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.