Bikes, Beaches and Bivvying

The weather has (finally) begun to improve in the UK and after what seems to have been a long, wet and cold winter I’m finally getting out and getting some miles into the legs. Good job too as the bikepacking trip in May is now only just around the corner. Instead of the once a month preparation i’d hoped for, I’d managed only one bikepacking trip this year back at the start of January. Another midweek microadventure was required.

By this point last year I had already cycled over 2000 miles, fast-forward 12 months and that number hasn’t even ticked past the first thousand yet. What a difference! After my last post complaining about the weather, it took another two weeks for it to finally get out of single figures and feel like summer might be coming to lure me out onto the road. One Monday in April, with the infamous showers apparently absent, I jumped at the opportunity and cycled into work for the first time since January. It was on the ride back that evening, exploring a gravel track away from my usual commute, that I decided I needed some adventure (and bikepacking practice!). Soon.

So that night I hurriedly packed my camping gear onto the bike. The forecast for the following 2 days was good which filled me with hope, but failing at simple tasks like putting the bags onto my bike didn’t stimulate the joy that adventure should. I’d really hoped to have had more practice with the bags before our big trip this year. On more than one occasion now I’ve been stood stressing trying to attach a bag for a sleeping bag and another for a stove to the bike. The only saving grace, really, is that on the Outer Hebrides trip, there should be less time pressures to worry about.

On the way to work
On the way to work

The following morning I cycled to work as usual. Here I should make two points about the terminology “usual”. Firstly the cycling was only “usual” in route taken, I was significantly slower due to the added burden of food, shelter and rum (though good rum is never truly a burden). Secondly, given that I’d only cycled to work once since January, i’m not sure “usual” is quite the right vocabulary to use to describe my commute that day.

The plan had been hatched from reading Alistair Humphreys’ Microadventures book, the idea to leave work one evening, wildcamp and then head back to work the next morning, without setting foot at home. Senses recharged from a night in nature, if not recharged in the normal sense. My location was one that was inspired through a local Microadventure group on Facebook, their favourite beach location and only 15 miles or so from the factory. I set off in the afternoon with a playful tailwind, warm (but not overly-so) sun and a smile on my face. Taking some quiet back roads and gravel tracks where I could to escape the rush and noise of commuters heading home. I pulled up to a pub near the beach and relaxed to a pint, a packet of crisps and some solitude in the beer garden.

Beer Garden and Bike
Beer Garden and Bike

Soon the benches in the garden started to fill, somewhat as a reciprocal of the beer in my glass. My solitude and beer now consumed, I headed for the beach. Given that the sun was still warm and fairly high in the sky, the beach and it’s dunes were surprisingly quiet, only a few dog walkers for company. I cycled along some tracks in the dunes before dropping down to the sand to wander to the shore. In retrospect I should of left the bike by the dunes, even walking alongside it on the beach gave the drive-train a good covering of sand. Having spotted a seal bobbing in the water, I headed back to pick a spot to eat and sleep.

I soon found a nice spot, right on the edge of the grassy dunes, giving me sight of the waves and shelter from the wind. I cooked, drank rum and read my book until the setting sun caused the temperature to fall and reading to become difficult. Wrapping up in a jacket and sleeping bag and with my head-torch on I continued reading until the stars began to appear. Here I put the book down and relaxed watching stars, planets, satellites and even a few shooting stars as I finished the last drops of the rum.

Panorama of my spot for the night
Panorama of my spot for the night

This was the first night I’d spent in a bivvy bag (an Alpkit Hunka XL), I was content once inside and had plenty of room to get comfy. Waking a few times through the night I really got to appreciate the joys of a bivvy bag, literally sleeping under the stars. Unfortunately having picked up a cold at some point in the preceding days I had a broken nights sleep as the virus took hold. It was not going to be an enjoyable ride back the next day!

As the sky began to lift from black to blue to gold I sat up and made myself a morning coffee, quietly enjoying the serenity listening to the waves. I was upset to have to de-camp before the sun had properly risen, but I needed to get back to work and knew it wasn’t going to be a fast ride. But, as I cycled back through the grassy dunes and out onto the road at the car park, the sun just began to appear over the horizon. Perfect timing.

Sunrise at the beach
Sunrise at the beach

I eventually got to the office and the illness really started to dig in through the day, the ride home was particularly difficult, even taking it easy. The next day I didn’t even make it out of bed for work until 2 hours after normal. I’m unsure if camping wild for the evening made it worse or not. Mentally I felt better for getting outside for the night, though it was difficult to show your pleasure when you can’t breath too well. I’m hoping that it was just coincidence that I got a virus just before doing such a trip.

Thompson R300 on a woodland track
Thompson R9300 on a woodland track

So now the Outer Hebrides trip looms closer. A 2 week work trip that was meant to take place after the holiday, has now been moved to the 2 weeks before, meaning I have no time to prepare. Bike faults and stress of delivering the work project 4 weeks early have left me well in need of an escape. Hopefully Leah will be able to get everything ready.