Friday, 23 April 2010

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

A thread about car-sharing on the LFTO forum got me thinking about the various ways I travel to Scotland. It's six hundred miles from Sussex, and I have three options: the plane, the train, and the automobile. (There's also the coach, but a never-to-be-repeated 24h from Melbourne to Brisbane cured me of that mode of transport.)

The Plane
The cheapest option (from £26 each way, or free with Airmiles!), and, on paper, the quickest (1.5) - but let's not forget all that mucking about at the airport. In addition, Gatwick is one of the most inhuman places on the planet, and when I last flew in after a week on the hills I felt like a rabbit in the headlights. In reality, it takes about 6.5 hours, and involves an appalling assault on the soul. Flying is not for me, even if the take-off is fun.

The Train
Following a 1976 ride on the Motorail (the most civilised form of transport ever invented), I developed a bit of a taste for overnight rail-travel. The Caledonian sleeper takes 7-9 hours from Euston, depending on which train I catch, and gets me to within a few miles of my destination by breakfast time. The hours travelling are spent being rocked in sleep, rather than staring at six lanes of traffic or a departures board. It's not the cheapest option (£60 for my last berth - though bargains are available); but it's my favourite.

The Automobile
The most expensive (£100, one way), but obviously the best in terms of door-to-door convenience. However, it is also the most irksome is some ways - including the fact that I pay two hundred quid, and have to drive the damn thing too. On the plus side, I get to breathe only my own germs, the kids have no rampaging opportunities, I can take any amount of stuff important equipment, and I already have transport when I'm there.

How do you get to where you want to be? Do you have options, or are you stuck with a single form of transport?

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Fit For Purpose

People often say when they see the children, "I bet they keep you fit..."

Oh, sure, I'm in reasonable nick: I'm used to lifting a 16kg weight, and carrying the same down the lane to school every day, but when I get tired, I put her down and she walks for herself. I also run up and down the stairs a fair bit, but I'd have to climb them forty times to match a 1,000' ascent - and there are no slippery rocks in my house, or scree.

During my July and October trips last year I spent the first three days feeling stiff and achy, and was only able to 'go for it' on the last few of days of each visit (two of which were written off by bad weather). This year, I had determined to get properly fit before I go.

Now that my ankle sprain is healing nicely... I'm stretching, swimming, doing step exercises and press-ups, etc., but my main technique is to carry an increasing collection of house bricks around with me... 8kg so far ...on the school-run, round Tescos, on strolls with the kids. My reckoning is that the best way to get fit for walking with a heavy pack is to walk with a heavy pack.

I've also joined a local walking group - previously anathema to me - which is now forcing me out onto my local hills (the South Downs) at least once a week. I take the bricks too - for the entertainment of my fellow walkers if nothing else.

How do you get/keep fit for the hills?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Petzl Tikka Plus 2

A lightweight (83g), 50-lumen, 35m, 140h, water-resistant, multi-mode headtorch with a 4* listing in the 2010 Trail Gear Guide. I've not yet tested it in the field, but I've made several trips to the pub! (The manufacturer's spec is here.)

General Use
The lower continuous-white-light setting is totally sufficient for walking at a good pace. The higher setting is great for a look-around, but I felt no need to use it all the time (on a reasonable path).

Red Light
The red light is a very useful feature if, like me, you like to keep your night vision sometimes. It's bright enough to walk by on a good path with care. It's absolutely fine for proximity lighting.

In rain/snow/dust
The lower continuous-white-light setting gives a mini strobe effect, caused by the power cycling on and off to achieve the lower output (this is the same for any single-LED). In rain/dust/snow, you get an effect of glitter in front of your face. It's pretty, but distracting, and a bit irritating after a while. It doesn't occur on the max-white or red-light settings.

The general distribution means I can see the inside rim of my hood, and the end of my nose. Coupled with the glitter effect this made for a lot of unwanted local-illumination under these conditions.

Water Resistance
I couldn't quite get to the bottom of its water resistance: its specified rating of IP X4 (thanks to Nick for some clarification here - see comments) might or might not equate to IP65 - which means you're fine as long as you don't drop it in a loch and leave it there. I understand that, although the battery compartment can theoretically be flooded, the PCB is protected by rubber seals. Basically, I've used it in heavy rain and no water got in.

Tilt Angle
The unit can be tilted to five different angles, but I found the whole unit set just a bit too low: on the highest tilt I still had to tip my head back, or lean backwards, to lift the light up enough to use its full 35m beam - not what I want to do while wearing a full pack! The lowest angle illuminated my boots (with my head vertical), which I don't need. Personally, I'd prefer the whole unit to be set one notch more upright, so I can use the top notch for distance and the next one/two for walking.

I wrote to Petzl about this, but was not impressed with their response: they seemed more concerned with lights not shining in other people's eyes, rather than practicalities for the user...

I can't see myself using all five tilt settings, and would rather the whole thing were angled up a notch.

Battery Life
I've used the torch for two hours so far, and have not noticed any drop in performance. It has Duracells in it at the moment, but I'll replace them with Uniross rechargeables. I'll update this post when I know more about battery life and performance.

If you can live with the niggles, it's a good useable torch, at a great weight, and for a great price.

Good Features
5 modes (white: max, min, strobe; red: steady, flashing)
Lightweight: only 83g including batteries
Useful (35m) range & distribution of light
Battery-life of 140h (on economy)
Battery indicator
Waterproof seals (water resistant)
Easy access to batteries (see photo)
Good price (I paid £37.50 from Cotswolds)

Poor Features
Glitter effect in rain/snow/dust
Low angle of illumination

Any questions/comments? Please post via the comments link below.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Don't Let your Ankles be your Downfall

Last July I sat in Glenmore Lodge, being mocked by a fit twenty-something for my fear of 'turning an ankle' in the hills, and the consequential survival-gear I carry. "Ever broken anything?" I asked. "Or even twisted anything?" He didn't answer.

Having once sprained my ankle (while getting up to answer the phone), I knew how easy, and how debilitating this injury can be. It sounds so common-place, doesn't it? But the pain isn't...

Then, on the five weeks ago, I did it again. It was a stupid, easy, slip that in the hills might have jeopardised my life. In my garden, only ten yards from the phone, it did no more than jeopardise my ready-booked trip to Scotland, and was a timely reminder of the care I need to take - as though I don't take enough care already.

I have my physiotherapist and his advice to thank for a miraculous recovery (from still-on-crutches to ten-mile hike with 6kg tester, in three weeks). I mentioned on my other blog that I'd rued not seeking physio the last time I did it. Now, having had the care that only private medical treatment can provide (without a 12-week wait), I've learned that I don't, actually, have to resign myself to a 'weak ankle' for life - which is what I was beginning to think (having once broken it too) - and that I don't have to take pain, ibuprofen, and apprehension with me into the hills next month - or worse, cancel the trip.

Exercise, that's all it takes: we pay huge attention to our quads/gluteals/deltoids, and whatever else takes our fancy, but what about the peroneus longus? Anyone? I have a blue stretchy-thing now, attached to the leg of my dining-room table (see picture, below), and every time I sit with a cup of tea, I stick my foot in the loop and do 30-this-way and 30-that-way. I'm not only rebuilding the strength I've lost, but I feel I'm guarding against future injury too.

It sounds naff, but I didn't expect to be hiking over the downs with a half-laden pack by now - and well on my way back to the Cairngorms. It's worth all the naffness, a thousand times over.

Blue stretchy-thing for ankle exercises, keeping the lower leg completely still. (Click for a larger image.)