Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Review: Alpkit Atom LitePak.

Alpkit are a company that are going places (in more ways than one!), and they just won Online Retailer of the Year 2015 at the prestigious TGO Awards. Recent restructuring has seen them move up a gear in terms of product development and with that comes a measured increase in the range of equipment that they currently offer to customers.
The Atom LitePak is just one of these.

In the spring of 2015 I was tinkering about at home with some simple designs for just such a product when it conveniently popped up on their website. Plenty of outdoor manufacturers do a similar product but none of them were fitting in with what I needed. Most were way too big; the Sea-To-Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack, for example, is a whopping 20 litres. The 11 litre LitePak was just what I was looking for. I wanted something compact, light, and unobtrusive, for stashing food supplies during bikepacking trips, and for kicking around town when travelling.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Eastern Promise: A cycling adventure in Nepal with ThamBikes.

Some time ago I was contacted by a lady I had met at one of our "Tongba nights" in Kathmandu, Jo Chaffer.
She was  embarking on a project (ThamBikes) to search for, and then package, new mountainbike routes and destinations in Nepal. Jo wondered if I "might be interested in getting involved?"
Let me think about that for a minute - "Would I be interested in exploring uncharted trails on my mountainbike in Nepal with the potential to follow it up with guided trips? Hmm?
Not many Benny!!! Absolutely I would!
And so it came to pass, that in March this year, I, along with my buddy Mitchell Bryan, found ourselves being collected from Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, by Jo and a couple of guys in a pick-up truck from Thamserku (Nepal's leading adventure travel provider, and partner in the venture).

Friday, October 23, 2015

Yak Attack 2015 - The Prologue.

It's Yak Attack time again!


Here's my view on the potential "movers and shakers" for this edition of the worlds highest mountain bike race in Nepal.

After the disastrous earthquakes that shook Nepal in the spring a lot of racers have deferred their entries until next years 10th anniversary race. It's a real shame but I can hardly blame them for being cautious, the recovery process is painfully slow and will be ongoing for many years to come.
However a magnificent 27 adventurous souls have still committed to racing in what is widely recognised as one of the hardest mountain bike stages-races on earth.
As a three-time contestant I can certainly vouch for its status, every year throws up different challenges and its "extreme" tag is well deserved. This year I will be out there supporting my friend, Race Director, Phil Evans with the organisation; instead of racing. It's actually something of a relief, and a personal challenge that I'm really looking forward to. I don't actually have a title but I think "Assistant Race Director" has a nice ring to it!
Well you've got to dream BIG :D

Once again The North Face (Nepal) have stepped up to the plate as title sponsors for The Showdown in The Annapurna's, and even with the reduced field there are some big guns lined up for the shootout.
Tyler McMahon warming up for the start of Yak Attack 2014.

Another milestone is to be surpassed this year. My friend (and great rival!), Nepal based USA rider, Tyler McMahon will become Yak Attack's most decorated international racer with his fourth tilt at this testing event. I'm not the only one with a passion for this race.
Tyler is always good for a strong finishing position and I'm certain he'll put on a good show. Good luck my friend, I'll be shouting for you (mostly, haha).

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bike-Fitting. The Appliance of Science.

As part of my on-going preparation for The Tour Divide I decided it was time to get correctly fitted to my bike for the ultra-endurance training & riding journey that I'm embarking on.
A quick search on the internet threw up a few local options and I booked in at (be)spoke Derby for one of their Bike-Science Retul precision bike fitting sessions.

It's probably something I should have done a few years ago really. For anyone with racing or endurance aspirations it is an essential element. For most recreational riders it is less so, you can walk in to any decent bike shop these days and get sized and fitted reasonably well to any stock bike; and riding for 3-4 hours is unlikely to throw up any worrying underlying niggles. Back-to-back 80-100+ mile days, however, and you will start to notice little issues fairly quickly. That's where a bike-fit comes in.

From their website:

"A bike fit is one of the most important things a cyclist can do to help get the best from their bike. Precision bike fitting will help your bike work as hard as you do, allowing you to ride longer and better.

Benefits of a bike fit

- improved comfort and efficiency

- help prevent injury 

- reduce or eliminate existing aches and injuries 

- prevent numbness at contact points 

- reduce fatigue"

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Peak District Microadventure; Testing Kit for The Tour Divide.

I've been on a little microadventure!
I've been wanting to say that for ages, I feel like I've now joined a special club! Microadventure is the latest buzz-word for, well, doing stuff. You know, like going camping overnight, or going for a long walk and a picnic, or something similar; often with minimal amounts of kit and planning, spur of the moment stuff. It's an adventure that doesn't take too long; it's a way of encouraging people to go out and do stuff, and that is a very good thing.
I hope my adventures encourage people to go out and do stuff, that would be a very good thing also! :)
Actually my adventure was more of a mini-adventure than one of the micro variety.
It was 140 miles of mountainbiking on some, at times, tough trails, with an an uncomfortable overnight camp under a little bridge. It probably doesn't sound like much fun, but it was (mostly!).

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Review: First look - Alpkit Kepler Merino Baselayer Range.

Alpkit Kepler Merino Baselayers.

Alpkit have been on a bit of a mission lately with a lot of new products being drip-fed to consumers throughout the course of the year.
One of these - The Kepler Merino Range - has been on my radar for a while.
I'm a huge fan of merino wool products, I have a fair bit of it in my wardrobe, so I was excited to check out their offerings to see how they measure up.
The benefits of merino wool are well documented, great breathability, quick drying, fast wicking, warm when wet, and extremely resistant to odours. In recent years it's become the de-rigueur product of choice for most outdoor users and manufacturers.
With the likes of Rab and Icebreaker retailing some serious high-end performance products the competition is stiff.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Shaken & Stirred. Earthquake Nepal.

Where to begin? Tough question.
Tough experience.

What remains of the magnificent Dharahara Tower in Kathmandu.

11.56am April 25th 2015

When the recent earthquake shattered the peace of Nepal I was caught right in the middle of it all.
Wilco Voulon, our friend Celine Hullemann, and I, were sat chatting and enjoying coffee on the first floor of Himalayan Java, on Mandala Street, in the heart of Thamel, Kathmandu (Just about the last place in the city that you would want to be under such circumstances, tall buildings, tiny streets, and packed with people and vehicles).
As we sat drinking I thought to myself "What's that noise?", a strange low rumbling sound outside; and then all hell broke loose. The building began to shake violently, stuff started falling off the walls. People screaming. Someone shouting "Get out of the building". We were already on our way.
Luckily we were close to the exit. The floor was moving under our feet, the doorway rocking from side to side, the whole thing was moving in three dimensions, and we were being thrown around. There was a lot of panic around us but I managed to keep my wits about me and remain relatively calm; perhaps it's a lifetime of solving problems, as an engineer, that gave me the tools to do that, or perhaps a lifetime of adventure that allows me to allows me to assess, and respond to, danger very quickly; who knows? I'm thankful for it now, whatever it is.
I was though still fighting the urge to panic.
We had to cross a small bridge, descend some stairs, and enter the street, before we could even consider anything else, and with debris falling all around us each split-second decision was gut wrenching.
I was shaken, like the buildings around me, to my very foundations.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Carp Scene, Derbyshire. A new blueprint for specialist retail.

The new Carp Scene Superstore.

Some of you may be surprised by this, considering that most of my posts are usually travel or mountainbike related, but my real passion in life is Carp Fishing!

Carp Scene is a new angling superstore. It started life around 40 years as The Tackle Box in Somercotes, Derbyshire (my local shop). Around 15 years ago Mark Goodwin took it over from, the retiring, Terry Marriot and it started to morph, away from general fishing, in to a carp fishing store.
Then, a couple of years ago, along came Mick Hancox; who bought a share of the business from Mark and they started to up the ante. Mick was formerly a partner in the then uber-cool and successful Planet Carp in Nottingham (sadly no longer the store it was in those days) and he brought serious specialist retail knowledge to the table; along with the drive to develop the shop in to a big hitter. With a recent third partner, Nick Rhodes, joining the gruesome twosome, the investment was in place to make the next step. and so they did. And it is a BIG step.
What you might call a "game changer".

Sunday, March 8, 2015

I think it's time for another adventure! Yo-Yoing back to Nepal.

This week I am off on my travels again! :)
I'm heading out to Nepal for a couple of different adventures; two weeks of Mountainbiking, followed by three weeks of high-altitude trekking.
As you might imagine, I am looking forward to it.
This time around I will be travelling with friends again. Mitch Bryan is coming out for the first part of the trip which will see us out in Eastern Nepal, around Ilam & Kanchenjunga, recce'ing new routes for an upstart tour company called ThamBikes.
After that I am meeting up with Wilco Voulon for the trekking part.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Tour Divide; a few developments so far.

It's a long road towards cycling down a long road!

Where do I start?
There are so may things to consider when taking on a challenge like The Tour Divide. It's a veritable minefield of questions, answers, and more questions. I've had eureka moments, and a lot of total-confusion-moments!

Bike set-up, luggage set-up, sleeping set-up, food & water storage, clothing, technology, suitable training routes; the list seems to be endless right now. I'm going through the rollercoaster that all previous Divide racers have been through before me.
Some of my answers have come through trial and error, some from personal experience, some from reading about other peoples experiences, in books and on the internet. I still have a lot of riddles to solve, but it's a fun way to pass the dark winter nights (mostly) :)

Let's start with the bike, it is, after all, the one piece of equipment that will be with me throughout the entire race.
Get ready to geek-out!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Tour Divide - a cycle racing odyssey.

Apparently "The Hardest Cycle Race on Earth is not in France!" (according to Outside Magazine).

There are plenty of cycle races around the globe that bill themselves as the hardest, Le Tour de France (TdF) and Ironbike both have a good shout. But when you stack up the figures nothing quite compares to The Tour Divide.
First up, Le Tour is a Pro race, fully supported, with all the pampered luxuries that the teams can muster. It's also on European roads, riding 6.8kg carbon super-bikes.
Ironbike (MTB) is tougher. Racers camp together every night before tackling ferocious climbs and terrifyingly exposed descents, one after the next.
Tour Divide is longer than TdF at 2745 miles. It has more climbing than Ironbike - 200,000 ft/61,000m. That's not a typo! And it is entirely self-supported. Racers cannot accept any outside assistance and have to be completely self-sufficient for the entire duration, including carrying all of their necessary kit, from food, clothing, maps, and spares, to camping gear. They also have to navigate The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR - The longest off-pavement route in the world) all the way from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on The US/Mexican border. Most of it on remote trails frequented by Bears and Mountain Lions, amongst other hazards like snow, altitude, and deserts. Oh, and the clock starts ticking non-stop from the second you start.
The American "Adventure Cycling Association" recommends taking 64 days to tour the route. The fastest Tour Divide racers do it in less than sixteen.

It's a bold claim from Outside Magazine but all claims are subjective, it just depends who you ask. "Shaggy" John Ross (speaking to Privateer Magazine) thinks The Colorado Trail Race is the hardest. I have several friends who are firmly in the Ironbike camp. Tour Divide is almost certainly the longest though. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Strathpuffer 2015.

The Strathpuffer is a 24 hour mountainbike race held annually in The Highlands of Scotland, on the edge of The Cairngorms Range,  and it's something of a unique event. It is held in January each year, boasts 17.5 hours of darkness, and usually delivers a mix of wild conditions; anything from high winds or heavy rain, through to snow and ice! It is considered to be one of the toughest 24 hour races in the world. And that is the whole point of it! :)
It's also hugely popular; 800 racers took part this year including Solo's, Pairs, Quads, and specially for the 10th anniversary, 10 x Teams of Ten.
The Solo category sells out in less than 10 minutes every year! The hardest category is the most popular. Go figure that out! :D
Mitch Bryan and I both had a score to settle. I attempted it in 2013 and Mitch in 2014, both of us retired before finishing.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Yak Attack TV!

Check out the full edit of Yak Attack's "Rumble in the Jungle" in Sri Lanka. It looks great.
Also look out for the very handsome, and familiar, dude at 1.34 and 4.19! He looks just like me! :D
The Full HD version is available here

And not only that but Yak Attack is heading for mainstream television, Channel 5, in the UK this Friday (January 9th at 7.00pm) as Part 1 of the new Richard Parks series "Race to the Pole". It covers the 2013 Yak Attack in Nepal (the one where I dislocated my shoulder) and is apparently getting rave reviews from the national media!
Look out for a potential cameo appearance from me! :D (God only knows how that might turn out!)

Richard Parks during The Yak Attack 2013.

Richardʼs first gruelling challenge on the road to his record attempt finds him in the mountains of Nepal to take part in the Yak Attack. Set against one of the most spectacular backdrops on the planet, this is the highest, toughest mountain bike race on earth.
He battles against blistering heat, extreme cold, near-fatal collisions, sheer drops and extreme altitude on a course that winds 400 kilometres across the Himalayas. The eight stages climb from 300m above sea level all the way up to the snow-covered Thorong La pass at 5,416 metres.

It will also be available to view on Demand5 here

For more information on The Yak Attack and their amazing "World Series" of  extreme mountainbike races have a look at their website HERE

Friday, January 2, 2015

Sri Lanka - Pre-race: Let's get ready to RUMBLE!

Yak Attack - Rumble In The Jungle 2014

The weekend prior to registration was spent catching up with old Yak Attack friends around Negombo Beach, Phil & Kate, Steve Edwards, Zoltan Keller, Eric Coomer, Sonya Looney, but our little group continued to grow and we added new ones each day too; Hannah Barnes, Myriam Saugy, Kerstin Kogler, and others, all showed up at meal times in Mr Crab, our favourite little restaurant. We had a new little "Rumble" family growing by the day. It is my experience that extreme events seem to attract a particular type of person; normally laid-back, un-flustered, kind of people that just seem to slot in well. Perhaps it's the adventurous spirit that makes people easy-going and easy to get on with?

Registration was held on Monday 17th November at The (very nice) Catamaran Beach Hotel in Negombo; Phil & Kate were ensconced in a little air-conditioned office for the day as racers came and went. Andre Deplechin and I rolled up together and I got lucky Number Seven; surely a good omen :)

Lucky Seven!