A Bikepacking #dadventure begins

A short post, after a longer hiatus. I shan't make too many apologies, other than to say I should have posted more often, but we were having far too many adventures!

There are therefore plenty of stories saved up to remember from the armchair this Autumn, and posts on those will follow, but while summer may officially have passed, and the boys have trooped (fairly happily) back to school, there's more fun still to be had by Dad...

Right now, I'm en route to Gatwick Airport, for a flight to Italy. My bike is packed into a very fragile looking see-through bag (allegedly it makes baggage handlers less prone to heaving it about, but we shall see) and I am on my way to the starting line of the Torino-Nice Rally. 

 http://torino-nice.weebly.com/about.html

700km of road, gravel track, military strada and goat path. 30km of tortuous, hairpin-turned, gruelling vertical ascent, and a glorious equivalence of downhill swoopiness.

The Rally isn’t a race, it’s more of an self-supported adventure on bikes. A mixed bag of terrain from Tarmac to gravel, to challenging off-road. And a mixed bag of riders, from athletes and industry professionals to complete amateurs like myself (well at least one complete amateur).

 

A labour of love by its organiser, James Olsen, who told pannier.cc:

“The Torino-Nice Rally is a ride event for the cross-over between touring, bikepacking and randonneuring; it’s all-terrain touring … we have route options so you can vary the amount of road and off-road, as well as overlap with other riders more often; hence the Rally tag.”

 

I'm prepped, packed, and arriving at the airport - wish me luck!

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FOLLOW ME! 

If you'd like to track my (expectedly rather slow) progress, you can follow the "blue dot"  of my GPS Spot Tracker here:

 http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0GUTYnpSJlRLJy8PvaKkuGO4rt5fvAxDQ

We climbed a Mountain

Ivinghoe Beacon

Ivinghoe Beacon

A few weeks ago, we climbed a mountain. 

Well, a hill.  But a superbly steep, and rather lovely hill.

Invinghoe Beacon rises sharply from the pretty green fields and villages at the north eastern edge of the Chilterns, and offers deeply satisfying views north over the "plains" of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, east to Dunstable Down and the White Lion of Whispsdade, and south west to Wendover and the masses ranks of the other Chilterns Hills.  

It marks the northern end of the Ridgeway, a high path that, predictably enough, follows a long ridge of chalk and clay, all the way from the Wiltshire towns of Marlborough and Swindon.  The ridge itself is bisected by the Thames valley, but the path continues and picks up the ridge again as it rises through the Chilterns to finish at Ivinghoe.  

To the more intrepid traveller, it offers a beautiful long distance walk, and also makes for a great overnight bikepacking route but, for today, the goal was simple - Climb the Mountain!

Ivinghoe Beacon stands at the end of the Ridgeway long distance path

Ivinghoe Beacon stands at the end of the Ridgeway long distance path

Since Elizabethan times, Ivinghoe Beacon has been the end of a long chain of beacon fires, running up from the south west coast.  These were lit, historically, in times of need to bring news of war, danger, or success up from the sea over hundreds of miles, far faster than messengers on horseback could ride.  

Our Queen Elizabeth had in fact lit a beacon the week previously, to celebrate her birthday, and so it was that a beacon formed the kernel of our weekend #dadventure.

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That morning, Hector and I were planning a birthday treat for Henry, about to turn the almost incomprehensibly mature age of 6. 

Hector (H2): "I know: let's take him to Camp Bestival, like we did for my birthday?" 

Daddy: "Sorry, Hec, that's in the summer - the festival's not on this weekend."

H2: "Ok, I've got it, shall we go to Morocco and find rattlesnakes?"

D: "I love the enthusiasm, but it's a bit far for the weekend, I'm afraid, buddy. His birthday party's on Sunday, so we do need to get back for that. Anyway, I think it'd be more fun to do something local, don't you?"

H2: "Oh my goodness, I've got it! (Much bouncing up and down on his bottom, as he physically became unable to sit still) He'll love it... Let's go for a campout!"

 

It's moments like these when pride almost overwhelms me, and I'm tempted to just retire - "and my work here is done"...  But then I realise that a burgeoning enthusiasm for the outdoors at age 4 remains a delicate thing.  And that without care and attention, it may not survive till double digits (or even till Henry's imminent maturity of 6) but hey, you take your pleasure where you can find it!

 

And so it was that we re-ordered the present opening schedule slightly, bringing forward the unveiling of the "big-boy rucksack" from Granny (gear review to follow, but a lovely kid-friendly Osprey from Cotswold Outdoor which I'm hoping will last a good long while), the warm mid-layer from Aunty Fi, and the grand extravaganza that was a (distinctly budget) star-spotting telescope from Daddy.

"Oh my goodness (incidentally, this does seem to have become a bit of a thing recently - I blame Enid Blyton) these will be amazing on our campout, Daddy, isn't that lucky?!" 

Yes, Henry, what a coincidence, imagine that...

 

We armed ourselves with shopping bags, and headed into St Albans' Saturday market to forage for provisions (cheese, ham, bread, and chocolate featuring heavily), we packed our adventure packs, loaded the car, and made our way west, winding up into the hills, past Whipsnade Zoo, and on to the crest of Dunstable Down. There, we caught our first sight of the summit of "our mountain". 

The Beacon

The Beacon

We parked at the foot of the hill, across a cattle grid, up against a cloud of gorse in bloom, and unloaded dogs and day packs, filled with snacks, water and other emergency supplies (teddy bear, book, binoculars, the usual), and then set off intrepidly, bounding up the grassy approach slope, and advancing to the mountain proper.  

Lead on, Sherpa Tensing

Lead on, Sherpa Tensing

The first major find of the day wasn't long into the ascent - fossils!  Or rather, large numbers of strangely dessicated snails, either dead or dormant (please comment if you know which, as I suffered from a minor gap in Dad-wisdom, and really couldn't tell why there would be such widespread snailmageddon on this particular slope..?)  Nonetheless, it was fascinating to the boys.  Magnifying glasses appeared; pockets were filled; and prophecies were made of snail shells in strange places throughout the house, that will surely come to pass.

Good Snail Hunting

Good Snail Hunting

The gradient kicked in soon, and with a viciousness seldom seen outside of a cake-fuelled soft-play birthday party.  This was *steep*. 

Thirty seven years of physical enthusiasm but a casual approach to physical maintenance has left me strong of mind, but weak of knee, and anything over 45 degrees' incline tends to lead to raised eyebrows and temperature.  I looked over to the boys, who'd taken a parallel path to me. 

The Ascent

The Ascent

Chatting as they went, they were nonetheless taking it seriously. Using the thumb sticks I'd cut for them, more or less as Mallory might have used an ice-axe on a frozen Everest summit attempt, they dug in, leaned forward, and took it step by step.  They were working as a team, leaving no man behind, and when Henry noticed that Hector flagging he told him to take a seat, and began proffering "rations".

#dadventure team takes a break for sustenance

#dadventure team takes a break for sustenance

Watered and fed (including to Hector's major delight peanut butter a Cliff bar left over from a solo #dadventure of my own), they resumed the climb.  Foot by aching foot they climbed.  

With nary a grumble nor a word of complaint, they toiled.  With eyes fixed either on the summit, or on their feet, step by step, they 'ate their elephant' one bite at a time. 

And the view from the summit?  

CAVU - Clear Above Visibilty Unlimited

CAVU - Clear Above Visibilty Unlimited

Well, you'll have to climb it yourself to find out!

We slept the sleep of the righteous (and marshmallow-filled) that night. 

The end

The end

What #dadventures have you been up to?  And what do you have planned?

The boys would like to find out - please let us know in the comments below.

Free Nights - a guest post by Jon Doolan

Free Nights - a guest post by Jon Doolan

 As part of an ongoing project, I'm encouraging Mums, Dads, kids, carers, and adventurous significant others to take the stage and share what makes #dadventure matter for them, whether they get out on their own to recharge and rebalance, or with the family, to nurture a love of the wild and to expand horizons.  Please get in touch if you'd like to share your story.

 

Recently, I found myself on a school-night #microadventure with a number of likeminded souls, and having realised quite how likeminded one of them was, asked if he would mind penning a guest blog for Dadventurebasecamp.com.

 

And here it is...

 

(Words by Jon Doolan, pictures a joint effort)

What is all this #microadventure malarkey?

What is all this #microadventure malarkey?

"Microadventures serve to scratch the itch for adventurous souls trapped by the bludgeoning of chance in sensible office jobs. They act as stepping stones for people who dream of a major expedition but feel that at the moment they are not quite ready. And they are a kick up the backside to anyone whinging and whining with excuses about how they don’t have the time or the money or the skills to get out there and challenge themselves." - Al Humphreys

Is Wild Camping a bit naughty?

Is Wild Camping a bit naughty?

 Is Wild Camping illegal?

Just to be clear, I'm not a lawyer.  I've read a bit, and I've thought a bit, and this is my own view.  So please read on, think on, but eventually make up your own mind, and do whatever you think is best.

Most people new to this sort of thing (me included) has questions about the legality and safety of sleeping wild sooner or later, and Al Humphreys (as ever) answers them jolly well in this straightforward article on his site.  He concludes that he would not worry too much about the theoretical legal aspects of sleeping in a bivvy, that if you act with common sense and courtesy you will be fine, and quite sensibly puts the whole 'am I doing something naughty' question in perspective - "remember, you are acting far more illegally and dangerously every time you break the speed limit in a car". 

That gave me the confidence to head out for a bivvy on my own, but once I started making plans to sleep out with my boys, I wanted to understand the position a little better, and to find out where on earth we could take on a night in the Wilds.

What follows (again, just my personal views as a non-lawyer) should help you get started, and hopefully let you see that it's not black and white, but please don't rely on this any more than anything else you read on the internet!

The short answer is that while wild-camping it is not explicitly "legal" without permission, it's not actually "illegal" either, and the difference is actually quite important.

If you are discovered sleeping somewhere, by someone who'd rather you weren't there, and you haven't asked permission, the result is that if you might very well be asked to leave. However it's very hard to see how you could be arrested, or prosecuted, unless you've been doing something else that actually is illegal, or unless it's on certain specific types of land (like railways).  Read on to find out more...

Where do I start?

Where do I start?

Waking up in a wood, with the sparkle of dew on the bluebells, the chirrup of birdsong, the sun twinkling its dappled light through the leaves, and your little ones snuggled up next to you, but wide-eyed, soaking it all up. One of those rare, fine pleasures in life, and a firm start for them of a life lived in balance between nature and society. 

You've seen the coffee-table adventure books, you've soaked up the wild exploits on the telly, and now you're ready to head out and get a piece of this adventure action yourself. Except you're not...

Even setting aside the prospect of foxes, bears, wolves, axe murderers, landowners with shotguns etc., it's scary enough just considering spending the night outside with your kids.

Just practically - how will it work?  Where should I start?  Am I nuts?  Does anyone else do this?

Well, you're not alone. You're probably not nuts.  But you're probably at least a little bit daft (in a good way).  

Luckily other people are just as daft, and there is help and advice at hand.  

To get you started, I have put together a few thoughts of my own about how we do things, and what I would consider to be some Golden Rules to follow or ignore.

Ultralight for littl'uns

Ultralight for littl'uns

You don't have to be a gear-obsessed Dad who saws his toothbrush in half to realise that when you're carrying three sets of everything the weight of your gear starts to become quite important, quite quickly....

 You essentially have two options:

1) Man/Woman Up and just console yourself with the fact that you won't be hiking far (unless you're taking toddlers on an Appalachian thru-hike, in which case, kudos); or 

2) start thinking about "ultralight" gear and methods, or "slightly ultralight" as Sean from Oookworks puts it.  

At its simplest, the ultralight philosophy is a combination of taking less with you; relying more on your knowledge, experience and skills than on products; and using gear made from new lighter, and typically more expensive materials. 

The Big Trip

The Big Trip

One of the tricky things with young kids is getting them to draw a mental bridge between the Bear Grylls or Al Humphreys adventures they love to watch, and the sphere of their own experience. 

Al's done awesome work with some specifically kid-based #microadventures, and great tips for getting kids out there, but I still wanted to give the boys something more tangible to aim for and identify with. Some way of placing themselves at the heart of the story.

Enter the Dirtbag Diaries...

Already one of my favourite podcast series, it unearthed a real gem with Otto Gallaher's tale of a family tradition of a Big Trip that I instantly and shamelessly adopted.

Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show

Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show

On Friday 12th Feb, we packed our rucksacks with provisions, water, and emergency items (toys trains for on the train, and notebooks for interviewing adventurers), and headed to London's Excel Centre for the 2016 Telegraph Outdoor Adventure Show and the London Bike Show.

A double whammy of excitement, and the perfect solution to an inset day at the boys' school.

We met up with Andy Bartlett, who was putting the final preparations in place for his epic Stand Up Paddleboard adventure following the Danube from source to sea, and went exploring around the stands, speakers, and shows that are squeezed in under the enormous roof of the Excel.