We woke up this morning and started packing up camp immediately. We were almost done when a very friendly park ranger came walking up with her dog with this to say:
"You know what I'm going to say—you can't camp here, but you already have and you're leaving early and haven't made a mess, so its okay. The state park is still marked on the map as having a campsite, so it's understandable. No, you don't have to pay anything, and you're welcome to use the showers that are just down that path!"
How nice! We did not take her up on the offer of showers, but had a quick breakfast of bread, butter, and jam, and hit the road to Carlisle in record time.
Something in my body must have shifted today, or maybe my quads have suddenly built up a bunch of new muscle, but either way, today was a wonderful cycling day. I didn't ache and I wasn't out of breath and I could go really fast for very long periods of time without feeling the least bit tired. It was amazing! Tyler commented repeatedly about how it was like cycling with a completely different person. I must have broken through a plateau or something; riding was effortless. Before I knew it, we had biked 27 miles (before lunch!) and I would have sworn it had been a very easy 15 at the most.
We followed the cycle route to Carlisle, laughing at the cycle path signs arbitrarily marked with conflicting directions. There were at least 3 signs today (with a few miles in between each one) marked "Carlisle: 7 miles." I said "Is it just me, or" and Tyler immediately finished my thought… "or has Carlisle been 7 miles away forEVER!"
Cycle path signage is a funny/frustrating thing here. Often, there are two signs (on a single post), each with the exact same route, but with their respective arrows pointing in opposing directions. Sometimes neither of the arrows point in the direction we came from, even though we were supposedly ON the route they indicate. Other times, there are posts with all kinds of arrows affixed to them—no words, just arrows pointing in all possible directions.
Finally we made it to Carlisle and we both enjoyed the bustling city. Normally we prefer remote places but it was fun to be in a city and have everything we could possibly need at our fingertips. There was cheap food and supplies everywhere! We asked a few locals where the tourist information center was, and followed their directions to the shopper's paradise of a downtown. Pedestrian-only streets with store after store after store of the 'hippest' stuff. Right by the tourist center I spotted a Lush store. I ran in to quickly pick up a shampoo/conditioner bar. They are tiny and last forever—perfect for our trip.
The ladies at Lush were incredibly nice. We got to talking about our trip and they were all really excited and supportive. We gave them our card before we left and as we were about to pedal away one of them ran outside and stopped us. Here was some minty soap that we were sure to love, that would help us on our trip! After thanking her profusely for our free soap, we started to pedal off again. Another Lush lady ran outside to stop us! I was already out of earshot but Tyler talked to her. Here was a free massage bar that would ease our aching muscles! Thank you so much!
After a lot of questioning the locals and a fair amount of backtracking we finally gave up finding the cycle path and trusted our GPS as we headed off in the direction of Cockermouth. Unsurprisingly as we were entering the Lake District things got quite hilly. We pushed a lot, and eventually our fountain of energy diminished to a slow trickle. At one point we had a monster hill in front of us and a passing woman rolled down her car window to say "that's one hell of a hill—you're bloody brave!"
We carried on up the hills saying to each other "okay, fifty more!" and then we would push our bikes up 50 more paces after which we would rest. Near the top of one particularly long hill, Tyler spotted a perfect free-camping spot. There was a little walkway up to a tiny brick outbuilding with a locked sliding metal door. We didn't know what it was for but we decided to camp behind it as it was very well hidden from the road.
I have begun to notice that this trip is making me feel a bit like an outsider to 'normal' society. As we cycle, I am constantly scouting whether or not the homes we pass have water spigots outside (where we might fill our water bottles), or if a given hedge will provide at least somewhat adequate cover for me to squat and pee. My idea of what "clean" is has vastly changed too. I was thinking about all of this as I was pumping up our sleeping mats while we made camp. Suddenly the song from Aladdin came to mind and I started singing to myself as I was pumping "Riff raff! Street Rat! Scoundrel! … One step, ahead of the law-man…"
At this point Tyler starting laughing at how spaced-out and inefficent I can be at times. He had set up the tent, locked the bikes, unloaded the food, prepared our pillows, marked the Spot GPS, downloaded photos from our camera, downloaded tracks from our GPS, and was starting to prepare dinner. I was still pumping away at the air mattresses.
For dinner, Tyler made a delicious meal of fried potatoes and onions. I sliced some cheese and they melted on the potatoes perfectly. We added a little ketchup and somehow the whole mixture almost tasted like a cheeseburger. After finishing our massive bowls we managed to wolf down some granola bars, mars bars, apples, hob nobs, AND chocolate. Cycling requires a lot of food. :D Dinner was great!
The only thing missing from our perfect free-camp was water. We were down to our last two (smaller) water bottles; enough to last us the night, but certainly not enough for a trek into the Lake District tomorrow. Thankfully we have a Swiss water filter! We dropped the input nozzle into a nearby trough of murky rain/unknown water for its first field test, pumping it until it emerged from the tubes perfectly clean and clear. I bravely tasted it (right next to the traugh filled with brown water covered in dead bugs) and it was good!
I decided it would be nice to heat up some of our newly filtered water to clean our dirty hands and feet so we boiled a full pot and set out our new Lush goodies. We then spent an hour listening to music (the first time since we got here) and cleaning. Our minty soap was great on our hands, and I used the fragrant massage bar on my newly cleaned feet. It was pracically a spiritual experience! Who knew cleaning your nails could be so intense?
Fresh and clean, Tyler went out to take pictures and I settled in for tonight's journalling. We are both so glad we are keeping these journals. So much happens each day that we can barely remember yesterday. It would be a shame to forget such a wonderful day!