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.

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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.

Cold Shower Challenge

You know how when you are in a pub and someone suggests that you swap your nice warm showers each day for cold ones? No, never happened to you?

Well, it happened to me. I got talking to this guy, Sam (read his blog), who has gone nearly a year ONLY having cold showers. There were some ideas about the possible health benefits but what really convinced me was that it might be good training.

Next year I plan on carrying on with the Kayaking, I’d love to do some sea and wild swimming and, of course, the Tough Guy. What all these events have in common is that they all involve being immersed in very cold water. Surely you can get used to this?

Cold Tap

Not one to pooh pooh something without trying it I immediately said that I would give it a go for a week. So how did it go?

Day 1 – Too scared to put the temperature control ALL the way down to ‘totally freezing’ (it is december!) I had it up a couple of notches at just ‘really really cold’. I put my hands in [bloody hell!], then my head [jesus christ!] then before I lost my bottle I jumped all the way in [jesus fucking bloody christ], breathing stopped, fighting for a breath, try not to panic, just stay under.

I finally managed to get my breathing under control and managed to get my hair and other bits washed. What was surprising is that I actually got used to it to a point where is felt ok. I stayed in for the agreed minimum 3 minutes but could have done longer. Getting out I felt really invigorated and raring to go. To be fair I feel pretty good after a hot shower too but this was much better.

Day 2 – Pretty similar to day 1 except that this time I knew what I was getting into. I at least knew that I could get the breathing under control and that it WAS a great feeling afterwards.

Day 3 – Only slightly apprehensive getting in today and I almost feel that I’m getting used to this.

Day 4 – Felt that I needed to take things down to the coldest setting. This might have been my downfall as it was properly dreadfully cold and I found this a real struggle. Might not have even managed the minimum 3 minutes.

Day 5 – Dreaded it today, took it back to the original ‘really really cold’ but started to wish it was a warm shower. Even the fabulous afterglow wasn’t enough to make me feel good about it this time. I may have cracked.

Day 6 – Warm ‘regular’ shower and back to normal.

Well, while I didn’t quite make it to a full week, I did give it a decent go. I can report that if you can stand the first 30 seconds of a cold shower, it does get easier and it does feel superb afterwards. That first gasping couple of seconds are the trick though!

Good luck!