Going on an adventure is one of the best ways of clearing your head. And while long distance trips to far away lands are not possible at the moment it is easy to forget what lies around the corner. Big or small, adventures can start from your front door and be as simple as breakfast at the top of a hill. This is exactly what I did when the stress of lockdown got too much. With the forecast clear and my alarm set I was ready to go on a tiny adventure that would do wonders for my soul.
The view South over the rolling viridian hills of Oxfordshire has changed significantly over the years, but not during my lifetime, or that of my parents or even grandparents but during the course of thousands of years. For the landscape at my feet a few years feel more like a millisecond. There is comfort to be had in it’s sturdy presence and steadfast nature. Perspective is abundant.
These were just some of the conclusions I came to on May Day morning. Sitting on the edge of a new field, by a new path on a well known local hill preparing my breakfast. The view dropped away in front of me. The trees at the bottom had shrunk and the sky was wider than the aperture of my camera in the early morning light.
The night before I set my alarm for 6 am. It felt early to me but I know it’s late for some. Inspired by the keen planning of adventures to be had after lockdown I dug out my camping stove, made a jar of overnight oats and packed a little surprise.
If you’ve followed Breakaway Digital for a while then you’ll know we are really into our coffee. Wherever we go we make sure a good cup of coffee is never too far from reach.
We’ve brewed in all sorts of places and certainly aren’t afraid to take good coffee to unusual locations. By good coffee we of course are talking about single origin specialty coffee.
If it isn’t specialty we won’t drink it. Simple as that. Being this particular is normally ok but it does mean carrying a small café with you wherever you go.
You need water (filtered of course), a kettle, grinder, decanter, filter paper, coffee beans, spoon and if you’re really particular some weighing scales. Oh and a timer.
As you can probably imagine we’ve only been able to carry this set up when travelling in the team car. So brewing specialty coffee on a ride simply hasn’t been possible.
In comes the Aeropress Go. Designed, it seems, to perfectly complement my morning breakfast adventure. The ‘Go’ comes with a mug, stirrer, scoop and a small clasp for holding a few filter papers. All of this packs down into a really neat bundle no bigger than a pint glass. After years of loving the original Aeropress I couldn’t wait to try it out. So back we go to my morning of escape.
If you’re anything like me you’ll assume you know every road, lane, bridleway and snippet of single track within riding distance of home. The more you ride a local loop the harder it is to break from it’s grasp. You just keep riding round in circles. One thing lockdown has taught me is that I couldn’t be more wrong. In fact there is an abundance of hidden paths and local riding treasures I never knew about.
Nothing beats a paper map when it comes to route finding. You can of course use online mapping tools, and don’t get me wrong sites like Komoot are fantastic for scouting unknown paths or roads but with more time on my hands during lockdown an OS explorer map spread across the kitchen table feels more fun. It might take longer to plot a route but I’m not in a hurry at the moment.
When I’m looking to spice up my riding closer to home I always turn to bridleways, byways and gravel roads for inspiration. Unlike paved roads that more or less remain the same over time bridleways are always changing. The unpaved surface of a bridleway or byway reacts to the traffic that trundles over it, from hoof prints to tyre tracks. It is also subject to changing weather and the seasons. Nothing refreshes your ride more than flicking down a once muddy section of singletrack that has dried up or vice versa.
I was on one of these new path scouting missions when I came across a new view. I’ve ridden over Brill hill hundreds of times but only on the road. This time I was clawing my way up a muddy path on its South Western flanks. Half on the lookout for breakfast stop spots and half distracting myself from the tedium of lockdown. I think I found a winner.
I’ve ridden past the beginning of the path many times. The green bridleway sign is hidden behind a curtain of hazel leaves and its entrance guarded by an army of angry nettles. Once you’ve fought your way past the guards a tunnel of trees hangs over a damp and sticky slice of doubletrack. Up and to the right then round to the left the path winds up at an alarmingly steep gradient. Towards the top things turn kinder to your tyres. Grip is afforded by a hard packed centre track and gaps in the hedge begin to appear. Before too long you pop out through the nettles and back onto a road ready to tackle the final asphalt drag to the top.
Two days later I am back. It’s just turned 7 in the morning and I am definitely hungry. The ride here was a delight. Quiet, calm and full of birdsong. No cars and no fumes the air feels cleaner than usual.
Taking a moment to soak in the slowly warming sun I soon went about setting up camp. The stove was up and running in no time. Filtered water on the boil and to make things easier for myself the night before I had pre-ground my coffee. I know, a cardinal sin for any coffee lover, but no-one at home wanted to be woken up with the sound of my grinder at 6:05 in the morning. I’m not sure why…
I fashioned a table from a couple of rotten logs lying around and unpacked my makeshift kitchen. First balancing the mug I then chucked in the filter paper and waited for my water to boil. An all important soak of the filter then in went the coffee.
I have been drinking a variety of beans during lockdown but my favourites have to be these Ecuadorian beans grown on the Finca Ingapamba farm at 1600 metres. They have been fantastic. Supplied by Pinch Flat Coffee their floral notes and citrus finish are a delight in the mouth.
Aside from pre grinding my beans I was also brewing without scales. I probably don’t need to but I like to be consistent. Perhaps it’s a hangover from my time as a barista. Either way I was going to be adventurous this morning and that stretched to making my coffee.
With my water just boiling I poured and stirred my way to ‘3’ on the side of the press, waited for 2 minutes and carefully plunged. With the roar of my stove now hushed, the sun beginning to warm me up and a cup of the good stuff in my hands life couldn’t have been better.
The coffee tasted marvelous. No doubt improved by the view, I am sure it tasted better than recent cups I’ve brewed at home. But beyond the coffee and oats in my lap was the perspective granted to me from the view at my feet. It sounds strange but I often seek solace in marvelling at how small we are on the planet and subsequently the universe. For some reason I take comfort in knowing that there is so much ‘stuff’ out there. Astronomy and Cosmology teach you about the scale of the known Universe. And once you know just how big it is every little issue you have to face day-to-day seems small, insignificant and part of something much greater.
Gazing out to the horizon my eyes couldn’t help but land on a house in the middle distance, a slender column of smoke rose lazily from its chimney and the sun was glinting off its windows. It’s inhabitants lead their own lives, near mine but perhaps never crossing. What a small but at the same enormous world we live in. This feeling of sonder never seems to leave me and for that I am very grateful.
Sipping on my coffee until it started to chill I was content at the top of Brill hill.