Savour the Moment
Apidura team member Jonathan Kambskard-Bennett is both an around-the-world tourer, and a weekend overnighter. Here, he discovers the joys of exploring your own backyard, and savouring the moment.
If you’ve ever got in touch with Apidura, there is a chance that you will recognise the name Jonathan Kambskard-Bennett. Part of the team here, Jonathan is the first point of contact for our customers – both over the phone, and via email. He’s the guy who offered you advice on what to buy for your first bikepacking trip, and made sure that your delivery got to you on time.
Something you might not know about Jonathan, however, is that before working for Apidura, he spent three years cycling 50,000km around the world (learn more about that adventure in full here). Now more likely to be found escaping the office at the weekend for bikepacking blitzes across the UK, Jonathan has taken the time to write about the differences between a long-haul tour, and a weekend overnighter. In doing so, he not only discovers the happy difference between the two, but that his home in the UK has the potential for much more adventure than he previously realised.
It’s dark by the time my train pulls in, somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, and I ride off into the night. Just a few hours ago I left the Apidura office and navigated through Central London in rush hour to catch my train heading north. Now all is totally quiet, and the only light comes courtesy of my focused headtorch. I’m not sure where I’m going to sleep, so it’s fortunate that my years of sleeping out in the wild have ensured that I’m not particularly fussy. It’s late November, and the nights are long, so I’ll get plenty of sleep wherever I end up. After a couple of miles’ pedalling, I notice that the fields are replaced by forest. I push my bike through a gap in an old stone wall and widen my torch’s beam to try and make some sense of my surroundings, then roll out my bivvy on a suitable patch of fallen leaves.
When I wake up my face is wet and the air is cold. It’s not so easy to get out of my sleeping bag, but as the water boils in my saucepan, the mist is slowly starting to lift. By the time my coffee is brewed, it’s light enough to make out the mountains between the trees. There are certainly worse places to wake up than here, I think to myself – despite my dampness under a layer of morning dew.
I’m not the first person to have returned home after a long stint abroad with a renewed interest in exploring my own country. After three years cycling around the world, I started to feel regretful over how little of Britain I had actually seen. I had ridden through plenty of exotic environments across four continents, but the more of the world I saw, the more aware I became of how little I’d seen in the UK. Now I’m on a mission to roll out my bivvy in as many British headgerows as I can.
There is something in the British countryside aesthetic that can seduce even the most seasoned traveller. It may not be the most ‘wild’ of places, but adventure can easily be found here, whether that be in tracing quiet bridleways across fields closer to home or in tackling the empty expanses of the Scottish Highlands.
You’re never too far from a cup of tea in England, but away from the villages and between the patchwork of farmland that divides towns, ancient woodland offers perfect spots for stealthy campers. If you are happy to keep a low profile, there is no shortage of wild camping spots, and British forests are some of the finest in the world. There are no dangerous critters out at night, and you don’t need to tie your food up in a tree to keep any large animals away. I have duct tape patches on my tent to prove that mice are rather adept at ripping through mesh when they smell a late night snack, but I’d certainly rather a visit from them than a bear.
Now that I’m back in the UK after my round the world ride, I’ve realised that it is not difficult to capture the essence of a long tour in a shorter ride. For me, the difference between a big ride and a day-long adventure is the uncertainty of not-knowing where you will sleep that night. It’s about pedalling in a direction, planned or otherwise, with purpose but no real end goal. It’s that slight apprehension when the light starts to fade and you haven’t found anywhere to set up camp for the night, which resolves when you finally find a good pitch. It’s that feeling of peace when you climb into your tent at the very end of the day, knowing that no one in the world knows where you are.
The appeal of travelling by bike is the opportunity to discover something new, but that newness doesn’t necessarily need to be found in unfamiliar places. Trying something different can also turn a normal ride into an adventure. For myself, that idea has manifested itself in various ways. It’s meant packing lighter and pushing harder, it’s meant spending more time in a bivvy than a tent, and it’s meant tackling more technical trails on a mountain bike over multiple days.
On a long trip, there is no shortage of time and it is easy to become complacent when there is no reason to rush. When you only have a limited amount of time, you savour every moment, and there is something immensely satisfying about having made the most of every moment at hand. This style of adventure requires a little more pragmatism and organisation, but it allows for adventure to be had when there is less time available, and it has made me realise something else: That my home is part of the world that my travels have made me fall in love with, after all.
After my weekend in the wild, I catch the sleeper train heading back south. The couchette seems like quite the luxury after having spent a few days in the tent, and when I wake up we are pulling into London Euston station. Once again, I’ve just time to navigate Central London during rush hour, and half an hour later, I’m back in the office. It’s a good thing we have showers here.
Follow Jonathan’s continued adventures on Instagram @jkbs.bike.ride