'They' say that getting out of the door and getting on with it is the hardest bit.
'They' are spot on.
With any bike trip, it's not a done deal until you hit the Tarmac, and in our case, departure day never seems to go quite to plan, but just as inevitably, as soon as we've got the bikes rolling, we're fine. Once you know you've got going, carrying everything you meant to bring, with you, that's the hard bit done.
With a growing family (numerically and in stature!) it follows that you are forced repeatedly to break one of the golden rules of bicycle touring - get to know your kit and your capabilities, and once you have a setup that works, stick with it unless there is a compelling reason. It's just not possible to do that long term, when the number, size and capabilities of your 'team' is ever-changing. We are already contemplating kit changes for next year, and the year beyond.
The purpose of this trip, then, building on day rides of increasing length, to make sure, ahead of our trip to France in the summer, that Thomas Ivor, who was on the Mountain Train last year, mostly being towed by me, could hack the daily mileages and pace required to get us around Brittany; a predictably late start gave him an even warmer baptism of fire, because it was only at about 1535 that we wheeled off from Newark-upon-Trent station car park, with a day's worth of riding ahead of us.
Five minutes later, we set off again, after my run back to the car to shut the windows. It was starting to feel like we would never make our booked overnight stop. Leaving the station, with Thomas Ivor still getting settled, we crossed the road on foot and elected to try the cycle path alongside the road. It turned out very quickly to be one of those utterly useless and potentially lethal paths that was put in by a local authority who wanted to tick a box, designed by people who had never ridden a bike. Sure enough, giving way every few yards, kamikaze pedestrians, thick brambles at chest height, stinging nettles and impassable chicanes all saw to it that the first couple of miles out of town were stressful. Interestingly, Thomas Ivor very soon opined that he preferred roads to cycle paths, and we were pleasantly surprised how calm he was, not only in traffic, but on roads he didn't know. I can but speculate that all those miles on the back of the trailer bike, watching us and being used to holding a line amongst other vehicles, have taught him well.
We stopped in the village of Collingham after a run along a curious cycle path which was mainly asphalt but skirted fields and a quarry. Having turned onto it, we were worried we'd committed to a pace-killer, but with nobody else about, we kept going, already conscious of the fine balance between mileage and daylight remaining. As we crossed the road from a disappointingly poorly-stocked shop, a rough-looking dog leapt out of a tradesman's van and scared the wits out of the little guy. Had we not been pushed for time, I might have followed up the insulting laughter of the owner, but we had to get weaving.
For the most part for this trip, we plotted a route using the CTC's journey planner, using the 'balanced route' setting. Just occasionally, it gets over-optimistic, and we were pretty cheesed-off when, soon after Collingham, the route sent us up a sharp rise before telling us to cross a field and immediately lose that height using a rocky bridlepath at the side of a field. Gritting our teeth, we got on with it and crossed the railway line, only to discover that far worse lay in store.
The moment you hang a trailer on the back of a bike, especially a two-wheeler, in fact as soon as you load the bike meaningfully, your ability to cross a field of oilseed rape using only a bumpy, rocky rut diminishes. By the time we'd crossed two of them, we were seriously demoralised, by the time lost and in Katie's case, the bruises she'd picked up from her pedals, as the bouncing trailer caused her bike to keep clattering into her. Finding the road once more, we pushed on.
We kept to quiet roads for the remainder of the day, and the children were treated to a lesson in agriculture, passing cows, pigs, chickens, and fields of various crops. Eventually we found a Co-op from which to pick up some provisions, stopping soon after in a bus shelter to demolish some hastily-assembled sandwiches. Long stretches skirting fields were punctuated with the odd small village, and it would have been nice to have taken it in at a slightly less insistent pace, but the beautiful sunset we were shaping up for was at the same time a threat. We really didn't want to be riding in the dark. Murmurs of fatigue from Thomas Ivor disappeared after he'd eaten, I took over towing the trailer, and the girls settled down inside, to watch the Paddington film on an old iPhone clamped to the rollcage.
As the light began to fade, Thomas Ivor had to celebrate smashing his daily mileage record by keeping rolling and stretching it! We were amazed at how little fuss he'd made, having not ridden at all for a fortnight. At last, we made it to our campsite at Kirton-in-Lindsey for the night. A delighted Thomas Ivor secured a box of fresh eggs for his breakfast and with the site to ourselves, we had the tent up just as night fell.
First question answered - yes, the boy can do a 40 mile day if he has to. He can do 37 miles in six hours, including food and shopping stops! Second question is, will he, or we, pay for, tomorrow?