February BaM

By seeking and blundering we learn. — von Goethe

I thought the von Goethe quote to be quite apt, as I certainly blundered my way through my first Bivvy a Month trip. I spent the rest of January impatiently waiting for payday, so I could upgrade various bits of equipment and try and put some of the things I’d learned to the test.

I bought some Tannus Armour for my rear wheel, in the hope that it will stem the number of punctures I’ve been getting, especially if I hit another pothole. On strong recommendations from the Bearbones forum, I bought an Exped Downmat Lite to replace my old Ultra-lite Therm-a-rest, it wasn’t comfy twenty five years ago, so I’m not sure why I thought it would be comfy now. Finally I bought a bigger handlebar extension widget, not for fitting my lights to, but to hold the handlebar harness slightly higher, so it didn’t keep rubbing on the front tyre. 

Finally, I had the unexpected expense of buying a new front light, after my cheap Chinese one died when I was about to commute to work a few days before this trip. I was ready to postpone if it didn’t turn up in time, given that Storm Ciara hit on the Sunday, I’m glad it did turn up promptly.

All this expense meant I had no money left over to buy a tarp, or any other form of packable shelter. Wanting a bit more protection from the elements than just my GoreTex bivvy bag, I decided to head to a different nature reserve and another bird hide. This decision was made easier by the nature reserve having a toilet that’s open all the time and a pristine chalk stream, for refilling water bottles.

After a bit of dithering and repeated attempts to pack everything into my bags, I headed off at around a quarter to ten, which was a bit later than planned. I managed to fit a mug, spork, stove, gas canister, aeropress, porridge mix and ground coffee into my bags this time around, but left my Kindle and reading glasses behind. While the handlebar extension meant I could have fitted the front feedbag to the handlebar harness, it would have blocked my new front light, which I couldn’t fit it onto my helmet.

For some reason I’d managed to work myself up into a bit of a palaver before leaving. Lots of negative thoughts about the weather, the underlying conditions on the local bridleways and byways, but mostly of who might already be in the bird hides. Would I get there to find a bunch of yoof in the carpark, off their faces and up to mischief; would they see me and follow me to the hide to create more? It’s interesting how the human mind works and how easily you can talk yourself out of doing things, based on nothing but a few negative thoughts.

Once I’d pushed off from the driveway and started cycling, it was oddly liberating, like I’d been freed from the shackles of negativity. Just me, the noise of the tyres on the tarmac and the occasional crunch of a badly timed gear change. With nothing to focus on, other than the circle of light dancing just out of reach of the front tyre, it was a chance to empty the mind and focus on the repetitive action of turning the cranks and breathing in the night air.

Obviously this state of mild nirvana was shattered as I cruised up the road towards the nature reserve, only to see an occupied car sitting there with its headlights on. As close to the entrance as you could get without blocking it too, cue all the negative thoughts telling me how right they’d been.

I was soon at the hide though, which was a large, old, raised up on stilts affair, that is accessed via a narrow wooden stair. Once I’d managed to squeeze myself and the bike up and into the hide, it became apparent that it would be a somewhat breezy nights sleep, as along with there being no door, you could see the night sky through various gaps and holes in the walls and roof.

I’d brought one luxury with me this trip, a can of Thornbridge Jaipur, which I drank while getting all my sleeping kit out. The beer finished, I was soon changed into my thermals and nicely snuggled up in my sleeping bag. The local wildfowl took this as a sign that they should start honking and quacking like their lives depended on it. The racket continued sporadically throughout the night, from occasional outbursts, to full on mass panic take off and landings. 

The noise of the birds, coupled with other nocturnal crashings and bangings, plus the light pollution, lead to a pretty fitful night’s sleep. Unlike January’s bivvy, where I got colder as the night progressed, with my new Exped Downmat, I was toasty warm all night, even with a cool breeze blowing over my face. After what felt like an ages, it was ten to seven and time to get up and packed, before any twitchers arrived.

I boiled up a mug of water for my porridge mix and then another mug full for making coffee with my Aeropress. I sat eating the porridge, which would have benefited from some cardamom, ginger and nutmeg, and drinking the coffee, while looking out of the hide. Soon enough, it was time to put everything away and head off to use the facilities. 

I stopped for a chat with a photographer, who pointedly told me that he was quietly photographing a barn owl. I carried on, filled both water bottles up from the chalk stream, and wound my way back to the entrance. It turns out that there’s a stand pipe with tap, next to the toilet, so there was no need to dip my bottles into the stream for water; useful to know for the future, if I’m passing.

I followed what I thought were going to be quiet roads to Ashwell, where I wanted to check out a potential bivvy spot for later in the year. I’m glad I did, as it was behind a padlocked gate, that had plenty of barbed wire on top, so I’ll be finding somewhere else to sleep that month. As I was in Ashwell I decided to follow the Icknield Way riders route home. This was a chance to check out bits of bridleway and byway that are new to me, while the bike was fully loaded.

I didn’t quite stick to the exact route all the way home. I’d made a slight error with the GPX file, which saw my GPS trying to route me through a hedge and across the middle of a random field. The route also crossed a barren tilled field, which I didn’t fancy cycling across after all the recent rain, so I took a small diversion and bypassed it. I should also have bypassed part of the old Roman Road just outside Balsham. It was a total mud bath and I ended up dragging the bike for nearly a mile, as the mud was so thick, it stopped the wheels from turning.

Things I Learned 

Don’t let negative thoughts stop you.

If you plan to sleep in a bird hide, pick one that is as far away from the birds as you can get.

Porridge without spices is Bland, with a capital B, pimp your breakfast.

It’s really good to check out potential bivvy spots properly, if you have the chance.

Check your planned route for errors, it’s not hard to cross check against services like RoW Maps.

Cheap Chinese handlebar extensions that are meant for holding lights and GPS units, are not very strong. While it did hold the handlebar harness up for most of the trip, it failed when I tried to shift all the accumulated mud, by lifting and dropping the bike. I’ll have to investigate some heavier duty options, maybe even tri bar extensions like you see in ultra-endurance races.

It’s not a race, no one is checking your GPS trail for conformity, it’s fine to detour around stuff you think will result in type three fun.

Seriously, there’s no need to drag your bike along a mud bath of a byway just because that’s where your GPS tells you to go…

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