Bike Exploration

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

Riding The Dream part 3.

Sunrise on the mountain was spectacular. I set the camera up to take a time lapse sequence. After a couple of minutes I noticed the lens making a lot of noise. The damp and cold had got to it, and it no longer auto-focused. It also made a nasty grinding sound when I manually focused it. I had killed my lens; it was over ten years old so bound to fail one day. My negligence had ended its days early, manual crunchy focus was all that was left.

We cooked our noodles and sausage, drank coffee and watched the sun rising, the trails ahead of us today were Radford, then the SART. We didn’t know how far we would get during the day so we had no plan for our next campsite. Our original plan should have seen us camping at Holcomb Valley, but our revised start point meant we’d passed there and camped at Big Bear. Well, we would find somewhere. We packed and started the decent off the mountain. It was fabulous to be going downhill for a change. The surface kept trying to catch us out, it would change suddenly from hardpack dirt to talcum powder soft dust with the odd sharp edged rock thrown in for good measure. 

It didn’t slow us down until near the bottom of Radford, Andy picked up a puncture at speed. He safely managed to wrestle his heavy bike to a stop, after finding the hole and letting the Stan’s fluid pool there for a bit he pumped it up and we headed off again. We picked up the highway at the end of the Radford trail; Andy’s tire was flat again. The sealant hadn’t held, after removing the tyre he found the split was bigger than he first thought. A quick patch, some fresh sealant and we were on our way again. 

After miles of wide dirt roads it was heaven to be on narrow twisting single track, the Santa Ana River Trail was fabulous as it twisted and turned. I loved it, I loved it so much I forgot to stop and take pictures. We were way to busy having a great time; this is a real gem of a trail as it hugs the contours along the side of the canyon and gently drops leaving no real need to pedal for probably our first 30 minutes of riding. After a few miles my grin disappeared briefly, I’m not good with heights, in fact I’m crap with them, they scare me senseless. 

So as I come around the corner and the track narrows to a few inches wide, I notice the drop to my right, the uninterrupted drop to my right, the one that just goes on and on. Andy is oblivious and just carries on flying down the trail disappearing out of site. I try and put it out of my mind and catch up with him. The trail continues like this for some distance, and then suddenly Andy does a quick bunny hop onto a rock and around a sharp bend. A move that had to be millimetre perfect as the drop to the right was around 80ft onto rocks with nothing in between. 

I get off and carry my bike over, aware that I have no phone signal and no rope. If Andy falls along here the chances of survival are slim at best. I suddenly feel very vulnerable out here and I’m reminded once more that we have not seen another sole since we started riding this morning, we were on our own. The trail didn’t get any better but I knew I couldn’t walk the bike the whole way; I had to just man up and get on with it. I was too cautious and hit my inside pedal a couple of times on the inside edge which unbalanced me and nearly sent me over the edge. 

It seemed wrong in my head but it was actually safer to ride closer to the edge than away from it, at least if I lost a wheel I could probably just get off and let the bike go. If I caught the pedal again on the inside, chances were I would be high sided into going over the edge. Eventually we came across a large tree blocking the trail, we could probably have climbed over it but it looked like the trail was damaged beyond it. An improvised detour sign showed us the way out, a steep limb in the wrong direction. The detour went on and on, and it was all uphill away from where we wanted to be going. Eventually we came out onto a paved road which we climbed on for a bit longer, Andy at least had an idea of where it was taking us, and it would end in a cold drink. 

We pulled up at the general store in Angelus Oaks; we left our bikes outside while we browsed the cold drinks in the fridge. The store owner was friendly and we spent some time talking about where we’d been and where we were going. He recommended the old 38 highway, now derelict and not much more than single track. He enthusiastically told us about the mountain lions we might bump into in the canyon, pointing out there had been a lot of activity from them in recent days. I didn’t particularly want to meet them but this trail turned out to be one of the best so far. Sweeping bends on lose single track, numerous small jumps and we were flying down it drifting and sliding, I had a grin a mile wide. The views were breath taking and nearly life ending. 

I held back and let Andy get ahead as I was eating too much of his dust as it flew up off his back tyre and I couldn’t see where I was going. I let my speed pick up as I could now see the whole of the trail and that breathe taking scenery. I should have been watching the trail though, there was a sudden sharp left hugging the canyon wall. I didn’t see it until it was too late; I broke hard, my front wheel locked and just slid on the soft sand. I was headed straight for the edge, I managed to say “Oh F*%k!” as my front wheel dipped over the edge. I came to a halt on my chain ring as it dug into the dirt, I stepped back off the bike, pulled it back up onto the track then looked over the edge. A 100ft of potentially life ending oblivion and I was alive. Freakin awesome! 

When I caught up with Andy I still had a smile on my face but I was a little bit more cautious about watching the trail while I rode. This amazing single track finally gave way to tarmac and we were back on the main highway heading into Redlands, it was getting hotter but at least the road was still going downhill. We adopted aero tuck positions and coasted after running out of gears, the traffic slowly built up as we rolled into town. We stopped at a park and used the water fountain to fill our bottles and camelbacks up. This was probably the worst tasting water I have ever drank, if you think swimming pool then you get an idea how just how much chlorine was in this, oh well needs must. 

We rode through Redlands and on into Loma Linda before picking up the Santa Ana River Trail again. Concrete dullness with a 20mph furnace like headwind, this was going to be a long day. The heat here was almost intolerable; I was back to really struggling. I could feel the sweat running down my back and legs, I felt like I was melting. We stopped under bridges so I could cool off, this was really bugging me. My legs felt good, I was eating energy bars every hour and keeping on top of the fluids but still the heat was just sapping my energy. 

Apart from a face full of sweat, Andy looked fresh; having lived here for over 10 years he was clearly used to it. We took a longer break in the shade at Mount Rubidoux Park, watching the world go by while my temperature tried to stabilize itself. The next few miles were some of the hardest I had ever done. The trail went through Hidden Valley before finally coming to an end near Norco. We headed into town looking for the nearest Starbucks to charge phones and find cool drinks. We had travelled much further than we had expected, the plan was now changing. 

Originally we saw the trip as being 4-5 days, here we were on day three with a chance of being home if we pushed hard. It was late afternoon and the temperature was dropping, Andy’s wife Jenn was willing to drive out after work but only if we could meet her somewhere sensible where she would not be stuck in traffic for hours on the freeway. After checking the map we agreed to ride to Green River and meet in the service station off the freeway at 9pm. 

With the end in sight and the temperature dropping to comfortable levels we set off at a good pace, passing through Corona home of the Fender guitar factory. We fitted lights as the sun set and really started to gather speed, the last few miles were rode like a two up time trial, my legs felt good and I felt good. We rolled into the service station to find Jenn waiting for us with the dogs, a very welcome sight. We had been on the bikes for nearly twelve hours and had covered around 110 miles. We smelt real bad in the confines of the car. We picked up burritos on the way home and finished the day with a cold beer or two. A great end to an amazing trip.

Riding with your friends, life does not get much better than this. Now where shall we go next?