Everything sux.

Well it doesn’t but  I’ve definitely had better starts to trips. The last week feels like it has been really long. Maybe the fact I have been to seven different countries in that time is the reason. Here’s a brief run down.

The good:

I have had enjoyable times.

The second cycle touring festival two weekends ago was great and a really good start to this trip. Thanks to everyone who came to the talks I gave and thanks to those who organised, attended and spoke.

It was also really good to see friends in Hamburg and Copenhagen. Copenhagen has definitely redeemed itself and it was nice to explore the city more fully. A brief stop in Göteborg on my way to Norway was also really good. Thanks to the two cyclists I got chatting to who also bought me beer.

The bad:

Poor weather in the UK on my way to London meant I started this trip wet. Even with a night in the YHA opposite St Pancras station my feet were pretty much still wet when I was halfway across Germany. As a side note, if you plan to take a fully assembled bike on the Eurostar remember they ask you to remove all of your bags so you’ll need a way to carry them on to the train. A few bin bags doubled up does serve this purpose but lacks handles and aren’t easy to carry.

A rail strike in the french speaking part of Belgium meant a bit of a hiccup in my initial travel plans to Hamburg. The silver lining of that cloud was a brief stop in Amsterdam as my route went via the Netherlands instead of eastern Belgium. However the strike also meant I spent last Tuesday night traveling/sleeping on trains rather than being in Hamburg.

The ugly:

It seems an eon ago now but two Fridays ago Judith and I were cycling to the station to go to the second cycle touring when I hit and bump and there was a loud crack from my front wheel. Over the course of that day the hub continued to make loud cracking sounds. The noise grew steadily worse on the ride back from the festival the Monday after. It was clear that there was a problem with the hub and it has slowly become stiffer to spin over the past week. For something like this to break right at the start of the trip is really annoying.

However solutions are always there they usually just cost you money. So I bought a new dynamo hub in Hamburg and have had my front wheel rebuilt in Trondheim. This has meant an impromptu couple of nights in Trondheim which I hadn’t planned. I can think of worse places to be though and it seems a nice city to hemorrhage money in.

Tomorrow morning it should be full steam ahead, the wilderness awaits.

Fuck you this place is dead anyway.

The bikes packed, the last minute changes and panics have occurred. In a hour or so it will be time to leave.

I’m not taking a smartphone on this trip and the only internet connected device in my possession will be an ebook reader which is clunky at best. So adios, feel free to dot watch on the “Where is Ben” page. You can either expect something in a few weeks time if I find a computer I can use or a void of silence here until the end of August. You really don’t need to read my words, get out there and enjoy life…

To be honest I just wanted to post this Tiltwheel song (again).

Summerholidays vs punk routine

In six days time I’m off again.

Here is the plan:

  • The cycle touring festival in Clitheroe
  • A long train journey from London to Trondheim with a few days in Hamburg and Copenhagen.
  • Riding from Trondheim to Östersund with most of it off road.
  • Then most likely continuing across Sweden to Umeå, hopefully off road or on the smaller gravel roads.
  • Ferry to Vaasa, then work my way down to Helsinki, again hopefully not on tarmac.

If time allows then I’ll get the ferry to Tallinn and try join the long distance off road route that runs diagonally across Estonia. I should be able to pick it up somewhere near Aegviidu  before following it to the Latvian border. From there I’ll have to get across Latvia to Ventspils because at some point I need to get a ferry back to Germany. I have to be in France by the beginning of August because I’m doing this ‘other thing’.

I have maps and a GPS track for the first bit in Scandinavia, so I’m feeling much more organised than is normal.

Wanting to ride off road though has meant a re-think with regards to the bike. This is what I rode last year.

This is what I am riding this year.

You will note the great logic of riding suspension forks around Europe on mostly paved roads and this time riding rigid forks. I don’t have a good reason, I pretty much set off in 2014 with whatever forks I had. This time I had more time to think and plan so I changed the forks but added a 29×3.0 tyre for some cushioning up front.

The big change is going from a rack and panniers to soft/bikepacking luggage. This has reduced my carrying capacity from approx. 100 litres to approx. 60 litres. This mainly means taking less clothes. However I’ve also reduced the pack size of other items and generally got better at packing them.

I have invested in some new kit including a new sleeping bag (from PHD in their sale) which has the equivalent comfort rating to my old one but with a smaller pack size/weight. My old one did also leak down at an alarming rate so I was going to have to do this at some point. Perhaps the biggest size difference is between the Klymit X-lite camping mat I’ve started using and the old Thermarest 3/4 mat that I got for free.

After burning a hole in the Vango Banshee 200 I used for the first part of my touring in 2015. I bought a Laser Competition 2 from the classifieds forum on the Bearbonesbikepacking website. It was really cheap and naturally well used. However it was a good investment and made it round Europe last summer almost in one piece. However when I started using it again this year the floor of the inner had suddenly become porous allowing damp from the ground to seep through. After an email exchange with Terra Nova I decided to make use of their ‘tent trade in’ offer and so splashed out on a new Solar Photon 2 tent. It’s lighter than the Laser 2 and I like the design better as it gives me more headroom. I’m a bit unsure how durable the floor of the inner on this one is going to be though as it seems even thinner than the Laser 2!

Over the past two days I loaded the bike up and took it out for a ‘shakedown’ ride. I rode most of the Dorset Gravel Dash route although today I decided that it wasn’t really necessary to haul myself over Hambledon and Hod hill. Everything pretty much worked, which was nice and I didn’t feel like I was weighed down by luggage. After a wrong turn I even lifted my bike over a gate at one point without too much trouble. I like the gravel dash route it’s very ‘Dorset’ encompassing all the terrain and surfaces that this county has to offer. Which I have to add is a mixed blessing as sometimes it feels like you’re being tarred and feather with mud, sand and grass!

So the excitement and fear is building and before I know it I’ll be lost somewhere in the middle of Sweden wondering what the hell I’m doing.  Well at least I don’t have to ride anywhere quickly…

Paddling the Caledonian canal (part 3).

If you want to start at part 1 click here.

I’m not known for waking up early but clearly our collective nervousness about tackling Loch Ness had affected me. My eyes opened and I realised that firstly my phone had run out of battery so the alarm I’d set for 7am wasn’t going to happen and secondly it was 5:45am and I was wide awake. Outside the window it was cold but still, favourable conditions so further sleep was shelved in favour or getting up and facing our fears. We walked down to the loch to be greeted by a mill pond and so reinflated the boat and started to load our gear.

At this point a couple of guys appeared with a canoe who were also paddling the canal route. They said that the weather forecast was good up until about 1pm so they also had decided to head out early and try to get as far as possible before the weather deteriorated. We let them set off first and then followed them out onto the lake. We had discussed our plan for Loch Ness at length in the days leading up to this point and it had changed multiple times. The last iteration had been to follow the south shore and try to reach Foyers by the end of the day.

So following the other canoe we headed forwards, following the north shore. With the weather good it seemed sensible even though we knew we would have to cross the loch at some point. We made good speed due to a slight tailwind and calm conditions. After a couple of hours though for some reason I felt really cramped and my bottom and legs were starting to ache and really affect me. This was probably the low point of the trip for me personally and I’m not sure Judith appreciated me timing this with us traversing Loch Ness.

Despite knowing we needed to press on we took a short break on the shore and this let me get back into a good position both physically and mentally. The wind had risen slightly but not enough to worry us and at this point we crossed the loch from north shore to south. Loch Ness is only around a mile across but it seemed to take an age for us to cross but we persevered and attempt to put in long powerful strokes so we weren’t away from the shore for too long. Finally we reached the southern shore and continued north eastwards.

It then didn’t seem that long before we spotted the red canoe from that morning ahead of us. They had overshot the landing point/campsite at Foyers and so were paddling back to it. We landed shortly after them and realised that the ‘wild camping’ site was less than ideal. Essentially there was no flat ground to be found in the area that has been marked out for pitching your tent. Above that site though there is a camping and caravan site which Judith having looked over the fence described as ‘camping nirvana’. She wasn’t far off as it was big, flat and had very new facilities. As Judith is a member of the camping and caravan club we decided to pay the (quite reasonable) £11 cost and camp there for the night.

As we waited to check into the site the weather started to worsen and turn. Clouds started to build over the mountains on the north shore of the loch and the wind started to increase. Our early start and maintaining a good speed had definitely paid off. The rest of the day was punctuated by showers rolling across the valley from the north and these became increasingly cold and full of snow as time went on. With an afternoon to fill we braved the weather to walk up through the woods above the campsite and see the waterfalls that Foyers is known for. Afterwards we sought the pub again for a good feed and a warm place to shelter until it was time to turn in for the night.

The following day was less of an early start as we caught up on sleep from the day before. The camp site owner informed us that the weather for today (day six of our trip) was good but it was going to be horrendous the day after. We packed up and headed onwards along the south shore of the loch. Our biggest landmark for the day was Urquhart castle on the north shore, which seemed to appear quite early on in the day but then it also seemed to take forever until we felt like we were passed it. From then on it started to feel like a slog as the landscape on the shore changed little and every headland we rounded presented yet another to paddle towards and pass.

Our initial plan had been to wild camp somewhere on the south shore that night but with the weather still good and the possibility of horrendous conditions the day after we kept moving slowly forwards until finally we could see the beach at Dores ahead of us. Reaching Dores for us meant we felt like we had paddled the bulk of Loch Ness and also provided a pub where we could warm up and once again get a good feed. We definitely blew the budget that night with a bowl of chips pre-meal snack followed by three courses in the pub restaurant. After dinner we hiked into the woods on Tor point ignoring the ‘no camping’ sign and once again fell asleep with tired limbs and full bellies.

We awoke to rain on the tent which eased and stopped eventually although the wind in the trees meant they were shedding water still as we packed up and prepared for day seven of our trip. The wind was higher than we would have liked and so instead of hiking back to the beach at Dores we headed north to shore around the other side of Tor point to see what conditions on the loch were like. The remaining portion of Loch Ness didn’t look inviting as the waves had white caps so we continued hiking north eastwards hoping that conditions would improve. Having taken a wrong turn we ended up hiking past Aldourie Castle which has been restored and is an expensive retreat. No one challenged us though and we found ourselves back on the loch shore across from Bona lighthouse. Our path on land was now blocked by overgrowth so with conditions on Loch Dafour looking better than those on Loch Ness we inflated the boat and got back on the water.

It didn’t take long to cross this small body of water and we even managed to time passing a tourist boat so we could shelter from it’s wake behind the small island in the lake. The weir at the top end didn’t pose any problems despite my irrational fear of the boat being sucked over it and before long we were back onto a canal section and reached the lock at Dochgarroch where we could camp for the night. It was another short day and to be honest there isn’t much at Dochgarroch so we took a wander to explore the local area and enjoyed the sunshine. The weather was definitely not horrendous. We cooked ourselves a good meal which included smash, that may sound impossible but actually smash is definitely on easy to cook camping foods list. One issue on this trip was that we carried my lightweight cooking set up which is definitely tailored for one person. With two of us it meant using the stove multiple times to produce enough food for a meal.

After a cold night the final day of our trip was upon us. The weather conditions were the best we had had all trip. Sunshine and finally a tailwind. It didn’t take long to paddle the final 5 miles to the Seaport marina at Inverness and so eight days after we had set off we reached the end. In total we had paddled approx 48 miles and hiked for about 16 miles. Over three years after having this crazy idea it was completed. Paddling the Caledonian canal was at times tough but on the whole genuinely great (and type 1) fun. The scenery is beautiful and moving at a slow pace makes you appreciate the peacefulness of your surroundings especially in the western portion.

I know I would have enjoyed this trip less on my own, so I have to say thanks to Judith for coming with me, being far more organised than I will ever be and being a great person with whom to share this adventure.

I also have to say thanks to Tim for the small grant we received from the Next Challenge; thanks to BAM bamboo clothing for giving us some socks, base layers and underpants which were comfortable and warm; and finally also thanks to Backcountry biking from whom we hired the packraft.

Paddling the Caledonian canal (part 2).

To start with part 1 click here.

Waking on the morning of our third day it was clear that there had been a change in the weather overnight. The swirling wind from the previous evening had risen and was blowing from a northerly direction across the loch towards us. This was causing white caps on the water away from the shore which for us was a very bad sign. A packraft is light, this is an advantage in getting from place to place when the boat isn’t inflated but it does put it at the mercy of the wind if it is over a certain strength. After a short discussion a decision was made, the wind was too strong and we would have wasted a lot of energy to reach the end of the loch for not much gain.

So we deflated the packraft packed up the kit and set off on foot. Plan B, and a clear advantage over a more traditional canoe. Although we were more at the mercy of the wind than a canoe we could if need be carry our boat over long distances fairly comfortably. The key word here is ‘fairly’ though. The Alpacka Explorer 42 packraft we used weighs 2.75kg. In addition we had two paddles, two bouyancy aids and the small matter of a tent, cooking gear, sleeping bags, food, fuel, water and spare clothes. Even with light and small gear it all adds up. After a few hours I realised that although it was physically demanding paddling was probably favourable to hiking.

With the wind against us there was at this point no choice, we hiked to the end of the loch and stopped for an extended rest in the Eagle barge at Laggan Locks. The sandwiches were to be honest a bit disappointing but as it’s literally the only restaurant/pub for miles it doesn’t have much competition. Emerging from the barge to some weak sunshine but still a strong breeze we pressed on along the Great Glen Way which follows the canal here. At the top end of the next canal section we took a short detour to the shop at the ‘well of seven heads’ to pick up more supplies. In hindsight we probably carried too much food and therefore extra weight for the rest of the trip however naively I think we expected all of the route to be as remote as the first couple of days.

After meeting a slightly crazy but very friendly lady called Sally who regaled us with tales of which of the surrounding mountains she had hiked up (all of them apparently). We stopped at the next ‘wild camping’ site on the south shore of Loch Oich. By this time the weather was starting to include some showers of hail, sleet, snow and rain. The wind had dropped a touch and again with hindsight we probably could have continued by boat for the rest of the day if we had pushed ourselves to get back on the water. Instead we put up the tent outer to shelter from the showers and again discussed our options. Originally this camping spot was our destination for the day but it was slightly exposed on a headland so pressing on was also appealing.

The next informal camping site at Aberchalder however didn’t have any toilet facilities so the further site at Kytra locks became the target for the day. We hadn’t brought a spade so wild pooing was not on the agenda. Leaving the shores of Loch Oich behind and entering another canal section we just kept placing one foot in front of the other until we arrived at that destination. In total we only hiked 15 miles but with heavy packs it was incredibly exhausting. I now have new found understanding and respect for the journey that Leon McCarron and Tom Allen took along the Karun river in Iran. It was good to finally reach camp for the night although slightly annoying to find that the composting toilet was out of order!

All through our trip we were very conscious of the impact that the weather could have and so regularly checked the forecast to plan for the day ahead. As we headed further east it was apparent that the weather forecast could only give you so much information. Often we had to rely on our own observations of changes in temperature, what the winds were doing and clouds in the sky to make an informed choice on course of action. Weather forecasts are generally only given for certain towns or places. The weather in the mountains is variable and changes quickly so we had instances where we could see along the loch or canal that the forecast was correct for the town but 10 miles away we had completely different conditions. Generally a noticeable cooling in the temperature was followed by the winds picking up and a heavy shower.

Knowing that our biggest challenge lay ahead in attempting to paddle the length of Loch Ness the fourth day of our trip was mostly one of rest and recuperation. When we awoke the wind had dropped from the previous day and the sheltered water of the canal was suitable for us to continue in the boat. The forecast was for more wind and worse weather in the afternoon. With this in mind we paddled the short 2 mile stretch of canal to Fort Augustus, booked a room in a hostel and replenished our energy stores with a big pub lunch and a big pub tea. Fort Augustus was a bigger and busier town than we had expected and bustling with tourists. It was a bit of a shock after the remoteness and quiet of the canal further west but clearly had it’s benefit in terms of facilities.

The afternoon was punctuated by short heavy hail and rain showers and we tried to dodge these as we secured accommodation and yet more food supplies. In the evening the weather cleared and we wandered down to the launching point on the shore of Loch Ness to contemplate the task ahead. The weather forecast for the next day wasn’t great but an early start seemed the best plan in order to make some ground before having to shelter from the inclement conditions again. After a good feed it was time to get as much sleep as possible in the warmth and comfort of an actual bed.

The final part of our journey should be up on Thursday.

Part 3

Paddling the Caledonian canal (part 1).

Where do I start? For some reason it seems appropriate to begin in the middle. The tough hardcore world of stupid ideas and adventure saw myself and Judith sat in the Loch Inn, Fort Augustus surrounded by foreign tourists. It was heaving and everyone is crammed in tooth by jowl, the couple next to us are from Tolouse and we have to inform them that there isn’t table service. The matriarch behind the bar answers another odd question from someone unfamiliar with the environment of a pub and rolls her eyes. Two large plates of food appear and I sip my beer. It’s a tough life when you leave your comfort zone.

There was a stipulation for this trip from Judith that it had to include some home comforts and it couldn’t be the sort of type 2 fun I seem to actively seek out. So our journey across Scotland started in London catching an overnight sleeper train to Fort William. We had booked a cabin/twin berth rather than sleeping seats, luxury. It was an enjoyable journey. Although the cabins are tiny especially when you’re carrying a load of gear the bunks were comfortable and I think we both slept fairly soundly. After waking up we gazed out of the window at the Scottish landscape rolling by.

We arrived in Fort William about 10am and did the only logical thing to do before setting out on a long trip, visited the cafe in Morrisons and had a cooked breakfast. After picking up a couple of last minute provisions it transpired that my theory that we could get a train to the start of the canal was correct but it ran incredibly infrequently and we wouldn’t be on the water until late in the day. So wanting to get started we splashed out on a taxi to the canal office at Corpach. Here we handed over £10 per person for a facilities key. This enables you to use the showers, toilets and water points at various points along the length of the canal.

The first 1km section of the Caledonian canal isn’t particularly exciting and ends with a long flight of locks known as Neptune’s staircase at Banavie. So taking the advice of the guide book we hiked this section and up to the top of the locks where it was time to get the boat inflated and start paddling. The weather conditions were good, although the wind was against us it wasn’t strong and the skies were clear. Progress was slow, packrafts are not fast moving crafts. Packrafts with two people and associated camping gear are even slower. The guide book for the Caledonian canal gives a 5 day itinerary for completing the route. We had 8 days, no need or for that matter ability to rush.

The end of paddling for the first day brought us to the informal camping site at Gairlochy. About 6 or 7 miles paddled and a good place to pause before our first attempt at paddling on an actual loch the next day. The facilities were really good and incredibly warm which was a welcome bonus. After some food and a stroll to the loch side we turned in for an early night. Morning came and after a breakfast of porridge and a long time spent packing everything up we headed back out onto the water.

The second day of paddling took us out of the sheltered harbour at the top of the canal and onto Loch Lochy which is the second largest of the four lochs on the Caledonian canal. Luckily again the weather was favorable and we made slow progress into a slight headwind whilst the sun shone. Easing ourselves in gently we stopped frequently and followed the shore around the lock. The scenery was incredible with the snow covered peak of Ben Nevis looming over us to the south. As most other boats took a more direct route across the loch it was also incredibly peaceful. Occasionally we would stop and as the wind span the boat on the water just sit gazing at the mountains whilst essentially listening to the silence.

After 8 miles and approx. 4 or 5 hours of paddling we arrived at our stopping point for the evening a ‘wild camping’ site on the shore of the loch which consisted of a wooden shelter, fire pit and composting toilets. After unloading the gear and rolling out bivy and sleeping bags we attempted to relax with an open fire but the swirling wind meant picking a smoke free spot wasn’t possible. Feeling weary from the days effort we again opted for an early night.

Read part 2 here.

Mirror images.

Apologies if this post is a bit of a filler as I transition between things. We’re also having some technical difficulties (my fault) here at the PRBC so I can’t post any images to make it more exciting.

Last weekend I completed the Dirty Reiver 200km gravel event in Kielder. It was tough and I feel like I should write about it. However I almost feel like the time has passed and having taken no photos I can’t even show you how beautiful it was. You can read a short write up I did that appeared on the grit.cx website here.

I returned home to a custom framebag made by Judith for this summers adventures. It’s really really nice. I did take a photo but as I can’t upload it you’ll have to imagine how nice it is. I will talk more about summer soon I have plans, big plans. Some of which are big and scary.

My mind has also been whirring around some other big vast topics. Most of which I don’t know how to put into words yet. So normal service with big ideas badly outlined will happen at some point. You’ve been warned.

Most of my mental energy this week though is focused on next weeks trip to Scotland. Over three years ago I had this crazy idea to paddle the length of the Caledonian canal in a packraft. Well starting on Saturday this trip is finally happening and somehow I managed to persuade Judith to come along with me. She has written a blog about preparing for the trip which will be appearing on the Next Challenge website at some point so keep an eye out for that. The boat has arrived today so it’s all systems go. We are taking my Spot tracker so if you want to follow our slow progress then click on the ‘Where is Ben‘ page.

Hopefully when I get back in ten days time I can show you images of the trip and tell you all about it. In the mean time I have to thank Tom for tirelessly maintaining the technological nuts and bolts of this site for no reward beyond my unbridled gratitude. This was never meant to be a blog by just me, I’m just the most regular contributor of our ‘club’.

So another ‘week’ without ‘net access beckons. See you on the flipside.

Old friend.

Another weekend and another one spent under canvas. The first time I’ve slept in the tent I took around Europe last summer since I got back in August. Luckily it was in one piece and still appears to be doing the job. I also found that it is possible to pack it down to a much smaller size by separating the inner/outer rather than just putting them together into the supplied stuff sac/bag.

The purpose of the weekend was to test whether both myself and Judith fitted in the tent so we could take it on our paddling trip (we do). So we booked a campsite just outside of Dorchester and were tourists in the county I nominally live in. It was fun and a nice relaxed weekend although the weather especially the wind was a touch cold. Here are some photos I took as  I’m still playing/learning when it comes to using the camera I bought.

Paddle out.

So, I had this hare brained idea a few years ago that it would be fun to complete the Great glen canoe trail in a packraft. It was a ‘that would be a good adventure’ type idea, with no real further thought attached. Leap forward a few years and in April it might actually be happening!

Thanks to a small grant from The Next Challenge and a really good hire rate on a packraft from Backcountry biking it’s all coming together. I also somehow managed to convince Judith to come along with me so that it’s not a solo attempt/trip.

This weekend we embarked on a ‘practice’ in Poole Harbour to see what it was we were letting ourselves in for. The answer is hopefully a lot of fun but also a lot of hard work. Hurdle number one was passed in the back garden when we established that, yes, we would both (just) fit in an Explorer 42 boat. Gear packed we got the bus into Poole and walked to Hamworthy park to test how easy it was to walk/travel with all our gear and the raft/paddles/bouyancy aids. That test was also passed although I wouldn’t want to hike all day carrying that kit like Tom Allen and Leon Mccarron.

We set off from the park on Saturday afternoon to paddle across the harbour to where we intended to wildcamp. We completed the journey in a couple of hours with two stops to rejig what kit was attached where in the boat and also who sat where. Looking at the GPS track it’s a very wobbly line as we both essentially had to relearn kayaking skills we haven’t used for years. We also had to work out how we worked paddling as a team.

The weather was almost perfect for learning though as there was no wind and the sun was shining. So it was warm with the water like a mill pond across which we splashed. Our pace wasn’t fast but if we can transfer this to the Caldeonian canal it will make the trip achievable within our time window. However bad weather or wind from the wrong direction could really impact this so we are going to have to be flexible if things don’t go as planned. Paddling is hard work and I think we were both using muscles we didn’t often use for this type of repetitive motion. In addition it is fairly cramped with  both of us in the small Explorer 42 boat so you can’t stretch until you are back on dry land.

Setting up camp was pretty straightforward although my decision to only take one pair of shoes (now wet) was a bad one. My feet were freezing and I ended up having to walk around in a pair of hiking socks which also became wet quickly. We got the tarp up and then some dinner inside of us before turning in early. Super early, I think it wasn’t even properly dark. Naturally with the unfamiliar exercise to get here we both fell asleep without trouble.

It was normal ‘camping sleep’ and I woke up in the night. I realised that the temperature had plummeted after dark, my sleeping bag thankfully was doing it’s job admirably so I wasn’t cold. However the low temperature meant condensation was forming on the underside of the tarp. We had also pitched on a slight slope and were sliding down the tyvek groundsheet into the now damp fabric which was wetting our bivy bags and generally spreading the damp around. This wasn’t ideal and so we have decided to probably take a tent on the actual trip to provide more weather protection and hopefully comfort despite the increased weight and bulk.

Sunday morning brought fog and frost. It was still cold and extricating ourselves from where we had slid under the partially frozen, damp tarp wasn’t an easy task. Hot porridge was our reward for the effort though and the sun eventually started to show itself to warm us up and dry off everything that was damp. We took our time packing up as a quick look back to the beach revealed the tide was a long way out so we needed it to come in a fair bit to have an easier carry and launch of the boat. Carrying the boat across wet mud to reach the water did not appeal at that point.
Around 10am we finished packing up camp and headed off back across the harbour. Despite aching muscles it was clear we had started to gain some co-ordination in paddling together and even started to practice and refine our technique as we went. The GPS track for the return route is much straighter and more direct. However our speed wasn’t any faster as tempered by a slight breeze and the still incoming tide. After an hour we had a brief rest on a beach for a snack and to finish the little water we had left (mental note, take more). You get lots of attention in a packraft and we spoke to a few bemused dog walkers whilst other just stopped and stared at our loaded inflatable boat.

After another hour of paddling we complete the trip back to where we had started. This time we were met by my Dad who helped us pack up the boat and gave us a lift home. Practice complete and lessons learned. Can we do this for six days in a row and in weather that isn’t as nice as it’s been this weekend? I don’t actually know but we’re going to give it our best shot.

West wind ride.

In the last 6 months I’ve ridden a lot for work but sometimes feel like I haven’t got ‘out there’ just for the fun of it. This coupled with the income from work having enabled me to rejig my bikepacking set up a fair bit meant an overnight ride was past due. The weather forecast was less than stella but I almost wanted this. Time to see how things performed in inclement conditions.

To be honest it really wasn’t that bad. Windy yes and I sort of deliberately chose to camp on a ridge to see how my tarp fared. However it was fairly warm overnight and didn’t rain, I think there may have been a few drops but nothing consistent. I’d switched out my kit for a number of reasons either to do with shedding bulk, weight or to meet a specific ‘need’ I felt I had.

The ‘new’ kit to test was:

Integral Designs* Silwing tarp – I sold my old Rig 3.5 as I just didn’t feel like there was enough room under it for me and my stuff  whilst being adequately covered from the elements. The Silwing gives much more coverage whilst only being slightly bigger in pack size than the Rig. However it is much less versatile in how you can pitch it essentially only functioning as a ridge between two poles. It stood up to the strong winds really well though and I’m really pleased with how well it performed. I would have liked some rain to really test it but I guess I shouldn’t be wishing for wet weather.
*I think these are now branded as Rab.

PHD Minim 300 Sleeping bag – This was a ‘special offer’ deal where you got a bag that sat somewhere between the Minim 400 and the Minimus. So it’s rated to zero degrees Celsius the same as the cheap Blacks bag that leaked down I used last year. So far the temperature  hasn’t really been that cold so I don’t know if it really is as warm however the bag has performed well. The quality is much better than my previous bag with a smaller pack size and weight.

Klymit Inertia X-Lite 3/4 mat – This was one of those products that I saw and it made me scratch my head and say “does that work”. I’ve been using an old 3/4 Thermarest mat which I got for free. It’s done the job so I’ve never been able to justify buying anything else especially as most mats came out at a similar pack size. The Klymit though totally blew that one out of the water as it packs down to the size of a soft drinks can. The pack size is tiny! I’ve read that these are pretty marmite so I was interested to see how I got on with it. The verdict is that I like it, coming from a fairly thin 3/4 mat already it’s not much of a change, supports the places that need support and seems to provide about the same amount of warmth. I can see that if I had been using something thicker before my opinion would have been different but I know I sleep well enough on a thin small mat so it works for me. I  do have to put ‘something’ under my feet normally to provide a touch more insulation for those. Usually it’s my shorts, last night it was my down jacket but it doesn’t need to be much and I don’t feel the cold coming up from the ground anywhere and can sleep fine.

Windshield from Stuart at Bearbones coupled with Alpkit 650 ml Ti mug – For the past year I’ve been using a two foil trays as a windshield. Not very efficient or stable. I’ve also been cooking in an Optimus ally pot and a cheap folding frying pan. The Alpkit mug is essentially me being a weight weenie, it’s light! It’s possibly more restrictive that my old pot but I haven’t tried to do anything more in it than boil water. The windshield was made by Stuart at Bearbones bikepacking and essentially a low Caldera cone clone that sits around my Bearbones meths stove with the Alpkit mug on top. Again the new kit did the job, what more do you need and with space as a premium (i.e. in a bikepacking set up rather than with panniers) it’s also useful that I can fit the windshield and the stove inside the mug.

As an aside I also bought a 1 ltr Trangia bottle to store my fuel in. Much safer than my previous methods of carrying/pouring fuel.

Fujifilm XP60 camera – I’ve decided to move away from having a smartphone. Yes they are useful but looking back to last year on tour I was one of those “where’s the wireless” people. So I bought a second hand phone that only really does calls/texts and restrict myself to using a computer when I need to go online. With easy access to a laptop as I need to carry it around for work I still find I’m connected too much currently but I’m leaving the laptop at home on trips which means I won’t have that method of access**. However lack of a smartphone means I need some other method of taking photographs. I haven’t used an actual camera in years however I can see clear benefits, it’s easier to hold and focus than a smartphone. I’m still learning how to get the best from it though (tips appreciated) as can be seen in the photos below. The tarp/campsite images I took this morning aren’t particularly sharp compared to photos from yesterday.
**This blog may not be updated on trips though and those periods/experiences may only appear as fanzines/ebooks in future.

In terms of the actual bike my intention with this bike was always to have two sets of wheels a road going set and another for riding off road. Finally this has occurred! So for riding/touring on the road I have a wheelset which consists of an XT rear disc hub with an SP PD8 front hub on Exal LX17 rims. For off road riding I now have another set of wheels with again XT and SP hubs but laced to Velocity Blunt 35 rims. I’ve set these up tubeless with a Vittoria Bombolini 29×3.0 tyre on the front and a Vittoria/Geax AKA 2.2 on the rear. The 2.2 on the 35mm rims is big! I’m not sure a 2.4 on that rim would fit in my frame. After two or three rides I am sold on both wider rims and 29+ as a tyre size. Yes they’re a bit more draggy on the road and when climbing but actually I don’t a feel like it’s a huge difference. However when it comes to riding downhill or even on some flat sections the larger tyre footprint and volume gives me more confidence than I had previously and rolls really well. I’m not very skilled on a mountain bike so I guess they compensate by rolling over and through things more readily or at least giving me the feeling they will so I’ll ‘go for it’ and be more confident. The AKA is surprisingly good as an all round tyre until you try to pedal in soft mud where it slides about as you would expect.

There you have it I’ve been a good little consumer and ploughed a fair bit of my earnings back into the economy. I do however have a policy of buying stuff second hand where I can especially when it comes to electronics.  Also where possible I’ll only buy kit where I’ve worn out the old stuff or I will sell an existing item when I buy a new one. Even then I usually deliberate on whether the newer item is really required or just mindless consumption.

As well as testing equipment the weather conditions on the ride yesterday tested me. Everything above did the job it was supposed to, at times I wasn’t sure the rider did. High winds meant a long push from Ulwell up on to Nine barrows down where before I’ve ridden more of that climb, the conditions then made the cycle along the top to descend into Corfe Castle hard work even on the flat. The strong winds meant 37 miles of cycling were slow and tiring, however this is why it’s good to force myself out. You can’t order in nice weather so you have to learn to cope with what is presented to you.

Here are the photos I took.