Sometime back I started following Alastair Humphreys on various social media platforms. He’s a travel writer/blogger and I’ve read two of his books, Grand Adventures and Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes. Through this second book, he encourages people to get out and have #microadventures in their immediate surroundings. Day trips, overnighters, easy stuff that can be accomplished within work-a-day life.
Back at the beginning of the summer I assembled a few things with plans for my own version of the micro adventure, a combination of a commute to work and a S24O (sub-24hour overnight for the uninitiated). I had dubbed it a ‘C24O’. My plan was to head out one evening on the bike with camping gear, ride until dark, camp and then get up and go to work the next day. Not surprisingly, the usual stuff got in the way and I went the whole summer without a single ‘C24O’.
Summer is really dragging into Fall in our neck of the woods so this past Friday I was able to get out for a conventional overnighter. My plan, formed hastily, was to head out Friday night, find a spot, and then get up early Saturday morning and hit the Farmer’s Market before the crowds and when the good stuff was still there. Weather was looking promising, though a bit chilly – no rain forecast, but a projected overnight of º2 C meant that I packed the wool base layers. When I managed to roll out Friday evening in shorts, the sun was setting and it was absolutely sublime out.
I didn’t have a particular camp spot in mind, but several ‘potentials’ – my main concerns were not running into people or getting hassled by yahoos out on a Friday night drinking excursion in the woods. I rolled into Marysville and headed down to the flats along the Nashwaak River for a closer look. I had a backup spot in mind if nothing panned out. I managed to find what I felt was a pretty stealth spot a ways of the rail-trail that was tucked in the grass enough that trail users couldn’t see me yet had a nice view of the river. I also checked the satellite on Google Maps and noticed that fortunately there were no houses directly across from my spot on the river.
I decided this was as good a spot as any and sat for a bit listening to the river go by and checking out a flock of Canadian Geese messing about a little bit down river. Once it was a bit darker, I scouted out to find some firewood and came back to set up my tent. The evening was cool, but not uncomfortable, and as it got completely dark I started a small fire and sat and listened to the night coming on.
Although it was hard to see far past the fire, I was at one point startled by loud splashing noises down in the river. I figured it was probably deer, beavers, or possibly even fish jumping, but wasn’t able to see anything even with a headlamp. I would continue to hear the noises every once in awhile – I eventually started talking to them to make sure they knew I was there and there was no need to come check me out any closer.
I spent a few hours feeding the fire and listening, feeling I should be doing something but realizing that there was actually nothing to do. What a strange sensation – and a luxury – in this day and age to accept that sitting there, doing nothing, listening to the sounds of what was going on around me and processing my own thoughts was exactly what I should be doing.
As the fire died and I exhausted my supply of wood, I had a moment where at first I thought someone was shining a light down my way from the trail or a light had come on somewhere. A bit startled, I realized that, as my luck would have it, I’d managed my trip on the full moon and it was rising up behind me like a spotlight in a clear, empty sky. It never ceases to amaze me how much light the moon casts and this night was no exception.
Even after the fire was out, I sat and soaked in my surroundings, for I could see quite well in the moonlight. I managed to catch a quick glimpse at whatever was making the splashing noises in the river – it was definitely something jumping up – and back into – the water, but I still wasn’t sure what it was.*
It was starting to cool off pretty good at this point and even though I’d thrown on a few layers throughout the evening, I decided to get warm for good in the sleeping bag and call it a night. Settling in, I could hear the sound of tall grass in the occasional breeze, running water and the occasional slap of my mystery friend playing in the river.
I slept pretty well, though did have to get up and add some layers during the night. My sleeping bag is rated to 0ºC, and though I have no idea what the actual temperature was, I think it may have been below what was forecast at my camping spot as I was in a low-lying area down by the river. As luck would have it, wearing everything I’d brought with me inside the sleeping bag, I was pretty comfortable most of the time. I was wearing a wool base layer top and bottom, synthetic technical shirt, thermal pants, wool cycling jersey, a down jacket and toque. The only thing I screwed up was brining only the one pair of wool socks I was wearing – I could’ve used another pair as my feet were cold.
After a few toss and turns during the night, I decided around 5am that between the bit of cold that I was feeling as well as my desire to get to Market, that I probably wasn’t going to sleep anymore so decided to get up. It was still dark of course, but the moon was out in full and was striking. A thin frost had formed on everything, the ground, grass and my tent and the light from the moon made everything shimmer.
I was pretty cold at this point and cursed myself for having not collected more or saved some firewood from the night before as a fire would have been fantastic to warm me up both physically and mentally. I tried to get something going with some of the grass nearby, but it was mostly too wet and frost covered to catch. Going to find more actual firewood was a bit of a hike from my spot and I figured it was probably wet as well. Lesson learned for next time. I also made a note to work on my fire-making skills more often as gas bar-b-ques and fuel canister stoves have made me lazy. All my Boy Scout knowledge has been lost in the ether of time.
I did set about starting up my burner stove to make some coffee and oatmeal. I didn’t have any coffee at home the night before when I set out so I’d stopped at a gas station on the way and bought a jar of instant. Man. That stuff is terrible. Never again. I couldn’t even make it through the whole cup. I shoveled down some lukewarm oatmeal – I’d managed to bring a stove canister that was pretty much empty and barely got the water boiling before running out (Another lesson learned!) – and then set about breaking camp. Packing was easier since I was wearing most of what I’d packed the day before. I was rolling through the pre-dawn on the bike trail by 7am. It was chilly out and the prospect of hot food and good coffee at the Market kept me going.
Once there, and after warm eats and luxurious coffee, I set about doing a little shopping. As I got ready to leave I realized I had no room to put my groceries on the bike. Ironic I thought, that a bike covered in bags and gear had no room for a few groceries. I’m still learning each time I go out to pack efficiently and in this case, maybe I’d done too good of a job. I had just-enough space for everything, and nothing extra. I guess when I’m planning multi-day trips I’ll need to work on allowing extra room for food.
Since my ride home from the Market was all on rail trail, it would be smooth, and in this case I was able to get away with simply balancing my grocery bag on the handlebars and steadying it with one hand over bumps.
The ride home was a treat. I left the Market and it was still dark, but the sun started to come up just as I crossed the St. John River. By the time I approached the Nashwaak, the trees were afire with oranges, yellows and reds – lit up with that special, ‘first morning’ power of light that always seems somehow brighter or more radiant. These times at dawn and dusk, I always think of a Steinbeck quote from Cannery Row, “It is the hour of the pearl – the time between day and night when time stops and examines itself.” It seems sometimes like the light is so intense and the colors so radiant, that everything stops, especially if you stop to take it all in.
Best part of it all is I was back home with yummy eats to share with the Fam by 9:30 or so and had the whole rest of the day to bask in my micro adventure glow. Definitely glad I got out – grateful to my wife Lyn for handling the Herd while I did and looking forward to more in future – next time with an extra pair of socks.
*I’ve come to the conclusion after referencing a few people and sources that my noisy visitors were probably river otters. I wasn’t sure if we had them here, but apparently they are around and they make more sense than beavers, as there was no dams or signs of beaver activity around. Also I’ve heard beavers slap their tails, but never really seen them ‘jump’ out of open water like these guys.