“We wondered if you’d like to be filmed bike packing and rough camping with a mate for a BBC documentary”

I’m a great believer in taking opportunities when they come. No regrets and all that stuff. So when Jenny from Air TV called to ask if she could use some of my YouTube footage, I immediately said yes.

Fast-forward a few weeks and Jenny is back on the phone asking if we’d like to go on a rough-camping adventure in September.

Not a flippin’ clue

I can understand now why Jenny thought we’d be the right guys for the job. I’d just waxed lyrical about how I’d taken my young kids rough-camping a few weeks earlier but had failed to mention that the last time I have used a bivvy was in the Scouts. I am 38. That was a loooooong time ago.

Anyway, from all the adventure books I’ve read, the best stories come from those that aren’t 100% prepared. And that summed us up nicely.

Gear

“Eh up Jon. Any of the lads you know got any bike-packing gear?”. I knew some of our mates and connections would have some gear we could borrow.

After a quick round-up from a group of mates in Guisborough, Jon had pulled together a load of equipment that would surely see us successfully camping in moderate luxury.

One of our mistakes was not actually looking at the gear until we were on the shores of Lake Buttermere. It appeared the gear between the 2 of us was as follows:

  • One stove from 1998 which my wife used in Africa. It leaked but the leaflet said it would burn any fuel, so we could at least cook
  • One fork
  • 1 bivvy bag (not 2 🤦‍♂️)
  • 1 flysheet and some bits of string
  • 1 huge plastic bag that came with a mattress delivery for my daughter’s new bed the day before
  • 4 packets of pasta and sauce
  • Matches
  • Torches
  • 2 X roll mats + 2 X sleeping bags
  • Clothes
  • Some bike bags to put stuff in

None of this equipment had been tested. In fact, neither of us had ridden with bike bags on our mountain bikes before.

Setting off from Buttermere

The plan was to ride from Buttermere over the mountain range to the northern end of Lake Ennerdale, then up the valley to Black Sail Hut where we would meet the film crew.

So off we set and immediately, we realised upon compression of our rear suspension, the saddlebags ‘buzzed’ on the rear tyre. Not an issue, we’ll just lock it off.

The 2nd issue was also fairly immediate.

Jon: “You’ve got a GPS haven’t you mate?”

Me: “Err, no”

Jon: “Yeah but you brought an OS map?”

Me: “Yeah yeah yeah”

10 minutes later

Me: “Dude, I think it may be on my kicthen table in Birmingham 😬”

So a quick trip to the local cafe in Buttermere, £15 on an OS map and we were back in business.

Houston, we have a problem

After filling our faces with food and tea, I glanced at my watch. It was 1:45pm and we were meeting the film crew between 3-4pm…

That was not a lot of time, even if we didn’t have our bags on the bikes!

So off we went at a reasonable pace past Scale Force Waterfall and up over Sheepfold. However, our map reading was a bit rusty and somehow we ended up in bog central 4-6 inches of mossy, boggy water. Our bikes that were probably 50lbs + and so riding up a mountain was hard going.

It had been raining hard and the ground was saturated. We were now jumping across streams and making very, very slow progress. Oh, and it was 3:40pm.

Home straight

Eventually, we crested the summit and began to ride our bikes after what felt like hours of pushing. It is safe to say, the bikes don’t handle half as well heavily loaded up and with big rucksacks on.

After some negotiating with some highland cattle, we made it on to the final descent down to the lakeside.

The ride up the valley to Black Sail is ideal for a gravel bike and not too strenuous, but after all the pushing we were getting quite tired.

Fortunately, the crew were also delayed after filming mountain rescue earlier in the day. Eventually, in the middle of nowhere, we clocked a blacked-out Landrover Discovery by the side of the road with the film crew.

Filming

After strapping numerous GoPros all over our bodies and with the crew hiding in the grass, we started filming. However, it was like someone had removed the cycling gene I was born with and replaced it with a drunk.

Every 20 yards or so, I was either losing my wheel off the side of the trail or fumbling on some loose rocks. All hope of looking ‘rad’ were gone and instead, we looked like a couple of chancers who had just learnt to ride bikes heading off to almost certain hypothermia later that night.

The crew were lovely, super-friendly and grateful for our time. Hopefully, the footage they got was useable!

Setting up camp

The wind was kicking down the valley like an angry donkey (you know that classic saying, right 🤷‍♂️) and so we headed for the trees for additional protection.

After finding a great spot by the river, the crew got the drone out to film us pretending we knew what we were doing whilst throwing a sheet at a tree and hoping it would make for a good place to sleep.

The leaky stove, true to its name, set fire to the ground and we enjoyed burnt pasta whilst the sun went down.

After a final interview, we were left to sleep on some lumpy ground and waited for the rain to beat the living daylights out of us throughout the night.

Soggy

Amazingly we slept ok under our tarp, but as only one of us had a bivvy bag my sleeping bag was a bit soggy at the bottom.

Now, true bike-packers would light up a stove to make coffee, bacon and eggs etc. Jon and I? Nah. We opted for a pain au chocolate in a plastic packet which was about half a centimetre thick as it had been in the bottom of my bag the previous day.

Ramming soggy rolls mats into our bags we headed off to push up Black Sail Pass. Riding SPD’s meant I was slipping all over the rocks but I knew my life would be easier than Jons as his dropper-post wouldn’t stay up and so had to ride much of the way back fully loaded in a crouched position.

Do it again?

Dam right I would. But I think either a hardtail or gravel bike would be better. Riding technical descents is particularly dicey when carrying that much weight. But d’you know what, it made for a fun weekend.

No phone reception, no social media, no distractions, just bikes, banter and terrible food. What else could you wish for?