Phil’s been preparing for the Highland Trail race, a great big monster of a thing up in Scotland. I won’t be doing it, mainly because I’d get lost almost immediately and I’d need to live like a vagrant for a few days. Sleeping rough isn’t really my thing (which is why I bought a caravan to take to races as an upgrade to a tent) but seeing as Phil was going to try out his new fancy lightweight bivvy bag and sleeping bag, I agreed to go with him for a laugh.
I’ve not got any bike-mounted luggage apart from a small saddle bag to put a spare tube in, so while Phil had all of his kit neatly strapped to his bike, all my stuff – a ‘regular-and-not-very-light’ sleeping bag I bought from Winfields, a borrowed army-surplus bivvy bag, spare clothes, food, water, etc – had to be packed into a large rucksack with a large drybag strapped to it. It was heavy and stuck out a couple of feet so it moved around quite a bit if I didn’t tighten the straps but then if I did that the pack tried to sever my arms at the shoulders.
The plan was to ride from our house, take the numerous “behind the garages and up past B&Q” trails towards Rochdale, up through the council estate and meet up with the Mary Townley Loop. We’d ride along that for a couple of hours before heading south on the Pennine Bridleway and then camp out on Lantern Pike, a nice grassy hill near Hayfield. That’d be a few hours and 50-odd miles of very hilly offroad riding followed by a couple of hours’ kip and then we’d both set off home.
We set off around 8pm and while things early on were fine, the weight and lack of stability of my rucksack was soon becoming an annoyance. We rode on regardless and while the weather had been dry for a few days, the trails on the moors around Calderdale, Oldham and later on the Peak District still had quite a lot of melting snow on them, so at times progress was slow and/or very soggy. After 4 hours I was hitting the Ibuprofen to alleviate the pain in my lower back caused by the rucksack – by now I was considering slinging the damn thing over a wall and then riding home along the road….but if I did that and Phil was subsequently eaten by wild dogs I’d never forgive myself
Eventually we made it to Lantern Pike in the small hours of the morning and started to figure out how the hell to get ready for bed. I decided to just leave everything on and got into my bag(s) while wearing an insulated jacket and broke out the hip flask and a pair of Tesco Ultimate Pork Pies™.
I didn’t sleep. At all. I was constantly adjusting the bivvy bag so that I was either breathing in the cold air outside, or closing the flap and almost suffocating. Maybe I should have taken a snorkel.
In spite of the desperately uncomfortable luggage carrying and sleep deprivation and also putting to one side the obvious “Two 40-something lads sharing a brilliant mini-adventure like a pair of kids” side to it, morning arrived and with it came a realisation of why people do this. It’s not every day that the first thing you see is a magnificent sunrise over a dramatic Peak District landscape, after all.
Sleeping outdoors in the cold and damp in a glorified binbag suddenly made perfect sense and with some practice (and with more suitable kit) I reckon I could have another go at bivvying. Perhaps I’d even get a bit of sleep….