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Bikepacking Robin Hood Country

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I was sent the link in the evening after work and I glanced at the route quickly. 137 miles with almost two-thirds off-road. It sounded like a dream. I was in.

Ashley had been out riding his gravel bike and had sent messages about getting out on a ride together. We’d been chatting a while but never actually caught up with each other in person and this seemed the perfect time. We’d head out on the bikes, Scott would join us, and we’d all get an adventure fix. The original route suggested an overnighter but we decided the spread of three days would give us more time to enjoy things on the way – pub breakfasts and taking plenty of photos. We chatted over the weeks building up and slightly altered the route where we thought it needed a little change. And then the time came.

Scott and I left early in the morning on a Monday. It was already raining and the murky sky signalled that we’d be expecting overcast weather at best. A Mcdonald’s breakfast raised spirits as we headed to Retford and the start of the route where we’d be meeting Ashley. The rain never seemed to leave us on the first day and we pedalled through drizzle most of the day. The shelter of forests helped us forget about being wet as we cycled through Clumber Park, Sherwood Forest (past the Old Oak), and behind Sherwood Pines on an old railway line. At points we stopped, shot photos, had a breather, and carried on along our journey.

After almost 50 miles in the legs after pedalling fully-loaded bikes, we called it a night at New Hall Farm campsite – the only tents on the site. Of course, the local Chinese Takeaway was closed so we settled for a serving of highly disappointing fish and chips. We sat and chatted until the sun went down. Meeting Ash in person, and hearing about his jobs in creative fields, was inspiring. It reaffirmed that slower adventures, like this, are a great way of seeing more and absorbing more of the time. There’s a time and a place for getting your head down and blasting out the miles, I’m sure. But, at least for me, I find it far more rewarding to spend the time gently spinning and soaking up the surroundings.

Another night in the Alpkit Soloist, but with a new sleeping mat – the Big Agnes Air Core Ultra – provided a great sleep. Thankfully, it’s not too noisy. Insulated pads often get a bad wrap for sounding like a packet of crips through the night, rustling each time you move. It wasn’t the case with the Air Core and it was noticeably warmer than the previous mats I’d been using.

I rose last, as usual. Both Ash and Scott were already up and mostly packed down. Still, I managed to catch them up as they finished packing away. With all tents and belongings securely packed back on the bikes we were ready to cycle to Lincoln… or so we thought. A flat rear tyre meant a slightly longer delay whilst I swapped the tube. It served as another reminder that I should set the gravel bike up with tubeless tyres.

The second day led us into town to pick up a cooked breakfast, cup of coffee, and some replacement inner tubes. I do enjoy a bit of cooking on the camp stove, but it’s equally nice to be served a full English without having to do any of the washing up. Luxury whilst carrying only the basics. The remainder of the route took in a range of slower roads, gentle gravel tracks, and a few muddy bridleways – one of which crossed a small brook.

Eventually, we reached Lincoln. After just two days away from the world, the place seemed busy. I couldn’t tell you if it was unusually busy or if we were just used to open space and passing the occasional cow but none of us appreciated all the people and we were itching to get back out of the city. And that’s when we made the decision not to cycle any more at all. The weather apps notified us of a storm which was about to roll in. With high winds and the threat of endless rain from 1am and throughout what was supposed to be our final day, we decided to call an end to the trip early. Instead, we fed ourselves and headed to the train station to get a ride back to Retford and the parked car.

As the sun was setting, and we arrived in Retford, Ashleigh readied himself for the final leg of his journey. He’d now need to cycle home as there were no more trains to take him from Retford home. With one last stroke of genius, Scott and I stacked three bikes in the back of his car and managed to find space for Ashley too. We’d squeeze him in the car and drop him off on our way home. The final hurdle remained: fitting six wheels into the car alongside 3 fully grown men, their bikes, and camping gear. Like a real-life game of Tetris, we squeezed into the car and Scott passed in wheels for our laps. We couldn’t move but it gave us all a good laugh.

To most, the prospect of a two-night adventure with minimal miles might seem like a bit of a waste of time. Perhaps it’s not worth the faff of packing everything into bags or washing the kit afterwards. To me, these mini-adventures are exactly the opposite. They’re opportunities to squeeze in the very feeling of adventure without having to take the time to recover or train up to it. They’re things that I can manage around other commitments and still help me feel like I’ve been out there. I’d encourage you to give one a go.

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