“We are very sorry to inform you that this train will not be able to travel on the High-Speed line due to Storm Ciara.”
I’m on the early high-speed train service from Amsterdam to Bruxelles, when I hear this announcement and I’m worried I’m gonna miss my connection from Bruxelles to London. Even in terms of travel logistics, this plan might just be a bit too ambitious.
Months ago I made the call and ordered a gravel/adventure bike from a small bike shop in Manchester. At that time I was new to the world of bikepacking but after a couple of overnighters on my old hardtail, I was hooked and fell in love with the idea of a dedicated adventure bike. So when Shona from Keep Pedalling told me the bike would be ready in the New Year, I began to form a plan. I was gonna pick up the bike in the midst of winter, take it up north to Inverness and attempt to ride the Badger Divide. In order to deal with my carbon footprint conscience, I decided to complete the whole undertaking by train.
So there I was, on my way to the UK, in a cramped train with a flight bag full of bikepacking bags. I spent weeks getting all the gear together and stuffing it into bags I would then attach to the bike once I reached Manchester. Weeks of staring at the Mountain Weather Service and reading frosty reports from fellow explorers is not very helpful if you want to pack lightly. I packed all of my winter kit, and a bit more.
From Bruxelles, I would catch the Eurostar, shoot through the tunnel 75m below sea level, switch stations in London and ride the train to Manchester. Pick up the bike, load up the bags and hop aboard the Sleeper by night to reach Inverness the next morning. Kindly, Shona opened up the shop just for me because I arrived on a Monday when they are usually closed. With my current High-Speed train restricted to low speed, I risked missing the whole chain of connections, and have Shona waiting in vain. Being all 21st century I emailed her out of the train and promised I would make it to Manchester before 5pm. Hours later I finally found myself rolling into London St. Pancras station with only 20 minutes spare to make it to Euston station and catch the service to Manchester. It must have looked weird, tall dutch guy running through the tube with a bag full of other bags. But I made it, with 2 minutes spare. On the approach to Manchester, the sky turned red and from my window I could see the Peak District, snowcapped.
After a warm welcome from Shona, I took out my bags and within no time we transformed the showroom model into a mean looking expedition mobile. I stuffed the Outdoor Provisions bars that were given to me generously in every available little space. Ready to head up North I thanked Shona and made my way back to the train station. A couple of hours later I rested my head on a fresh pillow and fell sound asleep to the rocking motions of the sleeper.