Finding Mt Ascutney

I was up in Vermont for the Martin Luther King weekend and it was turning out to be an epic weekend to be up north. Saturday had been a skimo race. Then overnight there had been about a foot of snow in some places of some fairly wet and heavy powder. The first day post snow dump turned into a fairly heavy day of moguls with a touch of powder up at Killington. As the day wore on the it slowly became mission impossible to find some clean untouched pow. A lot of the area had been tracked out by the time we got to the mountain.


I had Monday off for Martin Luther King day. After asking around as to where to go and looking at the various options I decided on checking out a place called Mt Ascutney. That morning I was not feeling my freshest the after an evening fuelled by chicken wings and beer. This is not my normal go to post ski day food. Due to the restaurant we being overwhelmed (we think because of the lingering bad weather) we ended up eating whatever was on offer which turned out to be some guests food who had left due to an inexplicably long wait. Slowly but surely I dug my car out with snow pilled high up the wheels, over the roof and it was bitterly cold. I hadn’t managed to get into the car or seen a thermometer to know how cold it was. I could feel the cold stinging my face particularly when the wind blew, whipping up the snow in great swirls. Even with some thick gloves on my hands were chilling pretty quickly when I paused between a few shovel loads. It brought back memories of decamping up in the Arctic.

One of the buses carting skiers up to the mountain pulled up and informed me Killington was delaying opening due to the high winds and low temperatures. All skiers and boarders apparently would need full facial cover as it was getting down to -40F (-40C) with windchill on top. Given the delay I was pretty happy to be going and checking out a new ski area.


Mt Ascutney is an old ski resort that shut down in 2010 after running for 80 years. Since then most of the infrastructure that supports a ski mountain from the lifts to the buildings have been stripped away. The woodland has begun to regenerate the once stripped slopes as it slowly returns to it more wild state. That was until it was recognised as a great spot for some back country skiing. With the trees already cleared for the most part it  just needed the relatively recent growth to be slightly more controlled. Since then a whole bunch of volunteers have been banding together to help maintain the trails during the summer which also helps make it a perfect playground for hikers, runners and mountain bikers. As the snow begins to fall and the trails fill up with snow its become a little back country haven. Since the early days where it was just a bunch of cleared trails there is now a seriously impressive warming hut at the base. Which given the temperatures  had risen a bit and were in the range of -10F to -15F (-23C to -26C) before wind chill made for a fantastic starting point before heading up the mountain. Check them out on the link below:

I didn’t realise there was a warming hut prior to arriving as I got my skins on outside my car in the freezing temperatures whilst they flapped around sticking to anything apart from where I wanted them to. Trudging up the slope to the base I spotted the hut at the base and meandered in. I was welcomed to a whole bunch of skiers and split boarders chatting away and getting ready for a days in the mountains. Having not been to the mountain before and looking for some good trails to ski I asked if I could tag along. It was a complete mix of guys and girls, skiers and split boarders and ages which was awesome to see. It also transpired that a bunch of them had been on a bachelor party/ stag do that had made it through various news channels local and national including BBC world service online. You can read about that below:

The first few strides up the mountain I could already feel the effects of the past few days mileage that I had put my legs through. They had certainly felt fresher. The hike up actually felt pretty warm as we were in amongst the tree line with a spot of sunshine and what ever breeze there was was on our backs helping keep us cool on the ascent. As we headed up you could still make out some of the structures used by the ski mountain before. The cut trails being the most obvious and then the occasional building or piece of metal work. A couple of the guys had skied the area when they were smaller and could remember and discussed the various cut throughs and secret ski spots that only the locals would know. As we got closer to the summit we could feel the wind picking up through the tree line. Coming out at the top we immediately felt the full force of the wind blasting our backs. Fortunately there was the remains of what I assume was the old mountain patrol building at the summit which we hid on the lee ward side of whilst removing skins and preparing to head back down. Having trekked up it was definitely time to get a whole bunch of layers on for the downward journey. 


Heading down and we picked our way through powder snow and some small undergrowth. It was this first lap when I began to wish for some fatter skis. Occasionally my backcountry days have involved powder but the vast majority has been more like hard pack with a splash of ice and rocks. In some of the less steep terrain I was just sinking in the heavy snow and occasionally being driven to an almost an immediate stop on other sections. Which certainly added to the odd fall or ski loss. Nevertheless getting in a bunch of powder day turns was great. Having seen photos and videos from friends up north getting midweek morning powder sessions before heading to work it was great to have a shot at it myself. 

Previous days summit photo

Previous days summit photo

After warming up at the base in the hut to let some of the facial hair icicles melt it was time for lap two. The hike up went surprisingly quickly once I knew the route, meandering our way back up the mountain. Arriving at the summit and with a bit of a larger group we bundled into the open basement of the old ski patrollers building to remove our skins. The temperature had dropped a bit so we made the most we could from what remained of the building whilst the bitingly cold winds roared on. It was a touch of luxury sheltered from the elements whilst having a quick bite and getting some layers on.

For this lap we chose a different trail in search of more powder. It is safe to say the combined factor of the previous days skiing and the prior lap I could definitely feel my legs burning on the descent. I think before next season I need to spend a lot more time on the bike and doing some leg weights to get into a better ski shape but I wasn’t about to change my ski fitness over night or mid lap. Coming round the corner and hitting a slightly flatter section I suddenly ejected from one of my skis. Fortunately after a short hunt I found it buried beneath the snow. Clipping back in and I was back on my way down the mountain to join the rest of the group. It made me think about the old ski tracers we used to use years a go for powder days back in Europe with my family. A bit old school but maybe worth bringing out for the next season either that or some new fatter skis….

Reaching the end of the run my legs felt done. Back in the hut and grabbing a seat I decided it was time to hit the road. After a chat with the guys I was told about a great spot for some post ski grub down at the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry. If you are in the area I would definitely recommend making a stop with delicious food it made for the perfect pit stop. They also have a fantastic beer selection, perfect for post drive when I finally managed to get home.

Photo courtesy of the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, Vermont

Photo courtesy of the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, Vermont

Return to the Beast

Amazingly this was my third time doing the Berkshire east beast skimo race. I say amazingly because since near the end of my university time I have not really stayed in one place for any particular length of time to do the same race twice never mind three times. Equally when it comes to other types of racing I also love the excuse to do different races in part to see new places along the way. Skimo races I have found to be different though as the conditions each year can totally vary adding to the experience. First year I did the race one guy was racing in shorts and a t-shirt, second year we had enough snow to have a bit more of a backcountry experience and this year you can read about below.

Despite growing in popularity and the growing number of Skimo races on the east coast of the US, especially the night time series, skimo has yet caught up with the level of running races with events all over the place every weekend. The races themselves tend to be held in Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine. All of which are a decent drive from New Jersey. If you are closer to these areas then lucky you!! Apart from the physical challenge of the skimo races, the camaraderie at them is a real pull to keep coming back. You have a complete mix of guys and girls or all ages and abilities nailing it up and down the mountain. On top of this it is great winter training and there are a whole bunch of cyclists, runners, climbers and triathletes amongst, I’m sure many other sports who are getting in a solid base before the summer season. 

Skis at the ready

Skis at the ready

This year I was staying up north for a long weekend. So Friday night was spent making the dash north with many others who love the winter season. It was Martin Luther King weekend, so a long weekend for those that got it off. Our progress was slow, as our expected time of arrival o the GPS slowly ticked in the wrong direction. Following the guidance of the Skimo and backcountry touring workshop I went on and my evening preparation for a good pre-race meal was equally not going to plan. Pulling into a service station a choice of McDonald’s, pizza or quesadillas were the options. I opted for quesadillas hoping that it would be marginally healthier. I did however manage to get my pre-race hydration going well with no beer on the cards and plenty of water for the drive. By the time we got in for the evening it was a relatively quick turn around as my alarm went off in the early hours of the morning. Kicking off the day with coffee and pastries before driving to Berkshire east. Over breakfast I read through the pre-race notes on the snow conditions limiting our route to skiing and skinning up the piste. The boot packs were to be in amongst the forest, with the potential for some ice mixed in amongst the rocks and tree roots. The conditions had been relatively warm this year, despite the early and ridiculous large snowfall that kicked the season off back in November. After a relatively quick drive south, I pulled up into the carpark which the previous year had been packed as well as all white. I was welcomed to a far muddier car park. The slopes were still gleaming white and looking very inviting! 

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After over heating the previous year I finally transitioned to racing in pretty much what I would run in. Leggings, shorts and a cycling jersey. Cycling jerseys are pretty handy with the extra pockets in the back. I did however forget my water bottle and energy gels. On a sunny day this would have not been great but with overcast and cool enough conditions I thought it would just about be ok. 

The start line - photo courtesy of Mark Trahan

The start line - photo courtesy of Mark Trahan

Heading to the start line a bunch of us did a little warm up doing some very mini laps up the mountain. The count down began as racers greeted those they had not seen for a while and then we were off heading up the mountain. Very quickly the group spread out up the slope.  The initial skin up and ski down went pretty well. My first transition to boots from skiing down I don’t think could have been much slower without loosing a ski down the mountain as for some reason trying to get my boot out of my binding for one ski seemed almost impossible. After that hurdle I entered the woods. It was here I found along with all the other racers the ice that was sticking to the rocks and tree roots making for a challenging climb as each of us tried to pick our way up the mountain in a quick and relatively controlled or safe manner. Occasionally the sound of something sliding on the undergrowth followed by some expletives would sound out through the forest as another skier slipped. 

Above photo’s courtesy of Charlie Batman.

After the first lap, I knew how I felt and what the conditions were like I started to put my foot down making some steady inroads into those in front. Unfortunately a lot of these were completely annihilated by my slow transitions. Something to work on for future races. I was still lapped by the winner of the race but I felt this happened slightly later in the race than previous years which was a marginal success.

Hiking up into the woods

Hiking up into the woods

Crossing the finish line and I felt pretty good. Desperate for a drink but I felt i finished strong at least. 

This years race was by far my best performance. I didn’t get lost for a start so that was one big benefit and it was also not my first days skiing and ski touring of the season having managed to hit the slopes in December. I would definitely recommend skimo or randonne competitions. There a great way of getting into the mountains and staying fit during the winter months. 

Check out the links below if your at all tempted

East coast US & Canada



North America

Post race recovery chocolate milk, bakery stop and an evening beer inspired by Scotland. Couldnt have asked for much more!

Catamount Trail Skimo Camp

Thank you Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos in this post. On a complete side note he is an awesome guy who climbed and skied 2.5 million feet in a year. Check him out at

I’m a bit behind writing up about this but back in December I found out about the Catamount Trail Association who not only organised a skimo and backcountry ski camp but also hold a number of ski touring days. There is still plenty of snow out on the trails and trips going on this season. If you are interested in ski touring, backcountry skiing or even for the summer there are options for various tours and routes to check out.

Anyway we headed up late on a friday night. It’s safe to say between work taking slightly longer than expected, as did the drive we arrived and got to sleep a bit after midnight. An ideal bedtime prior to a 5 am wake up to get over to the ski area for a morning tour up the mountain. I rose the next morning trying to be as quiet as possible before Laura my wife kindly drove me over to the venue before heading back for some much needed sleep. The excitement of the day a head certainly helped overcome the tiredness of minimal sleep. As did a spot of a sugar rush as I grabbed a cereal bar to eat on the drive over. 

After a quick briefing in the morning twilight with the other skiers and a few split boarders before we got underway in the blue light of the morning. Although it was just light enough a few people opted probably more sensibly to bring out a head torch as beams of light cut across the trail as we started to hike up. It felt great being out on the skis for the first time of the season. I had unfortunately not been able to make the most of THE snow dump that happened back in November. Many of the skiers regaled tales of some of the best snow and powder days they had seen in seasons. Despite the crisp cold conditions we all soon heated up as we picked up pace heading on up the mountain at Bolton Valley. Having never been there it was a great spot to see with some dedicated uphill trail routes to skin up. This was the warm up of the day and for me a great re-introduction into ski touring, everything kind of felt a bit familiar yet rusty. We headed up past a mountain hut that you can stay in overnight during the winter which looked like an awesome spot for another day! The trail took us further up the mountain weaving between trees and over frozen streams as the sun began to rise. It was a cloudy morning unfortunately, so there was to be no golden sunrise. Rather an overcast blue grey glow. The group slowly spread out up the mountain as micro groups found their rhythm heading up the trail. 

Starting off in the morning twilight

Starting off in the morning twilight

Reaching the top and it was time to strip the skins from the base of our skis and ski down. Helmets on, skins off and we were flying down the mountain side. Having mainly done skimo races where you don’t necessarily take in how everyone else is performing their transitions it was great to start seeing the varying levels of efficiency and proficiency at the top. As we got closer to the base we began passing a number of other ski tourers heading up for their own first lines of the day. Arriving back at base camp we came through the doors of the classroom area to a row of donuts and coffee. Despite the earlier breakfast in the car the caffeine and sugar hit was exactly what was required. This was not to be the breakfast of athletes or champions I expect but it was certainly a welcome treat. 

It was then time for class.

The day was broken down into 2 sections, the morning for some indoor teaching, Here there were a couple of options. Essentially 2 sessions were more focussed on an intro to ski touring and backcountry. Then another 2 which were orientated on performance and race perspective within a ski touring setting. A lot of the principles are completely transferrable to a backcountry setting. I opted for the two focussed on performance. 

First up was transitions. Regardless of the mountain being able to switch from boot packing, skinning or skiing in any combination as quickly as possible it’s hugely beneficial. In a race it allows you to not loose precious and non valued adding time. When you are not in a race it is safer and allows you to stay warm as you keep moving. For those that might like to take photographs, grab a quick summit bite to eat or something this time saving buys you some additional time whilst your mates are faffing to get ready. 

The biggest and most memorable point I came away with was the mantra of boots, bindings then skins. And always doing it in that order. That in itself has made my transitions more organised, deliberate and smoother. 

There were also some tricks of the trade for removing skins as quickly as possible. Below are some examples of some great transitions.

The second part of the morning was more into discussing training and nutrition as part of your training or race day program. There is loads of nutrition advice out on the web and with there being so much I often find the information contradicts one another when it comes to which is the best diet to perform on. Regardless of diets during any activity staying fuelled and hydrated is key and this came through in the presentation also. I haven’t always been that great with specific evening and pre-race nutrition regimes but when I have eaten properly the night before, drank a load of water or sports drink the morning of and then continued to fuel through the race. Unsurprisingly I have felt and performed better.  This presentation was quite fitting though as my evening meal had been grabbed on the go and wasn’t exactly nutritious while breakfast had been a cereal bar, coffee and a couple of donuts. 

If you are interested here are some resources (i am not affiliated with them nor an expert, if its something you would be interested in me doing more about nutrition then let me know!)

The afternoon was spent testing out equipment and putting into practise what we had been discussing in the morning around up hill technique and transitions. Having the day structured like this so we could hear about how to do it in the warmth and partly see some demonstrations before practising outside was fantastic for really practising good technique. I managed to borrow some Salomon s-lab skis. The comparison to my all mountain skis with a particularly heavy touring setup made a huge difference. I also learnt some key points. Such as them not having brakes to save weight. It is great but when transitioning on a slope you need to keep hold of your skis. In the event of running after them grabbing new skis by the edge is equally not a great plan. I ended up cutting a finger which was a pain but fine. It however then bled everywhere and on everything I touched. The conditions were really quite warm on the day so I had opted to not wear gloves the whole time. So if in doubt always try to wear gloves even if they are incredibly lightweight ones. And always hold onto your skis!

We finished up for the day with a raffle and some epic prizes! I cam away with some gloves and managed along the way to pick up some second hand skimo skis. Missing bindings but I will come onto them later.

All in all I would highly recommend this workshop. I will definitely be checking it out next season. You cant ask much more than to meet a load of super friendly ski touring buddies along with learning some tips and tricks.

Thanks Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos!!

Thanks Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos!!

Batona 55 mile Run

After doing a bit of research I finally found a 50 miler to run toward the end of 2018. I had one lined up a couple of weeks after the bike ride i completed up in Canada but coming down with a cold the week before the event was not the pre-race prep that I needed. Deciding that i was probably a bit run down and still recovering I pulled the plug the day before the race. Which was why I found myself searching through the vast web for any 50 mile running race that might be happening on the east coast of the US. And ideally not too far away. 

The Batona 55 Route

The Batona 55 Route

I finally came across a 50 miler located a few hours south in New Jersey that was a point to point race following the length of the Pine Barrens, it had minimal elevation gain and technical sections making it a very runable course. 

The 50km run a couple of weeks before had gone pretty well, however I had managed to twist my ankle a bit on some of the more rocky and technical sections. So I had rested up, done a load of yoga and tried to recuperate as much as possible before the race. The down time did allow me to go out to get a load of supplies. Its safe to say i probably over did it with the number of gels, bars, energy and electrolyte drinks but I wanted to test a few of them out to see how I my body reacted to some of them. Over the week i slowly packed everything that I needed with a few of the drop bags for good measure.  The cherry on top of each drop bag was going to be a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Perfect for the mid race munchies.

One of the new items I found was bulk energy gel bags which I could decant into reusable gel pouches. Compared to the energy gels where you end up with sticky wrappers stuck in your pocket as well as throwing out  the sachets I thought these might provide a lower waste solution.

Gu Gel in Bulk

Gu Gel in Bulk

The night before the event wasn’t quite as smooth as I had planned. A few last minute errands changed the prompt departure. Instead I grabbed a pizza from one of our local pizzerias before making the drive into the wet and windy evening. The conditions were not expected to improve with the rain due to continue until the early hours of the morning. 

Arriving at the hotel for the night I spent the remainder of the evening munching down pizza, pre-taping my feet and doing some last minute packing adjustments. It was the first time I had pre-taped the night before a race. Sitting with one foot balanced carefully on the sink whilst I tried to gently pour this yellow antiseptic on my feet prior to putting on the tape. The antiseptic goes slightly tacky after a few minutes allowing the tape to really stick to your skin. It works really well however after completing this procedure I realised it had also potentially stained the sink. Trying to wipe it off and it was still there so rather than having a calm, relaxing end to the evening I spent the remainder furiously scrubbing away. It finally came off as I collapsed into bed a bit after 10. The alarm set for 3.30 am. 

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

It wasn’t my best or longest night sleep in the world nor my worst as I rubbed my eyes. I left the alarm still ringing in a bid to not fall back asleep. Breakfast was my pre-prepared not so cold oats warmed up to ambient room temperature overnight. I could still feel the stodgy pizza is my stomach. Going through my head was maybe the calzone pizza had been an error of judgement in my pre-race nutrition. Dinner had not been washed down with beer or ice cream which would have certainly tasted good but would have been even less ideal. 

Outside and the rain was still coming down as I drove over to the start line. I checked in, chatted with some of the other runners before sitting in the boot of my car waiting for the bus to pick us up and drop us to the start line. As soon as it turned up we bundled into the back. The yellow school bus being a bit of a novelty still although it’s slowly becoming a bit more familiar with each running race where we have been carted to the start. It was filled with excitement as either good friends or strangers met up and shared various stories of running or other adventures with their seat mates. A bit like heading back to school after the summer holidays.

The main piece that stuck out from the race briefing was look out for the markers and don’t get lost. Fairly easy advice but with a multitude of tracks, turns and the race beginning in the dark it would be especially easy to go wrong especially in the early stages of the race. The race began and the group slowly funnelled into the woods. The trees sheltered us from the final hour of rain. As the group slowly elongated out, the head torches bobbing in front and behind snaking through the under growth. There was a bit of chatting but clearly people were still waking up and coupled with concentrating on the route the chat ebbed and flowed as the terrain became easier and wider or narrow and more technical. 

Starting the race

Starting the race

As sun up began the birds started to become more alive about the forest. Dawn was finally arriving with a kind of strange early morning hazy, grey light. It was still cloudy over head and the chance of some golden glow suddenly illuminating our path was highly unlikely. 

The trail twist and turned, my headlight came off and was stuffed into my running vest as it became more than light enough to run without the additional light. All was going well and on track, despite the drizzle of rain,  we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. After some time we came to the first check point. Reading my number to the team arming the check point and it transpired that they thought I had dropped out. It didn’t feel like a great sign or omen. Particularly when I had to have the same conversation at the next few check points. Until either the message got round or the crews rotation meant they had already met me at an earlier station. 


Leaving the aid station and heading on one of the guys proclaimed he was ready to rock as he exited the state parks bathroom. Perfect point and time for a stopping point so I jumped in not wanting to get caught out part way. Continuing on and the trail skirted round some lakes which unlike the Cayuga marathon earlier in the year did not look nearly as tempting to jump in with their brown, cold looking water. A section of wooden boarding weaved amongst the trees above the water line. It was at this point I learnt that my trail running shoes had close to no grip on these. I almost ended up on my arse as my first stride hit the wood. The subsequent steps resembled bambi on ice. Despite the precarious nature of them though it was really cool running through the woods. 

Skating on the wooden boards

Skating on the wooden boards

The day slowly heated up and each stride was inching me closer to the finish. By late morning the first marathon was complete. I felt good on my feet a few hot spots had quickly calmed down. Not a great sign but given the race length I was not so concerned. Longer or multi day races might have required a bit of an investigation but where they were I knew I would be ok for the duration of this race. The following day or week could be a different story.

I was carefully making sure to get more than enough electrolyte and food into me as the day progressed. I was using more sugary gels and bars compared to normal. They certainly tasted pretty good although compared to my normal fruit a nut mix. Certainly on a hot day this snack is sometimes pretty hard to swallow as it seems to suck all the remaining moisture from my mouth. However it does provide more natural sustenance than the sugary gels that can after a while taste sickly sweet. This was very much a test though to see how my body reacted to them through the race, ultimately whether or not I could stomach them.

Munching a PB&J sandwich!!

Munching a PB&J sandwich!!

I made my first error in direction. With my head down for a bit I was just plodding a long and came to a soft sandy section. Not wanting to over exert myself through the short section I began to walk. It took some time but it slowly dawned on me that there were no other foot prints. Unless the rest of the field who were in front had all gone wrong, I was on the wrong trail. Tracing my foot steps back and I met another runner making the same mistake as myself. It made me feel less bad and equally fortunate that I had picked it up as soon as I did. As the day crept on my pace slowed overall, not surprisingly, and three of us ended up inter changing positions for a while before I settled on running with one of the guys for a bit. It was great to pass some time chatting away about the day so far and various running adventures. After some time we split and I went a head not expecting to see him till the finish, as one of his legs seemed to be causing him some problems.  


By early afternoon the sun was out and it had truly turned into a beautiful day for running through the woods. One section my mind was pulled from its meandering thoughts by a cacophony of birds calling out clearly disturbed by myself or some other runners a head. The sound they created was amazing. What felt like not long later I was caught back up by one of the runners who had had a second wind. It was great for me having someone to chat about various races and adventures to pass the final hours of running. The definition of technical terrain or a hill had by this stage in the race very much changed in profile and now even some of the more minor slopes were in the bracket for walking up. We were however on track for hitting the sub 12 hour mark. Which was perfect, the sun was still due to be up by the time we finished so at the penultimate check point I ditched the torch in a bid to save some weight for the final miles. I ran out of water just before the final check point which although was close to the finish I felt I should top up just in case. In retrospect I should have just sucked it up for the final miles but hindsight is always 20:20. 

The final few hundred meters were marked with plenty of flags, there was to be no sprint finish and as we crossed the finish line just after the 12 hour mark the race was all of a sudden over. Not wanting to be too sleepy for the drive back I said my thank you to the race organisers, grabbed my drop bags which had magically made their way to the finish before me and made a dash for the drive home. My legs I could feel were slowly stiffening up and I was particularly thankful as I filled up at a New Jersey gas station (petrol station) where someone fills up for you. By the time I was back home, my normal jumping out of the car had transitioned into a slow, steady but fairly uncontrolled slide out of the car. Before making a beeline for the back door and the stairs that had all of a sudden become my Hillary’s step on Everest to getting into the house. Laura found this equally funny and I think concerning as she kindly helped unpack the car whilst I summited the steps. After a shower, food and a good nights sleep my legs slowly began their recuperation. With a 1000 cycle in September, a 50km running race in October and a 50 mile running race in November it is turning into a fairly solid finish for the year! Now just time to plan 2019’s events! 

What events have you got planned for 2019? 

1000km Ride Across Canada

Last year I was at a work event when a presentation came up about a bunch of colleagues who cycled 700km from Montreal to Toronto, in Canada. With them using the ride to raise money for Save the Children. I sat there listening, thinking about one of my last cycling adventures and how it would be a great way of seeing part of Canada. Fast forward a year and I was up visiting my Canadian colleagues when one of them mentioned in passing that a similar ride was happening this year and that I should drop the team a note. Not long after that I soon found myself signed up for a 1000km cycle from Quebec to Toronto via Montreal where we would visit three of our offices and manufacturing sites in Canada. 

Admittedly I was a bit late to the game and on top of this between other commitments and post running race recovery I didn't quite fit in the number of training rides that I had wanted to fit in. 

One key thing I did manage to do pre-event was to get my bike properly fitted at Hilltop Bicycles. It is safe to say that if I hadn’t done this the ride would have been significantly less pleasant. Pre-fitting I would get on my bike and after an hour cycling it felt like someone had severely kicked my rear end. Even on a short cycle into work, the return leg had become pretty uncomfortable. I ended up spending a happy evening in the bike shop being measured and fitted to my bike. My bikes is now over 10 years old and apart from when I first got the bike where the focus was mainly related to my height vs the bike, this was the first time that I had everything checked and adjusted to fit me. Everything from where my cleats on my shoes sat all the way up. The crucial element for me came with measuring my bottom. I sat down on this slightly squidgy seat and after a few minutes got up to see 2 little dimples marking where my sit bones were. Immediately I was informed my seat was the wrong size, good to know as it explained a lot. From here it was a quick exercise choosing the seat to fit my width. It was such a difference from what seemed like a fairly random exercise selecting a wider, narrower, shorter seat etc in the hope that at the end of the day it felt better. After a few further alterations the job was done. My wallet a bit lighter but certainly a lot better than a whole new bike. The next day I took it out for a ride and the difference was immediate. I was more comfortable on it than I had ever been and felt a lot more efficient in the process. All that needed to be done closer to the event was to take it all apart to fly up to Canada in a way that doesn’t wreck all these adjustments. 

The rough Route

The rough Route

It was the day before I was due to fly, and I was breaking down my bike so it could fit in a bike box when I became stuck removing the peddles. They just wouldn’t budge. Not wanting to spend too much time on it, I took it to a local mechanic to see if they had better tools for the job. The first peddle came off quickly enough. The second was stuck and needed to soak over night. Not really the answer I wanted but at least there was some progress. Having ridden in all sorts of weather and conditions it turned out that the grease I had put in over a year ago had finally all oozed out creating a pretty solid seal. The next day I turned up and the peddle was finally off. I quickly got back to the house to finish off the job and get it packed up for the flight to Quebec. Soon enough I found myself sitting relaxing on the plane as we taxied to take off. It felt like we had only just taken off when we were on our approach. The first surprise when arriving into Quebec was the fact that the dead pan immigration officer did not seem surprised or interested in the fact that my reason for being in CanadaI was that I was about to cycle from Quebec to Toronto. He clearly hears far more interesting stories through the day. It was a quick stamp and called out "Next!!”. 

It was great to finally meet the rest of the team who I would be cycling with for the coming seven days. It was a pretty impressive group with a mix of nationalities and backgrounds from national level kayakers to head ski patrollers and everything in between. We even had one guy who had committed to complete the 1000km on a fat bike. Riding by yourself or with other fat bikers is one challenge but as I was about to be reminded doing this on a fat bike in a peloton of road bikes is something else. Equally being in a peloton for the journey meant we could chat with one another and given that this was the first time i was meeting everyone meant listening to some great stories along the way.

The route itself followed the St Lawrence river from the outskirts of Quebec City up river to Montreal and the mouth of Lake Ontario then on towards Toronto. Going up river there was a marginal incline as well as being in the direction of the prevailing winds. 

The first couple of days were to be the easiest with ride distances in the 85 - 140km range making for a good warm up, allowing us to break into our stride. There was of course the odd coffee stop. Occasionally we came across a good caffeine stop shortly after starting the days ride.  

The distances then started to crank up as we left Montreal for the leg to Mississauga, Toronto. The first of these coming in at 171km (106 miles) and although not massively hilly the temperature was in the range of  30 - 35C (above 90F). Making the middle part of the day excruciatingly hot. It was not the conditions I was expecting. I had left the Carolina’s only the previous week as hurricane Florence had started its approach with the rain beginning to fall and the temperature dropping. We drove out fo the state in increasingly wet conditions. Then whilst doing final preparations in New Jersey the aftermath of this storm had started to drift north causing it to become much cooler and wetter in the process. I had just assumed those same conditions would slowly drift north. Fortunately not! A high pressure engulfed the part of Canada we were cycling through with cloudless skies and one seriously burning hot sun. There was already some interesting tan lines with various bits of cycling apparel. The mornings ride took us through corn country with significant sections that were as straight and flat as an arrow with only the odd pothole providing a slight deviation in our route. Later on we ended up stopping by the riverside and after admiring how clear the water looked and how tempting it was for a swim we finally broke. After one of the team dove in, the rest of us quickly followed, most of us diving straight in with our cycling kit on. They may have padded shorts but we were fairly certain this heat would dry them out in no time. It turned out to be a fairly long and hard day but filled with some luxuries.  On the outskirts of Montreal we spotted an ice cream and chocolate shop called Talie Chocolat, quickly pulling over and were soon spoiled by the taste and selection of treats. An ice cream and some of their home made cold chocolate milk hit the spot after a hot days cycle! Getting back on our bikes, we had hardly ridden at all when we overshot our destination. After some road and traffic negotiations we made it to our final stop of the day. 


This marked the start of some challenging days a head with the distances increasing. This meant there was to be less rest in the evenings, our days would start as the sun began to rise. Meandering out of the towns as the commuter traffic began to start up. The mornings were glorious. Sunrise provided some beautiful sites across open fields and forests, silhouetting the riders a head. It was my favourite part of the day, picturesque and the temperature at its best. Not to cold or too hot. I felt like I could ride for hours during those early morning sections and in many ways it reminded me of the conditions riding in the UK. The first of these was a 210km day. Our route taking us a long the St Lawrence river in the region of the Thousand Islands. The flat meandering road provided the odd opportunity for a bit of a sprint mid cycle ride to break up the monotony with a mixture of thrill and dread given the distance still to ride. I ended up making the decisions late in the process as some of them had broken away making catching them and then continuing on all the more difficult.  The bursts of speed along with the spectacular views made for a long but epic day. Although some of the team went for a dip I didn’t feel quite as overcome by the heat as the previous day so held off. We did however find ourselves at a vineyard. Like the original Tour de France fuelled by wine we pulled over for a small glass. Sitting there looking out over the vines and having a few sips of wine. The remainder of the day cycling through Prince Edward County. With some incredible views and great roads to cycle along. 

At the end of our 210km day it really felt like we had broken the back on the ride with the longest distance day over. 

As we edged ever closer to Toronto the route began to meander away from the city in a bid to get as little traffic as possible. This resulted in us taking a few dirt tracks, which on our road bikes was a fun little challenge. One of the team however was on a fat bike (and had been for the entirety of the bike ride so far) who was now in his element storming up the dirt road hills as we tried desperately to avoid getting a puncher. Just before the finish we even had time for a stop at a skate board park where some of the riders tested out their skills down stairs and around the park. We finished the penultimate night with a team BBQ. A perfect way for brining the ride to a finish before we arrived at the finish to be dragged in multiple directions as friends, family and colleagues were expected to be at the finish line the following day.

The final day arrived all too soon, thinking back to hours in the saddle to reach this point. All the sites, sounds and experiences we had over the last week as we cycled across part of Canada. It had been a great experience that was coming to an end all too soon.  Although the final days distance was only just over a 100km we needed to be done by midday and we did not want to be late. WE rolled out of the hotel car park very much in the commuter traffic for the first couple of hours as we weaved about the roads, past traffic and picking up a few last punctures for the trip. It was also due to be the hilliest of the days. A perfect way to finish the ride. We set off at a steady pace. But as the day progresses the excitement of finishing built up. There were a few more direct road sections to complete and then a final coffee and cake break where we met up with some of the other riders before hitting the hills. The hills provided a chance to see some of the training area for some of the riders compared to a lot of the relatively flat riding around central New Jersey. With it being the final day we let loose a bit of the hills chasing one another up and up the switch backs to the summit. This was a glimpse of what was to come. Its safe to say the last miles were very much a sprint finish. It started with some decent chases between stopping points, where I found the limit of my gears where some of the group were able to keep peddling downhill mine had reached the limit as I effectively free wheeled down until i could start getting some purchase on the gears. Once we re-grouped into our now tight knit peloton we entered the final 20 - 30km to the finish for a brief lunch stop prior to the final km’s for the finish. Our speed cranked right up, our heads were down and fortunately the cooler weather fo the final day helping with this final speed burst. It certainly made me appreciate the level pro riders operate at as i think our speeds still paled into insignificance to their coasting riding speeds. Reaching the outskirts of suburbia it was time to start winding down the speed whilst we worked our way through the streets and suddenly we were at the final stop of the ride. The place was to try and ride into the finish as one huge group. There were two groups of multi-day riders then another 50 or so riders who had gone out for day rides. Unfortunately with punchers and mechanical issues slowing up some of the groups we had to make the final miles before all groups could make it as apparently there was quite the crowd building at the finish. Cycling the final few kilometres to the finish as a group of maybe 30 - 40 riders we came round the final corner to roaring crowd of supporters.

We had cycled from Quebec City to Toronto over 7 days with single and multi day riders. The team had overcome challenges from punchers, mechanical issues and a couple of unfortunate crashes. After just over 1000km we all managed to cross the finish line safe, sound and up for more cycling!! 


All that was left was to disassemble my bike for the return journey back to the US.  

Mt Mitchell - North Carolina

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This was the first long holiday of the year and after much debate we had settled on exploring Asheville and the Black Mountain area in North Carolina. Renowned for outdoor activities and a lot of breweries! The first task was for a casual 11 hour drive down to the area from New Jersey. With a car full of people and kit. Loaded up with snacks for the drive we began making our way south.

One of the first spots we visited was a natural slide. Hidden in Pisgah National forest we braved the slightly cooler weather for the chance for a wild swim. By the time we got there their were only a few people milling about and sliding down the rock face into the plunge pool at the bottom. With it being the end of the season we had definitely avoided the crowds which you could imagine being the norm in the heat of the summer. After spending some time sliding down and hiking up it was time to head on back to our base for the next few days. 

Sliding Rock

Sliding Rock

After checking out the weather that evening and various trails available we settled on heading up Mt Mitchell. Mt Mitchell itself was high on the wish list for our time there. Partly because its the highest peak east of the Mississippi and eastern North America (when you exclude some of the Arctic region) standing at 2,037m or 6,684 feet. Making it about 400ft taller than Mt Washington up in New Hampshire or roughly 2,200 feet taller than Ben Nevis in Scotland. The mountain and surrounding area have an interesting history as well. Originally the Cherokee tribe were one of the more prominent in the Black Mountain region until settlers took over the region. Since then it was first climbed by a French Botanist and Explore named Andre Michaux (who commenced quite a few expeditions from New Jersey & New York). Making a climb to the top all the more relevant having travelled from New Jersey albeit far easier to get there compared to his travels. A Professor from the University of North Carolina, Elisha Mitchell, explored and studied the height of the mountain before confirming it as the highest mountain in the East of the US. He later unfortunately went on to die on the mountain after an accident. 

The trail up Mt Mitchell

The trail up Mt Mitchell

In the 1940’s a road was created along a ridge that runs 469 miles between Virginia and North Carolina, with a stop off at the summit of Mt Mitchell, creating the Blue Ridge Parkway. However since then the environment has had a tough time. A mixture of effects have been damaging the eco system. From logging and fires through to foreign invading plants and animals. The more recent effect has been acid rain, which is still to this day severely affecting the forest and killing many of the trees. In 1993 it was declared an International Biosphere by UNESCO. Despite the challenges it still has a rich environment. Its not surprising that its one of the most visited national parks in the US. Due to its popularity there are a variety of options to reach the summit including a drive almost to the summit or horseback ride. We opted to hike from the base starting at the Black Mountain campsite.

Blue Ridge Parkway meandering below us

Blue Ridge Parkway meandering below us

The adventure started with the drive over there. Plugging the campsite in as the start point for our hike we soon found ourselves driving up a rough track road with ever tighter switch backs. Higher and higher we headed up the mountain. What we had not appreciated when going with the route the GPS suggested was that this would take us the off road route. It showed the importance of having a road map of the local area! It was quite the experience driving up with sheer drops to one side and some fairly impressive pot holes amongst other parts. It turned out the road should have already been closed for the season. We had managed to sneak through for a final ascent whilst they were conducting some maintenance. As we climbed our expected time of arrival got later and later. It felt like we had driven to the top of the mountain as we emerged onto the main and perfectly tarmacked road. Trying to find the second segment for the onward journey, which unfortunately had been closed for the season, we began searching for alternative routes. After trying a few different ones we were finally heading in the right direction on the only remaining route to get to the start of the trail head. The trail started from the Black Mountain camp ground. We soon enough arrived far later than expected but there nonetheless . The campground is tucked in beneath the mountain. Parking up we crossed over a bubbling river to get into the camp group which was filled with campers and surrounded by towering trees. 

Some wooden signs directed us towards the start of the trail, with a fairly flat section to warm us up into the hike a head of us. This however did not last long. We soon found ourselves in amongst the trees and working our way up wards. The cooler weather making for some perfect conditions for hiking. 

One of the plants of interest for the day was poison ivy having spoken to a few people about the various poisonous plants in the US. We had spent some time over breakfast reading a few warnings and articles about poisoned ivy, oak and a few other plants as well as how to spot them. We were on the look out for these plants in a bid to avoid them. Not being your flora expert anything that looked remotely similar suddenly became a hurdle to overcome. Not wanting to be covered in the resin that these plants secrete which waits up to 48 hours before revealing the blisters of the infected area. Unfortunately you can spread it around during this time so in the event of getting it on your hands imagine all the places you might touch during a 48 hour time period….

Slowly but surely we made our way further and further up wards. With most of the mountainside covered in forest we did not have much of an opportunity to take in the views around us. Until we reached a small clearing which had been carved out to make way for a electricity pylon that was strung up the side of the mountain and also headed for the top albeit in a much more direct fashion. Straight up. This gave us a small glimpse into what we would see from the summit and it was already pretty spectacular. 

I find it fascinating seeing how the environment changes as we meandered our way along and higher up the mountain. We passed through thick groves of rhododendron’s as we climbed and the scenery slowly changed from chestnuts and oak trees to fir trees as we made our way higher and higher. Unfortunately we didn’t see any flying squirrels or local black bears. Admittedly not seeing a bear up close although an amazing experience would have been a bit nerve racking for the group and the bear. 
You can read about my last bear experience in the link below

We were not disappointed on reaching the summit. The 360 degree views were pretty awe-inspiring. We even met some cyclist that had made a bid for the summit under their own power as well. Munching away of some snacks before the second leg of the journey we watched large grey clouds moving in on the area. With the weather on the turn and due to it taking longer than expected to reach our actual starting point we made the decision to make a dash for the bottom rather than continue along the ridge to some other nearby peaks. Part the way down the first rain drops started to make their way through the foliage. We stopped briefly for an attempt at some easy bouldering before pressing on quickly to the bottom. We got back down in pretty quick time, with the rest of the evening to explore the nearby town and its array of Breweries and Bars. 

The Weather Turning

The Weather Turning

If you are interested in reading a bit more on Mt Mitchell and the surrounding area the link below has a bunch of info.

Views from the Summit

Views from the Summit

Cayuga Trail Marathon

After much anticipation it was time for the Cayuga trail marathon. Since early on in the year I have been slowly increasing my mileage for this event and despite having to drop from the 50 miler to a marathon so I could make a return journey for a bachelor (stag) party I was very much looking forward to the race. 

The race felt like I went from having weeks and weeks to go to nothing. Booking some last minute accommodation and it was suddenly the day before the event. It was Friday and after finishing up work, the evening quickly switched to travel mode with a decent drive to up state New York. In our haste to get on the road we completely neglected thinking of food. Realising our error within a very short period of leaving the house that we were both pretty hungry and had only just started the drive. This was within 20 mins of starting the journey as we hit the first traffic jam. Not wanting to detour too far from the road we opted for the first available standard burger joint. Possible not be best pre-race nutrition nor did it turn out to be that close to the main highway.

Full now of chips, burger and a small milkshake we made good progress up towards Ithaca. The final part of the journey meandering amongst the mountains. Unfortunately we were not able to take in the beauty of the local area with the sun already set. We finally reached the accommodation for the night. Sitting right next Robert H. Treman state park where the race began. It was a perfectly comfortable pre-race spot and despite being a motel had an almost ski chalet type vibe to the place. The car park filled with trucks a few piled high with BMX bikes. 

I had prepared most of my gear and snacks for the race prior to the drive. The next morning was a strong start, trying to make a coffee the filter broke spilling coffee grinds all over my mug. Half a sleep and not wanting a repeat I gave up at this point and instead loaded up on locally made bread and jam. 

Heading over to the start line before 8am and the temperature was already beginning to soar with runners seeking a bit of pre-race shade, topping up with fluids and having a bit of a warm up before the race began. The 50 miler was a qualifier for the US team, so with that came a number of serious athletes to both it and the marathon. Some had opted to go shirtless right from the start, armed only with a water bottle for the entirety of the event. Finally the time had come as all of us huddled together at the start line. With the blow of a ram’s horn the race began. We started the initial trot. Like many races this initial period is always a bit slow off the mark as runners finally get over the actual start line. It was time to get in front of some of the pack before sections of single track prevented it. It turned out as the race progressed that there were more than enough places to over take or be overtaken. 


The course itself was a gorgeous meandering track through the state park, through Lucifer falls and up towards Buttermilk falls. The route had incredible views especially as the course headed up gorges, past glistening cold water falls and along wooded single track. You certainly couldn’t ask for much more. 

As the day heated up each pool I ran passed became more and more tempting to dive into. Especially as we saw more people out through the day swimming about in these crystal clear blue coloured pools. It was a hard task to run past them. The aid stops came as a perfect treat and distraction from the heat with an array of trays of cut orange, melon and a few other goodies. I have found it pretty interesting over the years how I seem to crave specific foods depending on the event, the weather, terrain and how many miles I have done or am doing. One of the most memorable being a canal race where I gave into my slight sweet tooth. Munching down a whole load of gummy bears at each stop, I later spent the night curled up in a ball with terrible stomach pain. The second day and stage of this event was less than pleasant, the lesson learnt not to always give in to those immediate cravings! Anyway coming out of one of the check points and rounding the corner there was a river to cross. Perfect!!! Despite briefly thinking of the damage that could happen with wet feet I jumped in and dosed my body in some much needed cold stream water. It was invigorating. My feet were going to get wet regardless so why not enjoy the experience. Cooling station down and it was time to jog on, slightly soggy with squelching feet. Back in the UK this would normally mean wet feet for the remainder of the day. However 20 mins or so later and my feet felt bone dry and ready to roll.


With all race you often end up chatting to some of the runners as your paths cross. I was given some insight into the course that was to come up. I hadn’t realised that the course had a large number of steps. I gave up counting not long after starting when i saw them meandering up the hill side and knowing i was doing a loop to come back down them. We crossed paths with some of the 50 mile runners who were leading the pack and had started earlier in the morning as the out and return loop criss crossed and joined at different sections. I was amazed at their speed and at how little some of them carried. Having got used to everyone using a little body vest with pockets for anything and everything you might need, these guys quite often just had a water bottle strapped round their wrist. Maybe i wasn’t taking enough of a risk and carrying too much on a relatively short course given the number of aid stations. 


I ended up with a few runners who seemed to be at a steady pace to myself. We tended to split up a bit on the hills between the up and downs but as soon as it flattened out we bunched back together again. It always helps pass the time chatting to someone new, hearing about their stories of past events, adventures and life in general. The girl in the group worked on a vineyard in the area. So we got a crash course in wine making and how the season was going for the grapes given the unusually wet summer. 


The group dissipated and feeling like i had regained some strength in my legs I sped up. I had a brief spell feeling like i was about to get cramp in my calfs. Particularly after tripping on a couple too many roots, but after munching down some salty nuts I was picking up again. 

Towards the end of the race I came across a few guys who were going at a good speed to finish off the final few miles. I thought this was probably how the race would finish up for us. Chatting all the way to the finish line. This was almost the case until the final mile or so. Slowly but surely i felt like i was dropping off the back of the group. Initially I put this down to beginning to get tired. I put in a burst of effort to catch back up with them and I realised this was not the case. The chat had stopped and instead the pace was slowly being cranked up. Again naively i thought it was good to have a strong finish but at least the three of us would be crossing the line together. I come to this thinking because we were ahead of the mid pack but still a long old way from the leaders. Maybe this is where I go wrong in races as I like to do well but the difference between say 30th and 31st or 32nd is still a long way off top 3, 10 or even top 15. Any way it is safe to say we looked awesome sprinting into the finish. I crossed the finish line just on the tail of one and slightly a head of the other. Elated, incredibly hot but still feeling like i had more than enough in the tank to keep going. Maybe i should have sprinted harder. 


Overall i finished 31st out of 153. 10th in my age group  or 1st scot (I am assuming there were no other recent expats from Scotland at the race!)

Until the next race, it would be great to hear whether you compete against others in races or purely against yourself and the clock. 

An introduction to Snow Shoeing

We decided that it was time to give snow shoeing a go. The conditions were looking windy but hiding amongst the pine trees of New York state we would be fine, especially with the recent snow fall making for a soft and powdery walk amongst the woodland. We headed over to XC Cascade up in Lake Placid to experience some of their trails. It looked chilly outside with the wind swirling the snow around. 



If you have all the equipment you don’t have to be limited to laid out trails but can head up and into the backcountry trails. This season we hadn’t got all the equipment together needed for this and we were total rookies, so maybe next year!

After getting kitted out we opened the door of the warm, cozy hut. We were blasted by the wind as the door crashed closed behind us. Despite the lure of the cozy hut, we took our first incredibly large, cumbersome and awkward steps. Trying to make a quick dash across the cross country ski trails, dodging the speedy and more agile skiers, was probably quite a site but we made it onto the start of the quieter snowshoe trail. Soon enough the towering pine trees swallowed us up and blocked out any trace of a raging wind behind us.

Walking between the trees and over the soft powdery snow felt like walking into Narnia. A magical quiet world with hardly a disturbance. A wave of feeling completely at peace came over us as we began meandering along the trail with the snow sparkling on the drooping trees. Not long after starting we got into the stride of things. My large feet now felt like ginormous platforms flopping around the place. Yet despite the speed at which we became accustomed to our new oversized flip flops taking pictures was a new challenge what with the poles swinging about the place, a camera in hand and padding about through the winding trail.

Further a long the trail we came to the first of a few obstacles in the form of a tree blocking the path. Carefully and gingerly we stepped over forgetting that the snowshoes would flop almost completely open catching and scraping over the tree. I am not sure smooth or seamless would have been used to describe the transition over the obstacle but it was successful if the benchmark was not to fall over.

After being out for a few hours we meandered back to the hut for a warm drink by the fire. Coming out of the protection of the trees we were reminded that all was not so tranquil. As we flung ourselves through the doorway with little grace but huge grins and red cheeks from the cold breeze and great conditions.


Very quickly we commandeered some seats near to the fire with hot chocolates and some soup on order.

All in all a great experience and one that will definitely be repeated once the snow comes again. 


Returning to Skimo

It had been a year since my last (and first) skimo competition. Last season I had grand ambitions of filling my weekends with skimo competitions, possibly slightly ambitious given I had only just moved over to the US. Last year’s competition fell on my very first weekend in the US. I ranked it higher priority than, you know, trivial things like finding my nearest supermarket or studying for my US driving license. 


A year on and with slightly more of an idea of what to expect, I made the drive north to Berkshire east to kick off the season. Despite all my best intentions of arriving fresh to the start line the snooze button at 4am was too tempting. In a bid to speed up the morning I had packed the car and prepared breakfast and coffee the night before…The evening prep took much longer than expected. When I finally jumped into bed it felt like only a couple of hours before I was up again and rubbing my eyes awake as we drove north. 

The sunrise revealed an overcast day and as we reached the mountains the wind picked up, trees swaying and snow drifts forming and flowing at the sides of the road. Despite a heavy right foot we still hadn’t made up for the heavy use of the snooze button. Wife’s are useful for times like these for any extra pair of legs to help run around sorting the pre-race entry and parking the car.

Entry complete and caffeine level replenished we all stood together on the start line - a mixture of either Lycra clad, carbon covered racers to those with the intentions of maximising the workout with heavier telemark skis or setups designed more for a short hike from a nearby lift ideally. I was one of the latter, the additional weight of my skis were clearly going to make a significant difference to my time and general efficiencies over the mountain. After a year of hunting for the best American BBQ, burning off as much energy as possible fitted the bill perfectly. This year I opted for the short course rather than the full. Mainly due to preferring not to be spend as much time boot packing (hiking uphill with skis on my back) on this occasion. 

As the starter went, the group made a dash up the hill. Everyone letting the more competent and quicker competitors to go first. Soon a line was spread out up the mountain with our skis sliding beneath us. Compared to last year the cooler conditions felt much more enjoyable. Making it to the top of the first hill and I got tempted by the longer course for a lap. The shorter course is much more about taking part aspect so doing a hybrid certainly when I wasn't in a competitive position wasn't going to affect anyone. Skins off and tucked into my already sweaty top I skied back down the mountain before applying my skins and heading back up the mountain. The next stage included a couple of boot packing sections. Hidden amongst the trees and what felt at times like I was hiking up a small frozen stream with ski boots on I slipped, slide and scrambled my way up hill. At times trying to perch on anything I could. Trees, rocks and anything poking out from the snow became a possible hand hold. I am sure there is a better techniques for this but on this occasion it wasn't coming to me. I wasn't helped by my poor attempt at strapping my skis to my bag - resulting in my skis smacking off my helmet with every other step. Good thing it wasn’t my head. A final skin up and it was time to ski all the way back to the base of the mountain for round 2 of 3.

For the next 2 rounds I went back to my original plan of not boot packing and purely skinning and skiing. As the field spread out working out who was on what loop and which course became increasingly hard. Nonetheless I mostly ended up skiing along with someone for at least part of the lap,  which provided some distraction from my now burning legs as we headed up hill again. The second lap went by without any hiccups, my transitions seemed to be improving between skinning up and getting them off as quickly as possible before skiing back down the mountain. 

The third lap and my energy levels were beginning to dip a bit. I munched down some food and finished the last few remaining drips off water in my water platypus pack. As I was eating and drinking though I knew I had missed timed it. At this stage it would not give me much of benefit compared to if I had started slightly earlier. A learning for the next one.


A tough race, but brilliant! The thing I really enjoy with skimo is how it uses so many different muscles and the satisfaction (smug feeling) you get from self-powering your way up the mountain. It certainly makes me appreciate the ski down much more than if I just jump on a lift. 


Its all about earning your turns.

In terms of top tips that I have learnt so far from doing skimo

1) know the course as best you can. It can be difficult converting a not to scale map of a resort with the various sections so ideally visit the area. 

2) practise taking your skins on and off your skis as well as how to pack them away.

3) most importantly enjoy the experience and hopefully you will end up doing it a few times. 

Something new! - cross country skiing

Despite my time spent pulling a pulk, the skills and techniques although similar to cross country are also certainly very different. With both pulk pulling and cross country skiing you are trying to build up speed as efficiently as possible. But having to drag additional 60 - 100kg’s or so of weight behind you certainly slows you down, makes you more cumbersome and changes your concept of speed. Pulk pulling uses large snow boots and bindings that clamp your foot onto the ski, kind of like a snowboarding binding. In comparison the cross country setup feels incredibly sleek and light weight. So despite having done some cross country skiing in Scotland (when the conditions allowed) it was time to get out on the slopes in the US. 


We are slightly spoilt for choice in the northeast US. With a trip to Lake Placid on the cards (home to the 1983 and 1932 winter Olympic Games), we had the opportunity to have a blast round their cross country course. The conditions had been pretty warm along with a forecast of rain, so going downhill skiing was a bit less tempting. Heading over to the the venue and we soon found ourselves kitted out with all the gear. Having spent years downhill skiing the difference in weight and feel of the kit still amazes me (comfy!). Admittedly the boots we had were very much the recreational type but its much more like wearing trainers (sneakers) compared to the heavy, rigid boots for skiing or snowboarding. And the bindings only clip the very tip of your toe to the ski. After a few pointers we were out on the course doing laps of the place - imagining ourselves as Olympians flying round the course in style (albeit a fair bit slower)! Having watched the olympics and the speed with which they can go round it is going to take some time and practise to reach those levels. That said, cross country skiing is relatively easy for snow newbies to pick up and much less intimidating than facing a steep downhill slope. I really recommend it if you are ever looking for a snow sport with friends of varying levels of ski skills and fitness. 


The course started in a large opening between the lodge and the old start line. There were kids, teens, grown-ups, octogenarians and even nonagenarians! flying all over the place with varying degrees of control, most of them a lot better than myself, clearly enjoying themselves and making the most of the break in the weather. We headed from the opening up towards the woods. The ice conditions in parts made for some interesting skiing as we got used to this relatively new sport. Particularly the descents, where despite being short and not very steep became quite challenging as I shot towards a tree…  That said the majority was of the snow was softening up making it slower and easier for us, the woodland had protected the course from the worst of the conditions. (Tip for newbies: fresh fluffy snow or wet slushy snow are the easiest to learn on. Hard packed icy snow is great for adrenalin junkies! When in doubt call ahead and ask the lodge for advice on what time of day to go).

On the other side of the venue there was a competition taking place. Passing some sections we could hear cheers and clapping with the occasional glimpse of a racer shooting past. It certainly gave us an appreciation for the speed that you see the racers going!

After a few hours the sky began to threaten with a few splots of rain. Time to head indoors to taste our first maple steamer - a perfect warm combination of milk and local maple syrup to end. We will certainly be back for more and hopefully to try out skate skiing.


Going Veggie - ish

Now for anyone that knows me I love my steak, bacon, burgers and anything meat related as much as anyone. But this doesn’t stop me appreciating the delights that a vegetarian diet can provide. 

Check out - pictures courtesy of -

Check out - pictures courtesy of -

I am not going to go into the various different types as for me its not about changing my entire diet but more taking the time to have a few meat free meals a week. The great thing with playing about with this is vegetarian recipes often incorporate a far greater variety of ingredients which in my opinion can be very beneficial form a health point of view as we’ll as offering meals packed with flavour and textures.  I am not a nutritionist but just a guy who really appreciates food, it is helped by me enjoying staying constantly active! 

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Now you maybe wondering why would are a couple of guys who go on expeditions be interested in this. Well not only is it incredibly important to be as healthy and prepared as possible prior to going out on expedition. And although our diet isn’t the only thing that will do this its all part and parcel of it. There is also the fact that even having one meal or day a week without meat is beneficial for you and for the planet. 

This was pretty tasty! - pictures courtesy of

This was pretty tasty! - pictures courtesy of

You don’t have to become a tofu munching machine but why not set the challenge of having a vegetarian day a week or more if you fancy it. There are plenty of delicious recipes out there. Here are some of my sources for inspiration, have a look and if you have your own favourite why not add it in the comments as a recommendation for others.

Mount Jo - New york

The plans for a weekend packed from start to finish with skiing were soon dashed by a wave of warm weather hitting the region. After a month of decent low temperatures everything was melting.

Having spent Saturday mostly cross country skiing, the day was finished when the rain began to fall. I don’t mind skiing in most conditions from hot weather to bitterly cold. But skiing in the rain is less enjoyable!

After an early finish we were all set for the next day. Rising early we found the car park to be a mini ice rink covered in a sheet of ice It turned out it was much the same as the nearby cross country course we intended to visit. 

Instead we opted for a slow start to work out some new plans as we visited an outdoor equipment shop called High Peak Cyclery. After having a look round and a chat with the team they recommended heading to Mount Jo. A nearby spot which would provide a short hike to its summit. 


Armed with a map of the area, various bits of winter kit and some micro spikes we drove up to the starting point of the route. The sun was making the occasional glimpse and as soon as we stepped out the car the spikes were on. We made our way towards the trail head wondering past frozen streams, lakes and the entire path being one frozen slab of ice. Soon the path veered from the lakeside up towards the summit. Admittedly still a fair bit below it. 

Micro spikes on and ready

Micro spikes on and ready

Despite the relatively warm temperatures that had hit the area the path was still coated in a huge layer of ice. And in some cases large steps of solid ice. We passed huge icicles dripping and in some areas collapsing with the sudden warm spell.


Bit by bit we made our way towards the summit before the final steps, arriving at the plateau with views over the valley beneath. As we sat down absorbing the winter beauty we could feel the difference in wind chill as we were now exposed to the elements with no protection from the wind. Below we could hear people playing on a nearby frozen lake as the sound travelled clearly through the cold crisp air. Compared to hiking in the summer where the trees and undergrowth cover and conceal the area the winter provided this opportunity to see all around us. Through the leaf less woodland bar the odd evergreen. Having spent much more time hiking in the UK where heading up the summit is often a treeless and open expanse I still find it strange despite being far more natural to have these woodland covered summits. 


After a quick drink it was time to head back down the mountain. Very quickly we were reminded that it is often easier hiking and climbing up compared to going down. We scrambled down the steps and over some icy rocks to make it back to the initial path. I don't normally walk with poles, so it was an experience heading down with all this additional stuff! We soon came across the split in the path between the long path we had come up and the short path on the way down. 

Although not much in it we chose the shorter path for a different view and way down. The short path as the name suggests takes a much more direct way down the mountain. We clambered down the icy structure that was a head of us. In many ways it was much easier than during the summer with all the rocks and rubble covered, it felt like we didn’t have to take quite so much care of tripping over the undergrowth. Which wasn’t entirely true as instead it was more about where we will get the most purchase from the tiny little metal spikes beneath our feet. 

The final crux came through a little ravine, with trees to one side and a short cliff face with large icicles hanging down onto the path we meandered through this slightly steeper section. After picking our way down and passing another couple we finally reached the bottom. Our first winter ascent together. 

Arriving at the bottom we headed back to the car. It had clearly been a warm day, by this stage rather than completely jacketed up i was hiking with just a thin merino wool top and the car park that was an ice rink had become a slushy and in some places stream flowing area.  Now just time for some lunch!

Paragliding in Switzerland

With a real appreciation of the risks involved in paragliding I wanted to make sure I found what I considered to be the best place to learn. There is nothing wrong with slow and steady that I could achieve in the UK and it would definitely keep building up my knowledge bit by bit. But you can’t beat an intense period of learning to really boost it. So the prospect of a week somewhere paragliding about the place was all too appealing. After sifting through forums, websites and any other tips i could find I came across Verbier Summits. Run by Mike and Stu who are twins their soul moto is to be the best and safest paragliding school in the world came across as the winner. As the name suggests they are based in Verbier in the Alps of Switzerland. The fact that I would be surrounded by beautiful mountains, swiss/ french food and being outdoors all day was an added bonus.


I booked last minute and soon found myself on route to Switzerland. Despite a delayed flight by quite a few hours, resulting in me having to hire a rental car that I wasn’t expecting to in order to get up the mountain, I finally ended up at the chalet for the week in the very early hours of the morning. The benefit of this was I was running ridiculously late for my flight so despite the added inconvenience it meant I made my flight. I woke slightly groggy from the few hours of sleep i got to the sight of mountains all around. A quick breakfast and a boat load of coffee before hitting the classroom. We went through the agenda for the week. There was definitely going to be one day at least in the classroom as well as at the end or morning of somedays but the aim was to get us to be qualified to the club pilot level by the end of the week. There was a completely mixed group from beginners to experience paraglider's/ skydiver's and everything in between. 


Taking the drive up to the gondola we pilled our paraglider into the cabin before diving into the gondola in front. Paraglider packs are not the smallest and it only took a few of them to fill a cabin. Arriving at the launch pad and it was an incredible sight. The views from high above the valley were incredible and we weren’t even flying at this point. They took us through the safety briefing again. Pointing out the various landmarks and ultimately the field we would be landing in. The difference between looking down on the Isle of Wight vs Verbier was equally daunting. 


Setting up just the same as previously and then it was time to make my first flight. I was given the signal as the breeze began to run up the hillside. Our wind marker fluttering in the wind. I ran down the hillside. Feeling the wing rising above me and beginning to pull me from the hillside.  Soon enough my feet were off the ground and i was flying out into the valley. I was also looking down several 1000 ft. The different conditions felt a bit bumpier initially than what I had previously experienced back in the UK but as I looked down on Verbier it was an incredible feeling. We were directed on the radios, initially this was very regular communication as they watched us all the way into the landing area but as the week progressed it became more about us feeling the glide. To pass we had to show a certain amount of competence from take off through to landing.

The final part of each flight being lining up the landing, as we approached had to consider the direction, speed and height as we came in. Observing the bright orange wind sock showing us the direction of the wind. I did of course have some nerves on each flight but as we progressed and I felt more confident these relaxed a little. As the week went on we managed 3 - 4 flights a day each being 30 mins or so and as we progressed they incorporated exercises into each of them. Building up our skills along the journey. I really enjoyed the experience of learning the new skills each day and you could see and feel the progression through the week. Towards the end we were making solo flights with a lot less input, they were obviously watching and making sure we didn’t do anything stupid but it still felt like we had a lot more within our control. We could start making journeys across the valley, making sure we avoided the other pilots as well as playing a bit of follow the leader. 


It was certainly sad to see the end come to the week but it had been an incredible experience. I would highly recommend Verbier Summits as a paragliding school and certainly hope to join them in the future.  We all qualified as club pilots, which sounds a lot more qualified than it really is. It is merely a small step in a much longer journey of learning about paragliding. If you fancy giving it a go why not check these guys out, high adventure on the isle of wight or there is always the BHPA (British hangliding and paragliding association) where you can search for an instructor near you.  


Paragliding in the UK

I have been debating whether or not to write about paragliding for a while. Partly because it has now been a couple of years ago since I did it. But, more importantly, by far, is I unfortunately had a family member who was killed during a sky dive and a few friends who have been injured paragliding. So making the decision to have a go is filled with so many thoughts, questions and concerns mixed in with the excitement of trying something that I have watched for years.

Going back to 2008 I got my first taste of paragliding. I was out in Argentina on a ski trip where we heard of someone offering paragliding tandem jumps. It was near my birthday and I jumped at the opportunity. There wasn't a huge amount of lift that day so it was a fairly short flight but nonetheless it sparked an idea to try it again one day.

Fast forward to 2015 and I had my chance. Whilst on Baffin Island I had been listening to a audio book called Hanging in There by Jon Chambers. It's quite a niche subject but despite not knowing much about paragliding I enjoyed it as it helped pass the time away. It was interesting hearing about how they pushed the limits of technical skill and ability during the competition as well as inspiring me to have another go at the sport of paragliding. 


Once back in the UK from Canada I had a look round and came across High Adventure Paragliding on the Isle of Wight. Finding a route over from Southampton was easy enough and I made my first journey over to the Island. Jumping on the ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth. I sat on the top deck in the glorious sunshine as it pulled away into the channel not far from Christchurch where I had previously practised ocean rowing. I met up with Pad the instructor where he went over how we would progress and an introduction to paragliding. Outside the office sat a swing setup like a paraglider without the wing where we could go over some of the basics before we headed out to the hill. 

Chilling in the Sunshine on the Top deck

Chilling in the Sunshine on the Top deck


Pad took the time to show me how to setup the wing as we laid it out for the first time in a small valley looking out onto the sea. I could see in the distance small white horses gleaming in the sunshine.The sea breeze channelled up this small gorge providing the lift for us to play on. He talked me through it bit by bit before showing me the first short flight of him lifting and dropping down safely. The main point being to concentrate on each section of the journey and breaking it down into shorter sections. The first bit being the take off. Wing primed it was a case of waiting for the right breeze before running down the hill. Bit by bit the wing would rise above before it felt like you couldn’t run downhill as it started to lift me from the hillside. Focussing on the direction I wanted to go i ran harder, i probably looked like some odd bird desperately trying to take off in a completely ungraceful manner. I was finally up and enjoying my short and sweet flight back down to the grassy slope beneath me as I was directed on the radio.

Paragliding swing

Paragliding swing


The day was spent making longer and longer walks up the hill, setting up under the supervision of Pad before waiting for his signal and taking off for a small hop down the field. The feeling each time was incredible with that small piece of weightlessness cruising  down the field and landing. It is of course a big learning curve and I was trying to absorb as much as I could with the terminology and new technique. In the midst of all this I even forgot to about lunch which soon passed me by.



As conditions became stronger into the early evening it was time to call it a day. We finished up with a tandem ride. Taking off near one of the cliffs we cruised backwards and forwards on the sea breeze. It gave me a true feel for what it would be like to be able to paraglide by myself with nothing but the wind on my face. I even got a go at steering us along the cliff line. 

We made our final top landing on the cliff before packing up. We made our way back to the ferry and I was excited about my next time already. 



With me being a beginner and it being Britain that next flyable day took a bit longer than expected. But soon enough I was on day 2. This time from a slightly different location and a bit of a longer path to fly. I got to practise some reverse launches. This is where you get your paraglide to form a bank in front of you further up the slope as you fill each of the pockets. Once ready and with the wind at the right level towards you I would pull the paraglider up where it would ideally slowly rise above me before I would smoothly turn around and run down the slope. After I got the knack of remembering which way to turn around, the lines at this point are twisted over one another, I quite liked this method. It was a lot more visual and i felt you could see what was happening through each stage. 

Came across an adventurous Renault Clio

Came across an adventurous Renault Clio

Again a lot of the day was spent marching up and down the hill. Each landing meant the packing up of the wing before quick marching back up the hill for the next round. Not wanting to miss out on potential flying time I marched up and down as much as I could. By the end of the day there was a bit more flying to do and a written test to complete the first stage. I managed a couple of more days in the UK each time heading higher up the hill side and getting more valuable air time.

At this stage though I got the opportunity for a week of intense paragliding.

Tesla Hertz 50km Ultra Run

After building the training up bit by bit and a half marathon as a warm up the next stage was a 50km ultra marathon out on Long Island. Its called the Tesla Hertz ultra race. Making it sounded like an exceptionally well sponsored event!!

Unlike the last race, being point to point, this was a steady 10mile loop with barely a hill to match. As bizarre as it sounds having some hills makes for a nice change on the body along the route. However with it still being hot and this being one of my first ultra's back in a while not having to carry a huge amount round due to it being laps was definitely going to be a big advantage. 

Friday night and with everything finally packed for the weekend I headed out first to get some last minute supplies and then onwards to Long Island. One of the key things after almost getting cramps at the last race was some electrolytes. Back in the UK I had found the cheapest and best solution to be dioralyte, designed for dodgy stomachs it seemed to hit the spot every time. Searching for something similar in the US I have come across something called pedialyte. Pretty much exactly the same thing with a different name. It's also rumoured to be an excellent hang over cure. I don't think it beats irnbru on that front though.

Arriving at a massive campsite for the night I setup camp for the night with the occasional bug bite in the process before jumping into my sleeping bag. It was incredibly humid and my sleeping bag designed for Scottish summer meant I was roasting. In the process of this restful night's sleep I jumped out mid way through the night for a bathroom break and in the process stubbing my toe on the only curb around. Back into my hot and sweaty sleeping bag with a throbbing toe it felt like no time at all before my alarm was going off in my ear. A slightly unique alarm sound to wake up to. If your interested check it out below.

Getting out I was greeted to a thick blanket of fog wrapped over the forest. Taking the tent down whilst trying not to wake the rest of the campsite. A quick bite to eat and I was ready to  head to the start of the race. I made the short trip to the start of the race, bumping into a few fellow competitors before a quick sign in. As we signed in people who had started in the early hours of the morning doing 50 miles, 100kms or 100 miles crossed over the start line for another lap on route to the finish. Greeted to a round of applause it was inspiring to see. 



The tesla hertz race had a attracted a wide variety of people from all over North America to compete in. Located near the historic site of tesla tower a radio mast that was originally aimed at sending messages back to the UK it was a very fitting event. 

A quick photo from the start and brief before we made a start. Bizarrely I found myself near the front of the race. I say bizarre as I've normally sat around the top third to top half. I was happy enough though and was making good ground. The blanket of fog slowly lifting from the trees and replacing it with an ever increasing amount of humidity. It still felt like pretty ideal conditions. Running through the cushioned hard pack trails past trees starting to show glimmers of fall. The ground littered in a variety of fungi. My knowledge in this areas is low to none (basically don't eat the red ones...) but I'm sure for the experienced picker this could have looked like a natural feast. 

Making to the first check point I was excited to see whiskey and an array of treats. Including Swedish fish and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This is not an early American conversion but something that had been growing on me for quite a while. Fortunately this is considered a perfectly reasonable lunch request or sandwich/ bagel deli request. For those used to running events particularly road running events these aid stations might seem strange but for longer races the prospect of being sustained on energy gels is not particularly appetising! I made a fairly quick transition through this not wanting to loose much time before heading back the way I came. It was a cool feature of the race being able to see how far behind the next competitors is. The answer was not much. 

Running further along and we started coming across more people out on their morning cycle or run. The day was definitely heating up bit by bit. Coming up the brow of the one and only hill was a perfect little break from the constant flat gradient. Crossing lap one I and they had water melon! I may have ended up eating too much this race but watermelon on a hot day was seriously refreshing! 


Lap two and I could feel I was slowing a little bit. The competitors in front I would briefly see running the opposite way just before the aid station and check point on the lap. But apart from that it felt like I was alone in the woods running round the trails. It was at this stage that the sun had finally broken through at it was hitting the high 70's low 80's (high 20's/ low 30s). My water consumption had suddenly gone through the roof and my top was soaking. It was time for my top to come off. I've generally not had the need to do this back in the UK but the heat was pretty intense. Once it was off I immediately felt cooler.

The one and only hill came and went by slower than the first. Before lining up for lap 3. It was at this point and I am not sure what triggered it maybe the fact I hadn't been passed by anyone but I wondered if a lap was 10km not 10 miles. Checking out my watch and asking a couple of people I pasted about what distance they were doing and I was pretty sure I was on track with it being 10 miles. I grabbed some more electrolyte at the start line for lap 3 and a bit more food and water before the making a start on the next one. Despite not doing an ultra for a while the idea of constantly fuelling the body is something I haven't forgotten. I knew that especially on a hot day like it was missing the opportunity to eat and drink could catch up with me quickly. 

The final lap was by far my slowest, admittedly it was what I was expecting to average for all the laps it just worked out that my first two were much quicker. Being out in front though kept my mind thinking that if I could just keep a steady pace I should finish in a good position and ideally hold where I was. I hadn't seen the guy up a head for quite a while and as I made my way up towards the aid station I wasn't expecting to see him as for the entirety of the race he had been up a head by an ever increasing amount. Just as I reached the station though I reached him. Not only that but I was surprised by my wife, Laura, who had after a red eye flight driven out to Long Island to see me running. The final chunks of watermelon and pb & j sandwiches consumed before heading back out onto the course for the final 5 miles ish. On my way back out I passed a few people who had made ground on me but I was confident I could maintain the gap  for the moment at least. Not long after I came across the guy who had been a head race. We ended up running most of this final stretch together passing the time chatting about various races. Towards the end he managed to pull away, my legs no longer feeling fresh and not much left in the tank I didn't manage to close the gap as we headed up towards the finish line. Finally crossing in 5 hours 27 min.

I was elated about finishing and even more so for being in 2nd place. As we walked back to the car for a celebratory chocolate milkshake I cramped up crossing the road whilst stepping up the curb. Almost falling back in could have been a bit of a disaster but fortunately Laura was there with a helping hand. 

The drive back was long but pain and cramp free!! 

Trail Run Racing North East USA

I recently took part in my first running trail race in just over a year and prior to that one it has been a couple of years. It also happened to be my first since arriving in the USA.

The race was along the Shawangunk ridge in the state of New York. It's a beautiful part of the state as well as being a tree covered ridge line with enough hills to add to the difficulty. The event had 4 choices of race lengths; 70, 50, 30 miles and half marathon distances. Each followed the same route you just jumped onto the course at different stages along the way. The beauty of it being point to point is the added interest along the trail. When looking out for races I managed to find a large number of them in the northeast of the US that did laps of a trail circuit. Both options have different benefits. But for my first one back in a while a point to point was perfect. You can check out the race details on the link below

I had opted for the half marathon, having not had a suitable amount of time to train up for some longer I was thinking of using it to get me used to races run in the US as well as a good stepping stone to some longer events later in the year. 

Turning up to the event early on a cloudy and cool Saturday morning I had estimated my finishing time. Not on many hard facts for this one just rough estimates based on the distance. As I got chatting to people at the start line it transpired that my estimation was probably off, a quick time for the half marathon and winning time the previous year was just over the 2 hour mark. Along with this a number of people mentioned various points in the course where it was difficult finding the route. There are route markers but they are intermittent and are just the normal Shawangunk ridge trail markers, rather than any additional ones being used other than at the end where some occasional additional red strings of tape had been used. I picked up the map which being for the full length of the course (70 miles long) didn't provide great detail on a side of A4 to really navigate by. With the route on my gps I thought this would suffice. But after speaking to the fellow runners I decided to try to download the route map onto my phone as a back up. Being out in the middle of  nowhere with limited reception this took until part the way through the race to download fully. Better late than never. 

My first yellow bus journey

My first yellow bus journey

Boarding a couple of yellow school buses at the finish line we headed to where the half marathon started. It was my first time on one of these American icons. Boarding the buses made me realise the vast array of runners from whippets at the front to experienced runners right through to those who fancied the challenge for a weekend. Arriving at the start line we all bundled out and did our final preparations before the race started. This along with the race briefing where getting lost was mentioned again. I hoped this would not be me...

We were set off in waves according to our running numbers and I quickly got into a rhythm following behind a few people. We were making good progress along the trail and had made the transition from the little tributary of a trail the half marathon started on to the main trail. It followed beneath pine trees on a hard packed trail as the day began to heat up. Well above the temperatures I was expecting. Rather than being in the mid teens (60F range as I get into the US metric) it was well into the high 20's ( high 70F low 80's).

All was going well till we passed another runner but he was heading in the other direction. It turned out the girl who I was following was his wife. They had a brief chat and she carried on. Now I assumed that he had come out to meet his wife on the trail and as she had continued on we must be heading on the right direction. Turned out this wasn't the case he was doing the 70 miler and we were going the wrong way. About 15 to 20 of us spread out along this part of the trail. Checking and re-checking the maps we turned around and headed promptly back in the reverse direction. We had travelled about 30 mins round trip in the wrong direction. Not ideal on a race that was already due to be a tough half marathon.

Turning around and it was back the way we had come. Sweat already soaking through my top. I met up with a runner who it turned out spent a lot of time of the years running in the area and knew some of  the tougher sections of the course. It was great way of passing the time chatting away as well as getting some local insight on the course or at least pointing out some cool looking areas which I may have otherwise just run past without looking up. Despite being hard packed trail we had already passed one guy limping the other way having gone over on his ankle on one of a number of roots, which I had almost slipped on as well. The trail meandered along a spectacular ridge line with views up into the Catskills. The odd tree hinted at the transition to autumn or fall with the colours beginning to change but there was still a way to go for the real show to begin.

Views from a clearing

Views from a clearing


Making it to the second a final check point marked the start of a long ish up hill section. As well as a short scramble through a boulder field to reach the top. A definite possibility for some scrambling or potentially some bouldering at a later date. I had heard the area was famous for roped up climbing as well. 

Making it to the top and my legs still felt pretty good I bid farewell to my running buddy for the morning and headed off. The trail flattened out and was beginning to descend towards the finish I passed by one of the 70 mile racers who was running in sandals although he was doing incredibly time wise looked to be struggling a bit. Think I would have looked distinctly worst at that stage of a 70 mile run! The heat of the day had clearly had an impact on me as I could feel the odd twinge of cramp setting in. I just hoped a random movement wouldn't set it off. Easing up on the pace for a bit I was trying to minimise the risk of it happening before picking up again. The course by this stage was a gentle descent through cool and damp under growth. With old pine needles littering the floor making for a soft cushioning feeling for the body. 

Warm conditions out on the course

Warm conditions out on the course


I came across a few more runners not really knowing which course they were on I greeted them as I passed them by on route to the finish. Coming round the corner and I was greeted to the bridge I had driven under earlier in the day. By now the day had well and truely cleared from the initial clouds of the early morning to reveal the view across the valley. I quickly stopped to admire the view before the final few hundred metres to the finish line. 



Crossing the finish line and being welcomed to cold drinks, a toast with a very small beer and a slice of pizza was a perfect finish for the race. Before making a rather sweaty journey back south again. 

16th place in 3hrs 10mins. Shouldn't have got lost for 30 mins! 1st place was completed in 2hrs 8mins. I think i will be back for one of these events next year.

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Got any race recommendations? Or have any questions about trail run racing? 

Catskills 3500

Not long after moving to the US I came across the Appalachian mountain club in my search for some backcountry skiing. After chatting with some fellow skiers they introduced me to the Catskills 3500 club. It's a group who wish to climb the highest 35 peaks in the state of New York. To "officially complete" the 35 peaks you have to repeat 4 specific ones in winter as well. Since spending more time with the guys  and girls in the group many have finished their first round and are now well into multiple rounds. More on that later.

the 35 peaks within the Catskills

the 35 peaks within the Catskills


Every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year they have a selection of hikes. One free weekend earlier I got in touch with the groups leader. Not long later we got a reply saying we were all good to join them. These guys volunteer their personal time to take other folk up the mountains. There are of course safety briefings and waivers to be signed but none the less a cool experience just being able to rock up and meet someone who knows the mountains, surrounding areas and of course where to get some great food and drink afterwards. 

First up was a couple of mountains called Vly and Bearpen. It was described as a bush wack. Sounding much more like an exploration through the Australian outback than some mountains in the north east of the USA. Which a bit like "mountains in Scotland" are not quite the alps but some brilliant playgrounds nonetheless.

Waking at the crack of dawn we made our way up north on what has become a standard weekend route. Coming across an ideally placed Starbucks on route for a coffee boost before the walk. This was also to become part of our Catskills hiking routine as long as we hadn't overslept the 5 or 5.30 am alarm on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  

Rocking up we met up with a whole variety of people who had travelled from near and relatively far to hike these mountains. Unlike the vast majority of the UK version of 3000+ ft's these mountains turned out to be coated in a landscape of trees. Making it difficult to see or in some cases know when you have reached the summit. 

We made our way up a muddy track past some go kart like off road vehicles making our way steadily up the mountain. The canopy of trees above us shading us from the increase heat of the sun as it began to rise above us. We soon reached the point where the "bushwack" began. A cross road and the saddle between the two peaks. Turning off the main path we wondered along what looked like a sheep track heading in a meandering fashion upwards. The odd tree marked with a blue splosh which turned out to indicate the boundary of a local land owner. The false summits came across even more bizarre as with all the trees in the way it was seriously challenging to work out whether the peak had been reached with no visual clues to go by. We passed a sign marking the crossing of 3500ft and the start of the no camping zone. Rounding the corner we came to a clearing with a can suspended high up on one of the trees. It turned out this small area marked the summit. Opening the can up we signed our names to show we had completed the hike to the top before turning back round and heading down to the saddle of the mountain. It was still mid morning as we reached the saddle. Being out in the hills in a new environment felt like an incredible experience and with it still being mid morning by the time we reached the saddle where we had cut off the main track very satisfying to think we had seized the day to get up here so early. 

Vly down and on wards and up wards to Bear pen.

One of the cool aspects of these mountains is how visible the changes in flora are as the altitude and direction of the slope change. From dark and damp corners with lush vegetation dripping with droplets of water to the upper slopes covered in pines which look stunted in growth. We also witnessed areas on a number of summits showing what happens when the trees are cleared. Although revealing gorgeous views over the valley the irony is the scar left on this lookout point of a treeless, dry, bare patch of soil and rock on what otherwise from above looks like a pristine environment.

We meandered our way past a closed up cottage which made me think of the books I read on cabins in the far flung reaches of Canada and Alaska such as in call of the wild. 

Heading up the hill we soon made it to the top. I was thinking it would be more like the alps with treeless summits and potentially the chance for some paragliding. Instead the narrow passages back down the mountain between trees Im sure would make for a daunting if not virtually impossible take off point. We came across another group who had a 70 and 80 year old in their group. I very much hope I'm still hiking up mountains at that age!! As we got chatting to the group it transpires one of them had once owned a now long gone ski slope that was once situated on the mountain. Some remnants of the lift we still evident on the hill side. 


A quick bite to eat we headed back down the way we had come and out to the cars at the base of the hill. Our first two US 3500 footers. The day was still pretty early so we opted for searching out a good place to eat. We came across a place called the gunk house. Recommended in an awesome wee book called 36 hrs in New York and the east coast. Serving up wholesome German inspired food food overlooking mountains and apple orchards. 



Now just 33 summits to complete....

Since then we have knocked off a few more and are almost half way at 23 to go.

If you are in the north east of the US check out: - for the catskills 3500 club - for the Appalachian mountain club

And for those in the UK why not set the challenge of the munros, corbetts or wainwrights


Kite Skiing - In the White Mountains

For the last couple of years I have been playing around with kites trying to get into kite surfing and although I haven’t done masses it is something i have really enjoyed. 

Back in the winter months I met up with Jamie from our Baffin Island expedition with the idea of heading to the white mountains for a spot of kite skiing and any other mountain activities we could squeeze into the time up there. 

A couple of weeks out and the conditions were looking great. We were then hit by a heat wave as I watched the snow quickly melt. It was February and instead of spending the weekend skiing I was down on jersey shore in shorts and a t-shirt flying a kite instead. 

Despite hoping for a final dump of snow it never came as we hit the road for the drive north. Conditions in Quebec looked marginally better but the additional day spent in the car wasn't going to be worthwhile. We soon found ourselves reaching our destination of Conway. A wee town with mountains on its door step. 

The following day we met up with our instructor Zeb who has amassed an amazing breadth of experience in kiting and any activity that involves the mountains to the ocean. The conditions for the week were quite mixed which provided a perfect balance of classroom time going through theory of kite flying as well as working through everything kite related from setting it up to taking it down quickly and under control. All in the warmth of the mountain store. 

Indoor Kiting Skills


As conditions improved we headed out to a nearby frozen potato field. Patches of ice shone turquoise blues in the sunshine. Pulling out the kites we laid them on the ground. Stretching out the lines as we had done been practising, it was certainly a different sensation doing it with large mitts on rather than board shorts . The final part of hooking ourselves in and putting our skis on. 

One of the biggest differences of kite skiing vs kite surfing is you don't have the same challenges of the water start and that initial period of having to get just the right amount of pull to get yourself out of the water. Instead you are standing as we launch the kites and as soon as they pick up enough power we are soon gliding across the snow and ice. 

Kiting Conway

As we got more used to the kites and conditions are confidence grew. We were soon zooming across the ice. We would occasionally hit patches of hardened ice where our skis would skip and skid as we tried to find some grip and purchase on our edges. 


The next step was heading up wind. This involved digging our edges in even harder  and working the kite in the wind to start tacking in the direction we wanted to head in. Bit by bit we began to get the hang of it making it slightly further up wind with each attempt. There were of course mistakes along the way as we got to grips with the setup. Factoring in trees, the large overhead watering system, the odd pipe and the occasional patch of solid ice was certainly different to kite surfing. And a bit like how I was told there are either paraglider who have hit a tree or those who will the same seems to hold true with kite skiing. As we got one of the kites spectacularly held up in one of the trees. Fortunately there was no spectacular crashes of being lifted into the air and ceremoniously dumped onto the ground.  

Working our way up wind

As the week wore on our confidence grew along with our skills we were soon making it up to ends of the field we had been looking at all week. To continue spicing things up we also started including drills to take them down quickly in an emergency. 

It had been a fantastic week with a huge amount to absorb but we both certainly wanted more time playing about with kites in the snow. Packing up we were sad to see the mountains grow small in the mirrors as we made our way south to warmer less mountainous areas. 

Of course only a couple of weeks later the snow finally came and temperatures plummeted.

Windiest Place on Earth

Mount Washington The chance to ski on the windiest place on earth. Why wouldn’t I turn that option down.

Not long after moving to the North east I found out about an organisation called the Appalachian mountain club who were organising a ski tour up the Cog railway on mount Washington. Situated in an incredible area known as the white mountains in New Hampshire. Mount Washington I quickly discovered once had (only relatively recently beaten into second place) the highest recorded surface wind speed outside of a tropical storm coming in at 231mph.

It isn’t the closest ski area but with the warmer than usual temperatures in the north east it was always going to be about travelling further north to get the best snow possible. Unlike the previous weekend, the temperatures had certainly begun to cool down. As I started to make the drive north the weather began to change and by the end of the night it was snowing. I was seriously looking forward to getting out the car after a fairly brutal 7 hour drive after a full days work. As much as I wanted the snow I didn’t really fancy the slowing down of the journey.


Arriving at the lodge I crashed out as soon as I hit the mattress, it didn’t feel like many hours later than the first people began to stir, all trying to get the best conditions for the day. Munching a quick breakfast all washed down with large mugs of coffee, I made my way to the meeting point. Now despite it once having the highest recorded wind speed on earth there is still a railway to the summit along with an access road. Our plan was to follow the train tracks up the mountain and once out of the tree line see what the conditions were like. Summiting was highly unlikely with forecasts of high winds and a thick layer of cloud covering it.


I had enjoyed the ski mountaineering racing but this was a completely different experience again. The pace obviously much more sedate with the emphasis being on efficiency and trying not to sweat. Compared to my race strategy of trying to go as fast and efficiently as possible. Which was more of a brute strength and endurance exercise. And certainly less care for the amount of sweating going on. It was however a lot colder, hovering around the -5 to -15F , a balmy -20 to -26C and the  wind chill on top. Despite this it still felt quite warm as we meandered up hill surrounded by trees which looked incredible. Like frozen statues dotted all the way up the mountain side. Pausing occasionally to have a drink and admire the views behind and in front of us, despite the large bank of clouds hiding the summit. It wasn’t the blue bird day we had all hoped for but still fantastic being out on the mountain.


Arriving at the first split point and we soon bundled up as the temperature plummeted. We had come out of the trees and the wind now had us in its sights. The rail line had clearly taken the full force of this onslaught for quite a while as its frozen structure looked like something from another planet. Not even in the arctic had I seen buildings covered in ice to this extent.


A few of us opted to continue slightly further up the mountainside. It is safe to say we needn’t have bothered. All that proceed was some skating around on an icy surface of wind stripped mountainside. We tried to get purchase on what little friction we could get but despite this effort we hardly made it any further up for a lot more huffing and puffing. With the wind battering our faces and bodies it was only sensible to head back down. There was no chance of a summit today and the possibility of some better powder round the corner was never going to happen without some more hardware of ice axes and crampons. Even then we were not convinced there would be any great powder.

It was a quick turn around to get out the wind. I say quick but the ice and strong winds made it tough work wrapping up our ski skins to get them put away. Its like trying to roll loose duck tape up in a strong gale into a neat organised bundle.

And then the bit we had built up for, the ski down. Despite the odd patch of ice there were some great stretches of powder. The three of us who had tried to go a bit higher made the most of the descent getting in as many tight wee turns to float on the powder. In the hunt for some I managed to find a fairly lightly covered rock. Skiing over it I stopped almost instantly, trying to recover my balance from the forward momentum only to finally pop out of my bindings. Unfortunately one of the guys saw the whole thing unfold in a particularly slow and  inelegant fashion.


We made it down to the bottom and back to the lodge for a well deserved hot shower and drink.

The next day I headed up to the in famous tuckermanns ravine. You can check out a couple of pro skiers hitting this on the link below:

It isn’t recommended generally to ski it until later in the season but whilst in the area I at least wanted to have a peek at what it was all about. I followed the trail up which is incredibly well marked. Past people snow shoeing up and a number of groups up for the weekend as part of a nearby ice festival learning about avalanche rescue techniques. The wind certainly felt less strong and it was definitely a warmer day than the previous one. Snow occasionally fell from the trees. It was a pretty magical sight.


Slowly but surely the ravine revealed itself. Each glimpse between the trees showing a bit more until I came round the corner and caught sight of the whole area. With clear views of the summit of mount washington in the background. There in front the huge tuckermanns ravine and the steepest ski descents in the north east, or at least one of the better known ones.


Arriving at a small cabin and there were groups continuing up as part of their avalanche course as well as some skiers who despite the now windy conditions had opted to try a few routes. It looked pretty incredible and in places pretty intimidating even from a distance. I headed on up the mountain as I wanted to see the full face of it. Some of the slopes are up at 40 - 50 degree range. The wind had certainly picked up though and I was now taking a bit of a beating even if it was warmer than the previous day. Arriving at the bottom of tuckermanns and I could finally take it it. I definitely want to return to the slopes here and take on some of these descents.


Heading back down the mountain and my legs could finally enjoy a bit of a down hill ski. After trekking up it made for a nice change. Despite this I still had to walk a few bits at the top due to not being able to find a decent route to ski down as well as the path I walked up being really quite tight between rocks, trees and a small stream that with the warmer conditions wasn’t completely covered in snow.


I soon found myself down the bottom  of the mountain just in time to munch a load of food in the car and before the return journey back down south to new jersey.

Skimo - Berkshire East

Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of ultra running races and trail races around the world with people looking beyond the standard road marathon to get their athletic fix. Regardless of what I do the option to go out running in the hills and mountains is always tempting.

The winter months give an opportunity for some down time, change the activity or generally prepare the coming season. For a while now I have been reading and watching more about skimo racing also known as randonee and ski mountaineering. Which from a racing stand point and ignoring the degrees of difference in technical descents and ascents basically involves hiking up hill either boot packing (going up hill with skis on your back), skinning (ski up hill with special material on the base of the skis called skins) and then descending the mountains as fast as you can.

When I moved to the north east of the U.S. and with the mountains nearby I went about searching for an event to enter. I found the north east rando race series. A series of events around the north east of the US and the timing was perfect. My first weekend in the U.S and there was an event on.

With snacks for the drive bought, I woke in the early hours of the morning to make the 4 hour drive up the road. The conditions over the last few weeks had been warm and the day was looking to continue this trend.

Despite this there was still a chill in the morning air and with this came the occasional blanket of fog which made for some spectacular scenery particularly where there were small clearings.


Arriving at Berkshire east and there was one guy making an early start on the course in shorts and t-shirt. Which was a long way of my ski trousers and jacket. I hoped the day would stay cold, otherwise I was going to be ridiculously hot scaling the mountain. After getting organised it was time to start the race amongst a group of people ranging from the lycra clad to the occasional ski tourer.

Making a dash up the mountain the group soon dispersed as we made our first lap up the mountain. Before the first corner my jacket was as off and for the ascents only my helmet soon came off too. It was sweltering. First up hill done and it was the transition back to skiing down hill. The skins were off the bottom of the skis and everything switched back into ski mode for a brief ski half way down the mountain. This sounds much quicker than it was in practise, initially with the skins flapping all over the place  nothing helps speed things up with either bad weather or the time pressure of a race. That and a desire to cool down on the descent. It was then a walking stage up a steep wooded part of the route with our skis on our backs before we exited the forest and could get ours ski’s back onto ski touring mode for the last bit back to the top of the mountain. Skins off and it was time to go full speed down to the bottom of the mountain to repeat this a three more times. On the way up I ended up chatting to one of the local ski patrollers and another guy who turned out to be the owner of the ski resort which passed the time and made sure we were going at a steady pace up hill. With the U.S elections only just completed it was certainly interesting to start getting more of a local insight into it.


With the day heating up I stopped to get some water from a nearby stream having used up my small water bottle over the first few laps. Despite it being in january most people had switched to open jackets or just a thin shirt. One guy had even opted to go topless.

After the third lap it was time to head to the second stage of the race on the other side of the mountain. Amazingly some people had already finished. The skiing down became increasingly harder as my legs became more tired. This was my first ski day of the season, ski touring race and I had literally arrived in the US three days earlier.


Despite this i finished the final couple of laps and very quickly ended up in the cafe for a well deserved feast of food before the prize giving. It was at this point I realised the quality of the field. Ranging from those competing for positions in the US team to the previous record holder Ed Warren for the fastest ascent of Denali before this was taken by Kilian Jornet. Certainly an impressive range of athletes.

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Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 22.30.13.png

All in all I seriously enjoyed the north east rando race and will certainly be working out how to fill the next seasons schedule with races. It mixes mountains, skiing and running into a pretty epic combination. By the end I was sufficiently knackered, yet despite this my legs still felt good enough the following day to tear through some laps of a nearby mountain before the rain descended on the area. I can certainly see why this is the perfect winter trainer or event in its own right when you have mountains nearby.

Bring on the next season.

For those interested check out:

and for those in the UK there is always the Scottish one: