Monday, 5 July 2010

A trip to Vietnam on the cards?!

Hiking this summer hasn't gone well....I've spent many weekends (and weeks) at Barking Mad Dog Training Centre in Gravely (near Stevenage) to get our unruly pack of dogs under control, as well as taking steps myself to become a dog trainer.

I'm itching to get out with a pack on my back, and am determined to squeeze at least one trip in before the summer is over.

However...there could be a rather exciting trip on the Vietnam! Richard from the dog training centre (ex "Dog Borstal" Judge Richard Clarke) went there earlier this year to train Vietnamese dogs (that would otherwise have been used as food) to track turtles - a conservation project for the turtles, that has the added benefit of trying to change the attitude of the Vietnamese people towards the dogs. Hopefully in the future they will be seen as worthy working animals and pets rather than just as food. The project was so successful Richard has been asked to return to Vietnam to train another set of dogs and handlers in a new area.

Money permitting, I will be going also to help train - and learn an awful lot while I am there. The dogs and husband will be left at home while I get to grips with the jungle and insects...I've been reading about the leeches - not good.

I can't wait!

Monday, 10 May 2010


What a frustrating year so far - as far as hiking goes....

Following a fantastic couple of days at Barking Mad Dog Training Centre in Gravely we are busy working through our dogs issues...Patch's noise phobias have no quick fix, however we do go out for a local walk every morning (before the RAF start playing overhead) and her confidence is growing. Unfortunately we've been told not to take the dogs out together until some issues have been sorted, so hiking has been put on hold. I can't tell you how frustrated I am!

We also have a new addtion... a 3 yr old border collie who was given to me as a failed sheepdog from a local farm. She has never even been in a house let alone on a lead, so she is as raw as they come - but she is a sweetheart. She and Patch are getting along nicely (although our other jack russell, Snowy, can be a bit of a cowbag).....which means there is a possibility of a long distance hike on the cards with both Tess (the new girl) and Patch - Patch loves having another dog around to boost her confidence. All I need to do now is persuade John that solo hiking really isn't such a bad idea.

I'm going to need a bigger tent....I wonder if I can squeeze a collie into my bivy bag as well as Patch.....

(Apologies for the lack of hiking stuff at the moment - and thanks for those still following while things are quiet. Hopefully posts will be a little more interesting soon!)

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Almost out again!

Having spent a long winter stuck at home looking after my old horses, the milder weather and emerging grass means it's just about time to leave the horses to fend for themselves and get away to the great outdoors again.

In my frustration I've bought 4 books from amazon (internet shopping is just too easy) for ideas on new backpacking jaunts as well as a book on dehydrating food - last years summer spent eating Batchelors Pasta 'n' Sauce is not to be repeated!

Maps have been examined, put away, brought back out to be examined again...swapped for a different area...examined again...put away again, and I'm still not decided where to go for Easter weekend - but Dartmoor is a distinct possibility.

The big problem I'm having now is the forcast of rain is not helping my efforts to persuade John that backpacking is a much better idea than caravanning. I've always struggled to drag him out as it is, but since buying the new (old) caravan last year it's become more of a battle. "Discussions" have already been had over the 3 seperate week long excursions I've been planning for the summer. This could be interesting!

Tomorrow we leave in the caravan for a 3 day dog training course in Stevenage. I'm really hoping to make progress with Patch's noise phobia's and confidence - then maybe I can steal away for a weekend backpacking with her alone!

Friday, 19 March 2010

JOGLE photo's!

Leaving John O'Groats

Patch Pooped

Dunrobin Castle


I found Nessy on the Great Glen Way at Inverness!

A rare glimpse of Loch Ness from the Great Glen Way

A refreshing stop on the West Highland Way

The Falkirk Wheel

A bothy on the Southern Upland Way where I stayed the night (not my pack!)

The bivvi and tarp set up used for a large part of the hike (Big Agnes 3 hoop bivvi and MSR E-Wing Tarp)

Patch chilling out under the tarp! All she needs now is a beer...

Soggy on the Pennine Way (photo taken by Mike - who I passed on the way)

The Pennine Way

The Pennine Way...again...

Still on the Pennine Way!

The last pitch in a field by the seafront at Penzance (tent - Terra Nova Competition)

Entering Lands End!

The end photo!

Here they are - I finally figured out how to get them out of my phone!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The kit review - what worked & what didn't!

Here's a kit review at long may be of some help to this years challengers!

Backpack - Golite Quest (1355g)
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Wonderfully light weight but still tough and comfortable. I grew very fond of this pack!

Sea to Summit pack liner (94g)
This was the lightweight (ultra-sil?) version and it was hopeless. Water got in every time it rained.

Bivi - Big Agnes 3 wire (850g)
Excellent - loads of room for both patch and myself. I'm very fond of this also now!

Tarp -MSR E-Wing (185)
Brilliant - kept the rain off and was suprisingly stable in wind. A good amount of room underneath too. It's lovely to sit under a tarp and watch the rain!

Terra Nova laser Competition (950g)
Generally good. Quick and easy to put up and take down, nice and roomy. I din't have too much confidence in high wind - largely as the outer would blow against the inner and I worried about getting sodden - although it never happened. I did have condensation problems during the last 10 days of the hike, although I'm not sure that it wasn't water seeping through the groundsheet - I have more testing to do.

(I left on the 1st June and finished on the 19th August - during this time I spent the first month using the tent to avoid midge problems in Scotland. I then spent the second month or so using the Bivvi and tarp. I used the tent again for the last 10 days as I got fed up with being stared at on campsites! During the whole jogle I spent 2 nights in a youth hostel, 3 in b&b's and 2 with friends - other than that I was always camping -except when I had days off with John in the caravan 3 times during the hike...about 8 days total I think)

Sleeping Bag - Cumulus Quantum 200 (536g)
Excellent bag. There were a few nights after leaving JOG that were pretty cold, and I did feel it - but with Patch in the bag, my down jacket on and my coat zipped up around the bottom of the bag I was comfy. For the rest of the hike it was great - warm enough and so light weight and small pack size. It developed a stitching fault at the end of the hike but it was repaired and returned to me with no bother by the manufacturer.

Sleeping Mat - Thermarest NeoAir (370g)
Brilliant. Faultless. Comfy. Lightweight and small pack size.

Big Agnes Pumphouse (46g)
Brilliant bit of kit - made light work of inflating the NeoAir mattress night after night and doubled as a dry bag for my sleeping bag. Ace

Stove - Primus Micron Ti
Initially brilliant - lightweight and user friendly, however one of the arms developed problems folding out into position and then it snapped off with a broken weld. I'm still waiting for Primus to get back to me about this (no reply to my email yet).

Cook Pot / Mug - MSR Titan (118g)
Brilliant, lightweight, reliable.

North Face Merino Wool Tops (186)
Wouldn't be without this. I feel the cold but found I didn't need a fleece with these. The clothing combination of T'shirt, merino top, waterproof coat and down jacket meant I was always comfortable in every climate.

Waterproof Coat - Bergahus Paclite (390) / Montane Adventure Jacket (420)
I started with the Montane Adventure Jacket which initially did a great job of keeping the water out, but it soon leaked so I swapped it with the Berghaus paclite...which did the same. I've come to the conclusion that all lightweight jackets will probably do the same - as long as they keep the worst of the rain out I found this to be ok. A wet back and shoulders (where my pack had been) became the norm.

Waterproof Overtrousers - Berghaus Paclite (150g)
To my suprise these did a great job - although the bottoms were trashed by the end of the hike.

Down Jacket - PHD Ultra Down Pullover (224g)
Brilliant - I loved this. It kept me warm in the evening / at night when necessary and packed to a tiny size. I'm very fond of this!

Boots - Asolo Atlantis GTX (1130) / Brasher Hillmaster (1200)/ Asics trainers (570)
The Asolo boots were comfortable but not at all waterproof - just walking through wet grass would lead to sodden feet for the day (or one point I though I was going to get trench foot...). I later changed to the Brashers which were uncomfortable and had a soft sole that wore quickly. For the last 8 days or so I finished in Asics gel trainers which were heaven! So light and comfortable! They let plenty of air to my toes which was lovely on hot days! Although I got wet feet in them (obviously not waterproof) they did dry quickly - even while wearing them (and my sock too!).

Superfeet insoles
Fab - I put these in any footwear I wear hiking

Engo patches (blister prevention)
These were great! I put one behind my heel on each boot to prevent blisters and I had no problems - until I took one off without realising I didn't have a replacement with me. I tried using a square of gaffer tape instead but it just didn't do the job the same. I immediately had blood blisters developing on my heel. As soon as a new ENGO patch was put in the boot the problem was solved. These are great - they say they will last up to 300 miles but the ones in my boots lasted 500 which I think is pretty impressive - especially as my boots were soaking wet for a large part of the time (ENGO patches stick to the inside of your boots and prevent friction).

GPS - Satmap (with GB 1:50000 memory card) (290)
Excellent - a bit heavy and often unnecessary but a good bit of kit. It did give up the ghost at one point but satmap straight away sent me a demo unit to use while they sorted mine - they were great. I later found the problem may actually have been my dead batteries that I got muddled with the good ones though - I haven't told them that! Satmap are a fab company with great customer support.

Pack Towel - MSR (ultralight) (28g for 2 I think)
Simple but so good - tiny towels but absorb loads of water and do the job nicely. Tiny and light weight. Dry quickly when hung off the pack. One for me, one for Patch!

Multi use Soap - Dr Bronner's
Did the job ok - saved lots of weight, but I looked forward to proper shampoo for my it got longer it never felt good using this! Useful though - doubled as toothpaste.

Coat - Ruffwear Cloudchaser jacket (110g)
Brilliant. It kept Patch lovely and dry - at the end of the day I would zip this off her and she would be clean and dry underneath - good for the tent! The coats belly area would be muddy but I would rub this off on some grass and leave it in the tent porch / under the tarp overnight to dry. By morning it was always dry and ready to wear again. The seams at the bottom of the front legs did start rubbing Patch so I cut them off - been fine since!

Ruffwear Grip Trex Boots + Liners (193g)
These helped Patch initially in the hike on some long days but they did rub the joints on the top of her toes so in the end I sent them home.

Vetwrap (34g)
I took this just in case for Patch but ended up using it myself when I did something to the muscle running under the outside of my foot on day two! I've only used this on horses before it it really helped my foot when I was struggling! A lightweight bandage that is so useful it should be in every 1st aid kit.

Bow Wow Butterbalm (35g) (from Collarways)
An unusual bit of luxury but it did a great job soothing Patch's feet and my chapped hands!

That's the main stuff. I have to thank quite a few fellow bloggers - particularly Gayle for helping me get the weight of my pack down and persuading me to take just one set of clothes - that's what I did and she was absolutely right - it was much more comfortable carrying a lighter load...even though I may not have felt as fresh as I could!

Happy travels!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Ellie Dog!

This is Ellie - who I lost a few years ago to a tumour on her spine. She was a fantastic dog!

We are in Snowdonia - I forget where this time....but from this photo I really think I ought to start wearing make-up out hiking...!

Thoughts on the JOGLE - and with a dog...

This is rather a late reflection on the hike - apologies for that.

Where do I start....I'll try not to make this too long a post as I ramble on!

My original reason for doing the hike (briefly), was the need to do something different (I get bored easily and need a new challenge), a break from the rut you can too easily slip in in day to day life, and 3 months just me and my dog - which I thought would be bliss!

I've always loved hiking, always hiked with my dog's, and enjoyed backpacking for a few years now too, so I thought I was pretty well prepared. Big mistake. I ended up replacing virtually all my old backpacking kit with newer lighter versions of everything...which ended up being pretty expensive!

I love being on a mission - planning the route, sorting the kit - all that sort of stuff is so much fun. The moment John left me at John O'Groats and it was just Patch and I walking alone it did briefly go through my head "Oh my god, what have I done!". It was very strange to know I had a month before I would see John again, and the usual luxury of picking up the phone to talk to people whenever I fancied was on hold to conserve the phone's battery life. It was a strangely lonely feeling - but at the same time I felt wonderfully free.

For me the hike became very difficult mentally as Patch's noise phobia's kicked in towards the end of day two when an RAF jet screamed over. She went into a panic - and she didn't enjoy the hike again until we were on the West Highland Way around 3 weeks later. After that she worried every time a jet went over, or there was traffic noise, or the noise of industry in the distance, or passenger jets entering / leaving the airport at Glasgow in the distance - or we heard people out shooting rabbits.

On the radio recently I heard a comment from a mother saying how a mum is only as happy as her unhappiest child - it was a debate about a mother who helped her daughter who was surffering from ME to die. The comment I feel is very true also to dog owners. If your dog is miserable you will feel the same. This was my problem on the hike - Patch lost all confidence and constantly listened to the skies for aircraft or other noises, she was constantly looking for somewhere to hide and at times it was hard work just getting her out of the safety of the tent in the mornings so I could get packed up to go - then she walk walk along miserably with her head and tail down. I'd made a big mistake - I thought the hike would help her with her phobia's but that wasn't the case at all. Eventually she went home when I met John for the second time after 620 miles so she did well, but she'd had enough.

The thing is, we live in a "Low Flying Area", so Monday to Friday the RAF jet's zoom over and Patch spends all week hiding in her bed - so really she was no worse off on the hike, but I had to make the decision that she was better off coping with it in her own way by hiding in bed.

So with Patch worried and miserable it was impossible for me to enjoy the hike. It's not possible to feel happy while you watch your dog suffer. Once Patch went home I felt miserable that I was without her so I increased the mileage, changed my route and got back as soon as I could.

So overall, the hike was an amazing experience - although I spent a large part of it miserable for doggy reasons, I'm still glad I did it and have many fond memories. I met some great people along the way and made some new friends, I learned more about Scotland and England, and I learned a whole lot about lightening my backpacking load thanks to comments left on this blog! I think about the hike all the time - it will always be a part of me. I remeber one evening somewhere in Englad when I had walked 26 miles and found no campsite or B&B...I'd walked 30 miles the day before and was looking to just stop and get my tent up - I was soaked and my boots felt twice as heavy as they had been sodden for about 14 days. I was still miserable as I hadn't long left Patch behind. I decided to stick my tent up in a muddy corner of a crop field - there was just no-where else. About half an hour later I heard a tractor enter the field, and he drove straight past me to get to the next field - and back again later. He never stopped and told me to move - he just carried on. I was so grateful!

I think long distance walking with dogs is a great think to do - but you have to know your dog. Patch loves hiking - but needs our other dog around to give her a confidence boost. A few years ago (soon after patch came along) I lost my collie, Ellie to a tumour on her spine. Ellie would have gone anywhere and done anything with me. Although she was also a rescue dog I was lucky enough to have had her from a pretty young age and she had a wonderfully laid back character with no nervous issues. We would hike for miles - she would have covered a lejog / jogle with no problems.

When long distance hiking with dogs it is so important to know your dog inside out so you will notice a minor problem before it develops into a major one. I found myself watching Patch more than the surroundings - constantly looking for signs of discomfort. Every night I checked her feet - not just the pads but in between the pads for signs of soreness or stones. If a dog is unhappy he is unable to tell you so you have to think of everything and be aware to pick up on problems. Also the dog will be needing a fair amount of extra food when covering miles - his usual tea will not be enough. Some evenings Patch eat 2 tins of dog food (she's only a jack russell!). I always carried plenty of dry food for her (I put beef jerky in it to encourage her to eat more) but when on campsites with shops I gave her some nice tinned dog food. It goes without saying that they will need plenty of water stops to keep hydrated also.

One other thing to think about when doing this sort of hike is the security of the dog when you need to go into shops to re-supply. I may be paranoid but I didn't want to take any chances on Patch disappearing when I nipped to a shop so I bought a locking lead by Petloc. It locks around her kneck to make a collar as well as locking the other end to whatever she would be tethered to. It also had steel wires going through the length to prevent it being cut or chewed. This did weigh more to carry but it was worth the security of knowing she was ok.

I've waffled on enough and gone completely off track!

Patch and I are booked onto a 3 day course at the end of this month - it's called a "Dog Borstal Experience" and is run by Richard Clark and Mic Martin from the TV show "Dog Borstal". We are going to concentrate on Patch's noise phobia's. Our plans after that will depend on how we get on. We will definitely do our usual summer of backpacking in Snowdonia and elsewhere (so many places I want to go back to after the jogle) with John and our other dog "Snowy".....but if the course goes well and Patch's phobia's improve there could be a lejog on the cards at some point in the future - I missed so much good walking in my hurry to get back....for all my whinging at the time - I now want to do it again!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

After the hike....

Well I've been back some time now...apologies for the rather late update - but there's just nothing quite as exciting to write about now I'm home!

Before leaving for the jogle I was interested in whether or not the hike would change me at all. Don't get me wrong - I wasn't looking to "find myself" or anything dramatic like that, but I was interested in what I would learn about myself and how it may change me. Well the answer has been a while coming.....

As soon as I got home I yearned to get "back to basics" more...after the best part of 3 months in a tent or tarp and being closer to nature I didn't want to get lost in our modern world again. I found myself cooking outside on the barbeque as much as possible, and I put up my tarp to hang some washing under rather use the tumble dryer when it rained (which happens a lot here in Wales). I thought in time I would soon convert back to modern day living but in fact quite the opposite has happened. The more time goes on the more I want to get back to nature. By winter time I peruaded John that it would be a good idea to get rid of the central heating and install a wood stove instead...ok, it's been a bit nippy some mornings, but overall we love it.

The draw to live closer to nature and independent from the big power companies has now got to the point where we are planning to eventually retire to an "Off Grid" house. I hate the way we are dictated to by the government - how we should live our lives, what we can do, what we can't do, how we get taxed like the big energy companies are often greedy and overcharge us knowing that we are totally reliant on them....well not for much longer! There are some things we can't avoid (taxes etc) but what we can change, we will.

I've been looking into rainwater harvesting, solar panels, wind tubines, mini hydro turbines...even composting toilets! Poor John!

Who would have thought.....!