Friday, 30 December 2011

DOMS

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - It seems to me, that the older you get the more each aspect of this errrr 'syndrome' is exacerbated: The onset is more delayed, more muscles are affected, and they are more sore.
27 is not old, but still, I notice that I am no child anymore - able to undertake any strenuous activity, without considering how my body is going to punish me later... This is why, you see, that I undertook a strenous activity without considering how my body was going to punish me.

First indoor climbing session, three days ago. Three whole days (Tuesday) and my body is destroyed (Friday). It fits the 'delayed onset' criteria, because on Wednesday I felt fine, Thursday mostly fine, but today, I am so stiff and sore it is incredible.

Forearms, shoulders, wrists, stomach, neck = sore

The plan is to go again tomorrow, but honestly, I don't know if I'll be capable. If I can't, I'll certainly be keeping my eye out for more climbing videos like the one below. Seriously impressive! Enough to inspire any newby climber.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Alpine Experiences - Stage 4

What better time to get an under par night's sleep than the night before your most athletic undertaking of a hectic holiday!

Again, this video is a far better representation of this climb than my words will ever be, so for an insight into our journey that day, watch from 3.20 ish, summit from 5.30 onwards, then descent.
I was angry on leaving the car. I believed that my bad state and annoyance was going to affect my enjoyment of the experience we had come for. Then we had to go back to the car, because my bro, had not tightened his pedal fully. I don't blame him, there was a lot to remember and sort out prior to departure: clothing, for any conditions, tools, nutrition, ah and suncream, but you don't think like that at the time - It pissed me off! Luckily I had noticed only a couple of hundred metres from the car, so things could have been worse, as a pedal spanner is not one of the things you tend to take with you.

Once underway I forgot about all my frustrations though. The Alps seem to be able to distract like this. I felt pretty good actually, better than I had ever imagined. We made good progress through the lower slopes and the vineyards and dwellings. Vineyards stretched as far as the eye could see - A terrific site in itself.  The vineyard rush hour of the morning had dissolved into an incredibly quiet mountainside, which was a pleasure to cycle up. The contrast from the anxiety inducing rush of the earlier morning, probably made the peace all the better!

This peace, was nothing compared to the lonelyness of the higher reaches of the route though. The Col du Sanetsch, is not a pass, so there was no through traffic. Only some tiny dwellings on the mountain side and a power station just the other side of the summit account for the presence of about 13 miles of this stretch of tarmac. The experience is all the better for it!

I remember the various stages of the climb. The lower slopes, covered with vineyards and villages. The classic alpine tree line, before hitting the higher slopes, with spruce and fir giving way to a few hundred vertical metres of alpine grasses/meadow. Then finally hitting the baron, tundra like expanses above the meadows. The distinct sections, give an insight into your upward and downward progress.

I remember one of the most juxtaposed visual experiences of my life, seeing a superb alpine cabin adorned with hundreds of Swiss flags, in all shapes and sizes, standing next to a sign that told us that we had 15 kilometres to go to the summit, all after over an hour of climbing. Around 10 miles uphill still to go.

I remember realising after a depressive mood gave way to a few minutes of elation and then swiftly into angre, that I had by about 11 o clock that day experienced pretty much the entire spectrum of human emotion.

I remember the tunnels, one 800 metres long hewn into the rock, that allowed for the otherwise impossible traverse of the road.

I remember that after an entire mountain of going at my speed, my brother finally felt he needed to push on for his own good. Slowly his advantage of power to weight showing through as he extended a gap between us on the final couple of miles of baron lunar like landscape, leading up to the Col. And him waiting for me, so we could summit together, good chap!

The elation of reaching the top and then the thoughts of the absurdity of the way we create goals like these for ourselves. Boy, it was awesome though and the kind of thing everyone should experience.

Then it was my turn to be able to gain ground on the bro. I was always better at descending than ascending! Great fun. Another athletic experience in itself, descending an alp. You learn quickly that even if you want to, there is no way you can slow yourself down for the entirity of a descent, you need to just let go and give your forearms and brake blocks a rest, before slamming on the anchors just before each switch back.

We completed the majority of the descent. I left Andrew on one section, where one of 3 cars we had seen in four hours, found the gap between us and I really put caution to the wind. Part of it is caught in the video around 8.30 I think, though you cannot grasp this from footage. Great fun! A bit further on I waited for Andrew, but then he decided to spend time looking at a particularly spectacular view.

My descent of the last section, back into and through the villages and vineyards was truly awesome! Alone, I pushed very hard and loved really investigating how hard I could push myself and the bike. Transfering weight hard when taking a racing line through an S bend on the limit at over 40 miles an hour is a great experience. The close proximity to the road of some of the houses, really highlighted the speed and my bike showed its true colours on that descent. Something to be remembered.

It was not long before Andrew rolled  towards the car at the bottom. Huge smiles!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Coast run fun

I am starting to love running coastal trails!


Steep, undulating trials. Changing, uneven, often awkwardly cambered or slippery surfaces all add a bit to your standard run. 8 miles, probably equivalent to a few more flat miles. A peaceful day with very few people around. Great! Few days calf recovery needed though. Those hills really grab at them!

Bolt Head and Tail, South Devon, a fantastic area to visit!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Snowdon by bike


Last weekend was a Snowdon attempt on Mountain bike. Was under a little time constraint, so didn't end up sumitting. Stopping to film at various points also took a long time. 

Felt fantastic so a shame not to summit, but absolutely blindin' experience nonetheless, with snow present from the llanberis path, half way house upwards.


Suffered slightly from having a very unaggressive, race orientated rear tyre, but not in the manner you'd imagine-when it comes to grip whilst climbing - but because it wasn't quite so resistant to the thrashing it had on the way down with all the high speed rock impacts.

I am definately going back!

Short video above.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Mountain Anxiety - The hoods of our jackets

Mountains, even the small examples we have here in the British Isles, can be dangerous places. Until you actually experience how quickly the weather can change on a mountain, you probably can't quite grasp just how fast and dramatically it can go from clear sunny weather to chilling horizontal hale.

There are reasons why these mountains can make people anxious and I suppose this is, in part what brings visitors onto the mountains time and again. They are wild, they can be barren and even when we are properly prepared, they are dangerous places.

Obvious right?!.well you'd hope so!

I suppose the below is a discussion on flirtation with the understanding of the above and where anxiety fits in.

On my first visit to Snowdon in my adult life, I remember getting vertigo just above the railway bridge, at the top of the [almost] scree slope, the steepest section of the Llanberis path. For the purposes of this post, vertigo is just anxiety focused around height. I was keeping myself well to the left of the path on the way up, to keep as far from the drop as possible. I pushed on as luckily it wasn't a desperate fear. We summited the mountain and that is the first I remember of mountain anxiety.

Since then I have seldom felt uncomforable at height, as I have built up progressively, on slightly more difficult paths, with more and more precipitous drops, each time. I suppose it is simply down to conditioning - The more you experience something the more you become comfortable.


Two things have brought these thoughts about mountain anxiety forward -

1. My older brother started rock climbing at university. I am jealous. I would like to start doing the same and then transfer it from the wall onto the rock faces of real mountains. I have been considering taking this next step for a while, though it is just another activity to fit into the already crowded life. Then there is also the other aspect, the progression of hiking into the winter aspect of mountaineering, crampon and ice axe required. I have wondered, whether in taking these further steps, I am likely to experience anxiety. I expect so.

2. I have recently been part of a few friend's first forays into the mountains. It was the first time in a while I have experienced mountain anxiety (indirectly) and it seems to have all come at once. One friend, bit of an animal, talks about his vertigo here and it was awesome to be alongside him as he mastered himself to overcome. The other experience came from a friend who became uncomfortable in high winds.

Naturally, we feel exposed, we feel miles from anything we would regard as comfort. And in the mountain environment, everything seems to exacerbate these issues. Tiredness, warmth (or lack of), then the weather. Mist, rain, hail, snow and wind. Each acts independently, but conspire to increase anxiety. Then the most unlikely of culprits and one that you may only have considered an aid - the hoods of our jackets. I have thought about before but tested the other day.

Hoods are an interesting one, because they present us with a far reaching opposite to that which the mountains naturally bring. Confinement. Humans are rediculous huh?! You present them with an exposed, open space and they get scared of the exposure. You present them with confinement and the same happens. Humans feel very comfortable existing in finite conditions, finding a middle ground of comfort. A home, not confined, but not hugely expansive, protected from the extremes of the elements and conditions within our control. This it seems is what modern life is about, seeking the best ways to find those most comfortable conditions. A heated house, with water on tap, equipment for any eventuality.

How ironic that in pushing for these finite conditions, we are irreversibly pushing our planet towards a state of incomprehensible extremes.

So I found that having a hood up, on a mountain, for me actually increased the feelings of insecurity. This might become a huge post if we discuss these things at length, but in discussiont the other day, my mountain colleagues and I thought about a few points.

Peripheral vision - loss of peripheral vision, if even partly is not going to be a positive. Being an animal, this is one thing we rely upon for our protection is our sight, part of our survival awareness I suppose. To be unsighted is to be apprehensive, even if just by a small amount.

Feeling of being enclosed. Even if we are not, to feel that we are enclosed has an affect on our interpretations. Our head is where most of our awareness is centred, so to confine our head is paramount when it comes to experience. It is like when you put on a tight full face helmet for the first time, it is by no means a comfortable experience, or put yourself down a caving hole, where you can't move or lift your head. [I suppose this combines, both the confinement and unsighted points and you wonder why you'd be uncomfortable]

Created atmosphere - So, yes, it is windy, but with a hood up, your perception of wind is scewed. It seems weird, but this is how I felt. As soon as I took my hood off the other day, my grasp of my immediate environment became much clearer and the ominous atmosphere that I felt, faded away. I enjoyed it much more, despite being pounded by sideway rain/hail and getting a numb face. Up until a point this is quite fun!

Maybe these above points, are just my feelings, I don't know. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say.


This weekend I plan on heading to Snowdonia again. I am taking my rock climbing brother. He hasn't done 'real' rock climbing yet, and hasn't spent any time in the mountains so I will be interested to see him experience some proper heights and see whether mountain anxiety makes an apperance for him.

I just find it so interesting that people have such different relationships with mountains. It is fantastic to share these things with people. I look forward to again feeling mountain anxiety. If you're experiencing mountain anxiety - it normally means you'll be pushing yourself, your skills, your appreciation and invariably this leads to having a darn good time, and if not - then at least some good old life experience.

And next time you have your hood up, take a minute and put it down. See if you can understand what I mean!

Friday, 2 December 2011

First mud


In regard to Mountain biking my chums and I have spent the last part of the summer and early autumn repeatedly riding the short, fun trails around our local spots, rather than mixing it up and getting out on longer cross country rides as well. We have very much neglected our riding fitness. This neglect shall be rectified soon.

Having agreed that we must get out and do some proper mileage, we chose to follow a route from a magazine, something I've never done before. Apart from having to stop to work out the different route sections, it was very enjoyable, partly because it was the first real mud of the season.

We did end up finishing a bit late, (well 4.30 is late this time of year) so a short cut and some twilight pedalling was the order of the errrrrr, evening. Not ideal, but then if you were never out at twilight, you'd never be able to appreciate sunsets like this.

You can see the beautiful sunset, but there were two other occurances I enjoyed very unexpectedly.

The first gave me another reason to appreciate the full suspension bike. On getting some air off a tree stump, I attempted to pull a small tabletop. The result of which was me loosing my footing on my pedals. If I were on a hardtail, I would have undoubtedly landed on my man jewels very hard, lost control and crashed dramatically down the chalk slope we were on. Luckily the compression of the rear suspension saved my jewels and the subsequent fall. Which was nice! One of those situations, where the positive comes from not experiencing something quite as negative as expected.

Another was riding at speed down a fairly wide bridal way, heading towards an open right hand corner in the trail. The camber and left and right tracks forced me to into the left hand gully and without even considering the changing surface, I found myself riding through what can only be described as slurry. All I could do was close my mouth and enjoy the smell for the next hour and a half.Sometimes you have to just laugh.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Alpine experiences - Stage 3

My brother made a record of our experiences in the alps. I initially used this as reference for my own writing, but I found it a really engaging read. It was just thought by thought experience by experience. So I asked him if I could stick it up on a post, effectively making him a guest writer. Thankfully he was happy for me to do that! So read on below. Alpine experiences - Stage 2, finished with us having just climbed and descended the Col du Joux Planes. And so our trip continues. Thanks for this bro.

Tuesday. 

This 20 hour period was the best of the holiday [beginning at the end of the ride yesterday]. Awoke and sighed with relief to find that I had slept well. Beautiful morning late-ish 0830. HOT. Was overjoyed to learn that Ollie too, had slept well. Ollie kept wanting milk. Spent a relaxed morning eating, packing and bathing in the stream this time we both went down. So great to have a fresh bracing wash, with your hands cupping the water. It is one of the things I have implemented back here. In the shelter of the bridge. Got out into the warm sunshine almost clean and re-invigourated. Stood watching a lizard bask in the sun on the high man made concrete/shingle bank. Made a plan to head off to Sion. Stopped in the place that we found by the main river. Had a walk along and down to the bank. There was a dark grey fine sand. The width and strength of the river, the rockiness and the surroundings made me think of Canada. I wish to go there someday.The whole freshwater/outdoor /sunny experience made me think of an environment much closer to home: Dartmoor. It is relatively easy to get to, and I love the atmosphere. I plan on returning soon again and again. In the palm of the valley on the small grass picnic area, next to the quiet valley road, in shade of the baking sun, I did some yoga. Then stood on a big boulder and tree posed. Felt alive. Looked at map and then finally set sail, retracing yesterday morning's route and stopping for petrol cheap in Cluncy sp? Then onto the cheap valley road alternative to the toll road and some stunning cliffs. Very hot and slowish for the first part, but the toll road ended and we joined the dual carriage way made some progress and then I pointed out Mont Blanc aire [aire is a rest area] wasn't sure whether to stop but luckily Ollie made the active decision. Breathtaking panoramas. Hot on the valley floor, Mont blanc summit covered by clouds. But 360 degrees of interest.


Could have stayed for longer and wallowed in the sublime, but had to move on. As was the story of the holiday. How long does it take for a scene to truly filter through. For you to absorb most of what it has to offer. Is it best to stay until you feel one with it, or best to leave, and leave wanting more. Drove up into chamonix, the road as impressive as I remembered, a few tunnels and scenic shots, tried to drive through Chamonix but Hot and crowded, as soon as we left, into the tree lined valley road, loads of places to camp, and cyclists jamming the road. Drove up through Argentiere, up an unexpectedly beautiful climb. The next hour of driving was relentlessly sublime.We stopped above Argentieres on the slope and went for a quick hike up into the alpine forest just off the road. I had the urge to continue the holiday walking, it was so peaceful and clean. Legs were still heavy from previous day though. Returned to the car. Over the hill and over the swiss border up one more stunning climb and then cresting it, a further spectacle that was too much to truly appreciate. The valley below was wide and perfectly level. There had never been such definition in the heights before. I cannot describe adequately at this time.


There was something about the perfect order of the manmade structures reflecting the geometic precision of the valley floor. The valley floor was uniformly level as the sea. There was no undulation so mountain and valley were clearly defined. Stopped for a view on a hairpin runoff with a bus. Rejoined the road behind a cyclist who was really motoring - he overtook a caravan. Ollie was tempted by the descent. Descended into vinyard- covering much of this valley floor- and onto the dual carriageway. So ended the best chunk of the holiday.We drove to Sion and then into Sion. Crowded and humid. Out of Sion. Found a petrol station and looked at a hiking map to find the name of the climb that was wanted. Set the Sat Nav to Conthey sp? and back through Sion and then drove to Colney and out, up into the vinyards and down to the main road, there was seemingly no space unused, no woodland/trees! [now that I think of it] everywhere exposed and open to traffic. Crowded and bustling. Drove back to Convey, having been on the move for the best part of 6 hours, tiredness and irritation was setting in.  From now on in note form: Intention to climb Sanetsch and find somewhere up there to camp. Looked at the steep vinyard foothills but eventually opted for the main road up. We found most promising grass verge next to a river but drove round to quieter side with vinyard. However it was not quiet. Rush hour and Vinyard entrance and I had noticed a police patrol. Stopped to rest. And then off to get milk for Ollie. Went looking for supermarket but closed. Off to petrol station. I was now feeling less self conscious in this atmosphere. Looked at tarts but resisted. Ollie paid and the girl mutter something that we both didnot understand. Le ticket, le billet of course. Why does one always make out the most sinister ideas. Back to otherside of grass verge, by river with lots of cars parked. Ollie parks perpendicular to them and right off the road. We cook eat and wash a little in the river where you are told not to wash as power station flushes tides. To bed. Starts to rain in fits, but so hot in the valley and in the car. I give Ollie light sleeping bag and he has a poor night's sleep due to cold. I sleep 6hrs -ish but disturbed by the vibrations of a diesel police car which stops opposite us for a couple of mins. Checking us out? It is otherwise too much of a coincidence. After 2 minutes I rise slowly and look. As they drive off. I remained still for the whole period.

Wednesday. Awake to a comotion of voices. Get up and see two vinyard workers staring into my bedroom in the rain. It is 7pm and time for their collection. A bit of a start. Olly wants to get in but I mislay the key. Anyway, feel like a bit of target here, but they eventually get on with their lives and we are left to curse another sub standard nights sleep and the rain.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Alpine experiences - Stage 2

Taninges is a small town, with one main avenue heading up a shallow gradient to a junction where it converges with the valley road that runs perpendicular to it. This junction is at the heart of the town and has several minor roads leading off it. Nothing unusual there for a junction! However, off to one side, there is a triangular statue which forms a roundabout of sorts that can be used, or not, as the mood takes you. There are no traffic controls and road markings are as good as useless. This 'roundabout' is a cause of mayhem, even without english cyclists appearing. And it certainly wouldn't help matters if those cyclists had just had a tiring journey and were still getting used to riding on the opposite side of La rue.
Imagine this but busier, with some queuing and then trying to approach on a bike, clipped in to your pedals
So yes, stupid junction me and my brother (English cyclists) impending mayhem. Junction survived, we attempted one road out of the town centre. This quickly turned into a dead end. We then realised we forgot something and so had to confront this void of vehicular conformity thrice more that day!

Anyway, as you will see below, my light weight brother (gravity is more kind to him) decided that rather than go up the boring (easy) pass road [red], it would be better to go up through the old town road [blue]. Proper roads! What followed was some of the steepest gradient I have ever ridden. It certainly highlighted the fact that I was over geared, riding a 39 x 25 as my lowest gear. I was struggling within 1 mile of having set off.
[If you look at how the red main pass heads off to the West for quite some way before switching back to then head East for a time. If you compare this with the blue route to the same northerly point, you can maybe start to grasp how steep this road was. This East West East sweep is built in, to neutralise or minimise the extreme gradient of the lower part of the mountain.]


I don't know what I was thinking, taking such a high geared bike to the alps, but I suppose when you're mentally planning for your greatest riding undertaking, you don't want to do anything but take your best bike. I think over all it was the right decision. Gearing is not the only aspect to consider in the high mountains. Having a weildy bike below you, with good brakes, really is a blessing when you are likely to be descending at high speed for up to 40 mins and although it may have had high gearing, the lower weight and greater efficiency would be a benefit over the many hours of climbing - at least this is what I was telling myself whilst grinding up that first 25+ % gradient.

There is something satisfying about trying to go slow enough to keep your heart rate below your red zone, whilst still going fast enough not to keel over. This all within 15 mins of starting! If only I could say that it was the view that took my breath away!

The road gradually got easier as we gained altitude. I have to say I still had no idea what to expect when it came to duration of climb. My brother had always said to me that alpine gradients are around 8% average which doesn't seem that much until you work in that you are looking at hours of continuous 8% gradient. It is all very well knowing these facts, but until you experience it, it is very difficult to get an impression.

The example my brother used to use as the best example near where we lived was a climb along the North downs way up to a place called Ranmore Common just outside Dorking. It is undulating, similar in look to alpine roads and about the right average gradient. A fit rider can climb it in about 10 mins. We'd be doing the equivalent of close to 20 times that in one continuous climb at points in this 'holiday'...but I digress.

So we continued up the old town road, which went straight up and then swung toward the main pass, at the point at which the water course cut itself a sheer path between the two peaks. Crossing a bridge onto the main road, the gradient got shallower again and the road surface smoother. My brother was hugely unimpressed by how boring this route was and how busy the traffic was, but I found the merits in how mesmerising the flow of the river was as it waltzed its way below the asphalt on it's relentless gravity driven mission down the mountain side. - I have to say, that to be able to actually sit down in the saddle at this point was a bit of a treat for me.

Making better progress, we came out at the truly uninspiring and deserted ski resort of Les Gets. Getting the pronunciation correct, for my delirious and immature mind gave me a 20 sec distraction. I felt strangely fresh body wise and was surprised to see the pass start making its way down hill so soon. My brother is convinced we missed the summit road. No matter, we had bigger fish to fry that day!

Our first proper descent was a bit forgettable, but I suppose the area was not that inspiring. I almost cut it from my memory. We spent a bit of time rolling through Morzine. Pretty surreal to be there. I love the alpine cabin/chalet style and this was my first experience of a classic ski town rather than a commercially created resort.

I didn't feel as good after that first bit of descent and our first full on climb of the trip was only minutes away - It was hard to distract myself from this fact and there was almost a bit of tension, not in an interaction sense, but more in an expectation way. Hard thing to describe, but the type of feeling that lifts if you just deal with the impending doom of the task to come - man up - and get on. Working this out at the time though was not easy. This mental distinction, I found very hard to get a grasp of throughout the trip, firstly because I generally don't think that deeply about things, lolloping emotionally through life and secondly because there was a baseline fatigue that made any type of thought formation difficult.

The Col de Joux Plane. A climb of tour de France fame. At only 1700 vertical metres it is not one of the monsters of the alps, but is known for it's difficulty nonetheless. We were actually attempting it from the 'easy' side from Morzine. 10.9 kilometres (seven miles) at an average gradient of 6.5% with the steepest gradient being 11%. Again though, it started very steep out of Morzine and I for the first time started properly suffering. I was looking at my brother who was much better geared and really wishing I had the lean physique that he was no doubt enjoying (well...) in an environment that suited him down to the ground.

Don't get me wrong, I am no heavy weight. At as good as 6 ft tall, and 75 kilos, I am probably a good example of average to skinny build, with a fair amount of muscle mass. My brother on the other hand being maybe an inch or two shorter hovers around the 60 kilo mark. In stone terms, that is around 11 and a half vs 8. Stacking four bikes on his shoulders would just about even us out in weight. A crazy thought and something I frequently reminded him of as he danced on his pedals in front of me.
With cycling, as with many sports there is no substitute for body type. There is a reason that 'climbers' tend to be the small wirey guys in cycling, because they don't require so much in the way of muscle mass to have a good power to weight ratio. In building muscle to gain an advantage, I'd also be strapping weight to my bones. It is so much about physique. I was jealous!

In the end though this wasn't a competition or at least not with each other. We were competing against the mountain. We were here to conquer and that we did. I was tempted to write on describing to you our experience further up the Joux Plane, but I spent time editing a video of our trip, so why duplicate effort when in this case, the video would probably do more justice to our experience. The first 2.18 of the video is the Col de Joux Planes. Check out the hairy descent! Enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Alpine experiences - Stage 1

This one is gonna come in stages - it is just too much to put in one post...and maybe that is my brother's point. See what you think.

Maybe it is my point! Hmmmmmmm!!!
This summer just gone, my brother and I decided that we'd spend a week in the Alps. Both being avid road cyclists, cycling enthusiasts and Tour de France fans, and both relishing the challenge that uphill gradient's provide, it was inevitable that one day we'd end up in the Alps, emulating (in a less majestic fashion) what those pro riders do every July.

And so it happened that in the spring, a plan started to come together. I say a plan, it was more of an idea. There was actually very little planning and we only decided fully to leave on the very day. It was not the smoothest of departures.

It would have to be a cheap ish trip. I think the only firm target came from my brother Andrew. He said that he was eager to do this trip 'Ollie' style. He'd often wondered whether living life at the pace that I often did, would allow one to sufficiently appreciate experiences, both during and in hindsight. He speculated that, in undertaking experiences as I did - with very little regard to rest, eating healthily and taking time to sit back and absorb - one probably wasn't making the most of actually doing the task in the first place. Indeed, this was the main philosophical subject of our Alpine experiences trip, a subject that was revisited whenever subsequent thought managed to push it's way through the haze of all encompassing fatigue. A subject I hope to highlight and revisit in each subsequent post about the trip. I even hope to convince my brother to publish some of his eloquent words in some of these posts, having just been absorbed reading his version of events, when really, I was only after some place names.

So for this week, me ol' bro was going to do it my style and test his hypothesis in extreme fashion!

So the rough plan >>

Leave Surrey Saturday and drive to Dover for a ferry crossing
drive down through the East of France
Enter the alps and climb a small ish alp in France
Move into Switzerland and climb a Big Alp
maybe check out Geneva
possibly do a night ride in Paris
return home Sunday night a week later

>> And of course, don't spend a cent on accomodation.
Leave Surrey, Ferry Crossing, uncomfortable overnight just South of Reim, then a mission down through Geneva to Tanine for first ride
Initially I thought the 'Alpine experiences' were going to be about just the cycling. Turns out the whole trip was full of 'experiences', good and bad, easily grasped and just out of reach; just a melee of highs and lows in both the actual and metaphorical senses.

This mission was up there for me with a private attempt at the 3 peaks challenge that 2 friends and I attempted one weekend. A HUGE amount of travelling and effort, but so very worth it!

Notable aspects of the journey South
- An overnight just South of Reim. Woken up by a couple of inquisitive Frenchman, rolling past rather ominously in their white van. Not what you want after a restless night.
-A drive/stop and cycle through the Jura mountains. Most definately the hidden highlight of the whole trip, though didn't quite reach the lofty heights of some of the later experiences. A fantastic way to ease in!
-A second night, by a picnic stop layby. Stunning backdrop. Woke up to see eagles riding the thermals infront of the cliffs.
-More passes crossed, the most perfectly exquisite town of St Claude. So beautiful, as was the climb out of St Claude. As majestic as it was precipitous.
-A battle through Geneva
-Arrival in Tanines prior to our first Alpine cycle

Having first heard my brother's thoughts on what it is to truly do justice to an experience, I was starting to appreciate more what he was saying. In a little under 40 hours - We had covered nearly 800 miles wild camped in 2 random places, spoken zero french, eaten in excess of 30 rice cakes between us, crossed 5 or 6 mountain passes, stopped for breaks/site seeing/petrol over 10 times. And really we hadn't even started.

We arrived in Tanines very tired, but the draw of the alpine passes was still motivation enough. Stage two was to be our first alpine cycle.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Nature in common

What an Autumn we are having - a great time in the UK
I grew up with a father who would endeavour to say hello to everyone when out and about in the wilderness. I think this is where I picked up the trait. I have good friends who get embarassed by my eagerness to greet people. A family member, [you know who you are] has even showed frustration at the fact that I say hello whenever possible to anyone I encounter. I find this so bizarre!

I particularly love when people are not expecting an exchange, or don't quite hear you and reply with something unexpected - it makes me chuckle.
"Good afternoon"
"Okay!"



However, generally I find that it is more common not to receive a reply around where I live. Most people I come across seem particularly unwilling to make any kind of effort, with the most simple and effortless exchange.

I feel that even the smallest interaction in this way can provide you with a positive feeling that seems completely at odds with the amount of effort you put in.

Other people do not, it seems!

I often come away smiling on receiving a simple returned hello. Maybe though, this is because replies are so few and far between around these parts.

Yes, unfriendlyness seems to be partly a geographical trend. Even in my limited experience, it seems to me that all the stereotypes are true. This is totally subjective of course, but London and the home counties are the most unfriendly places in my opinion and experience. And anyone I have met in or who has originated from the North, seem to be far more friendly. It seems that there is a direct relation between how far you get from London and how friendly people are, maybe with the exception of Cornwall. You head to the North of England and strangers make an effort. Wales, the same.

I don't mean this to offend anyone, there are exceptions to any rule, but I doubt that people living in these 'unfriendly' places would truly disagree.

There are a few circumstances when these general impressions become void though. A day such as today, super warm for this time of year and fantastically sunny. Or; the subject of many discussions, and mentions in previous posts, on meeting someone in the country, when they're experiencing nature as you are. You have the enjoyment of nature in common, so this (unseasonal expression approaching) breaks the ice. I've often had this when away from London in the highlands/Peaks/Snowdonia, but today, in the South East of England, near the M25, even near a golf club, on stopping for a car that was turning in the road, I came across a guy who was sorting out his two little ones, getting their helmets on so that they could no doubt ride their miniature bikes down the canal path I had just come off. As usual I said a friendly hello. The guy looked up and smiled, which was odd enough, but then he questioned how my run was going and how far I'd been. Turned out he was a runner as well, having done a long run this morning a little way away. I ran off joking with him that keeping up with the kids would be a perfect opportunity to have a bit of a warm down. I immediately followed that with several minutes of woodland 'off piste' trail running. Brilliant fun! An unexpectedly enjoyable few minutes and a refreshing change.

It seems there is still hope for the South East! Then again, with views like this, who needs people anyway!
;-)

 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Blogger Community and Blogs of note

So this blogging thing right. There is a lot more to it than I first thought. I thought you'd write something and push publish. Job done!

NAH!!!

There's a blogger dashboard, reading lists, layouts, scheduling and something called 'blogger buzz'. Plenty to confound us relatively e-literate people.

One thing I have come to understand is that finding other bloggers whose thoughts/posts you are interested in and getting involved in the blogger community aspect is engaging and fun.

I have had the pleasure of beginning to blog alongside one of my great friends, so we've been learning together which has also been good. A bit of healthy competition never goes amiss, hey?!!

So, please please please widen (and improve ;-) your blogging community by visiting these two blogs below.
(oh and while you're clicking 'join this site' on the below blogs - as you no doubt will - spare a thought for Gandalf's [that's me] 'join this site' button, which is feeling woefully inadequate.)

1. Runblogger - Pete Larson. A teacher and a runner. (which actually seems to be a common fit). I have only been a 'follower' for a short while, but everything I have read has been interesting, pertinent to my interests and also to the current 'no mans land' that running science, technique and form theory seems to be residing in at the moment. Arguments are persuasive and justified, his thoughts just seem perfectly weighted and insightful. Take a look.

2. Anthony Animal - unshod Anthony or just Anthony. This guy is awesome with the written word. Can I say this after reading so little of his stuff? I think so yes! Now I know he's intelligent, but just quite how, I was reminded of recently by a number of examples, his blog being one of these. Right yes, I'll admit this guy is my best friend, but I have no quarms in recommending this blog (only in its infancy), based solely on its merits and not from friendship bias. A brave and refreshing approach to a subject that at this point we think might be quite niche. Nothing like building curiosity, right?!! Anyway, don't take my word for it, check out his words...

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Minimalism or Lightweight

The logical progression is light weight, right?

Being a serious road cyclist, it is quite possible you have at least flerted with the idea of buying lighter components for increased performance. Spend money = increased speed. Simple! This is the domain of the weight weenies - guys and gals worried about loosing every last gram from their equipment, for promise of athletic gain - who’ll spend an extra 100 quid to save 50 grams, or even more for less in the most extreme cases. For me, this is one of the most real world examples of diminishing returns, though using the ‘real world’ expression in the context of leathery hearts, white man tans, shaved legs and lycra, seems laughable.

Let me explain further this crazyness with the language of the universe; numbers. Take for example a relatively large (in road riding terms) 200 gram saving, by replacing say, a saddle. In the grand scheme, it is laughable.

In my case my bike weighs 7 and a half kilos or 7500 grams. That 200 grams represents a tiny percentage. Now put that 7500 grams of bike weight up against my weight 75 kilos or 75000 grams. The 75000 grams that my 7500 gram bike will be carrying. You will see that spending that much money on saving 200 grams from a total of around 80000 grams is going to do very little, particularly when your average drink of water probably weighs the same and your body weight is likely to fluctuate quite easily day to day in those regions. [Granted, that is a really baseline look at weight in cycling terms, but an interesting subject eitherway]

So what I’m saying is, I’m a sucker for it! Weight weenie right here!

Now, taking the 'lightweight' theme across genres, when referring more closely to the ‘outdoor’ side of things and the relationship between 'lightweight' and 'minimalism', I wonder if there is becoming an ever increasing grey area that overlaps these categories. The line can blur for me! My impressions certainly overlap.

I wonder! Is this possibly the way that we as consumers are being led? Lightweight means minimal, when actually…well, stores can’t make money from the minimalist concept, right? Lightweight though...

Synical?! Maybe…

...Probably!!! but definitely something to ponder.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Snowdonia experiences - "Best thing I've ever done" moments

New post - Alpine experiences - Stage 1
Snowdonia Experiences - Time doesn't matter Wilderness
Snowdonia experiences - Battered by wind

“You ready man?”
“Yeah, but you might want to close the boot”
“Oh yeah, right”

So we’re walking away from the car, leaving it by a letterbox in Nant Peris (old Llanberis), the small village between Llanberis and the Llanberis pass. The path is getting very steep, very quickly. Climbing a stile right next to a cottage, we say hello to the owner as he opens his front door.

I’m wondering at this point what part of this hill is back garden and what part is common land and also, quite how I got so hot so quickly; Anthony stopping in front and pulling off layers is obviously wondering the same.

It’s twenty minutes later and we are on steeper footing, on a path that is meandering in, around and over stone walls as the landscape allows, roughly following the more direct watercourse.







Looking up, I’m wondering quite how anyone ever decided that they would be able to use their feet and legs and bodies to create a path up a slope like this.

I consider that despite being quite a cool day, it is very still, considering the mountain terrain, so perhaps that is why I’m hotter than usual – plus we are carrying over 10 kilos each - so it’s definitely worth a dunk in the stream.


“Mate you gotta try this” – says I
“What a place to be and thing to be doing when we’d both be in an office any other Wednesday” – says Anthony


We’re now at the steepest part of the climb, the path is a lot more loose. I cross a metal bridge, wonder how the hell it got up there, (helicopter I presume) then I take the ‘photo of the holiday’ on looking down the valley, using the bridge as the subject. Say something rediculous to Anthony about, “the juxtaposition of the man made bridge and nature hewn valley is what makes this photo” then continue on.


Anthony is coming across his first challenge of the vertigo kind 20 metres above and ahead. Anthony vs mountain! Anthony wins.

 


















I’m quietly thankful that the climb has finally plateau’d out as we head onto the saddle grassland – the very boggy saddle between Y Garn and the Glyders. Consulting the map I finally make the connection between the actual position, look and layout of this part of the range. I look down towards Twll du (the devil’s kitchen) and Llyn Idwal. I can’t quite see across to our stopover from two nights before, near Llyn Bochlwyd or Australia lake as it is known.

 

Heading straight up Glyder Fawr the slope is scree and steep, but never unsettlingly so. I sneeze, whilst looking down at a runner who’s progress Anthony and I have followed for a few seconds. The runner stops and looks up, clearly unsure what the noise was. Not long later he is close behind us as we stop on a switchback, we say hello. He says hello.

He introduces himself, with an interesting accent, as the guy who we said hello to at the front door of the cottage below. Before too long we are into a long conversation about ultra marathons. We are finding out that he has taken part in the Ultra trail du Mont Blanc and completed it in 41 hours, along with various other European events. He certainly has the wirey look of a mountain runner and we find that he has lived all his life in the mountains, growing up in the Alps, with a short break to live in London, before moving out to Nant Peris with his wife. He is currently going between Nant Peris, Caernarfon where his restaurant is and Europe, taking part in Ultra Marathons. A very cool guy! A very cool guy with a French/Welsh accent who is keen to sell us his house.

Its time to move on. We’re making steady progress upwards. I begin to understand why they say 'lunar landscape' and to be careful if the weather comes in up here. There are no reference points. There is a light mist, but the path, or paths are clear enough. Cairns (thanks Anthony) are playing their part as well. And there’s the summit of Glyder Fawr.

Time is getting on, thanks to a late start and with the nights drawing in, so I suggest getting a mushti on back down.

“Let’s get a mushti on back down bro” – “okay”

So, I’m now leading Anthony back down the exact way we just came up, honest!

“Eeerrrrr, this isn’t right, my compass is well out. We’re going West and the compass is reading East. Bloody thing. It’s been fine up till now. What the hell!”
We continue.
“Errrr, I don’t remember this, do you?”
“Not sure”
“Errrr, just don’t get why the compass is buggered”
We continue on. The gradient levels out.

“Errrrr, this isn’t right, what the hell, I’m well confused now”


I look to the left and see the big drop down the crag, and then make the connection. We are now on the ridge top between Glyders Fawr and Fach. I have actually, used my judgement and headed off in exactly the opposite direction to intended and then I have convinced myself that it is more likely that a compass has broken, or the magnetic field of the earth itself has reversed - It does happen you know, every few hundred thousand years, the earths poles switch - so it is probably that which has happened. Well it is either that or you are telling me that a man’s directional skills have failed...stupid to even think that...I KNOW!

So now concentrating on navigation a bit more, I get my bearings and we decide that as we’re already on the way, we may as well check out Glyder Fach. After all, we are prepared to stay up on the mountain overnight if required. We climb around on Glyder Fach for a while, unsure of how to progress in the mist, so decide to leave the summit for another day. We’ve lost the route again, but quickly get back on track. Mine and Anthony’s respect for the mountains is increasing with this experience as is my awe for this place. I love it! It is such a good place to spend time!


We’ve reached the Fawr summit again. I’m eager to find the route down, but at the same time loathed to get off somewhere I have really loved being, despite a few moments of navigational uneasiness.

Visiting the Glyders, one of the best things I have done! And even though this theme is likely to come up a lot on this blog, I suppose that is what all this is about. Trying to get myself in as many of those “This is one of the best things I’ve ever done moments” as I can. I suppose the sensible thing is to hope that I become exceedingly repetitive! 

Frenchman's front window. Goat enjoying a good vantage point

New post - Alpine experiences - Stage 1
Snowdonia Experiences - Time doesn't matter Wilderness
Snowdonia experiences - Battered by wind

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Get Dirty

With the winter coming on slowly, I am more than ever looking forward to the prospect of a good bit of mud. So with that in mind, here's Robin Moore again with another blinder.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Equipment and conflict


Equipment – don’t you just love it?!! Just having stuff and things. Buying cool new equipment. The pleasure of having a ‘tool’ that does it's job well, is great! I’ve been blogging a couple of weeks and in that time I have acquired a new head torch and a camera. Terrible really, but then the camera is partly for blog purposes and I lost my Go Pro Helmet Hero HD video camera in the sea whilst surfing and needed a replacement. (so it is fine!!!) I have to say in my years after university, I’ve made a hobby of buying stuff. Not good at all!

I also love not having stuff and things. I love walking round in just a pair of shorts in barefeet during the summer, particularly if it involves a newly watered vegetable patch. Wet soil between your toes. Awesome!

Now...I think...materialism and minimalism, are ever so slightly conflicting. I love to aspire to the minimalist approach; to life, the outdoors, and activity, but at the same time, I seem to be quite materialistic and like my kit.

One end of the spectrum – Riding a carbon fibre road bike with an awesome helmet and expensive clipless pedals, using a wireless cycle computer to check heart rate, cadence and speed.


And at the other – Running in ‘minimalist’ shoes. One of my favourite experiences of this year was wearing my Merrell trail gloves and just shorts running along a winding coastal path in Cornwall on a fantastically sunny day.


I can't complain really, I suppose we'll see where things go from here - More material or more minimal? Whatever direction, there's plenty of time!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Monday, 31 October 2011

Work loop

Went for a lunch time run today with a colleague who I know from our work mountain walking trips. To his benefit, he has the mentality of a member of the RAF reserve regiment, to his detriment, he had consumed 16 pints over the weekend. A great guy and a great run! I was buzzing afterwards - good old endorphins.

Having only started barefoot running 3 ish months ago, I am still convincing my body, that this is the way to go. The adjustment to the barefoot style has been a slow one, a process that has demanded as much patience as it has rest. After the first month of constantly pulled calf muscles and frustratingly short distances, (starting at a few hundred metres) more recently it has become easier. I am still taking it slowly though, having had experience of plenty of injuries solely the result of over eagerness and lack of rest. REMEMBER, you get fitter, whilst resting. [in simplistic terms]

Being happy that I was finally up to the level where I could run the 4-5 miles that I knew Dave was running, I finally submitted to the goads (apparently I am a ‘puddin’ – did I mention he was from Newcastle!) and took up the challenge to join him. We stretched, started off slow but really picked the pace up once warm.

What I can safely say is, (in line with expectation) that having predominantly been a cyclist, my Cardio vascular system is a hell of a long way ahead of my body when it comes to running! With extended distances I am limited by my muscle capability, which today, I have to say, was a really interesting thing to experience.

Another thing of note though, is that fantastically, unlike the days when I was a heel striker, I now, (touch wood) seem to be able to do both running and cycling simultaneously. As I pick up both the cycling miles and the running miles again, side by side, we shall see whether this injury free state remains. Here's hoping...

Performance

If you are a road rider and you can laugh at yourself, then you'll enjoy this! If you are not, then sure you'll enjoy anyway! Robin Moore is a genius!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Fossil Haul


Selection of fossils from Charmouth
 Cool, ay? My brother and his girlfriend came back from holiday the other day. There'd been mention of them stopping off at Lyme Regis on the way home, but I had no idea why. Turns out they went fossil hunting. Being in the middle of writing a post I reluctantly went to see their 'haul'. Turned out to be way more interesting than I thought and so I decided to share. The above is apparently an hour and a halfs combing on Charmouth beach.
Vertibrae
Cephalopods


Friday, 28 October 2011

Snowdonia experiences - Battered by wind

New post - Alpine experiences - Stage 1
Snowdonia Experiences - Time doesn't matter Wilderness
Snowdonia Experiences - "Best thing I've ever done" moments

Wake up >> un-tangle knot of body/sleeping bag/clothes >> unzip sleeping bag, then bivi >> put trousers socks and boots on >> stand up, put rest of gear on >> pack sleeping bag and bivi up >> re-pack bag >> eat trail mix for breakfast >>

>> head off up trail >> Round bend - get battered by the wind >> Struggle up mountain >> Take cover from rain storm >> curse the weather for needlessly having made you take cover from rain storm >> break cover >> Have oodles of fun running up and down a rock outcrop in the wind >>




>> Continue >> Get battered by sideways hail (Right in the face!!!) >> Continue >> Find old stone sheepfold >> Eat >> Take photos >>

 
Sheepfold near Melynllyn
>> Find path >> wade bog >> cross water course >> Find Tarn>>

Melynllyn Tarn
>> Walk the 'beach' >> Find sheltered spot >> build rock wall >> put stove on >> attempt solo skinny dip >> Fail (Really? yup...don't ask) >> clothes on >> Hot chocolate brew >> Pack up >> Descend >> Amazing!!!

New post - Alpine experiences - Stage 1
Snowdonia Experiences - Time doesn't matter Wilderness
Snowdonia Experiences - "Best thing I've ever done" moments

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Staying warm


First log fire tonight. Picked up some deadwood the other day. Thanks nature. Mesmerising watching fire isn't it, just as it is to listen to Richard Feynman talk about the science of fire. He just has a fantastically engaging way of simplifying physics so that mere mortals like me can understand. What a character!