Aagh… Major pre-Challenge GAS attack…

30 April, 2010

Well with the Challenge almost upon us I’ve been laid low by an exceptionally virulent strain of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (or GAS).

A few days ago–and having read horrible, unrepeatable things about parasites in water–I decided that maybe I ought to update my existing water filtration plan. From non-existent, that is, to…well, something, at least. I did buy one of the original Travel Taps from Bob and Rose a couple of years ago, but because back then I was using a Platty with drinking tube I didn’t want to carry two systems and so didn’t actually use it. It’s still sitting in a cupboard somewhere.

I’m not using the Platty with drinking tube at the moment, though, mainly because since Piglet arrived I’ve rarely had space for a water-filled Platty in my pack, and so the idea of using the filter bottle seemed more feasible. I remembered reading that the original had been improved, and after a chat with Bob I decided to invest in a new one. At the same time there were a couple of other things I needed, and so therefore I’ve already invested in the following.

1. Travel Tap.
2. Primus Windshield.
3. Canister Feet.
4. Gehwol Refreshing Balm.
5. Gehwol Axle Grease. (In fact it goes by a different name, but I can’t find it on Bob’s site and so this one will have to do for now.)

The windshield was Phil’s fault. He showed me his Primus and promised that it would fit snuggly into my Kettley thing. It looked so lovely and neat–and so much smaller than my home-made windshield–that I couldn’t resist it, and so now it’s sitting on the kitchen table, awaiting deployment into the rucksack.

It does fit into the Kettley thing when wrapped around a 250 canister, but only just. The little rivets on the side scrape tramlines into the sides of the Kettley thing (thereby dislodging wee slivers of aluminium which will probably bring on my incipient dementia at a huge rate of knots…uh-oh…), and I’m going to have to tuck a piece of string or similar underneath the canister on packing up each morning, in order to be sure that I’ll be able to get it out in the evening. Still, it will work, I think, and so I’ve saved a bit of space (albeit added a little weight, on balance).

The Gehwol creams were Bob’s idea. I’ve used the Gehwol Axle Grease in the past and it’s pretty fantastic stuff, but I hadn’t got round to replacing the tube. Last Autumn I had a problem in the Dales, though, when I developed a case of trench foot after only a day of walking in consistently wet conditions in my Inov8s. Fortunately it was the last day, because the following day my foot was so sore that I could barely stand on it. That made me worry about whether I’m now so decrepit that I need less water-permeable footwear for the Challenge, but the Soloman mids I’ve been trying out have aggravated my chronic achilles tendonitis. Aaaagh! In the circumstances I propose to return to Inov8s and plaster my feeties with enough Gehwol to scare the trench foot away. Crubeens crossed, please, and watch this space.

That’s not the end of it, though. Over the course of the last few days I’ve compiled a little list of other things I’d like to get. Not so much because I actually need them, as that I’d simply like to have them.

6. Inov8 Terroc 308s. I’ve been using Roclite 315s for backpacking for several years now, but I feel like a change. My existing Roclites are looking very worn underneath, and I propose to reserve them for walking Piglet in the woods. I liked the Terrocs that I used to own (the originals: I think they’re now called Terroc 330s), but I must have left them somewhere because I’ve not seen them for at least 4 years. A phonecall to Inov8 yesterday, to take advice on the relative merits of Roclites and Terrocs in the ‘arch support’ department, suggested that the Terrocs are better equipped to pamper my ageing feet, and since that’s what I was hoping to hear I decided to buy a pair.

Sadly, it’s not possible for me find anywhere closer than Kendal where I can try on both the 6.5 and the 7. Okay: I could have gone to Sweatshop in Chorley, but they’ve only got them in the prissy light blue, and I don’t think I could live with myself in that colour of shoe. Give me the Stone/Sage over the pastel any day.

7. Inov8 Recolite 190s. In the course of looking up the Terrocs I spotted these very lightweight sandal-y things from Inov8. I love my Crocs but they’re too clunky and uncompressible to squeeze into my Exos, and I prefer, if possible, not to hang things off the back. These Recolites are about half the weight (i.e. 190g), though, and–as far as I can tell from much online drooling, and the cross-examination of various online retailers–they’re much more squishable than Crocs. When I drive up to Kendal to try the Terrocs tomorrow I’m going to try these as well. I’m sure they’re a really good investment. Definitely. Heh…

8. Inov8 Debris Gaiter. I’ve been meaning to get either these, or something like them, for a couple of years now, but haven’t yet got round to it. The plan is to keep all those nasty little bits of bracken, and pine needles, and similarly sharp bits of the landscape, out of my shoes and on the ground where they belong. If anyone knows of a much better system then please let me know–I realise there are several out there at the moment–but these seem to be considerably less expensive than some (about £10), and I’m assuming that since they’re made by Inov8 they’ll fit well onto my Terrocs.

9. Smartwool Liner Gloves. I generally use Buffalo mits, and carry a v. warm pair of padded gloves for foul conditions. Much as I love my Buffalos, though, there’s no getting round the fact that they’re a bit depressing when sodden wet. I’ve got waterproof over-mits, but I don’t always feel like fishing around for them in my pack if it begins to rain heavily. The padded gloves are blissfully comfy when I first put them on, but they’re not spacious enough for a liner and the fingers tend to try to turn inside out when I take them off, if my hands were wet in the first place. So, I’m thinking of using Smartwool liners as a basic glove (they’re quite thick, as liners go), and supplementing them with something else. I’m not yet sure what. Ideas welcome. Gloves are a bit of a pain for me, since (i) I tend to get very cold, painful hands quite quickly, and so need to be sure that I can keep them warm, and (ii) mes crubeens are quite small, and many ‘small’ gloves are too large for them. That may be the case with the Smartwools, but I’m hoping not.

10. Kahtoola Microspikes. I’d definitely like a pair of these, and reckon that they could turn out to be very useful in the Cairngorms if the snow persists into May. I must get round to ordering some this weekend.

11. Satmap Active 10 GPS. There’s no excuse for this: I simply love gadgets, and would absolutely love to have one. They’re so extremely expensive, though, that I almost certainly will be going without, for this year at least. I did try using my phone as a GPS in the Lakes last October but for me it didn’t seem to work very well. There’s the major battery issue, and I don’t like having to use a touch-screen device inside a plastic bag, and I was worried about dropping it etc etc. Basically it was such a faff that I don’t even intend to take that phone on the Challenge–I’m taking an old, straightforward light one instead, and if I need a GPS I’ll have my trust Garmin Geko to fall back upon. Still… the Satmap GPSs are truly lovely…

12. Fujifilm Finepix S1600. This one is John Jocys’s fault! He showed me his S1500, and I really liked the shape and feel of it. They seem to fall into the category of ‘bridge’ cameras, which are something in between the DSLRs and the compacts. There’s actually quite a range of them: S1500, S1600, S1800, S2000HD and S2500HD to name but a few, and they seem to to up in price from just under £100 to about £300 or so. I don’t need a new camera–I’ve got a Canon DSLR and 3 (!!!) compacts (though one is currently out on loan, and I keep trying to give one of the others to my sister). I’d like one, though, because (as mentioned above) I love gadgets, and each time I see a sexy new camera I imagine that by some sort of osmotic process the ability to take really good pictures will somehow instill itself in me by the simple act of purchasing it. Doh…

So! This is the kit I’ve been contemplating over the course of the last few days. I think I’ll definitely get the microspikes and the debris gaiters, and just see how I get on with the rest. Prolly the Terrocs too.

Any comments/suggestions/whatever from anyone re: any of these things, or re: anything else I’ve forgotten to consider buying, will be most welcome, as always 🙂

Sad news

16 April, 2010

I was more sorry than I can say to learn this evening from a Rufus Wainwright documentary that Kate McGarrigle died in January.

Here’s Rufus with Beauty Mark, which is about his mum.

More Muzak

15 April, 2010

Erm… I’m not sure whether I’ve ever mentioned my Abba fixation….?

There was a very embarrassing occasion in Corsica when I was inspired to ‘dance’ in front of my carmera when completely pissed upon completion of the GR20. That involved Abba. Sigh.. In a self-flagellatory sort of spirit, here it is. I’m quite sure I’ll never be doing this again!

I’ve been listening to them again this evening, though, while baking some bread and dancing with Piglet and Puss-Puss around the kitchen. I really like Abba! Here’s the one that’s playing through my MP3 player while I type this.

(I liked the dark-haired bloke. I can never remember whether he was the lawyer in real life or not. I think not, though.)

(Um… now that I look at the video, they both seem to be dark-haired. When I was a youngster, though, one of them had blonde hair. I like the slightly podgier one. The bearded one. Oh f*ck! It seems they both have beards! I’m talking about the one with the really sweet smile. I think he played keyboards. Wow, that was exhausting. I hope you know which one I meant…)

(The one on the right at 0.30 and the left at 0.39. Phew…)

(On the left in what appears to be the photo that accompanies the video before it begins to play. Wearing a red jacket!)

*goes off for therapy: too confusing*

Colin in Arizona — Update 2

12 April, 2010

Regal Ringneck snake

I had an unexpected call from Colin a few hours ago. He’s still sticking easily to his schedule, and at some stage this morning arrived on the outskirts of Vail and decided to nip in for a bite of lunch and a bit of a break from the trail.

Things have been quite exciting on the Wee Creatures front since he last rang. A couple of days ago he found himself some 50′ from a black bear. Gulp… He didn’t see it, but he heard it crashing through undergrowth and then turning over rocks in the river/stream/whatevah just down the bank from where he was sitting with the map, at a place called Bear Spring. Um… Turning Over Rocks??? This is just one of many reasons I’ve never attempted to walk in these bear-infested North American places… Anyway… A few minutes later he heard it leaving the water and scrambling up the bank in his direction, so he grabbed his things and made off prettily speedily. Later on the same day he spotted a beautiful wee snake with a striking red ring around its neck: a little Googling at this end quickly revealed it as the (only faintly venomous) Regal Ringneck snake, and later still he encountered mountain lion pawprints! There have been lots of sprinty little lizards, but not yet any more gila monsters.

I was sorry to hear that the scorpions haven’t yet made an appearance, but apparently it’s not yet hot enough for them, or for the rattlesnakes. Colin says that temperatures have been a perfect 24 degrees (about 80 in real money, by my quick reckoning), rising to about 28 for a few hours in the middle of the day. Last night the temperature dropped no lower than 10 degrees, so there have been no unpleasant sorties, yet, into either end of the temperature spectrum.

Colin’s backpack is doing fine, so far: comfortable and efficient, as well as small and beautifully marked. The tarp was fine too until last night, when unfortunately it was the subject of an attack by some small creature: probably a wee rodent of some kind. Apparently the creature chewed a half inch rip into one corner of the tarp, and nibbled its way almost all the way through a guy line. I’d have suspected Piglet had I not found her lying next to me under the duvet this morning. Anyway, repairs are apparently on the agenda for this evening.

Rob Hausam has been sending food to Colin in parcels via Post Offices, and the first batch was collected some days ago in Patagonia. Colin hadn’t tried the Alpineaire food before he set off, but he’s absolutely delighted with it. He said the pasta was so good that he’d have been happy to eat it in a restaurant, and he had a sensational tomato salad for breakfast this morning. Dehydrated tomato salad? For breakfast?? (Sounds disgusting to me…) Colin is the bloke, though, who carried ‘food’ so utterly repellent on the Challenge last year that even he found himself unable to eat it, so I’ll be interested to see how the Alpineaire holds up in the taste stakes as the weeks go by.

Colin plans to press on to Colossal Cave Mountain Park later this afternoon, to camp there and to make his way to Hope Camp tomorrow. Tomorrow’s walk will be only 10 miles, but he has to stay at Hope Camp for a night because the following day will take him into the Rincon Mountains Wilderness, and since he’s not allowed to camp there without a permit he’ll have to get through it (about 20 miles) in one day. I wondered how likely he was to be spotted camping illegally in such a remote place, but Colin explained that the Americans take illegal camping very seriously indeed, and that people found to have indulged in it are fined, have their kit confiscated and are made to wear an orange overall. (That last bit wasn’t true. Heh.) Clearly it isn’t worth that sort of risk. Another good reason to stick to Scotland, methinks!

The next town on the schedule is Oracle, and hopefully there’ll be another update when Colin gets there. In the meantime, though, it’s goodbye from Colin and goodnight from me!

Colin in Arizona — Update!

9 April, 2010

For those who haven’t met him, no: that isn’t Colin. It’s a venomous gila monster. Heh… But he’s seen a few in Arizona and so I thought I’d dig out a picture.

As many of you will know, Colin “Super-Lightweight” Ibbotson has temporarily forsaken the icy wilds of Scotland for the balmier climes of Arizona, and has recently embarked upon an attempt to walk the Arizona Trail from the Mexican border to Utah. He hopes to complete the trail over a period of approximately 8 weeks.

Colin rang last night via Skype, and told me all about it so far. I’ve already told you about the the gila monsters, and he’s also seen thousands of funnel-web spider burrows (fortunately for Colin, they’re not poisonous to human beings over there), but so far no scorpions.

I was also particularly interested to hear about the food available for breakfast in the two hotels he stayed at before he started the walk, but it wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped it might be. There were no grits, but he did get gravy and a biscuit at the first place. He said the biscuit was a bit dry, but until he eats another it won’t be possible to know whether they’re always like that or if he was just unlucky. Roll on the next breakfast buffet, I say!

Anyway, Colin seemed more interested in the walking than the food and wee creatures. He’s on schedule, and reached Patagonia the day before yesterday. He’ll be setting off back onto the trail when he gets up this morning (he’s currently 8 hours behind us), and expects next to encounter WiFi in about a week.

He’s currently walking through an area where there’s a risk of running into illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border, and various people told him in advance either (i) to worry about meeting them, or (ii) not to worry about them. Confusing. In fact, he had an encounter on his very first night in the mountains!

He’d set up his tarp somewhere, and early in the morning he was lying awake when he heard something creeping around outside. Then he saw a shadow creep all the way round the back of the tarp, and a moment later the figure of a man dressed in jeans and a puffer jacket appeared at the front. Colin sat up and spoke, and the man immediately ran away. Colin reckons he was probably looking for the food bag. Apparently almost everybody over there carries guns, and so the bloke was probably afraid that he might be about to be shot. It’s pretty fortunate that he didn’t shoot Colin!

Colin and I spoke a bit about the fact that this crossing of the border is a holiday for him, but potentially a matter of life and death for the illegal immigrants. He came across a discarded rucksack a few days ago, and when he took a look he found that it was crammed full of food and drinks. A little later he found a discarded blanket. It seems likely either that one of the border patrols had caught somebody, or that somebody had had to dump all their kit in order to get away at speed. It’s all quite sobering.

Anyway, it’s possible that Colin will post over on Andy’s blog at some stage, but his WiFi was a bit dodgy last night and so I told him I’d put an update here. More in due course.

Finally, Phil Turner has arranged a brilliant page where it’s possible to track Colin’s progress via Google Earth. It’s here, and, as I type this, the little red blob that represents Colin’s location is currently nestling in Patagonia.

And yet more amazing music!

7 April, 2010


Piglet and Piss-Puss like to put this on the CD player when I’m in the bath, and sing along to it for me. Wee monsters.

Edited to add: here’s a lovely version of Pavarotti singing this in church in Modena with his father, Fernando.

More beautiful music

7 April, 2010