Thursday, 29 June 2017

Mind over Matter: Tricks of the Mind and Mental Techniques To Succeed On Long-Distance Walks

Hello folks.

  What follows is a little guide to all the various mental and imagery techniques I've found useful for endurance walks (40+ miles), cycling and generally being very, very restless in life. One of my big fascinations with long walks is how much of a head game they are- yes having good gear and being physically strong is a requirement-, but they often come of secondary importance to having your head in the right place and being able to use your mind. Over the course of many years spent doing long walks, it is something I've thought a lot about and feel ready to share some of my ideas.

Dobbo feeling motivated- another 40 miles of walking and he
knows he'll stop walking and be drinking Moonshine in
The Lescar. 'The 4 Peaks' Walk, March 2014

  Before doing any big committing long-distance challenge you've got to be motivated. In a big way. I'm talking about being so psyched to the point that you'll be thinking about it every waking hour of every day for several months before you set off. It requires a certain level of obsessiveness to do these things. When you've walked for 40 miles, it is raining and have another 15 miles of moorland to go, being motivated is what stops you quitting. When you are half awake on Kinder Scout at 2am and every bit of heather looks like a comfy bed to curl up on, it doesn't matter how fit you are or able to deal with sleep deprivation. It is pure will power that gets you through. None of the following ideas in this guide matter unless you are psyched to do what your doing. You have to want these things. And want them badly.

  Believe in yourself. On anything that is hard- be it a climb, cycle or a long wander- you have to have absolute self belief that you can do it. Obviously don't be delusional cause you'll fail, but a realistic, strong and unwavering sense that you will succeed is essential. It creates the right mindset for doing a hard challenge. Don't view failure as an option (although accept it if you do). Be prepared, be relaxed, be confident, be certain you will do it.


  Suffering- through exhaustion, pain, lack of sleep and other discomforts is a big part of the long-distance game, A fair amount of the enjoyment from it is Type-2 fun. No matter how fit you are, how good the weather and your diet is, or how well you use your mind- at some point you will suffer to some extent. Although at the time it can be thoroughly unpleasant, you have to learn to accept it. There is a degree of freedom through suffering, as though you don't realise it at the time, there is release from the trivial matters of day-to-day existence into a much simpler state of being (you are in pain!). Pushing through is a big part of the reward when on long walks. Going in with acceptance and being prepared for it makes the whole experience much more manageable.

Mind- Body- Land: Understanding the landscape, yourself and listening to your body
Perfection on a deserted  Howden Moors whilst chasing
 sunset over Bleaklow.  No one knew where I was, just me
and the land (and another 37 miles to go). 'Beyond The Horizon'
August 2016.

  This is a key idea of mine that is applicable to every time you go out into the hills as well as long distance walks. Nobody succeeds by fighting against nature. You understand, work with and lose yourself to the land. For example, it is nearly always possible to cross peat bogs with dry feet by looking at its texture and inferring how solid it is. Plan your walks so you have the sun and wind behind you. Read the features to make easy progress instead of slogging in a straight line up to your knees in a river or bracken. You should aim to feel truly at ease being alone on the hills in all conditions and seasons, night and day. Each has their own moods and feelings. Whether on a 50+ mile walk or just wandering for an afternoon, feeling relaxed and comfortable greatly enhances the experience.

  Listen to your body. Know when to rest or when to push on. Adapt your pace to the terrain, slow on the ascent, faster on the flats or a steady flow. Deal with hunger and dehydration before it hits. Notice any pain, lack of sleep or blisters and deal with it.

  Your mind is crucial. Anticipate and prepare for the sections when morale will drop. Be in the zone, focusing on reading the land, navigating, and looking after yourself when needed. For example, it is much better on the mind to rest on the top of hills not halfway up no matter how tired you are- you've done the hard work and don't have to worry about it.

  It is only when your mind, body and understanding of the land are working together that you succeed and enjoy long distance walks. One does not work without the other two. Yet this can apply to any wander on the hills, even just a short wander up Kinder. It is about achieving that sense of immersion and awareness which creates a much more comfortable and enriching experience.

Dealing with tiredness.

Mike on the long , long plod up Glitterind- the 2nd highest
mountain in Scandinavia. August 2015
  Divide and conquer. If your going on a 20 mile walk, break it down into two 10 mile sections. If your walking 50 miles make it 25 & 25 then again into smaller bits. If you can walk the first 10 or 25 miles then you can do it again. The trick here is make it more manageable- the mind can break at the thought of walking 40 or more miles in a day- so don't let it. I like to break walks up into distances I know can be comfortably walked without stopping- between 5-10 miles. After each section try to ignore and forget that you've just walked 10, 20 or 40 miles and focus on the next bit- which you know you can do.

  When you are really shattered and just want to get home, focus fully on a landmark you'll be passing at the end of a section- and no more and 6 miles distant. This objective becomes your whole world and nothing else matters apart from you reaching it. You can imagine there's a beam of light drawing you in towards it like a tractor beam. When you reach the landmark flick your focus and imaginary light beam to the next one and carry on. The idea is that by intensely concentrating on the end of each short stage of walking you'll numb yourself to feelings of tiredness and be able to keep on going. You can go along way with very little fuel left in the tank if you are smart (and motivated) about it.

  Another things: When you are really, really tired it takes a while for your body to warm up after a rest. At a certain point you'll stand up and your muscles feel stiff, slow and achey whilst the feet may be like standing on knives. Just get moving. Give it a bit of time you warm up, the pain will diminish slightly and you begin to walk instead of hobble. It just takes a while.

Coping with pain.

  There are two ways to manage pain. The first- distraction- is pretty self explanatory. If that soreness in your legs is getting a bit much or your feet are increasingly feeling like you are standing on knives then just focus deeply on something else and don't look at it. If you are alone, sending yourself off into a daydreamy world helps, and if you are with someone, try engaging in intense conversation- and keep talking!

  'Turtle Theory': This method deals with pain and the cold using imagery and breathing. Imagine you
are a turtle withdrawing into its shell. Now imagine all your nerves are withdrawing up your arms and legs into your core. Slow your breathing down and focus on that image, as if you are cutting off the pain and becoming numbed to it. Taking this a step further, focus on the idea of your mind becoming a detached, disembodied bubble floating along, ignoring and becoming numb to all other sensations. When in serious discomfort- such as soaking wet and cold, being far too sweaty on a long slog uphill (or when seriously hurting and used along with painkillers) it is a useful technique.

  Note: These ideas can be used to coping with the cold too. Going for a wild swim and the water is a bit cold? Gone to the park in shorts and can't be bothered to go home for warmies? It can help numb you from it and able to stay out longer. You can even stop yourself from shivering. It works.

Me, feeling absolutely bollocksed after 26 hours and 60 miles
of walking. Existence depends on painkillers, harribo and
an overwhelming desire for a bath. 'Beyond The Horizon',
August 2016.
  Note 2: Always carry ibroprofen and co-codamol on long walks. All people's minds break at some point and seizing up with cramps and yelping in agony from sore feet alone on Bleaklow at 3am is a situation you do not want to find yourself in. It happened to me at Forge Dam towards the end of 'The Journey Home' walk, and those final agonising miles into Sheffield were pure hell. If it was in a remote situation things would have suddenly became quite serious.

Sleep Deprivation

  I view sleep deprivation as split into two types- long term (i.e- not getting enough sleep for many days in a row) and short term (staying awake for over 24 hours). Here we are only concerned with the latter- long term sleep deprivation is thoroughly unpleasant and isn't something you encounter very often when out walking.

  Staying awake for over 24 hours without stimulants is quite simple and it is surprisingly easy to function relatively normally having been awake for 36 hours or so. The trick is to simply get through the night. Depending on your sleeping patterns, between midnight and 6-8am your body will want to sleep. Fight it. Nothing but motivation and willpower can do this. If you want it you will manage it. Make it through the night however and bingo! After 24 hours awake and it is daylight, your circadian rythems kick in and you'll find yourself reawakening and feeling and very lucid, if a little drunk. After this stage you'll feel like this- with waves of drunkenness and nausea- all through the day until the following evening where your body's rythems will kick in again and you will feel very sleepy.

  'Cloud Theory': This is another imagery technique I've used to help stay focused when sleep deprived. Imagine all the sleep deprivation is like a cloud floating in front of your brain, fogging it up. Now picture a beam of light going from your brain or core that pierces the cloud into clearer skies beyond and absolutely concentrate on it, steadying your breaths if necessary. The idea is that by visulising your lack of soberness as something that can be seen through, you will (to some extent) be able to nullify its affects and function to a degree of sober, well slept normality. The more sleep deprived you get the thicker the cloud becomes and the harder is is for the beam of light to shine through- it is a technique that takes practice.

Three sleepy lads heading towards the Inn Pinn on the
Cullin Ridge Traverse, Isle of Skye, May 2016. 
  These ideas when used can be very useful. I've swam and cycled having being awake for over 36 hours without any stimulants on several occasions. Cloud Theory is useful when navigating for example to try and offset tiredness so you don't get lost. Or just to go to a takeaway after and not come across as an idiot. A simple way to practice it is to balance on one foot as long as possible after a few beers or when tired. Pick a spot on the wall and stare at it, maybe wobble about. It helps train the concentration. My record is 15 seconds after 44 hours awake.

Disclaimer: Doing anything such as cycling or swimming whilst highly sleep deprived is dangerous and is not recommended. I've done these things out of sheer curiosity after many years of conditioning and experiencing these states of sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and accepted the risks involved. Don't be an idiot and hurt yourself or others!

Happy as a pig in shit and loving every minute of it! Awake
for 25 hours at this point. Halfway through the
 'Peakland County Tops Walk', March 2016.

  It is fascinating what you can do and how much more you can push yourself if you can use your mind. Most of these ideas are quite similar and link into one-another. None of the above is in any way an alternative to being well equipped and knowing the relevant hill-skills and how to use them (don't go out in a blizzard trying to be a yogi-guru master- we invented gore-tex for a reason). Yet for anyone interested in doing long endurance challenges or pushing their mind or body to see what if is capable of, it is crucial to understand these skills. I strongly believe that using your mind and understanding yourself and the land is an essential part to success. I'm no professional athlete nor do meditation-like stuff- all of the ideas discussed here are purely self-taught from years of amazing, enriching experiences on the hills and are my own thinking.

I hope is of use and interest to you.  

*The ideas have been given stupid names because, why not?

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Quick Way To Be Sick- The Hunter's Bar Challenge

Hello folks.

  Somethings are worth doing because they sound dumb and stupid. Others are worthwhile because they are hard. The Hunter's Bar Challenge is probably all of these and a very efficient way to make yourself feel very sick.

All the fun begins here!
What is this daft idea??? Simple: Setting off from Hunter's Bar you either run or cycle up the three steepest hills in the area- Hunter House Road, Greystones Road and Brocco Bank- as fast as possible whilst looping back to Hunter's Bar each time. The whole course is no more than 5 miles with 200m ascent and as a bonus takes you through the lovely Bingham Park and Botanical Gardens too.

  Yes,the distance may sound short but all three hills (especially the first two) are brutally steep and more so if you are going to do it properly and go as fast as you can. It may involve no more uphill than a gentle plod out to Ringinglow but the severity of it makes this a 30 minute full-on calf burning test of power endurance. Anyway, before you ask why, here is the full route:

The route: Hunter House Road- Psalter Lane- Stretton Road- Pinner Road- Hunter's Bar- Eccelsal Road South- Greystone Road- Highcliffe Road- Bingham Park- Rustlings Road- Hunter's Bar- Brocco Bank- The Botanical Gardens- Eccelsal Road- Hunter's Bar

Why should I put myself through this when I could have a nice saunter out to Forge Dam?
Looking down to Hunter House Road and the
Porter Valley from a roof in Sharrowvale
  Training for anything can boring no matter how motivated you are. During the long winter nights it is much nicer to sit in the pub or bath after work, whilst the park or lazy jaunts onto Stanage are equally alluring in the social sunshine of spring and summer. The Hunter's Bar Challenge should take most people no more than 30 minutes and is easily accessible for anyone on the
western side of Sheffield. It's quick, it is very efficient and will tire you out. The most effective way to get fit is to do short blasts not big long sessions, and this does it very well.

   Why else? Mention these three roads to anyone in 'The Lentil Belt' on the western side of Sheffield and the reaction tends to be the same- they are steep! That is the point- it sounds horrific and it is (or can be). There is fun in suffering. You probably will be knackered, out of breath and close to vomiting. Good.

 It is worth doing because of the reputations of all three roads, because it is so simple and a fun way to keep fit. Oh, and is it far more fun than ruining your knees jogging or slogging out into the hills on a rainy day.

Rustlings Road from Endcliffe Park. There's no time to
admire the view, just keep on hurtling to Brocco Bank!
  A bit of advice: Go fast! This is a test of power-endurance go as fast as possible up the hills. You can cruise a bit coming back down but to get under 23 minutes you really need to be going flat-out all the way. If you can get up Hunter House Road without feeling that calf burn then you will do well. Just don't stop and keep peddling!

  Go when it is quiet! Hunter's Bar is busy and traffic can properly shut you down. Late evenings, midday weekdays or early mornings are best. Clever people who are really determined will get someone to be waiting to press the traffic lights for them on Eccy Road.

  Avoid the wrath of the groundsmen in the Botanical Gardens. The Sheffield Botanical Gardens are a little island of peace in the city and idiots cycling far too fast are not tolerated. Get caught and they will scream, shout and generally make you feel very guilty. Be careful!

  Finally: The record stands at 20:20 by me, with a Mr Jim Emery doing it in 20:36 with a slightly longer route. Anything under 23:00 is good. Maybe. I'm not a bike person and instead ride a hybrid whilst wearing cords and sandals. Some lycra clad human with a mortgage's worth of road bike and their stomach filled with energy gels as opposed to the previous night's beer may find that easy. Anyways, it would be cool to see it done in under 20:00....

Thursday, 30 March 2017

'A Journey Home'- a 53.5 mile walk from Dronfield to Sheffield

  On the 17th of March I set off alone after work from Dronfield and walked non-stop for 53.5 miles and 21 hours 33 minutes through the night and day back home to Sheffield. The idea was to be a celebration of having spent half my life (14 years) wandering on the hills by linking up as many of my special places together in a single walk and make my 100th ascent of Kinder Scout. Setting off from my mum's house I headed out over Totley Moss, Stanage, Win Hill Pike, Kinder Scout, Bleaklow Stones, Slippery Stones, Back Tor, Hordron Edge, Redmires and back down the Porter Valley to home in Nether Edge. Due to saturated ground and constant heavy rain on Friday it was one of the hardest and most intense days out I've ever experienced.

  18:36. A brief goodbye and cuddle with the dog then off out I went along Northern Common through Holmesfield to Flask Edge. The initial sense of numbness hit as the brain struggled to take in the many miles to be covered. Cars passed by carrying people home from work to family, warm food and shelter, leaving a distinct feeling of isolation as I walked alone into the showery night.

The distant lights of Sheffield from Flask Edge
  After an hour's plod the trig point on Flask Edge appeared, bringing back memories of teenage years spent building the shelter on the Brown Edge cairn and prating about with mates on the summit. Those carefree days seemed so long ago now, so much had happened in the intervening 10 years. I gazed over to the lights and life of Sheffield and my eventual destination in Nether Edge. So close. However, a distant cloud capped Kinder Scout on the horizon beckoned me onward, my first objective before a midnight pilgrimage into the desolate soul of Bleaklow. Time to get a move on then.

  The walk past Fox House, Higgar Tor, Stanage and down to Yorkshire Bridge passed without incident, just happily plodding along and gazing down at the lights of the Hope Valley. There was a slight sense of urgency to get the first 30 miles to Bleaklow Stones covered before sunrise and the morning rain that was forecast. Content wandering followed and it was satisfying to reach Yorkshire Bridge 13 miles in at 10:15 for a brief rest, food and fresh socks.

  After a sweaty climb onto Win Hill Pike the next 9 miles to Kinder Scout's summit passed by in
a blissed-out daze. Wandering under ethereal moonlight above the sleeping villages below I was serenaded by the midnight song of curlew and ring ouzel. Constant movement over familiar ground, time and distance flowing into a blur and the whole place to myself. This was long distance walking at its very best.

2:05am. 100th time to the 636m/ 2088ft high summit of
Kinder Scout!!! 
  Before I knew it the cairn marking Kinder Scout's summit appeared in the distance, and after 22 miles of walking at 2:05am I reached it for my 100th time. I whooped with joy and celebrated with a banana and flapjack. This moment had been a very long time coming and it was a big relief to have made it. Yet there was no time to lose- the temperature had dropped close to freezing with the mist reducing visibility to less than 10ft. 7 miles of rough pathless bog lay between me and Bleaklow and I had to get there for sunrise. Onward.

  The visibility was non-existent as I stumbled about like a drunken blind person down the River Kinder until the Kinder Gates suddenly appeared in front of my nose. Then things got hard. Three times I tried to walk on a bearing to Fairbrook and three times I ended up walking in circles back to Kinder Gates. 40 futile minutes passed. Morale dropped. I was beginning to get cold, tired and fall asleep. Damn. Then miraculously at 3am the mist lifted enough to make out the northern edge and a distant Snake Pass. Ignore everything and go for it. In situations like this you have to pull yourself together, seize the opportunity and get going again if you wish to succeed. The game was back on.

 The early hours of the morning dissolved into endless pathless moorland and soaking bog as I became just a tiny speck on the land, gradually picking its way across by torchlight. Ashop Clough, Salvin Ridge, North Grain Clough. Just keep on going and stay awake. Passing Over Wood Moss I glanced over to Alport Low. Back in 2011 I found a body here and hoped they were now at peace. It began snowing. A black silhouette loomed ahead as I staggered towards the dark heart of Bleaklow in a trance-like state.

Sunrise over Outer Edge from Grinah Stones.
  Eventually Bleaklow Stones was reached in the early dawn light at 5:50am. I had made it to my sacred, special place as snow showers spread over the vast moors below on this last weekend of winter. Further ahead at Grinah Stones the sun rose as a feint orange disk into a flat grey cloudy ceiling. My circadian rythems kicked in and I began to reawaken again. A massive grin spread from ear to ear, wandering with glee over the settling snow to the bothy whilst having the whole world seemingly to myself. It was a wonderful reward.

7am. 30 miles down, awake for 24 hours. Time for food!
  6:50am. When you've been awake for 24 hours and just walked 30 miles over 12 hours in waffy weather through the night, the joys of shelter, food and fresh socks cannot be overestimated- especially when you've messed up 5 minutes before and fallen knee-deep into a bog. Those 30 minutes sat in the bothy for a breakfast of cous-cous, flapjack and my 4th Clif Bar of the walk were a joyous respite. Air the feet, change socks and insoles and guzzle water. Sleet and snow pounded on the roof- it looked like the forecast bad weather had arrived early. My mates would be going to work now whilst I had the prospect of another 23 miles of walking in heavy rain with blisters that were beginning to form on my feet. Well, home wasn't going to get any closer so at 7:30 I decided I'd better shut up and get on with it.

Early morning in the Upper Derwent Valley. Life began to
get a bit funky and I started hallucinating...
  Something strange occurred on the plod down the Derwent Valley past Slippery Stones in the rain. People clad in brown corduroy trousers with pale blurred faces appeared in the trees, silently watching me before disappearing when I drew closer. There was a distinct calming and peaceful nature to their presence as they coyly flitted in and out of my vision. The hallucinations were quite strong, with the people appearing very much real. My mood perked up lots- I was about to spend the whole day walking in the rain, and now it was going get much more interesting...

  By Abbey Brook there was time for a quick 5 minute rest and the 5th Clif Bar of the walk before the next 5 miles up over Back Tor and Derwent Edge to Hordron Edge. The wind picked up and the rain intensified whilst the feet began to seriously hurt. It was all rather unpleasant aside from the first distant view of Ringinglow on the horizon- after 40 miles home was in sight. My mind entered a numbing and strange meditative state- it hurt to think about very much and anyway, thinking felt like far too much effort. All thoughts were now reduced to nothing more than hobbling along in my little bubble and getting to Hordron Edge. Life had suddenly become beautifully simple.    

  10am, Hordron Edge. The 43 mile mark had been breached and I slumped under a tree for some respite from the pain in my feet. At this stage on long walks you usually start taking painkillers, change socks and wolf down food, and if you've been looking after yourself it is possible to still feel relatively good. Yet this time it was different. With soaking boots, blisters and heavy rain any footcare was out of the option. There was a strong urge just to get home as fast as possible. 10 miles of soggy moorland still lay ahead. Time to go for broke. Force down another Clif Bar and some apple sours, haul yourself up and get moving. After 10 minutes the pain eases off and you can pick up the pace a little. Onward again, out onto Stanage.

  Crossing Stanage Edge the rain once again intensified and thoughts drifted back to everything that had happened this year. Due to many things it had been the most intense three months I've ever lived through, difficult yet wonderfully amazing in equal measure. Through it all had been intense amounts of training, planning and excitement whilst waiting for the days to get long enough to do this walk. With walks like this you do them for no-one but yourself. It is not about ego, escapism or impressing people. They are everything but that- otherwise you will end up hurt or disappointed. You do these things because you love it and because of the sheer simplicity of it. Because it is good to challenge yourself and do things because they are hard. For the last 6 months I'd wanted it so badly it hurt. Long walks alone offer one of the most intense, relaxing and interesting experiences life has to offer. That freedom of having nothing to think about apart from walking across a beautiful landscape for 24 hours is something very special. Because doing these long walks makes you feel free, awake and alive.

  It was an emotional haggard mess that hobbled along Stanage Edge, down to Redmires and up onto Ringinglow Bog, pausing only to shove some more apple sours down it's gob. A few people passed by it and gave it a wide berth, probably because it resembled a drunken albatross that had been dragged through mud....

Home in sight! Looking down the Porter Valley from
Fulwood Lane.
  On Ringinglow Bog a group of sheep were noticed up ahead, moving about and grazing on the grass. Yet much to my amusement they turned into solid rocks when I got closer, raising a chuckle. They seemed so real from a distance as to be rather confusing when I realised they weren't. I prodded one just to make sure. Yup, definitely a rock not a sheep. In all my experience of sleep deprivation I've never experienced hallucinations quite as powerful as they were. It was absolutely fascinating.

  14:10, the familiar bench on Fulwood Lane came into sight in time for another rest. After 30 hours awake and 19 hours on the go the magical 50 mile boundary was breached for only my 4th time. Walking through the 50 mile mark is a special experience- you are aching both
50 miles of walking in 19 hours. Happy as a pig in shit!
mentally and physically, sleep deprived and exhausted. Yet there is powerful all consuming sense of euphoria that ripples through you in waves due to the achievement of walking so far. It is quite unlike anything else. To go beyond it requires nothing but sheer willpower and sugary sweets (digesting carbs starts to become difficult at this stage). Fittingly, I had a small celebration of yet more apple sours and thought about home, food and a hot bath. It wouldn't be long now.

  Far below the Porter Valley led like a soggy tree-clad carpet down to Hunter's Bar and the finish. The Peakland 600m Hills, Chorizo Sunrise Dreams, Beyond the Horizon. The next few miles had been the final stage of several long adventures and it was time to do it all once again. Familiarity takes the surprise away. I knew what to expect. So far yet ever so tantilisingly close. It was going to be a long slog. Stand up and start walking.

  The stagger down the Porter Valley was difficult. I'd been walking with sore, blistered feet in the rain for 20 miles and 7 hours now and had became totally consumed by the pain. Each step felt like standing on knives. My vision became blurred and jumpy. Numbness in the mind faded to be replaced by constant overpowering burning thoughts about my feet. On those never-ending rainy miles down past Forge Dam to Hunter's Bar it was all I could think about. I was completely broken.

  Somehow, eventually Hunter's Bar appeared in front of me. 53 miles down, 0.5 more to go. Home
Haggard and happy. Home at last!
was close, the end in sight. Intense euphoria welled up inside me. My mate Josh drove past and lovely Sharrowvale Road was just over the roundabout. Students, families and people pottered about on their daily routine. I began to manically laugh, cry and smile in equal measure out of sheer relief and ecstatic semi-delirious joy. By Two Steps chippy my mate Billy appeared. It was wonderful to hear a sobering friendly voice. A short determined plod up the road later and I bumped into my friend Jenny who gave final words of encouragement to this soggy, smelly mess of a man. Everything that had happened since 'Beyond the Horizion' last August flashed before my eyes. The euphoria once again intensified.

  16:09. A final agonising stagger into Nether Edge and onto my road. Hobble down and bang on the door until my housemate opened it. Step through, take the boots off and collapse on the sofa. 53.5 miles and 21 hours 33 mins of walking, awake for 33 hours. It had been a long, epic, amazing journey. Finally. I was home.

  Epilogue: After a hot bath and a Bliash I somehow dragged myself to see Yo Dynamo ( play at The Washington for a fun time hobbling about and chatting to friends in a highly euphoric state. It was a wonderful evening. Surprisingly I could still stand on one foot (briefly) even after several pints of moonshine. I'd woken up at 7am on Thursday 16th March, gone to work, walked 53.5 miles in 21.5 hours then gone to the pub. After all this and staying awake for 45.5 hours without any stimulants, at 3:30am on Sat 18th, I finally fell asleep. 
  The weekend was spent resting and recovering (aside from a pint in the Sheaf View on Saturday), followed by a week of enforced rest and eating as much as humanly possible. The plan is to have a few easier weeks of cycling and wandering to fully recover before preparations and training begins for the next big epic walk. All being well this will happen during the summer if things go to plan. 
  This walk was a particularly difficult and intense experience (due to the crap weather and subsequent pain from being unable to properly look after myself during the Friday) and there was more suffering than on any walk I've ever done- much more so then even 'Beyond the Horizon'. Yet looking back, it had been a brilliant and unforgettable wander. To enter those deeper states of exhaustion and pain whilst doing nothing but walking for 21 hours was an absolutely fascinating experience into a powerful sense of freedom so rare in today's world. It may have been hard and unpleasant at times, but also extraordinarily interesting, amazing and rewarding too.
   Thanks to my boss Sarah at Foothills for letting me have the time off at such short notice (it was really appreciated), to Rory and Liv for kind texts of encouragement during the long rainy morning (they perked me up no end!) and to Billy and Jenny for being the best people you could wish to stagger into whilst being a haggard soggy mess. 

  A note on ethics.
  All of the 8 walks over 40 miles in a day that I've done (The Derwent Watershed, Peakland 600m Hills, Chorizo Sunrise Dreams, The Derwent Watershed-ish, The Full Eastern Edges, The Peakland County Tops, Beyond The Horizon, A Journey Home) have been done completely self-supported. That is, apart from stopping at shops/ pubs along the way I've carried everything needed for the walk and had no-one waiting to provide footcare, extra food and water ect. 
  All but the Derwent Watershead and Peakland 600m Hills were done alone and on Chorizo Sunrise Dreams and Beyond the Horizon I decided to do both of them self supported and not inform anyone of my plans or where I was going. Although I do carry modafonil as an emergency to stay awake, I've never used it and on all walks stayed awake for 36 hours or more without use of any aids or stimulants whatsoever. 
  None of the walks have been done as a sponsored walk for charity. I do them because I love doing it.

  Gear and stuff.
Packing up on the Thursday morning...

  For this walk I wore a pair of Scarpa Peak GTX boots that I was kindly given from Scarpa. They fit my narrow feet perfectly and until I messed up and fell into a bog were extremely comfortable- I hope to wear them on another 40+ mile walk in the near future. My coat was the Rohan Guardian Jacket- despite walking heavy rain for over 10 hours it worked wonderfully, keeping me perfectly dry with very little sweat build up. My overtrousers are a battered pair of Berghaus Gore-Tex ones I can't remember the name of but still work well.
  Other: I took two pairs of insoles- the thick orange Scarpa insoles and a pair of the Anatomic Absorber ones- they are both comfortable for about 30 miles and were changed after then. 3 pairs of socks (smartwool trekking, Silverpoint Alpaca Hike), a pair of borrowed walking poles, Seal Skinz Winter Gloves, map and compass, Petzl Tikka+ headtorch, spare batteries, 1 front bike light (as backup lighting) 3 ibroprofen 2 modafonil 1 co-codamol (for emergency, not used) and my ancient but trusty Montane fleece and Terra Pants. 
  Food: Eaten: 6 Clif Bars, 1/2 bag Sugarland Apple Sours (much better than Harribo Tangfastics as they have far more sugar in them), 3 white chocolate flapjacks, 5 bananas, 1 sachet of cous-cous, 1 bottle of lucozade, 1.1.5 litre of water. Taken but not eaten: 1 pack of chilli peanuts, 2 malt loaf, 1 Clif Bar, 1 bottle of lucozade
  Roll on the next big adventure!!!   

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

'Wee' (Johnny cash/ Nine Inch Nails 'Hurt' pardoy)

I nearly wet myself last night
My bladder was simply quite full
I focussed on getting home
And made it just in time
The urine ready to burst
All over my clean shoes
I've been drinking on a date
And I think it might all go wrong

If I could empty it all
My beautiful girl
All the nerves I have, goes away
Down the loo
But I just cant make love
When I've got piss soaked feet
You could be my wife
If I could have a wee

We went out for some drinks
I liked your pretty hair
Full of drunken love
Then I started to dispair
After three bottles of wine
That feeling did reappear
And on the walk to yours
I did get the fear

If I could empty it all
My beautiful girl
All the nerves I have, goes away
Down the loo
But I just cant make love
When I've got piss soaked feet
You could be my wife
If I could have a wee

If could hold it in
And locate your loo
I would keep my pride
Before I need

A poo...

Wrote this ages ago and found it buried in the depths of my laptop this morning. Not as accurate as I'd hoped for but it works. Even after listening to 'Hurt' over 50 times in 2.5 hours, the song is still as powerful and moving as it is on the first listen.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Waterfall Swallet- A Big, Beautiful Watery Hole In The Ground.

Hello folks.

  Out there on that lovely quiet road between Eyam and Foolow lies a really cool spot known as the Waterfall Swallet. Essentially being a big tree-lined hole in the ground with a large waterfall in it, it is always a nice little place to visit on rainy days or when you wish to stay out a bit longer after a short wander...

The Waterfall Swallet, home to the 2nd highest waterfall in the Peak District.

Looking back up to the descent path. It is nearly always
very, very muddy.
  Getting to it couldn't be easier- simply park in Eyam or Foolow (parking closer by is non-existent and if you try to, it just needlessly pisses the landowners off) and enjoy a pleasant 10 minute plod along the road to Waterfall Farm. On the opposite (north) side of the road you'll notice a big copse of trees. Take the obvious track towards them, then through a small gate down a steep and very muddy track down into the hole. Please note- the Waterfall Swallet lies on private land, although visitors do seem to be tolerated. I've never had any problems visiting it over the years. Just don't park like a dickhead, only go in small groups and be discreet.

  The rewards for such a tiny amount of energy? Well, there are many! Descending into the hole you get a nice sense of  the whole place feeling very hidden from the outside world. Wander about and soak up this amphitheater- the vertical walls of mud, moss and rotten rock lined with a tangle of trees give the place a jungle-esque feel to it. Very clearly in view is a 15m high waterfall- the 2nd highest in the Peak District after the Kinder Downfall- which is pretty impressive and mesmerising to watch, especially in spate. The floor of the swallet is notably exceptionally muddy, and where the stream drains underground into a small sinkhole moving about can be quite 'interesting' to say the least. Word has it that during after winter storms the whole floor can flood- which although I've never seen it myself- is definitely believable and would make for a very cool sight!  A content 20 minutes can be spent just chilling out among the water, mud, and trees whilst nicely cut off from the world above.
The Barrel Inn at Bretton. One of the nicest places to
sit outside and enjoy a pint in Peakland.

  That's the Waterfall Swallet then. Oh, on a nice day the Barrel Inn at Bretton is just about the loveliest pub in Peakland to sit and have a pint on a sunny afternoon/ evening whilst gazing over the Hucklow Plain to Longstone Moor. And close by below Litton is Peter's Stone which is worthwhile visiting for a short-but-sweet scramble. If the weather is rubbish and the belly is hungry you can't go wrong with the Red Lion at Litton for cosy atmosphere and great food. Another little detour is the short plod up Litton Edge for idyllic views over the village and the Limestone Plateau. Rainy days in Peakland don't need to involve trudging through the hell that is Bakewell or drowning in a bog on Kinder. Winning!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

In Search Of A Beautiful Place To Be Sick (A Cycle Up Sir William Hill)

  On Sat 18th February 2017, 5 curious and still rather sleepy explorers met by Pop's Supermarket in Sheffield.

  It was a fine, mild, almost spring-like day when our protagonists- Johnny (Birthday Boy), Becka, Marketa, Erin (Beardy) and Mr Botion (me) gathered around their bikes and discussed the objective. Somewhere out there beyond the falling trees of the city lay the 'hill of hills'. So unforgiving to cyclists, so endlessly brutal to all challengers and so steep it could make even most hardcore Green Party member consider buying a car, it had even been knighted. 'Sir William Hill' in fact. Birthday Boy stated the plan- to discover if the road up it was the most beautiful place to make yourself sick within 10 miles of Sheffield. All agreeing to the idea, especially given that they had just eaten dinner and would quite like to see it splattered all over some damp tarmac, they straddled their bikes and set off into the afternoon light.
Somewhere in Grindleford. Upward. It begins.

  With Becka and Birthday Boy out in front, the team gradually made their way out to Fox House along the long plod up Ringinglow Road. Looking like a smelly caterpillar on wheels and providing easy sport for a few bits of strava-loving lycra to overtake, no fucks were given. 45 minutes went by and suddenly Sir William Hill loomed ahead beyond Fox House like a big lumpy lump. A speedy descent past 'Sheffield on Sea' (aka, Padley Gorge) to Grindleford followed where everyone regrouped at the base of the hill by the watery River Derwent.

  Psyche was high. The elevation was low. Beardy's beard bobbled in the gentle breeze. Food was eaten and a few photos were taken before the ensuing battle. Several cars went past wondering what on earth they were doing. Little did they know...

  Five minutes later and it was time to go. Upwards. The initial brutal near-vertical start sent everyone's legs into a big lactic fire as height was gradually gained. It burned. Victory wouldn't be easy. Our five heroes slowly separated, with Mr Botion leading the charge and Marketa doing a grand job plugging away at the back. Each member became absorbed in their own little world- consisting of nothing more than endless uphill, yet more tarmac and trying not to puke. The scenery on either side was wonderful- the Eastern Edges rose like a crag-dotted wooded wave behind and the open expanse of Eyam Moor glistened ahead. It would indeed be a beautiful place to be sick. Onward, those 20 minutes felt longer than enduring a minimal techno set. Forever endless.

The cycling was so good it made Erin and Marketa all
dreamy-eyed. (Photo by Rebekah Buckman)
  Somehow, the trig point on Sir William Hill was sighted as 5 knackered cyclists hauled their haggard legs to the top, lay down on the damp green grass and gorged on cream eggs and vegan things. It has been hard but victory was saccharine sweet. 20 idle minutes to soak up the dry views over Peakland, throw some of the last remaining snow at each other and gaze westward beyond.

  Gathering themselves together and miraculously avoiding arthritis on the bumpy track towards Bretton, our group set off onto the unknown road leading around the Highlow Hills to Hathersage. Re-energized after the summit, a close-knit convoy of mud and rubber headed west.

On the road around the Highlow Hills
  Like a sunrise after a long winter's night, suddenly it dawned on them shining bright. They were experiencing cycling perfection. Down through Bretton and Abney, then down again to Hathersage, the cycling was like nothing else before. For mile after blissful mile the road went in a succession of eye-meltingly fast straights and glorious flowing corners though backwater Pennine heaven. And without a car in sight. Marketa and Becka chatted in their Czech-Colorado accents, Beardy's beard ripped in the wind, Birthday Boy's flowing locks flowed and Mr Botion grinned like an idiot. It was a great reward. A moment to be savoured. Times were happy.
Mr Botion, Beardy and Birthday Boy (Johnny) in the mood for
moonshine and the long plod up 'The Surprise'.
(Photo by Rebekah Buckman)

  Since 90% of people travelling from Sheffield into the Derwent Valley go over it, 'The Surprise' really didn't come as much of a surprise. It should really be called 'The Inevitable'. And so with a deep sense of inevitability our merry band of humans began the long, easy ride back from Hathersage along its gradual, mellow incline. Their hearts were now set on a pint of Moonshine (Abbeydale Brewery) in the Norfolk Arms and nothing- short of the pub forcing them to listen to Coldplay- would stop them. Every last available molecule of oxygen was consumed, the pedals turned and the miles went by.

  Finally, eventually, the Norfolk Arms was reached. Our five joyous hero's drank Moonshine and eat scampi fries to much celebration whilst a couple of Daily Mail readers wondered why they didn't just bloody drive instead. Birthday Boy was delighted in his plan succeeding. They had done it. The most beautiful place to be sick near Sheffield had been found. They'd survived with their dinners still digesting in their bellies and a slice of cycling perfection had been the greatly great reward. All that remained was the easy blast back home...

   This is an account of a little cycle some mates and I went on last Saturday. Hillwandering is always my main passion but on damp late winter days when the hills are soaking and in cloud it is great to jump on the bike and see them in a different way. You stay dry, go fast and get back home having seen something and not end up wearing half a peat bog on your clothes. Like the odd climb, hard scramble and swim, it is good to mix things up a bit for a fuller appreciation of the hills.


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Perfect Day on the Isle of Skye

  Hillwandering isn't all about epic 50mile+ walks and multi-day bivvies on Scafell Pike. Sometimes the very best days can involve little more than a short walk and a big chill somewhere beautiful.

  Blaven on the Isle of Skye for example. For an airy little perch with unforgettable views of sea, island and mountain, you'll struggle to find anywhere better. An added bonus is that you can camp on the isolated little beach of Camasunary, dip your toes in the sea whilst cooking breakfast and 2 hours and 3000ft later be chilling on one of the finest mountains in the UK.

  Back in May 2017 I finally made my first visit to Scotland. After quickly doing the Cullin Ridge Traverse in 1 1/2 days with two mates I decided to nosy alone down Glen Sligachan to the beach at Camasunary and have an idle two nights and a day in the mountains. The pace was mellow, there was no rushing, no big mileages, nothing more than sitting by the sea and a perfect day pottering about on Blaven above a vast sea of clouds.

  So here goes- a selection of photos from one of the most unforgettable days I've ever had- and it involved no more than 5 miles of walking!

  The Isle of Rum seen from my tent, with the Rum Cullin poking out above the cloud. Mornings like this are beautifully simple. Wake up by pottering along the beach and finding a stream to collect water from, then cook breakfast whilst listening to the waves lapping on the shore. The sun gradually gets warmer above a hazy blue sky and the mountains beckon. Anticipation builds. A good day lies ahead.

  The beautiful beach of Camasunary with the old bothy whilst the clouds floating below Gars-Bheinn suggest a possible inversion higher up. Despite a heavy pack and tired legs, that is all that is needed to lure me upward for the next 900m. 

  Looking back down on Camasunary from around 400m on Blaven. On days like this there is no rush, so I took it easy to take in the views. Anyways, after doing the Cullin Ridge two days previously I was a bit broken and slow- with plentiful soft grass, everywhere I looked there was a perfect couch to rest weary legs on.

  The Cullin Ridge poking above the cloud from Blaven's South Ridge. Excitement built up as the inversion began to reveal itself. The upper 300m of ascent feels like nothing with nice easy scrambling and views like this.

  A Broken Spectre on Blaven's South Ridge. A great little surprise! Noticing that there was some cloud floating in this gully and the sun directly behind, I made my way to the edge until my shadow was cast onto the cloud. Always cool to see!

  Sgurr Nan Gillean from Blaven. The cloud was notably thicker to the north over Glen Sligachan, with the cliffs of Blaven rising out of the ethereal wool.

  Sun, sea, cloud and islands. Looking back down on Camasunary where I camped with the Isle of Rhum on the horizon. 11am, the mountain to myself and no sound apart from the breeze- on a bank holiday. Some days you just get lucky!

  The Cullin Ridge in all its glory from Blaven's summit. One of the finest sights anywhere. After two hours amble, chill and scramble I reached the top of the mountain at 11am to be greeted by this view. What else to do but spend 4 hours sat about in the warm sunshine soaking it up. When you have food, water, sunshine and views like this there is no need to move. All human needs are met!

  A raven perched above the clouds. Watched him for a good half hour- wasn't bothered about humans and seemed quite content gazing northward and pottering about.

    First trip to Scotland, the Cullin Ridge Traverse done and now a day like this- happy as a pig in shit!

  View over Glen Sligachan to Sgurr Nan Gillean. During the lazy afternoon sat on the summit the cloud gradually began to disperse and thin out. Really cool to see it lingering over the mountains whilst a gap mirroring that of Glen Sligachan began to form.

     View north over the Red Cullin.

  Sgurr Nan Gillean from the way back down Blaven. After 4 perfect hours sat in the sun it was time to drag myself back down to Camasunary as the mountains shimmered in the late afternoon heat. Its at this point in the day you become coated in a film of peat, sweat and suncream, the bogs give off a distinct aroma and combine with the haze to give a slightly heady feeling. Keep on plodding, think of the cooling sea breeze and food. Perfect.

  Early evening and the beach at Camasunary beckons. There is not a stress in the world. Simply choose a nice bit of grass by the beach to pitch the tent, collect water, cook tea and sit late in the evening light gazing out to the Isle of Rhum and listening to the sea. Life is easy. Life is good!

  Late evening at Camasunary on a little potter around the beach, with Blaven on the right. By late May it is light until 23:00 so you can be as relaxed as you wish. It was pure bliss to poke around, soak everything up, try no to think of the 4am start and 8 mile plod to Sligachan in the morning and revel in one of the best (and easiest) days out ever.

  So there we go. Head somewhere beautiful, take it easy, get lucky with the weather and you can experience some of the best days ever in the hills. 50+ mile walks and epic days are great, but wandering in the hills is about much more. It is just as nice to to be in a place and enjoy a slower, more relaxed experience!

  Much more coming soon!