changed my training up, added more running, reduced the cycling, a mega cycling challenge really wasn’t a feature anymore…

Then TAW announced it would be going ahead, so I decided if I could go I would, I started thinking about what I would need etc and adding in extra bike miles to my training. My friend Abi also said she would pair up with me and we could go together. Then COVID-19 added an extra issue – Ireland’s quarantine rules. Therefore we wouldn’t be able to go.

So now we have 2 weeks booked off work, all the gear we need for bike packing etc… Seemed like a waste… So instead I have planned our own adventure!

We are going round England – well not all of it as that would take longer than I can take off work… But a fair amount of it!

We are going to set off on the same day as the TAW start and head from home out to the coast, then from Southend follow the English coastline up to Newcastle, from Newcastle ride coast to coast to Whitehaven, then go down the coast along the Lake District, down to Blackpool, Southport, Liverpool and then cut across country from there to head home…

With the basis of our journey decided I now needed an actual plan…

I use a Garmin Edge 1030 bike computer so started planning the route in Garmin Connect, I don’t know if it was just me or my computer but this was painfully slow, each change or added route point took a number of minutes to save, and by the time I had plotted a 650 mile route up as far as Newcastle I had lost the will to live!

No worries – there are other platforms for route planning! Undeterred I uploaded my Garmin route to Komoot, and figured I would adjust, adapt and add on from there! Komoot decided to switch a large part of my route from roads to ‘paths’ and kindly told me I would encounter stair cases, off road sections etc and when I tried to correct these I failed massively!

Fully loaded my bike feels like the weight of a baby hippo! I have no desire to hike it up staircases or do large sections off road. I am not a seasoned bike packer, this will be my first ever adventure, I really don’t want it to put me off for life!

So at this point I still only had 650 miles of route planned and Garmin Connect was still being unhelpful! So lets try another platform, I updated my RideWithGPS subscription to allow advanced route planning, but this was updated on my phone and logging in to the website it didn’t register… I did start to wonder if this was a sign and I shouldn’t be trying to go anywhere…

2 days later RideWithGPS eventually allowed me in and I started again! 3rd platform lucky? At this point another cyclist I know offered to send me some route sections from a charity event he had been involved with that had followed the coastline of the UK so I could take sections from these! Most helpful! I soon had 4 route files that covered large parts of my route, should be simple now right?

Here let it be known I am not a route planner, I am a head out, know roughly how long you want to be out for and wing it kinda rider, other than food stops, I always plan in food stops…

So this whole mapping business is new to me… How hard can it be?

Well the routes I had ‘borrowed’ were all going in the opposite direction to me (fine, I can turn them round), then had very varied levels of information points etc on them (ok, remove these), then all needed shortening or lengthening to suit my plan (cue me forgetting multiple times to add control points before/after my adjusted sections and the routes taking themselves on random adventures across the country rather than round the coastline…), eventually I had the main sections sorted – up to Newcastle, Coast to Coast, down to Liverpool…

Then I plotted in homes of friends I intend to stay with, I am planning a night with in Grimsby and a night in Southport – once again I did this without adding control points in appropriate places and all of a sudden my route once again adventured inland this time detouring around York (which I am sure is very pretty but was definitely not on my agenda). By this time I was almost decided I am not cut out to plan an adventure for myself! Eventually key stopping points added in… I just needed to plot from home to the coast, and from Liverpool home… Simple hey?

Strangely adding in these last sections still took a substantial amount of time. RideWithGPS seems to avoid all but the most minor roads and was taking me on a merry dance around my local area rather than a nice simple route out to the coast so that took quite a lot of correcting… Then the route from Liverpool down somehow ended up 100 miles further than google maps suggested it might be! Cue lots more route adjustments, creating and deleting errors in almost equal measure, one part on the coast to coast route actually looked like a spiral at one point, am I going to get caught in a hurricane that the route planner already knows about?!

What feels like months later (but in reality is only a week) I finally have my planned route sorted.

Tips for anyone planning a bike route:

  1. Choose your platform and its functionality carefully, especially if you want to follow roads not cycle paths or off-road sections (I have mentioned 3 platforms I tried here but there are lots of other platforms available)
  2. Allow plenty of time to plot – it took me absolutely hours, I had not planned on it being an all consuming activity
  3. Remember your control points! When you have a section sorted add control points to the beginning and end of the section to prevent further changes up the route causing havoc with your neatly planned sections (I made this mistake so many times)
  4. Try and have your points of interest or stopping points planned from the off, it was more chaos adding them in retrospectively than it would have been if they had been in my original route…
  5. Be prepared to compromise on mileage, roads don’t tend to go point to point where you want to go and in order to stay on safe and suitable roads your route may need to take an indirect route
  6. Incorporate towns for supplies (its all very well sticking to a rural route but after a few hours riding most cyclists will need to top up food and water supplies)
  7. Check, check and check again! Check bridges for accessibility to cyclists, ferry crossings for timings, check junctions and towns for any unplanned deviations that might have snuck in (I found it really easy to add in some random extra turns when plotting my route)

So… route sorted and all my advice points finally adhered to – I will be covering 1,267 miles over a period of 10 days…

With my approximate schedule as follows:

Day 1 – 150 miles – home to Suffolk (Likely somewhere around Woodbridge)
Day 2 – 150 miles – Suffolk to Norfolk (aiming for somewhere around Hunstanton I think)
Day 3 – 129 miles – Norfolk to Grimsby
Day 4 – 110 miles – Grimsby to Scarborough (I think)
Day 5 – 102 miles – Scarborough to Newcastle
Day 6 – 126 miles – Newcastle to Whitehaven
Day 7 – 105 miles – Whitehaven to Silverdale (again just a guess as to my end location)
Day 8 – 100 miles – Silverdale to Southport
Day 9 – 153 miles – Southport to Bidford-on-avon
Day 10 – 141 miles – Bidford-on-Avon to Home!!!!

So that is my plan! In the meantime I have done 2 test rides on my bike so far with it loaded up as it will be on my trip (I’ll do another blog post with the details of everything I am taking…)

Heading out next week, so this week will be a more relaxed pace, taper, sleep, eat loads (my favourite part of all adventures) and hope that this storm blows itself out and the good weather in before I head off exploring.

Any tips? Feel free to send them over, I’m all up for receiving advice! Currently feel like an all the gear and no idea kinda girl!

One thought on “Planning a bike packing adventure – the reasoning and the route

  1. kieronramsay says:

    That sounds like a living nightmare (the planning). Hopefully, the hardest part of your trip has already been dealt with.

    Good luck with your adventure. This sounds like a fantastic way to spend some time off work if you like loooooong torturous pain (which is part of the appeal right?)

    As far as advice, I’m not sure it applies to you. On my 1st bike packing adventure, I got very caught up in planing and reaching checkpoints. Eventually, I felt more comfortable having a loose plan and would follow a directional route. Part of what was so great was the unknown.

    Also, don’t forget that it is a fun experience. Treat yourself along the way. My personal treats are pastries. I can have them with little sense of guilt because I tell myself that I’m going to burn all those calories off anyways.

    One last thing I would recommend would be journaling each day. It will probably go by pretty quickly in your mind. I find that writing it down helps you hold on to the experience that you went through for longer.

    Hopefully you can get something from that.


Comments are closed.