Tag Archives: bikepacking

A wild school night 

If you’re anything like me, a serious lack of organisation and procrastination , not to mention the usual excuses (family, friends, work, tv, comfy bed and other such commitments!) can be a big barrier to getting out for a little adventure, especially when it comes to adventuring on a school night.

Despite the very essence of Microadventures being to keep it simple and maximise those hours of freedom between the end of one working day and the start of the next, I’d not managed a midweek wild camp for over three years but with a small window of opportunity presenting itself this week, I was determined to jump through it head first and grab myself a little hump day treat… 

good to go


I’d spotted my intended camp – a former quarry now reclaimed by a beautiful wood – whilst out on the bike recently and having packed and loaded the bike the night before, I was quickly changed out of my suit and on the trails within an hour of getting home from work. 

hitting the trail


Keeping it simple I packed only the essentials – hammock, down jacket, buff, waterproofs (you never know in Britain), water, bike spares and of course some Peroni 😉 

bear essentials…


The wood in question was only about 5 miles away (something my hips were grateful for) and I took my time, just enjoying being outdoors on my bike, no need to rush. 
I had the woods all to myself, save for a few noisy badgers, foxes and owls who made an appearance once darkness enveloped the trees. 

alone in the woods?


I love the transition of life and noise in a woodland environment, the day crew eventually settling in for a good nights kip at sundown, only to be replaced by the denizens of the night, scurrying and scuttling and screaming (blimmin foxes!) around their darkened playground. 


But even the night owls have to get some shut eye and there’s often a moment of quiet tranquility that descends upon any woodland. This moment usually happens at about 3am when you suddenly need to clamber out of your cosy hammock to answer the call of nature but it’s a beautiful moment to witness, if only until it’s shattered as you curse and swear and shuffle yourself back into the hammock. 

do i have to get out?


Awoken by sunrise and the dawn chorus (is there a better alarm clock?), I was packed up and back at my desk bang on 9am, perhaps looking a little dishevelled, a little wild but certainly feeling more alive. 

Week 6 

Halfway through week 5 I’d be struggling with niggling pain in first my right, then left hip which had limited time on the bike. Frustratingly I’d also got a shiny new stead which I was itching to introduce to my local trails. 

Rather foolishly I pushed on past the niggles, took the new bike for a thrash then attempted a bikepacking trip earlier this week. Result, slight niggles turned into major discomfort and I’ve hardly ridden in nearly two weeks. 

I’m now a week out from a two week holiday abroad (with limited chances for biking) and then just over two weeks before London to Brighton. As it stands I’m not feeling confident. 

I’m frustrated as things were going well, I thought I’d be managing the distances and ride frequency well and my hips had been largely holding up. 

This last week however has left me lacking confidence in not only my fitness but also in my hips and whether they are up to the challenge I’ve asked of them. 

I’m certainly not going to make any decisions at this stage but I need to give serious consideration to the L2B. I know that with care, the right training and nutrition I can cover some serious ground, the 40 mile South Downs epic in June proved that, but perhaps I’ve just not got given myself enough time to build a solid base foundation of miles under my belt. 

As it stands now on Sunday, both hips are pain free and I’ll try some gentle rides out next week but I guess only time will tell if I’m feeling up to L2B… 

Better a bad day on the bike than a good day in the office 

It’s my birthday, it’s the middle of summer, I’ve got a new bike and a day off work. Time to gear up for a microadventure, or so I thought… 

I’d not been on the bike for a week owing to an annoying flair up in my left leg which left me with tight hamstrings and twingy horrible business in hips and adductors. Plenty of stretching, resting and pill popping and I was good (ish) to go. 


Having a birthday day off work in August should be a guaranteed day of blistering heat but this being a British Summer my new Alpkit Kanaga harness was loaded up with waterproofs rather than sun cream, a constant deluge of rain accompanying my morning packing. 

Now, I’m not afraid of a bit of rain (no such thing as bad weather and all that) but today wasn’t even summer rain, in fact it looked like winter outside and as I headed out the door my mood matched the sky – grey. 

Grey turned to black as my route selection failed epically. Just a few miles into the ride I was scything my way through vicious stinging nettles and forests of giant hogweed. My legs are still on fire now! 


A cut through via a small woodland which would have bypassed a busy dual carriageway turned out to be impassable and saw me heading back roughly towards where I had started. I decided to abandon the original destination and instead look for a quiet spot to hang my hammock in a small woods not far from home. 

The woods I’d chosen were heavily coppiced and I spent an hour or so trying to find just two trees thick enough to hold a hammock, turning up nothing suitable. 

bit close to the path


It was at this point that I took stock of the situation. It was raining and the forecast was not looking any better. I couldn’t find anywhere decent to set up the hammock and I’d ridden about 15 miles yet was just a mile or so from where I’d started. I’m not ashamed to say that less than twenty minutes later I was home and waiting for a birthday Chinese to arrive. 


Ultimately Microadventures should be fun. Sure, sometimes you’ve gotta be prepared to rough it a bit but it shouldn’t all be a sufferfest. So I’m gonna draw a line under this particular escapade, take the lessons (perhaps hammocks aren’t quite so versatile, pay better attention to route planning) and move on to the next adventure, the weekend’s not that far away after all… 

Kit list – top three

Thought I’d share some of my favourite, “go to” bits of kit used when bikepacking… 

1) Boardman HT Pro

Not gonna get far without one of these. 2012 model, nice and light (11.5kg) and keeps plugging away despite some serious abuse over the years. 

me and my bike


2) Alpkit Kraku

Tiny, lightweight and super powerful. Perhaps doesn’t give the most even burn (narrow hot spot) but for the weight and price you can’t go wrong for a one or two night trip. 

Kraku pulling coffee duty


3) DD Superlight Jungle Hammock

If you’re going ultra light then a bivvy bag is the way to go but if you like a bit of comfort after a long day on the bike then it’s a hammock every time. 

The Jungle Hammock is a modular system combining the hammock itself, a mozzi net and rain fly, total protection from the elements for a combined weight of 1.5kg. Compared to my lightest bivvy set up  (alpkit hunka bivvy bag, 400g, and lumo mat, 450g,) you’re only paying a small weight penalty in exchange for a huge amount more comfort. You could even leave the mozzi net poles behind and hang the net loose to shave some more weight off. Of course you will need to find two sturdy trees! 

just add trees!


I’m always on the look out for shiny new kit to try out, shout if you’ve got any tips for great “go to” gear worth taking a look at. 

Round up 

First full proper week of new training plan and surprise surprise I’ve not stuck to it! I did three strength sessions and three rides as planned but as is often the case life got in the way meaning I didn’t get out on the bike Friday so two of the rides were sandwiched back to back, either side of an overnight bivvy/bikepacking trip, hardly the end of the world! 

reduced volume compared to previous weeks but a bit more focussed


Strength work is going well, legs feel strong although still niggly with twinges, mostly in left leg but certainly manageable. 

Upper body also improving, discovered much to my amazement that I can now do pull ups – albeit with somewhat dodgy form – for probably the first time since I was a kid, well chuffed! 

Cant’t wait for more of this on the Bear Bones 200


In other news, I’ve bagged a spot on the Bear Bones 200, a bikepacking/endurance mtb ride through the Cambrian mountains in Wales. It’s off-road, in Wales, in October and only two weeks after L2B,  should be epic! 

Nature is a place politics can’t touch – a referendum microadventure 

Having racked up six wild camps by the end of March this year – not to mention six rather cold nights over December and January – April and May had been bereft of any microadventure action as I focused on training for June’s South Downs Epic mtb ride (itself training for London to Brighton off-road in September). 

And so I found myself with a Friday booked off work, the same Friday on which the rest of the U.K. would also wake up to the news that we had decided, just, that we wanted to leave Europe. I’d been up all night following the coverage so come morning I was somewhat sick of politics. Whether you “won” or “lost”, that amount of political coverage is no good for anyone. To rebalance myself, I loaded up my trusty hardtail and hit the trail. 

The South East of England isn’t exactly blessed with wild camping spots, it’s busy, built up and doesn’t quite have the outdoor tolerance of places such as the Lake District or even the South Downs. 


That’s not to say that you can’t find a spot – I’ve certainly found many a surprising wild place over the years and it feels all the more rewarding if you’ve worked for it – but it’s easy to get lazy, to stick with what you know, with what’s “safe”, relatively speaking! 

Fortunately I’m lucky enough to work with a chap who has a similar passion for the outdoors and who, perhaps even more fortunately, knows someone who owns a small patch of woodland which they wouldn’t be using that particular weekend. This then would be less of a stealth camp but being a good 30 mile ride away and having never been there before, I wasn’t sure what I’d find on arrival so there was still a healthy sense of adventure! 

What I found at the end of a rutted forest trail was a beautiful clearing, the late afternoon sun piercing through the tree canopy, no sounds other than the call of dozens of woodland birds and the sheep grazing nearby. 

This place really was the perfect antidote to all the political noise of the last 24 hours. 

I set up my hammock overlooking the clearing and quickly set about making a trail dinner using my new woodgas wood burning stove. 

Maybe it had been too long since I’d channeled my inner Keith Flint, or perhaps it was just the stove itself but for some reason I couldn’t get the thing to take and so ended up eating a meal of lukewarm supernoodles spiced up with slices of Hungarian smoked sausage. 

Frankly, I’m blaming the stove as in the morning I managed to get a proper open fire going! 

see I can do it!


Despite thunder storms the previous day and more of the same predicted later on Saturday, the forecast looked good for the night so I opted for just the mozzie net on the hammock and no tarp. 

Thankfully the rain stayed away (tarp on hand if needed) and I drifted off to the sounds of owls and foxes going about their nocturnal business. Gently woken by the day shift of birds and sheep swapping with the night shift, I fixed myself a coffee over an open fire and reluctantly packed my gear onto the bike before heading homeward. 

can’t i stay forever?


The ride each way was a solid 27 miles, mostly off road (north downs way/pilgrims way) and as well as being a great green corridor to and from my camp spot, having the bike fully loaded with camping gear was a good bit of extra training for L2B, win squared! 

it wasn’t all easy riding


Rebalanced, I arrived home just before the predicted storm set in. Turns out this microadventure was perfectly timed, in more ways than one! 

Bikepacking 

“So it was always at night, like a werewolf, that I would take the thing out for an honest run down the coast. I would start in Golden Gate Park, thinking only to run a few long curves to clear my head…

There was no helmet on those nights, no speed limit, and no cooling it down on the curves. 

Bent forward, far back on the seat, and a rigid grip on the handlebars as the bike starts jumping and wavering in the wind.

…wind-burned eyeballs strain to see down the centerline, trying to provide a margin for reflexes.

…and that’s when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see… the tears blow back so fast that they vaporize before they get to your ears. 

…letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge…”

Hunter Thompson may have been writing about motorcycles but the principal is the same, two wheels -whether powered by an engine or a pair of legs – are a great way to get around. 
  
Whilst the motorbike may be able to go faster, the bicycle offers a return on investment far outstripping any other mode of transport. No sooner have you set off and the miles simply melt away behind you, covering ground at a rate of knots far quicker than walking, far more comfortable than running and far more in touch with nature and your surroundings than a motorbike or car.

  
Even slogging up hills is rewarded (eventually) with the freewheeling joys of the downhill, the effort of the climb a distant memory as you hurtle along, no input required save for a dab of brakes and a touch of lean to keep you heading in the right direction.

And so, with all this in mind I loaded up my mountain bike and set out for a bikepacking microadventure this past weekend.

  
Admittedly the first couple of miles were a hellish nightmare, navigating first into, then out of my local town, the roads snarling with post-Christmas shoppers looking for a January sales bargain.

I’m sure a few of them tried to kill me but I’m equally sure it was nothing personal… 😉 

But never mind all that for I was on a bike and it wasn’t long before I escaped the clutches of town, the drab grey concrete reluctantly giving way to the green of the North Downs.

  
The North Downs are about as wild as it gets in Kent which is to say they are not really that wild at all but to give them their due they put up a good fight, providing some challenging hills (certainly for me in my current unfit state), some excellent bivvy spots with great views below and all this whilst for the most part being sandwiched between two motorways.

  
Having traipsed through the muddy trails and found a quiet spot, I watched the sun set over my home town, that wry smile that so often finds its way onto my face whilst out adventuring slowly appeared as I thought about what everyone else would be doing on a Saturday night – X Factor, The Voice, takeaways, pubs and clubs. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not adverse to a curry and a pint or two but not tonight. Tonight dinner would be two packs of 15p Tesco noodles and some venison sausages, drinks would be provided by my trusty Camelbak (ok ok and a bottle of Czech lager…) and entertainment would be provided by real stars, you know, the ones up in the sky.

  
Fed and watered I turned in for the night, the forecast was for minus 1 but even so I was still somewhat surprised to be awoken to what felt like very gentle and very cold rain on my face – yes it was actually snowing!

  
I pulled my bivvy bag up closer around and over my head, trying to minimise the gaps where snow could get it, I succeeded for the most part but every now and then a few flakes would creep in, a small price to pay though for waking up in the middle of a blanket of fresh snow all around me.

  
It wasn’t much but it was enough – I’d bivvied in the snow! A few “hero” pics, a quick brew of coffee and I was off, threading my way through the snow and ice, back towards home and a welcome blast of central heating.