Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Failure = Success

I took a solo bikepacking trip this past Saturday night. It was a short local trip that covered 30 miles start to finish. To make a long story short, I pulled the plug around midnight for a few reasons. The interesting part is the amount of feedback I've gotten from friends and family implying that the trip was some sort of failure. I've given that reaction a lot of thought and here's why I think they're wrong:

  1. I had lots of fun. It was probably more fun than if I had hung out and left in the morning.
  2. I learned a few things about an unusual situation in the relatively safe local environment. I'll bail on a trip somewhere else without a doubt and I'll be better equipped next time around.
  3. Just like my rule for riding: If you don't crash now and then you're not riding hard enough, you're not getting better and you're not growing. Similarly, if you don't push your gear list to the point of determining that a certain piece of gear won't work you will never know where limits are.
  4. Did I mention that I had fun?

 Headed out... bike lanes in Lexington. Nice.

 My favorite spring board bridge... the return trip in the pitch black of night was fun. This bridge deflects 8-10 inches as you cross. Every time I go over I'm braced for it to let go and drop me in the canal.

A little off trail exploring on the way there... I'd pay for that on the way back out with an under-powered head lamp.

 The gear... it doesn't take much.

 Home Sweet Home
 A table for one... ramen & miso is a favorite of mine lately.

 I just can't stop staring at my bike... Molly was made for this.

 I keep coming back to the MSR HyperFlow filter for a reason.

I decided to call it a night around 9:30pm. I planned on staying up and out later but the bugs were driving me batty. I quickly learned that my bivy (even with the large mesh window around my head) was WAY too hot for a July night in South Carolina. Even with my quilt kicked to the bottom of the bivy I was baking alive. I zipped out and took a nap on top of the bivy for an hour or two. I eventually woke up to the familiar crunch, crunch, crunch of a campsite visitor. I flipped on my headlamp to find a fox about 10 yards from the edge of the tarp. Clapping, yelling and even throwing sticks didn't get him any further than 30 yards away at any given moment. OK, that's it I thought... I'm going home.

Packing up was easy but I was worried about visibility on the ride back. After some brainstorming I was able to hook my Kelty Triptease from my bear bag kit onto the back of my Camelbak to make me visible to cars coming up on me from behind. If you've pointed your headlamp at Triptease at night you know that its unnaturally reflective. I ended up choosing to take my Petzl E-Lite headlamp in favor of my Zebra mainly due to to the fact that its lighter and more comfortable. Unfortunately, its a notch below functional for effective off trail pathfinding and the following bike ride home in the middle of the night. It got me by and that's all it was designed for but I spent 15 miles of riding on the way home thinking of how much better the Zebra would be.

 I took a break on the ride home at a side of the road bait shop. The break was more to take in the night than to take a rest. Good times.

So what did I learn?
  1. Save the bivy for cool weather.
  2. Bring a decent head lamp. The e-Lite is only good around camp, honestly.
  3. Think about heading off trail and what that means if you have to get out in an odd situation. I'd do the same thing again but it worked out because I was lucky, not because I gave it good thought.
  4. Keep pushing. This was a good trip. How do I know? I'm smiling while I write this.


  1. Great post.

    To bad you couldn't make it until 3-5 am. By then it usually cools off enough to sleep comfortably in a bivy.

    Just and FYI, all the divide freaks are using the 50 lumen Princeton tech 3AA jobby. I prefer / recommend a more powerful solution like the Fenix HP10 / HP20 as they're way brighter and last way longer. What's more they make superb low lumen camp lights.

    BTW, red tail lights with a non-flash mode make a good camp light in a pinch as well. The red doesn't knock out your night vision.

    Re: bivy's

    I love my bivy, but I must agree, while the bugs won't bite through gortex if it's bug season it's to hot for a bivy. Hence, mesh is really unecessary in a bivy. Instead in summer I love the tarp + bug net option.

    Technically I go tarp + "bug bivy". I take a $35 sea-to-summit a-symetrical bug net (or like) and sew it to the lightest ground cloth i can find leaving the head and a couple feet of side open.

    Sewing it keeps the crawlies like ants and other explorers from crawling up your legs during the night. I usually don't even bother to stake out the foot as my feet and legs are usually in my UL quilt protected from roaming mesquitos.

    As per the head, my water bladders and bottles go in one corner and my shoes stake out the other. The apex of the bug net / bug bivy is easily hooked right onto the wing tarp guyline.

    This setup has gotten me very comfortably through some huge rain storms and crazy mesquito nights. Indeed I deemed it a huge success one morning when I woke up after a good nights sleep to see litterally hundreds of mosquitos hanging out up near the apex of the tarp and bug net.

    I had no bites, and more importantly the net kept them far enough away not even their buzzing annoyed me. (Earplugs btw, work well also, but I didn't have them that night.) Crazy campsite near a mosquitto infested pond = no problem.

    I'm a tosser and a turner, but I can't complain about this setup.

    In the fall I go with my OR Aurora bivy and a much smaller tarp. No bug net necessary.

    Last winter I got a Golite Shangri-la 3 and stripped it off all it's excess hooks / straps / poles and got it down to 1lb 10oz. Awesome. Will be putting a 1 or 2lb titanium chimney stove in it this winter.

    Been using an extremely small / light / inexpensive 1lb 4oz 45/50 degree Lafuma 600(?) Extreme for summer and a Golite extremely high loft 20 degree quilt for fall / winter.

    Still looking for alternative's to air mat's. Haven't been completely pleased with my Exped AirMat for summer or Big Agnes primaloft insulated for winter. To high maintence. Luckily I've found a new source for an accordian folding Autoshade (car window shade).

    Autoshade car window shad'es rule. They're simply awesome. Am probably going to use one of these as my sole mat for the rest of the summer, and maybe add a second for fall if I do the great divide this october. In the winter they're a must as an extra insulative sleep layer, and yet superb during the day for sitting around in the snow or the campfire. Weight mere ounces, fairly compact, indestructible as well. Also... $5 or so. :)

  2. Michael, somehow I missed your reply way back in July... good stuff.

    I'm with you on the higher end headlamp. I have a Zebra that lasts forever on a single lithium AA and puts out a ton of light if you need it to. Do you have a recommendation on a red tail light that isn't too heavy or bulky?

    Car window shades are interesting to me because of how robust they are. My Thermarest ProLight 3 (short) isn't much bulkier when its rolled tightly.

    I'm actually hoping to make my own shelter and bug net inner in 2012 to optimize practical coverage and protection without too much weight and bulk.