Quick Fix Escapism – My Micro Adventure under 48 hours & £100

Hearing about Inverie on the Knoydart Peninsula, a remote location that could only be reached by either ferry, on foot or helicopter, I knew this was the adventure I’d been looking for and hatched a plan for my very own micro adventure. In a fast paced world that seems to be forever getting even busier and more expensive we are all seeking get aways that actually allow you to ‘get away’ without costing the earth or taking all your time. Quick fix escapism.

With Edinburgh city still sleeping I escaped in the wee hours into the still, dark air that hinted at frost. It wasn’t long before I was crossing the Forth Bridge heading into the North of Scotland. I’d been travelling for a few hours in the dark before the sun started to rise giving way to a beautiful sunrise and promise of a spectacular day.

Magical Sunrise

Magical Sunrise

After winding my way through stunning vistas surrounded by deer and highland cows the road comes to an abrupt end at a rustic farmhouse with smoke plumes working their way into the sky tinged pink with the sunrise. Loch Hourn glistens and winks with the promise of what lays in store over the next 2 days of exploring this remarkably untouched peninsula of Knoydart on foot, completely on my own.

The promise of what lays ahead

The promise of what lays ahead

Like a scene from a movie, I left the main road and the small road became progressively narrower giving way to a single track path where the only traffic I was giving way to was small herds of deer and highland cows. Weaving around tight bends each corner gave way to stunning views after the last, past small lochs & rocky outcrops before the road abruptly reached its end and the expansive Loch Hourn began.

Traffic at the end of the road

Traffic at the end of the road

Keeping the Loch to my right the 15 mile route from Loch Hourn to Inverie via Barrisdale was well trodden and with a startling Autumn day welcoming me, I had no need for my map and compass apart from giving me comfort that I was heading in the right direction. Running was impossible as I was constantly stopping to take photos and soak up the stunning views that went from amazing to perfect. My mouth was agape at how beautiful it was, this is when I missed my partner in crime, Dion, and I spoke out loud to the vast silence around me, telling the world how beautiful she is. I had to vocalise it, it was so beautiful!

A moment of reflection

A moment of reflection

At Barrisdale the path veers to the left and takes you past the bothy and campsite and over Mam Barrisdale with a tough climb up to 800m where I was greeted by a herd of deer who were very curious about me. What a welcome to the summit. A lovely descent down past Loch an Dubh-Lochain and I could start to see the water of Mallaig winking in the bright sunlight, signalling my end destination. To this point I hadn’t seen a soul, total isolation, but strangely it felt very safe and comfortable as if this is how it’s supposed to be.

The end coming into sight

The view of Loch an Dubh-Lochain

Cute little wooden signs direct you to the few locations in Inverie of note; The Bunkhouse, snackvan, ferry and Pub. I was starving at this point having only had a couple of snacks since 4am and it was now 2pm but decided to head to The Bunkhouse first to make sure I had a bed for the night before the 15 minute walk into the village centre to find some food. I ventured into The Tea Rooms where a tasty & warm jacket potato and haggis filled my empty belly, washed down with a tasty hot chocolate and a homemade chocolate brownie left me feeling full and now rather sleepy as I sat in the heated tea room with the sun coming in through the window. Grabbing a bottle of red wine from the local shop I headed off in search of dinner and to get some feet up time.

Making my way through the most impressive herd of stags at Kilchoan Estate I entered another world; a farm shop filled with locally produced goodies left out to help yourself with simply a notepad to keep a list of what you purchase beside a quaint honesty box. I couldn’t resist the ultimate indulgence of a small wheel of Arran whisky flavoured cheddar, a box of oatcakes and a jar of homemade chutney, along with a 6 pack of eggs from the chickens I could see on the farm already thinking of my breakfast.

Kilchoan Estate

Kilchoan Estate

A roaring wood fire in the communal lounge at the Bunkhouse snuggled into a comfy sofa with wine and cheese meant I didn’t venture out to watch the sunset, however I’m sure it was spectacular.

Sleep came easily after a big day out in the sun on my feet and the Bunkhouse was tranquil giving way to a comfortable & deep sleep. Filling my belly with 6 eggs scrambled, I was back on the path again retracing my steps from yesterday back to Loch Hourn. Again I didn’t see a soul along the way and tempted by the crystal clear water I decided to go into full adventure mode and had my first experience of wild swimming in Scotland at Barisdale. Braving the chilly water with nothing on except my cloak of courage I splashed away in the water. It felt so empowering and exhilarating I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for days. It was so good and after seeing otters swimming by me on the trek back along the Loch, I jumped in again just before the farmers house, I was hooked! Perfect timing as I had only just got my clothes back on when I saw hikers coming around the corner! Having a secret giggle to myself as I passed them I quickly got in the car to get the heaters going to warm me up as this time I’d gone all the way under so had dripping, cold hair to deal with.

Wild swimming with a smile

Wild swimming with a smile

My drive back felt like a new adventure through the Caingorms as now I was seeing this in daylight rather than in the pitch dark. Amazed at the stunning nature wonderland around me I could feel my mind ticking over already, wondering what adventure could I hatch to come back up here again soon.

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-14-50-56

Just the bare basics

Just the bare basics

 

Training for the unknown – Genghis Khan Ice Marathon

Cold & I don’t really see eye to eye, so when David Scott (Sandbaggers) and Doc Andrew Murray approached me mentioning the two magical words; adventure & challenge; with an invitation to join them on the inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in Mongolia I jumped at the chance to run in -40 degrees!

Why?  Because it’s a challenge and I love a challenge! A chance to explore a completely iconic destination with an entirely unique culture with scenery like no other place I have ever been before while challenging the body and the mind in my favourite way, running.

Icy - Photo from Sandbaggers

Icy conditions in a stunning landscape – Photo from Sandbaggers

Who – Obviously David and Andrew, but we will also be joined by my dear friend and partner in adventure crime, Marina Ranger, and gal pal Lenka Istvanova.  As well as Shona Thomson, Maurice Donohue and Doug Wilson.

What – Starting from the iconic Genghis Khan statue in the plains east of Ulan Bataar we will find our way onto the frozen tul river from which point we will run, in expected temperatures of -40 degrees along the frozen river finishing up in a local nomadic camp where we will recuperate with some warming fermented mares milk (WTF!).  A lot of the route is impassable by vehicles so we will be supported by teams of husky dogs which will also aid in ensuring the local wildlife, aka wolves, keep well away (otherwise my rucksack has a whistle, that will work right!?).  We will also have the opportunity for even more fun when we tackle the husky sleds ourselves, race local mountain horses and even play a spot of wild golf.

Husky Sledding - Photo from Sandbaggers

Husky Sledding – Photo from Sandbaggers

Where – Mongolia!  During the week we will have the experience of sleeping out in a Mongolian Yurt (Gur as it is known in Mongolia) which are apparently designed to keep you warm and withstand the coldest of winters.  I certainly hope so otherwise Marina and Lenka will find me cocooned between them to keep warm!

Mongolian Ice Camp - Photo from Sandbaggers

Mongolian Ice Camp – Photo from Sandbaggers

When – 23rd – 30th January 2016

How – That is the interesting bit!  Having never run in arctic conditions such as that it has meant a lot of research for me into how I can ensure I not only cope in those conditions but be able to run a marathon competitively.  Let’s break it down into the main two parts, training & kit.

Training – I have just stuck to my normal training regime as I would do leading up to an ultra.  My average week consists of about 50 miles of running, made up of a speed session, hill repeats, hilly 7-9 mile run, 6 mile tempo run, long run and whatever else happens along with crossfit and yoga once a week for strength work.  It hasn’t been stuck to entirely, leading up to Christmas the mileage has dropped to maybe 30 miles a week some weeks and the eating habits (as well as drinking) have suffered somewhat, but I am conscious that from January I have a 3.5 month build up to Marathon Des Sables so all in good time.  I have made sure I have got outside in the cold, although to date we have been having an unusually mild winter which normally I would appreciate but I was banking on a cold Scottish winter to acclimatise.

But how will this get me ready to run on ice?  Have you ever tried running on ice?  You know when the footpaths freeze over and you hit a black spot of ice, well I was assuming it was going to be like that, for the entire length of a marathon.  On advice from David I got myself a set of Due North ice grips to put on over my normal trainers (Brooks Pure Flow 3) and  I managed to get myself an opportunity to run on the St Andrews Xmas ice rink to test them out.  A special thanks to Mark, Fraser and Ruth at Underbelly for allowing me this privilege, a strange request at first but they welcomed my craziness and on my birthday, myself and fellow runner Maurice, hit the ice!  See the action here on STV (available to view until 30th December 2015).  I am pleasantly surprised that the grips work a treat, they grip really well and you can actually run properly so that is a big relief.

 

First tentative steps onto the ice

First tentative steps onto the ice

Kit – Utmost importance for any event, but I am taking extra concern for my extremities as I don’t want to end up with frostbite.  I suffer from Raynaud’s as well so my hands get cold even when I’m running in a balmy 10 degrees, so my biggest investment was in gloves, I’ve gone for a pair of PH Designs Kappa mitts as they are also waterproof so will no doubt get some wear out in the Scottish mountains too.  These will be worn with a pair of base layer gloves (eGlove) underneath and I’m going to slip in disposable Hot Hands Instant Hand Warmers, I tried them out the other day and they get seriously hot!  I’ll probably get these into my shoes and possibly on my nipples (girls you know what I’m talking about here with freezing nips!).

Action Shot

Action Shot

My sponsor X-Bionic have been fantastic in providing me with great kit that I am sure will keep me toasty warm.  Potentially looking at 2 pairs of socks, but one pair for sure will be the X-Bionic Ski Metal which reflect body warmth made with the finest merino wool.  For leggings and top I have the Energy Accumulator series and will layer the top with a 2nd Accumulator top and finish the layers with the Beaver top which is half as thick as a traditional fleece but still manages even better insulation.  I will wear just the one pair of leggings or throw on a 2nd pair over the top, the 2nd pair will just be usual running leggings from Mirelle.   I will be wearing a balaclava to ensure all my extremities are fully covered, and have my Soma cap to hand in case the full face cover is not needed, along with a buff for my neck.

Stay tuned after January to find out how the team and I get on over there.  No doubt there will be loads of great photos to share with you all.

Fun & Games on the ice

Fun & Games on the ice