Glee Club

A working week trapped in a whirlpool of coincidence and stupidity has reached the deceleration zone.

Meeting new folk all the time gives me a sometimes amusing, always enlightening and often frightening insight into the wide range of people whose lives, when woven together form the manky dog blanket of society.
It was one of those weeks when I felt like a visitor to the blanket, perhaps a flea, maybe even a moth, probably a big brown one, more times than I felt like a stitch in the weave.
Thank Jimmy for my fellow fleas and moths.

Let’s wash the dog blanket on Sunday if it’s a nice day. Or better still, let’s beat it with one of this big wicker things that you see in the Broons. Looks like a Ace of Clubs.

What the hell happened to the dog?

More Stickers?!

It’s not all been gear and bikes, I’ve been grafting all the hours available as well to try and catch up with work so I can go to Ft Bill next week with the reassurance of invoices submitted and warm pipes where once there were cold pipes.
It’s getting there thank Jimmy.

As I was making my way back to the boilerhouse from Greggs (they know me in the Dumbarton Greggs now, help ma’ boab) with my lunch today, yes Saturday, a bloke in a boilersuit approached me from the roadworks on the other side of the street “D’ye no remember me?”. With some prompting I did, he worked for me over the summer, ten years ago. We used to take on school leavers as temporary labour on maintenance contracts to give them work experience and of course to lend some much needed extra hands. It worked well for years, the Careers Office were delighted and the youngsters got something on their C.V. and a referee.
A combination of contract changes and increasingly difficulty in getting the right people meant that we haven’t done this for a few years now, and I always did wonder how a lot of the boys did after their time with us. Some showed a real interest in learning the tools, some wanted to know if they still got paid when they went off sick tomorrow (which would be their second day with us…), some you wished well on their last day and some stole your Stanley knife out of your toolbox.
However, the chance meeting today was good news, after moving through a few jobs over the years he’d started on his own and was building his own business up. Magic.

I had a wee revelation earlier on his week too. I’m sometimes very surprised by the people around me. You think you know yourself well, but then what initially seemed like a strange gesture or an odd gift, later turns out to be a stunning piece of insight. Never underestimate the powers of those close to you.

Station Wagon Stakeout

Sitting in the the motor eating my pieces and enjoying an overpriced beverage in a big paper cup today gave me time to monitor the ebb and flow of lunchtime parolees.

Blokes on sites generally sit in the hut, or maybe in the van, or near the pavement if the company isn’t one of these modern, humourless, shiny looking, multi-signed entrance-way (No Boots, No Vest, No Job…etc) bastards who insist that they’re not builders but some other bollocks job description, with facilitate, realisation and satisfaction in the title. Gie me a break.
Here the legend of the of the brown paper bag stained with grease spots, the folded newspaper and the bottle of Irn Bru lives on. You get cliches for a reason.

Office folks are more complex. I like to see the expensively suited, long coat wearing silver haired gents, walking with a sense of undeserved self importance. They’ve forgotten that the world outside of the 4th floor (and brass plaque at the front door, don’t forget that) doesn’t know who the hell they are, and they don’t care either.
There’s the archetypal “young exec”. Walk A is the fast one, with a purpose towards important lunchtime endeavors, Walk B is the swagger, the confidence that lunchtime is as long as he wants it. And he’ll make it with flexi-time anyway so he won’t get into trouble.
The office geek has a shirt and tie but an ordinary comfy jacket, he doesn’t give a shit, it’s a job to him not a ladder.

Then there’s the girls, every one in black boot cut trousers, singly or in groups of three or four. They mostly don’t give a shit either, there’s usually humour evident here, not the cool, restrained and measured type as exhibited by the young execs, this is loud and freely given.
It’s funny, when the girls get together it looks like they relax, when the young execs converge it seems to be all posturing and looking confident.
That contrasts with the builders who are sitting with their rigger boots outside their trousers (so folk can see they’re wearing riggers, and also so shit can fall inside them, rather than tucking them in…), trousers which often have the arse hanging out of them, everyone has another scout badge to sew onto the arm of their social position.

Students I love, it’s the same anti establishment and impractical fashions and haircuts right there that I was wearing when I was 19. I love how memories are so short, it allows folk to have careers without ever having to have a new idea. Music, fashion. movies, “We all live in the same museum, we all rearrange the same old song”. Doesn’t mean it’s not good, but folk should be aware that it’s not new, or that clever either.

There’s others of course, wee wifies with half a dozen poly bags of shopping in each hand, speed-walking junkies in navy blue and white sportswear, prowling parking wardens who eye you sideways as you sit in the driving seat and faces flying past every second that you’ve never seen before and will never see again.

Where am I? Right in the middle. Magic.

It’s that time of year again. Kilpatricks on wheels.

I don’t ride the Kilpatricks in winter as a rule, not because it’s wet or cold, but because it destroys the trails. It’s wet, muddy and wonderful, but selfish riders have abused it and the erosion has gotten so bad that when the path network was getting signposted, the foresty and the council probably had no choice but to do something, and of course it was always going to lack any kind of subtlety. So where we had dirt singletrack weaving through trees we now have big wide tracks with proper drainage. And the scars on the trees and ground to match.
It’s horrendous, but it was probably inevitable. A few years will see if soften and there’s still plenty of wild open hillside. Access is a wonderful thing, and these works have improved that, but at what cost to the experience of being there?

But.
The ascent from Old KIlpatrick is a bitch. Never once have I made it all the way to the level section at the quarry withouit getting off the bike and pushing. By the time I parked the bike against the fence and gazed down the Clyde at the hazy Cowal peninsula, sweat was dripping from the end of my nose and I was getting quite emotional. It was bloody warm, I haven’t seen this much blue sky and unfiltered sunshine in ages.

The quarry is long closed, being used to supply rock for the road and dam at Loch Humphrey. It’s faded to a natural ambience, so I’m sure the new trails will follow on. I can’t wait the fifty years it took the quarry though.
There’s little sign of the excavator that used to sit here, abandoned and rusting. It was taken  away piece by piece, although back in the 70’s it was intact and we used to play in it. Highly dangerous with its long jib held by weatherbeaten and corroded cables. All that’s left are a few plates here and there and a section on the cab roof lying in a gully.
Looks like good place for a spot of bouldering, but I didn’t have the shoes. Or the grip.

Honk Hooonk Hnk Hoooonnnnk! I could hear them, but I couldnt see them until I’d ridden to the highest point on the trail; a flock of geese. They were strutting about and pecking quite happily, maybe 20 or so of them. I saw lambs earlier as well, fresh out of the oven. Lovely wee things.

I stopped at the Loch Humphrey overflow for a drink and a photie, and coincidence leapt out of my rucksack and smacked my helmet down over my eyes. By the time I had straightened myself back up I’d ran into Candice and Jordan who are here from Florida for a bit and have been exploring more of the Kilpatricks in the last few months than most locals do in a lifetime.
Being as I am, I switched to banter and interesting fact mode and prceeded to melt their heids with useless information for the next few hours.
I’d have kicked me on the shin and ran away.

We ended up on Duncolm (I left the bike just er, a little short of the summit…), the highest point of the Kilpatricks and a great spot for a view. Above is Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond with some of the Arrochar Alps and Luss hills. Those bubbling clouds were just so far away.
But turn North towards the Campsies and pulses of rain were cavorting around themselves, dying out every time they tried to reach further afield. The rain never reached us, a flash of a rainbow nearby was as threatening as it got. Someone in the Blane Valley must have said something really nasty about the weather elves to merit getting stuck with that weather all day.

Back down to Loch Humphrey and the sun was getting lower. I was by turns riding and walking, enjoying the good bits of trail and not wanting to constantly annoy my surprise companions. My feet were wringing, but there were no tears and snotters, good socks and quick draining bike shoes (they’ve got a big hole in the bottom where the cleats attach) kept me happy. Soon enough we were in the newly built trails.
I’ll speak of that again, I might even take a photie or two. But it still hurts too much right now.

We parted company as the sun sank lower so I could tackle the run down to Overtoun House at speed. As it turned out, it felt unfamiliar. Subtle changes to the trail since the last time broke up my flow and it was a bit stop-start, but I’ll know better the next time and hopefully I’ll nail it from top to bottom.
As I sit here, my legs are toast. I am in no way bike-fit. But the joy at riding some of the trail is such an incentive to get my shit together I’ll stick at it.

Great day/ hills/ company. Hell, there was even a Cadbury’s Buttons easter egg afterwards.
Alright!

A Hive of Villainy

The last stop on my recent Lakes trip was to see some of the OMM guys. We were comparing notes on test kit, looking at the samples for the winter gear and generally having a bit of banter over cuppas and a pile of rucksacks.
Above is Mike Parsons with an orange Jirishaca MSC, my old Karrimor Whillans Alpinist and a Villain t-shirt. Everything in there is super rare, the Jirishanca MSC went into production in black dyneema, the Whillans is over 40 years old, there’s only three Villain t-shirts (yes, I have one…), and Mike’s a one-off for sure!
It’s the first time I’ve got the Whillans down to Mike to have a proper look at, and he reckons it’s a ’65 or ’66. The lid binding was the first ever use of nylon binding on a pack, so that ties it down to that date. He went over the pack with much enjoyment and finaly after poking at the lid for a while said “Yeah, it looks like I sewed that zip in…”.
The winter stuff I’ll cover later once the samples with the final spec are in, but there’s a lot to look forward to. I’ve had two multisport packs, the OMM-i-drate and the Ultra 15, on test for a good while, and they’ve impressed all who’ve had a shot, so I’ll write them up sooner.

The overwhelming thought that I brought back from the Lakes is that the future for gear is looking fine. The brands are bursting their arses to bring good kit out.
I often say it’s not about the gear, it’s about being out there, and the right functional and unobtrusive gear fits that maxim.
The invisible kit that I’m always searching for looks like it’ll be getting easier to find, and that means even less hassle all round.
Alright!

Emergency exit

Ever since the camping trips of winter, I find myself ad-mining my gear more thoroughly in the tent. I think subconsciously I might be preparing for a quick exit under the guise of being more organised.
I remember vividly struggling find a torch while holding the tent down with my other hand.
That’s one thing about tents with no pockets, your hastily required item is either on the floor or it’s in the porch. Gear lofts and pockets are handy, but never seem to be in the right place, they’re always a stretch to reach. And anyway, I think I would end up stowing the tent with stuff still in the pockets.
A few sleeping bags have little pockets, and an e+lite is just the job for sticking in there.

However, the real cure is the ipod. It’s always in my sleeping bag on the end of a bit of wire and a soon as you touch it it lights up enough to let you see what the hell you’re doing.
I’m now recommending the ipod as vital safety equipment.

Anything that stops you running out of your tent trying to put your shoes on in a state of confusion has to be good.

On the Road Again (The Canned Heat version, not the Willie Nelson one)

I watched the sun rise over the Southern Uplands as I headed South, and an awful lot of being indoors later I watched the sun set from Kirkstone Pass.
I enjoyed the best of the Lakes as I drove through all the nice places between appointements, but I’m not complaining, it was a good day with nice folks and sunshine.

I spent the morning in Montane’s secret bunker having a look at this coming and next season’s gear.  I’ve got some photies an’ that, including a sneaky exclusive, and there’s some test kit here and on its way.
This was after breakfast in Ambleside, the day was punctuated by food and cuppas with frightening regularity, there was no hardship involved here.
Next up was the official launch of the new Haglöfs UK headquarters in Staveley. This was still a geararama, but it was all about the people and their plans, and some meeting and greeting too.
One interesting moment was a brief discussion about “lightweight” in a couple of familiar magazines between myself and Cameron McNeish…
I squeezed in some shops and then it was off to Castle OMM to re-aquaint two old villains and see what’s in store for winter.

I shall write more of all this stuff imminently, but I got in at 0200 this morn ing and have a rucksack to pack.
And a cuppa to drink.

Temptation

It was foggy this morning, and very frosty. I knew I could get above it and into the sunshine in next to no time. But that wee jaunt would have been two hours long at least with all the supplementary doings at either end, clothes changing and cuppas and such. I would also have been very late for fitting pipes 30 miles away.
Maybe if I hadn’t have been out at the weekend I’d have thrown caution and responsibility to the wind (again) and just went for it. 
Ach, probably not though, this current customer is very deserving of consideration and respect. Excuses just wouldn’t be right.
As long as the thought of dropping tools and heading for the hills still comes to mind I’ll be happy. I’ll start worrying when it doesn’t.

KORS, Exped, Terra Nova Tarps, Inov8 and the people

We were down at the Kendal Outdoor Retailers Show, luckily missing the press day which is today. Get a few cans of Irn Bru down me and I’ll tell you who the exhibitors were and weren’t looking forward to meeting today…
All the kit has or will been covered elsewhere, the mags and proper websites will show folk the kit in detail. We were there mainly for the banter.
A couple of things had my spider-sense tingling though, Terra Nova who never stand still and should make the fact known more, have three tarps coming out at the start of ’09. The one seen here is the simple Tarp Shelter (178g), there’s a very livable looking Bivy Tarp with inner mesh (710g) and a Multi Tarp (560g) to make a porch for many of there other  tents, Voyager, Quasar etc.
They also got some other stuff including the Laser Space 2, which is mental looking and a new range of frighteningly light rucksacks (creeping in at the right of the photie).
I should get some hands-on with some of the kit in a wee bit.

I felt for Inov8. We had their shoes on, off, bent double, praised and criticised at lightning pace and with the requisite amount of swearing.

Their new packs are showing necessary evolution and we liked their wee stretchy gaiters and new colouring on some of the existing shoes. There’s an all new shoe called the X-talon 212 (the yellow blur in the photie) which we liked the look of. Targetting the LaSportiva Crosslite we think?

Lyon Equipment organise the show and we spent a bit of time going over the kit from their brands with Simon. Si is a good lad, and well used the er, informal approach we have to the kit and meetings. Exped (as you’ll see behind him) have a lot of great kit, most us are familiar with their drybags at least and I’ve been using their sleepmats for the past year. But next year Lyon are bringing in much more of the range, lightweight down bags, genius looking trekking poles and more.

He’s one of the blokes you never see, but still catches some of the blame from disgruntled shoppers.
You walk into Cotswolds and see racks of obviously coloured and branded stuff with a price tag, you finger some kit, mooch around and leave again. Why are we not psyched, why are we not tripping over each other to get to the till with garment “X”. The store buyers that’s why.
“We’re not bringing it in, there was no interest”. That’s a statement I hear from the reps of all the brands I speak to, and they’re always refering to the best, the lightest, the sexiest item in the range.
The reps are trying to get this stuff into the shops, (yes to make money, I’m no’ daft) and the stupids are thwarting their efforts.
How many times have you read on a forum “I can’t get a Prattokrat in this country, I’ll get one from the States”. The UK distributor may well have a sample Prattokrat and have taken it the length of the country and got the reply “You can’t walk your dog in that”.

I’m over simplifying, I know that, sales of top end technical kit are good. But chain store buying policy and bastard cheapskate internet overseas buying (I include myself as one of the bastard cheapskates here) can create a situation that’s near impossible to escape from.
Again, support your independents, they’re trying to push the envelope and get stuff into the country so we can use the esoteric and enjoy a UK warranty at the same time.

And again, why do people tell me things and them tell me not to tell anybody. Do you know that Rontopus are making their first graftoo out of chonto? Pimobo are having Trewsti make branded yurtew’s for UK conditions. We’ll see them late in ’09.

Christ.

On my way back from Greggs

With my blue and white poly bag swinging in one hand and one of their woefully inadequate “insulated” cups allowing the barely-condensed-from-steam coffee to brand their logo into my other hand, I made my way through the shopping centre.

I came to a card shop with all the signs up for Fathers Day, “Don’t Forget”, “Gifts for Dad” and the like. Then it occured to me that for the first time, I’ll be a father on Fathers Day.

I’m sure the other shoppers didn’t see my shaky bottom lip.

PHD 900 Down first look, Minim Ultra Bag and Ultra Vest

It’s the oddest thing when you talk to a company about test kit and they say “Okay then, we’ll make you those items”. That doesn’t happen every day. That was last week, and this morning a tiny parcel arrived containing two items of jet black lightness.

First up is the Minim Ultra 900 Down Vest. 150g of uber-packable warmth. The cut is just right for pulling it on over a base layer plus a 100weight fleece. The arms and hem have elasticated sections to keep the heat in, the half zip saves weight and allows for a tunnel pocket for warming your hands and storing Greggs sausage rolls. There’s a handy wee zipped pocket at the right side as well.

The other arrival is the Minim Ultra 900 Down Bag. Seriouisly, this is the lightest bag I have, it might even be the lightest down bag I’ve seen at 345g. The features are: drawcord on the opening. I don’t mind missing a zip, even in a bivy bag it’s no great hardship getting in and out.  The fit is slim and there’s a well shaped foot. The vest is stitch-through and the bag has a baffled construction. The baffles are slim, tha bag lofts okay and the down fill is well distributed in both pieces. The down itself is very soft indeed, almost textureless. I’m not expecting to see any rogue feathers poking through the fabric at any time. This super fine down plus the light and flexible MX fabric used on both items make the pack size unfeasably small. The stuff sack for the bag takes my hand and wrist and that’s it. Quality looks good, as I was saying earlier it’s haun made, no’ haun knitted.

Together they make a flexible sleep system. The vest on its own is a super versatile wee bit of kit. I’ve used various gilets for years and they’re just the ticket for camping, especially spring to autumn. You get all the warmth you need and unrestricted mobility in a tent as well. The bag is light, beyond the limit in the minds of most folk probably. But the simple design is making the most of the fill. I’m not worried, and I’ll get my first impressions on trip coming up shortly. 

ists and isms

I was thinking about this when stuck in traffic yesterday.

I believe (or indeed disbelieve) in various isms, but I’m not an ist.  You can be many ists, but that’s hedging your bets. Probably best to set your own agenda.

Anyway, enough of that pish. In the night, the hood was up and a Ford DFV was installed. The previous motor wasn’t cutting it and the site should be a bit better and less “Temporarily Unavailable”.

Dirty Girl Gaiters

There’s things you just have to have. Even the website makes you smile. The product is clever and well, look at them. How could you not want mini gaiters that come with purple flames on them? Even the packaging with its home made/garage style endears you to Xy Weiss, the sewer of these items.

But they will have to work once the novelty wears off, so what have we got? Lycra trail shoe gaiters to thwart ingress of grit, crap, stones, pine needles and other rogue elements. Not waterproof of course, because that would be pointless. They’ve got a lace hook the right way, that is, reversed to go under the lace. They attach at the back with a velcro patch. One half is sewn into the gaiter and there’s enough length of the other half supplied to do about three pairs of shoes, or for repairs if you lose your patch from your favourite shoes. No zip, you you put them on before your shoes and they weigh nothing.

I know I’m going to destroy them, just how long that’ll take me will be the interesting part.

All that and midges too

I met Craig for lunch and banter. He ran the Edinburgh marathon on Sunday, in 4’23”. His first marathon, and with only 30km of training he never broke sweat and was “bored”. It’d make you sick. Crossfit has a lot to answer for.

However, pavements are where you leave the bins out on a monday morning, not have a happy running experience. So we decided to hit the trails in the Kilpatricks last night.

We took a few detours including a scramble up the Lang Craigs which ended in a foliage grasping shimmy to the top of a gully. Once up though, it was a beautiful night. The summits of Ben Lomond, the Arrochar Alps, Beinn Loaigh, Stob Binnien and more, all as clear as a bell. Too warm for me, sweat was running into my eyes on the scramble and I decided I didn’t have enough limbs available to stop gravity reversing my direction with extreme prejudice and to wipe the sweat away to my satisfaction at the same time. So I was blinking and complaining for a good couple of minutes as we traversed along the top of the cliffs.

We took in some trails and joined them up with others, it was pretty much all walking pace and we never saw a soul. Ravens and a buzzard took turns at circling us, the nice wee birds sang in the trees, sheep addressed us in voices sounding strangely like aggressive drunks hailing a taxi and I was still sweating. But as we eventually made our way round to Donought Hill it was getting cooler and I was much happier.

We ran a wee bit, walked a big bit and worked our way over the moor and to fine stand of pines. The sun was getting low and we hung around to watch it, and an e+lite between two would be enough to get us down.

Well no, we had miles to go and an e+lite between two wouldn’t be enough to get us down. We picked up a trail by the river which has lots of fascinating exposed flat shelves of rock from the volcanic actions that formed the area, but time was of the essence so the pace was getting up a bit. By the time we reached the woodland above Overtoun House we had broken into a proper run. Through the darkening trees on a twisty, grippy trail, the sky burning orange and pink through the gaps in the leaves. Ah, this is where it’s at. We hit the tarmac and slowed to a walk, soft compound rubber+tarmac+running=shopping for new shoes.

It was a quick bimble that turned into four hour gambol. I never even took a camera, the photies above are from my phone. It’s nice that even on such familiar territory some days it can still feel so fresh.

Competition Time! Only days to go!

Competition Closed

Thanks everybody who entered :o)

The Big Agnes Competition closes on the 30th May (although I’ll be in the mountains this week and it’ll probably run on a little bit). Holly will pick the winner from her baby bowl as soon as she’s in the right mood after that.

We’ll be doing the trip to the winning hill in June with Big Agnes herself, a proper photographer and allsorts.

A Primaloft filled sleeping bag for writing a hill name and pressing submit, it’s a good deal. Lot’s of great entries in, keep them coming. It’s a very good chance to make life difficult for me as well..

He went, he tried. He’s heading for ebay..It’s Matt C…

Guest Review: Big Agnes Lost Dog 50° Top Bag

 

This review is going to leave me sounding a bit ungrateful.

 

I enjoyed ptc*’s competition and I was gobsmacked when I won, and excited when the postie delivered this bag. First impressions were favourable – a small, soft bundle, nicely made – and then I began to wonder when I would use it….?

 

Let me come clean here. In 30 years of backpacking I’ve always used down bags – first a Slaters 3 season, followed by a Rab, and then about 10 years ago I discovered PHD, of which I now own 4! Always simple mummy bags, always no zip, and always light – the coolest, the Pigolo (+10C), is sub-400g, and the warmest, the Minim 400 (-4C), a mere 650g, identical to the Lost Dog. So when and why would I choose a +10C rated, 658g, synthetic top bag, especially as it also pretty well forces you into using a full length mat rather than a weight-saving 3/4?

 

Anyway, it seemed only fair to give it a go, so I chose a couple of nights campsite camping, mid July in the Yorkshire Dales. I teamed the bag with my full length Thermarest Ultralite (the purple one that pre-dates the Prolite range), and which fitted perfectly, easily inserted through the retaining straps on the bottom of the Lost Dog.

 

Now this wasn’t a massively scientific test. I don’t know how cold it was overnight, but it wasn’t cold – I was standing around in a t-shirt and unzipped windproof until I went to bed. I sleep pretty warm (the Minim 400 is my winter bag), and I slept, as usual, in undies and socks. The bottom line is that I didn’t have a warm comfortable night, either night. It wasn’t awful either, but I had that feeling of being not quite warm enough all along. Now I think I’d have been ok in my Pigolo so I’m left thinking that the Lost Dog overdoes its claimed rating, something which I’ve heard isn’t unusual for synthetic bags.

 

So what lets this bag down? First the Primaloft insulation just seems incredibly thin, lying inside the bag it felt as if I had scarcely more than the two layers of nylon above me. And second the design – the bag has an elastic drawstring across the top but you can’t form a snug seal across your shoulders because of the mat. And if you want to get your head covered you just have to duck down inside the bag, but the end still doesn’t seal well against draughts.

 

Other little niggles – well, you can’t lie on your back and bend your legs upwards because of the rigidity of the mat. And, although the bag has a full-length zip it isn’t two-way so you can’t unzip from the foot end…. hmmm, perhaps they just knew that overheating would never be a problem? ;O)

 

So, while top-bags have been an item of curiosity to me in the past, and I don’t know whether any other models get around these shortcomings, I’m afraid that on the strength of the Lost Dog, unless I’m heading somewhere tropical I’ll be sticking to my trusty down bags. Sorry ptc*  :((

Arrrnph. Muupphao, dhuu awa…hauhuy?

That, or variations of that is what Marlon Brando says in The Godfather.  After a long gap in viewings, with fresh eyes (and ears) I’m now convinced Brando was taking the piss. “I’m going to sound world weary and add gravitas by using my expert power as the best actor in the world and filling my mouth with terry towelling when I speak”, and as Coppola left the room he missed the “Ya fanny” Brando added under his breath as spent his fee in his head.

They should redub it with somebody else doing his voice, Jack Black or Angelina Jolie or somebody. 

However in the same general area, I’ve got high hopes for the new Star Trek film. I got a shaky lip when I watched them building the Enterprise in the trailer and the casting is genius.