Thursday, December 31, 2020

Terra Nova Jupiter Lite Dry run

The bivi not showing up in time for my birthday camp pissed me off somewhat but in retrospect, a better night was had by all thanks to me heading out with my tent for a chilly damp night with pouring rain.

Trying the new bivi outdoors for the first time in December last-minute with the potential to leave myself no opportunity to return it if I were disappointed was not a good plan so, I was saved from myself.  Now that the bivi has finally arrived, I have put off off pitching it outside until I've got a clear head to check out all the things it's supposed to address about the old bivi.

If you're in the market for a new bivi and, like me, are falling short on detailed reviews of the Jupiter Lite from Terra Nova which seems like such a good product but you'd really like to know more before committing £200 to a plastic bag, then read on.

One of my biggest bugbears was people reviewing it without actually seeming to have slept out in it.  Guilty as charged for now but I'll update this post after it's first tough outing - which I hope won't be too far away.

"The Unbagging"

First out of the bag impressions were good.  It was a little weightier than my Z-packs solplex tent but smaller in dimension - which was the point of a bivi bag.  The components are the bag, it's pole (with a pole bag) and 6 aluminium pegs which, after touring with 8 titanium pins, felt like the heaviest part of the pack.

I initially "pitched" the bivi in my loft with a plush carpet to hold pole ends and (obviously) no pegs.

The pole was easy to thread through, even though my hands were a little chilly from the cold loft.  There's a hole where the storm flap is which had me threading the pole into the wrong space until I realised there's a continuous sleeve for it in a slightly different location.  Now I've learned that though, I don't think I'll make the same mistake again.  However, it is possible to use the storm flap as an easy quick thread if your hands are really fooked and you're struggling and desperate for shelter.  So whether that was their intention or not, I've tested it and it's an option. Subsequent performance not guaranteed!

I threw my Rab Neutrino 400 sleeping bag in it and Thermarest Neo Air standard size mat and shook everything down and laid it out.  My first impression is that without any pegs, the hoop does a pretty good job of standing upon its own. I added a Thermarest inflatable pillow for extra comfort. 


It's also handy not to have the hoop pegged up because you can flap it forwards around your waist to scoot further into the bag - more wriggle room to get in and out.  Without the guys out though, the storm flap would be floppy leading drips to fall into the open bivi or onto your lap or back of your neck instead of rolling away, so I imagine on a rainy camp those guys will get pegged.

Talking of wet, another advantage I noticed when I got in it first time - even without thinking about it - I managed to keep my feet and bottom on the goretex skirt that forms the head end of the bag. I only needed to put my hands on the carpet ("muddy ground") so in terms of staying dry, this is a bonus.

The first test was the toe test.  The problem with the old bivi bag (Terra Nova Discovery Lite aka "The Disco") is insufficient loft for my feet in the space available. I tend to sleep either on my front or on my back.  On my front I lie with my feet off the end of the thermarest so I toss my sit mat to the foot of the bag to rest my feet on. I've done the same on the test for the Jupiter. 

I also tested it lying on my back with my toes pointing up.  The issue I have with the old bag is with my head undercover, my feet are pressed to the base where my size 9s squeeze all the loft and warm air out of the sleeping bag.  I have to say, with my toes right at the bottom of the Jupiter bag I have the same issue - but shuffle up the bag 200mm and yay! there's still loads of space for my feet to loft and stay warm.

Toes at the end

Moved back a bit

I guess I can use the feet end to store something - though I'm not sure what I'd want to stash that far out of reach! The point is, with my Thermarest scooshed up to give me very cosy feet, my pillow is still on the goretex floor of my bivi and there's more space to go.  At this point it's worth saying I'm not a normal sized woman.  I'm 5'11".  If you're a much taller person though, do some thorough research on sizing.

There doesn't look like much space here, but at this point I had the bag rucked up underneath me!

The hood test

I needed to stop thinking of this as a tent. I know if I want a tent-like shelter, I'll need to carry a tarp too so this is never going to replace my Cuban fibre tent which is lighter than the bivi by 1 ounce (28 g), not in any way breathable, a bit drafty and needs good pegging ground.  It's good for wild moorland locations where there's peggable ground and no-one to notice me or legal camping rights.

Before I bought the bivi, I knew how small the hoop height was because I measured it on me. I knew I wouldn't be able to sit in it but it was a bit taller than me lying on my side or upon elbows.

Here we are with the glory glow of the Loft window behind. I have so far been overjoyed at the ease with which I can fidget around in the bag without getting tangled. Even without pegs it's like someone holding the covers up so you can turn over. There's enough space either side of the neo-air mattress that I can move it into place by supporting myself on my elbows and toes.This is great for those awkward moments when you're finally inside it and realise you've pitched on an uncomfortable rock.

For a moment, I was wondering what had happened to the cavernous space I had been promised and realised the bag was rucked up underneath me. It was easy to straighten out. So pegging it out might have prevented the issue all together - or made discomfort more difficult to resolve.*

* That's something to be answered in a field test. 

With the 2 hoods up (there's a mesh one and a goretex one), I instantly loved it even more. The hooped bivi touts the benefits of getting rid of the feel of claustrophobia. Claustrophbia has not been an issue for me win the flat bivi, I find it cosy but I'm more concerned about being cold and getting a bit clammy.

With the bug net only the cold air in the room (outdoors) permeates through easily.  Although this is a loft test, it's the coldest room in the house, the heating had been off for some time and the temperature outside was -1degreeC. With the gore-tex hood up, the temperature instantly increased from breath and body heat.

There's the mandatory notice sewn into the doorway about not having fires inside tents and always keeping vents open so you don't die of CO2 / CO poisoning or setting fire to yourself. There's some weight to be saved from cutting that out. (Keeping it for 200 years and wondering what the hell it came off). 

The gore-tex hood has a small mesh panel at the top which means, effectively a mandatory vent. How much ventilation it gives if you snag the storm flap down over the top isn't clear yet. 

Showing the mesh flap that's a part of the Goretex door which allows some ventilation, even with the door fully closed.

What it does mean is, if you have the goretex door half open. it's the softer mesh that rests on your face, not cold shiny goretex.  Pull the goretex door zips down far enough and it's stashed out of the way in the floor pan - just hope you wake up when it starts raining to prevent moisture falling inside the bivi.  I usually find the sensation of a wet face is enough to wake me up.

On the subject of claustrophobia, some people prefer a white goretex liner to get rid of that coffin-feeling.  The interior of this bivi is dark green. Fine by me, I prefer my nights dark.

Loads of shoulder space with the saggy storm flap hanging down - should be pegged out.
With the hood up the size really does come into its own.  In the pic above, I have my A5 tablet at the head of the bivi making notes. I could fit my 20 litre rucsac here.

Clear space above my head and shoulders

When I lie on my side there's a full 4.5inch hand width between my shoulder and the "roof". I can run my arm over my hip without straining the goretex fabric or compressing the down.

I also managed to scrunch the sleeping bag to the bottom, negotiate removing and replacing a pair of leggings (OK, PJ bottoms, it's 2020 - don't judge me!) and got back into the bag with much more ease than I expected. I've got long thigh bones so that was a surprise. It allows me to add or remove (yeah right!) an extra layer at night without getting wet if it is raining. I can't guarantee I'd be able to do it without getting cramp after riding or hiking all day though!

When lying on my back, the bag is cavernous allowing full down loft around where my hands usually live - on my belly or by my sides. Even my ever-cold feet warmed up in this cold loft trial.

• • •

Other things the reviews don't say (because they're too busy going on about not suffocating). The hood zips are two-way which is great. The one way zip on the disco had me committing my back to the wind which wasn't always aligned with the slope of the land or the scenery I wanted to wake up to. Also, wind changes direction.

One person recommended getting reflective tags for the zips and different coloured ones might be an idea to differentiate the mesh zipper from the goretex zipper as I constantly got hold of the wrong one. They're quite jingly though so I'd say not too difficult to locate in the dark. 

In the hooped bivi the two way zip gives the sleeper the choice of ventilation where it 's wanted: at the top because hot air rises; or at the side away from the breeze - or into the breeze if you need to ventilate heavily.

• • •

Tarp Theory

Tarpiture with this bivi would be useful in the current climate where self-provision of brews and porridge has been more of an essential than an indulgence. I've been trying to come up with an excuse to take this out and play in the snow instead of taking the tent.  That would mean a night  in its current form - sprawled on the floor of a building somewhere, or under a cliff somewhere sheltered - un pegged but also, possibly, bloody cold. 

Speaking of which I'll disturb the cat off the four-season bag and do a proper full winter (indoor) test. 

I have been considering a tarp pitch with this bivi for that all-round tenting comfort. Anything at the head end to keep the rain off would need to be big enough to sit up in to enable access and egress through the opening of the bivi. It would detract somewhat from the ability to star-gaze and wildlife-watch.

Because the head end already has a built-in shelter, a foot-end shelter could be nice for gear storage and extra wind protection for the areas pressed closest to the goretex fabric.

Should one be feeling really soft, a tunnel bivi would give extra rain or snow protection. I'd be considering this for bad weather forecasts where I know I need to brew up too and I want to sit somewhere dry to do it.

For lightweight, stove-free, sleep-when-you-drop style travel, I considered a tarp-only, no pole, flat sheet (Ugly tarp) to peg out taught over my bike, boots, lid rucsac, coat and anything else that's so disgusting I don't want it in my bivi bag but I don't want it to get any wetter overnight either.

I have also considered a Porch tarp, using the hoop off the Bivi as a support on one edge and my tall tent pole on the other edge to give me an open view and a seamless transition from lying down to sitting up.

This isn't really a recommend­ation - more of a reminder to self to try it sometime.*

Extra Features

While I'm in the bag though, I should also say how well put together the zip space is.  So far I haven't snagged the fabric at all except for that annoying floppy fire-warning ticket that's definitely coming off.

I had it in my head that there was supposed to be a pocket in this bag but, having investigated, I think that must be the Rab eVent Ridge-raider bag - a self-confessed "almost a tent" which I discounted because I already have a tent and I like being able to look up at the sky. Weight-wise, I can't really mourn the loss of a pocket for my glasses as they usually live in my helmet. Apart from the head-space for a book (according to the hiking clan) or a Rucsac, (for those of us rehydrating from a camelbak!), there's not a LOT of extra space for kit.  The Rab Ridgeraider is 5cm longer and taller (and heavier) and one reviewer claims to have got dressed and packed away his kit inside whilst a storm raged outside.  I can't say this would happen in the Terra Nova, unless you want to do a lot of lying on cold goretex pressed against wet ground outside.

To prove how visible the world is through the mesh, the cat has obliged and moved so time for the 4 season bag test.  As its built by Terra Nova I have no concerns that this mesh will keep out midges as well as larger beasties.

A (thankfully) disinterested editor in chief

I bought this winter sleeping bag in 1997. Down was fairly new to mainstream outdoors world or maybe just new-to-me as I scrimped together the cash on the basis I was being paid £35 per right expenses for a "hotel" and was spending £10 per night for a campsite in Kircaldy in November. Ah, those were the best and worst of times. In trying to ID the sleeping bag's origins or it's temperature rating, I have noticed that the care label still has the phone number for the shop where I'm supposed to get it dry cleared in Sheffield, even though I bought the bag in the sale at an outdoor shop in Dunfermline. 

Some very specific care instructions.  I did wash this bag once, in the bath at home.  It was like trying to drown a sealion.

What I can tell you is it's the only bag that makes me grin like an idiot when I get in it and it requires an entire handlebar bag all to itself to transport it.

Since I've moved enough to fetch my 4-season bag I've realised it is lunchtime and my sandwich has given me more reason to admire and critique.

I had wondered about the guy lines as they are clearly oriented to cross right in front of the bivi entrance - one of the few negatives cited by one other reviewer.  The guy loops are simply tied but robust and fitted with linelocks for easy tensioning.

There's a toggle to sinch down the storm flap but it's only on one side which seemed a bit weird.

Whilst I appreciate this for weight saving, it only really applies the tension on that side of the storm flap. The cord runs all the way over the hood and is elasticated so for a while it just stretches instead of applying any real tension all the way along.  Some substantial messing about outside the bivi pulled some of the tension through to the other side but by then the tight side was scarily tight, the goretex started to snag in the toggle and 18 inches of floppy elastic was sticking out of the bivi.  

Rucked on the left, still saggy on the right.

If I find the storm flap tension to be an issue I'd contemplate re-working with a toggle at each end or some less stretchy cord so the tension is evenly distributed. Were I to tighten this from inside a) it would take a while b) I'd be warm by the time I'd finished c) I'd need to undo it again to get out as it really does close off the opening. If driving rain is the issue then I guess this is a good thing. 

• • •

Lunch is over, but before I get in the four season bag I have to mention the bivi's colour.

A big regret of mine with my Cuban fibre tent was not buying the brown colour. The bright silver doesn't half stand out in the open landscape of the Peak District. The target market of the bivi has always been stealth green and the technically-not-camping because it's not a tent argument. Do bear with me.  This is an internal argument that could take decades of therapy to get over so accept me for who I am. 

Not only is this bivi a wonderful dark yew tree green, it has a sheen that is the colour of Christmas. Given its arrival on 27th December, it is the messiah of bivi's.

The four season bag clearly fills more if not all of the space available

Getting into the four season Rab I am really pleased. Whether I go out for any more than one winter bivi remains to be seen but just look at the loft. 


The Jupiter

The Disco with the same sleeping bag inside.











Sitting upright with my feet fully flexed my toes are compressing the loft into the fabric of the bag but there's still plenty of sag in the fabric so I'm only losing loft to the compressive weight of the material in the bivi bag.

Lying on my back, there's still plenty of loft above my torso and hips. If I lie on my side the shoulders of my sleeping bag just touch the roof of the bag. There's no loft around my hips which possibly says more about the baffling in my old sleeping bag than it does about the bivi bag as there's still plenty of slack fabric at my waistline.

Just enough and this sleeping bag is pretty epic.

I guess that now my review is done the last thing to talk about is the price and the nit-picking little things. I'm all up for paying for high quality gear. I'm unlikely to buy a cheaper widget if there's a better, more expensive widget out there. As such, I now have a fleet of Terra Nova kit that's rarely let me down. Even when a 10 year old tent pole failed in Canada in a harsh Quebequois storm, the fabric did not tear and the pole limped-on via duct tape splint until it could be replaced a few days later. So I have no reservations about the durability or waterproofness of this kit. 

I'm not sure you could achieve the bendiness of the aluminium pole with a carbon one but for the price, it would have been nice to see.  However, a quick research of the pole reveals it's some high tech aluminium engineering and the weight is impressively low - just by looking at it, it's hard to tell that it's metal, not fibre.  On balance I like the aluminium theory.  Having stepped on a bendy C-fibre pole and snapped it in a woodland camp, I like the idea that I could pitch this bivi in a raging storm and have it survive.  Whether I'm tough enough is another matter - but I'm certainly stupid enough and it would be nice to see my £200 bag survive - even if I don't.

The cheap, nasty aluminium pegs it came with will be added to the pile of shit we won't use until we're so old we're reverted to car camping again. From my bed I'm actually debating whether the weight of the bivi will match the weight of the Cuban tent if I leave the pegs out. My unpacking experience was one of, "crikey, these pegs are a third of the weight!".  They also look like they were sharpened by a small child using a grinding wheel.

All different shapes and sizes.

Finally in the robustness vs weight quality Dept, I'm not sure two chunky eyelets is necessary each side of the pole.

The other peg-out tabs have been reported to have come off by industry reviewers and with a single line of stitching holding them in, I can see why.

 Again; they're bulky and as flat loops, they don't seem shaped for pegging out. I guess if you want to leave the bivi. somewhere for the day and do something without it the peg loops will stop it taking off in a breeze. Perhaps they'll also stop the foot end from flapping onto the sleeping bag causing soggy feet - will investigate and report back.*

Oh yeah, there's the size thing though. 

Compared to Cuban which isn't a breathable membrane: smaller, in this case, is not consistent with lighter. 

The Jupiter weighs 548g with 106g of pegs!  For a hooped bivi there are only two lighter on the Ultralight website (Oudoor Research Helium (448g and no pegs) and the Lightwave Stormchaser (522g and 36g pegs)).  Take out the pesky 106g of pegs and it is the lightest.  It's almost half the weight of the Alpkit Elan hooped bivi (900g).  

While the cuban tent is 28g lighter and roomier, it is not as compact as the bivi which, when packed to something an inch or two shorter, is 2 inches smaller in diameter. 


It's curved pole is a little less convenient but not insurmountably so. I think the pole came with a little bag - to prevent it snagging the bivi perhaps? However, when put to use I'm starting to question whether this bag came with the Jupiter at all or is from something else I have lying around the gear room? The pole doesn't fit in it and the toggle is completely different from the one on the bivi bag and the other storage bag.

The first time I packed the Jupiter away, I packed it quite tight then it unfurled a little on the scales. I folded it into thirds which was a bit narrow and I had to wrestle it a bit to get it in the bag with the pole but it went and at least the stuff sack is long enough for the pole, even if the pole bag is not. 

I repacked it folded in half which is good because you can wrap the wet groundsheet against itself with the theoretically dry upper sandwiched inside.  We all know this theory doesn't pan out.  Wrapping a dry bag inside a wet back and putting it in a bag results in two wet bags.  Nothing will get away from that fact.

The bungee cord neck-pull on the bag can do one.  It's too heavy, too fiddly and ineffective at tightening the neck.  It's already been replaced with some dynema cord that was kicking about on the floor.  Again, the elastic just stretches until there's inches exposed when you finally get some tension.  I'm starting to get the feeling bits of this bivi bag were finished off a few weeks into lockdown when materials and parts were becoming scarce. Thery're no longer available at Terra Nova and Ultralight seem to have sold out (they're not on the website any more so I'm really glad mine finally showed up 24 days later).  

The neck closure on the Disco bivi is good old Dynema cord - though this might have more to do with Bearbones Norm than Terra Nova. 


So far,  I love this bivi but it's a bit annoying when a £200 plastic bag comes with a to do list:

  • rework pole bag to be long enough and shave a few grams by making it skinnier.
  • clips to peg up the foot end for added loft - simple and I think might work to keep my feet that little bit warmer.
  • Considering replacing the storm flap toggle with something smaller, lighter and non elasticated. Bigger project when I'm committed to keeping the bag - ie. have proved its water-proofness in the real world. 
  • Cut out the fire warning toggle - also a committed task
  • make myself feel good about the expense and the extra 1oz of weight by testing to see if I can actually fit the bivi plus my big coat in my handlebar bag. This is bike packing Nirvana for me because I either have to wear my big coat or pack it in my rucsac.
  • Test pegging out versus free-roam pitching versus a pegged pitch
  • Test out porch tarp

Given that I'm quite excited about it, winter outdoor test coming soon.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Not so Easy. Not so Monsal. Long, yes.

I planned to do a really long day out on the bike 26th December, given the forecast was mild with the rest of the week set to be freezing.

A loss of a number of items around the house delayed my departure at least 90 minutes but I was on the road by 10:30 with 135km out to Monsal and back programmed into my Garmin.

I actually wondered at how I'd made it so long. On following the route from home in reverse I realised I'd plotted the finale, the return trip, through the heart of the Hope and Edale valleys. The title of the route was "Monsal long easy". Not sure where the "easy" bit came in as I looked in dismay at the course.

• • •

As I rode out on the only easy trail, up the banks of Derwent Reservoir I was, at least pleased that my brain now thinks 135 km in a day is do-able. Though I was pretty sure the body was going to disappoint.

I stopped at Fairholmes for lunch. If I was going to stop out all day long, my packed lunch would need to become an early dinner. I bagged a table with my bike, used the toilets then walked straight upto the kiosk to order a pastie, tea and cake. My bird-watching table delivered as bullfinches, chaffinches, robins and ducks vied for birdseed and pastry crumbs. The easy bit was over - time for some hard bits.

Up the fire road to Lockerbrook and down the burms to climb over the whale back of Win Hill. I must have been looking rough. Walkers now started asking me how I'm doing instead of just saying Hi (if anything). Truth is, since I'm pushing, I'm pretty knackered but I made it further up "try not to walk this" than I did on Sunday last week.


Up on the tops, everything was better. It's still only 2pm and I descended Jaggers Clough, messed around a bit then rode up the other side.

Down in the Edale valley it's so quiet I started to worry I've stumbled into one of the few remaining Tier 2 areas.


I foolishly climbed up Mam Tor on a trail that's almost 100% a push up. Great descent but a dreadful choice of up. Still the quarried spills and landslides gave perfect shelter for the 1st course of my evening meal. I couldn't dally too long though as the cold was seeping into the fleece layer I added. That stays on for the rest of the climb. Families up here were hiking back and forth along the edge - some trying to decide whether to make an early descent from the wind. Have the kids really had enough or are they just whining?

• • •

The wind put me off riding the ridge, the volume of people even more so.  I decided to give up on my big day out here. The late start meant I wouldn't be home for dinner. The gale makes it even less likely I'd finish my route today. So I dropped into the Hope valley. I caught up a runner, stopped staring back over my shoulder. The Golden sun was setting behind Mam Tor. On some rides there's a moment where you know you've seen everything you were meant to see that day.

I descended on a trail I've never ridden before - that is to say - accident­ally on a footpath. It wasn't going well for my tyres in the slidey off-camber mud so I pushed the bike back over to the bridleway.

• • •

Down in Castleton it was just like any other Boxing Day (maybe a little quieter). The well healed looking to score a boxing-day sales Blue John jewelery bargain or a tin of shortbread. I thought I'd ride up the Peveril Castle road, over to Calver and take a different line home to ususal but at the last minute decided at least if I was going to make my ride short, I'd make it count. So I turned up Cave Dale instead. More less-than-well-prepared people picked their way over limestone boulders in their Marks and Spencer fashion boots asking "you're not cycling up there are you?" Erm no, I'm walking. 

That was the truth. As the incline eased enough for me to consider riding, the wind found its way into the dale until eventually I was pushing in the cold wind across flat-open moorland with all my might. The sanctuary of a three-sided sheep pen gave me enough cover to stop for more food, a wee and a much needed change into my big coat. In the time I'd been in Cave Dale the sun had officially set.

From here there was little chance of me reaching Calver and an alternative route home so I resigned myself to the cement works path,Thornhill and a long slog up New Road and Stanage (again-sigh).

The legs complained a lot about every incline on the cement works path and my left knee cramped so hard I had to get off and walk the last bit. At the end though, I was rewarded by a gale force tail wind up the valley to Thornhill and some incredible Christmas lights in Bradwell. A huge star or the word "love" shone out from the hillside outside the village but I was too tired and unsteady to stop and photograph them well.


On the Thornhill bike path the clock hit 6:30pm and the stomach started to rumble again so I stopped to eat the last half of my early dinner - Sweedish flatbread with sunflower seeds, Emmental, prosciutto ham and honey, before tackling the climb home.

It wasn't enough though and I cycled New Road with one glove in the other hand whilst my bare hand shovelled whatever sweeties it could find from my nosebag into my mouth.  Skittles were stashed in my hamster cheeks to warm up to edible temperature whilst M&Ms were consumed immediately.

When I reached the end of the tree cover the glove had to go back on but at least by then, the wind was cross-to-tail, giving me unpredictable boosts. As the road turned, the wind both helped and hindered but for the main it was finally helping and occasionally I had to brake hard when the dry stone walls started to approach a little too quickly. New Road is a just-bearable hindrance that has to be tolerated for the joy of riding the Stanage Causeway but at night it can be deserted and tolerable. Wind assisted and with Christmas lights twinkling in the valley below, it was actually enjoyable. Even the boy racers were safely tucked up with beers and boxing day TV.

The causeway though was just silly. Fun at first with that tail wind, I enjoyed the luxury of being blown through puddles. Then when the direction turned, the wind came from the side. The wind from the valley floor combined with the horizontal gusts to slam me leftwards towards the rocks above me before the pressure wave rebounded and slammed me back towards the cliff face below me. I endured it as long as I could then got off and walked perfectly rideable terrain. So much for a wind-assisted PB.

• • •

I spent my time considering the fluid dynamics trying to identify still areas of airflow in plain exposure where I could shelter if forced to do so.

At the highest point of the crag I had to crouch low behind my bike to avoid being blown over. I gripped the bars hard as the rear wheel bounced off the ground in the up-draft. I almost ran to the bend in the track where it finally turns away from the edge, where the buffeting would stop and I could get back on again. Sure enough, I rode the flagstones with ease as the tailwind pushed me across and the pole passed in a fleeting glance.

From bailing out on Cavedale to walking into my kitchen was 2 hours. It didn't feel like a bad bail though. Getting home for dinner was nice. Going to bed happy was real nice. I can't guarantee I'll get up and do it all again today but chances of me going outside for a couple of hours are pretty high:

My attitude to longer distances has changed. I used to think 60k in a day was a long way. Now I think it doable and wonder what I've done with the rest of the day.

I used to count the metres elevation Now they're just an essential part of a nice ride.

I still look at the HT as a potentially impossible feat at this time of the year, when 65km knocks everything I have out of me. When the sun has been gone since 3:40pm it's really difficult to contemplate going out again after dinner - especially during these Covid times when that dinner has been carried on your back for 40km and eaten under a hedge in the darkness.

The extra knowledge I have though is that it will come. Like, so long as I start now. Note to self: stop fucking slacking off!  I'm trying to stay positive after I wrote off  the last 3/4 of October, November and most of December.

Two years ago I was riding in the Surrey hills at Christmas before my actual HT attempt. Mostly it was easier going. The rides were longer but the elevation and effort paltry by comparison.

• • •

Last year over Christmas, all I managed were a couple of long road rides to Manchester and back to be specific. This year I feel like I could do those loaded on the mtb if I tried. I could visit my folks for a cuppa and enjoy a camp out on my way home if I really felt like it - if this wind would fade off. I might still do it given the right conditions.

So despite a bit of slacking, the effort is increasing. Yes I'm trying to convince me more than you. Bear with me, it's working.

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Year in Photos 2020

 I try to do this every year but think I probably missed last year.  

Here's my 2020 which, despite being a very weird year was pretty good for this introvert only child.

Elan valley - January
A fine "sunrise" to the year.  I'd just slept out in pouring rain then bumped into friends in the morning.  I rode further than anyone that weekend and felt it.


A shelter for Februarbivi

I woke up to snow in the morning for the ride into work.

The day before it all got weird - March

A chance meeting with my parents in the Peak before we all resigned ourselves to exercising from the back door.  I was OK - this loop is from my back door.  They, on the other hand, got pretty bored of walking around the airport.

Beauty, the beast - April

 We lost Ripley to cancer in August.  This is one of the prettiest photos I've taken of her from my April Bivi in my own back garden - emergency rules.

Back out of the garden for the May Bivi

This was one of my favourite nights out.  Usually we wouldn't consider stopping here due to traffic noise but the roads were still silent as the UK got up from the hangover of L1.0 (as it was never known).

It was so warm in June I actually took my swimming kit out with me.  It stayed in the bag

Tod in July

 My annual trip to Todmorden, refining the Northern Myth route.  I knew I was fit because roadies were drafting me on the fully loaded mountain bike.

Wild life
In August I returned to our June Bivi spot on an evening ride to scout for something better.  The birdsong in this woodland almost deafened me and there are at least three squirrels in this pic, plus a gazzillion invisible birds and insects.

That thing
I can't pick just one from the Welsh Ride Thing in August.  I made it hard for myself by riding there from Sheffield with the most wonderful sunrise in Sheffield, a temperature inversion, torrential rain all afternoon on Thursday resulting in a cheeky night in a travelodge then everything from rainbows to semi-naked lunches in woodland glens during the event.  The whole weekend was topped off by bumping into old workmate and good friends at the end in Machynlleth.

Boardwalk - September

Despite many beautiful pictures from my HT Northern Loop recce, this image of TSK traversing Boardwalk near Ardross sums up the best part of our out-of-lockdown holiday in Scotland.  We adventured hard this day, even though it was "just" an 18km walk into town for dinner.  We nearly fell in the water, scrambled, scrabbled our way up a steep valley side through trees and chest high bracken and climbed over fences.  It was the gateway to some Munro bagging later the next week.

but if I'm breaking the rules for the WRT, this camp spot definitely clears September up too.

Bear Bones 200 - October

The WRT was fun but I attempted the BB200 properly.  It's a good job because if I'd taken my time, I wouldn't have finished in time.  There are much better photos from this ride but this one encapsulates what made it great for me.  I rode through the night, only grabbing 30 minutes sleep in a bus stop before hiking the bike up to elevation to catch this sunrise.

November - a lucky bivi

In November, Landslide and I pursued a foolish bivi spot on the moors in freezing conditions.  Miraculously we survived the cold, were up in time to avoid our camp being soaked and brewed up by a stream out of the breeze in the morning.  

December - this Boy

At the end of last year, I had a new bike on my Christmas shopping list for the HT in 2020.  I started researching and while I liked the idea of a steel bike, I also wanted to try something C-Fibre to get the weight down and generally to see how I got on with it as an off road option, so by the end of February, I'd finally plumped for a bike to work special Off The Peg which joined the family just before lockdown.  It was satisfying accruing a load of pbs and enjoyable to ride with less weight but that steely bird just kept on pecking at me so I eventually decided to invest in Cotic and transfer over all the bits off my old Scott which I'd had renovated 2 years earlier.

I pimped up the forks and bought some new pedals and a rear wheel but otherwise used all pre-loved equipment.  After going a full circle trying different saddles, I've recently refitted my Selle Royal Diva's to every distance bike I own.

I'm now no wiser as to which bike I'll race the HT on but in building up my strength on the Cotic beastie, either one will be a delight to ride in TLS mode.

So what's the value to all this?  Well, I didn't do stats in December 2019 either because, well, I was still recovering from a work-related event in January which left me with a lot of mental healing to do.  I also realise, reading back, that I was doing a hell of a lot of riding and not a lot of anything else. I got very excited about training - if I'm honest, a little too early.  By March I was knackered and with lockdown, I slacked off until deciding to ride 125km loops around the block in April.

This week marks 21 weeks to go until HT, hopefully in May next year.  Except for last year's exuberance, I've never trained for anything longer than 20 weeks so today, I re-attack training with renewed vigour and look forward to the next 20 weeks.

January - 562km 10700m Further and hillier!

February - 460km 10599m Unsurprisingly slacking off

March - 636km13655m Unsurprisingly slacking off

April - 497km12534 Unsurprisingly slacking off

May - 782km 22613 Further and hillier! Even without the highland trail!

June - 628km14842m A bit more slacking off

July - 863km 13735 JUST further and hillier!

August - 946km 22084 Further and hillier!

September - 559km 13744m Not further but only by 30k but 2000m hillier!

October - 300km12958m Slacking on distance by 300km but slightly higher by 200m!

November - 373km 9513m Totally fucked off November

December - 472km 18221m (nice comeback!) Slacking on distance by 270km but higher by 6000m thanks to Alan for pushing me to attempt something stupid!


 Total Year stats

Time: 740hrs (2019:862h)(2018:869h)

Distance:6,542km (2019:8221km)(2018:11,887km road)

Elevation: 169,521m - 229m/hr (2019:174465m - 202m/hr)(2018:168,072m - 193m/hr)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Winter Solstice Bivi 2020

I should have done more on Solstice day but I've done very little for Christmas this year so Saturday was spent sorting presents and Sunday morning was spent fixing my bike up or loading it with stuff.

I rolled out at 2pm, dropped down to the river and chinked up Fairy Glen to the South side of the valley.

The road of 100 puddles is the gateway lane. It gets me out into the fields.  Sometimes it becomes the fields. I had to negotiate with a horse to let me pass. He was feeling skittish. Eventually his rider turned him around, passed me, then turned again and followed me along the lane.

The good dog was indoors but woofed to me from the house. I turned up the hill to the top road and as I climbed, horse and rider caught me up. He was much happier to keep an eye on me in front and his rider was pleased as he had got brave enough to pass the second gate. When the track flattened out I left them to celebrate together.

On the top road,the sunset begged to be photographed. My bike begged to have its picture taken, despite me treading through a bog to do so.

 There's a fair bit of road riding to get out this side of the valley, though there are few cars. It's my express-way to the Peak. I was glad I'd made it out here early enough to see the ocre moorland, the clouds turn pink to orange and the sky turn blue to turquoise, yellow and then Navy.


I stopped at the gate for a chat with another rider who had come out for the solstice and ended up taking pity on his Loneliness, inviting him to our street's outdoor Christmas Carol evening because he can't get out to see his family in London this Christmas.

I squelched through more puddles then joined the A57 for the final express descent to the Lady bower reservoir. It wasn't the hike a bike that put me off taking the Derwent Edge route but the depth of the puddles a resulting erosion on the downhill. I decided to steer clear and ride the shore track instead.

The reservoir level was full - literally to overflowing. This bench has consistently been around 30-40ft above the water line for the whole summer. Now it felt like the water was lapping at my feet. I'm glad I made this stop before the sun completely disappeared. I watched the boy racers blatting along the tourist road, content in the knowledge they couldn't get anywhere near me here.


By the time I reached the village the light had gone. I couldn't face the visitor centre toilets and boy racer carpark so I carried on up to Howden, avoiding the occasional ill-equipped dog walkers making their way back in darkness.

In fact, they just kept coming By the time I finally found a spot to have a wee, I was pretty sure I had exhausted the walking crowds, yet still found myself keeping an eye on my darkened bike as I readjusted my layers whilst a couple walked past nonchalantly chatting - hopefully none the wiser at my presence.

A fine Westerly breeze had picked up so I added thick gloves and a fleece and shivered as my feet gradually lost their feeling along the more exposed trails and the easy-going Tarmac road after a deserted Slippery Stones. Now the night-hikers were better equipped and a fine array of blindingly bright head-torches dazzled me so much I had to brake on the downhills Just rude!

• • •

I found another sheltered spot to take on enough calories to get me through to dinner time. One of my favourite reservoir outlooks only slightly ruined by the head torch light pollution of a fleet of Weekend Warriors. By sitting down for a bit my feet actually warmed up and stayed warm for the rest of the ride.

I allowed myself a ride up the fire road to escape the valley after I realised I should have last time. It was satisfying. I got so warm in my extra layers I had to take my helmet off to let my hood down and rode to the top with it dangling from my handlebars. It was a Tonino-Nice moment in the middle of the dark winter and made me smile for the rest of the day.

• • •

The surface on the burms had been chewed up well by the rain and in other places been washed away to reveal the old cobbles. Needless to say, with all the kit on my bike I did not ride up "try not to walk this bit". I was glad to descend back to the reservoir trail where the only real challenge was trying to read surface detail by dynamo light and not end up sideways or knee-deep in mud.

 The mud turned to running water, cue one reservoir sinkhole by night light. I checked my messages to find Landslide just leaving for our rendezvous. I had 90 minutes to kill and was sick of riding up New Road,so I plotted an alternate road hike up Padley Gorge and North Lees

• • •

The bike path to Thornhill was possibly the muddiest I got all ride. In the fading dynamo light, pushing up the gorge I scared myself stupid wheeling the bike over a wobbly paving slab which made me think there was a ghost rider right behind me.

An owl screeching in the neighbouring field nearly finished me off.

The time had hit 7:30pm and I had to snack my way across the bottom of Stanage edge and up the road toward Burbage to keep the legs turning.

I looked down the Burb valley and could see another rider making their way up. The timing was looking good.

Up at the carpark, a person was standing by a vehicle so I decided to give the footpath a miss for now and head over to the bridleway to check my phone in the shelter of the rock wall.

• • •

I thought I could already see a light in our chosen spot for the night but just as I'd sent a text, he arrived at my spot and we carried on back to the bivi spot together.

We carved out an excellent nook in a tree clearing, both of us revelling in the security of our tented cocoons. I was starving and washed down my dinner of dessicated curry with warmed rehydration drink.

I took a few sips of whisky but had already drunk enough in the week and mentally needed to get a nice ride in on Monday morning too.

It took me a while to get settled. Despite it being 4 degrees warmer than our Novembivi it was wetter and I still ended up putting on all my layers, including waterproofs, and breaking out the foot warmers.

• • •

I was particularly annoyed I forgot my down boots. I must've slept at about midnight then woke at 5:40. I snoozed a bit then heard L get up. 

I brewed up from my sleeping bag, still dining out on Porridge with Ben Nevis honey and a really delicious coffee. 

  A little more world-righting over breakfast then we packed up to head home.

When I finally got up the trees were misty with falling rain and kind of pretty and mysterious. 

The Creature from the Black Lagoon bringing me Christmas gifts

The track out was challenging and required a degree of teamwork to negotiate the stream crossing and boulder hopping. I ignored an increasingly wobbly saddle as I shoved and vaulted the bike around wearily, then we skipped our way down the final pitch to the Fox house Inn and L continued into Sheffield, late for his "some time after 10" shift, whilst I strolled off to do Houndkirk with my morning off work.

• • •

I soon ground to a halt after my saggy saddle got so bad, my saddle bag started to touch the rear tyre. I repacked the bag then took an Alan key to the seat post, relieved to have the saddle back in the right position. I rode towards home feeling 4 inches taller.

At the top of the Mayfield valley I needed a final stop to feed before the push for home and had a chat with a runner, out for her dog walk. These little links helping to ease the Lockdown drudgery.

Although I was using up a part of my remaining leave I did have a rather important 2:30 meeting so I beat a hasty line home through the outskirts of town, the 11am traffic was at least easy enough to make road riding bearable.

• • •

I dropped into home at 12 o'clock for a shower, lunch and a perfect 1 hour sleep before work in the afternoon.

That's it 12/12 for 2020. 2 under emergency rules. (novel but never again, hopefully) 2 years in a row.