I didn’t make it. My goal to do an overnight each month in 2015 is already, as the Germans say, kaput. Let me tell you you why.
Firstly, I waited until the last minute. February has only 28 days to begin with, so there’s a little less time to work with. School’s been keeping me busy, the weather’s been crap, yadda yadda yadda, so I kept postponing it until I just figured I’d knock it out on the last weekend. Which brings us to present time. Last Friday, I threw everything together I’d need, testing out a new setup without a rack + panniers, a la your traditional bikepacking setup, more or less.
You’ll notice I don’t have a frame bag, and that’s because they’re too expensive to not get them custom fit to your frame, and I’d rather do that myself… someday… when I have a sewing machine. Besides, for one night, a frame bag isn’t really necessary. The “fuel tank” bag is actually an under-the-saddle wedge that is very obviously zip-tied in place. The seat pack is just a compression sack from the local camping store, and the sleeping bag/bivy sack is wrapped in a military surplus sleeping bag carrier and bungeed to the handlebars. You’re looking at low-budget here, people.
I had stuff for sleeping, stuff for eating, and stuff for making coffee in the morning. So, I set off in search of a place to spend the night.
Since I was just using a bivy and a sleeping bag, which is essentially just a sleeping bag, I figured I could plop down anywhere and hunker down for the night. I got a new inflatable sleeping pad that was insulated, so I should be plenty warm. I meandered through the woods, down dirt farming roads and through some sporadic single track, mostly to see how the load affected the handling of the bike.
The sky was clear, and the sun was setting, so the temperature started to drop substantially. I began to think maybe I’d just ride around for as long as possible before setting up camp and going to sleep. That way, I’d at least stay warm. So, I did. I rode down trails and through some rather muddy forest paths, trying to get deeper into the woods. But, because this is the Netherlands, I ended up coming out the other side onto a paved, well-lit bicycle path.
So I rode on that, too.
That lead me to a bar that sits alongside the path, and I figured, why not go inside and warm up for awhile? (You can begin to see a theme of not being warm enough.)
Inside, it was empty. There was the lady tending the bar and myself. I ordered a beer and sat down, trying to think of things I could say in German. I asked her how long she had worked there. “35 years” was her answer. She asked me what I do, I told her I was a student. That was as far as we were gonna get with that conversation. Thankfully, there was a TV in the corner, so I ordered another beer and watched MasterChef Canada for a while.
Coming back outside, it was pretty dark. Thankfully, the cycle paths here are illuminated better than most airports. So, I kept riding, unsure of where to go next. Then I remembered there was a campsite a few kilometers down the road, so I decided that’s where I’m going to stay.
I arrived at the site, unrolled my bivy/sleeping bag/sleeping mat combo (much like the edible variety), and climbed inside to get warm. This is the second mistake I made in preparing for this overnight. I had never used a bivy sack before, I just assumed it was like a little tent just big enough for your sleeping bag. Well, when I inflated the sleeping mat inside of it, and got inside myself, the space diminished very quickly. As you may already know, it’s that space that the heat gets trapped in to keep you warm, so I effectively was losing all my heat through the Gore-Tex fabric that was pressed against my sleeping bag. Not to mention, I brought my intermediate sleeping bag instead of my zero-degree bag, which probably made a big difference, considering it was zero degrees outside.
I ate my small meal, zipped up the bag, and tried to find a position that would be comfortable enough, but everywhere I moved, another cold spot emerged. At one point I had even put the insulated mat on top of me, which was actually really warm, but impossible for sleeping. I checked my phone for the time, hoping that maybe it was midnight and I could count this as an overnight on a technicality, but it was only 10pm. There was no way I’d be sleeping.
So, I bit the bullet, climbed out of my bag, rolled everything up, and pedaled homeward. Upon arriving, the defeat I felt was quickly overcome by the pleasant warmth of being indoors. The next morning, I awoke to find the ground outside had a thick layer of frost covering it, and I was kind of glad I wasn’t laying out in it.
Although I didn’t finish the overnight, I did learn quite a few things for next time. Unfortunately, the nights are still too cold to get away with a minimal load, so a heavier sleeping bag and a tent are
probably needed. I did the hammock thing before and in colder temps, but I would need a pannier or two to carry everything, at least until I have a frame bag. Either way, just because I didn’t get February checked off, doesn’t mean I can’t still shoot for all the other months of the year.
- Bicyclist Abroad