Mary and I had a week booked off work with adventure in mind. We would cycle National Cycle Network Route 81. It starts in Smethwick Galton Bridge and goes all the way to Aberystwyth.
160 miles of epic riding across the spine of Wales. Sun and warmth forecast for the week.
It didn’t go to plan.
We changed tack and set sail on a new adventure.
Riding to Shrewsbury
Work has been tough and very busy over the last few months. We were unprepared for our adventure, mentally and physically. Not that it worried us. We could take our time. Enjoy the ride.
By the time it came to leave we still hadn’t found our mojos. Our bikes were packed and we set off hoping we might find it en route.
The ride was thoroughly enjoyable for the first 30 miles out to the other side of Wolverhampton. Even though it was drizzling we felt pretty good and were all smiles. Then we hit a wall. It became a tough slog. Unenjoyable. We limped into our campsite on the other side of Shrewsbury, just as it was getting dark.
We cooked a hot meal and ate it by torchlight. `I’ve had enough’ entered my head around Telford. I kept it to myself as I know that if I push on and through I can ride out the low point and get to the good stuff. Turns out Mary was feeling this way too.
Glad to be warm and comfy in our tent I knew we would feel better in the morning but by the time we fell asleep we had decided to push on would do us no good. This was meant to be a holiday, a week off work to rest.
Next morning we packed up camp and were glad to be going home yet disappointed at the same time. It was the right decision. No point carrying on if we weren’t enjoying it. Sometimes you can’t force it.
We cycled 6 miles back into Shrewsbury to get the train. As we crossed the River Severn I looked down at the water. How lovely if we could just float home. We could get on the water at Shrewsbury and let the River take us to Bridgenorth, Stourport even, and cycle home from there. Our weary bodies would be rested as we floated downstream. If only we had Packrafts!
A packraft is a small, lightweight inflatable boat developed for backcountry adventuring and slowly making their way into everyones adventures.
From Birmingham to Bala NOT via Aberystwyth
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”C. S. Lewis
We were pretty pissed off. We had spend so much time working that it left us too tired to ride to Aberystwyth. However barriers also create opportunities and we took a chance to upgrade our bicycle adventure.
Packraft UK Meetup
Fortuitously the 2019 Packrafting UK meetup coincided with our week off. Back home we packed up the car with our bikes, camping gear and puppies and headed to Llyn Tegid in Wales to have a go at Bike-Rafting!!
A packraft could be considered the ultimate upgrade to your bicycle adventure. Where your bike stops, your packraft can continue. Allowing you to adventure like never before, access wilder camping spots and really get off the beaten track.
Unstoppable adventures and be gone those pesky watery barriers! Cartographic blue holes and lines are suddenly transformed into playgrounds and routes! New ways home.
Bikepacking.com have a great beginners guide to bikerafting here:
The Packraft UK Meetup is a free-to-attend gathering of everything packraft. A small and intimate affair for this new genre of travel. There were just 60 or so people in attendance, a friendly bunch and very happy to talk anything packraft!
A brilliant, short video by Jeff Price and more in depth write up about the event is here
Everyone from the whitewater packrafters to the packraft curious were catered for with Packrafts available to try and buy.
I was primarily interested in the bike-rafting taster session. I wanted to understand the logistics of carrying and using a packraft with my bike.
I love getting out on or in the water. I am a total water baby, whether out in the ocean or lakes and rivers. The idea of strapping my bike to a boat and paddling off was beyond exciting. Why walk when you can ride and why ride when you can float!
Running the bike rafting taster session was my mate Mr Andy Toop from Backcountry.scot.
Andy is the original, UK Packraft guru and probably responsible for more Brits having waterborne, inflatable fun than a hot day in Benidorm! I had been out boating with Mr Toop before but not with my bicycle.
Packrafts and trail boats have been around for a few decades but the latest innovations in synthetic polymers, polyurethane and material welding techniques have resulted in a pretty bombproof, inflatable boat that is small and light enough to pop into your bag OR strap to your bike.
“But where do I put my Bike?”
“Strap it to the boat!!!!” [Claps wildly and excitedly]
“Thirty-one years ago I had never heard of anybody else lashing a bike onto a boat before. It was my own idea, with my first mountain bike in 1987. I wanted to explore an area for moose hunting on the far side of the Delta River, a big glacier river in the Alaska Range. I used a Sherpa Packraft to get across. I rode buffalo trails, ended up shooting a moose, used the bike to wheel meat to the river, and then I ferried it all over in my raft.”Roman Dial. He acquired his first Alpacka Raft in the early 2000s.
I set sail in a Caribou Alpacka Raft. They have a larger volume at the front for strapping loads to: i.e my bike.
Combining light and durable tubes with a full strength 840d Ballistic Nylon Floor and our innovative Late Rise Bow, the Caribou is the ultimate backcountry front end loader. At just 4lbs 12oz (5lbs with a Cargo Fly), the Caribou is also the lightest full sized packraft on the market. It’s the perfect packraft for bikerafting and big ultralight backcountry adventures.
The Caribou rolled up and the paddle broke down into 4 sections making them easy to strap to my handlebars with inflatable seat and Personal Flotation Device. Cinched tight the weight on the bars didn’t affect the bike handling too much.
A group of us set off cycling less than a mile to a boat launch where we were able to unpack and inflate our rafts and strap our bikes to the front.
The bike on the bow along with me in it allowed the boat to sit low and steady in the water. It was extremely stable and paddled well. Even when squalling winds chopped up the surface of the lake the raft felt safe and stable.
We didn’t paddle too far but enough to get a good feel for bikerafting.
We got out of the water in a wooded area. Deflated our rafts and strapped everything back on the bike to cycle back to the campsite.
I was surprised at how easy the transitions were and I really enjoyed the change of motion. From pedalling to paddling to pedalling. I liked how it broke up the adventure without sacrificing forward motion.
To be continued…
We may not have made it to Aberystwyth but the packraft meetup sparked our adventure creativity and we met some lovely people. We rested and had a thoroughly good time.
Watch this space. I am sure we will complete Route 81 in the future and who knows we may even take packrafts with us!!