Matthijs and I pulled the trigger Friday night and decided the forecast was good enough to attempt another night in the forest. The initial plan was to do it monthly, but as will all well laid-out plans in life, this did not happen, and we hadn’t been out since January.
Whilst our January trip was all about proving to ourselves that a night in the woods in winter could be done, we really wanted to improve the experience this time. So we went out with the aim to actually cook our meal this time from ingredients, not from a tin, improve the bedding situation, and a steely determination that we light a fire, because what’s the point in camping without a campfire?
Having agreed a meeting place (no car this time unfortunately) we then started texting and changed plans as we were both ready and rearing to go. So we each made our way to our respective train station. That’s when things started to go awry. My first train was delayed by 15 minutes, meaning I didn’t get on the train Matthijs was on at my connection station. Never mind, I’d catch up with him at the next connection. Meanwhile, waiting for the train, it began to rain. Tough Matt, who was a few kilometers away did not report any precipitation. Eventually, we met up at Weesp, in time to actually catch the train we were planning to be on.
From here things went smoothly again. The rain stopped, and we made it to Hilversum as planned. From Hilversum we started walking east, towards the forest Catherine and I had gone walking in at Easter.
Following a slightly different route, we went into another part of the forest, and walked to the official wild camping spot which is marked by a water pump. Having verified that it worked, we walked around the clearing and off into the undergrowth to find a spot where we could build our shelter. A viable spot has two requirements: first, it should have trees that are far enough apart to string our hammocks between, and secondly, they should be close enough together that we can still string the hammocks between them and stretch the tarpaulin out above our heads. Having selected a potential spot we put down our bags and took out a hammock to confirm we had selected the correct spot. We then set about collecting long pieces of wood to build our “roof”. These were effectively fallen trees, and Matt brought out the first surprise of the day in the shape of an axe, which we used to clear small branch stubs off so they wouldn’t punch a hole through the tarp. With this done we set up the hammock and moved our things around so they would be in the right spot.
With camp pitched we set about gathering wood and selecting a spot to make a fire. This was not a particularly hard choice as some previous campers had built what was effectively a make-shift kitchen complete with table, chairs and cooking area. The whole lot protected from the wind by a small wall of logs. Very nifty! Within a few minutes we had a substantial little fire going.
And with that it was time to start cooking. Or at least discussing the logistics for cooking a stew in a frying pan. Without oil we figured we had better cook some chorizo off first, and use the fat from that to fry off the vegetables. Which is exactly what we did, and is the precise moment when I noticed I forgot to pack an onion. No matter, I had 6 pita breads to make up for it. We cooked on, with the frying pan in the fire, and I added the spice mix that I had pre-prepared at home. Eventually, after adding chopped tomatoes and garlic, and dropping the chorizo back in, we had a shakshuka ready to eat, with freshly toasted pita bread. Needless to say, we topped it off with some eggs, and it tasted much yummier than it does at home, even without the onion.
After dinner, it was time to have a hot drink, so we voted for coffee. Which brought along our next dilemma, how to boil water without a pot… With resourcefulness naturally! We actually used the tomato tin, and dropped it full of water into the fire where it would quickly boil about two cups of water. So we bust out the Guatemalan coffee and the filters, (no instant rubbish this time!) and made our coffee with the strange tasting egg water from the well.
We then continued by finding more wood to stoke our fire, which seemed to be combusting a surprising amount of wood, before stoking it and settling down with a beer. At this point we were actually too warm from the fire, and had to back away a bit from the flames. Finally here we relaxed and discussed a huge variety of topics, as men around a campfire should do.
Just after ten o’clock we got a very slight bit of rain, but nothing too serious. At ten thirty we got a real surprise though, some fellow campers arrived, just as the rain got a bit heavier. They didn’t seem to be carrying much, but within a few minutes had a tent up as well as a raging fire going. Very impressive.
At this point the rain got a little too heavy to sit in, so we retired to the comfort of hammocks, after making minor modifications to the shelter to ensure water wouldn’t pool on the roof. We settled in for the first sleep. From about 11:30 till 1:30.
Now last time we had a problem with heat escaping from the bottom of the sleeping bag and hammock. It would appear our diagnosis of the layer beneath us being crushed and thus providing no warmth was correct. To remedy it this time I lay on top of a thick woolen blanket, which solved the problem to a certain degree, however in the cold of the night, I could still feel some heat loss, more than I would have liked. I took the spare fleece jacket I had bright along and zipped it up around myself on the outside of the hammock, and used the arms to tie an extra tight knot. Whilst this did mean it felt I was sleeping in a straight jacket, it also meant I was substantially warmer than last time, especially considering I was wearing a hoodie and thermal t-shirt in my sleeping bag, rather than my coat, as I had done in January. Final piece of luxury, I had folded my down body warmer into the bag of my sleeping bag, and used it as a fluffy pillow, that had the added benefit of keeping my neck and head nice and warm. Towards the end of the night, I still felt some cold round my feet, which is an area I still need to improve, nevertheless they were nowhere near as uncomfortable as last time, and I didn’t resort to boiling a kettle of hot water to put there (though Matt did, once).
Come six o’clock it was clear I wasn’t going to sleep again. I love birdsong, but the cacophony we were dealing with was on another level. So I crawled out of my hammock, put on my jeans and set about gathering some fresh wood for the fire. Naturally, this involved much manly axe-wielding, which made it all the more fun.
Fire lit, we set about making breakfast, which included the usual 6 rashers of bacon, and this time, as an added luxury one and a half eggs each, as well as Guatemalan filter coffee. Like I said, we really wanted to up the game this time round. Our fire seemed to smoke out most of the forest, we could literally see the smoke just hanging low among the trees, owing to the fact that there was no wind at all. To top it all off, we were sitting where we could see down a cut in the trees, and the sun rose, exactly in line with that cut, right onto our faces, meaning that for a few glorious minutes, we were bathed in the light of the rising sun. Pure magic. Though of course, in the way we had the fire, which was spewin out smoke, (we later noticed this was due to the conifer wood we were burning) and the smoke, in varying degrees of thickness, was changing the color of the sunlight. Literally as the smoke went past our faces, we could see the light coming down the path changing color and intensity, it was very odd. Breakfast finished, we made another coffee, chatted, and eventually tried to make a cup of them with pure well water. Despite leaving the teabag in for a poisonously long time, it did taste a bit queer. So, throwing the tea away, we decided it wood be better if we started tidying, doing the dishes and breaking camp.
A short while later, things were put away, bags were packed, and shelter was dismantled.
We poured water over the fire, ensuring it was out and began our walk back to the station, by way of a petrol station for a can of coke each, which we drank whilst waiting for the train, which was of course, delayed.
With that, back to reality.
PS, videos were made, they’ll follow later in the week.