My rucksack has oft been me pillow
The heather has oft been me bed
And sooner than part from the mountains
I think I would rather be dead
Unlike Ewan, I've been faking it for years. I'm not a proper outdoorsman because I've never bivvied out. Never slept under the stars, just in a tent. Bit of a fraud really.
So to celebrate a good year of cycling, having clocked up nearly 2000 miles this year, I decided to break my bivvying duck, load up the mountain bike, head out after work on Friday night and do some some overnight bikepacking. There was a favourable forecast for the evening and, with autumn in full swing, night time temperatures were only going to fall. It was go tonight or wait another year, so...
I've been inspired by a chap I know on Strava via the Triban Owners group, called Dave Roe, who has a good line in epic cycle touring adventures including cycling round Iceland and a retirement ride from Turkey back home to Fleetwood near Blackpool. Reading his trip report about his culinary adventures, battles with mosquitos and joys of summiting the Stelvio Pass made me want to load up my bike and head off myself.
Another source of inspiration is adventurer Alastair Humphreys whose undertakings include cycling around the world, canoeing the Yukon river and hiking the 118 miles around the M25. Adventures of this scope don't sit with the 9-5, 5 day week that we all seem to end up with. Alastair works hard publicising the concept of the "microadventure" - something that is challenging yet accessible.
You do not need to fly to the other side of the planet to do an expedition.
You do not need to be an elite athlete, expertly trained, or rich to have an adventure.
Adventure is only a state of mind.
Adventure is stretching yourself; mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing what you do not normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability.
We run a system of "Adventure Points" in our house. This is a way of encouraging the nippers to push themselves and try things that they wouldn't normally. For the promise of a chalk mark on a board? Pfft... Kids are mugs.
Still in the lead suckas!
It's a sliding scale. For example the kids get an adventure point for going camping or walking up a big (for them) hill. I have to go for a long walk or do a whole load of winter mountaineering to get just one. Because adventures are relative. Anyway, I need to stay one step ahead of the mob so lets go get another point!
For the promise of a chalk mark on a board? Pfft... mug!
I'm a big fan of Alpkit gear - it ticks the boxes of light, simple, cheap and effective. They love their lightweight adventuring and bikepacking and have some great stuff for adventures. I used an Airlok Xtra drybag strapped to my handlebars with my sleeping stuff and jacket in and my faithful everyday commuting Gourdon rucksack for everything else. There's a Fuel Pod for my bar light battery and some tools too.
Other gear of note includes my PHD Minimus sleeping bag which weighs nothing and packs down to a ridiculously small size and is super warm. A pair of £5 fleece trousers that are the warmest thing known to man were stuffed in the bottom or the pack. Lastly, a big numb foam mat was strapped to my pack, rather spoiling the look of the whole thing...
I've used the website Lighterpack which is great for visualising just where the weight you are carrying is.
Herman in the bike rack at work, ready to go!
The red dry bag and top tube bag are colour coded with the bike fork and frame details. I'm not sure what this says about me.
I picked my way over the tops on quiet lanes and crossing busy main roads to reach the foot of the track that goes over Barden and Embsay Moor. I've ridden this a couple of times with Karl but always in the other direction. A long steady climb with some nice views over Upper and Lower Barden reservoirs in the fading light. I stopped to eat a banana and shelter from the wind in a shooting butt by the track, feeling a little chilly in my base layer and windproof.
It started to drizzle as the dark arrived quickly (as is it's wont at this time of year) and I got quite cold on the descent into Rylstone. I had to have a cereal bar (trying some from Aldi, yum!) and a word with myself before starting the long climb to Weets Top above Malham. I reasoned that I'd come this far and I had all my stuff with me so it would be a shame to bail out now just because I was having a bit of a sugar low.
As with all low times, they pass and you get back into the rhythm again. The climb up to Weets was grassy and steady and not too hard to follow in the dark. The rain had abated and the wind had died down allowing me to warm up a bit. I was tired at the top but still abandoned the bike to hike over to the trig point for a sit down and a another cereal bar.
Down the track and road, past Goredale Scar and into Malham by front brake pads had decided that they were worn out and the spring was rubbing on the disc with a nice ticketty-ticketty-ticketty noise. I considered stopping to replace the pads (always carry spares kids!) but that would have meant getting colder so I pressed on, mostly using the back brake for the rest of the ride.
There was a little bridleway leading out of Malham that joined up with the road above the cove. I started down it but the fist sized limestone rocks that lined the bottom put me off as I was too tired to fight / push my way up a more technical trail so I just slogged up the road. I'd been on the go for 3 1/2 hours now and was starting to struggle.
The cove road out of Malham nearly finished me off so I stopped to shovel a load of fruit, nuts and oatcakes down my neck when I reached the bridleway turnoff. I started to feel a bit better after this, should have done it sooner.
I cracked on, slowly winding my way up and over Kirkby Fell and towards Stockdale Lane, reeling the summit in with my bottom gear and wobbly legs. The slippery, stony descent without a front brake or any energy was testing at times. I was very relieved to make the farm track and whiz down to the road.
Quite a challenging ride for me, especially with low energy and in the dark. Time to find somewhere to eat and sleep in that order!
Bish Bosh Brew Bivvy
I'd had a look at the OS map before setting off and had spotted a couple of places that could be suitable. After a bit of poking around in a small wood with a stream running through it I found a nice flat spot next to a stream and underneath the remains of what looked like an old lime kiln. Nice and sheltered from the breeze, it even had a mobile signal so I could check in with Louise to let her know I hadn't yet been eaten by a curious badger.
After shooing some spiders out of the way and pulling on some warm clothes I got the stove on and climbed into my bivvy / sleeping bag. It was 10pm at this point and I was bloody starving! A mug of hot chocolate went down the hatch followed quickly by a couple of packets of meatballs in tomato sauce and a medicinal single malt - to keep the cold out you understand...
I was certainly warm enough in my awesome PHD sleeping bag and I drifted off to sleep looking up through the leaves, watching the Pleiades drift in and out of view behind the clouds and the odd plane blinking along.
I woke up at various times, once with a start when something flew down my neck, once for no reason and once when a pair of Tawny owls were hooting at each other and crashing through the foliage 5 metres above my head.
The next thing I know, my eyes are open and it's half seven and daylight. Good morning!
I'd certainly found a nice spot to camp, the leaves were all different colours and shades and it was all generally picture-skew.
I'd made a bag of muesli, milk powder, dried raspberry powder and sultanas for breakfast. Add hot water and away you go - yum - and more hot chocolate. Packed up, changed the brake pads on the bike (I was down to the metal) and rode down the hill into Settle. It was a lovely morning!
Arriving in plenty of time for the train I took the chance to get the worst of the muck off in the loos at Settle station, for my benefit and for my fellow passengers. The train was late coming in to Skipton meaning I missed my connection to Keighley so I pottered down the canal instead, enjoying the ride , the lack of hills, a couple of herons and a bacon butty from the tea van at Cononley. The butty was from the van, the herons were just bothering the fish on the canal and not in a sandwich. No sir.
Adventures are great, mountain biking is great, wild camping was great, but none as great as the shower I had when I got back home. Phew-wee I stank!