Josie Dew's child-free Isle of Wight adventure
The last school holidays in May was unusual because instead of carting the boisterous offspring around by bike over hill and dale I carted off Gary (the builder/husband) instead.
For the first time in nearly 13 years we had our first child-free time together because up until now we had never quite got around to finding a babysitter to look after our 3 young children. Grandparents tend to make good ones but as our parents have either been too ill or died we didn’t have much luck there.
Then, when my brother and his wife Mel recently moved in to live with mum, I spied an opportunity to escape.
I’ve known Mel many-a-year. She’s never forgiven me for luring her to cycle with me to Morocco in 1988. Mel was a motorcyclist not a cyclist so this was quite a feat as she considered cycling a bit too much like hard work – especially when you have the mighty Picos de Europa and Atlas mountain ranges lying in your path. With zilch training (apart from borrowing my brother’s bike to try out the Hyde Park underpass) she did a fine job even if she did crash into the back of me at high speed down a mountain descent in Portugal sending us flying life over limb across the road towards a perilous precipice (it’s alright, I was fine. Mel and bike, not so). So Mel the babysitter it was to be.
Two decades together
It’s exactly 20 years ago since I first met Gary.
In 1999 Gary turned up on my doorstep in shorts and a tool belt ready to embark on some woodwork (he was the allotted carpenter for a building firm he used to work for). I took a shine to him and thought, "How can I woo him? I know, I’ll ask him to cycle around the Isle of Wight with me."
What I’d slightly overlooked was the fact that Gary didn’t much like cycling. He had a bike, but that was about it. Never mind, I didn’t let that put a spanner in the works. So off we went for two days and a night (in the rain), to Ryde and beyond.
This year, I think Gary was rather hoping we’d have a non-sportive event, relaxingly collapsed in a fancy hotel somewhere. I did momentarily ponder the hotel option as after the past 13 whirlwind years of child-rearing, it did sound quite alluring.
But then I spotted my 5 year old’s tent in the garden. Jack loves army camouflage things and Gary had recently bought him a £40 ex-French army tent (with sniper panels!) from ebay. So I said, let’s go cycling and camping around the Isle of Wight in that. Gary looked worried.
Gary’s only had one night in a tent since 2012 when, against his better judgement, he agreed to cycle with me and Molly and baby Daisy 1000-odd miles from Holland to Denmark. That too was about the last time he cycled.
You may remember this spring. It didn’t rain for months. Everything was bone dry. The sun shone and shone. Until the morning in the May half we left home to cycle to the station.
I have this uncanny ability at attracting awful weather just when I’m off on a cycling-camping mission. Cycling across America was the stormiest most tornado-hitting summer for 103 years. Cycling in Spain – wettest, snowiest spring for 54 years. Cycling around Japan – floods and typhoons-a-plenty. Cycling around New Zealand – rainiest, windiest, floodiest most horrible-ist year on record. Maybe I should be employed as a rain-god for areas of severe drought?
We arrived for our train to Portsmouth looking as wet as if we had just swum the Channel.
The Isle of Wight
Then, once on the ferry and entering the Solent, the rain turned wetter and the wet wind windier. Visibility was down to…ummm, well, I could see Gary but that was just about it.
The Gary that I could see didn’t look too enthusiastic.
Never mind the weather. We’re free! We can do what we want, when we want!
"Don’t worry, Gaz," I said. "Never mind the weather. We’re free! We can do what we want, when we want!" And we did. It was fantastic. Even the sun came out, though we had to wait until the next day for that.
Gary hadn’t tried the tent out before we left but if he crumpled his legs he did just about fit into it in a concertinaed sort of way so that was a bonus.
Admittedly the cycling came as a bit of a shock to his system, especially when I dragged him up and over the Needles Battery and Tennyson Down, though the magnificent sight of a Spitfire and a Hurricane practising for an air show just above our heads at Tennyson’s Monument made up for all the puffing and panting high-altitude effort.
The very odd thing was not having children attached. Everything seemed so easy. And quiet. And simple.
I said to Gary, we could elope, jump on a ferry to France, cycle down through Spain and Africa. Lie low in an escapade of escapism. It was all very tempting.
But then the thing with children is because you love them to high heaven and back you would never abandon them. So we headed home, but not before we’d got 101 miles under our belts, and read the Isle of Wight Observer - a riveting read if ever there was one where, among other things, we learnt that a search was on for Sidney and Nibbles (ferrets that had done a runner and which were apparently ‘podgy with bald spots’. See, there’s never a dull moment on the Isle of Wight).
Anyway, we had a fine child-free time a-wheel. I think even Gary enjoyed it. Mind you, he hasn’t cycled since.
Josie Dew is the Vice President of Cycling UK and an author and cycling adventurer. For more information on her bikes, books and bits and bobs take a look at her website www.josiedew.com or https://www.facebook.com/itsjosiedew/