Friday, April 29, 2016

A leap of faith. Destination Unknown.


Image Copyright Yoram Hen.

With this years Tour Divide attempt on the rocks I'm finding myself at a bit of a loose end and wondering what to do about it.
Of course I always have a long list of adventures simmering in the back of my mind and new ones get added all the time, so what to do?
It's also possible that I have reached a cross-roads in my life and there's no time like the present (is there?). I have some big decisions to make, or not. Do I maintain the status-quo and continue as is? I like my current lifestyle very much. Or do I begin a whole new adventure? I'm a little excited at the prospect of a new direction. I'm also quite scared by it.
Firstly I have the time consuming process of moving house to get through over the next few months so I'm fairly restricted by that, and my working life will be pretty chaotic until September. The compulsion to rush off on something big has to be temporarily tempered; something I'm not very good at. (I am, however, very good at procrastinating).
I have a few ideas swirling around in the back of my head for later in the year, maybe, and I'll just have to decide which one is most practical (or more likely which one is most fanciful).
My long-list contains such frivolous things as a bicycle tour through Central America, an exploration of The Azores (now that the budget airlines are flying there), a (bicycle) road trip through Holland, Denmark, and Sweden, and a particularly ambitious adventure taking in Ascension Island, St Helena, and Cape Town, involving a military flight from RAF Brize Norton and a short voyage on a Royal Mail ship; these however are unlikely to come in under budget.

Instead I'm going to try and spend a little spare time doing something I find equally as rewarding; and that is to try and inspire others to travel a little differently. Something akin to Alistair Humphreys' "Microadventures" project (but perhaps not quite as successfully).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pop goes the bubble.


Where to begin...?
I'm feeling a bit deflated right now.
Firstly, for a few reasons, I have had to make the unbearably difficult decision to defer my Tour Divide attempt until next year or possibly even 2018. Currently, in my head, I'm aiming for next year but that can only be decided over the next few months.
Primarily because I've got to move house pretty much right in the middle of what would have been my 2016 Tour Divide race. This has been on the cards, as a possibility, for a couple of years but this week, unfortunately, it has become a reality. I could maybe go out and just do the race but I want it to be part of a bigger adventure and I don't really want to be under pressure with difficult time constraints. I want to enjoy the adventure.
I've invested too much financially, physically, and emotionally not to do it.
Of course it's not the end of the world, life throws curve-balls at us all the time and you have to roll with it, it just feels like a bit of a weight right now.
But it's also exciting in other ways; as one door closes and all that stuff. The last time I reached a cross roads in my life I ended up living in France for the best part of two years managing a fishery complex, so hey-ho. My current work contract runs until September and maybe I'll go off on a different adventure after that? Who knows? The next few months are an uncertain time for me but getting stressed out about it won't change it or make it any easier. The world keeps turning and I'll keep on chasing the rainbow.

Stick around and we'll share the journey together :)

The Tour Divide is a fantastic race. This year see's quite a few British riders taking part. 
Alpkiteers Tom (11 years old) and Rich Seipps are doing it on a tandem and speed demon Guy Martin is also taking part, amongst others.

You will be able to follow their live progress from friday 10th of June using the link below.

Tour Divide Live Tracking



Friday, April 22, 2016

First look: Alpkit Hooped Bivvy-Bag (prototype).


Some time ago I had a chat with Nick at Alpkit about the possibility of adapting one of their Hunka Bivvy bags in to an ultralite hooped bivvy for The Tour Divide.
After a little brainstorming session Nick went away to work on something for me.
This is the result. It's the first working prototype of, I believe, a potential production model. I hope I haven't jumped the gun here and let the cat out of the bag.
I've christened her "Little Nellie".


Nick pretty much nailed it first go.
Mitch Bryan and I will be doing some CO2 testing on it for safety purposes (breathability) and then I'll take it out in the field and see how I get on with it. It's a new laminate material and Nick seems pretty excited about it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Long Term Review: Pivot LES 29er.


Pivot LES 29" Carbon Hardtail.


I've had my LES for about a year and for the most part it is a fantastic bike. I've ridden it an awful lot.
I rode it hard almost every day during 3.5 months in Nepal; including Yak Attack. I also used it for The Strathpuffer 24.
It does however have a couple of issues that need to be considered before you part with your hard earned cash. I'll come to these later.
It isn't cheap; £1600 for the frame only is a lot of money. These days you can still buy a pretty good full-build trail hardtail for that kind of cash.
For a full build you will be looking at somewhere between £2500 and £5000, that's a lot of money! Is it worth it?

It's very stiff and super responsive, and those big old 29" wagon wheels means that it climbs like a mountain goat. All of this is aided by the 12x142 bolt-thru rear end, 92mm BB housing and a huge downtube.
It also goes down hill in an impressive manner, in fact it is massive grin-inducing fun, and the harder you ride it the more it proves its capability. The very short chainstays keep it really snappy. The big wheels do require a more aggressive approach to cornering but I soon got used to that. On rough trails the chatter absorption of the carbon is a godsend. Dropper post compatibility is catered for with a 30.9mm seat tube.
I have the small - 16"- version and it is extremely comfortable for all day epics (and 24 hours races).
As a ride it is actually quite amazing, it's an extraordinarily capable machine.
I've run it with a 60mm stem, 120mm suspension fork, and a dropper seatpost, as a super capable trail weapon.
I've also run it with a 100mm stem and a rigid carbon fork and it's been a super comfortable endurance bikepacking machine.
It is definitely very versatile. 

However...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Israel - The Promised Land? Mad dogs, Englishmen, & Israeli's go out in the midday sun.

©Yoram Hen
Preconceptions, no matter how hard you try to resist them, are always very different from reality.
Israel is a country that gets a lot of press, that carries with it some political baggage, and some hefty misconceptions.
It is a country considered by many to be nothing more than a virtual desert wasteland.
It is also considered by many to be something of a war zone.
I was asked on more than one occasion why I was going there. 
As I was to find out during my trip it is far from either.

What I actually found was a safe, modern, vibrant, country with a pristine and diverse landscape.
A landscape that is cherished, invested in, and very clean. It is one of the cleanest countries I have had the pleasure to visit.
I met warm and welcoming people who were excited, and proud, to show me the best that their country has to offer, and it definitely has a lot to offer.
I even saw a wild tortoise! (wild in the free-roaming sense, not wild in the angry sense!). I'd never seen a tortoise in the wild before.

It is also remarkably accessible from The UK. My five hour flight from Manchester to Tel Aviv cost £180 return with easyJet, and a very reasonable £70 for my bike (which allowed up to 32kgs!).
A five hour flight, a two hour time difference, and visa-free entry,  makes it a very realistic option for a short (or long) winter break. I flew out on Thursday lunchtime, arrived in Tel Aviv around 7.00pm local time, enjoyed four fantastic days of mountain biking, and flew home on Monday evening. No jet lag, no hassles.

In the early part of last year I was introduced to Yoram Hen and his brother Michael, by mutual friends in Kathmandu, and we, in turn, became friends. He regaled me with tails of epic singletrack in his homeland.
In November I bumped in to him, once again, in Kathmandu, and he extended to me an invitation to go out and see them for myself. I was bewitched by his photographs and videos and so I took up the offer. I love to visit new destinations, I love to visit friends with my bike even more.
And it just so happens that my friend Yoram has an encyclopedic knowledge of Israels burgeoning trail network. How could I refuse?