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Ride off one Friday afternoon and don’t look back

“If you keep shelving thoughts of setting off on adventures, I urge you to act on them. You won’t regret it. Start with a microadventure, you never know where it might take you. Pedal to a football match and let us know how you get on. If you have a long commute, set off at 6am to cycle it for once. It beats fighting for space amidst flailing newspapers and fruity armpits. Take the afternoon off and pedal home via a canalside pub or two. If you’re trundling on; getting by; in a job you can’t stand – set your sights on a more ambitious horizon. Ride off one Friday afternoon and don’t look back.” – Si Hood

One of my favourite talks from the recent Night of Adventure was from Si Hood: he cycled to every York City match over the course of a season.

This was clearly very stupid.

Perhaps that’s why I liked it so much.

He has written a really fun book about this epic microadventure. Below the video he shares a few thoughts for us.

A microadventure that got out of hand.

Back in August 2008, I decided to turn a routine trip to watch a football match into a microadventure. As a York City fan living in London, opportunities to see my team in action close to home were few and far between. Though many might see this as a blessing, us exiled addicts still need to get a fix. An opening day trip to Crawley provided a double shot in the arm: a match within cycling distance.

With a bit of preparation, the thirty-mile route from SE11 into the shadow of Gatwick via the Surrey Hills should have posed no problems for any vaguely competent cyclist. It proved completely beyond me. I got hopelessly lost near Carshalton: no map; got a puncture: no repair kit; got rained on: no coat; got the train to make kick-off: no shame. A 1-0 win was the day’s sole success.

Despite my comprehensive failure, the attempted microadventure had sown a stubborn seed in my mind. What if I successfully rode to a game? Perhaps I could rope some friends in? Maybe we could do a three-day trip to a match in York? How about I pedal to each and every match, home and away, over the course of an entire season? The last option was so absurd that I had to do it.

I handed in my notice at work, gave up the lease on my flat, entered protracted negotiations with my girlfriend and – a year after the Crawley fiasco – found myself pedalling away from an opening-day defeat at Oxford with ten months’ road stretching out in front of me. With only the rhythms of the fixture list to obey, the adventure allowed me to explore this fascinating country at the perfect pace. From the widescreen skies of the Fenlands to the stately grandeur of the Yorkshire Dales; from the ancient chalk track of the Ridgeway to the bleak majesty of the North York Moors; from Sussex to Tyneside, Cumbria to Kent.

I’m no great cyclist – this is the sort of thing anyone can do, as this extract shows:

My ‘technique’ for coping with inclines is to drop it into the granny gear, fix my eyes on a distant marker – NOT the horizon, please God no, not the horizon, look how far away it is – and aim for it. When I get to this chosen point I decide on another landmark, a roadside flower or perhaps an oil patch, and aim for that. With grim inevitability, the markers become closer and closer to each other, like the beeps of a metal detector approaching treasure, until by the brow of the hill I’m progressing by individual grains in the tarmac. These incremental victories over England’s topography are akin to the strangely constipated feeling of watching York try to grind out a result.

From time to time the trek threw up minor obstacles. My bike broke just before a 1,000-mile week, a tough winter forced many fixture cancellations – usually just as I made it to the ground, clipless falls in the Peak District injured my knee and my pride. But nearly everything about the trip was overwhelmingly positive. Strangers often bought me a pint or a meal, offered a bed for the night or even welded my bike. I met fascinating characters I would never have otherwise encountered. I poked around in some curious corners of England that I’d never seen before. I got really fit.

This passage from the book sums up a typical day on the road:

We swept through narrow Home Counties lanes flanked by freshly cut, snow-capped hawthorn hedges. The air was thick with their sharp-sweet smell, which was heightened by the crisp air. Everything was just right: the bright early morning winter sun glinted off the spokes as they span; there was to be no repeat of the recent snowfalls; a stiff northerly breeze propelled me southwards through villages full of thatched cottages. Wicken, Thornton, Nash; a sequence of villages masquerading as a provincial accountants, was one ten-mile stretch of peerless beauty. Later on, the short road from Wing to Mentmore became one of the most memorable of the whole trip; all Postman Pat dips and sweeping bends. There was nothing that special about it – no mountain pass to negotiate or coast road to hug. It was just a stretch of neatly-parcelled bucolic beauty that could only be English; a microcosm of the country and of the whole trip. Perfection.

At the end of the 10,000-mile ten-month quest, the bunch of underachievers clowning around in the red and blue of York had even set themselves up with a shot at glory. This could have ended up as one of those pub ideas swept away with the arrival of the next round, but I’m so glad I saw it through: it made for an unforgettable ten months.

If you keep shelving thoughts of setting off on adventures, I urge you to act on them. You won’t regret it. Start with a microadventure, you never know where it might take you. Pedal to a football match and let us know how you get on. If you have a long commute, set off at 6am to cycle it for once. It beats fighting for space amidst flailing newspapers and fruity armpits. Take the afternoon off and pedal home via a canalside pub or two. If you’re trundling on; getting by; in a job you can’t stand – set your sights on a more ambitious horizon. Ride off one Friday afternoon and don’t look back.

Buy the book today!

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