Bikepacking, touring, wandering aimlessly…(thoughts, hints and ideas) PART 1

Kim Jones is back this month with the first part of his tips and hints for those that are planning to take a staycation with their bike. 

A break in the snowfall in the Highlands of Scotland. The view that greeted Kim and Tracey when they crawled out of their tent early in the morning. Those are their footprints in the foreground scouting what lies ahead in the snow

Something’s not right. I close my eyes and then reopen them. The roof of the tent that’s normally a good metre above me, is now only a scrunched and crumpled 30cm away.  We’d pitched late, in the dark, on a bed of snow in which our wheels had sunk up to their hubs, neglecting to secure the guy lines, or the tent in our haste to get warm, and to be honest, there was no need. The air was still and frozen, the sky, clear as a mountain burn was littered with luminescent pin pricks, nature had left for the day, cwtched up until morning.

Kim and Traceys tent and bikes (yes, those really are our bikes under all that snow!)

I gently nudge Tracey awake, it’s cold, bitterly cold, and snug in my bag, I really don’t want to get out and face the day. I take my arms out of my sleeping bag and push upwards, the snow slides off the tent bringing a new, welcoming light to our igloo. Reluctantly I crawl out of my cocoon, quickly put-ting on my duvet jacket and undoing the porch zip.

Oh!

Large snowflakes float down like soft white fea-thers blown from a nest, I look upwards and around, struck dumb, never, ever have I seen such beauty.

Kim and Tracey reach the bothy

The forecast of snow over the next couple of days

Of course, the reality is something quite different. Back in the tent with oat cakes and tea we discuss our options. There really aren’t any other than to sit tight but, with more snow forecast we should really move on. Having passed the point of no return last night, we now have no choice but to continue to the bothy, some fifteen kilometres away. Normally this would be a visually stunning, technically challenging ride, but not today, it’s going to be a long, long push.

Life in a bothy; time to relax and warm up after a hard day’s slog – washing and hanging out our clothes to dry

And it was, for seven lengthy hours, through snow which at best was up to my knees, at worst to the top of my thighs. But we made it and today I can smile as I recollect what was probably one of the toughest days I’ve ever had on my bike.

That was a recent trip and not to the Himalaya or the Tien Shan, but in the Scottish Highlands and is of course, a rather extreme example of what can happen when travelling with your bike. If I have learnt one thing over the years, it is to expect the unexpected, take a pragmatic view and roll with it, because things will go wrong, as they do sometimes. Cranks fall off (Scotland), stoves break (Albania), a particularly unpleasant reaction to kumis – a fermented milk drink (Kyrgyzstan), or sometimes the track just ends (western Sahara), and of course the weather too might decide to play its part.

Some people might struggle with this because for them the route is everything, how far, how fast, how high, they must reach their appointed destination come what may. But on a prolonged trip this can often lead to disappointment.

Tracey getting comfy in a ruined barn in Rannoch Moor, a welcome respite from some horrendous wind and rain

For others, the joy is in the journey, wherever that might lead them, and I’m with these guys. Try not to be too rigid with your plans, keep them loose and then you won’t be disappointed if you don’t make some particular place on a particular day. Of course, time constraints might not allow you this flexibility, so perhaps on a week-end trip or just an overnighter, have a plan B which may develop into a D or even an F on a long trip! Try not to feel defeated if you didn’t achieve your objective, there’ll be other days, other journeys. Instead, rejoice in what you ride, and what you see, after all whatever might happen, will make for great conversation over a coffee or a beer.

Now, what do you need? Initially, not a lot. A bike, any bike will do, a tent or some sort of shelter, a sleeping bag, a stove, some spare dry clothes and some food. That’s it, apart from one thing, bags of enthusiasm – very light to carry but an integral part of any trip however long. And that’s it really

Where do I start?

Kim cycling part of the Western Sahara desert, an amazing place. Goats on the desert plains.

A list – a little anal? Perhaps, but a list can save an awful lot of grief, especially if you have company and wisely decided to use communal equipment. There’s nothing more frustrating than having brought some fresh veg with you, to liven up your supper, only to find your companion has forgotten to pack the pans. Think of what you need and write it down; initially you might be surprised how much you thought you needed and then didn’t use, cussing yourself for the load you have carried, but you’ll soon learn.

It’s worth getting into the habit of grouping stuff together too, for example, keep your stove, pans and cup together in one bag. Oh, and don’t forget your fuel, if it’s a gas cannister then this can go in with the stove. Obviously if it’s meths or some other form of alcohol, then it’s wise to keep it separately. Whilst I’m always happy to have a drop of Ledaig with my coffee in a bothy, meths doesn’t quite have the same taste. This applies to kit too, when packing, keep off-the-bike clothes and on-the-bike clothes in different bags. Keep all your tools together etc.

You’ll soon find that with experience you’ll hone your packing skills, and it will become apparent that any trip over a few days in length requires the same amount of kit as a trip for a month or longer, the only difference be-ing the amount of food you carry, and obviously the climate and country you are travelling in.

Kim’s bike fully loaded with hope- fully everything needed for the journey ahead.

Although it might sound rather elitist, don’t buy what you can afford now, instead save and buy the best.  That piece of kit in Aldi’s might seem like a bargain, but when the zip or stitching fails I guarantee you’ll be cursing those Germans. Good kit is expensive for a reason, it won’t let you down.

Now let’s go back to that earlier paragraph and break it down.

The bike.

The comment that any bike will do whilst sounding a little flippant is true, initially at least.

To start, if you have one, just use the bike you have until the time comes (after a few trips) when you real-ise that perhaps it is not ideal and you need something more suitable.

After all, like many things in life, the reality of a night under the stars can be somewhat different to what you imagined; waking up to a Highland cow peering down at you isn’t for everyone. Or opening your tent door to find a Bedouin herder outside with hundreds of goats, with their unique scent (not dissimilar to my own at that stage of that trip) can be a little disconcerting to some.


Next month: Kim goes into greater detail on the other equipment needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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