I’m typically super organised, but being organised didn’t ease my nerves when it came to actually getting on the bike and leaving.
English adventurer Alastair Humphreys coined the term ‘the doorstep mile’, to describe the hardest part of a journey. Which is quite literally the first mile from your doorstep. Everything after that becomes easier.
I left my flat in London on the 5th May 2019, conveniently this was a bank holiday weekend, and my friend James had eagerly agreed to join me for the first few days down to Newhaven. I don’t think I can stress enough how helpful it was to have a friend join me for the first couple of days. I didn’t have to think about navigating out of London and could just relax and pedal. These first two days were my doorstep mile.
James arrived at my front door on the Sunday morning, took one look at my ridiculously overloaded bike, and asked me if I’d tried to ride it yet. I fumbled my way onto the heavy bike, and nearly fell off immediately. My first impression of cycling a heavy, loaded touring bike is that it compares to a truck. Slow to speed up, slow to stop, and don’t even think about weaving around anything.
Somehow in the flustered process of packing and cleaning the room in my flat I must have unknowingly twisted my knee. It wasn’t immediately noticeable, but after cycling up and down the hills south of London, it wasn’t feeling too good. At the end of my first day, I was utterly exhausted, and I had a sore knee.
I lay in my tent on the first night feeling pretty low. This was surely a bad sign to have an injury after day one. How could I possibly cycle all the way to Istanbul, let alone Australia? I felt like I was going to fail before I’d even left the UK.
Bring on Day Two
I woke up the next morning feeling more positive for day two of cycling. There was still a niggling issue with my knee, but it was manageable. Today’s lesson in bike travel 101, make sure all screws/nuts/bolts are tight.
I had joined a class to learn how to box a bike for a flight only a week prior to leaving. I’d unscrewed everything and flat packed my bike into a box and then successfully put it all back together again. It was great. Unfortunately, whilst rocketing down a hill somewhere in Sussex I heard a metallic *ting*. Something didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t see any immediate issues and assumed that perhaps I’d just run over something.
A little way down the road something definitely wasn’t right, my front pannier seemed to be rattling more than usual, not a lot, but more than it should. I stopped to inspect and after a while of obsessively scratching my head and prodding and pulling at things, I realised one of the bolts that secures my pannier rack had rattled loose. Luckily there are bolts on both the inside and outside of the fork, so the pannier rack was hanging on by one bolt. Zip ties to the rescue!
I was able to stabilise it until I could get a replacement in Newhaven. A minor disaster averted, I was starting to feel good.
I farewelled James in Newhaven and peddled off to find my AirBnB, where I would stay before getting the ferry to France the next morning. My AirBnB host was a lovely old lady named Sandria. She rented out a couple of her rooms on AirBnB to supplement her income making wigs for theatre productions (go figure), and happily let me park my bike in the living room.
I had told Sandria about my plan to Istanbul, and she suggested I make use of the bath to rest my muscles (I didn’t smell that bad yet). What a lifesaver, I woke up rested and revived the next day. It seems all my knee needed was a hot bath and a comfortable bed.
Before I had set off from London, James had told me ‘you’ll hate the first two weeks, it’ll hurt, but push through, and you’ll love it’. This was not my experience of the first two weeks – I loved it. Luckily, I did not encounter any further knee pain after those first two days.
It’s safe to say my doorstep mile, or two days, wasn’t too bad after all. But a little help from a friend goes a long way (Thanks again James).
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