Looking for something a bit more interesting to do this year, Alpkit customer Sean Belson managed to pursuade partner Jane to go on a bivvy microadventure to see in the New Year!
As New Years Eve approached my wife Jane and I faced the yearly dilemma of what to do for the evening. A trip to the pub has not appealed for some years, maybe I'm getting old but being crammed in a pub with music too loud to shout over no longer holds the attraction it once did. I could stay at home, eat, drink and watch telly? Go to a friends house, eat their food, drink their drink and watch their telly? None of these were really getting me excited.
When I first met Jane some 7 years ago we had spent our first New Years Eve together at a local landmark, high on the hills (well 136m - but this is the Isle of Wight so mountains are a bit scarce) and with a panoramic view of the south coast from Bournemouth to Bognor Regis we watched dozens of firework displays. The only problem with this was that up until abut 11:30 the evening entailed staying at home, eating and not drinking, before driving out to the landmark.
So a plan was hatched that this year we'd cycle to the location instead of driving. This would take us about an hour and a half, so that would be some of the evening used up. But I wasn't keen on cycling back after midnight and having to weave our way back through the drunken revellers at half one when we got back to town. So the obvious solution would be to bivvy for the night and the return home in the morning. This would also have the added advantage of using up more of the evening packing the kit and loading the bikes. Despite never having been on a bivvy before I had always harboured a desire to emulate some of the tales of adventure I had read. Ours would be on a much smaller scale, with the ride only just over 10 miles each way, but this trip was not about how far or how fast, just about getting out an having fun. We already owned most of the kit we would need. Some like our PipeDream sleeping bags had seen regular use when camping, other items, including Hunka Bivvy Bags, which we bought some years ago at the Alpkit Stand at the Outdoors Show, were yet to be used in anger - I assume that laying in it on the front room floor doesn't count? I fashioned some bar harnesses for the bikes using 25mm webbing and various buckles and this would enable us to strap our sleeping bags to the bars inside some Airlok XTra Duals.
Jane, although keen, didn't fully share my enthusiasm for sleeping out. I assured her it would be fine. I'd take a tarp and this would keep the wind off, and the rain if the weather turned bad. In the week before we rode to the chosen location to check how long it would take, and also to scope out potential spots to spend the night. We agreed that we would take all of the kit, but that if the weather wasn't good or she wasn't comfortable with the idea that we could just ride home again.
When the evening arrived I couldn't believed how exited I was. Now I'm in my 40s I guess I should be too old for going mountain biking at night, but this only adds to the fun of our regular night rides, but to be going for a night ride starting at half 10 was new territory. We spent a couple of hours deciding on the final kit list, packing the bike bags and strapping them on, cramming the rest in our Gourdon 20’s and getting suitably attired for the ride.
As we rode rode through town on our way out we got the odd funny look from people wandering between pubs, but mainly it was a look of disbelief that anyone would be out on a bike at this time, and one which was loaded with kit.The ride out to the landmark is only just over 10 miles and mainly flat, so did not require much effort, even on my single speed. The only issue was that I had mounted my light on the bars next to my brake lever, as the usual central spot was occupied by my sleeping mat, but the mat cut off the beam and so I had limited light to the left me. I soon got into a wandering riding style which allowed me to see ahead on both sides as I weaved up the track. There a real sense of adventure being out on the bike in the countryside after dark, and every time I saw my kit strapped to the bars it made me smile knowing it meant I wouldn't be home until the next day. The final climb up a bridleway through some woods was harder then usual due to the extra weight, and the steepest section was too much for my gearing so required a push, but even this seemed more fun than usual. We arrived at out destination with 10 minutes to spare, donned our down jackets, broke out the hip flask and waited for midnight.
The fireworks started a little late, probably ten past midnight, but once under way we were treated to a horizon full of displays. After about 20 minutes of watching the fireworks the wind started to pick up, so we got back on the bikes and rode a short way to our chosen bivvy spot. We were only a few hundred meters from a road, but the slope of the ground meant we were tucked down out of sight, and out of the worst of the wind. Tarp up and bags out we were ready for the night. A quick snack of mini cocktail sausages (left overs from the Christmas) and we were ready for the night. Despite being a regular camper the fact that the front of the tarp is open brings a whole new feeling of exposure. Jane was worried someone might find us, after all wild camping is not actually legal where we were, but I reassured her that no one would be out here at this time of night. Who else would be mad enough to want to be on a hillside on New Years Eve?
Although it took me a while to get to sleep, a combination of it being my first bivvy and the sound of the wind on the tarp, I did have a good nights sleep. Jane found it harder to get to sleep, with the worry about being out, the wind flapping the tarp, the fact that her side of the tarp was on a slope - so we swapped sides, her nose getting cold etc. etc. but she did eventually get to sleep. Jane was still sleeping soundly when I had to wake her with the bad news that it was light so we'd better pack up. Despite being our first time wild camping we knew the rules; arrive late, leave early and leave no trace.
We'd be gone long before anyone else might happen to wander out for a new years day walk. With bikes loaded we headed off. After less than a mile we stopped at a bench we seen on the trip out, got out the Kraku stove and had a much needed cup of coffee. Warmed and ready we then rode the 10 miles home, seeing only the odd early dog walker. Once we'd filled the kitchen with piles of kit we baked some pastries made some more coffee and sat down to a well earned breakfast.
Living on the Isle of Wight we're a long way from Wales or the Lakes, and the time and cost of going there means our trips are few and far between, but on our micro adventure we learned that you don't have to go to big landscapes to have big fun. It's possible to have a fun where ever you live. As an added bonus we are no longer just mountain bikers, we can now proudly call ourselves Adventure Bikers, even if for now we're only micro-adventure bikers.