Bike Packing Adventures with The Gravel Boys!
The Gravel Boy’s cycled the King Alfred's Way is a 350km circular off-road adventure route through 10,000 years of history, connecting some of England's most iconic sites in 4 days.
What was your favourite part of the trip?
Oh that’s a tough first question! From a riding perspective, we all have different riding styles and fitness levels so I think each of us had a different opinion on this. Ben for example loves wide open tracks so I think he would say his favourite spot was up on the Ridgeway. Sam loves anything with a steep climb because he’s a mad man so he loved the Surrey Hills and I’m a big fan of really narrow technical descents (a.k.a happiest when going down hill).
I think we could all agree that our favourite non-riding part of the trip was on the first night. We decided to head off-course slightly to a village called Berwick St James as we thought it looked like it had more woodland for camping. There we found the Boot Inn and the landlord Mike was probably the most hospitable person we could have hoped to come across. We stayed in the beer garden, he kept the pub open for us (as long as we paid for his rounds) and even brought us out a left-over chili. I think that pub is 100% worth a detour if you are doing this route and there is also a camp-site just up the road if you want facilities.
Did you have any trouble?
I think in the grand scheme of things we got off pretty lightly considering there was an amber weather alert. We had predominantly dry days up until about 3pm before all hell broke loose. Two of the nights we had to stay in huts along the route and a massive thanks to @littledragonflyoxford for saving us at very short notice on day two.
The only other issue we had was on the last day where we joined a section of South Downs way, we heard that the flint there could puncture tires easily but it was bad. I think we had 4 flats in 30 mins and quickly ran out of our spare inner tubes. Sam & Joe being the fittest of us had to make a 10 mile detour for more inner tubes. Luckily this section only lasted for about 10 miles, but you have been warned. Have a couple of spares each or consider going tubeless.
How important was food / nutrition intake on this trip?
It was incredibly important, we were burning an average of 4,0000 calories per day so it became difficult to eat enough food. Our mix of Real Turmat, Expedition Foods and Summit To Eat meals gave us the freedom to stop when our body’s told us to (which was a lot!).
When you’re cycling with a fully-loaded kit, as soon as your energy levels are down you have to eat or it feels like you are cycling through cement. You also need to make sure you are eating something that your body can easily process and get energy from, fast.
We all carried a lot of dried fruit, nuts and energy gels but the Basecamp meals were vital in allowing us to get those big energy top-ups in a really efficient manner as and when needed. Just a couple of jet boils later and all five of us were fed and ready to go.
What was your favourite meal? or any memorable meals?
Another really tough question! They were all amazing so I’ll put our full list for 4 days below. From speaking with the guys. Joe’s was the Kebab Stew (Gluten Free), Sams was the LYO Expedition Vegan Barley and Lentil Risotto (Vegan), Ben’s was the Pulled Pork with Rice and mine was the Creamy Salmon Pasta. But honestly they were all incredibly delicious.
Real Turmat Chicken with Lentils and Lime
Real Turmat Chicken Tikka Masala
Real Turmat (Field Meal) Pulled Pork with Rice
Real Turmat (Field Meal) Beef Stew with Broccoli
Real Turmat Beef & Potato Casserole
Real Turmat Squash and Sweetcorn Casserole
Summit to Eat Beef and Potato Stew
Summit to Eat Vegetable Chipotle Chilli with Rice
Real Turmat (Field Meal) Creamy Pasta with Pork
Summit To Eat 5 Bean Cassoulet
Expedition Foods Chilli Con Carne with Rice (1000Kcal)
Real Turmat Chili con Carne
Real Turmat Kebab Stew
Real Turmat Creamy Salmon with Pasta
Real Turmat Pulled Pork with Rice
Real Turmat Thai Red Curry
LYO Expedition Vegan Barley and Lentil Risotto
Any advice for people wanting to cycle the King Alfred’s way?
Our main piece of advice is don’t be afraid to deviate off the trail towards the end of the day to find a good pub or camping spot. Doing this led to some incredible experiences that we would have never had if we had been to strict with ourselves. We always managed to make up any lost time the next morning but it’s always worth a few miles detour for a good pub garden to relax in!
Other than that, ALWAYS fill up your water bottles at every opportunity. Get the largest bottles your bike can hold as you get through it fast and need it to cook!
How was carrying, cooking, and disposing of the meals like?
It was hard initially to find space for the food but they do pack down really nicely and you can wedge them in lots of nooks and crannies or just velcro strap them onto the bike frame itself! I think if we hadn’t been trying to pack for all seasons of weather packing the food would have been a lot easier!
Cooking them could not have been easier, boil the water, pour it in the bag and seal it up for a few minutes and it’s done. We joked that we don’t think most people would be able to tell the difference between the freeze dried meals and restaurant meals if we put them on a plate. They are genuinely that good.
Disposing of the meals was easy, we simply used one empty bag as the big and then folded up all the other ones into it the Real Turmat bags were easiest as they have a foil like texture so you can pack down the rubbish really tight.
Any advice for people who are new to bike packing?
We’ve all done a few trips now and whilst it’s tempting to buy the cheaper kit (I used Aldi bike packing gear for my first trip) you will 100% end up replacing it after your first time.
Our main advice would be to borrow as much kit as you can, make sure you enjoy yourself and then invest a little bit more into quality gear. AlpKit gear for example is amazing and not too pricey and comes with a warranty.
Also, keep an eye on weather forecasts they do make or break a trip. We’re not purely fair weather riders but cycling all day in heavy rain and then setting up a tent wet doesn’t make for a fun experience. We actually opted to shelter in barns and wait for storms to pass rather than getting soaked as it’s a really quick way to get ill.
Finally get yourself a good handlebar phone holder like Quad Lock and download Komoot it’s an amazing off-road sat nav that works perfectly for Gravel Riding. It can drain your battery though so bring a charging bank.
How long did it take to complete the route?
We decided to do it over five days which was between 60km-80km a day. Some people do it in 3//4 and we have even seen one person do it unloaded in 1 day! However, we wanted to enjoy the scenery, take our time and have a bit of a holiday. Going for longer does mean packing heavier so that is always worth a consideration.
What was the most beautiful sight during the adventure?
I think the most beautiful site was up on the Ridgeway, you’re super high up, super exposed to the elements and you are going through hill forts and down chalk trails and it just feels wild. Surrey Hills are also stunning and you feel more like you are in the American MidWest than England.
Any future trips lined up?
I think we’ve all agreed to have a month off and let it get a little warmer. But I think we’ll be looking to do something around the Lake District next, there’s also a new route in Cornwall called the West Kernow Way which we have our eye on. For anyone interested in looking for routes advntr.cc and bikepacking.com are both fantastic resources.
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