Just like the movement, this blog is full of voices and experiences of those who joined us along the way. There is a day by day blog written by Jessie, however there are lots of extracts from those who were either part of the ‘cargo relay’ or just joined for a few miles.
Day 1-Newton Abbot to Taunton
By Jessie Stevens
The one where we set off…
Quote of the day: ‘If bikes were pills, we would all be taking them’ – Graham
High – Pushing off from home and knowing there was only one way forward… to Scotland.
Low – Going down a one way road, the wrong way (with a few unhappy drivers!).
Riding down the hill to the Clock Tower felt so surreal. I felt oddly calm, an emotion I had forgotten after the past few frantic weeks – I am not sure whether it was the immense sense of relief that ‘wheels were finally turning’ and we were on the road, or it was the sheer uncertainty of the unknown ahead.
As the clock tower loomed into view, I could start to make out a sea of people all milling around. It was a huge shock to see so many faces known and unknown all waiting for the big ‘send off’. Whilst I had been planning this for months and was beginning to learn every intricacy of the movement, our motive and the overall mission, the massive unknown was who would turn up and how many!
After much milling around, talking and media interviews, the time came to set off. As we weaved our way out of the congested Newton Abbot, the rhythmic sound of over 50 sets of tyres all rolling togther was audible. As with most of South Devon, the only way forward was up a big hill to Teignmouth Golf course. I was certainly pleased to find out that this was the second highest point on the route (apart from near Moffat all the way in Scotland) – it reminded me of what everyone had told me as I planned and trained: ‘it’s much flatter after Devon’ – it was nice to know they were right!
Quickly the miles started to tick by as we rode up into Exeter weaving through traffic light after traffic light in some busy areas. It was at this point, I first started chatting to our very first member of the cargo relay – Graham. He explained to me that he is a seasoned cargo rider and uses these excellent bikes instead of a car! He mentioned that he even used to take his kids to school on it! Now that really could be the school run of the future!
By Killerton (National Trust Property above Exeter) the sun was really starting to shine bringing a new found sense of positivity to the group. At this point we stopped for lunch and met our second cargo biker – Ben. Despite never having ridden one of these bikes before, after a few turns of the car park, he was a natural. As we rode together, Ben explained to me that his young daughter, Polly, really wanted to come and join the movement, however she was a bit too small to! Instead, she wrote a beautiful letter describing so articulately her thoughts and feelings about the climate crisis and her hopes for COP26. It was such a touching moment, and I promised to take Polly’s voice to COP with me.
As we neared the edge of Taunton, the hills started to get shorter and sharper and the heavy clouds began to pull in. They followed us ominously for a few miles before opening their flood gates just as we arrived to our accommodation. It was time for a big sigh of relief….
Clockwise: Jessie at the clocktower, Group ‘faff’, Ben and Graham at the cargo changeover, Ben whizzing by.
An addition from Ben
I learnt about Jessie’s journey from an Adventure Syndicate social media post a few weeks before the ride began. Our whole family was inspired by her vision and determination; then when the adventure syndicate asked for volunteers to ride a leg of the cargo bike relay I instantly replied YES , but didn’t really think any more about it.
I then received a link to a planning document with my name next to a leg and the excitement started to build!
There were wild storms the night before but in the morning the sun shone and as I stood in a lay- by in the middle of the Devon countryside, I felt quite nervous, not quite knowing what to expect and whether I’d be able to ride a cargo bike 30 miles… Any doubts evaporated as the peloton rolled up, with smiles, greetings and laughter.
My first turn round the lay-by on the bike was somewhat alarming, it felt like steering a canal boat, but after a few minutes I reckoned I could at least pedal in a straight line so we were good to go!
It was a wonderful afternoon, spinning through the countryside, chatting to like-minded people, hearing about Jessie’s plans at COP26, her wider vision for curriculum changes and grass roots action. Taunton arrived all too soon and after depositing the cargo bike at their accommodation it was a 5 min sprint to catch my train as the next wild storm started!
Day 2 – Taunton to Portishead
Quote of the day: Just do it!
High – Cruising along the Somerset Levels with crisp autumnal sunshine on my back.
Low – 4 punctures – making it a very long day.
We aimed to leave Taunton bright and early at 9.30, however this was far from the case! Due to the heavy rain the night before, our first cargo biker of the day, Liz, was delayed due to water on the train tracks. In the end we didn’t set off until 10.45!
Spirits were high as we knew that this would be one of our flattest days and also that from now on, all roads would be new and exciting! It has to be said that the Somerset Levels did not disappoint! With blue skies all morning we cruised along canal tow paths and whilst we thoroughly enjoyed the car free experience, our tyres did not. Within 2 hours both myself and the cargo bike had our first punctures of the day.
As we rolled into Highbridge for some lunch, I chatted to Liz about her experiences of cycling and all her bike packing adventures – there were lots of stories to be told!
I made the serious error of not eating enough throughout the morning, then going large at lunch… I was rather regretful for the rest of the afternoon!
At our lunch stop in Highbridge we met up with our 2nd cargo biker of the day – Patrick. We quickly saw what a natural Patrick was on the cargo bike and enquired about his previous experience – he owns one and often transports his sausage dogs around in it! (I think this was why his bike handling skills were so excellent – precious cargo!).
I am not afraid to say that we had a scenic wild wee stop in the shadow of Brent Knoll, which made the experience all the more memorable!
Zooming down wide, open lanes, we moved across the pancake flat landscape with ease. This made for a relaxing afternoon of gentle pedaling and some deep conversations.
Just as we passed Sedgemoor, we were brought to an abrupt stop to let a traffic jam of cows cross the road! It was a welcome break and a perfect opportunity to make some cow related jokes!
Whilst the day was not at all strenuous, it turned out to be quite long due to the many punctures and a few pesky mechanicals.
Clockwise: One of the many punctures, Liz all smiles before the cargo ride, Patrick’s traffic jam.
Day 3 – Portishead to Tewksbury
Quote of the day: ‘I stand by my decisions’ (in response to someone in the core team eating ice cream for breakfast…)
High: Last few miles into Tewkesbury – autumnal trees framed against a picturesque sunset.
Low: Short but heavy shower before Gloucester.
As we all gathered ready to leave Portishead, our first two cargo bikers of the day, Vera and Matt arrived on their tandem. The tandem was not the most exciting thing about their journey, in fact, they had sailed from Cardiff to Portishead the night before in order to limit their emissions! We were all amazed by the dedication to the movement.
The first few miles of the ride were difficult. We skirted around the heavy urban sprawl of the edge of Bristol and passed by huge HGV lorries. Many of us covered our mouths with masks or buffs due to the smelly fumes. It was also quite a test to pick our way around all the glass, plastic and metal debris that covered the roads. As we crossed the very noisy (slightly swaying) Avon Bridge, we knew that the bustle and concrete of the city was in the past.
The monotonous miles as we passed by Bristol were truly made up for the incredible roads as soon as we passed the city by. Wide, flat(ish) and low hedges all made for wonderful views across the landscape.
As we passed by, we had quite a few riders join and leave the ride as moved from village to village.
After a long and slightly hilly lunch stop, we began to follow the river Severn as it worked its way north. Matt and Jack managed to capture some awesome drone footage of the group moving through the lanes and by the river. It was so amazing to see the ride from a different vantage point!
I had a very interesting conversation with Vera about the need for more diversity in the cycling and climate movement which was very thought provoking . She also suggested a very ingenious idea to help combat angry drivers – making every person taking a driving test, cycle on busy roads!
The Severn snaked its way into Gloucester, and so we followed. It was time for a brief ice cream (in 10 degrees?) and snack stop, before the final cargo biker of the day, Claire took over.
Claire had never ridden a cargo bike before, and so we all had our cameras out ready to catch her first few wobbles on the bike – #topqualitycontent. (disappointingly!) she was as serene as a swan and zoomed off ahead!
The final lanes before Tewkesbury were absolutely stunning. The gentle undulation was perfect for picking up speed and we flew towards the town as the light began to fade.
As we rode into the bustling streets of Tewkesbury, we heard loud shouting coming from our left. As quickly as can be done in the cargo bike procession, we all dismounted and went to investigate. It was only then when we saw Mel Nicholls, the Paralympian who had just finished her epic handcycle around Britain. She was celebrating the finish on the pavement with a glass of champagne after nearly 3 months on the road! After a long chat and many well wishes, we said farewell and headed off to our accommodation for the night. The whole team was so stoked to ride with her out of Tewkesbury after the rest day!
An addition from Vera
When Matt and I signed up to take part in the cargo bike relay, we were inspired by the People Pedal Power movement to challenge ourselves and minimise our carbon emissions in getting to the start of our relay leg and getting back home after. That is how we found ourselves on a borrowed sailing boat, wind-powering our way from Cardiff to Portishead with a tandem squeezed on-board, ready to join Day 3 of Jessie’s ride to COP26.
When we arrived at the start of our relay leg in Portishead, we were greeted by the enthusiastic faces of Jessie and her dad, Catherine and Jack (film crew), and Ruth who had all been cycling with Jessie from the start. Everyone was in high spirits, with nothing to allude to the fact that they had already completed two long days in the saddle. Eager to get going, the laden cargo bike was handed over to me. Having never ridden one before, I was a little nervous about making a fool of myself by wobbling all over the place, and worried I would slow them all down. I hopped on to give it a try on the pavement and instantly burst into giggles. It was unlike anything I had ever ridden; the steering was very sensitive, it had the turning circle of an artic lorry, but more importantly, it was fun! Despite my initial fears, I didn’t fall off, and soon found myself shouting ‘weeee’, with a huge grin on my face, as we began to make our way towards Gloucester.
Every few miles along the way, we came across cyclists waiting on the roadside, eager to join our peloton for a few miles. Conversation with strangers flowed effortlessly as we were united by the same cause, all there to show our support not just for Jessie and her mammoth ride, but for the fight against climate change which is at the centre of this movement.
A few more riders came and went as we weaved our way along the River Severn and onto the canal towpaths which made for some exciting Cargo bike handling manoeuvres. Time flew by unbelievably quickly, and we rolled into Gloucester around 4pm. In just the few hours that we spent with the group, we already felt like a part of a huge family, united by our outrage at what is happening to our planet, but with a shared optimism that movements such as these will put enough pressure on our leaders to dismantle the current system and rebuild in a way that serves and saves our precious planet.
Gutted that we weren’t able to accompany Jessie and the crew all the way up to Glasgow due to other commitments, we handed the cargo bike over to the next rider, and took comfort in some ice-creams, and the knowledge that Jessie and the crew would continue to be accompanied and cheered on by so many wonderful people as they make their way across the country to Glasgow for this significant climate change conference.
Clockwise: Vera perfectly encapsulating the joy that can be had from cargo bikes, Matt and Vera getting the tandem all ready to go, the impromptu but wonderful meeting with Mel, Claire enjoying the beautiful Gloucestershire views.
Day 4 – Tewkesbury (Rest Day!)
On this day there was much sleeping, eating and catching up on general ‘stuff’. There was also a tour of Tewksbury via cargo bike, including a trip to a chapel and skate park – quite the adventure.
Left to right: Getting ‘aero’, Skate park shenanigans, Jack sheltering from the rain.
Day 5 – Tewksbury to Telford
Quote of the day: ‘One can never eat too many falafels’ ( Said when a large box of falafels was bought and then had to be eaten for both lunch, snacks and dinner)
High: zooming though a ford and splashing everyone in sight.
Low: Drizzle for most of the day.
It was quite a challenge after the rest day to clear up all our gear that had been strewn across the flat, and stuff it back into the array of dry sacks. However, I quite happily left dad to it, whilst me and Catherine hoped over the road to interview the awesome Mel Nichols (Paralympian, endurance athlete and all round super tough human). We talked all things grit, endurance and accessibility in cycling and on public transport. When I arrived back to the flat, the cargo bike was packed and ready to go – the last remnants of our relaxed rest day quickly dissipating.
Just as our wheels started to roll out of Tewksbury’s main street, the rain began. It began quite heavy and then quickly turned into a grinding drizzle – the kind that gets you wet inside and out. We sped down long flat lanes with the Malvern Hills dipping in and out of view. They were quite the sight towering over the endless flatlands.
Wet and miserable (well at least I was), we arrived in Worcester. Like bees to a flower, the group swarmed around the tables of a coffee shop, refilling on the ‘nectar’ (caffeine) we so desperately needed. It was here that we met Dulce and her daughter Taika, who had been on quite the adventure to get to the cargo relay. A train, taxi and 1.5 hours later than expected they arrived with big smiles and wearing brightly coloured socks.
The rain didn’t cease, but our spirits improved after some great conversations about our favourite ‘lost lanes’ to cycle and a quick lunch stop. As the terrain started to get hillier and the roads slippier, I noticed my brake pads (which had been replaced the day before) were nearly finished, making for a hair raising few miles on the difficult terrain.
At Stourbridge, the 3rd and final cargo relay of the day began, with Alice and Kitty (founders of the Steezy Collective). These two ( and a large quantity of chocolate orange) were just the remedy to our increasingly wet and cold kit and extremities. There were a good few moments where I physically couldn’t stay on the bike due to laughing so hard – the best kind of crashes!
With quite a few miles left and the light fading, the probability of some night riding became very real. I am not sure what it is, however it just seems harder to make progress in the dark. Whether it is the body wanting to get ready to sleep, or the ease of getting lost, our progress was slow. The roads into Telford were eerily quiet and it felt like trying to navigate a labyrinth.
After nearly 12 hours out and about, we collapsed into our accommodation feeling a little low as we knew there was another long day ahead.
An addition from Kitty
A few weeks ago I saw the Adventure Syndicate’s call to join a cargo relay to support a 16 year old climate activist on her mission to ride to COP26. I was in. Jessie’s quest to reach COP26 on a bike with the support of a group of amazing cyclist carrying everything they needed on cargo bikes was the perfect way to kick off a climate conference.
In the spirit of sustainability, cars we’re out of the question to join the movement but with a leg starting in Stourbridge some logistical wrangling was necessary. We got a train to Birmingham and rode with a Brompton and another cargo bike to join Jessie as a pair. It’s never quite that simple though, national rail tends to throw a curveball on a Sunday and we ended up a little behind schedule. I guess this is a huge part of Jessie’s mission; how can we get around this relatively small island sustainably without an affordable and reliable public transport network? Maybe all of us need a cargo bike!
But the main take away from this ride, for me, was the people. Jessie herself is a formidable person, someone who will change the course of climate history. But as she herself said, it’s about everyone who came along. All the people who joined came from such a diverse range of backgrounds but all had two common passions: bikes and the climate. People Pedal Power is collecting so many incredible minds and allowing them to connect and share ideas from county to county as the cargo bike trundles up the spine of Britain. I really hope everyone who joined went away inspired, like I was.
Clockwise: Snack and chat stop with Kitty and Alice, Naomi raring to go, When Dulce and Jessie first met, Mel and Dulce in action, the long night ride.
Day 6 – Telford to Warrington
Quote of the day: ‘Are we nearly there yet?’
High: Cruising along wide, flat lanes with a backdrop of a lovely sunset. Low: The sinking feeling when we realised the cargo had a puncture less than a mile from the end of the day.
After navigating our way through the weird tentacles of Telford, we were met with an interview from Channel 5 news. Due to delays ( and replacing brake pads) we set off later than anticipated.
After only one mile, disaster hit: the cargo bike got a puncture. It was quite the juxtaposition as we changed the tyre of our awesome human powered ‘vehicle’ right next to the motorway as the cars sped by.
All morning we navigated along the beautiful, flat(ish) lanes of Cheshire and Staffordshire. Until Disaster struck once again: the first bonk of the trip. Only a few miles out of our cargo changeover spot in Nantwich, I began to feel increasingly tired, lethargic and downright rubbish. I think the business of the morning combined with the urge to get the speed up due to delays, had left me over tired and under fuelled. Luckily after a quick team pep talk (thanks dad) and a few more minutes of feeling terrible, we rolled into Natwich for the fuel stop of dreams. Flapjack, hot chocolate, coco pops (there is a sugary theme!) were all consumed, making the situation feel a lot more manageable. Not to mention the fact that we were joined by (slightly hyper after 5 coffees) Russ! I really can’t stress the power of a new face, personality and a story can have on the group atmosphere – it makes the world of difference. Russ was the founder of ‘Elove’, a delivery organisation using cargo bikes for first and last mile deliveries. This made for some fascinating conversations about the future of deliveries and transport.
Again, the light began to dwindle and another evening of night riding snuck up behind us. The first few miles of the evening were on slippy, unlit canal paths, all of which felt as though we were dancing with danger. And so we decided to reroute. It was at this point that we saw a few bobbing lights on the corner of the main road. As we drew closer, it turned out that some very kind and dedicated riders who had come to join (one pair even brought a large bar of chocolate!).
The end of the day felt in sight when the Wahoo finally chirped that it would only be 8 miles left. Little did we know that two hours later, we would be sat at the side of the road still more than a mile away, trying to fix the second puncture of the day. I am not sure where those hours of riding went or why it took so long.
However I did learn two valuable lessons that night.
- Warrington is a huge place.
2. Chocolate is the best fuel for repairing punctures.
An addition from Russ
When there was a call out for cargo bikers to support Jessie Stevens in her ride to COP26 I had no hesitation in volunteering. Seeing that the route passed through Nantwich I suggested I pick up from there, after all I grew up in Wistaston (3 miles away) and Nantwich was where I went to sixth form (Malbank).
The route chosen was carefully selected along country lanes and I was very surprised how many decent cycle paths and bridleways we rode along! As we came out of Nantwich Jessie and I chatted about cargo bikes and the future of mobility and how the future of our planet depended on a disruptive mindset… disrupting the norm… disrupting what we have learned, been taught and leading the way for future generations. I had to keep telling myself “Jessie is only 16 and she’s been riding an average of 70 miles a day for 6 days…” she spoke like she’d just set off on her ride, extremely determined and motivated by her challenge she has set for herself. Amazingly Catherine from Adventure Syndicate recorded us chatting for a good 15 minutes at the same time as riding her bike (the potholes were testing her ‘riding whilst filming’ skills… amazing!). Riding out of Nantwich there was a short rest stop to get supplies for the evening meal In Winsford and as we set off from there the evening became crisp and the stars began to appear. We were blessed with near perfect conditions and riding the cargo bike along the seemingly endless cycle ways via Northwich towards Warrington … bliss.
In Northwich we were joined by Stu from Cycling UK and two riders from Chester! The support crew carried on growing and we pedalled on. It was now dark and starting to get cold. Tor layered up and I just didn’t seem to feel the chilly air, must’ve been that Adrenalin filled Caffeine and flapjack-et I was wearing!
We neared Warrington and our goal for the day, passed the national cycling museum and through more cycle paths, then 3 miles before we finished we popped a puncture on the front wheel of the Omnium! A cheeky thorn from passing through a really nasty bridle way control gate ! What a pain! Dark, cold, practically imagining our evening meals and feet up after a long day riding and then we have to fix a puncture.
You know what was amazing… all the way along the 40 or so miles I rode, Jessie kept thanking me for everything and all our support… an amazing young person! I was hugely thankful to be a part of this adventure and fully support the efforts by People Pedal Power and all the gratitude is from me to them for having me along to help out. Ian and Jess headed into the overnight accommodation, I left the cargo bike to continue the journey and jogged alongside Stew who led me to the train home. Onwards and upwards!
Clockwise: Catherine and Keri – ‘that don’t impress me much’ face, Russ and Jessie chatting before setting off from Nantwich, morning puncture next to the motorway, Jessie post bonk filling up on coco pops, Jessie and channel 5 News.
Day 7 – Warrington to Lancaster
Quote of the day: ‘Well that was disappointing’ (said when someone from the core team decided it would be a good idea to have a break from soggy sandwiches and try a hearty salad for lunch. When was that a good idea?).
High: Seeing mum as we rolled into the dark streets of Lancaster.
Low: A very close shave with an angry driver, who very nearly knocked us over.
As we rolled up to our starting point in the centre of the very busy Warrington, we were greeted by a sea of faces and bikes. To be quite honest, we were all feeling rather despondent that cold grey morning, after a very late night, and a block of 3 very long days. And so this large send off (there must have been at least 20 people) and communal ride out of Warrington, was just what we needed to lift very low spirits. I don’t think it was that we were that physically tired, as by then days on the bike were second nature, feeling even more natural than walking. But it was the mental tiredness that was really starting to hit hard. Long days on the bike, then having to settle in a new place every night, find food, unpacking, charge electronics, complete media commitments, were all getting a bit too much.
The morning was flat, but not particularly interesting. With the fast majority of the riding being on canal tow paths which helped us to weave our way out of the urban sprawl that was Warrington, Wigan and Chorley. However, one thing that did punctuate the often monotonous terrain was the dreaded ‘anti motor cycle’ gates that littered the cycle path. These large black gates caused havoc as it caused the whole group to have to stop and lift bike after bike over. And then came the moment when we had to lift the cargo bike over… At least 6 people were needed to carefully manoeuvre the 50kg (ish) bike over the gate. Every time it touched the ground on the other side, a cheer would go up from the group, all proud of the action, but dreading the next one which would closely follow. The teamwork and perseverance involved really emphasised one of the key messages of the movement – the power of collective action.
At Wigan, we swapped cargo riders from our amazing morning rider, Sal (cargo bike pro and all round fabulous human – with a great taste in knitted jumpers) to Emma and Jenny who were awaiting for us under a canal bridge. This pair were rather eye catching due to turning up in dragon onesies. Yes, you heard me: Dragon Onesies. What better attire to ride a cargo bike in? The pair also were equipped with a truly awesome, luminous pink road bike for when the other team member wasn’t riding the cargo bike!
After Chorley, we ditched the tow path for wide flat lanes and a few cycle paths all the way to Preston where we stopped for lunch at Morrison’s. After a picnic in the sun on the pavement outside the supermarket (by this point we were past caring), we set off for the final push to Lancaster, and the rest day that would soon be awaiting us.
The outskirts of Lancaster seemed to go on forever. By this point it was dark, cold and every mile that passed couldn’t move soon enough. Whilst the B roads into the city were beautifully rolling and good fun to cycle on, the sheer amount of angry drivers and close calls made for a hair raising final few miles.
An addition from Jenny
‘Fancy riding a cargo bike from Preston to Lancaster?’ Sure, how hard can it be? I’d spent the morning watching Emma handle the bike beautifully – navigating through tricky gates and under bridges on the canal tow path. Now it was my turn. After a quick adjustment of the saddle in a Morrison’s car park I set off with quite some wobble. It’s not as easy as it looks! I adjusted quickly and was off on my leg of Jessie’s amazing journey. The afternoon saw two missed turns and conversations about our relationship with nature and cycling in grim weather. We discovered the problem with switching from a cargo bike to a road bike as Emma took a tumble after forgetting to unclip. An unfortunate landing zone meant on our final push to Lancaster we were accompanied by the scent of dog poo! One final drag up an unforgiving hill and we made it to our destination and a healthy portion of salt and pepper chips. An unforgettable day and an incredible experience.
Clockwise: Jenny and her dragon onesie, the cheer of success after all the gates, a quick tow path chat with Emma, and a little walking break after a long day in the saddle, ‘always look both ways’.
Day 8 – Rest day
On this much needed rest day, it rained ALL day. A sign of what was to come perhaps? Many snacks were consumed whilst general tidying, cleaning of stuff and media commitments were completed.
We also had a ‘Parental swap over’. Whilst dad made his way home on the train, mum got prepped and ready for the next few days on the bike which lay ahead…
Day 9 – Lancaster to Penrith
Quote of the day: ‘Skin is waterproof’
High: The incredible scenery of the lakes and dales in the first 20 miles (before the rain came).
Low: 7 hours of consistently getting wetter and wetter.
As we slowly rolled into the centre of Lancaster towards the ‘meet up point’, we all knew what was coming, but didn’t really want to think too much about it. Surely the weather forecast was over exaggerating? If the rest day before had been anything to go by, than sheet rain for 12 hours straight, was definitely on the cards. Pre warned by the day before, we had covered the dry bags on the front of the cargo bike in large black bin bags and even put our feet in plastic bags before putting them inside our shoes. With all the preventative measure taken, we zoomed out of the city with surprisingly high spirits. Perhaps it was the nervous excitement of what was to come or the fact that we were re joined by Kitty and Alice (from day 5) who as mentioned previously, are an absolute hoot!
The day started with a steep climb out of Lancaster providing good views of the rolling terrain that was to come. The rest of the morning was full of stunning scenery, great conversation and the biggest hills we had seen since Teignmouth golf club (7 miles into the ride in Devon).
In the back of my mind, I knew the rain was coming and that soon the wind would be picking up. To the left of us, there was always a permanent wall of dark cloud shrouding the hills. It seemed to not move, holding off that little bit longer. Until, at about 12.30pm, it finally hit. At that point we were trying to fix a double puncture (thankyou beautiful but gravelly lanes) whilst our amazing cargo rider, Jonny was helpfully fuelling up on Sandwiches (he had the hardest job of the day and so prioritizing fuel was highly necessary). The first rain drops began to fall, lightly at first, then getting progressively heavier as the minutes passed. We were quickly back on the road, punctures fixed, however the morning’s giggles had stopped and all that could be heard were our tyres pounding the wet roads.
At this point the climbing really began. Due to the low visibility, hills would rear out in front of us, with little warning – grinding our speed to a snail’s pace. The only thing that could get us up were renditions of ‘Don’t stop me now’ being sung as we huffed and puffed.
After a good few hours of the unrelenting weather and terrain, we finally arrived at the warm haven that was Tebay services. We certainly looked like a sorry lot as we traipsed into the warm entrance, quite literally squelching as we went. Everything was soaked. Every layer of clothing on us, every bag of kit and belongings, even our packed lunch was wet. I have been searching for words to describe this moment, and the only word that truly fits is, grim. Truly grim. After two hot beverages each and a large quantity of chocolate, we knew it was time to head back into the torrential downpour. We said goodbye to Jonny who was almost super human, having ridden the cargo bike with relative ease up some gnarly gradients and eye watering descents. And we then said hello to our 2nd rider of the day, Helen. It is fair to say that this woman was made of true Cumbrian Grit. She walked in having just said goodbye to her 4 month old baby and calling the weather we were experiencing, ‘Northern Sunshine’. Oh Helen, you were just what we needed!
It was truly empowering to leave as a completely female team (me, mum, Catherine and Helen). Despite the treacherous conditions, I felt oddly excited to face the storm together. The weather had only gotten worse as we started to squeak (disc brakes don’t sound great when wet!) the final 18 miles towards Penrith. The wind had well and truly picked up, creating gusts so strong that could physically push you up hill (without needing to pedal), and making descending feel impossible due to the force coming as a head wind. For these last miles, we stuck to lanes as many of the main roads were very busy with huge trucks due to a lorry fire on the motorway. By this point, most rivers and streams had burst their banks and so at least 5 times, we ended up wading through calf deep water as many roads had turned into rivers. At this very, very low point, the long awaited ‘Cycle bobs playlist’ came into full force. For the whole ride, we had been saving it for this precise moment, a time so dark that only screaming ‘Mr Brightside’ at the top of our lungs could help.
There was a small patch in which we did have to ride down the A6 off ‘Shap Summit’. The gales force cross wind that accompanied us down this road, was so strong (gusting at 45mph) that cycling in a straight line was almost impossible. As huge Lorries trundled past, my wheel was constantly wobbling, making sticking to the hard shoulder nearly impossible.
As day turned into night, the rain continued and the visibility dropped. After more than an hour and a half of night riding, we arrived in Penrith completely empty. I certainly had been pushed to my absolute limits. In fact, I had gone far beyond what I felt I was capable of. I was so cold, and so, so wet, that I physically could not control my shaking limbs and undress myself ready for a warm shower. My body was so drained of mental and physical energy, that apart from a quick dinner, I fell straight asleep. The same could be said for the rest of the core team, apart from Helen who had smiled (or grimaced) her way through the glorious ‘Northern Sunshine’.
An addition from Johny
When I was the age Jessie Stevens is, I lived in the shadow of Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. I vividly remember the fear of nuclear rain following the Chernobyl disaster, and recall when the news reel was constantly punctuated with Cold War fear, and news of protests at Greenham Common and Faslane. It might be hard for our Gen Z and Millennial friends to comprehend that when I was at school, Raymond Briggs’ beautifully animated When the Wind Blows featured in the curriculum as we were taught how to survive an impending nuclear disaster. It’s no surprise then, that my interest was piqued by matters of environmental and social justice. I planted a tree in ’93. I was chuffed when leaded fuel was outlawed, and relieved when in ’95 CFCs were no longer involved in coiffing my elder sister’s locks.
But in all these cases, I was supportive from my school desk, the sixth-form common room, the debating society, the house party, the Uni halls of residence, the sofa; wherever it was I spent my teens. However this vocal support was, in effect, ineffective. It was largely passive, providing a pat on the back to the lobbyists and activists that were persuading politicians, legislators and industry to behave better. Like a cheering spectator in the terraces. To stretch the footballing analogy to breaking point, I was an avid fan of Environmentalists United, but I didn’t hold a season ticket and I didn’t ever storm the pitch.
I can’t tell you why despite an endless supply of triggers, I wasn’t called to action; why I never joined a protest. But I know that I felt that allegiance was enough. That view changed dramatically in 2015.
By this time I’d long since abandoned a career in conservation and established myself in the world of financial services. I spent my days making rich people richer, albeit advocating ethical investment portfolios as the means. Of course, this was relatively lucrative work and I was managing to do my bit to bring up a family in a rural corner of my native Cumbria, far from the ignored, post-industrial town where I began life. By traditional Western standards, I wasn’t doing too badly. We kept chickens and pigs and looked after them really well. We tried to be ethical consumers. We recycled. In short, we were happy to embrace good habits so long as it didn’t compromise our lifestyle too much. But then we had a visit from Desmond.
Such a benign sounding name for a storm which swept away a life’s work, is now something of an afront when I hear it uttered. I’ll spare you the minutia of its impact, but it’s suffice to say that a year latter our home remained empty, I was living with my parents and my children were now from a broken home. Devastating though this period was, determinedly surviving it gave me a chance to reset. Nature had violently shook me until I awoke from my cosy slumber.
Perhaps, like the countless activists arriving in Glasgow for COP26 this week, from the Global South, climate change is now very real for me. A lived experience. There’s lots to do. So very much. Personally, and collectively. My progress to date is modest, but I now live meat free, I don’t own a car, and I work for a pittance promoting active travel. The attraction of financial security is never far from my mind, and it’s possible that I will again compromise my beliefs for the short-term benefits of those I love. But for now I’ll keep pressing on trying to live differently.
This week ushered another landmark moment. Another small gesture towards sustainable living. I rode a cargo bike laden with God knows what in support of Jessie Stevens of People Pedal Power on her #Ride2COP26. I’m marking this as my first demonstration, and I was effectively called to action by someone a third of my age. An inspiring young lady, driven to lead others to change by example. Jessie is both remarkable and incredibly normal. Both young, and yet mature. She’s dream-filled, idealistic, and full of hopes not yet dashed. Jessie is doggedly determined. I loved riding alongside Jessie and the ever-changing band of supporters through the familiar lands of England’s North West. No matter what happens behind closed doors in Glasgow in the days ahead, I’m confident that the journey to COP26 will, for me, and those who shared in Jessie’s adventure and the activism of other groups and individuals engaging with the conference, will be inspired to bring change to their own lives that bring benefits that will ripple across the world for the good of people whom they may never meet. For that reason alone, COP26 is worthwhile.
Clockwise: Always another hill, Jonny – king of snacks, the squelch of Tebay Services, The ever smiling Helen.
Day 10 – Penrith to Moffat
Quote of the day: ‘We cycle to look outwards towards the world and explore. But we also cycle to look inwards within ourselves and learn.’
High: The sun finally greeting us 10 miles from Moffat.
Low: The worst headwind I have ever experienced for a good 30 miles.
I woke up with a terrible sinking feeling: I knew that a soggy pair of shoes, bibs and jersey awaited me. And to make matters worse, it was still raining. At this, point I just had to accept that I wasn’t going to get dry anytime soon.
It was a relief to finally roll out of Penrith. Whilst I am sure it is a lovely place, we only saw it in the dark and wet, making for a rather unpleasant and isolating experience. It was also a huge relief to be leaving behind us the tiny, damp room in which we had had to cram 3 muddy bikes in whilst trying dry wet kit, get clean and decompress. Not fun to say the least.
With a 30mph tail wind, a very gradual decent and cease in the rain, we were off to a flying start all the way into Carlisle. Not to mention, we had the powerhouse that was Jaimi Wilson (1st woman to finish the GBduro 2021). Instead of the normal 10-12 mph the cargo bike would normally travel at, thanks to Jaimi (and the tailwind) we were cruising at 22 mph. It was such an amazing feeling to pick up so much speed with such ease, whilst taking in the stunning scenery of North Cumbria.
After a quick coffee stop in Carlisle, we started the final push out of England. Leaving the rural lanes behind us, we stuck to some busier, industrial roads which closely followed the motorway. After a monotonous few miles we reached the border which welcomed us into Scotland. Oh, what a moment. It was such an enormous sigh of relief to now know that the end was firmly in sight. I felt an enormous sense of pride and elation as I tried to fully appreciate how far we had travelled, purely under our own steam. That was my first border crossing on 2 wheels, and definitely not my last!
A bit like the day before, it was at this point that it all changed. Within minutes of leaving the border sign, miraculously the incredible tailwind we had been enjoying switched direction, leaving us with an absolutely stinking headwind. Oh, and then came the rain once again. For the next 30 miles, we were stuck, battling through the elements. Never have I had to work so hard to propel myself forward. The shear amount of watts we were putting down definitely did not add up to the speed we were going. As always, we just put or heads down and pushed through, sheltering behind each other, dreading the time when it would be our ‘turn at the front’. This hell was punctuated by a soggy sandwich scoffed down in a bus stop in Ecclefachan, which did nothing to lighten the mood.
After another deeply unpleasant few miles, we finally arrived in Lockerbie where we thanked Jaimi for all her insane power and great conversations, and said goodbye. Then swiftly (and rather grumpily) we said hello to Leanne – our 2nd cargo rider of the day. Luckily, she had come bearing gifts of a large bag of pick n’ mix sweets, which was very well received.
More rain, wind and busy roads accompanied us most of the way to Moffat. Until suddenly, from seemingly out of nowhere appeared a very friendly local who offered to divert us onto some quieter roads for our last few miles. The answer was a big YES, and we gratefully turned off to some delightful rolling lanes and stretching views of the borders. What’s more, the sun finally reappeared and slowly, our frozen bodies began to thaw.
Left to right: Border celebrations, Leanne adjusting her saddle, Jaimi putting on her calf length over shoes – we were all very jealous, our friendly local.
Day 11 – Moffat to Hamilton
Quote of the day: ‘Cargo bikes can’t solve every problem, but they can help a lot of them’
High: Chill chats in the sunshine at our coffee stop.
Low: Long, stressful night ride in Hamilton.
As we loaded the cargo bike up ready for our final ‘long day’ on the road, we suddenly saw a moving object fly down the road towards us. It was not just a fast moving object (thanks to the electric motor) but had two awesome humans riding it: James and Naomi! James, incredible photographer and friend of The Adventure Syndicate was here for the day to get some ‘shots’ of the movement. However this was to be no ordinary ride, he would be travelling with us on the back of a cargo bike! Naomi – cargo bike extraordinaire and absolute belter (as they say in Scotland), was in charge of pedalling the cargo bike for the day. It had been nabbed from the workshop of the ‘Cargo Bike movement’ an incredible organisation, spear headed by Naomi. This pair had been up and cycling for a good few hours before us, travelling to meet us via train and bike (with a lot of rain thrown in for good measure). Despite this long soggy journey, they both arrived with smiles and enthusiasm for the day ahead.
We then met Becky – our first cargo rider of the day – in central Moffat. Just as we were about to leave, the heavens opened, getting the day off to a sodden start. This short, but sharp shower stopped as quickly as it had began, leaving a very atmospheric layer of cloud hanging low over the pine forests and rolling hills. Twinned with the vibrant autumnal colours, it was truly magnificent ride. Much of the morning was spent pottering along beautiful quiet roads, chatting away with the snap of James’ camera in the background. The hills we climbed were very different to what we had experienced down south. These were long and shallow, the kind that really kill the legs, and feels like cycling through treacle!
At around 12.30pm we arrived at Abington services as the sun was just coming out. Here we stopped for a long coffee, snack and chat break. We even opted to sit outside so as to soak up the elusive sunshine that was gradually warming us up. After so many long days, rushed food stops in lay-bys and pushing through terrible weather, it was so lovely to just have an hour of chill. We all drunk far too much coffee and ate a little more than we should have (a big hill awaited us straight after the services), but it was truly joyful. Not to mention mum and Jack’s excellent synchronized ‘flossing’ routine to keep warm, which put a smile on all our faces! This coffee stop was also a cargo relay swap, where we were greeted by the amazing Catriona. By this point, any riders who joined the movement had ‘twigged’ the fact that we were very food orientated. And so she came bearing gifts of rocky road, which we were so grateful for.
It was hard getting going after such a lovely, but long coffee stop and so pace was slow for the next few miles. Luckily the rest of the day’s terrain was to be relatively flat and on wide cycle paths, which was a real treat. After a good 20 miles of trundling along, having moving staring contests with James on the back of the cargo bike (don’t try this at home kids!), and having some cracking conversations, we had our first crash of the trip. Due to the difficulty of steering a fully laden cargo bike, sometimes drop curbs can be a little precarious, so Catriona found out. She tumbled off the cargo bike with surprising grace as the bike quickly toppled over. Within seconds she was back up again, a little grazed and battered but raring to go! After a few minutes break (and half of the ‘emergency twix’!) we were back on track. With so many people riding with us each day, and so many miles covered, I am so surprised that we didn’t have any more crashes or injuries! So to have this one so minor and so near the end of the trip, was a real blessing.
Due to our leisurely pace and regular snack stops, the final few, rather unpleasant miles into Hamilton were in the dark. It is safe to say that it was quite the culture shock arriving in such a big urban environment after so long travelling through rural areas. Only a mile before, we had been rolling through deserted lanes, and then to arrive into this industrial suburb with all its hustle, bustle and pollution, was a very strange experience.
An addition from Naomi (Project Manager of Cargo Bike Movement)
How do you like to start your weekend?
Does it start with a 5 am alarm and a 6:15 am train?
Does it involve cycling – in the dark – from Lockerbie to Moffat, and then on to Motherwell? Over 60 miles.
Does it involve riding that distance with rain so hard you’re drenched in seconds; as well as being ‘tidal-waved’ by vehicles on five occasions, with water going straight into your ears, down your jacket and into your shoes.
Does it involve having an 80 kg bloke (a nice one, but still…) on the back of the bike you’re riding, using you as a shield from the tidal wave of water and buffeting wind?
No? I am not surprised. It wouldn’t ordinarily be the way I start a good weekend. But, on Saturday 30th October, that is exactly what I did.
Why? Because I am terrified about the impacts of the climate emergency that we face, and I would do anything to support those taking action in the face of such adversity.
When Cargo Bike Movement was asked to support Jessie on the #Ride2COP26 journey, the only response was ‘Absolutely. Where do you want me and when?’.
Longer-domestic travel in this country is incredibly unequal. To fly from the south of the UK to Scotland, costs around £20-40 on average. Yet, to get a train can cost upwards of £100. These are just the financial costs. The environmental costs of flying are far greater, and yet the UK government continues to subsidise air fuel leaving those that care about the environmental impacts of flying to suffer the higher financial and temporal costs.
As a result, when Jessie Stevens, a climate activist from Devon wanted to attend COP26 in Glasgow this year, it seemed cycling was the only low carbon, affordable way to get there.
Jessie approached the Adventure Syndicate for support with her ride, and as our Trustees, Alice Lemkes and Lee Craigie, straddle both Adventure Syndicate and Cargo Bike Movement, it was entirely appropriate to support Jessie with cargo bikes along the route. Being able to do this proved once again that cargo bikes are an effective and efficient support vehicle and that heavy diesel vans just aren’t necessary: You just need a handful of excellent, supportive people to ride a cargo bike!
Cut to Saturday 30th November, and myself and The Adventure Syndicate’s resident photographer, James Robertson, joined the penultimate stretch of Jessie’s journey to be able to document Jessie, her wonderful mother Mags, and supporters along the route. Me riding a cargo bike, and James enjoying a lift on the back – whilst taking photos too, of course!
We are now utterly convinced that this is the only way that photography in motion should take place – it worked so well and was great fun!
The Tern GSD which we used, is electrically charged releasing very few emissions, and had a remarkable range and we used just less than 3 batteries worth of power, travelling over 60 miles with two humans the whole way, across some varied terrain.
There were so many great bits about this day: the landscapes that we passed through; the people we met; the mounting excitement as we got closer to Glasgow; but unsurprisingly the most important and impressive element was the person who had brought us all together: Jessie Stevens.
Jessie’s tenacity and ambition for being part of creating a better future is infectious. Talking to her as we pushed down pedals was the refresh I needed when working in, and living through, a climate emergency as it just sometimes gets a bit too much.
People Pedal Power was a perfect manifestation of what our world needs to be able to gather momentum for fairer, greener, healthier communities – people working collaboratively to build a better future for everyone; regardless of their circumstances.
If you would like to find out any more about how you can use cargo bikes for your personal or professional lives, do get in touch with email@example.com.
An addition from Catriona
Riding with Jessie and the team was an awesome experience…(even if I wasn’t thinking that as I pedalled the cargo bike up that first very long hill! ) Thankfully though, it was not all hills and it was a real pleasure to join the team on their penultimate day as they cycled towards Glasgow. Along the way we met several others on their pilgrimage to COP26 both by bike and some on foot. All excited at the prospect of what the next two weeks would hold and hopeful that meaningful decisions would be made to keep 1.5 alive.
I was totally inspired by Jessie’s determination to make her way to Glasgow under her own steam, so that she could have her voice heard at COP26. Being part of the cargo relay team and playing a small part in her journey was a privilege and an experience I will use to inspire the young people that I work with. They, like Jessie, are the ones who stand to lose out if the powers that be do not listen and act upon their promises to avoid a climate change disaster. Well done Jessie for making your voice heard- I hope they were listening, for all our sakes!
Clockwise: Catriona flying, ‘catch me if you can’, James in prime position, Mum and Naomi adjusting the cargo bike, synchronized flossing, chill chats in the sunshine.
Day 12 – Hamilton to Glasgow Green
Quote of the day: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing.’
High: Watching mum fly down the hill on the back of the cargo bike.
Low: The horrendous few miles into East Kilbride.
I am not going to lie, but as I awoke on our final day of #ride2cop26, I felt absolutely terrible. I lay in bed, watching the rain pounding our sky light and listening to the obtrusive city soundscape. The environment I would now be residing in for the next 2 weeks was so incredibly different to that of the ride. My stomach churned and my mind was all over the place. I knew it would be such a different experience and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I would be able to transition into this new contrasting world quickly. As within less than 24 hours of finishing the ride, I would be starting my COP26 journey – attending events, public speaking and entering into the conference itself.
I rolled out of bed, put on my wet shoes and began to load up the soggy cargo bike for the final time. I think at this point, all I was feeling was dread. Dread for the final wet ride into the city, dread for what was to come and dread about finishing the ride after such an incredible experience.
Our final cargo rider for the trip was Jack, member of The Adventure Syndicate and indispensible part of the People Pedal Power core team. Over the 10 days he had been on the ride for 5 days, helping Catherine film and photograph. He had also been head navigator, comms support and an all round life saver on and off the ride. There seemed like no better person to have the final, momentous shift on the cargo bike.
We had an extremely grim ride to East Kilbride where we had planned to stop and regroup for the final few miles. On the road we met Steven (founder of Bikes for Refugees) and his electric cargo bike. He waved us down with his bright yellow coat and big smile. Whilst we shivered and had a quick chat, he explained that ‘There was no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing’. By this point, in my haze of tiredness and grumpiness, I did not agree! The roads were sodden and the pouring rain made the city feel even more isolating and bleak. By the time we reached the warm haven of the East Kilbride Arts Centre, we were beyond wet and low. All I can really remember from this hour was having coffee thrust at me as I drifted off to sleep on a comfy sofa. I was later told (and shown photographic evidence) that I had had a power nap! I was awoken to everyone having a sit down ‘boogie’ to a ‘feel good’ song (the name deserts me) in order to raise very dwindling spirits. Another rider had also taken pity on us, bringing a large tray of brownies – the best I have ever tasted.
Somewhat revived by the nap, sugar, and caffeine, we all headed out ready for the final push into the centre of Glasgow. However, we quickly noticed one huge issue: Mum’s bike had a very flat tyre. Due to the mechanisms of her tyre and the fact that it needed a wrench (that we didn’t have access to or time) to undo it, we were unable to fix it. Oh no, what to do? In this state of fluster, Steven helpfully mentioned that he had once before carried someone on the back of his cargo bike. Within seconds, mum had hopped on the back and they were having a few practise ‘whizzes’ around the car park! Those last 7 miles into Glasgow were ones of pure elation and happiness. The rain had stopped, we had an awesome decent into the city centre, and the end was very much in sight. It felt like the perfect finish to the journey to have our final problem solved by a cargo bike, highlighting both the power of collective action and the untapped potential of bikes. Not to mention the hilarity and joy of seeing mum fly down the hill, arms clinging to Steven and squealing in delight.
We arrived to Glasgow Green to music and an impromptu party which was being thrown for all those who had travelled to COP26 via human power. The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement and relief, as we mingled and chatted to others about their journeys up. To be quite honest, I was so incredibly exhausted, that I couldn’t quite comprehend what the team had achieved and that we had finished such an incredible and impactful journey. All I could think about at that moment was the immense feeling of relief that I would no longer have to endure freezing wet feet or wear lycra everyday.
An addition from Steven (Founder of Bikes for Refugees)
Our arrival was one of great joy as we were greeted by many other people on bikes from Glasgow and around the UK and beyond at the wonderful Freewheel North cycling charity in Glasgow Green. These machines fight climate change for sure.
My day with Jess and friends was short but memorable in many ways. The journey for me ended by being interviewed by Jess where we had a great chat about climate change, refugees and people power. It is estimated that the climate crisis could displace 1.2bn people by 2050. Many of these countries and communities most at risk from ecological threats are also some of the world’s poorest. There is no doubt that urgent global cooperation will be required to meet these serious global threats if we are to avoid the decimation of communities around the world and mass climate migration over the coming decades. We were both in agreement however that change will need to come from below in the form of people power as world leaders are dragged kicking and screaming into making the changes that are necessary to save our planet and protect the future of young people such as Jess. As I reflect on the failure of our world leaders to go far enough at COP26 and the recent tragic and unavoidable deaths of refugees in the English Channel it is very easy to be disheartened by the lack of political humanity and inaction to do the right thing. In my work and the many struggles I have been fighting on behalf over the last 4 decades, and since I was the age of Jessie, I am however reminded daily of the humanity and positive impact of individuals and communities to effect our world for the better in the face of adversity and political paralysis. As someone once said ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
Clockwise: a cheeky little powernap, celebration hug, core team selfie, hitching a lift, thumbs up all round.