Western Quest – tales from a slick and well-oiled performing machine

21st August 2012 by

Friday 17th August

Last Friday, a sweaty, slightly confused-looking group of strangers heaved their bikes up a stony track and arrived at a barn on the top of rather large hill in Gloucestershire. It was the start of Otesha’s Western Quest Cycle Tour. One week later and we’ve been transformed into a slick and well-oiled performing machine, ready to bestow our dramatic talents onto unsuspecting school children. Sort of.

We’ve spent our training week camping at the beautiful Highbury Farm near Redbrook, Gloucestershire. The farm is 25 acres of rolling countryside and ancient woods, including a section of the Offa’s Dyke trail.  The community living here, The Stepping Stones cooperative, are aiming for self-sufficiency and responsible land use with rainwater harvesting, sustainable woodland management, food growing and efficient heating. They’ve even built some of their own houses with reclaimed materials.

However, despite being in a beautiful place, we have been working VERY hard! Our days have been filled with rehearsals for the play and workshops that we will be performing in the schools; learning about and using consensus decision-making; getting to know each other with numerous ridiculous and imaginatively-named games such as ‘poor little kitty cat’ and ‘Bipedibop’; deciding on our food mandate and then implementing said vegan diet. We’ve also learnt a lot about bike maintenance – be prepared to be impressed by our ability to fix our own brakes. Wowee.

The play is quickly taking shape. Jamie Oliver, Simon Cowell, Jessie J and AntorDec make regular appearances in the barn on the hill. Jenny is learning quickly about sustainability and the banana pirate has been banished from this fair isle. Soon to be famous characters include the ‘udderly exhausted’ Morag the cow, Tom the ‘blushing’ tomato and Ant or Dec with their questionable Geordie accent. It will be a hit.

As preparation for the cycling that we will be starting next week, we went on a training ride to Symonds Yat on Tuesday.  A near-vertical hairpin hill made for a bracing start to our first group adventure, especially for the poor Sara and Katie who were bravely battling with the effect of gravity on two rather large trailers.  But after stopping for a breather on the Symonds Yat Rock and munching on our celebratory quarter-of-the-way-there flapjack, we were soon well on our way to a local, free-range ice cream and a bracing dip in the river in the village of Symonds Yat.  OK, we were over an hour late back for dinner at Highbury Farm, and had to reluctantly pass the leisure centre and its promise of the our first showers of the week, but we have high hopes about our stamina, if not our hygiene, for the weeks ahead.

When managing to dodge the (frequently) torrential rain, we’ve spent evenings huddled around a camp fire, watching shooting stars and occasionally sampling Highbury Farm’s homemade apple wine.  The fabulous Jenny Tree and Ally have cooked us wonderful meals of vegan fajitas, quinoa stew and apricot soup. The pulses and beans are producing rather predictable results, but they’ve kept us well-stoked for the endless play rehearsals and gruelling schedule.

We’re looking forward to moving on on Sunday and taking what we have learned on the road. We leave behind fond memories of bananas cooked in the fire; Himalayan Balsam; the beautiful Wye Valley; stunning sunsets; our inspiring Otesha gurus, Sam and Iona; and our wonderful hosts. Look out Stroud, here we come!

Tales from the road – part 4

18th July 2011 by

As many of you may have gathered, every day on tour is a little bit different. Writing tour journal entries is one of those tasks that seems quick and easy in theory, but when it actually comes down to doing it, well… easier said than done. Between cycling days, play performances, cob building, swimming in streams, cooking, workshops, crazy weather, bug bites, minor injuries (not always bicycle related), camping, hula hooping, bicycle mishaps and mountain passes, our days are jam packed and full of adventure! And I feel this is why the tour journal is so difficult; to try to sum up a week on tour is like trying to navigate through Manchester using only an OS landranger map (scale of 1:50 000). You have to stick to the main roads and it often lacks a lot of important details (we speak from experience!). As such, I feel it is worthwhile to give you all a more in-depth (city-sized, if you will) look at one of our cycle days.

Though in general we have been very fortunate weather-wise (I came prepared for rain all day, every day), our second cycling day in the Lake District brought some discouraging conditions: heavy rain and uphill towards a mountain. After an hour’s delay in feeble attempt to wait out the rain (forecasted all day), we set out only to discover about five minutes in that a set of brakes had come loose. After addressing this problem (still raining), we set off for the second time, now two hours later than our planned departure time, and only about 0.1/35 miles complete. Still recovering from taking the trailer up a mountain two days prior, my legs were not very happy on the steady incline up another, but with three of my lovely teammates supporting me with a push and a cheer here and there, we finished the climb on the winding, wet roads safe and sound. The only casualty: Meghan’s pump, which was run over by two coach busses. Ironically, once at the top of the climb we also realised her tyre was very low. And there we were, stopped again only a few miles into the day, cold, soaked, two of us trying to find a pump to rectify the tyre situation, one of us holding three bikes and the trailer. But fear not! It was downhill from there! Well, for another 10 miles or so.

After a lovely rendez-vous with the rest of the group at the Lakeland Pedlar wholefood bicycle cafe in Keswick, where we stocked up on chocolate tiffins, coffee, hi-vis vests and chain lube, we continued our journey to Cockermouth. After much debate between the high traffic A road, a hilly B road with a near vertical mountain pass, and the cycle route with a few miles of off-road trail, we decided that the cycle path would probably be our safest bet. Our first glimpse of this path was not encouraging: far too narrow for fully loaded panniers (let alone a trailer), way too many large rocks and gravel for our slicks, and a little too steep for our liking. But, we couldn’t go around it, couldn’t go under it, had to go over it (pushing our bikes). And that is how my first experience hiking with a bicycle began. Luckily the rain had stopped, and the path was indeed only a few miles long, and with everyone taking turns pushing the trailer, we arrived at the “meadow of heaven” as Erin dubbed it, and took a nice sunny break on the top of the small mountain, enjoying the lovely view that the steep climb had just afforded us. To our delight, we rolled on to a nicely paved windy country road (the BEST kind), with Holly yelling “HELLOOO LOOOVAAAA!” in her charming Aussie accent, and it was, literally, all downhill from there.

Peace and bicycle grease,

Susanna and the rest of the Northern Soul Cycle Tour team


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