Sam is a highly proficient and accomplished outdoorsman. Qualified, he has all kinds of awards and badges and can do things like make fire, build shelter and perform open heart surgery with a spork.
Whereas, on the other hand, I am a highly accomplished and proficient indoorsman. I can pretty much get into any VIP area, mix colours with solids and patterns and pair wine with anything you fancy. Let’s say Sam is more of an uber organized kind of guy whereas I’m just an Uber kind of guy.
For those who know me, you'd imagine that camping is not really my bag. It’s like sleeping in a Toblerone with all of the hassle and none of the comfort. I’m much more of a four walls, a bed that takes two guys to move kind of guy liking running water & electricity all within reach, rather than a 50m walk away.
I’d done camping as a kid then ditched it for pretty much thirty years until we started doing these trips.
I’ve tried this a couple of times and failed pretty miserably but this time I thought I was more prepared. I’d got the right kind of tent ordered online from China and ordered a particular kind of bed. Previously I’d opted for an inflatable mattress that was probably akin to lying on a formula one tyre that had a slow puncture so by 5am – when the night is at its coldest, I was lying on mother earth. On a more serious note, for me, because of the extended and intense levels of sport, recovery through sleep was critical and I wasn't getting any.
This time, I thought it was going to be different. I’d ordered a lightweight camp bed that is really quite ingenious in that it has titanium this and space age that and can take the weight of a man over 140kg. It was so simple a monkey could put it together and this time I didn’t need a monkey as I managed proudly to put together the tent and bed.
Then it came to actually using the things. If you’ve never done this before, camping in a tent is something really unique. You feel very connected to the immediate outside, because you’ve literally a micron’s width of material separating you which is exposing and also enlightening. I'd also brought some sleeping pills that would take down any of the Big Five with one tablet.
So, into bed, putting my head on the ultralite inflatable pillow, encased in a sleeping bag, on a two inch bed and under a tent made of thin plastic and away with the night (after a day of cycling you tend not to care too much). All was dandy until 2am when I woke up freezing cold. I’d cleverly planned ahead and bought some of those foil covers you see at the London Marathon so thought I’d be fine. That’s all very well and good dressing yourself like a jacket potato but the reality is that they made fuck all difference other than rustling like a bag of crisps every time you moved.
Being an outdoorsman, Sam makes fire and cooks and has all the gear you need to do this, which is actually really impressive. He has a stove, pan etc etc and can actually cook up food anywhere. Sam’s recipe's are very hearty and outdoorsy and dinner usually goes something like this;
Pasta goes in pan
Sauce goes on pasta
Pasta goes in mouth
If you’ve ever done something like hike or cycle for ten hours then you’ll realize that this happens to be the most amazing meal you could eat. Presentationally it wasn’t quite up to the standard of the Tuna Carpaccio and Swordfish a Planxia with pomegranate glaze paired with a white rioja I’d had on the first night at Loft39 in Madrid, or a taster menu at Galvin la Chapelle with my friend Stephen but we can’t all match Chef Miguel’s skills.
One of the other things that cropped up as a possibility was the concept of wild camping. This stroke rendering phrase left me both curious and terror struck. Wasn’t wild camping what people did at Glastonbury? A hundred thousand people all in a field with only ten toilets and lots of alcohol and junk food, all night silent and not so silent disco’s and all manner of drugs at your fingertips. Or did it mean there was a chance of a pack of wild ocelots coming into our campsite at night?
No, worse than that. It was actually camping in the middle of nowhere. You pick a spot by a river or something and set everything up there – with no shower, café or electricity block (btw for those who don’t do this kind of stuff, in campsites they have a post with plugs on it where you park your caravan or tent).
Sam was experienced at this through his mountaineering training. Apparently we were in quite a luxury position with a lot of gear as sometimes you take what’s called a bivvy bag, which is basically a sleeping bag that goes over your body and you have a hole for the face and you tie yourself to the cliff ledge and sleep for the night like some kind of tethered human caterpillar and that’s it, no matter what the conditions. I couldn’t comprehend that one either.
We didn't camp for another couple of nights and it was only on the second night in a tent (day six) that I had to take a view - and that view was I’m going to courier the tent and bed home (or maybe give it to a homeless person as not sure why I'd ever need a tent again). I'll then choose more solid accommodation while Sam camps either nearby or by the pool of the hotel.