Hi sorry for the lack of blogging lately I have been working on a really exciting project and it has taken up a lot of time. More on that to follow….
My next guest post is by Jayne who I met on the Whole Earth video shoot with Challenge Sophie. Jayne has been on some incredible bike packing adventures and is a wild camping expert! So I thought it would be great if she could share with us a wild camping, bike packing story.
I’m a 33 year old northern lass living in London who loves to escape the city. I was introduced to hiking and camping about five years ago and it soon consumed my weekends and holidays. Then three years ago I started cycling and last year chased my dream of going on a long bikepacking trip.
I quit my job after ten years in the IT industry and set off for the Scottish Hebrides islands for a solo twelve week trip which entailed many nights of wild camping along beautiful secluded coastlines. There is nothing quite like the feeling of waking up surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature and you don’t always have to go on a long trip or holiday to enjoy a night of wild camping.
My first wild camping experiences happened back in 2015 when a friend and I decided to embark upon a year of Microadventures which involved a wild camp night once a month on a ‘school night’.I was very lucky to have a friend crazy enough to join me because it can be a daunting prospect to consider going out for your first wild camp with someone, let alone doing it solo. So, when I saw a post on the Adventure Queens Facebook group earlier this month from someone wanting some company on their first wild camp, I jumped at the chance to help a fellow camper and to make a new friend.
This is the story of our camp out in the New Forest
I’m Chris Astill-Smith, 25 years old from Devizes, Wiltshire. There were a couple of reasons why I chose to swim the channel, the first one being that I wanted to set myself a serious challenge, a challenge that would only be possible with a lot of hard work and dedication. I’ve always been a strong swimmer since a young age but never a professional. I used to swim for my local club from ages 12-18 and was more of a sprint swimmer, so when I decided to swim the English Channel I had no endurance experience, let along open water experience. The second reason was that I wanted to raise money for a small charity, one that was close to my heart called Dreams Come True. Dreams Come True is a small U.K charity that helps kids with life-limiting conditions achieve their dreams. I didn’t want to choose a large charity, where all my fundraising efforts would just get spent on admin or marketing costs, I truly wanted to be able to help those that needed it the most. In total £23,500 was raised for DCT from my swim and I’m so happy to have been able to meet lots of the children who’ve directly benefited.
My 3 top tips for anyone thinking about swimming the channel would be:
1) Take on other big swims prior & learn from your mistakes. I took on Lake Windermere a year before my English Channel swim. Lake Windermere is an 18km swim in the Lake District. After only 4 months of training this was a huge challenge and to this day it still remains the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I tore my right bicep tendon after about 10km and stupidly decided to carry on in such pain. It took 4 months of rehab to recover from that injury and had to completely change my technique. However, if that hadn’t of happened, I may of never decided to change my technique and never completed the Channel.
2) Test your feeding plan. It’s so important to keep testing which foods your body can handle while swimming. Numerous times my body would reject certain foods during my training which proved crucial to the big swim. Nutrition is so important when doing any long distance swim because without it your body just won’t be able to go the distance.
3) Don’t waste time in the water. Another big tip would be to not waste time taking breaks across the channel. First of all you have the tides pulling you up and down the Channel, so any time you’re not swimming you’re being pushed further up or down with the tides. The tides get much stronger closer to France so the closer you are to France before the tides change direction the more chance you’ll have of making it. Another reason why you don’t want to be wasting time in the water is that when you’re not moving you’re body is getting cold. You have to keep generating heat to keep warm. I was spending between 30-45 seconds on each feed, that was enough.
Marytn and I live in a beautiful spot nestled under the South Downs Way. Being two very busy people it is a real treat to get out and explore our local trails together with our dog Luna. So this Valentines weekend we put our boots in the car, packed up Luna and headed around the corner for an adventure in our own back yard.
Parking at the Whitehorse in Chilgrove, one of our favourite country pubs, we had a quick drink to rehydrate and checked out the map. Martyn was in charge of directions, and not getting us lost!
Thirst quenched we set off walking along the main road towards our first of many gates, through the gate we entered a field and continued to follow the path until we could not hear the buzzing of the road. The leaves crunched beneath our feet as we entered the wood, making our way through the trees, the first signs of spring’s arrival peaking up on the banks, a charming carpet of white snowdrops.
Our path soon came to a small road called the Hooksway, a chalky hill leads up steeply to the South Downs Way. We decided it would be nice to sit at the top and eat lunch so continued up, heads down, heavy breathing, watching our footing on the slippery chalk.
As the track levelled out we passed the Devil’s Jumps, one of the best preserved Bronze Age barrow group left in Sussex. It is said that the reason for the name is that the devil jumped from barrow to barrow to annoy the God Thor, who then threw a stone at him and he ran off…. Make of this what you will! We saw no gods or devils just rabbits and sheep!
Leaving the woods our comfortable journey turned cold as the wind buffeted us; it was time to test the warming powers of our Berghaus jackets. Putting my hood up I felt cosy and sheltered from the elements. The view outstretched before us showing our chalky route heading back in the direction of Brighton. After a few more fields of sheep we found some large logs to sit on. Pic-nic time! Out came the sausages sandwiches and flask of tea. We munched our way through thick cut bread, sausages and mustard, crisps and a flask of tea, being eyed up by Luna who was convinced that there must be something in our pic-nic for her.
Bellies full and with slightly chillier fingers we packed our bag and headed onwards. Martyn said we needed to pass three fields and then turn left and leave the South Downs Way. Following Martyn we merrily did what we thought was correct and ventured down a steep chalky path through woodlands where Luna was animated by the smells and sounds of potential squirrels behind every tree.
Happily walking along, soon we were not 100% convinced this was our path… stopping to check our map it became apparent we had missed a left hand turn earlier on and had actually now taken the path we should be walking up, not down!
We re-traced our steps back to the South Downs Way and straight over into West Dean woods, back on track, it was becoming dusky and walking from the open track into a new wood it was clear we would be finishing in the dark! All of a sudden Luna squealed with excitement as three majestic deer crossed our path about 200 metres in front of us.
Even with the fading light West Dean woods was a magical place the spongy forest floor was covered in deer tracks, the sweet smell of forest filled the air and the mighty oaks and hazel trees towered above making you feel protected from the elements.
Steadily descending out of the woods and through a big wooden gate we followed the twinkle of lights onto a country road, illuminating our path by the stars and torch light we soon arrived back at the Whitehorse, just in time for a well earnt pub dinner and a nice glass of wine!
My Women’s Berghaus Extrem Micro Down Jacket was perfect for this adventure. I wore it with a jumper underneath and for the time of year and climate in the UK was great. The Extrem jacket uses Body-mapping design techniques which help regulate your temperature and put warmth where it’s really needed.
Head over to Instagram to see my story of the walk.
In some countries the bike is only for those who don’t have a car. In Denmark, the bike is a symbol of freedom, health and effectiveness. The Danes loves to cycle and embraces all that it implies. Now the Danes have fallen in love with Gravel Cycling.
By Peter Ebro, GripGrab
Denmark, a Cycling Nation
Denmark is renowned worldwide for its biking culture. The Norwegians are raised with cross-country skies on their feet, while Danes are raised with bikes. Everybody in Denmark knows how to ride a bike, and almost 50% of all Danes jump on to their bike several times a week.
Our infrastructure is designed with cyclist’s in mind, and only very few roads don’t having a cycling path running parallel with it. An infrastructure that cities around the world are copying – in New York they even call the cycle paths for Copenhagen Lanes!
Denmark really is biking heaven for cyclists.
What is Gravel Cycling?
Gravel cycling is booming at the moment all over the world. But what is gravel cycling actually? And why?
Photo by Martin Paldan | GripGrab Media Crew
Gravel cycling is, as the name suggests, cycling on gravel or dirt roads. You can ride whatever bike you want to, but the experience is optimised on a gravel bike. Gravel bikes look very similar to a road bike, just with a few, but important differences, that makes the bike more suitable for riding on rough surfaces for long distances; wider tires with more grip, to make the ride more comfortable, disc brakes for optimal braking power, and longer wheel base and a taller head tube for a more stable and comfortable ride.
Gravel Cycling in Denmark
Actually, we Danes have always practised gravel cycling – just without calling it by its trending name. We have for decades cycled in our many forest, not on a gravel bike, as we know it today, but on mountain bikes or for a minority of people on cyclocross bikes.
We don’t have endless forests like they have in Sweden. We don’t have any high mountains like in the Alps. But we do have a lot of diverse natural areas spread out around our little country; flat and windblown moors in Jutland, hilly beech forests, spruce plantations and a countless number of fields – all embraced by a beautiful shoreline all the way around our little kingdom.
The majority of the Danish forests are owned by the state, which means, that they are being maintained by the state, so that they are always passable with good and well paved gravel roads. The forests are always open to the public -‐ even at night as long as you show consideration to the animals. Furthermore, big areas are preserved as national parks that work like huge natural museums, that you can experience on your bike.
For gravel riders, it is a sport in itself to plan the optimal gravel routes, where as many of the natural areas are linked together with gravel roads and a minimum of paved tarmac. These routes are frequently shared on online forums and basis for many social rides, where locals are guiding foreigners around.
We Danes envy the Alpine countries, but appreciate what we have. And I love what we have.
What’s in it for me?
Adventures are the key for me. I have been running for many years. I started out participating in a bit of adventure racing, mountain biking, marathon running and then I got the trail running bug. I fell totally in love with the feeling of being alone with nature, running by myself through forests and fields. If I got a little lost – it made me feel like, I was on an adventure. So, I searched the unknown, both in distance and in new places.
My small everyday adventures got fuelled by dreams of bigger adventures and longer runs in the Alps and Pyrenees, where I participated in several ultra runs and stage races. The racing itself was not a motivation for me, it’s the adventure of the race that drives me. And that is exactly what I get every time I clip into my pedals, and head into the forest towards uncharted lands, where new adventures are waiting to be discovered.
For me, a long ride for a couple of hours on the gravel bike is now my go to two-wheeled machine. Not because I don’t like the fast feeling of a road bike, or the rush from a nice flow trail, but it can’t match the feeling of freedom I’m exposed to, when I swing away from the asphalt and into the forest. Here there is no traffic, that disrupts my ride, it’s just me and the natural environment alone all year round.
A gravel bike is so versatile, that I can use it for my weekend adventures in northern Zealand, but also for my daily commutes to work. I can go anywhere (almost) on my gravel bike, and I can go there fast and feeling comfortable.
My gravel bike is my two-‐wheeled adventure vehicle. And Denmark is still packed with undiscovered territories, that I have to explore. I’m off – see you on the gravel roads!
I met Dave on one of my first adventures, to Switzerland with Dogtag when I was just getting my outdoorsy ‘wings’ and taste of getting out and living life to the full. Since then he has been on one big adventure himself, getting married and having a beautiful baby girl, Agnes. this is their story.
“Becoming a parent was the single most awesome adventure of my life. Those first moments, nights, days and weeks can’t be matched.
Myself and Alice, both have a keen love of the outdoors, we knew from the offset Agnes was in for an adventurous start to life. We wanted to work out the magic mix of getting outside, doing the things we love, whilst keeping family fun at the centre. Step one. We left the house within the first three days… At three weeks old we packed up Agnes and headed for canal life, staying on a boat for a week cruising our way along the Kennet and Avon Canal. Despite the limited use she had at the lock gates, we made it 10km along the canal. That might not seem far, but canal boats go very slowly especially when interrupted with frequent milk and poo stops. However we tested the formula of baby + outdoors = a lot of fun, despite the added challenge!
We tested this formula more and more, going away at weekends to see different friends and family, although these trips were all slightly easier than the canal boat trip, they built our confidence for the next big challenge! This came in the form of camping… Agnes was 7 months old, the trip was to Guernsey and involved a medium length drive, with a baby who hates car seats and a trip on a ferry!
Camping was easy and made much simpler with co sleeping, which we had done from the start. We didn’t need to worry about a travel cot, she just snuggled down with us at night, (please look into the risks of doing this yourself, do so at your own discretion). She loved being that close to Nature and to us! The weekend away was a success!
The next big challenge, A 21 hour drive with an 8-month-old who still hated the car seat.
A few of us die hard adventurers decided we wanted to spend a week in the Alps together. Bring the mountain bikes, bring the hiking boots and definitely bring the kayaks, just like the good ol’days, but this time we were also taking the babies… What could possibly go wrong?! Really, we wanted to test and strike a balance of family fun and the gnarr of old.
Agnes still hates her car seat, despite sleeping in it all the way to the Alps and all the way back, with no problems. Check out how the trip went here!
Our next adventure involved a relatively short 12 hour drive to Islay. Islay is a truly beautiful island. An inner Hebridean gem, just off the coast of West Scotland with Jura a stone’s throw away. It’s really hard to put my thumb on exactly where Islay reminded me of. In fact, the scenery changes so quickly in such a small space, you could be on a white sandy beach one minute and a bog the next. One road I ran along looked like Dartmoor on one side and the lake district on the other!
The tone of the trip was a little different to the one in the summer sun. It was crisp and cold, filled with hikes, swims, runs and family fun. I did manage to get out in some 9 ft surf though in my kayak…
Take a look at my video to get a real feel of the beauty of this place!
So, does it actually make much difference travelling and adventuring with a baby? Not really, it just needs more planning, nappy changes and stops. Adventuring this year helped us understand that having a baby actually enhances experiences in so many ways, you see things you wouldn’t stop to notice before, pretty little flowers, wood ant nests, little warbling streams! Now I’m not saying go out and proliferate… adventures are still fun without babies, but what I am saying is that the pre-determined belief that your life as you know its ends in all forms when you have a baby, just isn’t true. In fact, you can do everything you did before, just with more planning and sleep deprivation. Who knows what else we will do with the poor gal. All I know is that plenty more adventures await!
Happy January! Below is my first guest blog of the New year! I hope you enjoy it, here is an introduce from Tara a.k.a Paps.
I’m Paps, thirty-something and loving life. After a life crisis at 30 where I ditched ‘normal life’ and ran off around the world to see what was out there, I now mix a bit of running, a bit of cycling, a bit of travel, a bit of routine, a bit of community, a bit of volunteering, a bit of work, a bit of this, a bit of that, and lots of fun.
It’s Christmas 2016 and I’m running full pelt through Madrid airport to catch a connecting flight that’s about to leave (I’d already missed my original one due to delays) to take me to Santiago, Chile. I eventually arrive to find my luggage didn’t make it. I’m not surprised; delays and me catching a different flight meant it was unlikely to be on the same airplane. But I didn’t expect 4 days later to still not have my bag, and no one able to tell me where it was.
I’d come to Chile to cycle the Carretera Austral, Chile’s Route 7, a road that runs 1,240 kilometers (770 mi) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins through rural Patagonia. In that bag was all my gear. And I mean all. All my cycling kit, my camping kit, clothes, first aid kit, cooking equipment, toiletries, toothbrush etc. All I had was the one set of clothes I travelled in and my electronics. Luckily I hadn’t lost my bike, as we were hiring those in Chile. After many fruitless, head-banging phone calls to the airline, I resigned myself to the fact my bag wasn’t going to turn up because no-one knew where it was, seemingly lost forever.
Not doing the trip was never an option, and luckily my cycling buddy extraordinaire Helen had some kit we could both use (cooking, first aid kit, toolkit). So, armed with my credit card, I bought the very basic kit I could get away with having (tent, sleeping bag, cycling shorts etc.) and tried not to think about the carefully selected kit as a result of weeks of research sat in my bag somewhere between Spain and Chile and the many extra ££ now spent. “Just think of the stories that might come out of this” messaged one of my friends. I laughed, but she wasn’t the one sat in a hotel in Chile wearing 99p pants.
So on January 1st, after broken sleep with being woken up by what sounded like gunshots and explosions (but were really New Years Eve fireworks), and horrific sunburn from a day’s exploring without regard to quite how strong the sun was, Helen and I wobbled out of Puerto Montt on our loaded bikes without much food as we hadn’t realised all shops shut on New Year’s Eve as well as the 1st. Luckily, we passed a small bakery on the way out that didn’t care about public holidays and filled our bags up with ham, cheese and bread, a meal that didn’t last long as a staple lunch item due to the bread being drier and more powdery than a mouthful of talcum powder (this was later replaced with frankfurter sausages in tortilla wraps, which were, quite frankly, lunch of the gods).
At the first [slight] hill we had to push the bikes, and it was at this point we realised it might be more challenging than we first thought. 70% of the route is unpaved ripio (gravel) and here we were, pushing bikes up a smooth tarmac gradient.
Negotiating ferries is essential in the first part of the ride as there are a few bodies of water to cross. There’s not much to it really – buy the ticket, walk your bike on, tie it to something secure on the side of the boat, have a sit down and then do all that in reverse when reaching the other side. Until it came to the two-ferry trip where you have to get two boats and get across a 10km bit of land in between. Somehow, in a heavy-rain-and-lots-of-people melee where all bike and foot passengers have to hitch a ride with vehicle passengers, we managed to lose our bikes in the back of a lorry which ended up on a different ferry and then subsequently drove off with our bike and all our gear. Yes, that’s right, all. Again. For the second time in the space of a few days, I had lost everything I owned, bar the cycling gear I was wearing and my mobile phone.
What else to do but laugh, right? Hysterically. Using the power of mime and one ferry worker who spoke a few words of English, the Carabineros de Chile (Police) were called and the situation explained. Put back on the ferry for many hours, we were generously given hot food and something to drink in the crew room, then, after having to jump across to another ferry in the middle of the ocean, we ended up in the back of a Chilean couple’s car with instructions to take us to the Police Station in the next town, 60km away. At least it was dry and warm in the car, with the weather having taken a turn, raining non-stop for the last two days. I knew I shouldn’t have skipped the ‘Chilean weather’ research in favour of deciding what colour socks to take.
When you think that everything is gone, the moment your eyes set sight on it again is nothing short of miraculous. So when we saw both our bikes with the now-familiar red and blue Ortlieb panniers shining like beacons outside the police station in the dark, we both actually gasped, screeched and jumped up and down like we’d just won the lottery. We had no idea what the police officer, or two random men were saying, or why they were shaking our hands, or what had happened with the bikes, but we were too excited to care and jumped on the bikes and rode off into the sunset (well, a nearby hostel).
Eager to get going, we had a fabulous day with renewed enthusiasm (despite the still-constant rain and my chain which kept coming off) and spent that night bedding down in a Blair Witch-style abandoned house, happy to be warm and dry but unsure as to whether we’d wake up in the morning. Luckily we did. This area of Chile is actually one of the safest (and remote) places you can be. We’d finally started to hit the ripio and get away from civilisation. We’d also started to hit hills, lush rainforests and could see snow-capped mountains in the distance.
A couple of days later and we hit the Hill of Horror. A hill that seemed to go on and on and on. And it was pelting it down with rain, hard. The downhill was so cold and wet my hands froze and cramped and my brakes were down to the metal; I honestly thought I’d end up a mangled mess at the side of the road after falling off and would have celebrated not doing so had I not been so cold and wet at the bottom I couldn’t stop shivering and my teeth chattering.
A night of heavy rain later I woke up to things being a bit damp and claustrophobic in my tent and realised my brand new tent had a broken pole and effectively collapsed in on me. My mobile phone had broken the day before, I was still cold, wet and hungry, and it was still raining. This was the final straw. I just couldn’t face cycling that day, and neither could Helen, so we hitch-hiked with the bikes the 150km we still had to go to the city of Coyhaique for a couple of days off the bike and to buy more [warm] clothes, fix my tent and do a bit of bike maintenance.
Two days of new kit, being warm and dry, meeting Pirate Mike, organising ourselves better with food, and the best egg and chips I’ve ever had, we were itching to rock and roll again, in the bloody rain if we had to (we had bought snazzy ponchos, so screw you rain). Ironically, it was to be the last we saw of cycling in rain for a couple of weeks, much to our satisfaction.
The next couple of weeks brought the kind of joy cycle touring is all about; amazing views, an abundance of sounds and smells, the kind of tiredness at the end of the day which can only be attributed to a days hard cycling and constant eating. Waking up to the sound of a woodpecker, wild camping in a spot tucked away from the road and still miles away from anyone. Applying chamois cream half naked by the road in the sunshine. Scenery so beautiful in layers of colours it looks like a painting. Whizzing down a hill, the world spread out in front of you as far as you can see and knowing it’s your own legs that got you there with every pedal, every hill, every bend. Stripping everything back to the basics; food, water, shelter (and chocolate).
Cans of coke become the most precious thing, and even the most basic food becomes the best thing on earth. Legs burn with white-hot pains with the effort of going uphill, giving me goosebumps in the sun. Laughter and chatter while cycling alongside stunningly blue lakes which afront the jagged, snow-capped mountain ranges.
Day after day of cycling on the corrugated gravel with heavy panniers took its toll on the pannier racks. Both racks snapped in multiple places, held together right until the end by duct tape. Each day when finding a wild camp spot, we’d look at each other in amazement that we’d made another day with our luggage staying on the back of the bikes, and add another layer of duct tape, like some kind of reverse pass-the parcel, the prize being to carry our belongings another day.
With each kilometre that passed, we became acutely aware that the adventure was drawing to an end and we were getting closer to Villa O’Higgins, the end of the road (literally). The last few days were a mix of feelings; increasing excitement that we’d actually make it and an incredible sadness that soon, it would all be over. I think my bike felt the same, and on the last day decided to throw me off onto the ripio, where I left a big layer of my arm skin on the rocks as a souvenir. Undeterred and dripping with blood, we cycled on with one of the best day’s cycling to finally reach Villa O’Higgins in a haze of excitement, cravings for a cold can of coke and slight disbelief that yes, we’d actually done it. We’d actually bloody gone and done it!
Things I learned:
You don’t need all the kit you might think (but some of it might just make life that little bit nicer, easier, or more luxurious).
I’m not keen on cycling in rain, continuously.
You don’t need more than 3 pairs of knickers for a bike trip – half the time you don’t wear any at all.
Buffs are one of life’s staple items and should always be carried in hand luggage.