Planning ahead

The importance on pre-planning for longer rides

All adventures start with an inquisitive mind

Jo Burt

That tab could be the launch of an event website that links from an article or an e-mail, or one from a search of a place you read about in a magazine, or something you saw on the telly that looked pretty, or it can be new tab of a route planning site because you’re idly wondering how far it might be from here to there, just to see…

All adventures start with an inquisitive mind, and the courage to turn that curiosity into reality, click that click. Click to mark the start on that online route planner, type in the finish, press return and look at the squiggly line and the distance between the two. Maybe raise an eyebrow and blow out your cheeks. That’s, that’s quite a lot. This needs to be broken down into manageable gobbets both physically and mentally, thinking about how much you want to ride, how much you can ride and how much you could actually ride if you really tried. And then factoring in breakfast, lunch and dinners along the way. 

From here on in it’s a lot of homework, highlighting where the hinderances will be, and where there might be the possibility of help. Noting every hill, town and village, avoiding major roads, double checking that whatever routing algorithm you use hasn’t directed you across a field or down a dirt track through a forest because they all like to do that at some point. Although that might be your point, so crack on. Look at the bigger towns and cities and decide if it’s better to go straight through and take advantage of all a big mess of civilisation can offer and balance it against the time and stress that navigating through a city can burden your journey. Is it worth it for a cheap hotel where you can wash both yourself and your shorts and then visit a pizza place conveniently round the corner? Sometimes it’s best to just use it’s gravitational field to kiss the edge and ricochet back out into space again. Write down the climbs and their length and see what’s at the top for an incentive, be that a view or somewhere to grab a snack. Tick off the earned descent as free and easy miles. Highlight any petrol stations for food and water, and supermarkets and fast food joints, not for their touristic value but for their convenience, and at the other end of the scale scribble down churches which can be handy for water, a little bit of quiet and a sit down and somewhere to hide for a few hours out the sight of everyone. Not many people visit churchyards, especially at night where they can become a travellers refuge.

People like to flag up the training miles they put in to be able to cover big distances over multiple days but sat at a desk is where all the real unseen work is, show the effort here and you’ll have to put in less effort later. It takes a lot of time to make up time that you’ve wasted getting lost or looking for somewhere to eat. After however many hours and however many miles in the saddle there’s no telling where you might need that thing you didn’t even know you needed so write everything down. The poking away at the planning, the fifteen minutes snatched here and there, looking at maps, making more notes, doing the research, becoming more and more familiar with everything along the way with every hour of groundwork. That time spent in the comfort of your home with tea and biscuits navigating your way safely away from and around a complicated and busy road junction will pay for itself many times over in time and stress when you eventually find yourself there. The plethora of modern technologies has made all of this so much easier, not that long ago you had to rely on a paper map and hope, now you can stand most anywhere in the world virtually and look around so that when you’re there in real time you’ll recognise it because you’ve been there already even though you never have. You’ll know there’s a bakery to the right and what it’s opening hours are and if that’s shut there’s a 24hr petrol station with coffee and snacks just off route to the left. Maybe ahead of this there’s a long stretch of nothing so now would be a good time to refill bottles and stock up on fuel. This isn’t the stuff that makes it onto your social media portal of choice, the unepic glow of a computer screen late into the night is the hidden start of any long distance ride.

But for all of the research and planning that you do it’s important to know that you can’t always rely on it because there is often a gap between the theory and the practice. That road might be unexpectedly closed, there might even be a new road there, that bridge might have washed away in the winter, that cafe might not be there any more, that shop could well be shut by the time you get to it. Depending on something will at some point inevitably let you down when you need it the most and can punch you right in the morale, the hope of the cafe at the top of the climb that has kept you going for the final 5km might be boarded up so being prepared for that crushing disappointment also falls under planning. This is when you rummage in your bag for the cheap and weighty but calorie heavy cake you bought two days ago just in case. The other side of this coin is that you will always stumble upon something that didn’t emerge in your research and it will be amazing.

The more planning you do the less of an adventure it becomes, if you count adventure as pushing your bike over a mountain on a dirt track and not a terrible mistake that you’ll laugh about later. Comedy is tragedy plus time and all that. Some say that adventure starts with a single step, others say that adventure is just poor planning.