For a long time the talk in the pub round these parts has been about going out and camping/bivying for a night. Well finally I did it. It’s difficult sometimes to sit at work advising people on the best cycle parts for touring when all you knowledge is theoretical/passed down, so I decided that I needed to get out there an experience things for myself.
Now the medium term plan is that I really want to ride some of the North Sea Cycle Route through Belgium/Holland/Denmark and maybe Norway. However any journey needs to start with small steps, so after doing some long back to back day rides in the summer from friends house to friends house taking me from London to my parents in Dorset I needed to start to look at being more self sufficient on the road. The idea struck me that as time off is a bit of a luxury for me then I could cycle to my parents at xmas and camp on the way there.
So I acquired some kit and found myself suitably kitted out with a set of panniers, a drybag, tarp, guy ropes, tent pegs and bivy bag. A borrowed Thermarest and 4 season sleeping bag and it looked like I had every I really needed. So time to test out this stuff and do a dry run to see if it worked/learn the ropes. So this weekend I rode out into the dales with the aim to bivy overnight and return home the next day, either happy my future goals are achievable or deflated and shown my limitations.
Now as a cautionary tale I would not recommend getting drunk the night before embarking on a touring trip especially if you are unprepared and have to set up your handlebars and pack your bags drunk! I actually seemed to do an ok job but made sure that I checked all the allen bolts in the morning. I however did realise 10 miles down the road that I had packed completely wrong and everything I might need during the day was buried at the bottom of my panniers.
I set out with the club social and immediately it became apparent that riding a heavy bike whilst heavily loaded is hard work! There was also a head wind which made progress more difficult still. However although the social had to slow for me on occasion we reached Cav Pav and the first stop of the day. I figured I was going to need a lot of energy so had a vegetarian breakfast to keep me going. First stop done I then parted company with my club mates and started part two of my journey out to Grassington. This was where the route started to get more lumpy but generally it wasn’t arduous and with a 36×34 low gear the hills were manageable. The weather was generally ok, overcast with the odd glimpse of sun but with that wind still there.
Upon reaching Grassington I discovered that the vegetarian cafe was closed! Clearly a disaster but there is more than one cafe there so I again made sure I had a good feed, before the final slightly longer leg of the journey to Malham. I haven’t ridden the roads round there very much and it was nice to feel like I was going new places and discovering new routes. The hills were starting to get more challenging and a very poor gear shift half way up one resulted in me having to get off and push to the top. This wouldn’t be my only push of the day though and worse was to follow. I had decided I would ride up the Malham rakes to the tarn and then approach the cove from the back.
Problem number one was that Malham rakes is 20% in places! The first people I met going up were walkers who wished me good luck as I was riding at that point, when it started to get really steep I just couldn’t keep the pedals turning and so had to dismount and walk. The next people I met were a couple of horse riders who let me know helpfully that I was almost at the top! Naturally I thought the worse was behind me but I hadn’t allowed for the wind on the exposed top. Even though the road was a slight downhill I was finding it hard work and only achieving a speed of about 5 mph. Finally having made it to the top of the footpath it was time to get off the road and head towards the top of the cove. After getting my bike through a kissing gate (which was tricky) and across the initial flat start to the footpath there suddenly appeared a rocky downhill descent that I had totally forgotten about. Trust me I wouldn’t recommend it and it was tiring banging and crashing a loaded touring bike down the slope and then over the stile at the end!
Finally though I made it to the top of the cover and the limestone pavement, considering it was now 3:30pm I was amazed by how many people were about, although I think they were more amazed that I was there with my bike. After loitering about for a bit, everyone had moved on and left me to it so I set up camp before it got dark. It was quite windy still on top of the cove so I set my tarp flat and low which I thought was the best idea. However this meant that it was hard work to squeeze under it at night and I was pushed for space. In addition the wind dropped after a couple of hours and so I could have set the tarp higher to give me more space. When lying on my side at night my hip compressed the top of the sleeping bag into the bivy bag and then the tarp which gave a cold spot if I wasn’t careful.
So tarp/bivy set up, I settled down on top of the pavement to eat some food and drink a few beers. I was amazed that I had full mobile reception! It was better than it is in my house so I naturally got away from it all by enjoying the silence and wasting time on Facebook. I thought that having a few beers would be a good idea to help me sleep, however it did mean I had to get in and out of my bag a few times to pee which wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing. Beers drunk and temperature dropping I decided it was time to get into my bag and sleep. Thinking it was going to be really cold I had borrowed a 4 season down bag off of my friend and frankly it was amazing! I’ve been told that the recorded temperature didn’t below 7 degrees so it wasn’t as cold as I was expecting but in the sleeping bag I could feel my body heat being retained/reflected back at me. At times I was almost too warm!
I actually slept really well, apart from realising that when I slept on my side my hip pushed up against the bag as previously mentioned and created a cold spot generally I was snug. I also worked out that as the thermarest I had borrowed was a 3/4 length I had to position it right to retain as much heat beneath me as possible. A good sleep when camping always involves waking up though and in the middle of the night I found that the clouds had rolled in across the top of cove and so there was some moisture in the air. However the tarp/bivy bag combination kept me dry. As it was overcast though there wasn’t a sunrise as such and it just started to get lighter, this was a bit confusing one minute it was still relatively dark and 6am the next light and 8am! I had actually managed to sleep later than I had expected to.
I quickly packed up camp but in doing so realised that I had forgotten that even with just a tarp/bivy you have to allow for the fact that things are going to be wet even just from dew. A lesson well learnt though as I stupidly packed the wet tarp/bivy in with the thermarest so this was also wet when I got home. If I had been camping again for the night that would have been a real problem. So I need to remember to either keep them separate or find something that is fully waterproof to wrap the tarp/bivy in, in the morning. Camp packed up I sat on the limestone pavement and ate some breakfast, as I was doing this a farmer turned up hearding sheep and thankfully ignored me. Although I’m pretty sure I’m not the first to have wild camped there.
My route back away from the top of the cove was via the footpath back over to Malham rakes and to be honest this was the route I should have used the day before as well, it was pretty much the track that the farmer had come down 10 minutes earlier on a quad bike and so completely rideable (although a footpath so naturally I walked). After lifting bike and bags back on to the road I was ready to head for home. As I had overslept and was leaving later than I had expected I decided that rather than stop for breakfast in Gargrave I would just press on and take the direct route back. Fueled with Shot blocks and a bottle of Irn Bru from the garage in Ilkley I made good time and was home by lunch time.
Mission accomplished. I can see how if it had been raining setting up the bivy/tarp and keeping the sleeping bag dry (which is more important with a down bag) would have been quite hard, but equally I think the down bag definitely will be required in December when the temperature is likely to be much lower. So as a test I think it was a success and I definitely learnt some lessons and it gave me ideas on how to pitch the tarp better in the future depending on the weather.
‘Basha’ tarp from ebay
Alpkit Hunka XL bivy bag
Blacks down bag
Thermarest 3/4 length
Carradice Super C Saddlebag
Ortlieb Back Roller Classic
Alpkit Y beam pegs
Alpkit 5mm guy rope