I looked at the train as it slowly made its way out of Preston station. I was glad to be standing on the platform, my bike resting against a wall, my backpack next to it. It had been almost three hours since the train had departed from London, carrying me north in its overcrowded carriages, but my journey wasn’t over. I still needed to ride 20 miles to reach the Cycle Touring Festival. I didn’t mind. This was the part of the travel I had really been looking for. I have had microadventures every month since January but none of them had included my bike and I’ve missed it. I strapped my backpack to the rear rack and finally pushed it out of the station. Time for a ride.
The plan was simple, I had to follow a straight line to the festival. But soon I was bored of the road I had carefully chosen before departing and turned left up a hill. The road narrowed and took on a character of its own with its steep short ascent and rewarding downhill. As I struggled uphill – I have definitely spent too long on London’s flat roads – I took in the views, gorging my eyes with the Forest of Bowland on my right and the Pendle Hill on my left. It was bliss.
After my detour, I eventually reached the campsite where I met a fellow cycle tourer. We pitched out tents together and chatted about our experiences or lack thereof. But before we had time to finish setting up, other cycle travellers were arriving in spite of the early hour. There were no formalities or shyness as we all introduced ourselves and started sharing stories. Conversations flowed and I increasingly felt part of a community. I was no longer alone. I had known other people went on cycle tours thanks to the Internet, but I had never been able to have a conversation about it in the physical world without having to explain what it is and not being taken for a mad person.
As the sun fell over the horizon, we gathered in one of the conference rooms and listened to talks from well-seasoned cycle tourers while sharing beers before retiring to our tents. The campsite had filled up by that time and I had to pause when I reached my tent. I had never seen so many tents and bikes together. I smiled and went to sleep happy. I had found a family.
I awoke slowly to the sound of tent zips and eager chatter of fellow travellers and ate a quick breakfast before joining the crowds for the first sessions of the day. There was a big offering of workshops throughout the festival and it was sometimes hard to decide where to go, but whatever you choose, it was always good. Sessions were interactive and felt like an informal chat between friends helping one another. I learned much and was able to get information and advice for my next cycle tour in Portugal (should be next April or May if all goes to plan). The only downside, I thought, was that the schedule was missing a session for cycle tourer that like me only travel during their holidays. But the festival was so great, that a session just about this very topic was added at the last minute!
On the last day, as the hours ticked away and the end of the festival drew to a close, I felt a tinge of sadness. It had been such a few exhilarating days, filled with energy, smiles, and new friends. I didn’t want to leave this community I had found. I was proud to be a part of it and wanted to remain in the campsite for a little while longer. But I had to go straight after the closing ceremony. I had a train to catch in Preston. So I cycled away, pushing hard on the pedals to power me up the hills, focusing on the road not to think too much of what I was leaving behind.
Seating in the train back to London, I gazed out of the window and smiled. I had not left my new friends behind. I will see them again on the roads. We are all somewhere, planning our next trip or already happily experiencing the world from the seat of our bikes.