Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

Feel free to leave comments.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Playing away

As previously reported, 2011 turned into a year of chasing goals and targets. From compleating my first round of Munros, through doing my first LeJog, to getting that 10,000km of riding and walking, it seemed I was always chasing something. I'd already decided that I was going to be less number-driven in 2012 and my main objective for this year is to walk and ride in areas I've never visited before. With that in mind, when my friend Jonny was organising a birthday MTB ride, I was keen to take him up on an offer of a guided tour of his back yard. 

Setting off south for a weekend is a bit of a novelty and crossing the border even more so. With some time to spare, Al and I decided we'd take in a ride on the way down to Huddersfield to break up the journey and make the most of our time. Asking around on Singletrackworld, we got a few recommendations for a route near Ingleton. This was useful for me as I've still to really comprehend the rather arcane English Right of Way rules and all those dotted and dashed pink lines on the OS map just look too confusing. 

The route turned out to be a cracker: some decent climbs, lots of lovely rural bridleways and a track over the higher moors. The weather could have been better. Cold and damp, there was snow, ice and slush higher up and we eventually opted to shorten the route slightly as we'd not get a view of the limestone pavements under the snow anyway. Returning to the van brought another problem - it was getting darker and with glasses now liberally smeared with mud, it was a bit of "point and pray" on the last, fast descents. 

By way of contrast, the weather for Saturdays birthday ride could not have been more perfect. Brilliant blue sky, hardly a breath of wind and crisp, cold trails made for a fantastic day out, all made even better by Jonnys narrative. It was certainly beautiful and the contrast with the nearby towns and villages made it even more so. All this great riding, in amongst all that urban development. Jonny is obviously, and very rightly, proud of his neighbourhood and I'm so glad he was able to share that enthusiasm with us.

I'm now really looking forward to similar adventures as the year progresses.

Friday 20 January 2012

No niche is TOO niche

It seems to be in the nature of man that some of us are born explorers and inventors, and the rest of us slowly take advantage of these developments. So it is with cycling. From a relatively stable environment up to the 1980's or so, there has been an explosion of ideas. Some have fallen by the wayside, some limp along as a minority interest, many make it into the big time and some are so new they've not yet had the chance to mature.

So it is with the Fatbike. Developed to deal with snow, run on sand, it's now gradually infiltrating the UK biking scene.

It's not that hard to see why. Recent severe winters have given us weeks of lying snow, making normal cycling difficult and impossible. The idea of a bike which would work - and even be fun - in this environment is hard to criticise. We are also an island nation (or 3 nations if you prefer). That means there's lots of coastline to be explored. However, the broad, low-pressure footprint of the Fatbike also has a place on many of the more commonly used trails and in more remote glens where it will more glide over bog and mud than through it like a standard "skinny" tyre.

With all of this in mind, I decided to dip my feet into the wide-tyred waters and I'm now the owner of a lovely new 9:zero:7 all the way from Anchorage, Alaska.


Build-wise, I also decided to try an Internal Gear Hub - in this case the 11-speed Shimano Alfine. This raised a couple of other technical issues. My experience with normal derailleurs in snow and ice hasn't been good, I didn't want to run any sort of chain tensioner either. Hence a very special bottom bracket.

My initial rides have ironed out a couple of problems and I'm now beginning to explore a little further with it. 

It would be nice to have some snow though......

Friday 13 January 2012

24 Hours of Madness

I'm not the racing type. I don't really have that competitive streak or the dedication required to get really fast or good at anything. However, once in a while an event comes along that seems to feature just the right amount of madness to look "interesting". So it is with the Strathpuffer. As if a 24-hour mountain bike race in Scotland wasn't mad enough, it's held in January in order to ensure maximum darkness. Now, I've thought about doing the Puffer a few times over the years and circumstances have conspired against me. This year, I was asked to be pit-bitch for a friend and I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to see the whole thing up close and to finally help make up mind whether or not I was going to add this to my Palmares.

We were all prepped up on Friday and rolled in to Contin in the afternoon, getting my van and a caravan organised. Temperatures were completely unseasonal and the snow and ice which had featured previously was nowhere to be seen. A bit of a disturbed nights sleep made for a less than promising start, but by 10am we were all ready to roll. 

Once the riders had done their Le Mans style sprint and headed off up the fireroad climb for the first time, we got ourselves organised in the start/finish marquee, claiming enough table space that we could get all the food, drink and spares together in the (relative) warm and dry. 

After a fast start, the race settled down a bit and I found I had 10-15 minutes of intense activity - getting food and drink organised, checking over the bike when it came in - followed by about an hour of boredom. This pattern was briefly interrupted when we had a problem with brake pads on one of the bikes and again when a "stomach upset" meant that some riding time was lost.

Further illness meant we ended up with an unplanned break early in the morning but we were up again and ready to roll for a couple of hours as the sun rose and the race eventually ended at 10am.

Overall, it wasn't the mechanical carnage I'd expected. The weather obviously played a part with thin mud running off rather than sticking to the moving parts. The competitors seemed to enjoy it, whether they were in it for a place or only for the craic. 

For me, the most important moment was just after midnight, walking down to the van, away from the piped music, the generators and the lights. The full moon was showing through a large break in the clouds. The occasional star was visible as the clouds swept noiselessly across. In the far distance, I could just make out small patches of snow on the hills above Strathconon. It was calm, mild and perfect. Perfect for sitting outside a bothy or tent with a wee dram that is!

Sunday 1 January 2012


One disadvantage of having lots of free time is that you have a lot of free time. That means you always have the option of delaying, putting off, prevaricating. So, despite vague plans for rides, it takes little excuse to just put it off to another day. Weather is, of course, top of the list. If it looks a bit damp, or too windy it's all too easy to just put the kettle on, kick the feet up and have a look at what's happening on the world via the wonders of the internet. 

As a way of combating this, I entered a series of monthly "challenges" with some friends using the Endomondo sports tracking website. We started off by simply recording total calories burnt, figuring that anything involving distance immediately disadvantaged the walkers, runners and swimmers. As 2011 progressed, I started on my own challenge - to burn an average of 1,000 calories per day in some form of exercise. Due to a couple of longer trips, including my Lands End - John o'Groats ride, I easily got ahead of the target and I actually reached 365,000 calories at the end of October. In order to keep the incentive alive, I then decided to aim for a total of 10,000 kilometres for the year and with just a couple of days to go, I surpassed that target, ending up with 10,042km. 

It really has worked for me. Days where it would be easy to sit in and look at the weather, I've taken to getting out there anyway. Trips where I thought I was a bit tired and might have taken a shortcut home, I've ground it out to get that extra burn/distance in.

However, for 2012, I've decided to drop all that number-crunching stuff. My goal this year is to get out into the hills more, on bike and on foot, wild camping where I can. I also aim to get more use out of the kayak and will likely sign up for some sort of skills course for my own and my wifes piece of mind. 

We'll see how this works out. I've promised myself I'd do this for the last 2/3 years but life (or, more accurately, death) kept getting in the way.

Well, that's me sorted - how about you? Whatever it is you aim for, let's make 2012 a real year to remember!

Thursday 15 December 2011

Walking again

In my wee intro for this blog, I mention the fact that I'm a bit of a frustrated hillwalker. The frustration is due to heel pains I get when out for any distance and which developed, quite suddenly, during a West Highland Way expedition. Despite lots of medical probing, no one has been able to diagnose the problem and/or some up with a decent cure or prevention. As a result, I've been restricted to the odd day walking and certainly no multi-day stuff.

However, my wife has signed up to do an Everest Base Camp walk next spring and I'm now helping her get fit and prepared, so we find ourselves out walking once or twice a week, covering 10-14 miles. I must say I've found the whole thing really rather enjoyable. A quick dab of Voltarol gel on my heels before we set off seems to delay the onset of the pain enough to get through the day and we're discovering little parts of the country we'd always overlooked in the goal to bag the Munros. 

The Pentlands are on our doorstep, we've had a couple of lovely walks in the Moorfoots, a very "different" type of walk along the coast in East Lothian and today we were in the Lammermuirs. The latter were particularly impressive, with great tracks cutting over the hills and little off-shoots disappearing to goodness-knows-where. In fact, I've a funny idea I'm gong to be returning very soon - but on two wheels!