Time really does fly, doesn’t it? No sooner had I every intention of recording my year of microadventures than it’s nearly the end of April and a third of the year has passed by. Thankfully, I have been able to hit my target of a microadventure a month, if not present a wider audience – save for a few photos on Twitter – with the evidence.
So here’s a quick look back at my first three microadventures and some thoughts on what I’ve learned so far.
January – Easing into microadventures
Sleeping under the stars in January is probably not at the top of many peoples’ lists. I would include myself in that. But committing to a microadventure every month means you’ve got to bite the bullet and see off the worst of the wintery weather.
For January, and our first microadventure, we kept it simple. A day in my friend’s wood with the family, a roaring fire, a sumptuous sausage casserole and plenty of whiskey (once the kids had left for home of course).
What started with the prospect of being a typically cold night turned into a relatively mild six degrees with a covering of cloud moving in with a little rain. It actually proved to be the perfect blend of conditions for me to test out some of my new kit. My DD Hammocks hiker’s tarp (their small tarp) was good enough to keep the worst of the rain off me whilst giving the sense of part enclosure (and security) and part true wild man of the woods! My Thermarest Pro Lite did a grand job, providing a warm and comfortable base, while the Alpkit Hunka bivvy bag was great at ensuring what rain did come under the tarp didn’t make things uncomfortable. I’m using the standard sized Hunka and I must say it’s snug on me. Absolutely fine, but snug. I’m only 5’9” so I would have thought anyone knocking on the door of 6 foot would be well advised to go for the XL version; or even if you like a little wriggle room.
Given my fears of being cold and generally uncomfortable I slept pretty soundly. The morning also gave me the opportunity to try out my new Wild Stoves wood gas stove. What better way to deliver a bacon bap and a cup of tea on just a few bits of kindling!
February – an introduction to bikepaking
I don’t need much of an excuse to get on a bike so I was looking forward to the prospect of trying our first bikepacking experience for February’s microadventure. We kept it simple (if not light!) with a seven mile ‘bimble’ up on to the North Downs ridge. From there we scoped a few likely spots before settling on a location that provided the right blend of shelter and anonymity for us and our bikes.
Setting up camp was an experimental affair for both of us. Given how cold it was, it is something I wished I’d practised in the garden a few times prior. That said we got there in the end utilising the front wheel and the rest of the bike as anchor points for our tarps.
At this point I learned two things: Firstly, the limitations of my small tarp for this particular application – I had to settle for a 45 degree type shelter, whereas Andy was effectively able to construct himself a polytunnel from his 3×3 tarp. Secondly, my 16 inch Cotic Soul frame (which is faultless in its primary role) provides significantly less clearance than a large framed 29er! With tarps set, it was time to think about getting a fire going but not before a heavy hail storm rolled in and gave our camp a very wintery look and feel indeed.
Despite the night time temperature dipping to minus two degrees I was comfortable enough, thanks in the main to a decent sleeping bag, warm cycling bib tights and a down jacket. First light revealed the extent of the thick frost on my rather rigid tarp and I didn’t need much excuse to get the kettle going for a porridge pot and a cup of tea.
With a beautiful sunrise and a clear view across the valley to the Surrey Hills, nothing could quite beat that feeling of being at one with nature. Perhaps the only thing that came close to it was knowing that it was largely all downhill to home and in forty minutes I could be in a piping hot shower!
March – Spring in the air
March’s adventure was in stark contrast to that of February. Temperatures were pleasantly on the up, the sun shone (whilst it could), there was no wind and as a result we had (almost) only our bivvy bags between us and the night sky for the first time this year.
Our destination was even more local than before and on a site that Andy has frequented for around 20 years – a level plateau on a sloping hillside surrounded by dense Box.
There is something deeply gratifying about being cocooned in various layers whilst looking up at the stars in the night sky. It was a very pleasant night indeed. Not even the slight drizzle we had in the latter part of the night was enough to make things uncomfortable. I was conscious of my face being a bit damp as I drifted in and out of sleep but once again the Hunka did a brilliant job of keeping the rest of me dry.
The next morning was as much a contrast on the afternoon before as this trip had been from the chill of February. We woke to a damp hillside covered in mist providing little in the way of views. On the plus side it was still mild and whilst some porridge and tea was welcomed, it wasn’t with the degree of necessity we had had in the month before.
All that was left was to roll away our bags and sleeping mats and head back down to home.
The following thoughts have occurred to me during my first few microadventures.
- Surviving the winter weather wasn’t as big a deal as I was building it up to be. All that is really required is a high degree of determination and a sensible approach to layering. I’ve found my winter cycling tights and a merino top forms a warm initial layer, coupled with loose fitting thermal socks and a fleece and down jacket. Not to mention a woolly hat, gloves and a reasonable sleeping bag.
- Large bags or bin liners are perfect for slipping your boots or shoes in and your rucksack if it doesn’t have its own cover.
- The versatility of my small tarp does not extend so well to a bikepacking setting.
- That said, bikepacking is incredibly good fun and something I’m keen to do a lot more of over the coming months. It certainly alters the handling of a bike though.
- It really helps to know a few basic knots before you set off for the woods. Getting a taught ridgeline on your tarp is essential or simply ensuring whatever you’ve tied stays put during the night.
- I’ve yet to find an agreeable instant porridge!