Packing it in

March training is going well, apart from this really cold weather. I’m trying to build my mileage slowly and steadily to get my leg better. That means cross training on a bike and all this snow is meaning I’m not getting as much time training as I’d like.

For my birthday I got a key bit of equipment for Marathon des Sable – my pack. I wanted to get this early on as it is the key bit of equipment, other than footwear, that can make the trip comfortable, or not. Bedding in time with this is really important.

Aarn Mountain Magic 33
Aarn Mountain Magic 33

I’d done a bit of research, I have a long back and I wanted something with easy access to front pockets so I can keep feeding easily. This is quite a unique set of requirements. The pack needs to be lightish, able to take 7 days of food, all the cooking and sleeping gear, mandatory kit (venom pump, first aid) and a few luxury items.

I’d tried a few packs from the normal contenders and one way or another there was something niggling. In the end I tried on an Aarn pack, and despite it having a fantastically complicated strap system it was really comfortable.

I’m a big fan of simplicity, especially when things can break. The idea of having to stitch, or bodge something back together in the middle of the desert isn’t massively appealing. However, being made in New Zealand I’m pretty confident that the kit will work really well, I haven’t had heaps of time with the pack yet, nor have I taken it out loaded up, but that will come pretty soon and I’ll write more.

I’ve settled for a Mountain Magic 33, probably a little bigger than I actually need, but the strapping system means that whether the sac is full or empty it carries just the same. So as I eat most of what I’m carrying I can reduce the pack size and stay comfortable.

I am a little worried about some of the cording on the front pockets, but I’ve got some time to hack it better, and that will probably involve some Sugru too. Mountain Marathon events will give me a chance, to load for multiday, run, camp, repack and generally get the pack to fit me well. I’m interested to see how the ventilation works-going to save me a really zitty back if it does!

To read more about some of the unique features of Aarn packs it’s worth having a read on their website.

Cymru am Byth

I often think or say how lucky I am to live in Snowdonia. The lucky bit was getting on a scrambling trip to Snowdonia in 1988. Everything else I’ve chosen or worked for.

Today, I live in a beautiful place, in a great community. The culture is of respect and politeness without social barriers. I work amongst people who have a passion for the air, earth and water here. Whether they are outdoors managing land as a farmer or forester, or a climber, biker or boater, all are really proud of their bit in the landscape. I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of this community. I’m equally passionate about the responsible use and protection of those resources.

The North Wales Environment Outdoor Charter Group  has a fantastic part to play in making sure that the generations to come have positive experiences and quality resources to enjoy. This generation has a lot to take responsibility for. I feel strongly we should all give a little back. Not for reward, money or glory but as a contribution to each other. I’m doing my part on the steering group and hope that we can bring this Charter to be a centre piece in the thinking of outdoor users.

My work is frantic at the moment, and the foreseeable future. My training fits around long days. Monday, for example I left home just before 6am and got back just after 1.30am the next day. It’s not a poor me, I genuinely love my job. But when I can enjoy a daytime trip into the countryside (whether in a boat, on a bike or on foot) it reminds me exactly why I’ll do my job for as long as it takes to make a difference. But for my own sanity I have to work at getting out even if I’m working long hours. To be able to enjoy the changing seasons, to experience wind, water, cold, warmth and views makes me feel connected and alive. When I work for those feelings it seems to magnify the connection.

Pen y Pass, icicles
Pen y Pass, icicles

As more and more people explore the outdoors electronically (YouTube, satellite mapping and PlayStation) it removes the visceral connection they have with their environment. Does it make it the outdoors less important, or my fear, disposable to society? I really hope not.

Enjoying a warm layby family picnic, screaming down some singletrack on a mountain bike, white water kayaking, running up hill, floating down an estuary or picking a route up remote rock make up “bucket lists”. But what does that really mean? Are bragging rights that important to who you are? Surely we should own those experiences and value them.

It amazes me when I hear “we don’t have a problem with Scandinavians in the countryside, but people from the UK are terrible”. That’s about us, using our own islands natural resources for free time. Scandinavia has a culture and law that grants responsibility for positive, responsible behaviour whilst in the Outdoors. They seek to  minimise their physical and behavioural impact from recreation. Land managers also have a different approach. They have had this approach for decades, and it shows in the country and the behaviour of its people. “Get off my land” is an English and Welsh stereotype created by the feudal land management history we have. We’ve had this approach for centuries, and it shows in the way we use the wonderful resources we have instead of being a part of it. Working with it. It’s plain to me that we need a cultural revolution. Not just from the practitioners, but from all of us. Wales is at the start of, or at least has an opportunity for this journey, the formation of Natural Resources Wales offers a real opportunity to begin education on a generation level. For years, and for people to come, my hope is that we can achieve a slight shift. Less focus on regulation and a little more focus on ownership. Different tools to achieve the same thing, though one ultimately is more sustainable.

My world changed on the North ridge of Tryfan, aged 14. Literally, those first few hours in the Glyderau pulled me out of the South East of England. It took me until I was 26 to move to Dolgellau, but Wales has shaped me as a person more than Sussex ever did or could. It was a single person that did that – a quiet, passionate mountain man. With a belief and love of sharing the mountains and building confidence in young people to grow independent in the outdoors.

If I am lucky to live in Snowdonia today it’s down to Steve Pennington. If I could ever thank him for what he did, I would. Like many teachers though, they disappear from our lives. I’m pretty sure I still owe him one beer at least, in return for an Export 33, in Fos, in 1991!

I’ll be wearing my Wales shirt on Saturday, not that I’m Welsh, but because I’m proud to live in and love Wales.

Cymru am Byth!

What a run!

Coming down from Mynydd Penrhos
Coming down from Mynydd Penrhos

I’ve waited patiently for my leg to heal before going for a run. 6 weeks has felt like a long time.

Couldn’t help but enjoy the descent off Mynydd Penrhos, above Tyn y Groes in Coed y Brenin.

It felt so good!

A bit of an update on human powered miles… February was going to be lower than I expected after an injury and a bit of a virus in the middle of the month.

I managed to cycle 187km and row 88.7km so that gives 275.7km for February.

Year to date- 579.7km which is still slightly ahead of schedule. Looking forward to running some more this month

Running along the ridge of Mynydd Penrhos
Running along the ridge of Mynydd Penrhos