January BaM

Bird hide

As part of my desire for more adventures, I’ve decided to take part in the bikepacking Bivvy a Month challenge. In a similar vein to things like Run every Day, the clue is in the name, once a month, get out there on your bike and spend the night outside. The rules, as they are, are as follows:

  1. At least one night out during every calendar month … feel free to start any month you like, just as long as you tot up 12 consecutive months,
  2. A single trip taking in both the last night of one month and the first of the next, will count as two months if you wish – but you still need 2 nights out, just that they’ll be combined within a single trip.
  3. No paid for accommodation inc’ campsites or hostels. Bothies are okay.
  4. A bike must be involved – it’s bikepacking, the clue’s in the name … ‘Involved’? You really don’t need me to spell it out do you?
  5. Your own garden doesn’t count, although next door’s does … if you really must.

As I alluded to in my previous post, the only way to work out what equipment you need, is to get out there and get some experience. Then and only then, can you work out what works and what doesn’t. So I dug out some of my old mountaineering kit from the loft, namely my Gore-Tex bivvy bag, Thermarest and Rab down sleeping bag, then bought some bikepacking bags from Restrap to put them all in.

You can easily spend all your time preparing, accumulating more and more equipment under the false pretence that if you only had that other thing, then you’d be guaranteed success. At some point though, if you actually want to go on an adventure, you have to pack your bags and head out the door. On Friday night, at ten past ten, I headed out the door, into the unknown.

I’d picked an on-road route to the spot I’d picked for my first bivvy. While it would have been quicker and more direct to utilise some of the local bridleways and byways, I’d been suffering from a spate of rear wheel punctures, so thought that staying on-road, would be less risky. The spot I’d picked did require a short walk down a country footpath and then over a field. So it was with much anguish I felt my rear tyre deflate just as I was arriving at the point where the hike-a-bike was about to start.

Rather than fixing the puncture there and then, I decided to get to the bivvy spot and get set-up. I would then be able to fix the puncture immediately, or leave it till morning. I should have had a look at my potential bivvy spot during the day though, as in the pitch black, without using my head torch, I walked passed it, twice. I knew roughly where it was, I’ve cycled in the general vicinity many times before, I’ve just never gone to have a look at the actual site.

I decided not to use my head torch while walking across the field, as it turned out there was at least one abode that was much closer than I was expecting. So I ended up walking in slightly the wrong direction, following what I thought was a track that would lead me to the site. I knew something wasn’t quite right when I go to the other end of the field and a tarmac road. I could also see some flashing red lights on the other side of the road, which I decided not to investigate.

I backtracked across the field again, trying to stay close to the edge, as I knew this should take me to the site. I couldn’t follow the edge of the field for long though, as there was a fenced off section that forced me out into the middle. I still didn’t want to use my torch, as I could clearly see some sort of structure that was light up quite brightly. I wasn’t sure if this was a house, or someone else at the bivvy site. It was at this point I decided to stop aimlessly wandering around a field in the dark and head for Plan B, one of the bird hides at Wicken Fen. I still had to fix my puncture though, so headed to some picnic tables I’d seen about a mile away. I whipped the inner tube out of the rear tyre, but couldn’t find any holes, so swapped it for my spare and headed off into the night again.

I arrived at the bird hide without further incident and quickly got myself inside and set up. Off came the cycling kit, on went some old thermals, then into the sleeping bag. I’d decided to take a couple of luxuries with me on this trip, so read my Kindle for a bit while drinking a can of Thornbridge Jaipur. Eventually, I put everything away and tried to get some sleep.

It was surprisingly bright inside the hide, as none of the widows had any shutters, so all the light pollution from the local towns and villages seeped in. I must have slept, as I jerked awake a number of times, although it mostly felt like I just lay there, staring at the ceiling. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore, my feet were cold and the rest of me wasn’t much warmer, so I got up. I wasn’t sure what the time was, as the light level didn’t look like it had changed, when I checked my phone it turned out to be ten to seven.

The two main points of anxiety for me on this trip, were having enough water in the morning and access to a toilet. The reason I picked the original bivvy spot, was due to it having a composting toilet, the bird hide had no such luxury. Thankfully, the main toilet block next to the car park at Wicken Fen was open, I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise.  As I didn’t take my stove with me, it turned out I had plenty of water, which is just as well, as the cafe at Wicken Fen is being extended, so the outside tap wasn’t there.

Rather than heading straight home, the plan was to follow quieter back roads to Phoenix Cycleworks, have a coffee and some cake, then head home. Rather than cycling along the busy main road between Wicken and Soham, I decided to go off road. The fens are still waterlogged and while parts weren’t too bad, some parts were barely ridable, with the rear wheel spinning madly in the slop. One section was being sanitised, with two thirds of the width under a load of un-cyclable rubble, while the other third was ankle deep liquid mud.

Thankfully the rear wheel stayed inflated and I eventually rolled into Phoenix Cycleworks for my coffee, which hit the spot. Then it was simply a case of riding home around a load of the local villages so that my completed distance was just over a hundred kilometres. Thirteen hours, twenty six minutes after I left, I rolled back up the driveway and switched the cycle computer off, my first overnight adventure of the year completed.

Things I Learned

If you have a planned bivvy spot, it’s wise to also have a backup. I went back a few days later to find the spot I’d been aiming for, and to see where I’d gone wrong. It turns out that what I thought was a house, was the bivvy site I’d planned on using. So it must have occupied by a group, so it’s just as well I went to my backup of a hide.

I really need to investigate some tyre protection for the rear wheel. The number of punctures recently has been ridiculous.

One thing that kept annoying me during this trip, was the handlebar harness rubbing against my front tyre. I need some way of lifting it slightly higher, which might mean I can also fit the feed bag.

I need a better sleeping mat. I didn’t find my Ultralite Thermarest comfy twenty five years ago when I used to take it mountaineering.

It would be nice to have something hot before setting out. A coffee at a minimum, maybe some porridge, just something to warm the insides.