I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. With temperatures in the low thirties both of us had been cycling along in T-shirt and shorts all day – of course we could camp tonight.
I’d declared a week or so ago that I wasn’t camping in sub zero temperatures. I really didn’t feel we had the kit to cope with it and yet, here I was again. We woke up to the tent bulging in on top of us. Despite the guy lines pegging it out the bottom was lifting up two or three inches as the wind tunneled underneath.
Another morning of -5.6. Today, the added factor of wind chill made it feel much colder. And where was the golden orb with warming rays?
We ate breakfast huddled up inside the tent but sooner or later we’d have to brave the bitingly cold outside. I soon decided that full rain proofs, as a wind proof layer, on top of all my other layers, was the only way to go. Even so trying to pack and undo the bag clasps was proving nigh on impossible with frozen unbending fingers. Gid wasn’t managing much better. He’d borrowed my spare buff and was wrapped up with nose and eyes peeking out. He came to help but we had to agree that neither of us could undo my knot of the previous night on the plastic bag covering my handlebars, so ripped it off.
We tried to huddle, whenever possible, in a teepee standing vacant some metres away. Gid had told me hot drinks were available at the site office but getting them was proving difficult. It was too cold to sit outside and tend to our stove.
By 9:15, with not a ray of sunshine in sight, we were in the nearest cafe with a hot Mexican breakfast and tea/coffee ordered. Sitting in the warmth we decided to press on but we hadn’t got far, pedalling into the biting cold and headwind, before reassessing that decision. I suggested cancelling the day on the grounds of it being too cold. Hide in the nearest motel was my idea but Gid was keen to press on. ‘We’re managing,’ he said.
Well, yes, managing, in a manner of speaking. 10kph – Ugh. And our circulation was still moving.
3 hours later feebly, the sun came out but it got no warmer. The services ahead were a welcome sight – shop, drinks machine, restaurant, the lot. Well, no motel, but no objection if we put up the tent out back, then cower in the restaurant for the rest of the day. And, they say, the next service centre, at our turn off the interstate, closed down five years back.
We huddle in the cafe, slurping hot drinks. The News declared 63 inches of snow fell in a storm in Erie, USA. New record. After careful consideration, we buy a Texan hat and a saddle. Key rings. And another hot drink.
It’s only lunchtime, if we stop now, the next comfy accommodation is much more than a day further on, so that’s two more nights rough camping.
“Where ya goin? Did you come through the fog?” A customer asks us. Fog? Turns out it’s ahead of us. Another joy as we set off. Headwind still holding us to 10kph.
Ahead the highway pulls alongside a low beige hill, and vanishes. It’s a wall of low cloud. Fortunately it’s not that dense, road visibility is fine but it’s freezing, We start passing bushes loaded with hoar frost. Really loaded. Fog, doesn’t cohabit with wind, and sure enough, the headwind’s gone. So for that matter has the incline. We whizz, toes, noses and fingers still numb. At 3:45pm the temperature was -2.5 degrees and dropping by then. I doubt that it got above freezing.
Kent: The cycle route information says “no services”, so did the garage staff. Map shows a few streets. The services are bricked up, the other four buildings are deserted, boarded and/or on their way to ruin. But hey, behind a wooden wreck is a patch of clear land, out of sight, sheltered from the easterly if it kicks up again, even old carpet to sit on.
And wood. Gid, sitting outside to cook, made a camp fire. The first on this trip and definitely a first time ever when it’s needed purely to keep warm.
Our night in a ghost village is not too bad really. Clare slept like a log. Gid was a bit disturbed by all the extra noises a decrepit building makes. And the interstate. And – the trains – HOOOOOOOHH! HOOOOOOOHH! HOOOOOOHH! – followed by about an hour of rumbling and ground shaking as the mile long brute crawls past, shipping containers stacked double on massive wagons.
Next morning – fog’s gone, hoar frost is gone, sun’s shining. Still cold, but the rays warm the day up. By 2pm, climbing into the Davis Mountains, Gid’s shirtless. What a difference!