The last few days have been interesting, as usual – let me fill you in. After my bivvy behind the Churchill Hospital, I spent three nights indoors, one at my folks’, and another two in the office which is empty on weekends =) I’ve been busy tuning pianos and web programming as usual.
It was Sunday night and there would be no more kipping in the office as it’s always busy very early Monday morning. So after nodding off at this computer desk while trying to work late at night, I finally left about 5am to go and find somewhere to sleep.
-1Â°C was forecast but I went to the top of Headington Hill, the climb warmed me up and I think it was warmer up there, perhaps 1 or 2Â° above zero. I explored the estate of the Warneford Hospital for the mentally ill, looking for a hidden shelter, but there was CCTV everywhere. Right around the back I found that only a low fence separates it from an empty plot of land between two houses on a public street, Hill Top Road.
A lovely looking shed was all that stood on this ground, it was built so solid that it looked more like a miniature log cabin. There was no door and I thought, ‘ideal shelter’! I walked in the opening and almost tripped over a camouflaged sleeping bag…another homeless person like me was fast asleep!
Fortunately he/she didn’t stir and I crept away with a chuckle, reassured that I wasn’t the only one out there. I continued exploring, which is all part of the fun, and was reminded that cycling up hills isn’t the only way to warm up on your bike – riding through mud and tall grass is just as much effort! By the time I got around the estate I was very warm indeed.
I came out onto a recreation ground that only has two rusty football goals and a picnic bench. To my joy, the picnic bench was exactly six foot long. I measure 6’2″ and found that with my heels just on the table, my head can also rest comfortably on my pillow with 2″ of my crown just off the table. My pillow is very comfy, it’s actually my Rab Primaloft jacket stuffed into its chest pocket. I was happy because I then made the very tentative assumption that most picnic tables in this country are exactly six foot long, it would make sense being a typical length of timber. That means a hundred-thousand more places to sleep on a dry night!
I slept until 9am when I had to go off to work. Even though it started getting lighter after 7am only my mouth and nose were exposed so it was dark for me. I woke up and shivered a few times but always warmed up enough to go back to sleep. I thought my chesty cough had healed but it resurfaced again albeit only mildly. I made sure to wrap my shoes in my orange dry bag to avoid the kind of prank I had experienced before and to keep the frost off them.
Interestingly, I only really felt some cold through my sleeping bag above my body. I think the wooden table and the air underneath it, combined with my inflatable mat, insulated me quite well from below. But the occasional cold from above was probably due to me squashing my sleeping bag up against the bivvy bag in places. This is why it’s important to have a spacious bivvy bag, so that the sleeping bag can loft out properly inside and provide maximum insulation. I’m hardly a little fellah, but this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed it on cold nights and it comes as a surprise because I bought Alpkit’s extra large version of the Hunka bivvy bag. That said, I do love this bivvy bag as it has always kept the wind and rain off me. Perhaps I should shake it out more thoroughly next time and make sure that I’m making the most of the extra space.
Anyway I was not disturbed by anyone and felt quite rested when I went off to Brookes University sports centre to use the loo and get some drinking water, before heading off to work. I saw some nice views out and about on my bike in Oxford:
That evening I went back to my parents’ to celebrate my little brother’s birthday. I say little, but at 6’6″ he now dwarfs the whole family! There was pizza, tea and cake aplenty, an energetic crowd of all his friends from Church. Here are we three brothers:
We watched the 1991 version of Robin Hood starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman. I really couldn’t take this film seriously. I enjoyed the humour and the fun action, and I liked John Little, the friar and the merry men. Morgan Freeman is always so cool that he can be forgiven here for not having an Moorish accent. But Kevin Costner makes no effort to hide his American accent and sounds so out of place in medieval Britain. I much preferred the recent version starring Russell Crowe.
Anyway back to reality, it’s -1Â°C outside, and getting colder. According to my weather brother, we now have a cold air mass over our country that has come from Siberia, where it’s below -20Â°C. Thank God it’s not that cold here, but he reckons it could get down to -7 here in Oxford. The image below is one of the models the weather forecasters use, courtesy of my brother, showing what their computers predict for the next few days ahead. The temperatures are in Celcius and at 850 hectopascals, which is usually more than 1000m above sea level, so at ground level it won’t be that cold, but it gives an idea of where the temperatures are going:
There are many lines because several similar models have been run in different places, and the grey line gives the average result. Typically the first 2-3 days’ weather forecasts are quite accurate and as you can see all the lines take a big dip in concert. After 70 hours into the future there are so many variables that it’s very difficult to predict the weather, especially on a temperate island like ours. However it is with great relief that I observe that all the models estimate a rise back to average temperatures by Sunday.
The red line is the average for this time of year, so we’ll be getting a whopping great ten degrees below average! Apparently the frosty nights I blogged about before were just native to England, caused by a nights of clear skies and short days. What we have now is different, this is a huge, stable high pressure system from the Eurasian continent, the same type that gave us the deep freeze and snow of December 2010. Today’s BBC weather forecast says it all:
I had stated after my night out in -1Â°C that I had learned enough and would no longer force myself to sleep outside in the cold unless I really had no choice. But I just can’t resist the temptation of the week ahead. I mean, look at the little numbers above for the night-time minimum temperatures: -2, -3, -4, then -5Â°C! It almost seems like mother nature has created the ideal trial week for Winter camping.
No I don’t enjoy feeling cold at night. But I’ve realised that for every degree colder that I experience a night out now, the rest of the year will seem a degree warmer. Back in Autumn I was all nervous about a forecast of 5Â° above zero. But after my -1Â°C night, a subsequent +5Â° night seemed like luxury. I now have such confidence in my sleeping gear and my body that anything above 3Â°C is laughable, I feel right at home outdoors. I never would have felt that way last year.
But having shivered around the 0Â° mark, I decided to try and upgrade my sleeping arrangement in preparation for the week ahead. Unfortunately my ideal Winter arrangement will not be available to me until next Winter. It’s the yet-to-be released Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm four season mattress combined with a four-season 900-fill-power goose down sleeping bag from PHDesigns which I would have to wait 45 days for if I ordered it now as they’re made to order.
So I went down the Go Outdoors store in Oxford to look for a cheap upgrade that’ll get me through what’s left of this Winter. I bought a closed-cell foam pad for Â£6, and a fleece sleeping bag liner for Â£14. They’re both heavy for what they are, but I’ll definitely be carrying them around this week, and add them to my existing set-up to boost its rating. The fleece liner will go inside my down sleeping bag, and the foam mat will go on top of my Thermarest ProLite air mattress. The foam mat should slow heat loss by convection (movement of air) because it’s closed-cell. Then the air in the Thermarest should slow heat loss by conduction into the ground, because air doesn’t conduct heat like solid ground does.
At least, that’s the theory…