After finding our first planned option for an overnight camp in some woodland was fully walled in, with barbed wire all around and no gateway entrance, we’d cycled on to check out our second option – a deep valley leading up onto the moors. However, the wide track had led to a footpath and after pushing our bikes along here for a while, the abundance of midges, still air and boggy conditions underfoot gave us little choice but to retrace our steps. Sleeping near peat bogs and stagnant water might have been 5 star paradise for the midges but it was not my idea of a fun night out.
We now had a choice, carry on down into another valley to explore the options there, or turn and cycle a mile or so back to a large wooded area which we already knew. With the light fading, we decided to turn back. That way, if the worst happened and we still struggled to find a place to lay our heads, we could just turn on the night lights and cycle back home to our cosy bed.
Sleeping wild in the hills, away from the rest of the world, and getting there under my own steam had been my idea of a grand adventure for years. In my 20’s, I dreamed of buying panniers for my bike and cycling through France, living on croissants, french bread, cheese and wine. I never did get around to doing it (although it’s still on the tick list), but the dream eventually morphed into packing up a rucksack and walking into the hills to camp wild – preferably on a long distance multi-day walk.
After years of car camping, in 2015 I finally got my first bivvy bag and experienced camping wild. I loved it and before the year was out decided to have a go at a solo wild camp. Despite the lack of sleep (especially on the solo one), the fun factor was high and I craved more. Then I started noticing pictures of bike packing on Twitter – it looked brilliant, combining my love of mountain biking with my desire to sleep in wild and beautiful places – the ultimate freedom.
However, before I got around to trying it out, a big mountain bike accident disrupted any plans of adventures over the summer months (more in an old blog post here). By the end of August, I was cautiously back on my mountain bike but it was the lure of bike packing which really started to drive my desire to push through the mental barrier about crashing again. It was time to check out whether our existing kit worked on the bike.
Luckily, over the years we’d amassed a collection of dry bags and equipment. Modern innovation means that there are now smaller and lighter versions of many of our items, but for a first test we figured we could make it work. The plan was to cycle from home up onto the local moors, giving us a quick get out clause if we found that cycling with all the kit wasn’t working out.
Bikes loaded up, we set out – immediately noticing the heavier weight on both the bikes and our backs. However, the load was evenly placed meaning that our bikes still handled well and the only real adjustment was more effort through our legs to climb the hills to find our bed for the night.
Which brings me back to the start of this post!
Our search for an overnight camp struck third time lucky. As dusk fell, we arrived in an area of deciduous woodland where we hoped the midge population would be lower. A flat area set away from the track provided our best option yet and whilst we’d not found the most secluded place to camp, it was already late and we planned to leave at dawn before anybody would be out walking.
With the midges biting (yes, the pesky things were there too), we hastily made a brew and climbed into our sleeping bags.
Waking just before dawn, we loaded up our bikes and headed back home – arriving back with big smiles on our faces just as people were heading off on their daily commute to work.
So the verdict…..
Well, firstly, I loved bike packing – it gave me every bit of the fun, adventure and freedom which I’d expected. Our existing kit also worked well, but we now have ideas for upgrades which will make things better on future trips.
Secondly, bike packing seems to have become my focus for mountain biking since the crash earlier this year. The drive to have more of these kind of adventures is what pushed me to keep mountain biking when I struggled with the fear of crashing badly again. Whether I manage to squeeze any more bike packing into this year remains to be seen, but I’m looking forward to planning some trips further away from home.
On a final note, I’ve had a few people ask what bivvy kit we use, so here are the main items (obviously remember there are other things you need like like hats, coats, cups, tea bags, water, rucksacks, etc):
- Bivy bag: Alpkit Hunka Bivvy Bag https://www.alpkit.com/products/hunka
- Tarp: Alpkit (plus tent pegs, clips and cord) https://www.alpkit.com/featured/tarps
- Sleeping bag: Snugpack lightweight 3 season sleeping bag (now 13 years old) http://www.snugpak.com/
- Sleeping bag liner: Snugpack silk liner
- Stove: Alpkit Brukit https://www.alpkit.com/products/brukit