Microadventure: Box Hill Awesome Campout

Encouraged by all the super feedback that I got from the pre-christmas microadventure at Coombe Hill I had to do more. An Awesome January Campout just had to happen. I made a Facebook event and advertised it on the “Project Awesome’ and ‘Yes Tribe’ groups and waited to see the response. Well blow me if the numbers weren’t fairly amazing, and to be very honest, a bit scary. At one point I had 73 ‘interested’ and 35 ‘Going’ for a bivvy out in WINTER! [Note: The reality of what folk mean by ‘interested’ and ‘going’ on Facebook would make an interesting study].

Awesome January campout

The meet-up on this one was a bit more chaotic than I would have hoped. I met some folk at Waterloo, others were joining us at Box Hill station and yet more were going to join us on the hill. I was able to lead the main group from the station and then up the steep and muddy path until we got to the clearing behind the Solomon Memorial. It was a cold (5C) night but beautifully clear with superb views of the stars and moon. How cool!

Box hill campout

With a few late arrivals we ultimately had 27 campers out which is incredible for January. I know I’m a nutter, but this many crazies in one place is surely not good? What I mean is that it was amazing to meet such a brilliant bunch of adventurers. With this many folks, there were quite a few groups talking and more than one stove used to mull some wine. I did my best to stay up and talk but I’m not a late nighter and retreated to my bivvy fairly early on.

Box Hill awesome campout

Despite it being actually warmer than last week, I felt colder and didn’t sleep as well. It was more than worth it though to see a shooting star in the night and to experience the most amazing dawn.

Box hill

Box Hill awesome campout

I’ve only seen a couple of cloud inversions so to get one here in Surrey seems quite special. We didn’t wait too long before packing up (never takes too long when bivving) and headed down the hill in search of breakfast.

Box Hill awesome campout

Fortyfied with egg, bacon or sausage baps it was time to head off back to our homes. A good number were straight off to the Adventure Travel Show in Olympia, literally smelling of ‘adventure’. What more authentic way to go.

A terrific microadventure and the first of many ‘Awesome Campouts’ this year!

#16in16 Awesome Campouts

As another year comes around, what challenges am I going to set myself this time? It needs to be difficult, yet achievable. Additionally I’m inspired by Adam Sultan’s ‘Life Years‘ idea of 16 things in 2016 (he ran 15 marathons in 2015).

Marathons are clearly SO last year (I even did one myself) so it had to be something else – my new passion for camping out, sans tent, microadventure style. Sixteen of them in twelve months. #16in16 if you will.

On a bit of a whim before Christmas I put the word out for people to join me on a pre-Christmas campout at Coombe Hill near Wendover and was amazed that 15 people joined me. Enthused by this and all the people that asked if I was doing any more I sort of undertook to do one a month into 2016.

My super-talented wife Deborah even did this wonderful graphic to use on the Facebook event page. Lucky me!

Sketch 2015-12-13 22_14_03

I’m not sure if I’ll manage to organise group campouts every month this year, but I’ll certainly arrange a few for the first half of 2016. It is especially lovely if I’m helping some people go on their first outing.

So all I have to do is one microadventure a month plus four ‘bonus’ campouts. Seems pretty doable, especially in summer when the weather is likely to be enticing. Stealing away for a night on my holidays is also something I have pencilled in.

Themes
It is tempting to try and keep the ‘awesome campouts’ simple (simple is really good) but I have a few ideas that might help theme them or make them stand out a bit. I’m going to be asking for ideas and i’m sure there will be a few more but here is a start.

  • Mid-week campout – the classic 5-9 microadventure – go somewhere awesome but close to a station after work, get back to the desk by 9am the next day
  • Bushcraft theme – light a fire, make a beer can stove, learn some essential knots, build a shelter, basics of navigation and map-reading (and more?)
  • Cliff-top bivvy – Thinking beachy head (seven sisters)
  • Cycle bivvy – I particularly fancy a cycle to Ditchling Beacon, get to the top and campout there (go into brighton the next day).
  • Storytelling – Ask a professional storyteller along to give us an amazing atmospheric story on a suitable hilltop or in a wood. Small charge (£5 each) for the storyteller.
  • Swim Bivvy – find a spot near some relatively safe water and all have a dip before bed.
  • Beach Bivvy – Sleeping on a beach (preferably a remote one) is on my tick list

Sounds like a lot of fun!

Microadventure: Box Hill Recce

I’m due to be organising a group campout in a week’s time in an area that I only have a little familiarity so a recce camp seemed like a good idea. An even better reason might be that snow was due and it’s a definite tick list item to say that i’ve camped out and woken up to a white blanket of snow.

Box hill Microadventure. Before the snow!

My day was pretty busy with various things but luckily it doesn’t take long to put my microadventure bag together and I was out the door in good time. It is an hour’s drive to Box Hill for me and I arrived at around 2030.

It was pitch dark, chilly and with a few flakes of snow falling so with a tiny bit of trepidation I set off. Overcoming the fear gets a bit easier each time I do a solo trip so I only had to give myself a little bit of a talking to. The walk starts immediately with a bit of a stiff old climb and I’m glad that i’d intentionally only worn a couple of layers.

View from box hill

I did a fair bit of wandering around, trying to get a handle on where a good campout spot might be both for myself right now and the group next week. Not that easy in the dark with just my headtorch! I eventually settled in a wooded area near the highest point at the base of a tree.

Box hill Microadventure. Before the snow!

On settling down, there were still only a few odd flakes of snow so I decided not to bother with a shelter. Sadly no stars to watch. During the night, however, the snow fell onto my face, giving me a bit of a tickle (which kept waking me up). I don’t have mega expensive uber gear but I was happy to wear my coat and stuff my spare down jacket by my feet. I wasn’t quite toasty, but neither was I ever really that cold. All-in-all a relief given that it was a zero degree night. I heard a couple of animal calls and the odd car but mostly it was fairly quiet.

There is nothing quite like waking up covered in snow!

My alarm went off at 6.45 which I thought should be early daylight but it still seemed very dark. What I was slow to realise was the complete blanket of snow. I got up and packed my (pretty wet) gear, put on my spare down jacket over everything else and set off. I’d originally planned to do some more wandering in daylight but with the continued snowfall I was happy just to head back to the car.

Wonderful night for a campout! #snow

The winter wonderland that I found on my way back down was fantastic and magical and everything I’d hoped for. I’ve now bivvyed out in snow! What beautiful madness.

Annual Report 2015

Since 2009 I have been keeping a record of certain things in my life. Here is a roundup of 2015.

Fitness
Over the last few years I’ve been increasing the amount of fitness activities that I do. To get logged it must involve a change of clothes/footwear. I tend to log minutes of activity rather than distance as it is a lot easier.

  • Running (in a year I did the marathon) – 3251 mins or 54.2 hours (2014 – 1130 mins)
  • Swimming – 175 mins or 2.9 hours (2014 – 0 mins)
  • Circuit training (BMF and Project Awesome) – 4565 mins or 76 hours (2014 – 6050 mins)
  • Cycling (mostly off-road) – 385 mins or 6.4 hours (2014 – 105 mins)
  • Kayaking – 160 mins or 2.6 hours (2014 – 0 mins)
  • Walking (hills/mountains) – 2800 mins or 46.6 hours (2014 – 900 mins)

321.6 hours of exercise! Not bad eh?

Cinema
Given that I love films and going to the movies I have seen a paltry eight films this year. Exercise and TV at home have muscled their way in!

‘Inside Out’ was easily my favourite, not least because I was crying like a baby from the warm up short ‘Lava’ and blubbing and hugging my daughter by the end of the main feature. I also found Jurassic World quite a guilty pleasure.

Movies at home
I saw 69 movies in the comfort of my own home this year, down marginally from 71 last year. The pick of the bunch from new films that I saw was probably The Raid 2 on Netflix. Absolutely jaw-dropping fight scenes.

TV shows
I watched what looks like a lot of telly this year, something like 289 hours of it! This looks like a massive number but it does boil down to only 5.6 hours a week which isn’t even an hour a day. This encompasses over 50 series (seasons) of various lengths.

The highlight was re-watching the entire five series of Breaking Bad (still one of the finest things ever on telly). This was closely followed by series 3 of House of Cards which has managed to keep up the exceptionally high standards of the first two. I also have a big soft spot for the legal drama ‘Suits’, now in series 3.

On the low point I started watching ‘Sons of Anarchy’ but it wasn’t grabbing me and I found the gender politics pretty irredeemable.

Books
I managed to finish 20 books this year which seems to be about my average. The theme seems to have been that I’ve re-read a number of books in 2015 including all the Hornblower series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and one of my favourite books ‘The Right Stuff’ by Tom Wolfe.

Of the new books, reading ‘Fatal Passage’ by Ken McCoogan on my arctic explorer hero Dr John Rae is the highlight. I’m sure i’ll be re-reading this at some time.

View (and comment) on the 2015 Annual Report spreadsheet for the full details.

 

2015 – A Year of Adventure (and Microadventure)

This has been a pretty stellar year for doing cool stuff and I’m already looking to see how I can top it in 2016. What did I get up to?

Winter skills course in the Cairngorms, Scotland
In January I headed up to a snow covered scottish highlands to do a Winter Skills course with Cairngorm Adventure Guides. This was my first go at proper winter mountain walking and I absolutely loved it. There was a ton of snow, including one proper white out and some potentially challenging conditions.

View from Cairn Gorm

Apart from learning some of the basics with the ice-axe and crampons it was just amazing to be up in such a wonderful winter landscape for 4 days. This trip was also great for giving me a shot of confidence on hiking in winter. A superb start to the year.

California trip (inc. Yosemite)
I was lucky enough to be sent by my work to northern California in May to organise a conference. Following this I was even luckier to get away for a week to see some of the beauty spots.

I hired a car and headed up to Yosemite,somewhere I’ve passed through before but not really spent much time in. I spent a half day in the amazing Mariposa Grove with its giant trees and another half day climbing the mist trail in Yosemite Valley itself. Read the full blog.

Yosemite

My big day was climbing up the seemingly endless switchbacks from the valley floor to the top of Yosemite Falls. From here I walked the ten mile round trip to El Capitan. In total I walked 16 miles and ascended over 900 metres in just over 7 hours. Tiring day!

Yosemite

After Yosemite I drove up to Lake Tahoe and then to Point Reyes National Seashore. An fabulous trip!

All the photos from the trip on Flickr.

Blue Moon Microadventure
Since my winter and spring adventures I was pining for some adventure but not really having the time to get to the remote ‘cool’ areas of the country I had despaired of what to do. It was in the summer that I stumbled across the Alastair Humphreys book ‘Microadventures‘.

I found it revolutionary. Instead of big, expensive, far away adventures, do them quick, close and cheap. It also introduced the idea of camping without a tent to me. So simple and yet it still keeps the essence of adventure. I’m now addicted.

Sunset above Seaton

My first bivvy adventure was with my 7 year old daughter Rose on the cliffs above Seaton in Devon during the ‘blue moon’ in August. Read the full blog post. Feels especially good that we shared this experience.

Hadleigh Castle Microadventure
Keen to go on another adventure I was also keen to find like minded people which led me to the ‘adventure army london‘ group on Facebook. This led to going on a campout with a group following Dave Cornthwaite at Hadleigh Castle near Leigh-on-Sea.

Hadleigh Castle

It felt very different going with a gang of 13 rather than on my own or with my friend andy. What I did get, apart from a lovely night out, was to meet some like minded people, many of whom now I count as friends. Read the full blog post.

Cobham Wood Microadventure
As cool as it was going with other people I felt I was ready to go on a solo microadventure. I decided to see if I could fit a quick one in at the Darnley Memorial in Cobham Wood.

Cobham Wood microadventure

There is a certain special buzz about being out in nature on your own, especially for a city boy like me. I loved it, especially when I saw some bats and a wonderful sunset and sunrise. Read the full blog post.

Loch Ness Marathon
The really big adventure this year was supposed to be completing my second marathon and smashing my personal best. When it came to it I found that finding time to train over the summer was quite tough and my preparation was far from optimum.

This meant that the race itself was incredibly hard, especially as I was determined to attempt a sub-four hour time. The middle part of the marathon was a crisis point for me and i’m actually really proud of myself that I was able to dig deep and find the grit to keep going and meet my ambitious goal.

Loch Ness marathon

Read all of the Loch Ness Marathon blogs.

Kayaking BCU star 1
Embracing the idea of adventure and inspired after watching some microadventure videos I was keen to try Kayaking. Not sure how much I would carry it on, I didn’t want to spend a fortune learning the basics. Luckily the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club offer a four evening course for £50.

Kayaking course at shadwell basin. Fantastic fun!

I’m now a star 1 qualified kayaker and I’ll decide in the new year as to whether I’ll go for my star 2 or concentrate on other things. I did really enjoy it and would love to do more if I have time.

Read about the course in full.

Project Awesome
A number if the people I was with at the Hadleigh Castle campout seemed to do a crazy sounding early morning workout called ‘Project Awesome’. Captained by tv star Danny Bent initiation into this group has been a fantastic positive thing in my week. Loud shouting, hugs, a sunrise and a badass workout is the way to start the day!

Black Mountains (Brecon Beacons) camping
There was a time when my annual weekend in the hills with my friend Andy was all the outward bound action that I’d be looking at in a given year. This year we aimed to check out some of the black mountains in the Brecon Beacons.

We were a bit unlucky with the weather but time on the hills is always great. Read the full blog post.

Houghton Forest Microadventure
I was really pleased with this microadventure, it illustrates how I can squeeze in a campout following something else. I was down in Houghton Forest near Arundel doing some off-road cycling and running. My fellow cyclists/runners left to go home and I marched off into wood and had my own microadvenure.

I did get pretty creeped out by the owls that called out all night out but that is the wid for you!

Read the full blog post.

Coombe Hill Microadventure
Missing some company I put the word out to my chums in Project Awesome and Yes Tribe to see if anyone fancied a Christmas microadventure. I was absolutely delighted that 15 people joined me on Coombe Hill near Wendover.

The weather was warm(ish) for december but WAS wet and very windy. This didn’t stop the brilliant group I was with from having a great time. I’m so inspired by them that I think i’ll plan one a month into the new year.

Microadventure – Coombe Hill, Wendover

It started with wanting to continue doing a camp out every month. After going on my own last time I thought I’d chance my arm and see if there were any other fools who wanted to sleep out (without even a tent) in a December Christmas camp out.

Going Christmas camping tonight!

A few mentions in the Project Awesome and Yes Tribe facebook groups and I somehow got 20 people signing up. I was still a tiny bit skeptical as to how many would actually come but totally delighted that we numbered 16 on the night.

The train zoomed us from London out to Wendover in the chilterns and I had a gang of lovely awesomeites ready to go. This was when I realised that I’d left the actual map at home. No problem as a couple of people had been there before. Only they couldn’t remember the way. Bugger.

A quick look at google maps, a bit of guesswork and probably a dollop of luck meant that in 30 odd (very muddy) minutes we were standing on a very windy Coombe Hill. We then had the fun task of finding a good camping spot for 16 people where we could set up some shelter.

Coombe hill microadventure

Using a handy tree with a long hanging branch we muddled together some tarpaulins to make a group shelter. Sorted.

Coombe hill camp out

We then sat around on this not-too cold a night, pooling an amazing spread of sugary food and booze. I’m still smiling at the effort everyone made to make it a brilliant night. We chatted, we laughed, there might even have been an effort at a carol. What a superb bunch of people! If you want to get a bit muddy and sit around on a very windy night with a bunch of friends and soon-to-be-friends I can recommend these people!

I won’t lie, it was a very very windy night and the expected rain arrived around 3.20am. The main thing that kept me awake was the loud flapping of my own tarp! I did do some sleeping though. We woke up to a grey morning but the view was still pretty good.

Coombe hill microadventure

I got talking to a photographer at the memorial who said that he was there the night before and saw a herd of cows trundling past. Thank goodness they didn’t come through our camp!

Camp out fun, the morning after

Chequers in the background

After packing up we had a warming brew of tea, coffee or hot chocolate and even sausage and bacon butties. Obviously we continued with the left overs from the night before too! Afterwards we walked back to Wendover and whizzed back to London. Job done.

Coombe hill Microadventure

Coombe hill Microadventure

We even stumbled on this bit of ‘Knit Bombing’ on the way back.

What a wonderful night out made special by such fantastic people! Can’t wait till the next one!

 

Injury Strikes!

When I phoned the physio to book an appointment, they told me that my last visit was in 2009. This at least means that my injury ends a pretty decent run of bodily health. I could add ‘for someone my age’ but I won’t. I’m nearly 43.

On my monday project awesome session I was throwing myself into some sprints with my usual 100% effort. On one turn, something snagged in my right knee as I turned. I thought nothing of it and carried on (of course). It was only later that day after standing up after a meeting that my leg actually collapsed beneath me and I could hardly walk at all. In denial, knowing that ‘running it off’ usually works I soldiered on like an idiot.

I carried on, completely in denial (not a river in Egypt apparently), for the rest of the week just hoping things would suddenly improve. This is despite walking with a heavy limp and being in decently large amounts of pain.

Eventually reality broke in and I made an appointment with the physio and tried to actually rest things a bit. The prognosis was not good.

Apparently I have a meniscus tear (knee cartilage) that heals slowly as it doesn’t get much blood supply. Sounds like months rather than weeks and sometimes requires surgery. Running and other impact activities are out (no bmf) which also means no Tough Guy. A lot of the plans I have revolve around running so this is quite a bad blow. I feel that regular exercise has been keeping me in good mental as well as physical shape, so not doing stuff is troubling.

How to turn a negative into a positive?
Now that running is out of the question (and I presume hill walking too?) I’m determined not to let my fitness go. In fact this is an opportunity to explore hitherto less trodden paths.

First up is the famously non-impact activity of swimming. I like swimming and would love to get good at it, the only issue being that the one stroke I use a lot, breast stroke, is the one i’m supposed to avoid. I had all but given up ever mastering the front crawl or even sustaining it for more than 50m but that was when breast stroke was an option. Now i’m more-or-less forced to do it! I guess i’ll also throw in some back-stroke, but I’ve not done that for years and years.

Second up is cycling. Apparently this is ok as long as I don’t do too much standing on the pedals, which might not encourage off-road too much. At the very least I’ve been thinking of commuting to work a bit more which is a 24km round trip plus a few hills. I used to do this in the past but never more than a few times a week. I like the idea of doing some longer cycle trips, praps with a bit of bivvying thrown in too?

My only worry is that by not doing running/impact type things, i’ll be cutting myself off from the Project Awesome/BMF folk that it is great to see and talk to. This shouldn’t be forever though and i feel that my recovery is a challenge in itself. Here goes.