How Lucky am I?

How Lucky am I?

So Ivanka and I have been an item for almost a year and a half now and I have met somebody who loves adventure as much as I do. I met Ivanka through her brother Tommy one evening; months previously we were enjoying several late night/early morning pints and he said I should meet his sister. I thought to myself: would that be wise? He is a good mate and all that but do I want to go out with his sister? If it went wrong would he get pissed off? Is this the right thing to do?

Anyway, it all worked a treat. After attending a mates wedding in the August of 2009 I hooked up with Tommy and his sister Ivanka and we hit is off straight away. The intro was simple: “Action man, meet action woman – you two should talk.” And that was that. She never went home.

Back to the point. I have found a companion, a beautiful woman and she loves sitting on the back of the bike. Ivanka tells me she feels like a princess being ridden around; she just sits on the back and drifts off into her own world and watches the world go by. Whether it is heading off to the Dalmatian coast for a couple of weeks or returning to see the folks in Derbyshire she is an ideal pillion.

Ivanka is a very independent type who has had as much fun as I have had traveling-wise. Within weeks of meeting her I mentioned that I was going on a trip to Mount Everest Basecamp with friends in December that year. Ivanka joined us for the trip so our first holiday together was trip to the Himalayas.

Brighton Sea Kayaking and Mackerel

Brighton Sea Kayaking and Mackerel

Living in Brighton gives you great opportunities to play around with your grown up toys. Whether its a windy day and you want to go kitesurfing, or a still day and the other option is to get out on the kayaks and catch yourself some fish.

I have two Bic Ocean Kayaks which I share with my friend Sophie which we bought about 5 years ago and we have certainly had a few adventures on the sea, up the Adur river or along the Seven Sisters Country Park Estuary.  What I like about kayaking in Brighton is that you can miss all of the crowds that Brighton attracts and you can have your own peace and tranquility out at sea and have a good catch up with your mates. You can watch the bustling crowds from afar, plus you can catch your dinner and eat fresh fish within an hour of catching them.

When we go out to sea in Brighton we always go armed with a makerel line and we always enjoy venturing through the two piers. The circuit is usually entering the water from the east side of Brighton Pier, then after that we head west through or round Brighton’s main pier then we head towards the burnt down West Pier which is over a kilometer away. Depending on the shore drift and the swell we then decide whether it is wise to head out to the lobster pots and find some fish for dinner. The Brighton sea can be treacherous so it is very important to give the sea the respect it deserves; if the shore dump is too big or the white sea horses are too big then it is always a good idea to take a back seat on the sports for the day or go mountain biking or something.

In terms of catches of the day, the best we have ever achieved is catching 18 makerel in one go. If you are lucky enough to find  great catch like this then its a good idea to get on the phone to your friends so you can celebrate your success. Then it may be  a case of wrapping the fish in individually wrapped pieces of foil with oil, herbs and spices; then perhaps a quick visit to the local chip shop so you can have fish and chips beside the sea.

Where to Begin?

Where to Begin?

Planning a big trip requires lots of research and investigation in my opinion as you can’t underestimate this process. Having ventured to Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp in the two years previously I knew what I was letting myself in for. Plus I knew that as we were going for longer there were the big questions like whether we would rent our house out and what would we do with work?

I run my own marketing agency in Brighton and Ivanka leads strategy and design for a technology company so both of us had to have a look at different approaches or temporary exit strategies as we both want to continue with our careers on our return.

My first real effort to begin making plans started when I was referred to the adventure motorcycling handbook by Christ Scott this was recommended to me by a bloke I met at Bikes of Brighton. The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook and Lois on the Loose where his two recommendations.

Just Walk 2010: A training walk

Just Walk 2010: A training walk

This year, Pete, Jules and I are going to walk Trailwalker 2010 so we decided that we should do the Just Walk 60km event for training.

My main objective was to get to the end and not faint (like at the end of Just Walk 2009!), my second target was to try and avoid having horribly swollen hands (which seems to happen to me after about 20km) and thirdly, Jules and I really wanted to beat our time from last year. 60km in under 12 hours is excellent but we both secretly thought that without Temo (who is very new at this sort of thing) we would easily knock an hour off our time.

1) Avoiding fainting

Remembering that we had decided that the fainting was caused by too much water and not enough electrolytes I did some reading and some talking and some shopping and was armed with a whole variety of powders to put in my drinks and those sports jelly beans. I like sports beans – I used them on one (of the 3) Dunwich Dynamos I did and they are remarkably good at giving you a little kick and you only need to pop a couple at a time. Electrolytes? Check.

2) Swollen hands

I may have mentioned this elsewhere but I have a bit of a dodgy back so, when I went to Mount Everest Basecamp in December 2009 I decided to take walking sticks with me. My plan was that if my back had gone into spasm or my sciatica had started playing up I would have been able to haul myself around with two walking sticks. (As it happens, Nick and I used one each on that trek but that is a different story.) Using walking poles does stop my hands swelling up and it balances the weight better so my lower back seems to stay pain free for longer. Result.

3) Target time

We did the walk in 11 hours 25 minutes (or near enough). Jules and I had hoped for a better result so were disappointed which was a little annoying as the time is nothing to be ashamed of.

How did it go?

Nick came to pick me up this time (my mother actually refused: “Do it, but I am not coming to watch you collapse again!”) and I bundled myself into the car as quickly as possible – no dawdling, no fainting.

I had really bad blisters, particularly on my little toes; by some unpleasant chance I had blisters that went all round my little toes in a sort of cylindrical cushion. Not nice. A couple of weeks later my toe nails fell off, for the first time in my life, which rather inhibited my sandal wearing for the summer!

My boots have done some pretty impressive distances with me so I am very loathe to blame them for the blisters. My feet had swollen up quite badly and I think that was the main cause of the trouble. I realise that this might sound a little amateur but I blame the amount of sugar in all those electrolyte powders. For Trailwalker I am going to try and find some sugar free ones or use basic dioralyte – I think I can separate nutrition and salts. We shall see.

Heli Skiing From Panorama Mountain Resort

Heli Skiing From Panorama Mountain Resort

This day, without question has to be in my top 5 ever – I love Heli Skiing!

If you love skiing as much as I do and you can’t get enough of bashing through endless powder fields then this is the best experience you could wish for. Sitting in a helicopter with a group of skiiers and boarders, heading through the National Park and then landing on a mountain peak in the distance is unbelievable.  The adrenaline, the anticipation and the the protocol of diving out of a helicopter – grabbing your ski’s and then heading down an un-tracked mountain side is something else. We are talking waist deep powder every run, a minimum of 5 runs in total and each run must have taken about 45 minutes to get to the pick up point before we were swept away by our very own helicopter.

Organised by my pal Rupert at Ski Safari, we used the very experienced RK Heli Ski centre which is based out of Invermere in British Colombia. Panorama was a mountain resort we spent 2/3 days at as we continued our trek throuhg BC and the Canadian Rockies on this 3 week trip. Just to let you know Ski Safari are a quality mid to high end ski tour operator that specialise in organising multicentre ski trips in North America. It’s the sort of operator where you pick up the car, all the accommodation is arranged for you and then you travel between different resorts and properties depending on what you have booked. In my opinion (and having worked in the industry) this type of company works for me, it is minimal fuss, assistance is there if you need it and the type of holiday gives you complete flexibility to do what you want.  I think on this trip we also went to Ferne, Kicking Horse, Banf, Lake Louise and 3 or 4 other smaller resorts.

This particular day started at about 6am I seem to remember.

We arrived at the Heli-Centre early, Rupert had organised some great rates as he worked in the industry, we checked all of our gear, signed away the papers and then we sat around waiting for the rest of our group to arrive.  Fiddling with our avalanche transceivers, I remember the thoughts passing through my head as I think about how good the other skiers could be and whether my off piste skiing was good enough?

Navigating and soaring through the valleys the helicopters noise and ability to maneouvre was so impressive. Then the helicopter eventually lands as it positions itself literally on a overhang on a mountain peak with steep drops either side – all we have to do is dive out under the propellers, grab our gear and then get ourselves ready for the first descent. This took about 10 – 15 minutes.

Our mountain guide informed us about how the group was going to work and he gave us a strong briefing about the type of terrain. I remember it was a north facing slope (less sunlight and safer), we were going down 1 at a time and we were thinking about the lines we were all taking just so we all had the best and safest descent down possible.

So here we were, ready to do one of the runs of our lives and the heart was racing. I think I went second or third down and it was everything I hoped it would be. The first 10 metres or so were steep so it was a matter of adjusting my skiing position, getting a feel for the snow and anticipating what sort of approach I would take for my first heli ski run ever.

It was simple, I settled in with my rhythym, I soon started gasping for air as the snow continually covered my face and I remember looking around at the fellow skiiers as I anticipated hitting a forest in about half a mile.

It is hard to put into words exactly what this experience is all about.

It’s like one of those perfect powder days going on and on and on.

It was about pushing the legs as hard as possible and making sure that you get the best experience  possible as we eventually arrive safely back with the rest of the group with an ear to ear grin representing sheer satisfaction.

If you are a virgin ‘Heli Skier’ like I was then I think that this set up has got to be one of the best out there! My reasons for saying such a thing is purely down to the ski conditions in British Colmbia and my experience on the day.

Thanks Rupert!

The Napoleon and Grossglockner Pass

The Napoleon and Grossglockner Pass

A couple of years ago I fulfilled one of my own personal dreams as I asked my Dad if he wanted to go on a tour of Europe on the bikes to celebrate his 60th birthday.  Just me and my dad ‘Bob’, it was me leading him as we toured through many of the mountainous places that I had worked at – having traveled abroad for 6/7 years in the travel industry.

The journey started from Brighton for me and Matlock in the Peak District for my dad. I had a French flat mate at the time and we agreed on the idea of us dropping her off in Grenoble (on the way) so she would give us a nights accommodation on the first night of the trip. It was a smooth Newhaven to Dieppe crossing and then we began to eat the miles (as my dad liked to call it) as we managed to arrive in a moody and rainy Grenoble on the first night having done well over 500 miles in our first day.

The sights and adventures that we experienced during this trip were awesome and are extensive and would take me pages and pages to summarise; I have therefore decided to talk about the highlights which are the Napolean’s Pass and the Gross Glockner Pass:

The Napoleons Pass, French Alps

This we stumbled upon by accident really. We were going to head pass all the ski resorts I knew in the Southern French Alps Alpe D’Huez, Serre Chevalier, Montgenevre but a local biker told us that we should try the Napoleons pass.

So we did and it was amazing!

The current Route Napoléon, first opened in 1932, follows the route taken by Napoléon I (Napoléon Bonaparte) in 1815 on his march from Elba to Grenoble. In March of 1815, he began his journey with the intention to overthrow Louis the 18th. The historical aspect makes this road even better, Napoleon traced the route through the Alps leading to fabulous scenery and views.

It was a long valley that took us a couple of days to pass through and it consisted of the most perfect winding roads, breathtaking  scenery and charming little places along the way for scenic breaks and typically french cuisine. Every part of it was an absolute pleasure as I set the tone with my GS 1150 Adventure and my dad was on his hard tail Harley Davidson. One of the highlights on this particular section was when we set off one morning very early and we decided to skip breakfast because we thought we would find somewhere to eat on route. After about twenty minutes we found just the place we were looking for. It was a misty morning with the views drifting in and out of the valley and we saw a french fella sat outside his cafe bar having his morning ‘smoke’ and we decided this would be the place. No one else was at the stop as it was probably around 8 am and the guy said that he wasn’t ready to serve us any food yet because the bread delivery hadn’t arrived.

Therefore we sat and had a coffee, then a second, I had a cigar or two and my dad had his pipe – then eventually the freshly baked bread arrived and it was time for bread and jam, mountain scenery, valley mist and we were in our element. If ever you are traveling to the south of France, this has to be in your itinerary if you haven’t done it already.

The GrossGlockner Pass, Austria’s highest pass

This was one of those passes where we were wondering shall we shan’t we? It was May, there was precipitation on the valley floor and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t hit any snow at the higher parts of the mountain as it was 48km long and had 36 mountain bends. Alternatively it was a long trip around from this valley to the next valley to reach our intended destination if we didn’t use the pass. We made the decision to use this pass, it was something we really wanted to do and it was ideally situated so we could head towards Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Tyrol. It was misty at the entrance to the mountain and we tentatively checked with the gate to make sure that there was no snow on the road and that it was safe for motorcyclists to pass through. Though we were both apprehensive, the path was confirmed as being clear and so we set off to have a look at this great pass and moved onwards with our journey.

At 3,798m the Grossglockner is not only the highest mountain in Austria, it also counts among the highest peaks in the Alps. After about twenty minutes we stopped over looking a great view and we noticed another bike on the same journey with a British plate so we had ten minutes chatting with a biker called Susan from Scotland. Soon we were back in the swing of things again and then the weather began to move in.

It became quite windy and then all of a sudden the rain started once again.

Therefore we adjusted our riding accordingly and the climb just continued and continued and continued.. I was starting to feel a little bit nervous as I was leading up the hill, the rain was turning to sleet and our visors were soon getting blurry as the sleet was actually sticking to them. It was a matter of wiping off the thick film of sleet while keeping an eye on the road, while at the same time thinking whether the conditions were going to be ok?

In short, things didn’t improve at all. We continued climbing and I knew the summit was approaching however we still had a couple of hundred metres to climb. It was now snowing on the road however it wasn’t settling, the snow flakes were actually piercing my eyes like pins as we had to ride with our visors ajar as there was no way we could see through the film of snow which was bombarding us. I felt truly awful, thinking about Dad behind and also about the descent down the other side of the hill!!!

We eventually arrived at the summit, the snow was coming down consistently by now however there were no signs of it settling. There was a souvenir/ coffee shop open at the summit, we quickly dived in there for shelter and parked the bikes at the side of the road next to the snowy walls which lined the peaks. In the coffee shop while enjoying a hot drink, I got the look from Dad as to say ‘what are you doing bringing me here?’ Then the owner of the shop came over and told us that it was safer that we stayed in the shop until further notice. The Gross Glockner mountain safety team needed to assess the safety of the roads on the descending side for us; as there had been lots of precipitation it was considered dangerous as the rain, sleet and slow had made any snow heavier therefore there was a chance of avalanches!

After about 45 minutes of waiting we heard a faint explosion outside; it was the mountain team actually ‘blowing’ a few potential insecure pieces of snow to see if there was any potential for any slipping or avalanches. We were in very safe hands!

Another 20 minutes passed. A member of the Austrian mountain team came to have a chat with us and said it was safe for us to depart, he told us to take it easy on the way down and that they were going to sweep down the roads after us in case we were needed. What an adventure this was turning out to be.

Feeling watered, warm and having had a quick bite to eat both dad and I headed back to our bikes apprehensively once again as were we prepared ourselves for what lies ahead. The snow had now stopped so it was just a matter of looking out for any settled snow and being aware of the road conditions.

The descent was fine.

45 minutes later we exited the gross Glockner park and we headed for the nearest shelter so we could have a breather. For the first time in my life I shared a pipe with my dad as I had ran out of Cafe Cremes.  This was a great moment to reflect on the little adventure we had just shared together. Lots of ‘what ifs’ and a few edgy scenarios, but all in all two happy bikers, father and son – two people ready to head to Kitxbuhel so I could meet with one of my friends and look forward to seeing Man U vs Chelsea in the Champions League Final.

This tour of the Alps proved to be a very memorable trip and one of my best bike trips, it is easy to see why.

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