Christmas commitments to see family, working those days many have off in between bank holidays and some typical winter weather combined to reduce the opportunity for cycling, especially my desire for any multi-day bikepacking adventures. So I bridged bikepacking with touring to get some practice for future adventures.
The term “touring” conjures the image of older couples on triple ringed, steel framed, panniered bikes travelling around at a gentle pace. Bikepacking is the modern equivalent, mountain bikes replace tourers and lightweight frame mounted luggage replaces the panniers. The ethos is on off-road un-encumbered travel. I intend to do some this year and as such I recently took delivery of some Alpkit bikepacking luggage and was keen to try them out.
So instead of a true bike-packing adventure, I took a trip to see family as an “as close as I could get” chance upon the Thompson R9300 (see my R9300 Review). The journey from home in Norfolk to my destination of Felixstowe is not overflowing with any decent long distance off road routes, and with recent weather conditions any paths would be mud baths. In fact the only thing that was overflowing were some of the rivers, after less than 4 miles I already had to cross a normally dry ford, but today was about half a foot deep and really felt like the start of an adventure.
I planned a rough route, through Diss and Woodbridge, but allowed myself to find my way without GPS guidance. I find that sometimes letting go of this pre-planning, thereby removing self set time pressures allows you to relax and enjoy the journey. If a road had been so flooded that it was impassable then no-worries, just try a different route. Spot a nice looking café? Excellent stop there.
Halfway along the route I changed my mind and turned for Ipswich rather than Woodbridge. Deciding to visit the shop I’d bought the Thompson from a few months earlier, a vague memory of a coffee machine in the corner of the shop. My memory for caffeine vendors is clearly well tuned and I was soon stood chatting to the guys at Spokeworx, who were glad to see the bike and how I was getting on with it, taking particular interest in the Alpkit luggage.
The only issue with this type of riding at this time of year is how soon the light fades and I was keen to be in Felixstowe before it got too dark. The final section saw a tailwind and a passing rider kindly offered me the benefit of drafting him for a short while. Through the magic of Strava I was able to thank him later that night and he complemented the colour of the Thompson. I arrived in Felixstowe to an empty house, so carried on to the pub round the corner for a quick pint. Sitting by myself in a beachfront pub busy with families I felt strangely fulfilled from the day, a feeling i’m certain would not have bestowed itself upon me if I had driven down the A140 for an hour.
At the house I was met with worried glances that I’d turned up on the bike, “but we have a table for dinner booked” the concerned faces glanced at each other. Then wonder as I pulled out a full change of clothes, two jackets, toiletries and even a late Christmas present. The Alpkit luggage doing itself proud having carried it all down without any noticeable difficulties in bike handling. The table was booked at a local Turkish restaurant, where a platter of kebab meats was served on a bed of cous-cous and rice, very tasty. As with all good bikepacking trips, the evening ended with a dram of whisky, though the following comfort of a real bed was welcome.
The following day after a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast, I made the return journey. Once again I enjoyed the freedom to pick my route as I pleased and was keen not to retrace my steps of the previous day. As such I decided to pass through Framingham to see the castle, which I hadn’t visited for over 10 years. The rest of the miles were as relaxed as the journey up to that point, stopping for some chocolates on a village bench and crossing a few more flooded roads.
I even managed to get some off-road riding in, the last half mile near to home has a bridleway, which was a foot or more underwater. But this close to home I didn’t mind getting wet and enjoyed peddling through the floodwater. Indicating back to a couple walking that they wouldn’t make it through on foot.
Maybe this is more touring than bikepacking, but if touring means a tasty Turkish meal and some home comforts then I’ll do it again sometime. Of course I look forward to taking the luggage out for some real bike packing, but for all the demands and constraints thrust upon me, this trip was an enjoyable first test.