The Final Countdown

It was around this time last year I wrote something similar, except the countdown was to my adventure and after almost a year what an adventure it’s been.

Now with just 27 days left (as I write this) I look back at my time in New Zealand and think back to how scared and nervous I was. Any regrets? Only that I hadn’t done it earlier in my life and applied for a two year visa with visas to other countries along the way.

It’s no secret that I’m happy here, my Kiwi mates and traveller friends all know this is where I belong and while I won’t go into those reasons you can rest assured that NZ like snowdonia is a spiritual home of mine, one in which I will return and one that people who know me know it’s where I belong.

After months of trying to find a way to stay or extend my visa it seems that fate is telling me to go home, and maybe with good reason. I’ll be able to sip a nice pint of warm ale with my bestie and see my family again but at the moment that is all that England has to offer.

If I was to describe the sensation or my feelings at the thought of leaving in 27 days it would be to compare it to a warm bed. Imagine the alarm going off on a cold wet dark winter Monday morning, with the thought of a hard depressing day stuck in your office cubical. How much nicer is it to just roll over and hit the snooze button and bury yourself beneath the warm sheets and have a sick day. Well the bed is NZ and the journey and work is going back to the UK.

Sure I miss elements of the UK, off course I do it’s my country, but I’ve gotten use to NZ, the shops, money, food, lifestyle, brands, shops, adverts you name it I’m living it. The thought of adjusting back into English life does not excite or thrill me. I’ve seen what the world has to offer, I’ve seen what other opportunities there are, I’ve experienced a new way if life, and you know what I rather like it.

The countdown however has begun and while the nerves tingle and the thoughts of not wanting to say goodbye along with the fear of forgetting the experience and returning to the life I had. I know that it is I and I alone who needs to hold on to this experience and forge a new life. I never wanted to leave Manchester or change my job for the fear of the unknown, but now after a year away living from a bag meeting new people living in several communities that fear I once held onto as an excuse for living the old life seems pretty lame.

Oh well we will see what happens UK.

The countdown has started.

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A Stolen Heart

People know that I love New Zealand and you just need to flick through the evidence to see why and once you have I’m betting that you to will fall in love with a country that has a little bit of everything.

Many people know that my true and first love is that of Snowdon and Snowdonia, but this weekend my heart was stolen to another valley of mountains.

In short if I could have a job and place to live then I’d gladly call Mt Cook my home.

It has made me decide that mountains and the outdoors is where I belong and when, or maybe we should make that if I get back to the UK, then it’s off to the countryside and mountains I shall go.

It’s hard to explain, but my passion and love for rock that has grown out of the earth is something else.

Home Sick

Well my dream of staying is slowly fading and in a surprising way I’m kind of glad. It was after all a dream to stay and work but now if I’m honest I’m a little homesick. Sure I miss my family and my best mate and there are a few others who I wouldn’t mind having a pint with not that we’ve really kept in touch.

But the true home sickness and this will be a surprise to many and a few may gasp and exclaim and argue that I’m daft especially with the landscape and scenery but my heart belongs in the hills and mountains of Britain.

Yes I’m homesick for walking Snowdon and Tryfan or taking a cold winter hike across the moors or a drive to a remote part of the peak district and rambling down country lanes and through English woods. Off course the views and landscape in the land of the hobbits is amazing and I know as I look down from Snowdon or view the Cheshire plain from Kinder Scout my brain will flash back to those pictures and images of the southern alps and the quite one horse towns and question which one is better. People said NZ is Wales on a larger scale and they weren’t wrong.

I still have some months left and with my time I’m going to see this country again to make sure I have a full memory of sights, sounds and stories stored in the old memory bank. Sometimes you have to be without something to realise how much it actually means and while I could happily make the move I need to go back to see if my true loves once more and put the world to rights with a good old fashioned drinking session with my bestie.

A friend once posted a song to my wall which I think I have shared with you all before called ‘The Manchester Rambler’ which sums up my affair and passion for the outdoors. While I have now found a way to come back and work over here in the future  I find myself missing the peaks and Snowdonia ever more.

I’ve made some good friends and have had partook in many an adventure and while there have been high and lows how will always treasure my time in NZ and hold it close but the time has come to return to the UK and who knows I may realise that NZ was for me after all. But at the moment Im longing to walk down Market Street and go into Greg’s for a steak bake or chin wag and complain over a warm flat beer with Matt, or redeem my nector points and watch the BBC and take a walk in the British rain and wrap up warm not put on sun screen in Janaury. But at the same time I’m loving my time away and the experiences I’m living.

See you soon UK.

Before I Go!

There are a lot of things. A long list if you will. I have compiled this list to help me get my affairs in order before I arrive at terminal one and board my plane. There are the simple things like selling DVD’s and CD’s, which now has a big tick by it. Move stuff back to my parents, sell some clothes, pack, transfer money, pay tax bill, cancel phone, cancel internet and so the list goes on.

However the one item on the list that I really want to see ticked off, is the Welsh 3000. For those not in the know, and even some avid walkers don’t know then the 3000’s are 14 or 15 (if you count the extra one) peaks in Snowdonia that are over 3000 feet hence the name.

Now I have done the Snowdon Massif, and only have two more to bag for the Glyders, which I am hoping to do this week and then I just have the Carnedadu to complete. Forget bagging Wainwrights and completing the Southern West Fells, my dream and ambition before I depart the UK is to complete the 3000 mainly due to that fact that it gives me an excuse to go to Snowdonia.

So hopefully as my time draws ever closer to 25th June, I will be able to give a tick to finishing the Welsh 3000.

Saying Hello to an Old Friend

I have cheated on her all to often in the past year and the last time I went to say hello she was so happy to see me and me her that we fell in love all over again. I hugged her at every step and just like the first time she took my breath away. I don’t know how she does it.

This was a camping trip with a friend… who’s original thought was a multi day walk in the peaks. Boring I know but he does seem to like the Peaks and to be fair there are a lot of nice walks and I enjoy that area of the UK as well, but I can go there on a day visit. He then raised the idea of the Lakes. Well we could do I said, but where? I’ve done most of the south-west fells. I haven’t but the places we were looking at I had done. I was off course slowly driving him to the decision of Snowdonia.

Like many people, my friend thinks he ‘prefers’ The Lakes, and feels they have better scenery and mountains and in some cases that can be true. I was never a fan until I walked the Pikes and climbed The Old Man and just as I was falling in love with this area of Britain I went and visited the girl I had been cheating on and before I had laced up my boots I knew that the Lakes had nothing on her.

So with a modest agreement from myself we had planned to go to Snowdonia. He had wanted to walk Tryfan, and I wanted to bag some of the Welsh 3000. I really want to bag them all before I go and this walk promised getting a good 6 of them in.

As we arrived at the foot of Tryfan, my friends jaw dropped with excitement, and we speedily placed our rucksacks on ready for the hike. We were going to conquer Tryfan from the North and the last time I had climbed her was from the south which I thought was a bit of a scramble. That scramble I remember was about to turn into a walk in the park.

What faced us was only made more difficult by carrying our packs on our backs. We both had light loads, but lets face it, you can have the lightest tent, sleeping bag, coat etc, but once they are all packed together you are talking about an extra 4-6kg on your back.

My mate was loving it, the walk was a mix of scree, climbing, walking, jumping (but not falling) although there were some hairy moments. Every turn and twist, every step of height came with a new challenge and a new view. This was why I loved Wales. A 2 mile accent was turning into a 3 hour climb, as we stood at the base of each new challenging assessing the best way to conquer it.

We reached the top, and were not alone as we saw some one jump Adam and Eve… something I have longed to do but once again chickened out despite the best efforts from another group using what I would call bullying tactics to make me try it. It might have worked on their friends but the fear of tripping, or falling and smashing my legs already played deep in my mind.

From Tryfan we stormed ahead towards the Glyders, and what a sight. This had been the first time I had conquered these and why I have waited this long was beyond me. the landscape was vast, and ever-changing. Were in another planet, or the moon. Maybe we were in a quarry, or some strange Sci-fi world. Next we would be talking to Captain Kirk and Spock the landscape was for ever-changing but the one image I have locked in my head is that of the Horseshoe of Snowdon.

In the distance, sat looking like she always does was the magnificent Snowdon in all her glory, in the way I had never seen her before. That was to be tomorrows treat.

After a long and very steep decent to the Nant Peris with several reminders to my mate that I had run on this road and up towards the Pen-y-Pass when I took on one of my favourite races we finally reached camp, only to divert into the local house for a well deserved pint.

Shortly after pitching we were back in and sampling the fine ales on tap and talking about what we always discuss when I meet this friend. A long discussion about trains. We got the distinct impression that our neighbours were listening in every so often and so they should have been as it was a enthralling energetic topic of discourse.

With the last of the 6 or maybe 7 glasses finished we trotted off to the campsite only to be jaw struck by the sky littered in the most number of stars I have ever seen, all shining as bright as the next, and in front of this backdrop lay Crib Goch and her impressive knife ridge. Being a city dweller I see stars, but never have I seen the sky mapped out like this it was like being in a planetarium.

Morning rose and my friends cold had fully taken hold. As the walk was cut early from the previous day due to time and the knowledge we would never walk Y Garn and get to the reservoir  used for Electric Mountain we had decided that this would be battled today as we could always come back and do the horseshoe on another day.

To cut a long walk short, my mate could not go on, and so we changed tact and headed for the car with the promise that we would return to finish the walk at a later date.

Even with this short spell in her magnificent gaze, the love I have for the area is even stronger and the thought of not being able to see or walk in Snowdonia for a year scares me.

This is one truly wonderful place and will remain my special happy place for years to come. North Wales and especially Snowdon always has a place in my heart.

Marathon (Take 3)

I have now ran three marathons. The second until last week was the best. Running within the shadow of Snowdon through the heartland of the National Park, I was just out to complete the course and with it managed to get a new PB.

But lets face it. That was not hard. Any of my mates with a little training could have beaten my time from my first Marathon. Lets set the scene.

I had worked and trained hard to compete in the Manchester Marathon and as most first timers I wanted to get that all magical four hours. Lets face it, runners and numbers are worse than mathematicians, whats the point of doing a 10K if its not below an hour, a half if it’s more than 1:50 and a marathon if its four hours plus. As we all know from this time last year the Manchester Marathon went horribly wrong for me. Coming in at 4:20 something, (that bad I can’t even remember, and I normally know my PB’s and times to the second)

The Biblical conditions we had on that day were not good for a run, the course and the organisation was not fantastic. The crowd support was the only element that kept you strong as you battled your demons to make it across the line.

Roll on a year, with two marathons, several more 10Ks and halfs under my belt and a lot more experience on how to take on this beast that sits so high on every runners tick sheet. To be honest I thought it was going to be  rubbish. My whole no booze and sensible eating had gone out of the window mid February and I had lost the fun of running and really couldn’t be bothered to run more than 40 minutes at a time. I did however manage to squeeze three long runs in and like Snowdon I kept telling myself ‘You have a marathon in the legs you know how to do this”

With this I had three times in my head. I had read some where that it is always good to have three times, as you  will always have something to cling to or chase if the first one slips away. The times were a rather ambitious 3:30, 3:45 and off course the time I have been running after ever since I laced up my running shoes when I first embarked on the 26 miles 385 yard jaunt. The golden four hours.

The week leading up to race day had been good, I was carb loading and stuffing my face with seeds and nuts, drinking plenty of water. I had a sport massage, did a gentle 3K and some walking, but the rest of the week I was seen to be sleeping and sitting on my arse. Race day itself arrived and as I rose to find the conditions perfect for marathon running the odd black cloud did send a shiver down the spine, but apart from a few spots of rain just before the starters gun, this was going to be a dry race.

I arrived at the athlete village and even after attending several of these races I still find it comical watching people prepare. Some do running laps, others stretch, some just listen to music. I too had my own routine which I set about to while waiting for the latest possible time to remove my hoody and deposit my bag.

Before I knew it, I was on my way to the start line which was a short walk from the race village and as I followed the crowd I began to hunt for my race pen. As we were all gathering the chatting started with your nearest competitor. Subjects ranging from where they had come from, to how many marathons they had in the legs and then as if by magic the nervous banter faded to complete silence. 26 seconds of complete silence followed by an outburst of clapping in respect of the Boston Marathon.

Shortly after we were away and once again the river of colour on the Manchester streets filled my heart with joy. I was doing this, I was taking part in a special run. I always love seeing the stream of people and here at the start and later on, you often doubled back on the course so you could see those ahead or behind you.

The race itself was being ran fast. Not too fast that I felt it was uncontrollable. I kept going from 8.15 to 8.30 pace. Think I was averaging around 8.20 a mile and soon I would be hitting the 10K mark in 52 minutes. Well inside what I needed and also on course for the 3:45. I had the pace maker in my sights at all time, and was slowly gaining ground on him, and then at around mile 7 he dashed off into the tree’s. I now had to use my watch and pay special attention to the pace.

Before I knew it I was in Sale, then Brooklands, and on our way to Altrincham where I would see my Ma and Pa. this was also half way and I was still feeling strong. I went though at 1:51:22, still on target. Everything had gone right so far. My gel popping was working, my fluid in take was good. The crowds were just adding to the buzz and enjoyment. But then it was about to go wrong. Mile 18 through to 22/23 was coming up and once again this was to take us from the urban sprawl to the outskirts of the open countryside where support was none and many a runner will be running full throttle into the wall.

I knew what the wall was, I had felt it several times before and I could feel it now. I began to map out the course, working out how long it was till I got back into civilisation and as I counted to 100 over and over, my pace went as low as 10:00 a mile, I fought to keep it at 9, or 9:30 knowing that I had banked some extra time earlier on in the race and before I knew it I could hear the crowds. The shouts of not long…. less than 5k to go. I watched checked and saw I was back on 8:15 miles, and remembered back to the 20 mile mark that saw me go through in 2:51. Some quick maths about my 10K time and I knew I was on course for a sub 3:45. I was going to break the golden 4 hours, I was going after my second time. I speeded up, the wall had now been climbed, the warm up was over now it was time to race.

I took on water at every aid station, I popped my last gel, I took jelly babies, I laughed with the crowd, they shouted and cheered and I was running I was in my element. The night before I had tweeted that I was not confident in Marathons, it was my least favourite distance, but now I was loving it.

But then something hit the back of my leg. I looked to see that it was a water bottle and that the guy behind me at mile 24 screamed ‘Cramp. Fucking bloody cramp’ I thought, should I help…. Others would… But wait, I’m on to a new PB, if I stop I might not get going… this is why we have marshals, the crowd could help him…. I chose to go on when an other runner ran alongside and said ‘You okay’ “No I have bloody cramp, bloody shitty fucking cramp” I left him to moan about it. I felt his pain, as with two miles to go to get cramp is a disaster, but he never stopped to stretch.

I turned into Chester Road, and it was home time, the crowds were getting bigger. Then suddenly the 3:45 pacer over took me. What? No! I was going to lose the sub 3:45 in the last mile. I sped up, and clung to him. Thinking I was always 100 meters behind him at the start, so I just need to keep that distance and I’ll be fine.

I saw Tesco’s, I saw Old Trafford, I saw the finishing Tunnel and I ran, I ran like Mo on the home straight of the 10,000. passing the pacer ‘Excuse me… Coming through…. Excuse me…. On your Left….’ I ran like I was late for work, fixing on the clock. 3:43:22. It was going to be a sub 3:45. I crossed the line, I stopped my watch, I looked at electronic numbers beaming back at me, I stumbled and turned to look at the clock… I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I had done it. I had got my Sub 4, I had got my sub 3:45.

A year on from my first marathon which couldn’t have been more of a disaster, to now… I walked to the medal station, thinking if I hadn’t slowed I could have got a 3:40, If I had picked the pace up I could have got a 3:30.

But hey, that’s why there are other marathon.

 

A Windy Hill Top – Part 2 of Weekend in the Lakes.

Right lets climb some mountains. We are after all surrounded by the beasts and whats the point of going to Lakes if you’re not going to climb anything. The original idea was to climb the Pike from Great Gable but with the recent dumps of snow the reports were still showing that both peaks were hiding beneath snow drifts and Great Gable was a little icy on some of the more challenging sections of her back.

The back up was to concentrate on the Coniston Fells. I’d already done the Old Man and some of the others to the south, but both of us had failed to do Wetherlam. Once told by a friend this mountain is off the tourist trail but can be reached via several routes.

As we started the walk, the word of the day was ‘Up’ followed by ‘Steep’ Straight away we were climbing through disused mines and quarries and before we knew it we were trekking our way down to the river bed through a forest only to climb out of the gorge to a field of sheep on the side of a hill. As the trail rounded around a corner we found ourselves with Wetherlam looking down on us from the left.

At this angle she looked like any other mountain, a sheer cliff face with a ridge over looking a valley floor. But as the path took us in a kind of horse shoe route up and down to her base, the true scale was revealed.

This was not going to be a usual ‘stepped out’ climb of the lakes. It was not going to be a steep walk. This was a scramble, this had scree, and as the clouds wrapped around the peak and the wind blew in the mist to haze our view of what lay ahead. We began with earnest to climb.

The start the hike was as you find on Crinkle Crags, or climbing to the summit of Bowfell. Steep rocks, with a kind of worn path leading you to the summit. From the start we spotted cairns every couple of meters suggesting this was not the straight forward walk we thought. Before long we had broken though the mist and clouds to find that the path we were following which zig-zag its way up the side was slowly being blocked and cordoned off by snow.

The sheets of snow that prevented us from continuing were just that. The water that was running down the mountain was melting the snow from the bottom up so what you had was a sheet of thick snow bridging across rocks leaving often large voids beneath. It was at this junction I thought best to turn back but my walking buddy found a way.

So we scrambled around snow covered path to find the path further on ahead. All the time trying to spy the next cairn and find a safe route to it. Say what you like about them, but these piles of rocks have helped me to navigate my way to the top and back down again several times when the path and visibility has not always been great. Onwards we trekked  and as the scramble turned into a bit of a rock climb as the steep path turned into a sheer climb, we hugged the rock face shouting warnings of scree as we clambered nearer to the summit.

The top of her was patched up in snow and as we navigated around the snow drift to attack the summit from the south we found that the wind carried us up to her crown. The wind ripped and roared past, over, below and through us, and with every gust it tried to push and shove us over in a playful spirit but with sense of underlining menace . Occasionally the wind would  get a little more frustrated that we were not playing and decided to out right attempt to blow us off the mountain in angry from s refusing to play its games.

The original idea of the walk was a circular one, taking in several more peaks before we returned to the car and as we headed east to come off her snowy peak we encountered several snow drifts, some on the edge. The wind was not getting restless at beating us black and blue and the wind chill was not adding to the fun. We decided that the only safe way back was the way we knew and to head on down. As we descended the cloud broke and we saw snow filling the ridges and troughs, giving the impression that the mountain top was flat like a dining table. While we were sticking to the path and making sure we were with insight of cairns we both agreed that we could have easily strayed away and  seeing how the snow was bridged further down the hill-side with the water melting the drifts from bottom up we knew we had made the right choice. None of us knew this mountain and I didn’t want to dance along on the carpet of snow to only to be buried at waist height, or sink into a tarn, swamp or bog.

I think that while the day was filled with excitement, the fear factor was stronger than when I walked Grib Goch, and there was something about the fairy tale opening of the walk with the empty mine shafts and blasted   out  quarries that nature had reclaimed which slowly changed into the bleak stoney atmosphere of a foreign planet with a mix of climbs as we grew closer to her summit.

The Lakes has always been a place at the bottom of my list. But the more I visit and the more I bag, my opinion of the landscape looking samey changes. But with the scrambles and scree this makes yet another Wainwright and mountain that makes me want to visit the Lakes more.