S24O: part 1.

22 03 2013

If I remember correctly it was Aaron Teasdale, whose writing, photographs and philosophy I admire, who coined the term ‘S24O’. It means Sub 24 hour Overnight and describes a ride that includes an overnight bivi. The trick here is that the ‘micro-adventure’ (see Alastair Humphreys’) feels like a much bigger challenge.

I have managed a few, short ride/bivi/ride trips in the past and wanted to use some mid week time off well. The weather seemed to be playing ball, too. On wednesday, I spent a few hours organising my bike packing bags, locating my bivi bag and getting some food together. I taped up the rubbing points on the Krampus – the bike of choice due to the snow I would likely encounter and remembered to grind some coffee to take with me. The forecast was for it to be very cold (down to potentially -6c on the hills) overnight, but very little chance of precipitation and the morning would be bright with a strengthening wind through the day, but, again, little chance of precip.

After we put Daisy to bed, I loaded up the car and took off, heading north. The road conditions deteriorated as the hours went by and the snow started to fall in earnest as I approached Perth. Fortunately, it stopped after the Drumochter pass but the temperature gauge on the car showed the mercury falling rapidly. No matter. That is what puffer jackets and thick, down bags are for, right?

Now it is time to leave the car and perceived safety. There is a strange feeling I get as I start to pedal off into the hills at night. It is lonely, scary even. The concern is largely based on ‘what if’s: what if it gets too cold? what if I have a major mechanical? what if I have forgotten an essential item? what if I struggle to find a good spot to sleep? The questions roll on, just as I do, into the dark. Of course, the psychology of overcoming fear is fascinating in itself. The benefits to one’s confidence and ability to meet other challenges are obvious.

As I ride on, the worry settles and I become just another creature of the night. The moon is more than half full, so riding without any lights is easy in Rothiemurchas. There is very little light pollution around here and very soon I find a great spot to unroll the bivi bag, blow up the thermarest, stuff my water bottle, shoes and rucksack to the bottom of the bag and drop off to sleep.

I awaken in the wee hours needing a pee and it is bitterly cold. This, despite sleeping in wool longs, socks, a capilene T, wool top, capilene 4 top and nano-puff jacket. Oh, and a wool balaclava and wool gloves. As I make the painful decision to leave the relative warmth of my cocoon, I feel the ice that has formed on the inner surface of my bivi bag splinter off in tiny crystals. I’ve never had that before.

As I drift off again, sleeping bag hood cinched tight I wonder what the morning will bring…

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