Loch Lomond

I had been intending to vlog about my trip to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park but a lack of usable footage abounds unfortunately. Nonetheless water sports and exploration in deepest, darkest Scotland was great. I even did something I have not done for easily a quarter of a century: I ate chip shop chips, this time by the shore. I imagine that it will be at least another twenty five years until I do that again.

It has been a good, fun year so far. I have noticed a pattern too, which is that I seem to run more in the winter, and by some distance too. It is funny what you learn when you look back and analyse. Summer is when I do shedloads of cycling, both commuting, pleasure and, thanks to the addition of a decent foldie, everyday cycling to the shops, doctor, and so forth. I cannot think of the last time I got to somewhere locally using the car other than occasions when collecting or carrying a boot-load of things far too heavy for cycling. Even those journeys have been reduced by slicing them up or rearranging things to suit the city bike lifestyle. This winter I will be running in the morning again, relentlessly. It feels strange to look forward to the wettest, darkest and most dank time of the year but hey, that is how I am built.

Bicycle Odyssey

I am on a bicycle odyssey right now. I have been running solidly all winter and cycling season is but a twinkle in the eye, except that it always turns up quickly. I now have four bicycles as I have just bought what I expect will be the first of many vintage cycles. It is a Wolfman road tourer, pictured below.

Wolfman Road Bicycle

It is clearly an ancient thing but I think it, like many other older bicycles, is beautiful. Let us be frank also, one bicycle is never enough. I obtained this for zipping around town so as not to have to break out my more expensive bikes for that purpose. Not only is there a substantial risk of theft in urban settings, there is also the fact that wearing out parts and risking punctures for the sake of a couple of miles is a wee little bit silly.

The look on the face of the servicing technician when I asked for a tune up to get it roadworthy told me that there are not very many vintage bikes on the road in the north of England. To me that is a great shame. When I think about the health issues we have such as obesity, diabetes and the myriad problems associated with inactivity and sedentary living I find the solution to these generational challenges is plain to see. The normalisation of cycling as everyday transport would tackle so much of this with very little effort or expenditure. It is a matter of the political will to have the courage to put motorists back in their collective box and make active travel the priority. It is happening here in the UK, albeit very slowly. We all glance over at Amsterdam and Copenhagen with green eyed envy but I think that the change is coming and it is inevitable. Every time I use the roads in a car I look around, aghast at the sheer lunacy of it all. Hundreds, thousands of single people driving around in box with a sofa and two armchairs, which uses fuel that is running out, polluting an ecosystem we cannot afford to lose, and using up time that could be spent doing exercise and commuting simultaneously, and I can only reach one conclusion. This cannot go on. It simply cannot. This utter insanity of packing people into dirty, polluting metal boxes that make them lazy, fat, entitled and angry has to come to an end.

The Normalisation of Cycling

The unsustainable nature of car culture is why is think that vintage bikes are coming back with a bang. Every time we all see a child cycling to school in uniform, an adult cycling in jeans, a young lady riding in a dress with her shopping in a front mounted basket; these all serve to normalise everyday practical cycling. Yes, I wear Lycra to cycle but only because I am a sport cyclist covering great distances. The change we crave will come from a critical mass of people using their bikes as their primary mode of transport.

My motive for buying this vintage is precisely that, to play my part in the normalisation of day to day cycling. I have for years zipped around doing errands and collecting shopping on my bike, but only now have I bought some decent urban cycling kit, including the bike, and also shoes and clothing. I have been using the Wolfman and my foldie and I am cycling at a leisurely pace. I am not interested in calorie burn or raising a sweat. Just cycling for the utility and pleasure of it. I will still do my distance rides on my carbon fibre racer, but in order to normalise utility cycling I am doing my bit. Why? Well, as I said, the lunacy cannot go on. The fuel is running out, the environment needs to be pollution free, people need to get thinner and fitter, and diseases of laziness and inactivity must be beaten. Simply put: the world must change.

To see how we got here and why change is coming, I recommend you watch Bicycle, a documentary about cycling, where it began, what went wrong, and how we will put it all right in the future. In the meantime, get on your bike. Don’t race, don’t Lycra up, just take a leisurely ride and do something to normalise utility cycling. Your kids and your future are waiting to say thanks.

BOOM! Here Comes The…

And… we’re off! Having gotten smashed into the ground thanks to my customary winter (non-covid related) respiratory illness – something I have avoided for the last two years by upping my vitamin D and taking shilajit and ashwagandha – I have deliberately hit the road early in order to get a good start this year. My head is bursting at the seams with adventures I plan to have throughout spring and summer especially so I have resolved to be as ready as I will ever likely be.

Gear

To achieve my goals this year I have taken several productive steps. Firstly I bought a selfie stick for better video capture as you will hopefully see in my next video on YouTube, uploading as I write. Secondly I have started to actually use Komoot in conjunction with my Garmin Quatix watch. For those interested the Quatix is the same guts as the Fenix but with marine features added and a much more pleasing – to my eye – navy strap with brushed chrome bezel. Me being me I am already looking to upgrade and I am eyeballing the Garmin Enduro and its ridiculous battery life but that will be a purchase for next Christmas at the earliest, unless I am the lucky recipient of a windfall.

I have also bought a Garmin eTrex Touch 25 handheld GPS receiver. This may seem pointless as my watch does the same thing, however I have bought this because my bulbs are not what they used to be. During my most recent adventures I have caught myself pressing the screen right up to my nose just to be able to see it. The extra inch of screen space is very helpful.

I have also bought a ton of outdoor kit from the much-underrated Aldi. Seriously folks, their fitness clothing and thermals are remarkably well-priced and effective. If you want to buy it you need to get their app. It tells you what special buys are coming and when, and thus it all sells out rapidly.

I can now partake in many more winter hikes and some wild camps. In regard to the latter I am also now kitted out and ready to go this year. Last summer I was looking to do it but the only chance I got was during my aborted attempt to climb Helvellyn. This year I hope to get a night at Red Tarn in the shadow of Cumbria’s angriest fell.

Getting Started

On Christmas Day I dragged my sprogs over Pendle Hill. It is hardly a tough one to do but I had done it the day before as well without them. Additionally I climbed the Old Man of Coniston last week and a couple of days ago ascended most of Grisedale Pike, only abandoning after my companion was actually being lifted off the ground by the high winds.

I have commenced running too. In between the two gruelling winter hikes above I have done a couple of short two milers. Small steps, and I am hoping that the cold weather exposure will give me an advantage with endurance this summer.

Then There’s Barkley!

Hopefully my new hound, Barkley, a border collie, will pester me to get out too!

Barkley!

So things are afoot and what a summer of adventures is coming. In the meantime whilst you wait, check out my photographs from The Old Man of Coniston, all below.

Looking down from the river that drains from Lever’s Water
The path to the summit
The base of the climb, looking towards Coniston village
The summit
Channeling my inner Ansel Adams

International Dog Day – Barkley’s First Hike!

As today is International Dog Day I decided to share Barkley’s first hike. Barkley is my four month old border collie puppy who will be travelling with me over fells, mountains and wherever else he can go. Yesterday it was a gentle start over on Thieveley Pike in Lancashire and he had a whale of a time. The vlog is below. Please like and subscribe.

Hiking as an Introvert

As a hiker who loves the Lake District and who is also an introvert I can relate to Wainwright a big way. If you have never heard of this remarkable man then here is a cracking BBC documentary about him. One of the great things about him was his legendary introversion, as evidenced by the fact that he told his second wife that she was allowed to hike with him as long as she did not talk!

In all seriousness, I genuinely believe that introverts can benefit enormously from hiking. I love a few team sports as a spectator, notably ice hockey, football and cricket. I am not so keen on things like track and field, American football or rugby. In fact egg chasers in general I find pretty boring. Additionally I am absolutely baffled by The Olympics. I just have no interest in the festival of running and jumping whatsoever and I cannot for the life of me see what the big deal is. I have nothing against it however. If that is your bag then crack on and lap it up to your heart’s content but I won’t be found within a country mile of anything like that.

Unsurprisingly I enjoy solitary pursuits, or, where there are others involved, activities with just a few other participants and which are not team-based. I love cycling, both on and off road, I love trail running and I love hiking. Not walking, although that is fun too, rather I refer to hiking specifically. Below are my reasons.

1. Nature is liberating

When in the middle of nowhere one is liberated of social obligations. Whenever I go anywhere with people I feel as though I am going into battle. During an ill-advised time in my life when I would use a gym I had to take my headphones, Kindle and when not lifting I would stare at my book or feet. Even with all of those ‘get lost’ signals broadcasting from me I still had to utilise phatic communication to handle people who clearly could not take the mother of all hints. This led me to conclude that repetitious exercise is for lackies. Outside is for kings.

2. Resilience is found in exertion, not resistance

Resistance exercise is all very well and good, but I will see your 250kg bench press and raise you one all day long outdoor hike climbing three mountains in a rainstorm. Hormesis, i.e. whatever does not kill you makes you stronger, is real and if you want to become truly strong then go climb a mountain or three. Bonus points if you do it with rain dripping off the end of your nose or in freezing conditions. Aside from the fact that this is inherently better than lifting weights, there is good reasoning behind my opinion.

When you lift weights you just work hard in a single dimension. You push resistively along a single axis. Not only boring, but suboptimal. If you go hiking the more challenging parts like scrambling over limestone pavement or up a steep mountains face make you exert yourself in a three dimensional fashion, along, X, Y and Z axes. Trust me, your body will let you know when you have done that. Not only are you exerting yourself against gravity, you also twist and turn your body on all three dimensional axes. This is simply the best workout you can get. Instead of being some lumbering meathead who can pick up heavy things and put them down again, your physique will be carved out of reality, forged by nature.

3. Your ego will be tempered

When you hike over mountains that are ancient and which will outlast you by millennia you cannot help but feel small. I have long since accepted that the planet does not give a damn about me and that I am just an interloper passing through. The best I can say is that I did not inherit the world from my ancestors, I borrowed it from the species and civilisations that are yet to come.

4. You must respect the land and know your fragility

Planning a day hike, or an overnight camp teaches you things. The simple act of figuring out how to survive is instructive. Taking your own water? Get ready to carry it for miles. Using natural water sources? Work out how to avoid catching leptospirosis. What will you eat, how will you carry it how much is enough?

Outdoor life done correctly is far more impressive to sustain than picking up the heavy things, chugging protein drinks and taking enough laxative to ensure that even a tiny fart leaves a filthy wet skid mark in your pants.

5. Your mental well-being will soar

The majesty and glory of nature feeds the soul and salves the mind. I seriously contend that there are emotions and physical sensations that cannot be attained anywhere but in the middle of nowhere. Looking down at the world from the top of a mountain is a stimulus that cannot be simulated or reproduced. The only way you can know that is to earn the right to feel it, and there is only one way to do that.

The response of the human psyche to the stimuli found outside is like bathing in beauty. I wish I could bottle it. Since I cannot I have to consistently experience it.

Go outside.