The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday 28 April 2013

Two Journeys to Follow

I do like following a blog of someone who is on a long journey, and two of my favourite bloggers are currently obliging me by setting off on new adventures. If you’re partial to following a journey yourself (which I assume you are, if you’re reading this blog!), then I would recommend that you take a look at what they’re up to.

First off there’s Erin (who goes by the trail name ‘Wired’), who in her quest to do the Triple Crown, has just set out on the Continental Divide Trail. It was entirely thanks to the inspiration of Erin’s blog that we came to walk 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail last year. She thru-hiked the trail in 2011 and wrote such a compelling blog that even though I didn’t come across it until she was approaching half way through, I went back and read right from the beginning. By the time she finished, she had me completely sold on going and taking a first hand look at part of what she’d just walked. Aside from writing well and including lots of detail about what she’s experiencing, she includes plenty of photos and, every few weeks she uploads video snippets she has taken too. I can’t think of another blog which gives such a good impression about what the trail, and what thru-hiking, is really like.

Then there’s Sarah Outen, who is in the middle of her ‘London to London: Via the World’ expedition. In 2009 she became the first woman (and the youngest, at 24) to row the Indian Ocean and her blog was a treat to read. Then, in 2011 she set out to circumnavigate the world under her own power. She kayaked across the channel, cycled from France to the east coast of Russia and then kayaked across to Japan. After a break over winter, she set out from Japan last spring to become the first woman to row the North Pacific but came a cropper in a tropical storm that saw her rescued by the Coast Guard. Her boat was lost. She’s obviously not a quitter though (and, equally clearly, must be slightly mad!), and with a new boat she’s been patiently awaiting a suitable weather window to resume her round-the-world adventure. The weather window opened on Saturday and it took her just two attempts to get away from land. Fingers crossed that the weather is kinder to her this time, but it’s certain to be far from a walk in a park (I mean, really, can you imagine rowing across any ocean, never mind the North Pacific?).


Go on, click on their names and take a look!

Saturday 27 April 2013

Some Thoughts About Our Henry Shires Tarptent Double Rainbow

This isn’t a review. It’s just some thoughts about the tent and why we came to the conclusion that, for us, it’s a ‘tent for situations when you probably don’t need a tent’.

That likely makes it sound as if we don’t think much of this tent, but that’s not true at all. We lived in her for five weeks last year and can’t think of any other accommodation we would have preferred on that trip. We wouldn’t hesitate to use her again for similar trips where cold and wet conditions were expected to be few and far between.

Here she is sitting happily in the desert in California:


Not fantastically well pitched, but we were on sand in a stiff wind!

That was one of only two occasions in the five weeks we were in California that we spent the night with the porches closed. Usually, we spent the night like in the photo below, with the porch doors tied back, the breeze blowing through and with the dual benefits of night-time views but with full bug protection:

Day 23_7

That was quite a stunning pitch!

The tent is simplicity itself to pitch. You pop the single pole through its sleeve (a job which would be easier if the end of the pole sleeve was offset, so that you can find the opening without having to separate two seams which are lying against each other* – it’s one of two mods that I would like to see Henry Shires introduce), put four pegs in (one in each corner) and adjust the adjusters**. If you’re using the porch, you need two extra pegs. If you want to use guy-lines to stabilise the pole, then you’d need a total of eight pegs all in.

Within two minutes you have a nice spacious shelter ready to use. It’s so quick and simple to pitch that we regularly popped it up at lunchtime to keep the flies off us.

Whilst we loved the tent in California, we were never convinced that it would work for us in the UK. In hot dry weather (moreover in bear country) we never had the need to cook under cover. For the same climatic reasons, we were always able to put our bags inside with us (this is a long tent – the packs happily fitted at the one end of the tent, our bits and pieces at the other end, with the sleep mats in the middle. We also only had a couple of nights when we had a modicum of condensation.

Our concerns for UK use were:

  • Would wet packs fit in the porches without encroaching on the inner?
  • With the packs out in the porches, would there be enough room to cook comfortably?
  • Even without the bags, would there be enough room to cook in a porch?
  • With so much mesh on the tent (particularly the two strips along the bottom of the short ends), would we get water ingress in wet and windy weather?
  • With so much mesh, would it be too cold?

Our trip out to Bleaklow last night turned out to be ideal conditions to explore our concerns. We didn’t get the rain we were looking for, but snow was an excellent substitute. There was certainly quite a good breeze blowing.


The morning of 27 April, on Bleaklow

What we found out was:

  • On the positive side, our finding in California was borne out again, that she doesn’t flap unduly in the wind.
  • The mesh combined with the large gap between flysheet and ground (unsurprisingly) led to a very draughty and cold night. Mick found that he couldn’t lie facing his door as the wind in his face was too great. We both prefer a higher degree of draught exclusion.
  • The porches aren’t high or deep enough for me to be comfortable with cooking in them  – particularly on a less than flat pitch where I need to fish around in the porch for somewhere flat enough for the stove.
  • When the fabric slackens in the wet, and when it’s so cold out that you can’t be moved to go and do something about it, and if the wind then swings around, the porch fabric can be pushed against the mesh side of the inner tent, transferring moisture through.
  • When it’s snowing, there’s lots of scope for snow to make it through the vents in the fly and then through the mesh of the inner.
  • It’s just not as comfortable for us as our Terra Nova Voyagers.

We didn’t explore the use of the ‘storm flaps’ which are designed to allow you to get in and out of the tent in the rain without the inner getting wet. We had enough information to inform our decision without doing that.

So, even though the Double Rainbow has the huge attraction of weighing a smidge under 1350g, in a situation when we’re going to want to spend waking hours inside of the tent, and to cook under cover, I’d rather take the weight penalty of the Voyager.


*I’m not sure that I’ve explained myself particularly well there, but I know what I mean even if you don’t!

** If this was a review, I would put lots of photos in to illustrate what I mean when I say ‘adjust the adjusters’ or ‘the mesh at the bottom of the fly on the short end’, so it’s a good job this isn’t a review.

(There are lots more observations I could make, but I’ve wittered on enough for one post. If anyone has any particular questions about our experience of the Double Rainbow, feel free to pose them to us.)

A Tent Testing Outing

“If my pack could be this light for the Challenge, I’d be quite happy” I said as we left the car and set out through Old Glossop to head up Doctor’s Gate. I was skipping along with a pack which weighed almost nothing.

It was about fifteen minutes later, just as my hands were getting cold, that I learnt one of the reasons as to why my pack was quite so light. It was because a key stuff-sack, containing three pairs of gloves, a hat, a buff and my waterproof socks, was still sitting on the carpet in the spare room, right next to where I had packed my bag. Doh!

We paused and considered the situation for a few moments, but I declared that I would manage with just my spare socks for mittens. In due course, Mick (being the lovely gentleman he is) insisted that I could use his gloves. Unfortunately, it transpired that his second pair of gloves had suffered a similar fate to all of mine, so he was left to freeze his fingers off.

There’s not much to say about our route. We’ve played in this area sufficiently now to know where we were going without needing to engage our brains, so up to meet the Pennine Way we went, thence to Bleaklow.

By and by, past lots of greeness where bare peat used to be, Bleaklow Head was reached. Mick broke out the camera and snapped me there…


…just a moment before I broke the news that our lack of brain engagement had gone a little too far, as we were meant to have turned a few minutes before.

A bit of a yomp was chosen rather than a back-track, and on the way we stumbled across this:


Mick had also lent me his buff by this point. Fortunately, I had the peaked cap on my head as we left the house.

That’s the third time we have stumbled upon a geocache without even knowing it was there. I say ‘stumbled upon’, but we had actually passed this one by, and were both looking behind us when we spotted what looked like a cache hiding place – and so it was.

The yomp through heather was declared to be good Challenge training and after twenty minutes we got to where it was that I wanted us to be – a feat we completed via old-fashioned methods, as we learnt on the way that Mick’s iPhone has deleted all of our 1:50k maps. Glad we found that out now rather than in a couple of weeks time!

That wasn’t the end of the day, however, as first we made an absolute meal over finding a pitch. To be fair, it wasn’t that we were being particularly picky in our choice, it was more that we couldn’t find any lump-free, level ground that was free from heather. I couldn’t even locate the pitch I’d used in the same area previously.

Up and down the same path we went, pondering whether to head all the way back up to some lovely pitches we’d seen quite a while before, but in the end we settled for something that would do:


It was about exposed as you could ask for (exposed was as key part of our tent-testing experiment) and within minutes of pitching quite a hail shower came through (that’s why there’s a white mark around the footprint of the tent). Within minutes we had also come to the firm consensus that this was not the tent which would be Challenging with us this year.

We could have packed up and gone home at that point, as we had fulfilled the purpose of the trip, but as we’ve become far too used to our home comforts (not to mention awfully nesh) over the last nine months, we decided to stay put.

Chores were done, food was cooked and eaten, more chores were done and by 9.30 lights were out.

At about 10pm I said ‘That’s quite heavy’ about the rain that was hitting the tent.

At 10.25pm, I opened an eye, looked at the fly-sheet and thought ‘That’s not right’. What I’d taken to be heavy rain was actually very heavy snow and the tent was sagging under the weight. Banging the sides made it slip down, but it was still sitting heavily against the bottom edges of the porches, so out I went to sort it out and I couldn’t believe how much snow had fallen in just 25 minutes.

Not a lot of sleep was had on my part. I was cold, my feet were blocks of ice, the wind was positively whipping through the tent and another trip outside was called for at 2am.

When we’d set out on this trip, this is not the scene I’d expected to wake up to:

IMG_5257It’s nearly May! And we were only on a little hill in the middle of the country – it’s not like we were on a big hill ooop north!

Our walk out was short and reasonably uneventful. We wanted to be home and showered in time to get over to Wolverhampton by 1pm to meet friends for lunch so an early start and a short walk out were the order of the day. As it turned out we were back in Old Glossop before 9am.

As for the reasons behind our verdict on the tent, I think I’ll leave that for another post.