Tuesday, 17 January 2017

More than I can chew?

As mentioned in my last post a few weeks ago I've had something brewing behind the scenes. A thing I've wanted to do for a while now but hadn't wanted to reveal too much about as I'm really not sure whether or not I'll be able to manage it.

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I realise that for most folks that I've met and know who are active in the British outdoors the "Not The West Highland Way" probably isn't that big of a deal, but for me I suspect it'll be quite a bit of a challenge.

I came across Ronald Turnbull's guide book a long time ago after reading his fantastic "The Book Of The Bivvy" (which I also thoroughly enjoyed BTW). I've already got some previous personal experience doing the standard WHW and if I recall correctly I finished it in not much more than 3.5 days. I was however much younger and fitter back then but more importantly, it was the last major outdoorsy thing I can remember doing before the symptoms of my Sarcoidosis ruined lungs started to present themselves. Despite still struggling with the effects that the lung condition has had on my fitness levels I've sort of (mostly) come to terms with it and now just accept that I'm much slower these days. That being said, if I'm truly honest it still frustrates me to the point of tears on occasion and learning to deal with that frustration is still a work in progress. When I reflect on it (and I do frequently) I realise that the frustration comes from losing confidence in myself which stops me from getting out more which ultimately make me less hill fit meaning that I struggle more the next time etc etc. You can see how this quickly becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. I needed to do something about that and had been thinking about attempting one of the long distance routes and just doing it at my own, unhurried pace. Then it occurred to me that having already done the WHW then this route, if I could somehow manage it, with all it's high level alternatives and detours would surely prove (if only to myself at least) that I'm not a complete physical write off and also be quite poetic/cathartic into the bargain.

So, with my finish date at work now set in stone I'm going to seize the opportunity of being "between jobs" and go for a nice big long walk.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

An early Christmas!

After a year (almost to the day!) of silence in this place I've decided that it's time to revive it.

The reason for the silence is that I've not really done anything worth writing about over the last year in terms of the outdoors which is what this place is really for. I could give many excuse for that but I'm not going to. All I'll say is that I felt I needed a break away from blogging and my constant working abroad meant that when I was back in the UK I didn't really want to spend the precious time I had here with Louise away by myself on a summit.

There had been some movement recently behind the scenes here at Bigbananatowers with the end of what could probably be described as the worlds longest redundancy finally in sight...and with that end were some ideas and plans finally becoming that little bit more concrete.

I hadn't intended to start posting until next year, and I still don't really want to reveal my plans too early but on Friday, Santa came a little early and moved things a little closer into focus. First of all my redundancy has been shortened a little and I finally got my letter with an official finish date! (You have no idea how much joy that piece of paper brought me!) and secondly there was a little unexpected surprise in the post from the lovely Rosie at Buffwear.

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All I want to reveal at the moment on here is that there are some activities planned that should provide plenty of blog content. The main event should be taking place in March but there will be some lead up to it. It's a personal challenge that'll let me exorcise some demons as well as a sort of triumphant return to the Scottish outdoors...and I've already purchased some shiny new gear in anticipation of it so you could say that I'm already committed! Oh and I will definitely be taking and wearing my nice new Christmas present from Buff. Many thanks Rosie!

More details coming soon, but until then Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (When it comes) to you all!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Finally Got A "Round Tuit"

So there was a thing called the Leibster award that went round the outdoor bloggers over a year ago, and it seems that I never posted a response to my nomination because I'm a grumpy git or something along those lines... Anyway, Louise has gone to bed and I'm still working my way through some Christmas ales, having some "Sandy time" and generally just enjoying the stillness of a quiet hoose and came across a half written Blog post response to it that I never ended up finishing.

I know it's late but I thought I should maybe post it anyway...

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1.What was it that first got you into outdoor activities?

I suppose I’ve always been an outdoorsy sort and consider myself lucky to be old enough to have grown up just before the facebook and touch screen revolution that see’s youngsters these days permanently glued to a device of some sort instead of interacting with the world around them.  I grew up in East Kilbride living on the edge of some of South Lanarkshire’s finest scenery. 
Weekends and after school was spent roaming the local woods, building treehouses, catching stickleback in the local pond and exploring for miles over the local hills and fields. Then when I was old enough I joined the scouts which allowed me to learn a lot of the more essential skills for hill walking and camping. I had a brief interlude where I discovered beer, pubs and girls etc before stumbling across outdoorsmagic where  I met a load of likeminded folk and got myself back out there. (I still like beer and pubs mind you, but I'm married so now there's only one girl for me)  I don’t really frequent or contribute much to OM anymore these days but still occasionally lurk. I find it hard enough to find time for writing on here sometimes so there’s no chance of contributing lots to a forum.

2.You’re on a multi-day backpacking trip. Which luxury item do you take?

Does it have to be only one? I find I have many items I’d consider a luxury when backpacking in the hills. My kindle is pretty much a must have luxury especially for those long nights in winter. I’ll often take a little booze of some sort, usually a beer (or 2) or some nice single malt. Something nice for pudding (whatever I fancy from the cake section in the shops before the trip). There’s plenty more but I’ve covered entertainment, food and drink.

3.What’s the most physically challenging trip you’ve ever undertaken?

Hmmm, I’m not sure how best to answer this one but here goes…
Regular readers and those who know me will probably have gathered that I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis in my lungs a while back. Like typical Mr West of Scotland man I have to be practically on my death bed before I’d consider making a doctor's appointment so I ignored my symptoms and just kept putting my failing hill fitness down to a lack of getting up the hills often enough. The few times I did manage to get out, I found myself falling way short of even my own modest expectations but  I didn’t really start to realise that something wasn’t quite right until after a few trips out with others, where frankly I was embarrassed by my performance. Shortly after this I caught a chest infection from Louise and after failing to shift it for several weeks she then nagged me (like all good wives do) into going to see the doctor.
 I won’t go into detail about the Sarcoidosis in this post but to answer the question above, I’d have to say that my most physically challenging trip was my trip to Skye with Kendal mountaineering services. I was physically burst from the exertion and no matter how hard I tried I just could not keep pace with the other folks on the trip. It knocked my confidence somewhat and I found myself more than a little out of my comfort zone at times. To be physically sore is one thing but to be in a place mentally where you start to doubt yourself and your abilities is really not good.
 Hindsight’s wonderful though.  I've come to terms with my physical limitations and learnt to accept them and now that I know now what was causing me to struggle at the time I don't doubt myself anymore. At the time though, I found it really tough.

4.Lager or real ale?

Real ale without a doubt.  My favourites are brewed locally in Strathaven but part of it is tasting the different ales from around the country. I’m no real ale snob though and wouldn’t turn my nose up at a lager…especially if you’re buying ;-)

5.What’s the best thing about camping?

Far too many things to list or talk about here. For me it’s the whole experience and every trip brings something new…although just the act of getting away from it all and escaping whatever stresses you happen to have in life at the time must consistently rank pretty high.

6.What’s the worst thing about camping?

Lying awake being unable to catch some ZZZs for whatever reason (too cold, lumpy ground, noisy tent, etc) and knowing you’re going to suffer for it the next day.  There's not much worse than being tired and crabbit on the hills in adverse conditions. That’s what leads to bad decisions.

7.What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?

"Hike your own hike."

We’ve all heard the saying but it’s taken me many years to properly understand it. Hike your own hike, choose your own route and don’t be afraid to stray from what’s considered to be the correct way.  It applies in so many ways and to so many things. In fact it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently and may expand upon soon in another post.

8.What’s the oldest piece of gear you have? Do you still use it?

An old Vango Tempest 2 tunnel tent. It’s too heavy to carry solo and I’ve got other 2/3 man alternatives that are both bigger and lighter.  I still use it occasionally, though it’s pretty much been relegated to festival camping.

9.Headphones on the hill, yes or no? If yes, what’s playing?

No. I’ve tried but it feels weird and somehow wrong to be out in amongst nature and then drown it out. I like hearing the wind, the rain, the birdsong, the gurgle of a stream or burn, the sound of my own breathing, the crunch and squeak of snow underfoot, etc. It’s all part of the experience for me.

10.If you could only climb one mountain, which one would it be?

That’s a tough question and one I suspect I’d answer differently every time you asked me. The most recent one to shoot to the top of my favourite list is Ben Donich. Can’t I just have the whole Arrochar Alps area?

11.When will be your next big outing?

Hopefully in the next week or two. I’ve been stuck working a lot of overtime recently and I’m starting to get a little stir crazy now. Unfortunately I think my next weekend off might be spent lying underneath the Landy though as it’s overdue a service and needs a few jobs doing.

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Actually the answer to number 11 up there is a lie, or at least things have changed since I wrote it. I've since been back and forth to Malaysia for work for a fair chunk of this year (despite still facing redundancy) which seems to have stolen most of my time available to get outdoors.

My redundancy situation now appears to have an end in sight so I can start making plans (and act upon them) for the future. I don't normally go in for the whole New Years Resolutions thing but having seen the subtle difference in photies on here of my ugly mug on trips a mere 7 months apart (and also seeing my current reflection in the mirror) I'm going back to the running. It hurts and I hate it but as I get older, I've come to realise that sometimes doing the stuff you dislike can be worth the effort. I'm going to try get out on the hills a bit more regularly this year (although January is a non starter as I'll be overseas again for my last trip to Malaysia) and I'm also going to try keep posting in this place a little more regularly too as I like looking back on it. It serves as a place to inspire me (and hopefully others), jot down thoughts and let off a little steam when I rant on about something that's often trivial or simply to just share the joy of being outside. Either way it's a little cathartic and I think it helps me in some way.

If I don't post again this side of Hogmanay then I wish all the best to you and yours.

BTW if anyone wants to continue or start up the Leibster thing again please reply in the comments and I'll think up some suitable questions for you.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A watched pot...

Made the most of last weeks "Indian Summer" and managed to sneak off out for a late afternoon/evening wander (complete with dinner) with Nelliedug last week.  Sometimes wee unplanned jaunts are the best!

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Thursday, 1 October 2015

High UV Buff with Insect Shield

For the past few months I've been using the High UV Buff with Insect Shield kindly sent to me by Anth from Kitshack.

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It's the usual continuous tube constructed from the Coolmax fabric that so many of us are familiar with but this one is slightly special as it has a few extra useful features. It's been tested to be effective at an average of 95% ultra violet protection which equals an average UPF of 20. The fabric has been treated with the always useful Polygiene Odor Control to keep you fresh on multi day trips and it has been treated with Insect Shield Technology which is claimed to remain effective in the garment for 70 washes.

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Buff's are not a new thing. In fact I'm pretty sure most outdoorsy folks own at least one and if you don't, then trust me you should! I know there are some of the opinion that it's just a silly over priced piece of fabric and we've all heard the moans on the forums et all but to all the naysayers I hereby challenge you to take a pair of your lightweight tent pegs and go and knit me something that's as useful and lightweight as this innocuous piece of fabric...and if you manage it, I'll eat my hat buff.

Why are they so good I hear some of you cry? Well first the size and weight is negligible and if you're worried about how heavy it is then frankly you're beyond help. As an item of clothing they simply fill in so many roles that it's ridiculous. Everything from a simple scarf to a face shield. From a warmish beanie (ideal weight for those on the move in winter) to a bandanna. From a balaclava to a sweat band. From a hairband to a sahariane. From a...well you get the idea. What else does it do you may ask? Well I've used them to mop up condensation in a small tent. I've used them to hold a particularly hot cooking pot that I'm eating from. I've used them to dry said pot after I've rinsed it out. I keep one wrapped round my delicate meths stove to prevent it rattling and getting damaged when stored in my cook kit. I've cleaned my sunglasses with it. I've even been known to blow my nose on it.

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When I got my hands on the one that Kitshack sent me I immediately noticed how worn and threadbare my old ones have gotten which is hardly surprising given how long they've been in active service. It's quite nice to be using a new one again. Pleasant in a way that's hard to quantify but similar in fashion to that of new socks for example.

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The Buff has been doing double duty in our household for the last couple of months as Louise and I have both been wearing it a lot. Louise reports using it most mornings during her cycle to work as a liner under helmet to keep her ears warm and her hair out of the way. I've been wearing it during Nelliedug's evening walk as either a beanie on the cooler evenings and as a make shift sun hat or sweat band on the warmer evenings if the pace is faster. I can also report that on those warmer evenings I've never been bothered by the clouds of midges that gather in our local woods. I foresee it being used more and more as a face shield or balaclava as winter properly sets in over the coming months and that's the point about these things. They're just so versatile.

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I'm not sure there's much more I can say about how great these simple wee items are. I'll say this though. I've always had one on my person or in my pack when I'm out and about and I'm glad it's now one that protects me from the UV rays and appears to keep the midges away.

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