TDA Reports From The Field: Budapest – Locked In – Outside
Gergo Szanyi is our longest serving Tour Leader, having run almost all of our European tours multiple times.
Years ago, when I was more flexible (oookay…’younger’), besides the month-long family bike tours in the summers, and later the longer multi-day hikes into the high or nearby mountains, we did quite a few short trips and occasionally slept outside in nature with or without a tent for just a single night. There was always a reason to do so: a lunar eclipse, the arrival of the Geminids (or any other expected meteor shower) or just for fun, to leave civilization behind. For the latter reason – and to escape from the crazy New Year’s Eve fireworks – we once hiked to the mountains on the last day of the year and set the camp on the top in the thick snow in freezing temperatures. I wonder from where on earth I had snow pegs in my inventory, but it was easy to pitch our tent with them for the night. We had fun camping this way despite forgetting the entire dinner pack at home on the kitchen counter. Thanks to the long hike we both hit the ‘bed’ at 9 o’clock. Cracking off the ice layer from the inside surface of the tent the next morning was quite unusual, while the walk down from the mountain in the New Year felt rewarding. Fun times!
Currently – because of the COVID-19 – we are expected to keep our distance from others, not leaving our apartment, house or, for the lucky ones, their garden. While we obey all the restrictions, we are still officially advised to have some recreational activity every day in order to maintain fitness and sanity. All right, I’ll do so, and since the regulations are not particular about when we should be active, I decided to do an S24O (this stands for a Sub 24 hours Overnight bike packing) trip near Budapest. The name of the activity is self-explanatory: such a trip should include a short bike ride in the late afternoon or evening to a new place, one preferably you’ve never been to before, setting up camp, starting a fire, cooking a fresh meal for dinner on site, getting comfy, reading a book, watching the stars, and have an extremely good sleep in the fresh air. A quick breakfast in the morning is followed by a ride back home. That’s it.
The day before I had talked to my cousin on the phone. I sensed it was just about time for him to have a brief leave, after 40+ days at home under lockdown with his family, so I shared my plan and invited him along. He was happy to join and I was glad not to be going alone.
My idea about packing was to hook the cargo trailer behind my 96er and go. Pulling the trailer only, without the need for any other pannier bags sounded pretty tempting, but to be frank, as it turned out, it wasn’t the best idea. It was easy just to throw all the necessary gear into the duffle bag, but with all the available space I ended up with way too much stuff. On one hand, my packing list was purposeful and deliberately composed, including a first aid kit, basic bike tools, sleeping and cooking equipment, I even found an air travel friendly (oh, air travels…) clear pouch with mini tube of toothpaste and hand soap accompanied by a tiny lip balm – very important, eh? But on the other hand, I carried stuff I really shouldn’t.
For instance, because of unusually dry weather conditions and drought, we have a fire ban in all the woods of the country. Therefore we planned to cook on a gas stove which is not considered as hazardous and are allowed to use. But somehow we thought it was a good idea to bring a folding saw and a hatchet – you know – just in case. Of course, they were totally unnecessary. To avoid feeling silly about it, and make some use of them, my cousin cut bushcraft-style pegs from a fallen, dry piece of wood in order to stretch the tarps. However the weight penalty for poor (or over-) planning did not stop there. Did you know if you happen to carefully choose a bottle of Portuguese wine that would pair with the dinner, the glass bottle itself is almost as heavy as its precious contents. Unlike the consumable part (what we took care of!), the bottle had to be hauled home from the woods. Maybe a can of beer is a better choice for the next time.
It is good to have your plans laid out beforehand, in order to find a good route with less traffic for an enjoyable ride, and a remote camping spot to avoid interfering with other hikers or hunters during the night. This can be a really loose plan, or if you prefer not having one, that is also fine, I guess. I prepared a GPS track to be sure we are not taking almost any paved roads and using solely agricultural and forestry dirt roads with literally zero traffic. A short city ride took me to my cousin’s place where he said a quick goodbye to his family and we were good to go. After we departed his little daughters did shed some tears. Our ride was great, cruising mainly shoulder by shoulder, while maintaining the required safe distance. We were interrupted only once when we bounced into the gate of a private area, but there was an easy workaround, so other than this it was all smooth sailing.
Our primary destination was a small cave that we had spotted on the map amongst the surrounding forest. It was already dark when we found it, but the area wasn’t appealing and we decided to look for a different spot to set up camp. We moved on. As we rolled down into the valley, the temperature dropped significantly, which made me worried. Eventually the final stretch of the route was an insanely steep climb, where even pulling the bikes felt pretty difficult but at least the cold was not an issue anymore. We ended up at a spot remote enough to have an uninterrupted night on the top of a hill. While I cooked dinner with the ingredients I had prepared at home, we experienced a magnificent full moon rising while the starry sky was tinted orange on the horizon by the nearby city.
In the dry weather conditions, there was no need to bring tents. We both brought hammocks, and after the rich and filling Canadian hamburger soup, it was really nice to relax in my gently swinging suspended shelter. The area was quiet and we only experienced the occasional wildlife noises. Foxes and deers – would be my guess.
If it turns out that bush camping is not your cup of tea, no problem! It is only for one night, and then it is over. But if you like to be out there, then do another one next week or even the next day! I am sure I will do a few more S24O trips this summer but I will keep fine tuning my packing routine. After I got home, I took all the items out of the duffle bag one by one and asked myself if it was necessary or not. I separated them – according to the answer – in two piles. I know it may sound strange, but just for curiosity I also placed the gear items on a kitchen scale to see what weight I was carrying. I entered the values into an app that I found on the internet called ‘LighterPack‘ which revealed some shocking results. Even if you are not a weight weenie (I am not, but as a cyclist I know what it is all about) there is always something to learn.
Trying to avoid duplicates is a good start. Multi-purpose items are a great idea. Check the weather forecast, so you don’t bring unnecessary clothes. An extra pair of socks and an ultralight down jacket or vest will do the trick on an unexpectedly cold night. The 5L steel pot from our kitchen was also a little bit of overkill and I am sure I must have a lighter bike pump somewhere in the garage. The app saves everything I entered as a gear-list and it is easy to drag and drop the items into a new list when needed. I can’t wait for my next S24O trip. Doing these short trips are fun and the preparation can be a good packing exercise. The skills you develop will come in handy when choosing gear and packing up for the next TDA tour. Count me in!
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