A Brompton’s winter boots.

Winter seems to be well on it’s way, the hard frosts are predicted, and the gritters are heading out onto the roads in a bid to keep them ice free.

Just the thought of falling over on an icy bend is enough to drive most cyclists towards taking the bus to work until conditions improve. But it doesn’t have to be the case. For years Schwalbe (and others, notably Nokian), have produced studded winter tyres in various sizes that allow you to keep cycling throughout the winter months. But there has always been a gap in their range at the smaller size bracket. After all, what sort of crazy idiot would want to put studded tyres on a bike with 16″ wheels. Hello.

For the first 7 years of Brompton ownership, when ever I spoke to someone at Brompton, be it a designer, sales rep, or even the CEO (via twitter), I would mention that it would be great if there were studded tyres for the Brompton. Finally after all that nagging, Schwalbe announced a couple of years ago they would make 30×349 (that’s 16″ x 1.2″ in old money) studded tyres that would fit the Brompton. WOO!

November 2015 with a need to get to college what ever the weather, I bit the bullet and invested in a pair of Schwalbe Winter tyres.

Spiked tyre

Fitting these tyres to the Brompton is not the easiest task, they come somewhere between a Marathon and a Marathon Plus in terms of difficulty, but nothing that a bead jack doesn’t solve. You just have to be aware that they fight back more than non studded tyres and fitting them can require a blood sacrifice…

The main gotcha to be aware of is that because of the way the Brompton folds, the studs will chip the paintwork on the frame when the bike is folded. Wanting to protect the paintwork as much as possible, I fashioned a couple of leather guards that I laced onto the frame. They are 2.6mm leather held on with bungee cord.

Leather frame protectors.

Leather frame protectors

They win no awards for their beauty, they were a proof of concept that I made from scraps of leather I had laying around. Now I’ve proved the concept works, I’m pondering a mark 2 version that looks a bit better.

Once you’ve got the tyres fitted along with the optional frame protection, you need to run the tyres in on normal roads before you set off on the ice. The recommendation from Schwalbe is 40km without heavy braking or acceleration. You only need to do this the first time you fit them, in future years they should be good to go on the ice straight away.

The tyres have two recommended operating pressures, ~7 bar for roads that are mostly clear or fully clear of ice, and if you are expecting lots of ice, deflate them down to ~4.5bar. This lead to an interesting question about what pressure you should run them in at. I opted for 4.5bar. I’m not sure what pressure Schwalbe recommend. (note you can pump these right upto 8bar, but at that point the ride becomes rather painful)

Running them for the first time what becomes immediately apparent is the noise. Ye gods these things are noisy. On normal tarmac they make a hell of a racket. This can be a good thing, pedestrians certainly hear you coming. I tend to listen to music or podcasts when cycling which certainly helps cover the clatter.

Once you get used to the clatter, and the slight increase in rolling resistance compared to say Marathons, then they feel just like any normal tyre.

The tyres feel grippy in all the conditions that I’ve used them in. (Un)fortunately fitting studded tyres to a bike seems to act to ward off the snow/ice, and winter 2015/2016 was pretty mild so I didn’t get to test these to their fullest, I’m kinda hoping that 2016 brings proper snow and ice so I can get some sub zero miles in.

Over time the studs can and do fall out, over something like 600+km I lost 3 studs (2 from 1 tyre, 1 from the other). Schwalbe have anticipated this and produce a pack of 50 studs and the tool necessary to fit them. I got this for just over a tenner on amazon. They also sell a pack of 50 studs without the tool.

Tool, Studs and tyre. The shiny stud has just been installed, the other one has seen a season's use.

Tool, Studs and tyre. The shiny stud has just been installed, the other one has seen a season’s use.

In terms of puncture protection, the tyres come with Schwalbe’s “K-guard”. This provides some protection, but nowhere near as good as on Marathon or Marathon Plus. I had 2 punctures over the winter, both in the same tyre (rear). Fixing a puncture when it’s 0°C is a bit of an interesting experience, balancing dexterity with keeping your hands warm, so this is something to bear in mind. (For larger bikes, the Marathon Winter has better puncture protection and more spikes, but only goes down to 42×406).

All in all with affordable Spiked tyres and appropriate clothing, there’s very little excuse not to keep riding through the winter, even on a Brompton.

Post script: When cycling across ice it’s easy to forget that it’s slippery, and the moment you stop and put your foot down, you fall over. The solution to this is studs for your shoes. I have a pair of Kahtoola nanospikes for slippery pavements which work well for this.

 

ADVENTURE: Bordering on Insanity – A Brompton Adventure

Belgium. Brunt of jokes on radio 4 comedy programs, Brewer of brilliant beer, and maker of fine chocolates. It’s often grouped in with The Netherlands and Luxembourg as the low countries. It’s easy to think of Belgium as a polder landscape punctuated with abbeys awash with beer. Tell someone you’re setting out to cycle to the highest point of the country, it doesn’t immediately come across as a particularly big challenge. Point out that the highest point is 694m above sea level, and you start to get some amusing reactions.

In summer 2015 I set out on my Brompton to cycle from Wiltz (Lu) to Aachen(De) via the highest point of all three of the low countries, Kneiff (559.8m), Signal de Botrange (694 m), and Vaalserberg (322.7 m). I made it to the top of Knieff, before aborting due to the heat. I wasn’t happy about aborting, tho I know in my heart that it was the right decision. As soon as I got home I started planning a second attempt. I’d done Knieff, so there was no point trying that bit again. I opened the map of the Hoge Venen, the area in which Signal de Botrange is found, and started to plan.

The borders of Belgium allow for some creative cartography. Exclave and counter exclave in the area of Baarle-Hertog provides an interesting diversion. But as I stared at the map, what caught my eye was a strange border marking through the middle of Germany. I switched from the paper map to opencyclemap. What was marked as a border on my paper map, showed up as a cycle path on OCM. I googled the cycle path.

Opened in 1885, the Vennbahn railway ran from Aachen to Trois-Ponts. In 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles, the line was given to Belgium. Creating in the process, exclaves of German territory within Belgium. With the closure of the railway, this line was turned into a cycle route. A cycle route that ran from Aachen to just south of Signal de Botrange, and did so with a maximum gradient of 2%. A plan formed. I could ride from Aachen along the vennrad to Sour Brot, where I could hang a right for the final ascent up to Botrange, then it’s just a simple down hill all the way to the Netherlands, via a bit of Germany and Belgium, and maybe the curiosity that is Moresnet.

And so on a somewhat grey but cool day in October I set of from a youth hostel next to Aachen Hauptbahnhof, and followed my GPS through the city streets of in search of a strip of Belgium.

The first few kilometres of the ride took me through rather unscenic suburbs of Aachen, before eventually I left the industry and houses behind and entered farmland.

The day had started quite chilly, and I had worn both my wind proof and fleece to begin with, but as I got into the groove, I shed the windproof. My body was warm, but my summer shoes with their ample ventilation were making my toes cold.

I pressed onwards and upwards.

I had been led to believe from my research that the railway line had been removed along all of it’s length apart from a short part now used for rail biking. So I was a bit surprised when track started to appear next to the path. I was even more surprised when the cycle route deviated slightly from the railway and when I rejoined it a number of wagons and a loco were parked on the rails.

I pedalled on towards Belgium proper. I knew from my map that the route crossed into Belgium near Botz, before doing a large loop back on itself to exit Belgium, yet remain Belgium surrounded by Germany. Before the turn a disused triebwagen lay in a siding disconnected from the railway, covered in graffiti.

As I pedalled on my feet got colder. By the time I rounded the turn and headed back west towards Belgium-Surrounded-by-Germany, my toes were starting to feel numb.

When I packed for this trip 2 weeks previous (I had tacked it onto the return of a week in Eastern Germany), the forecast had been for relatively warm weather, with night temps of 9°C, and day temps of nearly 20°C. Just days before I was due to start riding the weather had swung towards cold. As my toes got colder, I started to worry that I had the wrong sleeping bag. I’d packed my summer bag hoping for temps in the 7-10°C mark. Much colder than that and night time could be rather miserable.

The kilometres ticked by. As I approached Roetgen my feet had gone from comfortably numb, to painfully so, everything forward of the metatarsels was in numb pain. Reflecting that it was somewhat ironic that on a trip that gave me issues due to excess heat the first time, would cause me issues with cold on the second attempt. I considered my options and decided that I would hang a left into Roetgen in hope of finding a cafe or coffee shop where I could warm up, and as it was around midday, maybe find some lunch.

A speedy descent into Roetgen following the signs for zentrum brought me to a main road, where I saw a bakery and cafe. I screeched to a halt and carefully wheeled my bike in, resting it just behind the door. The staff at the counter looked up, but didn’t say anything about the bike in the building.

“Sprechen sie Englisch?”

“Nein”

Ok, this should be fun, time to see if the previous 260 days of Duo lingo had been of any use.

With much pointing, poor German, smiling, and a lot of hope, I managed to order a hot pizza and a bottle of coke. I plonked down in a comfortable chair, ate my lunch and with each heart beat felt the feeling slowly return to my poor feet. I spent nearly 90 minutes warming up and sampling the German cakes. The time to leave approached, I considered the options for my feet. I didn’t have any over shoes to keep the wind off, nor did I have any plastic bags that might work. I did have a thick pair of wool socks. Would adding those to the socks I already wore provide enough warmth, keep the wind out enough, and above all, fit inside my shoes? I tried the left (and bigger) foot first. It fit. Snug, but it fit. I put the other sock on, and prepared to go out again.

The descent into Roetgen had been fast and fun. But this meant that to get back to the Vennrad would mean going up. Fortunately not too much, and I ground my way up in bottom gear. The relative flatness once I rejoined the route of the railway was most welcome. The double sock solution seemed to be working, not too warm, nor too cold, pretty much just right. Temperature sorted, I started to pay more attention to my surroundings.

Coniferous forest flanked me on either side for several kilometres. Here and there I could see beyond the bracken into the understory, passing dozens of spots that would make great wild camp locations. This filled me with hope for later when I would need to find somewhere to bivvi down. The rough plan in my head being find somewhere just before Kalterherberg, before the route left Germany behind.

Along the route were regular signs with a map of the Vennrad, a blurb about the history of the route, a useful “you are here”, and an even more useful elevation graph.

The elevation graph told me that at Lammersdorf things levelled out a bit and may even descend. This would be most welcome, tho every metre of descent would have to later be paid for with more ascent. But for now I welcomed the ability to coast for a bit.

At Lammersdorf I also found a sign telling me about the locals.

There's Beavers in them thar hills!

There’s Beavers in them thar hills!

In the lead up to this trip I had joked with friends that if I had an accident on this trip I could have the accident in Belgium, land in Germany, and it would be a nightmare on the insurance form. This had also got me thinking about how one might call in such an event. How would they know where I am? As it turns out, every 500m along the route signs gave details of who to call, and where you were. A bit like hecto-metre posts on motorways.

I cycled onwards towards my intended overnight camp. The kilometres went by, the terrain changed subtly. Forest  became higher, and the gradients either side became steeper.

Just beyond the turning for Monschau something in the distance caught my eye. I pulled out my camera and looked through the zoom lens. Yep, it was. Far off in the distance, near the edge of the field, a deer grazed.

I spent a few minutes just watching the deer. I was far enough away that it either couldn’t see me, or didn’t consider me a threat. It was the only mammalian wildlife I’d see other than a couple of red squirrels near Aachen.

A few kilometres further on I passed 50km distance for the day, and started to think about where to stop for the night. Around this point the terrain either side of the track tool a turn for the unhelpful. Large rocky outcrops towered on my right, whilst a steep ravine fell away to my left. This would certainly make finding a spot to camp harder.

I crossed a viaduct over a valley, hoping that the woods I could see on the other side would yield a potential camp spot. No such luck, ravines and boulders. Even if there was a flat spot big enough for my bivvi bag there, I wouldn’t get to it with the bike.

A few hundred metres further on there was a small car park, and a path heading up into the woods. The gradient had lessened. This had potential.

I left the Vennrad behind and pushed the bike along the footpath. I had tried to ride it, but the mud was a bit much for the Brompton, so I pushed. There was a barrier across the path, and to the right there was an area of wood which was flat, if a bit exposed. It would do if I could’t find somewhere better. I followed the path for another couple of hundred metres, There were a few spots that looked plausible, but they were rather exposed, and not really flat enough. I found one spot, at the base of a fir tree, nice clear area, flat, and not obvious from the path. Alas I was not the first to have found the spot and several small piles of decomposing bog roll littered the area round the tree. The same was found near another promising tree. Bah. Why couldn’t they have burned/buried it?

I returned to the path and concluded that I’d have to go with the fall back option. I returned to the first spot, and lent the bike against a tree. I wandered in an increasing circle to find the flattest spot. My circle brought me back to the path. Looking down the other side of the path, I saw a spot that looked ideal. Sure it was several metres down a 45° slope, but it was flat, not a toilet, and concealed from obvious view.

I slid down the forest floor with my Brompton in a controlled descent mostly on 2 feet. Up close the spot was perfect. A slight depression only a few inches deep would conceal my sleeping mat (bright yellow :() from prying eyes on the cycle path, there were no dead branches above to worry about. Yes, this would be perfect.

I sat under a tree and while dinner cooked, sent a friend a message on my inReach asking if they could work out what country I was in. I only had a 1:50k map, and the borders here are somewhat blurry, so wanted someone with zoom on their map to take a closer look. The message came back. Germany. Belgium’s just up by the treeline. Dinner cooked, I rolled out the bivvi bag, and crawled into my sleeping bag. I was still nervous about how cold it would be, some forecasts said 1°C, some 7°C, if the former, there was no way my bag would be upto it, if the later, I may just be ok.

The previous night I had stayed at a youth hostel, which meant that I had with me in my bag my Towel. In true hitchhiker’s fashion, I deployed this as an extra blanket inside my sleeping bag, along with my fleece and a hot water bottle.

It wasn’t enough.

Within an hour of laying there, the cold had seeped in and I conceded that I needed something more. I dug into my bag for my space blanket. The last time I had needed to use it, I had put it between bivvi bag and sleeping bag, and it had caused a lot of condensation problems. As I had another night after this, I didn’t want a soaking wet sleeping bag, so decided this time to try it inside the sleeping bag, between it and the silk liner. This and my base layers should at least dry pretty quickly.

With the space blanket and towel wrapped round me, cocooned in my sleeping bag, I wrapped my feet round the hot water bottle, and drifted off to sleep.

I slept beautifully.

My alarm woke me to a dark 0600. I lay in my bivvi bag comfortably warm, well rested, and surrounded by dark trees. Dawn was the best part of an hour away, so I hit snooze and lay back to enjoy my surroundings. As I lay there, the first drops of rain could be heard on my bivvi bag. I sinched the entrance down tight, leaving just enough space for my mouth and nose, and then rolled onto my side hoping that it wouldn’t start to rain properly if for no other reason than so I didn’t have to pack away wet gear.

Dawn broke, and the rain stopped.

The view from my bivvi bag.

I broke camp and repacked everything onto the bike. Now I  had a decision. Climb up the hill with everything to the path, or slide down the hill to the cycle track. I considered my options, and decided to give down a go.

It wasn’t the right decision.

I slid down the hill on my arse, with the Brompton across my lap side on, landing in a ditch (thankfully not full of water) next to the cycle track. Now I just had to limb the 1.5m up out of the ditch… Eventually I made it, with little dignity, and a very wet arse. I didn’t care, it was a beautiful morning.

Damp, misty, and beautiful.

I detoured into Kalterherberg for a hot chocolate and some breakfast, before leaving Germany and entering Belgium for the last of the Vennrad to Sour Brot.

The terrain started to open out again and at 500m above sea level, took on the appearance characteristic of the High Fenn.

A few kilometres down the line I left the Vennrad for the last time at Sour Brot, and headed North towards the whole purpose of this trip. Signal de Botrange.

Up until now I had had at most a 2% gradient on the vennrad, with occasional steeper bits when I’d left the route in search of food, but here things started to get steeper. Even with the extra low gear I’d added to the Brompton since the last attempt, I still found myself pushing the bike.

The final 200m of ascent over a distance of 2km was largely walked with occasional riding for short bursts before getting off and walking again.

As I neared the peak, the road started to level out and the amount of riding increased,  still interspersed with pushing.

Eventually, just before midday, I arrived at the top of Belgium. Where I found a cafe.

Not exactly the most intrepid of peaks. But they didn’t complain when I wheeled the Brompton inside and collapse into a chair. I’d done it! And in time for lunch. It’s at this point that I discovered the waiter was in fact the only monolingual Belgian, and didn’t understand English, Dutch or German. Eventually, with the help of google, and some pointing, I ordered a steak, followed by ice cream. It was delicious. Made even better by the ride here to get it.

At 694m above sea level, Signal de Botrange is actually little more than the highest point of a large bump, standing in the carpark it would be hard to spot the exact point that’s highest. Fortunately the Belgians have built a 6m tall tower on the highest point, giving you a nice round 700m height. Alas as it was so cloudy and raining, I didn’t bother climbing the tower, just to see a cloud, I could see the same cloud from ground level…

From here on, it should be down hill. All the way to the Netherlands. I put on both jackets, 2 pairs of gloves, and my buff. This descent would be cold.

I eased the Brompton out of the carpark onto the road, and started to pedal down. It was a slow start, the wind wasn’t helping, but eventually gravity kicked in, pulling me down towards the Netherlands. At 50kph, the windchill is substantial and I was rather glad of the extra layers. At 50kph, I descended rather quickly and with every 100m of altitude drop, things got warmer. By the time I turned off the N68 onto the country lanes, things had warmed up enough that I stopped to take some layers off.

The next 20k was largely uneventful, through sleepy Belgian villages. Despite .nl being down hill, it seems my route crossed a couple of valleys, giving me a couple more hills to push the bike up.

A couple of kilometres from Vaalserberg I crossed the border back into Germany into the village of Wald. I hung a left off the main road and started to go Up. I had another 100m to climb in the next k. Bah. Not good. I left wald and crossed back into Belgium and into woods. Here I ground to a halt in a clearing at the base of a 40° incline. I’d already done over 50km today, and energy levels were low. Common sense says I should have sat down, had a mars bar, had a drink, then continued. Alas, common sense isn’t all that common, and with much swearing, I slowly climbed the hill.

As I paused for breath on the climb, two birds of prey caught my eye. They circled the clearing a few times, as I watched, before disappearing into the canopy. The pause gave me enough energy to get to the top of the incline, where things levelled out a bit into a slope which had an element of down to it. Unfortunately the descent was perpendicular to the direction of travel, which made cycling along it slightly more interesting. Fortunately this was short lived, and at node marker 5, I really did reach the top of the final ascent, that allowed me to coast down to the Vaalserberg.

Goal achieved.

Front wheel in Germany, rear wheel in Belgium, bottom bracket in The Netherlands. An international bike.

Front wheel in Germany, rear wheel in Belgium, bottom bracket in The Netherlands. An international bike.

I had originally planned to bivvi somewhere in the woods on the Belgian side, but it was still only 1700, my legs felt good, and Heerlen station was only 22km away. So I decided rather than risk a cold night out, I’d make a break for Heerlen and a train home. It took me a bit over an hour to do, but just after 1830, I arrived at Heerlen station. On the first day I did 50km through 2 countries.  Today I’d ridden 80km, through 3 countries and reaching 694m above sea level. My longest Brompton ride yet, my second longest ride on any bike, and my highest Climb. The total for the trip was 130km.

It had taken two attempts, but I’d finally done it. The High points of the low countries on my Brompton.

ADVENTURE: Getting high in the low countries

There is a sinister Dutchman sitting at this table writing. The pen scratching over the paper as I stare impassively at my phone waiting for twitter to update.

A gust of wind, a thunder clap, the windows shake. We both look up at the windows, rain streaming down them in sheets.

I’m sat in the common room of a Youth Hostel somewhere in the German speaking part of Eastern Belgium. I’m waiting for a friend who’s flying in from Oman to rescue me. I’m not supposed to be here. This isn’t how this adventure was supposed to turn out.

Day 1 – Getting high.

Collectively Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands are known as the low countries. Mention them and people tend to picture the polder landscapes of the west, the beautiful architecture of Ghent, and the strong dark beers of Rochefort. But look at a map, and you notice that it’s not all flat earth. The eastern side of the BeNeLux is marked by an area of hills, The Ardennes. They are predominantly in Belgium and Luxembourg, but stretch into Germany and France. I had to be in Wiltz for the Linux Bier Wanderung, so as I was going to be in the area, decided to turn up a few days early and have a bit of a cycle tour. Looking at the map It occured to me that the highest points of the three countries, Kneiff (560masl), Signal de Botrange (694masl) and Valserberg (322masl) form a neat line 66.4km from north to south. That’s cycling distance. A plan formed.

Starting from where my previous Luxembourg cycle adventure started, in Wiltz, I would cycle north to the three high points of the three BeNeLux countries, then hang a right to Aachen for a train back to Wiltz. I played around with route planners and maps, and eventually I had a rough route plan. 123km total distance, over 3 days with a total ascent of 1719m. This split into 3 sections, Wiltz to Kneiff – 36.6km, Kneiff to Signal de Botrange – 51km, Signal de Botrange to Valserberg – 35.5km. Even better the elevation graph showed that from Signal de Botrange to Valserberg was basically 30km of down hill. I loaded my Brompton with kit for a bivvi, 3 days food, a pile of maps (three for Belgium, 2 for Luxembourg). And left for the Eurostar.

Tuesday was spent travelling via Eurostar and train to Luxembourg city. I spent the evening there, exploring a bit and finding a rather novel cycle path with a spiral stair case on it (I hope sustrans don’t get any ideas…). Then on Wednesday morning I took the train from Luxembourg station North towards Wiltz.

I had tried to find a bike shop in Luxembourg city so I could buy a bike bottle, I’d discovered to my disgust that the bottle I had bought with me had gone a bit manky and wasn’t something I wanted to drink from, even after putting a puritab through it. I texted a friend in Belgium via my inReach asking for UTM coordinates of some bike shops in Luxembourg. Turns out that there are more bike shops in the Canterbury postcode than there are in the whole of Luxembourg… looking at the options it seemed the most accessible would be to get off at Mersch, and do the 5k round trip to the bike shop at Rollingen.

Brief bike shop visit including asking them to pump my tyres up, complete with using fingers to show what pressure, and I returned to the station for the train journey to Wiltz with a nice clean new bottle, as well as a free bottle of water the bike shop insisted on giving me.

Changing trains with a fully loaded Brompton at Kautenbach was a less than pleasant experience. It seems that Luxembourg hasn’t quite realised that the point of a railway platform is to get you upto the height of the train, rather than a small step to get you on the bottom rung of a ladder to climb into the train…

Fully Loaded Brompton

Eventually I arrived in Wiltz, and headed to Camping Kaul where I was staying for the Linux Bier Wanderung, and had arranged to leave the baggage I didn’t need for my cycle trip. I quick bite to eat in their Bistro, and I hit the road.

I needed to pick up some meths for my stove, so I swung by the local supermarket. They sold 1L bottles of the stuff, but were out of stock at the time. I decided I’d try at the next town with a shop… I didn’t realise the that I wouldn’t see another shop until the following day in Sankt Vith.

Leaving the supermarket I headed out of town. It was a beautiful sunny day and Europe basked in a heat wave. I was full of enthusiasm for the ride ahead of me and followed the GPS trace past the local brewery, up the hill.

I knew this hill was here, I was expecting it. It showed as an almost vertical cliff on the elevation graph (due to compression of the X axis). But I wasn’t quite prepared for it. I dropped down the gears to first, and continued to pedal. I managed about 200m of horizontal distance before I had reached the limits of the gearing. I got off and pushed.

Day 1 elevation graph.

Day 1 elevation graph.

One foot in front of the other I plodded up the hill, the sun beating down on me. There was no shade. I stopped after a couple km in the shade of a barn to have a drink and let my temperature drop. I may be cooking, but I was feeling good. Temperature back down to normalish, I continued up the hill to Noertrange. Another water stop in a convenient bus shelter, then back on the bike. The major climb was over and I was on what should be a plateaux. It had taken me 45 minutes to cover just 2.3km. Now I should finally be able to start riding and put distance under my belt.

Leaving Noertrange I entered an area of woodland. The shade was welcome, but the gradient wasn’t. Rather than push, I took a 5 minute break to enjoy the scenery. Before continuing onwards.

Climbing out of Noertrange

Past Derenbach, onwards to Allerborn. In the fields around me various bits of agricultural machinery toiled away reaping the harvest of golden cereal crops that stretched out on all sides. In one field the wind had kicked up the dust and chaff into spinning vortexes.

The route here went down hill slightly, being able to freewheel down the hill was wonderful, but back in my mind I knew that every metre I went down, I would just have to claw back later.

I left the metalled road at Allerborn and followed a track up hill towards Troine Route. On this ascent a ache in my feet progressed into pain and onwards through towards excruciating. I pulled over in the shade of some birch trees at Troine-Route and took my shoes and socks off. There was no obvious signs of what would be causing the pain. Then I touched my feet. Turns out I had just discovered what it feels like to try cooking your own limbs while still attached. Not something I would recommend. I put the socks into my bag, so much for cool in summer…

Letting my feet cool down in the shade of some Birch trees

Cooling down in the shade of the stand of silver birch, I studied the map. Here my planned route was a deviation west towards the Belgian border, before swinging east to Troine. Looking up from the map towards the direction of travel. I looked down on Belgium. Hmmm. I studied the map some more, comparing spot hikes in the area. If I was to stand any chance in this heat I was going to have to adapt. I decided to deviate from my route and head on the main road to Troine. This should cut some ascent as well as maybe shortening my journey by half a k or so.

I didn’t regret the decision, I managed to clear some distance quickly passing Troine I headed North for Belgium.

I crossed the border at about 17km into my trip. 2 hours 42 minutes after I had left Wiltz. There are signs either side of the road marking the border between Luxembourg and Belgium, but you don’t really need them. You can tell that you’ve crossed border by the state of the road. Gone was the beautiful smooth tarmac, replaced by the pot hole slalom towards Buret.

Just over 1km into Belgium I turned right onto a disused railway that has been turned into a cycle path. It’s marked on my map as RAVel. By choosing a disused railway I hoped that it’s relative flatness would allow me to cover some distance. Oh my misguided foolishness.

Yes railways don’t have steep inclines, no they have have long slow laborious gradients. False flat. It looks flat, until you start to ride it. But it was better than the steep hills I had been slogging up so I took the opportunity to get my head down and pedal some. I averaged about 22kph on this section, peaking at over 30kph at one point.

My planned route involved turning off the railway line just outside Limerlé. This is where I found the slight error in my map work. Sure the railway line crossed the road at this point. But not at the same height. This wasn’t a level crossing, this was a bridge. And there was no easy way to get from it to the road. I’d just have to continue on along the railway line until I found a way off. This blunder added about 3km to my journey.

I left the railway and climbed up towards Hautbellair. Somewhere around here I finished the last of the water. It had been over 34°C during the afternoon, and I was starting to get hot. I needed water. A need that was growing in urgency as I went on.

Every field of livestock I passed I looked to see if I could get water from the trough. Not one that I passed had an accessible valve, and quite a few were clearly filled not off a pipe but by the farmer from a bowser. Every stream marked on my map was dried up. The one I did find was next to a field that showed very obvious signs of recently being treated with Glyphosphate.

My map showed a stream in the woods just North of Goedange. Maybe I could fill up from this.

As I headed towards Goedange the climb started, 110m over 2km. The first symptoms of hyperthermia were starting to show. I started to look everywhere for water, eyeing up every puddle, trying to weigh the risk vs reward of trying to filter it.

At the 35k mark my planned route took me off East to join the Vennrad cycle route. But when I got to the turning, it was impassable. I continued North East towards the main road at Knauf. If I didn’t find something to drink soon I was going to be in trouble. In my befuggled mind I tried to run over the options. Could this be grounds to hit the SOS function on my inReach? Was I going to give myself Heat stroke? As I left the woods a few hundred meters before Knauf I saw a building. I would stop there and ask for water, I had to. As I pushed closer the building came into focus. This wasn’t just any building. This was a bar. No wait, a restaurant. WATER!

I pulled up at the restaurant, and hobbled upto the bar a pair of empty water pouches in hand.

“Wasser, Aqua, Water.” Proffering them the pouches to fill. As one bartender filled my pouches I turned to another and asked for a Fanta. He handed me the bottle and the glass. I downed the bottle and asked for another. He gave me a slightly strange look and handed me another bottle. Two full pouches, and a bottle of Fanta in hand, I hobbled over to a table and collapsed into a seat.

Status check. As I sat rehydrating, I ran my mind over my condition. I couldn’t remember the symptoms of hyperthermia, so resorted to googling them. I ran through the symptoms. Heavy sweating. Check. Rapid breathing. Check. Fast weak pulse. I tried to take my radial pulse. Nothing. I switched to the other arm. Nothing. I switched to the carotid. There, something. It’s there. But it’s feint. And it’s fast. I drank some more.

I texted a friend back in the UK updating on my situation. Before I arrived in the bar, I’d drunk over 5L of water. Yet I hadn’t pee’d in over 6 hours. Getting out of the sun and rehydrating, my mind started to clear. I ordered another Fanta and tried to regain my composure. The text exchange with the friend helped me decide that I would rest here until just before sunset (about an hour after arriving), then go find somewhere to bivvi down, then decide on onwards travel in the morning.

Having drunk a over a litre since arriving at the pub, I was finally able visit the loo. This added another confirmation of my dehydration, but reassured me that my body was at least able to process what I was pouring in the top.

Fifteen minutes before sunset and with a 3.8L of water in my pouches/bottles, I hit the bike for the final kilometre to Kneiff.

With the sun below the horizon, in the cool twilight of a summers evening, I arrived at the highest point of Luxembourg. A nondescript concrete marker on the edge of a field. I’d done it. One down two to go. Right, bivvi time.

The plough over Kneiff

I looked around. On one side a field of maize stretched into the distance, next to that an already harvested wheat field. On the other side of the track a large grass pasture and a few hundred yards down the track, woodland.

I cycled over to the woodland hoping it would present a bivvi opportunity. It was a dense plantation of pine trees, hardly ideal bivvi territory. I looked around. On the other side of the grass field there was a small copse. That might do the trick.

I pushed the Brompton across the lush pasture towards the copse. It was a mix of pine and oak 50m from a larger plot of woodland. In it’s lee side there was a slight depression. This would give me shelter from view of anyone on the track. Yes, This is it, this is perfect.

I sat down to drink and listen. As I did I looked up at the sky and watched a light speed across the sky. My first thought was it was the ISS, but that wasn’t right, that wasn’t for another hour. I had printed out the ISS pass times for my trip, and checked them. Yep, an hours time. Wait what time zone are these in. Ah yeah, that was the ISS, these times are UK time, not EU time. Oops. At least I had seen it.

If you look carefully, to the left of centre you can see the trace of a Persied meteor.

I rolled out the bivvi bag, inflated my sleep mat, and lay on top of it staring at the sky. My body temp was normal, my pulse was normal. I was starting to feel good. I nibble on a biscuit. I couldn’t cook the meal I had with me as I hadn’t found any fuel. As I lay there one by one the stars came out. Blazing across the sky the many camp fires of the hunters who go before. As my eyes adjust, more stars become visible. With full darkness I see for the first time with my own naked eye The Milky Way. I let out an audible wow when I realise what it is I am seeing. I then spent the next hour trying to get a photograph of the sky. Not content with the million star view, the persieds joined the party shooting across the sky towards their firey climax in the upper atmosphere. Happy that I had got some shots that almost did justice to the view, I crawled into my bivvi bag and drifted off to sleep watching persieds shooting across the milky way.

The view from my bivvi bag

Day 2 – Bordering on insanity

I woke the next morning hot. Really warm. Too Warm. That wasn’t right. I wasn’t even moving how can this be? I stuck my head out the bivvi bag and was blinded by the sun. Ah, yeah, that would do it. The sun had crested the trees and I was now laying in full sun. I rolled myself and my bed across into the shade of the trees and lay back. The starlit view of the previous night was now a clear blue sky above a lush green pasture flanked by woodland.

The view I woke to.

I spread my bedding out in the sunshine to air, and sat in the shade of a tree eating biscuits and pondering the plan. Yesterday had been just 38km. Todays plan was 51km. Not just further, but also higher. If the heat was the same as yesterday would I be able to do it?

I looked at the map. From here to Sankt Vith is just over 20km, and by the looks of it it should be mostly downhill. I will pay later for each metre of descent. But at least I should be eating up some distance.

I packed the bike, and hit the road. The first couple of km would be descent to join the Vennrad cycle route along a disused railway. Due to particularities of political geography the trackbed of the Vennrad is in Belgium along it’s whole length, but large sections of it run through Germany creating all sorts of exclaves and counter exclaves.

Crossing into Belgium I descended down a long sweeping track, hitting 37kph as I headed for the turn onto the cycle route. The 90° turn. The 90° turn was compounded by a small collection of mamil’s loitering on the corner blocking the only path that would allow any useful speed carry through the corner. I cursed, and hammered the brakes to bring my speed down and coast past the mamils onto the Vennrad with a cheery “Morgan”.

After the open shadeless scenery of the previous day a track through the dappled shade of woodland was a welcome change. The route tended downwards for the first 12km, past idylic farmsteads, pasture and woodland. After a few km I stopped at an information board which had some information of the history of the Venn Bahn. There were some Dutch cyclists there trying to work out where they were and where they were going. They didn’t have a map, so I pulled mine out and helped them work out where they were and where they wanted to go. Between my broken Dutch and their broken English, we chatted about our rides before bidding each other Goede Reis and departing in opposite directions.

The 12km of downhill came to and abrupt end in Germany. Only I didn’t realise it was Germany at first. I stopped in a bus shelter to have a drink and some more biscuits. I was trying to work out where I was when I noticed the design of the postbox opposite. That was most definitely a Deutschepost logo. Quick GPS check, yep I’m in Hemmeres, Germany. Which used to be Belgian before it was returned in 1958.

I crossed back into Belgium and begun the long dragging ascent towards Sankt Vith. Passed beautiful river side meadows, tree covered hillsides and pastures of livestock. Past scout camps, villages and farmsteads. I plodded on. Even in the shade of the trees there was no escaping the heat. It was’t quite as bad as yesterday, but was still enough to leave my body covered in a near constant sheen of sweat. Somewhere short of Sankt Vith I ran out of water again.

Nearing Breitfeld things started to take on a more built up appearance with an elevated motorway. It was near here that I saw a Slow Worm slinking it’s way across the hot tarmac.

Two and a half hours, and 26km after leaving my Bivvi site, I coasted into Sankt Vith. I pulled up at a bar on the site of the old train station. Ordering a brace of drinks and requestion refills of my water pouches, I sat in the shade and pondered my options. It was about 1300, and I was hot and sore. I’d managed about half the days distance, but hadn’t got to the main ascents of the day. Even with every container I had on me I didn’t seem to be able to carry enough water to cycle in this heat, and so far places to refill had been rather few and far between.

I pondered my options. Go on, risk further dehydration and heat exhaustion? If I bailed here what were my options? I pulled out my phone to see where the nearest youth hostel was. Two kilometres away. That sealed it. I booked a bed for the night from my phone, paid my tab, and slowly rode up the hill to the hostel.

Which finds me sat in a Youth hostel, in German speaking Belgium with a Sinister Dutchman scribbling away across the table. I’d set out to cycle 123km, I’d managed 64. I’ve had to bail out due to high temperatures, dehydration and the first stages of Heat Exhaustion. In Belgium. This really is bordering on insanity…

ADVENTURE: Going Dutch – A Dutch microadventure

August 2000

Through the gloom of the Sound of Mull looms a shape. As we descend, the shape takes on the form of a ships hull. The SS Breda lays with it’s stern at 22meters, 7m above the 29m Sea bed which slopes gently up towards the bow, with 19m of water above the front of the bow. My Dive buddy and I dropped onto the sea bed by the rudder, and after a few minutes playing with the squat lobsters, we rose up over the stern and entered the hull. Through cargo holds full of life we travelled slowly to the bow, before dropping over the bow to have a look at her from that angle. Alas our dive time was soon to end, and we slowly rose up to our safety stop at 3m. Hanging there in the gloom, I pondered my first wreck penetration. A beautiful vessel, teaming with life. I couldn’t help but wonder what the city the ship was named after is like, and decided that I should visit Breda at some point.

October 2015

I boarded the Half speed train service from Amsterdam bound for Breda. I had with me my trusty Brompton in a full touring config, loaded up with kit for a Microadventure in the woods. Watching the flat polder landscape pass by the window of the train, the first spots of rain started to appear on the window. That didn’t bode well, the forecast was for an overcast day, not rain.

Arriving into Breda Centraal station, I loaded the Brompton up with it’s baggage and alighted the train. This station has had extensive renovation work done to it producing a modern well thought out station.

Outside the station, I booted up the GPS, and hit the road. Or rather the Fietspad. Like every other Dutch city the streets of Breda are full of segregated cycle paths running parallel to the roads. I followed the GPS along these cycle paths past wide tree lined roads. The Netherlands has a reputation for being densely populated country, yet the roads are wide with green spaces between the buildings, avoiding the claustrophobic feeling you can get in other countries. As I progressed along my route, the buildings changed and things became increasingly rural. Medium rise buildings giving way to detached houses, giving way to fields.

Eventually I crossed a motorway and decended into the woods. Being late October the trees displayed their autumnal clothes in a shades of gold, yellow and orange.

Cyclists in the woods.

I progressed through woodland interspersed with pasture, stopping occasionally to take photos.

Pasture and Woodland.

As I progressed I rode into the Chaamse Bossen, the forest I was aiming for to bivvi for the night.

Autumn Colours

Everywhere I looked the colours shone from a pallet of golds, reds, oranges and yellows. The colours of autumn.

Autumn Woods.

Across the Netherlands there is a network of authorised wild camping sites, each site comprises a wooden post in the ground with a sign on it, detailing that upto three tents can camp within 10 metres of the post. In the Chaamse Bossen three of these posts exist.

Pin oak in full autumn colour

A Pin Oak in full autumn colour

I followed the route I’d programmed into my GPS heading for the northern most of the camping posts. I had a loose idea of a plan to visit all three of the posts, and then decide which one to camp at.

Small camping post sign.

Sign on the path to the camping post

The first of the posts is located in a conifer plantation with an herb layer of golden grass. Intermixed with the conifers were the occasional hardwood.

Sign on the camping post.

The sign on the Posts. Loosely translated into English: “Camp within 10 meters of the post. Max stay 72 hours, max 3 tents, no open fires, take your litter home, bury your toilet waste.”

The website that lists all of the posts mentioned that fire wasn’t allowed, and I’d had a discussion with a Dutch friend who reckoned that this would include my little meths stove. I was rather surprised to find a fire pit next to the post. I was also slightly surprised to find two tents setup in the undergrowth, midweek in October I had expected noone else would be mad enough to be out here… I was wrong.

I looked at the map, the next post is 2.7km further south. Do I gamble on the next post being better, or do I go with this spot. I um’d and ah’d.

I decided to push on.

Given the impending sunset, I decided to put the camera away, and concentrate on getting to the next site fast. This meant that I arrived at the second site just over 10 minutes later, having pushed the bike along the last 50m or so to get to the post. Here I found the same fire ring, surrounded with a square of logs. Unlike the coniferous location of the first post, this one was a mixture of pines and hardwoods. The herb layer seemed to be mostly made up of mosses. There was noone else here. It would be perfect.

I chose a bivvi site between a small oak and a pine. It was only 1700, so rather than setup my bivvi bag, I decided to light a fire. Having travelled via eurostar, I was limited in what tools I could bring to the Netherlands with me. Just a Leatherman Juice CS4 and my Svord Peasant Mini had made the journey to the Netherlands with me, but I’d left the Leatherman in Amsterdam, not expecting to be able to have fire, I hadn’t expected to need it… Bah.

I’ll be limited to only burning what I could snap, or find already small enough to fit in the pit. Fortunately some previous users of the site had left quite a bit of material laying around, so along with the pile I collected I had a small number of chared logs. I started with some dead hanging wood I’d removed from an ash tree along with a pile of dried pine needles, arranging this on one side of the fire ring. I had in my bag a Spark-lite aviators fire kit, these are a small plastic box containing 8 tinder-quik fire tabs, and a single handed sparker. I fluffed up a tinder-quik, spun the wheel on the spark-lite. It caught first strike. I hadn’t quite been prepared for that. It also burned faster than I had expected because I’d fluffed it up too much. In my surprise I dropped the fire tab on the arranged kindling… missing. I tried to push it into the target kindling with a twig, but before I could, it burned out. On the second tinder-quik I didn’t fluff it up as much, so it took half a dozen strikes before it caught. I placed it into the kindling. The twigs caught. Success.

I spent the next 5 hours slowly feeding twigs into fire, cooked a simple meal, enjoyed the woods.

Starting to get sleepy at about 2200, I started to pitch my camp. Sleep mat inflated, bivvi bag rolled out with sleeping bag inside it. I started readying for bed when the first few spots of drizzel landed on my glasses. I had hoped to not need a tarp, but the weather wasn’t allowing that. I rolled out my small tarp in a basic A ridge config and crawled into my bivvi bag. I was glad of the tarp later in the night, listening to the acorns bouncing off it.

As I was arranging my self into my bivvi bag, something caught my attention in the direction of the path leading to the post, a light. Dimming my head torch I studied it. The light moved. Slowly the light approached the camp ground and I could make out it was attached to a bike. The light was shined at me. I turned my light on and flashed it back. A voice in the darkness said something in German. I replied in Dutch “Auf engels?”.
They repeated themselves. “Do you speak English?”
“Are you alone?”
“Yes”
He had a brief look around the area near the post before selecting a spot to pitch his tent, then spent the next 20 minutes noisily moving kit between his bike and the tent.

I woke up to my alarm at 0630. I’d chosen 0630 to be before dawn, so I could make an early start. I was slightly confused to find the woods lit up brightly. I poked my head out from under my tarp and looked up at a bright moon. That would explain it. I visited the shrubbery, and crawled back into my bivvi bag to watch the dawn.

I woke again at 1000 to find the woods filled with sunshine. Oops.

Woodland in the sunshine

A room with a view. The view I woke up to

I crawled out of my bivvi bag and sat by the fire pit. Coffee. I fired up the stove and tried to wake up a bit. I noticed that the guy who’d turned up late had already left, leaving behind a clear pitch. I sat drinking my coffee and soaking up the sunshine. Mug empty, time to pack up.

Tarp and Brompton.

My camp. The dip in the ridgeline is my jacket hanging up to dry.

It took about 10 minutes to get everything loaded back on the Brompton, and I set off into the woods for the 18km ride back to Breda and the train to Amsterdam.

On the way here the day before the trees had looked amazing even in the grey overcast. This morning in the sunshine they looked even better.

Cyclists in the forest.

I wasn’t the only one who had ventured out on the bike to enjoy the warm autumn weather, as I cycled back to Breda I passed a number of cyclists, ranging from lycra clad road cyclists zooming past, to old couples slowly plodding along. The ride back was faster than the ride to the woods, and it wasn’t long before I reached the edge of Breda. I was struck by the juxtaposition of a medium rise block sat on one side of the road, while on the other side grass fields and farmland. A meeting of city and countryside, and everywhere there were trees in stunning display of Autumn colours.

Orange coloured tree.

This tree was less than 1km from the railway station, next to a main road.

I stocked up on food and drink in the AH togo at the station, before boarding the half speed service back to Amsterdam, recharged and invigorated after a fantastic night out in the woods. Breda and the Chaamse Bossen was fantastic, I might have to come back.

ADVENTURE: A January Microadventure

I hit a bit of a low point with venturing out following an assault on the way out to a trip to the woods. It left me a bit shaken and nervous about heading out.

After scratching a couple of planned nights out, either due to the weather, work shifts, or bottling out. Everything lined up and I finally forced myself out the door with the intent of a night in the woods.

The plan was simple, take the train a few stops, cycle up the hill, bivvi in the woods, enjoy the evening, cook breakfast, break camp (making note to fix it later), cycle down the hill, and come home. All pretty simple.

Step one was to load up my bike – a Brompton folding bike, with my camping gear, and as much water as I could sensibly carry. Before I added water, but including food, the whole lot came to about 7kg. To which I added 3.25L of water. 300ml to rehydrate dinner, and just under 3 litres to get me through the night.

Touring Brompton on the way out.

I arrived at my destination station, activated my buddy beacon, saddled up, and headed into the hills…

I had planned it all on the map, I’d even driven up the road a few weeks ago. So how hard could it be to cycle up there…

The honest answer is – very. The Brompton is a lovely bike, I’ve modded it to have 8 gears, and it’s a joy to ride. But it’s not really designed for hills… So I ended up pushing it up about 2km of the hill. To a max height of 190masl.

Elevation profile of my ride.

Having reached the summit, I then cruised down into the woods, past families returning from their afternoon walk. Past dog walkers, and deeper into the trees. Eventually I departed from the path and headed cross country in search of a bivvi site.

I found a spot in the shelter of a large mound, by some trees. I did a scan for widow makers, pulled out my sit mat, and collapsed by a tree. Phew. By now I had about 20 minutes until sunset and the sweat I had produced from the push up the hill was making me cold. Time to make camp.

I had brought with my my flecktarn tarp, along with a 10m ridge line. I tied one end to a tree, and walked over to the other tree I wanted to use for the other end. Stopping at the end of the ridge line about 1m short of the tree. With a James May like exclamation, I retreated to the original tree, and pondered my options. Rummaging in my bag I realised I had a pair of heavy duty bungees that had attached the dry bag to the rear rack, so I put these round both trees, and had enough ridge line to string it up between the two bungees. Phew. Tarp went up in a lean to config with one end pinned down to shelter me from the wind. The weather forecast was for no precipitation, and a light breeze, so the tarp was largely for concealment, as well as from the breeze. Tarp up, I folded the bike up, wrapped it in my old flecktarn poncho, and tried to lock it to the tree. Discovered that my bike lock wasn’t long enough, and sat down to have a cup of tea.

Making a cuppa.

Tea and rethink complete, I locked the bike to the luggage, making it unwieldy and noisy to steal, so that I should at least wake up if someone tried. Wrapped in the poncho, I stuck it in the back of the tarp, and set about making the bed.

At this point I was getting very cold even with all my coats on, the sweat from the hill climb was really chilling me down, and even tho it wasn’t yet 1700, I crawled into my sleeping bag stuck some radio 4 on, and tried to warm up.

My camp from up the hill:

My camp from up the hill

I was laying there listening to the radio when a light flashed across the inside of my tarp. Slightly confused I sat up and looked in the direction of the light. It shone around all over the place, flashing straight in my face again. It belonged to 2 dog walkers, who walked by about 50m from my position. I don’t know if they saw me, or realised what they had shone their light on, they didn’t disturb me. But it did get my heart rate going. The only other people I saw during the night were a couple of mountain bikers who cycled past 100m or so away.

A text from the friend who was monitoring my buddy beacon, informed me that he was in the area, and he would drop by to say hello. This would be a nice test of the buddy beacon technology, could my friend find me in the woods, in the dark, hiding in a DPM bivvi bag, under a flecktarn tarp…

Turns out, yes, tho he did walk past first, and then turned round to spot me… he’d very helpfully brought me a litre of water, and a bar of chocolate as “house warming” gifts. Both were very gratefully received.. We had a chat and warmed up with a hot chocolate. I was still fighting the cold, even in my sleeping bag my toes were numb, but that was nothing compared to the fight I was having with my meths stove.

I’ve only ever used the stove in the summer before, and it’s always worked fine. In the -2°C of the woods. It wasn’t working nicely. After a few minutes with the ferro rod doing nothing, I dug into my Staying Alive Cold kit for my lifeboat matches. This got the stove going and allowed me to make the hot chocolate. But I couldn’t keep doing that, I only had 5 matches in my SAC kit. After messing around trying to warm the meths up with body heat, I eventually had a eureka moment. My SAC kit has a US aircrew fire kit in it, this is a spark thingy like you get on a cigarette lighter, and a load of tinderquik. Using this I was able to get the stove going reliably.

My friend left and I went back to trying to defrost my toes. I nodded off for a bit and woke to a grumbling stomach. Excellent, curry time.

I dug out the curry pouches from my pack, and relit the stove using the tinderquik. It took me 3 fills of the stove to get enough hot water for the pouch of Korma sauce, the rice, and a mug of tea. Until I had the eureka moment, of using the second pot from my firemaple set as a lid. This made an instant improvement on the efficiency of the stove.

Unfortunately it turned out the curry was vile. After a few mouthfuls, I gave up and put it in the rubbish bag. Ew. I fell back on the chocolate my friend had kindly brought along. Very glad for the extra food.

Eventually I managed to get my toes warm, and snuggled down to listen to the owls. I counted 3 different species of Owl calling out.

I had expected that I would be woken by the sunrise, around 8ish. Not as it turns out by a full bladder, at 1030… oops.

It took me quite a while to summon the courage to crawl out of my toasty warm sleeping bag, into the freezing cold morning. Nature called, I returned to the warmth of my bag to plot my exfil. Only to wake up at half 1 and exclaim loudly. I packed up quickly, trying to stay warm. Reloaded the bike, and hit the trail.

The advantage of the 150m hill I climbed to get in, was the 150m hill I got to free wheel down to get home. Hitting in excess of 30mph on the Brompton on the way down, I cruised into the station for a train back to civilisation, and a fry up.

Not everything had gone to plan, I’d had trouble with the stove, had to deal with very cold toes, overslept, and forgot the frying pan to cook breakfast in. But I had managed a night out in the woods, on my own, in the middle of January, with sub zero temperatures. and survived! I’ve proved to myself that I can do it.

Now to unpack the map and plan my next trip…


This post was originally posted on Bushcraft UK forum

 

ADVENTURE: Wye not cycle Home? – a February Microadventure

Laying in a sand dune on the Sussex coast on the Winter Solstice ’14, I decided to set myself a challenge for 2015. To wild camp for a total of 15 nights between Winter Solstice ’14 and Winter Solstice ’15.

I returned home, and pulled out the maps from the local area and started plotting suitable trips. My first was a success. Bouyed by this I set about my ill fated second trip – walking the North Downs way, having to be rescued by a friend due to foot injury.

After weeks of feeling pretty crap, with various medical appointments to get my feet checked out. I had to reevaluate my plans for the year. The walks I had planned have had to be put back on the shelf for a later date. Instead my beloved Brompton has taken it’s place as beast of burden for my adventures.

I wanted to try and fit in another night out during February, but time was running out, what with work, college, and general life commitments. So when Friday the 27th showed itself as a sparsely populated page in the diary. The plan formed. I would have to drop the works van back to work, but that would leave me with 24 hours clear in which to fit in an adventure.

I loaded my Brompton up with my bivvi kit, I’m getting the hang of it now it seems, took me just 24 minutes to get the whole lot loaded up! I packed the bike and luggage into the back of the van, and hit the road. My intent was one of the very simple microadventure tropes, travel home from work by bike, bivviing on the way.

Fiddling around with the Cyclestreets journey planner, I had a route planned, 24km, including ascent from 43masl to 187masl, before returning to 6masl at home. The first 5km would involve climbing to the 187masl high point of the ride. I was a bit nervous of this, my January trip had ended up with more pushing the bike than I would have liked.

I parked up the van, loaded the Brompton with her luggage, queued up some Bitter Ruin on my headphones, and hit the road.
The gradient eased me in, almost lulled me into a false sense of hope. I climbed out of Wye in 2nd gear, singing along as I went. The gradient should be pretty constant all the way to the top, if it was going to be like this, then this was going to be more doable than I had expected.

Well, the gradient on the map and on the elevation graph didn’t quite match up with reality. I soon dropped to 1st as it got a bit steeper. But eventually after only about 1km, I had to get off and push. There was just 100m which seemed steeper than all the rest. Cresting this, I got back on the bike, and continued to pedal. I paused a couple of times on the ascent to let the lactic acid in my legs dissipate, and my heart rate to drop slightly. But with a euphoria and a loudly vocalised “I DID IT!” I crested the top of the Wye downs.

The view that greeted me was a bit hazy, but from here I could see down to the coast, Dungeness Nuclear Power Station on the horizon, and a squadron of wind turbines on Romney marsh standing sentinel. In the setting sun, it was beautiful.

I didn’t stop to take a photo, the sun was under a hand above the horizon, and I wanted to find a bivvi site in day light.

I pressed on. Down hill! I slipped the gears round to 8th and pedalled down the hill trying to carry as much of the speed as I could round the 90° bend at the bottom and up the hill on the other side, before realising that wouldn’t work, and grinding back down to 1st for a slog up the hill.

Spring felt like it may have sprung, in a quiet modest kind of way. Some verges were covered in snow drops, and here and there a daffodil stood yellow and hopeful.

I pedalled on, past a few bemused motorists, past ploughed fields, fields of brassicas, and flocks of sheep. Before plunging into the woods.

I continued for about 1km on the road through the woods before I was going to turn off the road onto the bridleway. I hit the bridleway at about 20kph, and rapidly came to a squelchy stop. We’d had a fair amount of rain recently, and the path was somewhat wet and boggy. My Brompton with it’s high pressure tires just came to a grinding squidgy stop. I tried fiddling about with the gears to get some purchase, trying to balance the torque to the grip, before eventually concluding that it wasn’t going to work. I got off and pushed.

Through the woods, and along the bridleway across the field, I pushed. I could see the sun, and it’s rapid descent to kiss the horizon. I didn’t linger.

Crossing the field, I hit the woods again. The ground felt firmer so I tried to cycle again. I carved a beautiful rut with my tyre. I got off and pushed it a bit further.

I had to find myself a bivvi site, and soon, there wasn’t much day light left. The first site I looked at was lovely and flat, not too close to the path, but when I looked at the big tree next to it, I realised it was a beautiful beech, I didn’t want to really camp under a beech tree, their propensity to get angry and throw limbs at passing campers doesn’t give you hope of a comfortable nights sleep. I pushed deeper into the woods.

I passed into an area of Chestnut Coppice. The stools were large, and the trunks were quite thick, a good 8″ or more in diameter. I found a flat spot. This would do the trick. I checked my phone, 6 minutes to sunset.

Normally I would sit and have a cuppa before putting up the tarp and rolling out the bivvi bag, but there wasn’t time, I wanted to get things up while I could still see. Looking at the terrain, I worked out where I wanted to put my bed. The nice flat bit, just the right length. I did a little naughty gardening with the potty trowel, removing a pair of bramble plants, so they wouldn’t puncture my bed. I planted them a few meters away.

Next I had to string up the ridge line. This is where I realised that my spot wasn’t as ideal as I had hoped. The axis of my tarp would run from one tree, to between two others. It’s hard to attach the ridge line to free space. This would require some creativity with the knots.

Eventually I rigged up the ridge line between 3 chestnut stools. I had an Evenk hitch at one end, a Bowline on another, then tightened it all up with a truckers hitch. I’m pretty sure it’s not a config that’s in any of the books, but it worked.

I threw the tarp up quickly, it wasn’t forecast to start raining until tomorrow lunch time, so I was using the tarp for concealment more than anything else, I quickly aborted my planned A pitch, and put it up 90° across the head of my bed, pitched low to the ground at the back, but high enough to sit up at the front.

I rolled out my bed, inflated the matt and sat on the bivvi bag. I’d done it! Twilight was giving way to night, and the moon was shining down from above. I put the kettle on. It was so still that I didn’t need anything by way of a wind screen on the stove. The flames rose true and vertical. This is when I realised there was one item I had forgot to pack. My pot lifter. Adapt and over come. A carabina, stick and cycling glove allowed me to get the pot off the stove without burning my fingers.

I snuggled down into my sleeping bag, steaming cup of tea in my hands, and surveyed the moonlit woodland. Beautiful simple pleasures. I sent a beacon message on my phone so that those watching it would know I was safe, before switching it to airplane mode and hiding it in my sleeping bag.

Snuggled in a warm sleeping bag, sipping tea, and listening to the owls. What better way to spend a Friday evening?

Warm and content, I drifted off to sleep, to awake what felt like an hour later, but turned out to be 0038. The owls were quiet. But the moon was even brighter, joined by a few stars. There was a high hazy level of cloud cover meaning that only the brightest of stars shone through. I had brought with me a couple of LWWF pouches to eat for dinner, but didn’t feel like cooking, so ate some cookies, enjoying the moonlit peace.

My alarm went off at 0700. It was daylight, the hooting owls of the night had been replaced by the songs of birds. I hit the snooze button and lay back to listen to the wildlife. Over the next 3 hours of hitting the snooze button. The wind picked up a bit, the songs of the birds were joined by the clatter of trees knocking against each other, the chatter of triffids.

Hours before the met office had said it would arrive, the first drops of rain resounded against my tarp. I rolled over, pulled my backpack under the tarp, and hit the snooze button. I was too warm and comfortable to leave just yet. Five more minutes…

The sound of rain on the tarp became more and more insistent, I could ligger no more. I was going to have to leave my safe warm sleeping bag, and venture into the cold.

Packing up didn’t take very long. I soon had the bike all loaded up ready to go. I pushed the bike through the under growth back to the path. In the clear light of day this section of the path was wet, but looked to be firm. I could ride it.

When the Brompton bike was invented, it was envisaged as a commuter bike. To cycle to the station and back. Something for suit wearing commuters. It’s fair to say that off roading down stony slippery woodland hills was not in their use case. For a commuter bike, the Brompton coped admirably. I descended the hill, gripping both brakes as I went, trying to seek out what little bits of grip were available. Avoiding the big logs and giant flints that littered the path. WOO! It might not be designed for this, but by eck was I enjoying it. Weeeeeeeeeeeeee.

I launched out of the woods into a downland field. Where upon I promptly ground to a juddering halt. Sinking into the soft mud, I had to get off and push. Across the muddiest patch, I tried to cycle again, only to quite literally get stuck in a rut. It was just like the one I had been walking along on the North Downs Way 2 weeks earlier, only this was deeper and narrower. I tried to turn my pedals, but they hit the sides of the rut. Bah. I got off and pushed again. A few more yards and I was back on firmer, yet slippery ground. It was off camber, grassed, and wet. But firm enough to cycle. I slipped and slid down the path, riding the brakes as much as I was able to pedal. Descending with the bike about 30° to the straight on. I was having too much fun, and like all good things, it had to come to an end. A drive way and roads awaited me. This might not be as fun to ride, but it would at least allow me to eat up some miles. Head down and pedal.

The ride wasn’t going to be down hill all the way ( both literally and metaphorically), there were still a couple of stings left to bite.

The first was a hill. Down the gears, I ground my way up. I managed half way, before concluding it would be easier to push. I neared the crest where the gradient eased, and got back on to pedal. Now it was down hill all the way.

Hitting 30+kph, I cruised down the hill towards the village of Chartham, where I planned to join the river side cycle path (NCR18) all the way home. Having built up all my speed, I had to lose all of it with the 70° turn at the bottom of the hill. I settled into a sedate plod along the river.

Being that the cycle path along the river is designed by people with no real clue about cycle infrastructure, what should be a flat easy ride through pretty countryside, isn’t It is punctuated along it’s length by giant puddles (it’s built in places below the river water level…) and the most brutal cattle grids around. Hitting a cattle grid at 20, on a fully laden touring Brompton is not a pleasant experience. When the path was build 9 cattle grids punctuated the 5km between Canterbury and Chartham, two of them within 10 yards of each other. Fortunately 3 of them have been removed, but the 6 that remained gave a bone shaking jolt to an other wise calm ride.

Past joggers and dog walkers, I rode into Canterbury. As I climbed the gentle rise into my road, it hit me. I’d done it! I set out to have a night out in the woods, to cycle 24km home from work. I’d done it! After the failure of my NDW walk. It felt good. No injuries, no need to call for help. No tears, no pain. Just fun, relaxation, exercise, and owls.

Spreading the damp kit across my flat to dry out, a cup of tea in hand, I pulled out my maps and started to plan where to go next.


This post was originally posted on the Bushcraft UK forum.

 

ADVENTURE: Compact country, compact bike – Cycling the Ardennes on a Brompton.

Where does the adventure begin? When you leave the house? When you stop off the train? or when the idea of the adventure enters your mind?

This adventure really begins on a Bridge floating upon the Lac de la Haute-Sûre, Luxembourgs largest lake. It’s October 2014, and I am here with some friends to scout out locations for an event that we are organising in August 2015. Standing looking up at the mountainside covered in vibrant autumnal colours, I knew I would have to come back and spend more time here, to explore it better. Later that day I picked up a 1:20000 map of the local area, and work began on a plan.

I had to be in Wiltz for the weekend in April for some planning meetings for the event in August. A plan started to form to arrive in the country a few days earlier and hike through the beautiful landscape of the Ardenne, to arrive in Wiltz on the Friday, wild camping as I went.

Hours with paper & electronic maps, and bus timetables resulted in a route for a 53km walk from near the border with Belgium to the centre of Wiltz, over about 48 hours. Alas, the first casualty of every engagement is the plan, and this one never even got as far as contact with the enemy. As I lay in agony following my aborted attempt at the North Downs Way, I realised that hiking 53km through the Ardenne was going to have to be put back in the crazy plans folder for a later date.

This still left me with the time booked off work, and the hope of a few days exploring the Ardennes. Walking was out the question. But cycling, that doesn’t cause the same foot pain. The plan reforms.

Day 1
Route: Luxembourg centre to Luxembourg centre
Status: Everything’s beautiful
Distance: 33.18km

April finds me standing outside Luxembourg railway station with a loaded Brompton. I’d got here by a combination of ferry to France, 40km bike ride to Belgium, a train journey, a night on a friends sofa, a lift to Brussels Zuid, and a train to Luxembourg. Just to get to the start line of my adventure.

I’d been expecting that early April in the Ardenne was going to be on the cool side, maybe 5-10°C. I’d dressed accordingly. The sky was blue and the sun beat down. This wasn’t quite what I had expected or dressed for. I had a rummage in my bag for the sun block I knew was in there somewhere. Sun block in April. Something wasn’t right. But dressed all in black lingering here is getting uncomfortably hot, time to hit the road.

What isn’t clear from the maps I had used to plan this leg of the journey, is that Luxembourg City is located around a steep sided valley. The station is around 280masl. The cycle route I had been intending to pick up was located 40m below me. This wasn’t right, I’ve only gone 300m and already the route plan isn’t working. Adapt and overcome. I took the next turning that looked like it was going the right way, following the road down through tight hairpin bends. The roads where cobbled, with eratic camber and in places large wheel eating gaps between the stones. I slalomed between the bemused tourists heading down.

More by luck than judgment I reached the level of the cycle route I was aiming for clattered down the gears, and headed off out the city.

I knew the first 10k or so would be relatively urban and it would take a while to get out the city and into the countryside. Well that’s what I thought. Luxembourg city, whilst a Capital, is smaller than Cambridge. It didn’t take me long to leave the cobble streets behind, and follow the river past market gardens into the countryside.

I had planned for a shorter first day, to ease myself into the journey, and not over do it. Alas, my unintended 40k ride the previous day meant that this was something I was more greatful of than I had expected. I followed the signs along the river and railway line.

The trees along the river were adorned with mistletoe in quantities I had never seen before. In the UK mistletoe is something I associate with old orchards, and had not really consciously seen it else where. Yet, here, along the banks of the Alzette, nearly every tree was covered.

Mistletoe covered tree

Mistletoe covered tree

I continued on in the afternoon sunshine, following the signs for Piste cyclable de l’Alzette. The sun was shining, the sky a brilliant blue. I was enjoying myself. So much so, that I forgot to follow the signs, and took a slight diversion up a farmers driveway. Slightly embarrassed by this 1km detour, I returned to the route and continued on.

I wasn’t alone on the cycleway, many families were out to enjoy the sunshine, as were a seemingly endless number of Lycra clad road cyclists. Each smiling and saying hello (I think that’s what they were saying) as they cycle past.

I had expected the path to be made from hard packed dirt, like many of the traffic free sections of the UK National Cycle Network. What I hadn’t expected was some of the smoothest tarmac, and neatly concreted path I’ve ever cycled on. This meant I could make good progress, and maintain a high speed. For one flat section, I managed to hit 30kph, pedalling flat out. Not bad for a Brompton with Luggage.

I stopped after 15km at a tap, hoping to fill my water bottles up. Alas it hadn’t yet been turned on. I’d have to continue on with the water I already had.

The water tap I found (turned off)

The water tap I found (turned off)

When planning the trip, I had noticed on Open Cycle Map that the Geographic Centre of Luxembourg was marked. It would only add a couple of km to my route to visit it. When I then found out that there was a geocache located here, the detour was on. 24km after leaving Luxembourg I left the cycle route, and headed up hill. I managed about 0.5km of up hill cycling before admitting defeat and getting off to push. I climbed from 215masl to 283masl over just over 1km.

It's going uphill

It’s going uphill

This was the first real up hill I’d done since leaving the UK, at this point I didn’t know how much the up would continue.

Road sign about cavalier cyclists

What about cavalier cyclists?

The sign on the road made me wonder about cavalier cyclists…

As well as the first hill, this was also the point where I entered woodland for the first time. Spring was in full swing, with wood anemones in full bloom. The birds sang. Heaven.

I stopped off at the Centre of Luxembourg, and did a spot of geocaching. The log was soaking wet so I couldn’t sign it. I rehid the cache, and took some photos. 26km after leaving the Centre of Luxembourg, I had arrived in the Centre of Luxembourg…

Geographic centre of Luxembourg

Geographic centre of Luxembourg

Time was marching on, I had just over an hour of daylight left. It was time to start hunting for a bivvi site.

I had planned to bivvi somewhere in this woodland, but as I was feeling still fit and able to cycle, I wanted to eat up a few kilometres from tomorrow’s distance, and maybe camp near the river.

Alas, as I cycled on for a further 7km, it was apparent that somewhere flat and secluded to put up my tarp was going to be hard to find. Eventually with light fading fast, I had to accept the best option that was available, I climbed down a very steep bank by the side of the cycle path, and into a small plantation of pine trees. It wasn’t the ideal position, less than 10m from the cycle path, only a hundred yards or so from the motorway, and a similar distance to the railway line. Beggers can’t be choosers. I folded the bike, and covered it plus all the luggage with my flecktarn poncho, then sat under a tree waiting for sunset. I didn’t want to draw too much attention to my being here, so didn’t want to setup camp while there was light for people to see what I was doing.

After half hour of listening to the birds, I was happy enough that noone would spot my position. I strung up my tarp, inflated my bed, and crawled into my bivvi bag.

Day 2
Route: Luxembourg centre to Lac de la Haute-Sûre
Status: Everything’s uphill… even the down hill bits.
Distance: 45.23km

My camp

My camp the first night

It’s becoming a bit of a running joke in the Kent Bushcraft group that I sleep better outdoors than I do at home. So it’ll come as no surprise to them that I woke up just after 1300. Oops. So much for rise early and get on the road.

I was quite pleased with how tidy my camp was, considering I’d set it up in the dark by touch. It took me far too long to pack it all up.

While packing up, I explored the area where I had camped. It seems that a beaver had taken a liking to one of the pine trees and made an enthusiastic attempt at felling it.

signs of beaver

Signs of beaver?

Camp packed, I returned to the cycle path. Slicing my hand up nicely on the brambles in the progress.

Having overslept, and then dawdled too long in breaking camp, my planned long day leisurely cycling up to the lake would have to be a bit more hurried, with less stopping. I knew the day would involve a fair amount of up, so wanted to make the most of the flat that I had to eat up those miles quickly. But before I could do any of that, I needed to do something about water. I was down to my last few mouthfuls of the 2L I left the train with the previous day. I had hoped to use streams, but with the fields full of tractors spraying gnu only knows what on them, I didn’t trust any of the streams. This was compounded by the maps I was using using the same symbol to mark a spring, as an ornamental fountain. I would have to rely on man made watering holes for this trip. Or as the rest of you call them, bars.

I stopped off at the first open bar I came to, in the village of Colmar-Berg, under 3km from where I camped. I bought a coke and asked the bar maid if she could fill my water bag up. She seemed kinda bemused by the weird Brit with the plastic bag, but filled it up anyway. I sat on the step outside the bar filtering the water into my bottle, sipping my coke, and nibbling on a pack of cookies. In glorious sunshine, in beautiful countryside I was content.

Back in the saddle I followed the cycle route out of the town, and into the countryside. The path would follow either the river or the railway line for much of the day, initially this was close enough to benefit from the relatively flat terrain, but as I passed the 7km point the route turned away from the river to cross a hill before decending to rejoin the river in Boevange-sur-Attert. This would be the first significiant climb of the day, rising 50m over less than 1km. After a few hundred yards of peddling, I got off and pushed. I wanted to make good time, but I also wanted to enjoy the landscape I was travelling through, so didn’t really mind too much as I pushed the bike passed freshly felled and replanted softwood plantations. The lack of shade resulting from the recent felling meant that I was cooking in the spring sunshine. I started to question just how wise my choice of clothing was, given the all black colour scheme seemed to maximise passive solar gain.

Throughout my time in the Ardennes, one thing (of many) that struck me were the plethora of neat stacks of logs. Nearly every house had one, and I passed many yards where multiple stacks of wood lay seasoning. As I reached the crest of this first hill, a neat stack of wood between two trees caught my eye in the sunshine.

Neatly stacked wood

Neat wood stack.

The first hill also gave me the chance at the first descent. I cruised down the hill into Boevange-Sur-Attert.

Leaving Boevange-Sur-Attert I rounded the corner and looked up at a climb. My exclamation was loud, and not really printable. I was about to start in 1st gear on the long slog, when a sign caught my eye, and I realised that the path didn’t go up the hill, but instead returned to following the river. Phew.

The next few kilometres I passed through stunning scenery and sleepy villages. I had hoped to find a village shop somewhere where I could grab a couple of mars bars, or a bakery I could get some bread. As it happens, in my entire time in Luxembourg, I wouldn’t see a single food shop until I reached Wiltz at the end of my journey. On the plus side, if I had wanted to buy decorating supplies, nearly every village had a shop selling those…

I passed through gently undulating terrain, surrounded by fields that seemed greener than those back home. I passed through Useldange where I raided another bar for a diet coke, and a litre of tap water. From here the path maintained it’s upward tendency for the rest of the route. I wouldn’t get any real down hill again until I passed the highest point of the route, 518masl near Rambrouch.

It’s common to lump Luxembourg in with Belgium and the Netherlands, as the low countries, the BeNeLux. As such we think of them as flat, or at least not really a hilly place. Until you try to cycle in Luxembourg that is. I made a final water stop at a bar in Redange before starting the hard slog up over the 5km up onto a what felt like a high plateau. The view from up here was amazing, but the effort of ascending from 208masl where I woke up, to the eventual height of 518masl was a killer. Large sections of the journey were done in first gear at barely 7kph. Slowing grinding away up the hills. In many places I had to get off and push, or simply stop to let my legs recover. The view from the top was worth it.

The view from the plateau

As I reached 495masl just outside the village of Rambrouch, I looked at my planned cycle route, and it’s descent to 474masl before it climbed to 504masl, and looked on the map at the slightly longer road, that maintained a steady gradient, and took my first detour from the plan.

On a route like this I try to keep to a policy of plan your ride and ride your plan. I am on my own typically, and if something happens, the only way that help will arrive is due to a search being triggered by a friend following failure to contact them at set times. If I’m not on the route they think I’m on, then a lot of time could be spent searching where I’ve never even got to. I reasoned that on such a quiet but large road through a village, the risk was worth it.

Passing the highest point of the trip, 518masl I could relax a bit with some downhill, eating up some distance. I flew through Koetschette, and down the country lanes, past some very startled highland cows in one field, at 40+kph. The sun wasn’t far off setting, and the sudden 40kph wind chill coupled with the drop in solar gain, meant I was a bit chilly. I didn’t care. After the climb, the descent was worth it.

Arsdorf took the wind out my sails somewhat by the discovery that I had another 50m of altitude to climb. I dismounted and pushed.

The end of the planned ascent for the day was marked by passing under the N27. From here it was a nice downhill round sweaping curves, cambered hair pins, and long straights. Sure the 51.5kph headwind was chilly, but I didn’t care. The descent was amazing, and terrifying in equal measures. As the speed built up I tried to swear loudly, but only the F came out. For the record, 51.5kph on a Brompton is every bit as terrifying as you think it is.

A thought occurred to me as I hurtled down the hillside – These are the original brake blocks that were fitted when I bought the bike 8 years ago…

I screeched to a halt just before the bridge over Lac de la Haute-Sûre. This was my planned end point for the day. All I had to do was find a quiet flat spot to bivvi, and I would be done. The sun had just gone behind the hills. It was all going to plan.

I took the path along the lake hoping to find a flat spot in the trees that I could roll out my bivvi. What I found were foot prints.

Boar print?

Boar print?

I wasn’t sure if the prints were Boar or not, but their presence, made me not really want to sleep here. As it happens, the only flat land was the path, I would have to come up with a better option. I mounted up and crossed the bridge to the north side of the lake. The map showed potential in the woods on a headland that jutted out into the lake. What I hadn’t quite realised from the map was just how steep the terrain round the lake would be. I had expected there would be a few meters of flat land around the lake, and I would be able to sneak my bivvi in somewhere there. This wasn’t the case.

My following of the road along the lake brought me to a weir and a deadend. The weir had a substantial drop on it, including an overhang. This, along with another weir I found later, would put pay to any thoughts I had of a future trip pootling around on the lake in a canoe… there is no way to portage around this one.

I retreated up the road to another road marked on my map. Reading the map in the twilight, it looked like it was a short hop up the side of the hill to a road at the top. Late in the day, with fading light, hungry and worn out. I made my big error. The path goes up the side of the hill at something approaching a 50° angle. It’s wide enough for a bike, or wide enough for a person, but not really wide enough for a person pushing a bike. The surface of the path started off reasonable, it was a hardpacked ground that allowed me to get the first 10m of height gain relatively easily. It got worse from then on. Rocks, roots and mud made up the path. The articulation of the Brompton started to work against me, upon pushing up against a root or rock, the front wheel wouldn’t pass over it, and the bike would try to fold up. Time and time again this happened. I sat down to catch my breath and admire the view.

It was apparent that I wouldn’t get up this hill with this technique, so detaching the bags from the bike, I shuttled first the bike, than the bags, 10-15m at a time up the slope. In hindsight I probably should have turned back, rock climbing with a loaded Brompton is foolhardy at best, down right stupid at worst. But I by the time this thought entered my head, I was nearer the top than the bottom, and it made sense at the time to continue onwards. To do the 100m of distance to the top of the path, a height gain of over 50m took me an hour. So slow infact my GPS trace doesn’t think I was moving at all.

Uphill path and road

I took the path on the left…

 

Map

The path on the map looks so innocuous…

By the time I reached the top it was 2200 and I was damp with sweat, exhausted, and the land here was no flatter than the land nearer water level. I had to find somewhere, anywhere, to sleep, and do so soon. I turned on my bike light, which seemed to illuminate the whole hillside, and pushed on up along the road.

It’s marked on the map as a road, but in reality it’s a dirt track. Either side of which the hillside rose or fell at 45° angles. I pushed on up another 25m of altitude gain, where the trees gave way to fields, and the land started to level off. The absence of trees was a slight concern, I feel safer bivviing in woodland than in such obviously occupied land. But with little other option, I chose an area of land to the side of the road, where a digger had cleared it relatively recently, but long enough ago that the grass had grown back. There was nothing really to shield my position from view, I had to hope that the lightly used farm track was as lightly used as I thought it was. I made my camp entirely by touch, inflating my bed, setting up the bivvi bag, and brewing a mug of tea. I could see headlights on the other side of the lake, several kilmoteres away. It felt like I was on top of the world.

A friend had texted me to let me know the weather forecast was for a chilly night. Sitting on my bivvi bag on the side of a hill sipping my tea, I could see why. Not a cloud in the sky. I had an amazing view of the stars. I had written down the times of the ISS passes for while I was away in the hope I might see it. Tonight, laying in my bivvi bag, I watched as the ISS drifted across the sky some 300km or so above. It made the hard slog and gruelling climb worth it.

Drifting off to sleep with a sky full of stars is one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

Day 3
Route: Lac de la Haute-Sûre to Wiltz
Status: Everything’s hurts… and it’s all still up hill…
Distance: 17.77km

I woke in the early hours of the morning to see the sky in the east starting to brighten. I reached out of my bag to pull the hood round, and felt damp. I felt round a bit more. The outside of my sleeping bag was soaking wet. I touched the inside of my bivvi bag. It ran with condensation. I sat up. My bivvi bag crackled as the thin layer of frost that covered it broke up. While I’d slept the dew had settled on everything, and then frosted over. I hadn’t noticed snug and warm in my sleeping bag. I rearranged my pillow and went back to sleep.

I woke to beautiful sunshine, a dry sleeping bag and a dry bivvi bag. The early morning sunshine had dried off the worst of the dew. Just to be on the safe side before packing, I spread most of my kit out to dry in the sunshine, while I finished off a pack of cookies for breakfast. The view from my bivvi was as nice in the daylight as it was in the star light.

HIllside

The view from my bivvi bag.

Packing up this morning was a lot faster than the day before, and it wasn’t long until I was slowly cycling up the hill to join the road. I had a 3 potential plans for todays ride, depending on how I felt and how times worked out, in the end I opted for the shortest, most direct, and least hilly option.

I headed north towards my target destination, Wiltz.

As I cycled through the farmland and woodland twice I saw a large raptor. One was sitting in the top of a tree, and as I approached swooped down to land on the field. Another was flew across through a field as I as cycling along. The beauty of their controlled flight brightened my morning even further.

After a brief climb, I was able enjoy a short descent, alas, I wasn’t able to capitalise on the speed boost as at the bottom the surface turned to loose chippings and went through a 90° bend. Once again I pushed up the other side. This was another brief ascent, and once at the top I had 5km of descent to the Bavigne. This was a straighter road than the descent to the lake the previous night and I as able to utilise the speed more. I tried to break my 51.5kph record of the night before, but the best I could do was 51kph. Even trying to take a more aerodynamic position didn’t help. I’d obviously hit the point where friction was having a greater influence than drag. I enjoyed the descent non the less.

This was another brief ascent, and once at the top I had 5km of descent to the Bavigne. This was a straighter road than the descent to the lake the previous night and I as able to utilise the speed more. I tried to break my 51.5kph record of the night before, but the best I could do was 51kph. Even trying to take a more aerodynamic position didn’t help. I’d obviously hit the point where friction was having a greater influence than drag. I enjoyed the descent non the less.

From Bavigne would be the final ascent of the trip, 323masl at Bavigne to 483masl at Café Schumann. The 4km ascent would take me the best part of 50 minutes, and yet would be one of the most beautiful bits of country I went through.

up and up and up

It’s still all uphill…

Softwood plantations and hardwood woodland covered the hillsides, with small patches of pasture land here and there. At one point I came across a cabin by a small lake, with the ubiquitous neat stack of firewood and a couple of bee hives. It reminded me of so many I’ve seen on cabin porn.

Cabin in the woods.

Nice spot of cabinporn…

The uphill continued, the final leg into Schumannseck was perhaps the most brutal climb of the trip that wasn’t an actual rock climb. A dead straight road lined by avenues of trees. By now I was pushing the bike more than I was riding it, and this leg I pushed entirely. Tractors and lorries thundered past occasionally. All of them giving me plenty of space. I wonder what they made of the funny brit pushing the clowns bike up the hill.

Finally I reached the top of the hill, and crossed the main road to Bastogne. From here I felt like I was on the final leg. I eased the bike over the crest and started down.

My plan had been to hang a right onto a back road to Roullingen, before continuing on to finish my ride at Wiltz castle. But as I approached the turning I could see that this road would involve another climb. Worn out, battered, bruised and with sore knees, I decided to take the wimps route, and stuck to the main road for the decent into Wiltz.

I cruised down the hill at in excess of 45kph, overtaken only by a Porsche and a motor bike. It was down hill all the way, I wouldn’t need to peddle again until I reached the campsite at Kaul where I had a cabin booked for the weekend. In my excitement and with the slight shock at civilisation, I blew through a red light, fortunately the roads were pretty much deserted. I continued down the hill, as the decline eased off, my speed eased off as well into something a bit more reasonable as I coasted to the Bar at the campsite. The final sting in the tail was the flight of stairs upto the bar, and my hard earned meal and a bottle of Wëllen Ourdaller.

Postscript

Since leaving the UK I had done 140km, climbing over 1km, in 3 countries, spoken 4 languages, slept under trees, and under stars. What I had thought would be a pleasant ride through a picturesque part of Europe had become a challenging, yet rewarding journey. Sure I’m no Sarah Outen, but the trip has made me realise perhaps what is possible with a limited budget and a couple of days to spare. I’ve got to be in Wiltz again in August, and I’ll be arriving a couple of days early with a Brompton rigged up for touring. All I have to do now is decide on a route.