Three Became One

It started the same way it usually does, a group message on BookFace asking if anyone was up for a wild camp at the weekend. The usual suspects duly replying and so the anticipation and excitement levels start to grow. The weather is not good but the forecast for the weekend looks ok.

By the end of the week three of us have planned for a ride out onto Dartmoor and a wild camp. I’m disorganized and preoccupied with the constant overflow from the day job, add to that my elderly father being unwell and I forget to pack until Friday morning before I have to ride to work. Luckily the bags are still packed from the last trip, so I just load it all onto the new Gypsy and ride to work. The custom bag I had made for the B’Stard frame fits with plenty of room to spare in the Gypsy’s main triangle and leaves room to keep the water bottle mount. I’ve added another bottle below the down tube and still have room for another two on the front fork legs if needed.

It rains on and off all day Friday, I make the most of a dry spell during my lunch break to shop for sausages and fresh bread for my dinner, oh and a couple of beers of course.

During the day one of the group backed out due to other commitments, so it’s down to two of us for the trip. That’s fine as we all use hammocks and finding a clearing where we can all get into is not always easy. As I leave work the clouds are gradually clearing and there is a promise of better weather ahead. I ride out to Yelverton on the edge of Dartmoor when I receive a message from my buddy saying his cassette has died and he won’t be making it after all, I ponder my choices for a while before deciding to go on alone. So three became one, and I headed out onto the moors in search of peace, solitude and a nice spot to camp. 

We have a favourite area in the woodland to the North West of Sheepstor, when I get there I find a group of teenagers already set up and smoking dope (which they desperately try to cover up when I rock up and say hi). I make sure I’m just intimidating enough to give them mild paranoia, smile to myself and go in search of somewhere peaceful well away from them. After looking around at a few potential but just not quite right sites I finally settle on a spot between three trees, it’s sheltered from the prevailing wind but still open enough to let the sunlight in.

After clearing away a few small branches I string my hammock and tarp up and then collect some rocks to surround my fire pit. I spend time collecting the driest twigs and branches off the ground, theres a lot here as there has been recent logging activity.

I’m always glad when I’ve cooled off from the ride and then changed out of my cycling kit and into my camp clothes, now I’m warm dry and comfortable, ready to settle in for the evening. first job is to get a pot of fresh coffee on the go.

I brought barbecue charcoal to cook on, it’s easier to get started and gives a good even heat for cooking. I arrange all the fire wood I have gathered beside my fire pit. I found some nice straight wet branches that I’ve cleaned up (they are going to be my cooking rack). I get the charcoal lit and open a can of IPA while I wait for the fire to warm up.

It’s pretty peaceful out here now as the shadows get longer, the last of the days walkers are heading back to their cars to head home. I’m pleased that I can’t hear the stoners up the hill, now the only sound is the wind in the trees and blackbirds singing.

As the fire warms up I arrange the wet sticks into a rack and lay out my sausages on skewers across them, the smell of the sausages slowly starting to cook makes me realize just how hungry I really am.

The IPA is going down really well, I remind myself I only have two cans for the whole evening and slow down trying to make the beer last a little bit longer.

While I lie on the floor beside the campfire with my sausages cooking, I listen to the sound of owls squawking as they work their way up the valley. It takes longer than I thought for the sausages to cook, the fire takes a long time to get to Full heat.

Now the sausages are spitting fat and it catches in the flames flaring likes small flamethrowers, I'm so mesmerized by the site that I almost let the sausages burn. I brought some nice crusty bread rolls with me and I break them open now ready to put my dinner in. There's nothing quite so rewarding as cooking your dinner on open fire in the middle of nowhere, this really is back to basics and I absolutely love it. It's camping like this that really grounds me, there's nothing quite like being alone in the woods with your campfire and you dinner cooking on it. I wish every day could be like this, just me, my bike and the Woods.

Life is never that simple and the reality of work always ends up getting in the way.

With the last of the evening sun nearly gone, I prepped my sleeping bag and all my clothes ready for the next day, I want to be sure that everything is sorted and tidied out of the way before the dark comes. There's nothing worse than looking to something in the pitch black and not knowing where it is. I check my sausages again, then nearly cooked so I turn them over a couple times, get my bread rolls ready and open my last can of beer.

In the distance I can hear owls coming up the valley, from the sound of it I'm going to have company tonight.

After finishing my dinner and the last of my beer I start making preparations to bed. I've been drying out more firewood around the edge of the fire which I had low deliberately so that I didn't burn my food. Now I start to add a reasonable amount of wood and build the fire up, is not long before It's roaring away.

I lie down beside the fire and staying its warmth for another hour or two all the time listening to the owls as they get closer and closer. I carefully stack the fire so that nothing will fall out during the night and get into my sleeping bag on my hammock, zipping the hammock up and leaving it just my head sticking out. I can now see the moon as the clouds start clear and the stars are shining brightly.

I gradually drift off to sleep with a gentle breeze stirring the hammock in a gentle rocking motion. I must've slept deeply, as I'm awoken with the start, there is an owl sitting on a branch just above where my hammock is tied on. I watched the owl for about an hour as it flew from branch to branch calling to other owls that gradually made there way into the little clearing, each of them are adding to the cacophony of sound that now filled the woods. I eventually got back to sleep and had probably the best nights sleep that I have had in a very long time.

When I eventually woke up, the sun was already up and I could hear rustling beside my sleeping bag. I carefully peered over the edge only to find a grey squirrel sitting on the grass beside me gently pulling grass fronds, And shaking the seeds out of them. The squirrel was completely oblivious to me, and I watched it for some 30 minutes or so before I eventually got up and started getting breakfast and coffee on the go.

I take my time packing up the camp making sure that I have picked up all of my belongings, when I have my bike fully loaded and all my bags packed, I spend another half-hour cleaning up the site until there is no trace that I was ever there.

It's Saturday and the day of the local village fair, so I ride down my favourite track called Banana run. It's a steep twisty singletrack that drops from the top of the reservoir all the way to the river below, the weight of the bike with all the camping equipment giving me extra speed as I fly down the whoops and swoops before crossing the river and heading for the track that takes me all the way into the village of Meavy.

After the peace and solitude of the moors and woodlands I am now bombarded with the noise of a village fair in full swing. It's not long before I find my friend Sam and we lock our bikes together before heading for the bar. We are here to cheer on our friend Paul who has entered the Meavy Horseshoe run. We drink beer and eat burgers and chat and mingle as more friends gradually arrive, the race has already started and we are here for the finish. We cheer on as the first runners come in, it's not long before Paul crosses the line and we celebrate with more beer. I decide to cycle home while I can still stand, as the beer has been going down very well. I of course take the long way home and enjoy those final minutes on my own just me and bike. It's on this final stretch of the ride home that I realize my Gypsy has become my best friend. I hope there will be many more adventurous with this fantastic bicycle.

Follow Trev's adventures on his Gypsy and B'Stard on Instagram @bikepackingtrev and on the Penhale Facebook page @penhalebicycleco

New Hampshire #graveliswhereyouridenotwhatyouride

It's not like I needed to get away, Jenn and I were already "away", but the opportunity to explore around some of New Hampshire's lovely gravelly dirt roads was hard to pass up.

For someone who spent his late teens and early twenties ripping through a major metropolis delivering packages, I rarely enjoy riding the road any more. Not sure if it’s the lack of adrenaline or more likely my brain remembering the pain from meeting with a few thousand pounds of deadly speeding metal, but any chance of riding quiet back roads, dirt or that oh so fashionable road surface "gravel", makes me a happy camper.

When planning our East Coast trip, I was looking at a big multi-day jaunt to the Northern Rail trail, a 48 mile mixed surface route with another 150 miles of dirt travel back and forth to get to it. As my escape time drew closer, the threat of big storms plus a lack of fitness made me look for an alternate route.

I have a few websites that I use for adventure planning and exploring but one of the my new favorites is http://gravelmap.com/. Check out their site and you'll find a ton of dirt road rides to explore. When I saw the weather forecast I had to make new plans and when I dropped in my location onto the website map, up popped some glorious gravel back roads not far from my mother-in-law's lake house on Lake Winnipesaukee, just south of New Hampshire's White Mountains.

Friday's weather prediction thankfully didn’t hold true and I didn't wake to thunderstorms and torrential rain. Instead the sun was shining, the skies were clear and my lakeside cup of coffee didn’t have any bugs in it.

Pedaling north from the lake, I was glad of my light set up. Including all my camping gear, food and water, my bike was still under 40lbs. The only issue I had was the incessant buzzing of my WTB Nineline's on the pavement, still it wasn’t as annoying as the buzzing of the slowly increasing number of bugs that seemed to be chasing me.

New England, New Hampshire in particular, is so very British but the clouds of mosquitos were doing their best rendition of my least favorite Scottish ballad, "Flight of the Midgeys" For those unfamiliar, the Scottish Midge is an evil little biting bug that loves to chase unsuspecting humans through the lowlands and highlands of Scotland, the mosquitos had obviously taken a correspondence course from them.

My first gravel was less than 6 miles from my start, a lovely rolling road, fast fun, well packed and most of all, quiet. Through the trees, glorious and green, I pedaled, not noticing the building clouds but noticing the days increasing heat and humidity, after all, this was New England in the summer. 90 degrees and somewhere close to 90% humidity, welcome to summer.

The air was so humid it was chunky, I wasn't breathing, rather taking bites of air. I know I'm a from a country where it rains a lot but having lived in the desert for the last 18 years humidity is something I try not to deal with. Pedaling up a climb, pouring sweat, I was passed by a long since retired jogger and his dog, yeah I need to train more.

As the rain started to fall so did the temperature. The big drops of water were enough to dissuade the mosquitos from biting but not enough to slow my ride. I'd like to say I was feeling refreshed but I just felt like I'd taken a warm shower with all my clothes on.

Gravel roads are wonderful things when they're made well, no big puddles, traction for days and for the most part, people avoid them in their shiny cars. Cresting the top of School House Road in Sandwich, I began think of lunch.

OK, so here’s the story, Earl Of Sandwich asked for some meat in between 2 slices of bread for lunch, or something along those lines - from that day forward we eat a meal named after him. So when you arrive in a place like Sandwich you assume that you might be able to buy said meat and 2 slices of bread concoction. Well, you'd be wrong. Yes there's an inn, closed. There's a yoga studio, no lunch. Pottery, got plates, no bread. Luckily I packed some Clif Bars!

Talking to the 4 cops hanging out in the center of the town I asked where the closest place for lunch would be. They all pointed back to where I'd started, err… no. I'd paid enough to get these 30 miles, I'll head down to the other side of Squam Lake, thanked the officers for their help and pedaled off in the opposite direction.

The map said the route I was taking required high clearance 4x4 vehicles and I was quite excited for a 6 mile trail run but a lack of calories had me a little worried. Dropping into the trail I found a smooth, crushed gravel surface that was probably pretty new. Rolling along at a good clip, passing an unnamed lake, watching fish jump for lunch, thinking a fly rod would have been a good traveling companion.

I rolled into Holderness and stopped at the first store I saw. They had amazing meats and cheeses. I selected a fine artisanal bottle of Powerade and was greeted by the snooty girl behind the counter asking if "that's all?". Yup, that’s all, I'm heading to the gas station grocery store for some fancy food.

Sometimes you camp, sometimes you just pass out at the side of the road in a ditch. I was lucky enough to find a deserted farm, big house, boarded up and a beautiful oak tree to camp under. I gathered some wood, cleaned a spot to light my fire and enjoyed the ambiance while being drenched in sweat with my friends the mosquitos. 

Sleeping under the stars is something I love, but something I don’t do often enough. I zipped up my bivvy bag, the mesh defeating the little angry bugs that were after my blood. A couple of cans of a really good local IPA and my kindle, staring at the stars, 

The sun rose and so did the bugs. After a hasty cup of coffee I packed my minimal load and rolled, relying on speed to avoid Kamikaze winged creatures. 2 hours of rolling broken pavement ahead of me, an afternoon of dangling my feet in the lake in front.

I'd dreamt of finding a nice place to stop and get a real breakfast, something meaty and terribly American, but the draw of fast route home and sitting with a good cuppa on the dock was too much.