Bikepacking SDW in December. How stupid an idea is this!

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  • Bikepacking SDW in December. How stupid an idea is this!
  • malgrey
    Member

    So, a mate and I both find ourselves with free time until the New Year. We’ve both been thinking about Bikepacking and have pretty much all the gear for a lightweight trip in cold weather. As we’re south east based, we’re considering doing the South Downs Way, or part of it, over 3 days. Fitness should be enough to do it, with pain, or at least to do the majority of it. We would wait for a weather window, if there ever is one, so its not actually raining too much.

    My previous experience of riding the South Downs in winter is; DON’T. Thanks to the mud and the lethal slippery nature of that weird greasy green-tinged white stuff that claims to be an easy track along the ridge.

    Are we being as stupid as I suspect even considering it, or is it realistic that if sticking to the main Way, the tracks should be passable enough subject to slipping and sliding about a bit? Are there any sections which are notoriously bad in winter, other than all of it.

    If anybody can answer the question of “why” we are even considering it, do let me know…we do have history of stupid things like this, getting blown off the Brecon Beacons in Storm Desmond as the tent kept collapsing on my face, dragging canoes for miles across the Highlands at Easter, that sort of thing. And yes, I realise the majority of this ride will actually consist of 16 hours of darkness crouched under a tarp wishing we’d dragged a barrel of ale along on a Bob trailer…

    Premier Icon jimdubleyou
    Subscriber

    I would take a barrel of ale on a Bob trailer.

    At least you won’t care about being cold, wet and miserable.

    I think if you could get a weather window of hard frosts it could be sublime. Perhaps bivi near to pubs so you can spend a few hours each day in warmth and comfort.

    malgrey
    Member

    Thinking at least of a litre of Laphroaig in a Platypus bag. When I’m canoeing its easy – we carried 20 kg of wine all the way to Sweden this summer…

    Already trying to suss out pubs. Probably more useful for lunch stops, as bivis likely to be higher if the weather is nice enough. If we don’t get turned away for being covered from head to toe in mud…

    I pray for cold! Weird eh…

    richardthird
    Member

    Less insane than the Ridgeway. Just. Problem with pubs is that they are mostly at the foot of yeat another treachorous descent and climb that you wouldn’t otherwise have had to endure.

    Frost is ace though, not had any yet.

    highlandman
    Member

    Not insane. Although a less slimy route might be preferable…

    I’m just back today from 4 days in the Highlands packing along the Great Glen Way and down into Spey & then Tayside. It’s amazing just how good it can be at this time of year; snow on the highest ground but basically, dry, empty trails!!

    malgrey
    Member

    YEah, the pubs are all at the bottom, other than the Devil’s Dyke. In fact, there’s not much other than slime an fields on the ridge at all…

    The Highlands ride sounds superb, this time we need to be close to home but could be one for the future.

    whitestone
    Member

    Brilliantly stupid 😆 Just get out and do it, if nothing else you’ll remember it.

    Premier Icon pictonroad
    Subscriber

    It’s as dry as anything right now. As in today, but we’ve got a bit of rain forecast for the weekend. It’s so dry though that it might still be alright and there’s plenty of wind forecast to dry it.

    In fact, you could probably do it west – East this weekend barely pedalling.

    Wind will make or break the trip, the mud, (save at the far western) end is never that bad.

    Temperature wise, it was T shirts again on Tuesday night’s ride.

    andreasrhoen
    Member

    beautiful idea!

    But:

    16 hours of darkness crouched under a tarp

    tarp in summer: the mosquitos eat you up. You crawl into the sleeping back to protect you. Bake to death. In the morning the face is swollen from all the mosquito bites. If you are lucky the ants were too stupid to get into your sleeping bag.

    tarp in winter: the mosquitos and ants hate tarps in winter time. All gone.
    But the night will be still VERY crappy. That’s the unhappy part.

    A big fire might improve the situation? Had a look in the internet. The trail is beautiful. But no trees. Makes the fire option more difficult so.

    whitestone
    Member

    Fires aren’t a good idea, basically rural vandalism (yes I know farmers and others set fires but that doesn’t mean it’s still not a good idea)

    Using a tarp is more than just putting it up wherever you fancy a bit of planning avoids most bugs. In summer pitch where there’s a breeze and away from dense vegetation and you won’t be bothered. You don’t have to stop as soon as it gets dark so the nights aren’t quite as long. Whisky helps as well 😉

    malgrey
    Member

    Thanks folks. I know its a daft plan…

    It’s as dry as anything right now. As in today, but we’ve got a bit of rain forecast for the weekend. It’s so dry though that it might still be alright and there’s plenty of wind forecast to dry it.

    In fact, you could probably do it west – East this weekend barely pedalling.

    Wind will make or break the trip, the mud, (save at the far western) end is never that bad.

    Temperature wise, it was T shirts again on Tuesday night’s ride.

    You’re not wrong about the wind…

    I wondered about mud at the western end, I thought it might be worse, thanks for the tip. I’ve only really been on sections east of Butser. I used to commute home over Truleigh Hill-Devil’s Dyke regularly, and though it got a bit greasy after rain it wasn’t too muddy. I completely avoided it between October and April though!

    tarp in summer: the mosquitos eat you up. You crawl into the sleeping back to protect you. Bake to death. In the morning the face is swollen from all the mosquito bites. If you are lucky the ants were too stupid to get into your sleeping bag.

    tarp in winter: the mosquitos and ants hate tarps in winter time. All gone.
    But the night will be still VERY crappy. That’s the unhappy part.

    A big fire might improve the situation? Had a look in the internet. The trail is beautiful. But no trees. Makes the fire option more difficult so.

    Sadly fire isn’t part of the plan on this trip. Can’t carry a firebox, and inappropriate to leave a trace of any fire.

    I’m used to lurking under a tarp in all weathers, so not worried about that bit, and have good warm PHD sleeping bag and a bivi. Comfort wise, its getting dry if we get soaked that’s the problem, but will have a change of base layers and a limited amount of other clothing inc down jacket.

    I have also remembered our solution to the (lack of) alcohol on a previous trip to southern Sweden where we had to carry the canoes a lot. Pre dropped caches! I’d better not mention it on here or there will be folk wandering the downs looking under bushes….

    Premier Icon theboyneeds
    Subscriber

    Eastern end is muddy but not that neck breaking green/white stuff. Old Winchester Hill will be a bugger but it is short and nasty.

    I’d say that you’re clearly mentally prepared so just do it! It’ll be fab. In fact I’m quite jealous. Can i come?

    bikebouy
    Member

    I think it’s a proper go’er. Other than those horrid short descents and climbs in/out of the road crossings that are boulder strewn rock gardens, and wet obvz.. Winny Hill is always claggy when it’s wet, but it’s a short climb.. once out on the tops out past QECP and it should be dry, highly probably slippy but easily rideable. As for bivvy, well I don’t and you sound prepared and keen so you’ll be fine.
    Mentioned already about the impending gales, but that does dry it all out.

    Do it, you’ll regret not doing it.

    I bivvy on it all year round, you’ll be fine!

    Premier Icon jambalaya
    Subscriber

    Given it’s winter and long nights I’d take some lights and stay in pubs. One decent soaking and you’ll never dry out, if you are unlucky it could rain all day. I tend to only walk the SDW in winter and there are parts where its hard to walk up or down in the wet, Winny Hill and some chalky bits around Bignor Hill and Arundell spring to mind. I suppose the advantage of doing it in winter is thatnyou’ll have no daft 5 am starts 🙂

    Post us a write up if you do it

    malgrey
    Member

    Cheers all! Will keep you posted if we get it done. Won’t be until at least end of next week, I need to replace most of the drivetrain first judging by how it felt yesterday.

    malgrey
    Member

    Well, we’re going for it in the morning, though we have decided just to do part of the trip from Petersfield station to Devil’s Dyke or Ditchling finishing Saturday afternoon in Brighton, so just one night out. Sort of a test of gear and willing! Gonna be a tad chilly, a tad muddy, and a tad breezy! Feel free to point and laugh if you pass us (Giant Anthem and old Scott Comp Racing).

    whitestone
    Member

    Good on ya!

    Some inspiration –

    shermer75
    Member

    Nice one! I’m well jealous!! You’ll love it 🙂

    shermer75
    Member

    we carried 20 kg of wine all the way to Sweden this summer…

    From south east England?!?

    Thats a nice 5hr ride in the summer
    Easy in the dry and on the warm . Forcast is dry , but with a stiff northerly wind
    Rather you than me . A good few years ago I used to carp fish all year round. One night the lake froze over , but I dont remember it being particulaly cold. No way I would do it now though

    thomthumb
    Member

    4 of us set out 2nd jan 2010 in the freezing snow. the other 3 made it, I turned back at brighton.

    It turns out staying out all night for NYE, and not eating the next day isn’t very good prep for a big ride, who new!

    the other three struggled with water as all the taps were frozen. Pub filled up water before the bivvy & the farm shop filled up mid sunday.

    malgrey
    Member

    Thanks all.

    Hard to judge how long it will take, until we know how muddy it is.

    The pub definitely features in our plans for feed and water!

    bikebouy
    Member

    Just enjoy it, it might be a bit sloppy so keep your eyes pealed for roots and slimy Flint.

    QECP today was “claggy” in the open sections where the rain had gathered, then dispersed into the trails. 😀

    I’m bivvying out up there somewhere tomorrow night, where are you planning on stopping?

    Premier Icon senor j
    Subscriber

    Best of luck with that then! Brrr.

    Splash-man
    Member

    Enjoy your bivvy tonight guys.
    Weather is looking good.
    Make sure the hip flask is charged.

    Hummerlicious – enjoy your night out as well 😉

    hooli
    Member

    Each to their own an all that but you lot are mad

    Premier Icon Yak
    Subscriber

    Good luck. It’s been grim this morning but starting to dry now. The ground will be tough going though. Nothing that a few pub stops can’t help with 😀

    Or are you still in a café in Petersfield now?

    malgrey
    Member

    Tucked up under the tarps in windy but dry conditions with a dram of Laphroaig Select,just below Rackham Hill by the earthworks. Life is good.

    Been slow at times, but not as bad as it could be, though bikes are pretty well caked. A few interesting moments with front wheel grip…

    Premier Icon senor j
    Subscriber

    Not Rackham Hill!!!!
    Better leave a lamp on or the devil might get you!!

    Ghosts and fairies in the South Downs

    🙂

    It was a bit nippy! Not bad though.

    malgrey
    Member

    Finished at Devil’s Dyke in the end, then turned right and headed down to Hove station. Fortunately we managed to get the bikes a little cleaner, or we’d have been thrown off the train!

    Great couple of days. There was plenty of mud, more so today, but hey, the bits in between were lovely under the sunshine today, and the first hour or so on crisp, frozen ground was superb, with views to the Isle of White, Surrey Hills and Ditchling.

    Not Rackham Hill!!!!
    Better leave a lamp on or the devil might get you!!

    Devil left us well alone, but the Puncture Fairy visited overnight…

    Thanks all for the comments, helped motivation a little at the very least!

    Have fun

    heres a few from a couple of years ago in the lakes

    malgrey
    Member

    Well, its a while ago now, but having finally built myself a little website for my articles and photos, I’ve written up the trip there. Hope its of interest!

    https://www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk/bikepacking-the-south-downs-way

    jn49
    Member

    Great write up, thanks. Website looks good and I like that the pictures have a description when you click on them.

    I’m a SDW local as well so could picture all the places you described and recognised a lot of the photos.

    Sleeping outside in December is still bonkers though!

    spacemonkey
    Member

    Nice little write-up.  Makes me itch to get back on the Downs having ridden there a lot in the past but only once in 10 years.  Every plan has got scuppered in some way recently.

    Keep riding and keep writing!  And keep doing mad stuff in the middle of winter.

    That looks like a good trip. Good on you for braving it in December.

    malgrey
    Member

    Thanks folks.

    Off to Scotland for the hills tomorrow, but leaving the bikes behind and taking the ice axes and crampons instead.

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