Monday, 14 November 2005

A day out in the country

I decided to rough it on Saturday night, I had as has been pointed out, become a little soft; two sleeping bags! Outrageous. So I packed up one sleeping bag, the bivi bag, loads of food, loads of water and a few emergency items – lap top, radio, book etc – and was ready to go. My destination was 17 miles away and it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to have a big meal before I left, it would save me having to carry so much food after all.

I had woken at about 10am and was not hugely impressed by the world around me, everything was damp and covered in a thin layer of mud. The gore tex sheet that I have stretched out between trees was supposed to both keep the rain off me and the ground thus ensuring that I have a dry patch of ground to call my own. Sadly it mostly fails in the aim, sure it keeps most of the rain out but when there is a fog everything gets wet any way, most of the time the rain comes in sideways as opposed to down and I’m sure on a few occasions that the rain has even been coming up out of the ground. So I start the day as usual bent double because the gore tex sheet is strung up at a height that prevents me from standing and trying to get dressed without standing on the ground. This requires me to be standing on the small bit of my sleeping bag that is accessible through the neck of my bivi bag, the bivi bag itself like everything else being covered in a thin layer of mud. Once I had got up my mind turned towards food, it seemed practical to cook sausages for breakfast as these needed to be cooked on an open fire (the Jet Boil is not designed for frying things) and whilst all the wood was damp at least it was light. Come the evening (which was when I had planned to have them) it would be too dark to find wood and besides if it rained again any wood I did find would be hard to light a fire with.

So I stomped around looking for suitable wood to light a fire with and managed to get a fair bit of cold water up my sleeve in the process. I was feeling grumpy and generally fed up so rather than lighting a fire properly I just piled up some twigs through on some petrol and one satisfying woompf later I had a fire. I then spent the next half an hour or so playing avoid the smoke, what a great way to start a day; trudging about in the mud with eyes stinging and tears streaming down my face from the acrid smoke not being able to sit down because everything is wet and muddy. Once the wood had dried and the smoke died down I set about the task of sticking sausages to the bottom of a pan. Once I had achieved this aim it occurred to me that I could deglaze the pan and make a stew with the vegetables I had, so I fried off some stewing steak and an onion through in a carrot, a parsnip and a potato gave it all a bit of a stir before adding lots of water with the intention of deglazing the pan. It did indeed deglaze the pan but what I had not realised was that the bottom of the pan was burnt so now my stew was cooking away in black water with little specks of charcoal floating in it. After a few minutes the potatoes started to give off a bit of foam which immediately took on an oily brown colour, the stew was soon looking for all the world like a patch of stagnant water. Not the kind of thing you would want to stand in with wellies on. Occasionally more wood had to be added and I was treated to another spell of running about trying to avoid the smoke from getting in my eyes.

After lunching on one of the worst meals I had ever cooked I put my pack on and set out on my walk, the destination being a pub 17 miles away where I was due to meet some friends the next morning. By the time I arrived it was dark and my trousers were caked in mud up to my knees, and my boots were steaming in the cold air. The Leathern Bottle in Goring looks like a very nice pub, in fact it looks more like a very smart restaurant, it looks very nice indeed, one look at it and I realised that the mud to monkey ratio was such that I would get thrown out pretty much as soon as I walked in so I knocked the idea of a pint on the head and went to look for somewhere to sleep. It was a beautiful clear night so it would be cold, not only that but I was next to the Thames and being that close to water reduced the temperature even further. Best of all there was a low level of mist that clung to the ground around the river so I could get all the disadvantages of a clear night (cold) with all the disadvantages of an overcast night (wet) at the same time. I began to regret only brining one sleeping bag and no ground mat.

What a fun night I had battling between the need to breath and the need to keep warm; my bivi bag is cunningly designed to zip up which is a great way of keeping warmer but is not so good if breathing is on your to-do list. The trick is to leave the zip open a little bit and then to pull the draw string on my sleeping bag up so that the only gap in the hood is by my mouth and then try to match up the whole in the hood with the hole in the bivi bag and thus be able to breath whilst letting the minimum amount of cold air in. This is fine until I roll over as soon as I roll over the holes no longer match up and after a while the need for Oxygen wakes me up and I have to wriggle about until I can breath again. I probably would not have needed to be rolling about so much had I not been lying on a couple of pine planks I thought it would be better to be sleeping on something uncomfortable rather than directly onto the cold ground that would have sapped my body heat. What I was particularly happy about, again, was the fact that the bivi bag is nylon not gore tex (although it came at gore tex price) and because it it not gore tex it is not breathable. I had spent the night with the bivi bag zipped up as far as I dared and as a result the inside was full of condensation from my breathing and by morning my sleeping bag was wet. I am really hugely unimpressed by that bivi bag, it is supposed to keep my dry not make me wet.

1 comment:

SameOld said...

Hmmm a dark, dank and muddy tale. How appropriate to recreate living in a WWI trench on Rememberance Sunday. I salute you!

Seriously though, it sounds tough, and I shall definitely be giving a further donation if you can make it to the 1st January. keep warm, keep your spirits up and best of British luck!