The evening was drawing in and one third of our ‘three’ was running late.
Watches were watched. WhatsApp where-are-you’s were sent.
“Where is he? He’s never normally late—that’s usually me.”
In the end something had to give. And then, just like that…..the pressure got too much.
The worst possible start. A midweek adventure in jeopardy before we’d even turned a wheel.
“A microadventure is an adventure that is short, simple, local and cheap—yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.”
Alastair Humphreys is widely heralded as the doyen of microadventures. He has literally written the book on them and defined the above description.
Controversially, I think Humphreys, for all his obvious success in marketing the idea of “Living Adventurously”, is not a microadventure pioneer. Surely that tag applies to any teenage boy or girl brought up in the pre-internet age.
In a world free from Facebook, Instagram and other such distractions, life was one big microadventure. After knocking on the door of a nearby friend, you headed outside in search of some fun. And if this involved activities that were physically challenging, then so much the better. Local and simple, short and cheap.
Fast forward to present day and I felt like my 12-year-old self as I waited outside my central Manchester office. Counting down to the magical six o'clock mark, our 12 Hours microadventure was due to begin.
This 12 Hours concept was dreamt up by the two fresh air fanatics who run natural energy bar company Outdoor Provisions and their pals at Albion cycling and Komoot. Luckily for me, Luke and Christian – the founders of OP – are my pals. I’m a relative novice in the alternative accommodation world of B+B-ing [bikepacking + bivvying]. It’s fair to say they’re not.
Humpheys might have written the book on microadventures but the OP boys have created, route-planned, ridden (more than once) and marketed a successful bikepacking event called the Second City Divide. So they know their shit—although not completely (more of which to come in the bedtime element of this story)…
For now, we’ll go back to the start.
Things are a little different in the grown-up world of microadventures. Rather than my Mum answering the door, the 2022 equivalent of “knocking on” was an email from the front desk staff at my building.
“Dear Tom. Hope you are well. Just a quick note to say you have a visitor at the front desk called Luke Douglas. Best wishes. Front Desk staff.”
Not quite, “Mrs Reynolds, can Tom play out tonight?” but the excitement was the same.
The 12 Hours clock had started ticking. A microadventure circa 2022 was about to begin. I switched off my laptop and switched on my bike lights before riding out excitedly into the early-evening sunlight ready to make a dash for our bed for the night in Delamere Forest to the southwest of Manchester.
Forty five minutes later, I had burned approximately 45 calories and consumed about 4,500 from a fish and chip shop about 450 yards away from the start of our route. With our hunger sated, Luke and I rode down to rendezvous with our third man, Christian—the other half of Outdoor Provisions and apparently running late.
Assuring me of the usual punctuality of his business partner, Luke then proceeded to calm his nerves (we had 60 off-road kilometres to ride and it was nudging seven o clock) by mainlining snacks and smacks (the latter a northern chip shop delicacy comprising battered slices of potato).
Not long after the last fried potato disappeared, a slightly frazzled-looking Christian rode into view. His teenage days, like mine, long-since over, both he and Luke have young children which explained his late arrival and the need to pack our adventure into a 12 hour window.
Our crew finally assembled, with day rapidly becoming night we set off through the city centre. The middle of Manchester was just warming up, beers were flowing but I wasn’t the slightest bit jealous. Our night out was a far cry from theirs. We were – to borrow an OP catchphrase – “taking it outside”.
Forty kilometres or so later, we explored that juxtaposition again. This time a little closer. A little more immersive. And by that, I mean we stopped for a pint.
In my experience, all good trips need a bit of jeopardy. The “will we make it" factor…
By this point it was clear that a quick cold beer followed by a few pedal strokes and we’d be enjoying a hot meal before bed. The OP guys are bikepacking specialists. Remember?
Anyway—how to put this?
Luke forgot the stove.
I wouldn’t have minded but he’d spent the last 10 kilometres telling me he had a Firepot Chilli Non Carne and Rice with my name on it. I in turn said I’d got us all some pastries from Companio Bakery in Manchester (they’re the best in the city if you haven’t been!) for our morning breakfast and on we rode smugly looking forward to these culinary delights.
Half an hour later – and with no stove – the pastries had been eaten. We had breakfast in our beds. For dinner.
With crisps as a starter.
And whisky for afters.
5:30am. The morning after the night before.
With a slightly thick, whisky head – and soaking wet hair (it had rained in the night) - we woke up and broke camp.
One of the many tips Luke and Christian shared during our 12 Hours was to always break camp and ride a little way before stopping for breakfast. And it’s a great idea—especially when you don’t have any breakfast because you had to eat it the night before.
All jokes aside, a quick ride immediately after waking, warmed us up and lifted our spirits. And with an Outdoor Provisions meeting to get to – and my desk calling – we cracked on
Cheshire’s backroads and bridleways made way for Manchester’s main roads and metro stops. Our 12 Hours adventure was coming to an end.
At a café stop not far from town we sat across from two-time track cycling Olympic gold medallist Philip Hindes. In my slightly melancholic/sleep-deprived state, I started to muse about our different cycling experiences. Our ride had been a far cry from his—not least because his job in the team sprint is defined by a 12-second all-out effort rather than 12 hours. We'd taken ourselves to Delamere Forest where we played out for the night on our bikes and ate pastries.
There certainly weren’t any marginal gains but in our 12 hour window between one working day and the next, a microadventure was had.
And it was great.