We signed up for the very last triathlon available to us this year to maximise our training time. The drawback was in location. Skipton is a good 3 hour drive from either of our houses, but we decided to sign up regardless.
We didn’t manage as much training as we’d like: 3 swims, 3 runs and our usual tandem rides. We felt pretty good and ready, but with a week to go a spanner hit the works. Two vans out of action!
This is the point at which we sent an email in saying we wouldn’t be there. The response: we’re not going to change things now so there will still be space for you if you can make it. I think that comment stuck with us.
The van was repaired. We could just about do it. It wouldn’t be easy- logistically speaking the bike, the van and the triathlon were all in the wrong places but we decided to go for it.
We dropped the second broken van at the garage, drove from Peterborough to Birmingham, picked up the fixed van and then headed to skipton without a plan. We knew it would be wet and we didn’t want to leave the bike out in the rain. We decided to head to the leisure centre and hope we could park the bike there somewhere and lucky for us there was a porch we were able to lock the bike under.
Sunday: Triathlon Day
We woke up at 5.30am to the sounds of cars joining us in the what was empty car park. We got ready, opened the doors and we’re greeted by a man in the car next door getting ready. In fact, we nearly took his car door off! Oops.
‘Oh John! There’s a huge crowd around our tandem’. ‘It’s been there all night’ said the man. ‘We know, we left it there so we’d have space to sleep in our van’.
Unbeknownst to us, we’d parked our bike in the middle of the registration area. Nobody seemed to mind. We rescued our bike and registered. Registering involves having numbers written on your hand and leg and being issued with a swimming cap. We took our bike and some more helpful people showed us where to park it. Thoughtfully on an end right by the swim entrance.
We left things a bit late after this. We rushed to change, missed most the briefing and had no idea where to leave our shoes. At the last moment we dumped them outside the pool door and jumped in the pool.
John was off like a rocket! We both kept up pace, but on length 5/8 John said he was flagging but didn’t give up.
Transition was interesting. We threw some clothes on over our swimwear and pulled off our swimming caps. We hopped on the bike and went for it. The cycle was tough, there was plenty of downhill but one really long drag uphill too but we did it.
Run! We both got stitches and we’re pretty tired but two laps soon came and went and we crossed the line. Homebakes were waiting. Awesome!
We really enjoyed our first experience of triathlon and we’re so glad we did it. Every sensible part of us said we should have dropped out, but we went for it and had a super time.
We’re very grateful to GoTri skipton for really thinking carefully about the accommodations required for us to complete.
Riding a tandem is such a cool thing for us. With John being deafblind, riding a normal bike isn’t much of an option but having a tandem goes far beyond enabling John to ride a bike. There are few hurdles we’re unable to overcome, but most need a little more effort than what two sighted friends would have to put in. Even walking needs lots of concentration from us both; Lauren guiding and looking out for hazards and John carefully following each step. On a tandem, we are 100% a team and John’s disability becomes fairly insignificant. We work together, John supplying the power and Lauren keeping us going on the right direction. This is why we love tandem riding so much and decided to get ourselves something ready for a big adventure: Santos DoubleTravel.
We picked up our bike in Chichester and couldn’t wait to take it for a spin. A few adjustments here and there, predominantly switching the ladies and mens Brooks saddles and we were ready to ride.
We headed to Windsor, a place with endless quiet lanes, nice views and a few hills to see what we could do on the bike. In the end, we were fairly late heading out and the sun was setting, but it wasn’t enough to deter us. We rode for about half an hour and watched the sun setting over Virginia water, until a 4×4 rolled up, with crown estate wardens inside. It turns out the park closes at dusk and you get kicked out of the nearest gate, for us, a long way from where we wanted to be. The wardens were busy ushering out those on foot so we slipped down the road behind them and hot footed it back the way we came. We thought we got away with it, but more headlights soon greeted us.
”Are you guys ok?” – Warden ”Yes, we’re just a bit lost I think”
We we’re not lost at all, but we needed a story. The warden was nice, she tried to get us back through but the powers on the other end of the radio said no. She handed us a map, some directions and opened a gate, so map in hand, we trundled through not quite sure of where we were or where we were going. The lane was dark and cars were beginning to queue behind us when we found ourselves hurtling downhill. We didn’t know how fast but we managed to lose the headlights behind us. We were rocketing downhill in the dark. The reason we lost the cars: we were doing 38.7mph according to strava: The fastest we had ever been on a tandem. We made it back in no time at all!
Our next trip out was in daylight. We really got to know our bike and get used to it’s features and handling and start to test it’s limits. One thing we really like is the number of bottle cages: No less than 7! Enough for a days supply of water, none of which would have to be carried in the pannier bags. The bike is light, fast and maneuverable. It doesn’t even mind a bit of rough ground.
Riding it in John’s hometown of Birmingham was a good test. We took the DoubleTravel into the city via the canal towpath which has lots short uphill sections by the locks. The Santos made light work of them and we managed some climbs we’d never managed beforehand. The bike is light and easy to lift over the bike gates that are impossible for tandems but most of the time we don’t have to. The canal has locked gates for wheelchair uses that operate on the Radar key scheme, the same as disabled toilets and lucky for us, John has one!
This bike will be perfect for a bigger adventure. We have ideas, but nothing planned as yet. We don’t really do half as much planning as we should do so I’m sure one day very soon we’ll grab the tandem and find an adventure.
A couple of months ago we announced, live on local radio, that we were planning to ride a tandem from Novi Sad in Serbia to Norwich. Back then, we didn’t even have a bike, and our only experience of tandem riding together resulted in Lauren laying by the side of the road trying not to vomit from the exertion and John pretending not to look worried so an ambulance wouldn’t be called. You’d think we’d vow to never ride a tandem again but it wasn’t quite enough to put us off.
”If we’re not good at the start, then we will be by the end of it” – Lauren
The first thing we thought we ought to do was get hold of a bike – We were thinking of hiring or borrowing one for the trip but then a neighbor had one for sale – we took it for a test ride and while we knew it needed a little care, we liked it a lot. We bought the bike and lots of components; new tyres, cables, levers, fitted a hydraulic brake, switched to trigger shifters. We’d never really worked on a bike much before – but youtube had the knowhow and we got to know our bike.
We rode it for 10 miles with a random german lady we’d just met, we rode it around rutland water, we even took it for a ride to a chocolate factory and then we fitted a pannier rack and decided we were ready to take it 55 miles on a camping trip to the SayYesMore woodland (the YesWoods).
Do you think we can do this? – Lauren
Yes I think we can. – John
As a result of having to cram lots into the day in order to be able to go on our little Yeswoods adventure we went to bed late, got up early and still didn’t depart until 2pm. It all felt a little bit crazy!
It was all going well until we got stuck in a downpour mixed with hail. Less than half way and we were cold, wet, tired and hungry but our fear of losing daylight kept us moving. We spotted a Subway at a garage and grabbed a bite to eat.
Do you want to give up? – John
At this stage, turning back seemed harder than continuing so we pushed on…eventually making camp at around 10pm. We didn’t know if we had a return journey in us and were thinking about alternative methods home.
Morning came and we left, via tandem, with a few bits of good advice behind us (take breaks and eat food ((Thanks Dave)) and made it back before dark. 113 miles ridden in total and it taught us a lot. Mostly, that riding 1300 miles with a 30 day deadline (averaging 40 miles a day) might not be that fun. We’d have to almost always be on the move and it would seem like a shame to travel so far and not be able to stop and explore. We could do it, that we are sure of, but would we regret not spending more time at places? Almost definitely. We have changed our mind about the ride, but it doesn’t matter, this big idea followed by a bit of action has already given us so much.
We’ve got a bike and learnt how to maintain it and upgrade parts, had loads of fun little rides in the sunshine, met some awesome people, had an amazing two-day epic adventure and have decided that we probably want to do something with a bit more flexibility. Without the big crazy idea, none of this would have happened.
If you have a big idea, roll with it, take some action see where you end up. It might all go to plan and work for you, but know if at any point it doesn’t seem quite right you can change your mind – even if you have announced your plans on the radio! We had an idea, we started moving with it and learned some lessons, both good and bad, hard and easy and that’s all part of the experience. We might not be planning to ride back from Serbia anymore, but we’ve certainly done a lot more than we would have done if we’d written it off as a crazy impossible idea.
This last month or so, since walking the Norfolk Coast Path has been jam-packed full of little adventures.
We kicked things off about a month ago, when we headed to London to pick up a folding canoe from Dave Cornthwaite. We needed to stay south, so we decided to spend a day as tourists and have a day in town. We camped over in a surprisingly good little spot next to the Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
While in London, we did all the touristy bits. The London Eye, Dungeons and had a look at Parliament. We upset one or two commuters by having to get off and on the escalators ‘side by side’. It was a nice day, but that’s enough city now for probably the next 12 months.
Our next destination was ‘The Yes Bus’. We recently became ambassadors for SayYesMore – a cool little movement that aims to get people to say yes a little more often and doing more of the stuff they love. It’s pretty awesome to find something we can be ambassadors for that is so closely aligned to what we are wanting to achieve that all we need to do is exactly what we are doing already. Awesome!
Except it’s not exactly the same anymore because at the ambassadors training weekend at The Yes Bus, we learnt a few new things about social media, how to podcast, met a bunch of new awesome people and got a new matching hat, t-shirt and hoody too. It’s just like before but a bit smarter and better! Sweet!
As the ambassadors weekend drew to a close, we still were undecided on what we should do next. We had a folding canoe, an awesome weather forecast and wanted to do something. Poole Harbour and Brownsea island was suggested so we said Yes and headed down.
We didn’t have any BAs (buoyancy aids) with us, so we made it our mission to try and find somebody to lend us a couple that evening so we could take the folding canoe out to Brownsea island in the morning. After lots of messages we got it sorted thanks to The Watersports Academy . We popped there in the morning, picked up 2 BAs and set to work on building the canoe.
We didn’t realise how hard it would be. Two and half hours of graft and it didn’t seem quite right. It was almost there, but not quite enough. We headed back to The Watersports Academy which was just over the road from the harbour to see if they’d lend us a boat to go with the BAs and they did! We unfolded the canoe, got changed and went for a paddle. It was incredible, at least until Lauren dropped the GoPro into the sea (a deeper bit too). It took half an hour to locate and rescue it, which we fortunately did! We didn’t go to Brownsea island but it didn’t matter. Take a look at the video:
The Norfolk Coast Path stretches 84 miles from Hunstanton to Hopton (which can be extended a further 46 miles by linking it up with the Peddars Way).
We left home at just after 9.30am and were dropped off in Hunstanton at around 11am. Our mission for the day was to reach Burnham Overbury Staithe, where we would camp in the dunes (18miles).
We felt fresh for the first 5 or so miles and enjoyed seeing (well,
at least Lauren did) the wintering birds that visit the area during the colder
10 miles in and we knew about the packs on our backs. They weighed around 12kg each and we were also beginning to feel hotspots on our feet. We took a look and each of us had blisters – no problem we thought, we have blister plasters! We patched ourselves up and continued our journey through Holme Dunes, Brancaster and Burnham Deepdale. It was stunning!
15 miles in and the feet were starting to getting sore and light was fading. We pushed on in the dark until we reached the dunes. We kept seeing odd looking people in camo with guns. One of which shouted something and all we heard was light and windmill. We decided to wear a light until we found a windmill so we wouldn’t get shot. We presume they were hunting but it was quite disconcerting.
We knew stopping early was no longer and option with the hunt taking place so we kept moving. Once we reached the dunes, exhausted, we set up camp, cooked some noodles and headed into bed. After about 45 mins of setting up beds, finding and losing things it was around 8pm and time for bed.
[A few seconds of quiet]
“John, can you hear that?”
“is it a boat?”
“I’m not sure, maybe a motor bike”
“It’s a helicopter”
The low rumbling sound started quietly in the distance, but soon sounded much much closer. We were not quite sure what it was, perhaps a dirt bike playing in the dunes? The fear was it would come up over the top and squish us and our tent but it got louder still.
“IT’S DEFINETLEY A HELIPCOPTER”
“YES, IT MUST BE RIGHT ABOVE US”
We’re sure it was low and close, but we never saw it. Around
20min passed and we settled back down for a restless nights sleep.
The mission for the day was to reach Cley-Next-The-Sea which was another 18miles. The plan was to leave early and hit Wells-Next-The-Sea in time for breakfast at our favourite bakery. We left at around 7am and walked along the quiet beach which was littered with thousands of shells and had a colony Oystercatchers on a sand bank. The route took us through the Holkham Estate and we reached Wells at around 10.30am.
We made use of the facilities, topped up our waterbottles and gave our sore feet a bit of rest before heading into town for our breakfast. We stocked up on some cakes for the day ahead and sat by the quay with a hot drink and sandwich. We decided to take the boots off for a bit and to check in on our feet which is when we discovered that John’s feet had started to blister in several places including between the toes.
The next conversation was a tough one. We never doubted our ability to continue blisters or no blisters, but we knew that doing so would likely end up in damage that would take several weeks to recover. We did the sensible thing and stopped, we waited by the quay and had a different adventure: Getting a bus home! It took around 3 hours in all and we even had time to make a hot chocolate between bus changes.
The bit in-between
This was our first attempt of a long distance walk. We knew we
could finish it but it was a case of how! We did a bit of research while recovering
at Lauren’s home. Toe socks looked like they’d sort John’s weird toe blister
issues so we ordered a pair of liners (ininiji) and looked at taking some of
the weight off our feet.
We swapped the tent for a tarp and bivvy bags, used smaller, lighter
backpacks, left the waterproofs at home, switched to a lighter stove set (still
alcohol based from speedster stoves) and took less food with us. Our decision
to head out again was a last minute one and was only to be for 1 night, unless
things went much better than before. Our
new packs weighed around 6-7kg with water.
We hopped on a train at 11.30 from our home village and headed out towards Sheringham. There were lots of waits between connections which gave us time to eat and supply but it meant arriving back at wells at 4.30pm. We walked for a couple of hours before reaching a less-than-ideal camp spot but it did the trick. Couscous was on the menu along with a hot chocolate.
It was a cold night, down to around -3/4 and we struggled to
stay on top of our sleeping mats because of the uneven ground.
Despite the poor nights sleep, we woke up feeling quite refreshed.
We were on the move by 6.45am and it was still dark. The hard frost helped with
the mud and walking was quite easy going. We reached Moston for a beautiful sunrise
and Cley-Next-The-Sea for around 10.30am where we found a bench and dried out
some of our kit including the what-was-frozen tarp. There were lots of people
around enjoying the sunny day and wildlife.
From here, we had to walk miles along the shingle beach. It was
particularly tough going on the legs – if you can do this bit at low tide it
would probably make life easier, but we persevered and stopped for a lunch at
around 2pm, where we aired out our sleeping bags and grabbed some more couscous.
From here we were able to move up on to the cliffs toward Sheringham
where we met some nice people that offered to see if we could stop where they
were staying, perhaps we should have accepted, but we didn’t and kept walking
on into Sheringham town for a resupply and then decided to keep going.
We were between Sheringham and Cromer when we found our overnight
spot. We had covered another 18miles and our legs were tired but we were blister
free. We ate Couscous again despite being
fed up of it. Again, not a great night’s sleep and it was pretty breezy.
We woke up feeling quite good, the feet had recovered well. We set off early and soon reached cromer where we supplied once more from a local bakery and Co-op. It was incredibly windy, so we stayed off the beaches and kept to the clifftops as much as possible but this did bite us on the bum at Bacton. Already tired, we discovered the path had given away to erosion near the large gas terminal and was impassable. This resulted in a highly unwelcome 3km detour. This affected moral pretty badly as were were already flagging slightly, but it was to be the least of our troubles.
We discovered that despite covering the distance according to Strava, it just wasn’t translating into progress along the route. We were many miles behind and had a long way to go to reach Winterton, our planned overnight stop for the night. We knew we could stop short, but we wanted to finish the entire route but we had cut-off point. Not reaching Winterton would have put completion into jeopardy.
We’d already walked 38km and we calculated we still had around 12km to reach Winterton. We were tired, hungry, it was getting dark and we were pretty demoralised. We grabbed a sausage roll from our bags while we took a quick break and then it started to rain.
We considered our options and decided to push forwards. The
remaining 12km was painful on the feet (but still blister free) and we had to
take many stops.
We reached our overnight stop in the dunes and set up the tarp, it was windy, but it held up ok. Despite having the the tarp flapping on our faces most of the night, it was one of the better nights sleep.
We woke up knowing we only had 15 miles to the finish and we were determined to make it. The tide was low which meant we made excellent progress along the hard sand, at least until a freak wave came up a little too far up shore giving John a wet foot! Oops.
We saw a couple of seals in the sea here and lots of evidence of
We reached Great Yarmouth by midday and stopped for some chips in the town.
5-Miles to go. The tarmac by the quay battered our feet and as soon as we could walk on sand, we did. The last 5 miles was tough, but we made it, opting for the cliffs again because of the rising tide.
We reached Hopton at around 2pm and grabbed a beer from the
co-op while waiting for our lift to arrive!
We enjoyed the walk, but it was very much type 2 fun! For us,
lighter packs made all the difference so we’ll try and keep to this ethic in
the future. We would have liked more time to enjoy the experience. Less time
pressure and we may have taken up that offer of accommodation, or stopped off for
‘soup and a pud’ but we had to remain focussed on our destination.
We’re soon going to be heading off on a 5-6 day walk along the Norfolk Coastal Path (82 miles). We’re planning on going relatively lightweight, which prompted us to have a look at our stove options and what might work the best.
We’ve always used gas stoves. Our alpkit brewkit is our best friend on van camping trips but we decided to take a walk around Decathlon to see if there was anything that could be useful for our trip, and we found an alcohol/meths stove that looked well worth a try. The price was £18. We decided to compare all of our available options and these are the results. The test has been pretty conclusive and the best option is ‘it depends!’ but the figures here helped us make an informed choice.
The first test was a 3-way boil test between the Alpkit Brewkit, the OEX-F1 and the meths burner. We used new 500g gas cans. We used the brewkit as it came (but the weight below doesn’t include the pan support). The OEX-F1 without a windshield (we didn’t have one tall enough) with a 1l OEX pot. The meths stove was used with a windshield and another OEX pot. Outside temp was around 2-3c.
It’s worth noting that on this test, we had issues with the OEX stove not being on the can well enough and it stopped working part way through. We fixed it up and continued the test without stopping the clock. We also had some issues with the meths stove in that the flame was licking up all over the side of the pan, so we decided to add the simmer ring part way through.
Boil time (1l)
Fuel used (g)
Meths Stove/OEX Pot/Concertina windshield
All in all, this first test was a bit of a disaster, but it showed us that the our loyal buddy the brewkit came out on top. Though it was the heaviest option, it was also the most efficient. We didn’t stop there though! We could see there were some improvements to be gained and so began test 2. This time we made a pot cosy for our OEX and used simmer ring from the start.
Boil time (1l)
Fuel used (g)
Meths Stove/OEX pot with cosy/Concertina windshield
At 30mins, we gave up. The water was very hot. Enough for a drink but it just wasn’t getting there quickly. We were very happy with fuel performance. 30mins of cooking time with 29g of fuel is great, but we’d spend far too much time waiting around for a brew! But what if we tried using the brewkit pot with the heat exchanger? Would it keep the flames in? It did, and the results were great but it was also heavier. We also gave the OEX-F1 with the same pot.
Boil time (1l)
Fuel used (g)
Meths Stove/Brewkit pot/Concertina windshield
OEX-F1/Brewkit pot/Concertina windshield
In this test, fuel consumption and speed were hugely improved and the OEX-F1 was quicker than the brewkit, but a bit less efficient.
But what do all the figures mean? It depends on what matters to you. There appears to be no perfect solution. Things to consider are the stove weight, how much boil time matters, would you use one canister of gas, or would it be two/three or more and can you resupply enroute? What are you cooking, boil in the bag or something where simmering is more important? Is it for one or two people?
Gas canisters are heavy. The full Primus 230g canisters weigh 380g meaning that canister alone weighs 150g. By comparison. A meths bottle is around 60g. 500ml of meths weighs about 400g excl the bottle.
To calculate our best option, we looked at how much fuel we would use for 3 full boils a day. It’s not what we will be doing, some will be cooking, we won’t want 1l each time but it lets us compare. We’re not too worried about boil times.
So all in all, the results are actually quite similar! The main differences being in boil times.
We’ve actually decided to go with the meths stove with an extra pot cosy. We know we can cook on it as well as boil water. While initially heavier, after day 1-2 we would be lighter overall because we would lose one bottle and around 80-160g worth of fuel and it stays the lighter option throughout. If we could get away with a single can, the gas would win the test on fuel efficiency alone.
Other considerations: We know the gas boil times are much quicker with a full can and that this drops down considerably the more empty the bottle gets. The other benefit is that the alcohol burner is much quieter and the fuel is easier to get hold of being available at both hardwear shops and camping shops. The meths burner is also more compact.
For this trip, our alcohol stove will be coming with us, but it doesn’t mean it will always come out on top.
Back at the end of October, we visited Bear Grylls adventure in Birmingham. It was a seriously busy day jam packed with activities…so much so, we barely had time to film anything. Instead, we went on highropes, did survival mazes, obstacle courses, archery and snorkelling.
getting ready with face piant
bear at the start
archery with daisy
lovely bug smothies
the fish in the tank
We were supposed to go scuba diving, but because of John’s hearing aids, we need a note from the doctor first – watch this space!
The great thing about this place is that on the whole, they were really up for letting John do everything without a second thought or with some extra thought into how to adapt things slightly. The managers looked after Daisy (the guide dog) when we were on activities and apart from scuba diving (which needs a medical for the ears rather than eyes) we did everything.
A few weeks back we visited Mid-Wales for a climbing competition (John competing, Lauren sightguiding) and we had some great plans for things to do while we were there. We know it rains a lot in Wales but non-stop for 3 days?! Our plans changed but we still had a lot of fun.
We visited Henrhyd Falls in the hope of going for a swim but well…
After that we hit tripadvisor for some inspiration!
We’ve not long launched our social pages but we’ve been up to quite a bit the last few weeks. Here’s all of it in a single blog!
Our first proper little adventure was one leg of a 1000 mile journey around the UK’s waterways on a waterbike to raise awareness of litter and plastic. We rode 10 miles from Birmingham city centre to Majors green and took it in turns to pedal. When John was riding, he had to have directions from Lauren which weren’t always perfect!
The next big thing we did together was take a trip to Symonds Yat. A limestone climbing venue in the Wye Valley. We had a real laugh on this one and had a few epics too (what time does the carpark close?). Best just to watch this one..
Our next little venture out was to the Peak District for a first aid course run by Al over at Gritstone adventures. John needed his for his CWI assessment and Lauren’s was due to expire. We’d spoken on the phone to Al about John being blind and we weren’t totally sure how it would go before we got there but it actually went incredibly well.
Apart from occasionally kicking the casualty (or body as John sometimes called them!) his first aid skills were top class. Al did a great job of providing some plain text documents with the important information so John’s iPhone could read it fine. Lauren sometimes had to describe things but on the whole we think blind people have the potential to make great first aiders!
Here’s a video from our celebratory trip up Mam Tor!
The last thing to catch up on was our visit to the Petzl UK Gri Gri tour at Redpoint Birmingham. We had a good chat about belaying and then tried out soft catches. Climbers..head to a tour date if you can!