Bivvy Tales: Balconies, Backyards and a Break From Reality
In our first instalment of Bivvy Tales, we learned how bivvying can take us to some unexpected places. This time, we discover that it can also mean an adventure in our very own backyards and making the most of what we have. For one weekend in April, an adventurous few took to their balconies, gardens and front rooms to camp out under the stars. This is their story.
With events, races and bikepacking trips cancelled, adventure cyclists have been finding increasingly inventive ways to itch the adventure scratch – all without leaving their homes. Although turbo trainers or limited restrictions on outside riding mean most can get their cycling fix, it’s harder to capture the full bikepacking experience whilst obeying lockdown and social distancing restrictions.
Helen Kellar was one such rider, missing longer rides and facing the disappointment of cancelled events. To regain some of that sense of adventure, while following social distancing restrictions, Helen explains that she decided to “recreate our weekend fun times with a little adventure closer to home – a bivvy in our backyard. I thought some mates might like the idea too, so I set up an event on Facebook and invited a few buddies. The idea was popular, so we were on!”.
Angela Walker is a natural community builder, so when her friend Helen came up with the idea for a coordinated backyard campout, she was keen to spread the word and build a movement that would help bikepackers meet their need for adventure and make the most of what they have available.
“For me, the bikepacking mentality is not just about riding far, it’s about being resourceful and doing the best that we can with as little as possible, often in unfamiliar places. Right now, the outside world is a limited resource and we’re all in uncharted territory. If adventure means being out of our comfort zone, I think we’re all out of our comfort zones a little bit right now.”
While some have gardens and backyards to help recreate a more authentic outdoor experience, some like Angela were confined to a small city centre balcony in Sheffield – but in the true spirit of bikepacking, the perfect bivvy spot is often where you least expect it.
“The conditions were perfect, hardly any wind and the temperature was mild. My balcony faces west, so once I’d set my bivvy kit up I just sat and watched the sun go down. The sky was clear and even with the city’s light pollution I could still see plenty of stars.”
Those in more rural locations were treated to their local night-time wildlife, something they never would have noticed had they been inside. For Grace Lambert-Smith, based in the Peak District, this meant being woken up by an unusual midnight choir…
“I woke at around 1:30am to a chorus of owls like I’ve never heard before. One close by on my left squawked to its friend a few hundred metres away on my right, with backing vocals provided by the hoots of their extended community. It was incredible.”
However, the night-time interruptions were too much for some in more urban areas, like Eleanor Jakowska in Bristol.
“After lights out it felt good to be lying flat on the ground and to be breathing fresh, cool air as we tried to drift off to sleep. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, Bristol is a lot noisier than more rural areas, and after a few hours of lying awake to the sound of boy racers and rowing neighbours we bailed indoors.”
There were some positives though, and for Eleanor the luxury of being able to use more kit than than you’d be able to strap to the bike was enough to make the experience seem that little bit more luxurious.
“We opted for the tent for a little bit of added privacy from the neighbours – why scrimp when you don’t have to carry anything?!”
For London-based Natt Williams, one of the positives of camping out in his backyard was the feeling of escapism.
“I’m such an outdoors person, so any opportunity to sit out under the stars with a cup of joe and listen to the nature around me is priceless. Even if it’s the not-so-sweet sound of London’s foxes in the dark of night!”
But despite everyone’s different experiences, there seemed to one overarching theme: the feeling of community. And much like Grace’s garden owls hooting to their extended community over the midnight sky, those taking part were also able to reach out theirs.
“It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one out there sleeping outside”, says Grace. “There was a buzz of chatter on social media with people sharing their balcony bivvies and garden campfires that made me feel like we were all in this together.”
“It was great to see others getting involved in it too”, remarks Helen. “Friends we had met on bikepacking trips in Europe last summer, from France and Slovenia, city dwellers setting up for a balcony bivvy, kit-savvy tarp kings with pro-hammock set-up and front room campouts with kids. A real mix.”
According to Natt, this was an opportunity to put a different spin on things: “I wanted to turn a negative into a positive, however small, and get involved with my community of adventurers by going on a mini-adventure.”
And for Angela, there’s never been a more important time to try and stay in touch with the community and those around you.
“It’s important that we find new ways of having fun together and stay connected, to give ourselves a mental break from the daily pressures of social isolation and keep our spirits up.”
Far from being a one-off sleep out, each rider that took part is already planning to do it again. Tales of backyard bivvies are being shared through the hashtag #c19backyardbivvy on Instagram and Twitter and there’s a Facebook page and group coordinating future events. If you’re feeling inspired and want to get your own adventure fix, why not take part in the next one?