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Sleeping outside in a waterproof bag doesn’t sound too appealing. Even less so when you have to get into it in the dark after a hard 7 hour bike ride on a wet bridleway in September. Nope, in a lot of respects, it’s not very appealing at all.
Speaking from personal experience, the chances of getting a good night’s sleep are relatively slim. If you find a perfectly lump-free and soft place to lie down you’ll have done very well indeed. The ride to the spot where you try to get some sleep will be difficult because you or your bike (or more likely both) will be weighed down with gear. You’ll “travel light” as best you can and you might even invest in some proper lightweight kit (not all sleeping bags are made equal) and luggage that shifts most of the weight from your rucksack to the bike but you can forget going fast. You might be cold and wet by the time you stop riding. And it might rain. Or worse.
But it’s still ace, and strangely addictive. The fact that you’ve left behind most, actually make that ‘all’ of your creature comforts, gone for a big ride, slept under the (billions!) of stars and then did another big ride to get home beats the pants off “went home, watched X Factor, mowed the grass, cleaned the car…” in the “what did you get up to at the weekend?” conversations that break out at work on Monday.
Sleep becomes easier to come by once you learn that you need to be absolutely shattered by the time you get into your bivvy bag and once you accept that you’re not going to break any speed records on a fully-laden bike, especially uphill, the ride becomes as enjoyable as any other ride.
Wanting to prepare for another multi-day wilderness race and promising to treat me to a pork pie, Phil persuaded me that an overnight bivvy somewhere in the Peak District in September would be a great idea. We met up on Rooley Moor Road and immediately my rear brake started to misbehave. My bike was heavy enough without having to ride it with the back brake on so we had to stop every so often to prise apart the sticking pistons.
We made reasonably good progress along the Pennine Bridleway, heading south towards the Peaks. At some point during the next couple of hours, my front brake started binding as well which meant that I was riding quite often with both brakes on….
Eventually, after seven or so hours of riding and pratting around with my brakes, we arrived at Lantern Pike, picked our spot, carefully arranged our riding kit so it wouldn’t be soaking wet in the morning and ate, chatted and wondered if the single-figure temperatures were going to be a deal-breaker as we both retired to our glorified binbags.
As it turns out, a good quality sleeping bag inside an equally-good bivvy bag is perfectly fine in autumn temperatures and as I lay there, various lumps and bumps in the ground preventing me from getting completely comfortable, I tried to take in the spectacular view of the cloudless night sky. I expect this is the best bit for many people – it’s certainly the best bit of the bivvying/bikepacking/mini-adventure experience as far as I’m concerned.
In the morning after what felt like a whopping 10 minutes sleep, we attempted to fix my front brake so that I’d be able to ride back along the bridleway in a bit more safety than yesterday. Within 20 minutes of fiddling with it, we’d made things considerably worse so I had to remove the pads entirely and rode home along the road with just a partially-functioning rear brake. Which was a lot of fun….