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.