It’s been two weeks since I fell headfirst in love with the idea of microadventures.
A story I was writing (for this course) prompted me to Google “bivvy bags”. This article was the first hit, and it linked to a fantastic run-down of bivvy bags available in the UK. That in turn took me to the Alpkit Hunka product listing, which says “If Mr Microadventure himself, Alastair Humphreys, hasn’t yet persuaded you of the wonders of the bivvy bag lifestyle…” - so I found myself back on the first website I visited, looking at microadventures.
Within a couple of days, I was completely immersed in the online world of microadventure, watching every video I could find, digging deeper and deeper into the search results, and reading my way through numerous microadventure (and adventure) blogs. I ordered the bivvy bags.
While I was waiting for my parcel to arrive, Alastair issued a microadventure challenge. Before I had time to talk myself out of it, I’d committed myself and my partner to sleeping outside on one of the longest nights of the year in the company of a stranger from Twitter.
We met our microadventure buddy (I’ll call her Q) at an Italian restaurant and pored over an OS map of the area. We looked at hills, woods, trig points and fields, but ended up settling on our original idea: a trip to the seaside. After prosecco, pizza and hot chocolate, we drove off into the night.
Far across the water, houses shimmered with Christmas lights. Patches of yellow glow marked the location of towns over the horizon. We parked nearby and plunged into the dunes, finding a likely spot in a shallow dip of sand between the grass and shrubs. We unrolled our sleeping gear and rested on top of it for a while, staring up at the stars. I already knew Orion, rising to the east, but Q pointed out a few more constellations. We decided against pitching a tarp, brushed our teeth, stuffed our things into bin bags and jumped into bed.
I was prepared to lie awake for ages. The sand was not at all soft and my new inflatable foam pillow needed a fair bit of adjustment. But I was warm and full and the sound of the sea soon washed me to sleep.
I woke and slept and woke. The night was clear. Orion the Hunter strode across the heavens. Sea and sky bled into each other, stars becoming the lights of distant ships, blinking buoys becoming aeroplanes.
I slept and woke. My feet were cold despite two pairs of thick socks, my legs were cold despite thermal leggings and trousers, my fingers were cold. I battled with the drawcords on my sleeping bag and bivvy bag and pulled out my emergency supplies - a second jumper, gloves and a scarf (which I wrapped around my legs). I rubbed my feet against each other, got sand in my mouth trying to inflate my pillow a bit more, tossed and turned and counted my breath.
What was that? Something nudged my leg. It was only my partner’s feet. Before we’d set out, I’d read that people often feel more vulnerable in a bivvy bag than in a tent, but this wasn’t my experience. If there was a rustle, I could easily peep out of the bag to make sure it was just the wind.
From a strange dream, I woke to a light mist and the stars blinking between the clouds. I rolled onto my back and fine drizzle landed on my face. I decided I would get a better sleeping bag when money permitted. I’d bought mine for hostelling around Europe in the summer of 2005, and it was not up to the task of keeping someone warm in a bivvy bag in winter.
I dozed and woke and dozed. The first flock of seagulls flew over, squawking out their morning alarm. My partner and I left Q sleeping and went out onto the long, flat expanse of beach. In the distance, a dog walker with a head torch made a tiny pool of light on the dark sand. My stomach rumbled. We set up our camp stove, made instant porridge and hot drinks and watched the sky became lighter than the clouds.
It didn’t take long for the three of us to pack up, chatting about the night, about the pros and cons of our gear, about the sand that had inevitably managed to get into everything. We went into town for (second) breakfast and hot chocolate, then dropped Q off at the train station. When we got home, our bed had never looked so luxurious, warm and soft. We had a two hour nap.
But I addressed my worries: It’s likely you will be uncomfortable and you won’t sleep well. Is that really your biggest concern? Yes? And would that be a truly terrible disaster? No. You have permission to not be the toughest cookie in the microadventure jar - you can go home if it all gets too much. If you don’t get along with Q, you never have to see her again. And if you’re underprepared, well, you have to start somewhere. Yes, you’re inexperienced - that’s the point. You want to “step outside your comfort zone” and try something new! If you really, truly hate it, you can sell the bivvy bags: you might be poorer in money but you’ll be richer in experience.
But from the moment we walked into the restaurant and said hello to Q, I wasn’t worried at all. I just did it. And now, having done it, I am the kind of person that would sleep in a bivvy bag on the beach on the longest night of the year.
I guess that’s the thing about “comfort zones”. In most cases, we don’t step outside them - they simply expand with our experiences. And the thing about being “the kind of person who does that stuff” is that you usually don’t have to look, sound or dress in a particular way to become that kind of person - you just need to do the stuff.