Just over a month since Xmas and Santa came again yesterday.
Funkier Pontebba Winter Jacket
Ordered based on a recommendation from a fellow blogger. Reduced from $100 to $19 and $28 for delivery which I felt was still good value. Predicted delivery from US 21-45 days, arrived on 22nd day. Great first impressions and looking forward to testing it over the next couple of weeks.
I’ve looked at similar gloves over the last couple of years and at £9.99 these seemed to be great value. They’re no longer on the website so may have been a clearance price. I hopefully won’t need to wear them too often🤞
The way January has developed I was starting to think I’d never get this ride done and that one of my main goals for 2021 was going to fall flat in the first month! I lost a lot of time due to Covid, 10 days isolation plus recovery afterwards ate up about half the month. Then we got snow and I lost at least another week for cycling. I was able to keep walking though so did build and retain some fitness.
For the last few days I’ve been watching the weather forecast pretty closely. The prediction was for it to get a lot milder Wednesday before another band of heavy rain moved in Thursday. I was hoping for a quick thaw to open up the roads again and let me out on the road bike. In the end up the thaw started Tuesday afternoon with most of the snow gone by evening and completely gone by Wednesday morning.
Then the weather gods played the joker! Fog! Clear, mild conditions combined with an almost total lack of wind and high humidity meant that the Finn Valley was shrouded in thick fog all morning and into early afternoon. By the time it cleared I’d lost interest and had become engrossed in my current book. Plus I was going to run out of daylight and I didn’t fancy finishing in the dark.
The forecast held out further hope with a window this morning into the late afternoon between the two bands of heavy rain. It was to be a bit breezier (18-24km/h) so fog was unlikely. All set to go 👍
I’d already planned to do my “easy” route. It’s the 50km loop of the Finn Valley between Strabane and Ballybofey using both sides of the river. I also planned to stop at home at the halfway point, have something proper to eat and adapt my clothing if needed.
The weather turned out very mild. I had on thermal leggings over my shorts but could have gotten away with leg warmers instead. The skull cap went at 25km, I changed to a lighter base layer at lunch and also ditched the liner gloves.
The first half was OK but I really paid for my lack of cycling over the last two months and this month in particular. At 40km everything was hurting, shoulders, neck, lower back and ass. Some of it was lack of flexibility, some due to the effects of walking with a weighted backpack this week but to be honest most of it was due to a lack of saddle time. Up until today I only had 278km across 6 rides for the whole of December and January. My ride today pretty much doubled my January total. I was glad to see home at the halfway point and get some anti inflammatories into me as well as a bowl of soup and wheaten bread.
I was expecting the second half to be slower but it turned out slightly faster. Coming back from Castlefinn to Killygordon I felt great. There were impressive figures (for me!) showing on the Garmin and I was starting to think there was something in the soup! At the very least the wind had dropped. Turning in Ballybofey to come home on the final 10km I realised that the wind had changed direction slightly, I’d had a bit of a tailwind for the last 20km and I was now finishing into a headwind. The last 10km was tough. Mentally I’d had enough and I was physically tired. The big effort from Castlefinn was now biting back. For the first time ever I thought I wasn’t going to make it up the final hill to home!
The roads have been very dirty since October but they were really bad today and I was glad I made the last minute decision to stick on the rear mudguard. The surface has also deteriorated a lot over the winter and especially with the recent ice and snow. There were random patches of grit on the hillier bits as households had dealt with the snow and lots of gravel washed off side roads in the heavy overnight rain. It didn’t make things any easier.
Many cycling blogs and online articles extol the virtues of cross training. The obvious focus is on running, swimming and pilates/yoga but walking is often overlooked.
The benefits of walking are many and the starting point is low. You need little to no specialised equipment. Most people will have a comfortable pair of shoes or trainers, a waterproof jacket, hat and gloves already. After that it’s just layers, depending on the weather. The other advantage of walking is that you can mix it up to a high degree. You can vary the terrain from roads to forest tracks to hiking off trail. You can mix in flat roads with hills or even hill repeats if you want. You can vary your speed from slow to fast, walk a variety of distances and carry a weighted pack to increase the effort.
The big benefit I’ve found over the last week is that bad weather still allows the opportunity for walking. Storms aren’t much fun to walk in but decent waterproof clothes and shoes mean it’s still possible. High winds, ice or snow make running and cycling difficult, if not impossible, but even the heavy snow this last week hasn’t stopped me from walking every day.
Walking has been a great way to recover from Covid and rebuild my fitness. Post isolation I started by taking short, easy walks, gradually extending the distance and speed before mixing in cycling. This allowed me to increase the effort gently, identify any impact on my lungs and steadily build my stamina again. I’ve walked almost every day since, sometimes twice a day. My biggest day was 12.5km over two walks and my longest was 9.2km. I’ve now also started walking with a 3kg weighted backpack to increase the effort required and build a bit of upper body stamina also. Apparently this is called “rucking“!
My total distance for the month so far is almost 106km. 90km of that has been done since the 14th when I came out of isolation. So far this month I’ve only managed 104km on the bike due to the snow and ice of the last week so I’ve walked further than I’ve cycled.
Finally one of the greatest benefits of walking is the positive impact on mental health. Getting out in the fresh air every day has lifted me mentally as well as physically. It has been my daily release. Similar to cycling walking is mindless, requiring very little focus or concentration allowing the mind to wander and release any stress.
Evening is closing in as murder detective Jack Caffery arrives to interview the victim of a car-jacking.
He’s dealt with routine car-thefts before, but this one is different. This car was taken by force. And on the back seat was a passenger. An eleven-year-old girl. Who is still missing.
Before long the jacker starts to communicate with the police: ‘It’s started,’ he tells them. ‘Andit ain’t going to stop just sudden, is it?‘
And Caffery knows that he’s going to do it again. Soon the jacker will choose another car with another child on the back seat.
Caffery’s a good and instinctive cop; the best in the business, some say. But this time he knows something’s badly wrong. Because the jacker seems to be ahead of the police – every step of the way…
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I absolutely loved this book. If you read professional reviews and critic reports I’m sure there will be lots of comments about the lack of writing quality, how the story skips around a lot and how some plot lines appear out of nowhere or are discarded without a thought. I don’t care! This book is all about the story and all of the above creates a frenetic pace that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you along whether you want to go or not. I found it difficult to break away from reading this during the first 40% but the remainder was read virtually in one sitting this morning. I was so engrossed I even gave up on my planned 100km cycle and gave myself over to the story.
There is some development in the relationship between Flea and Jack and they both have starring roles in this book. The Walking Man also plays a more prominent role and we get to know some more of his back story. However, the story mostly focuses on “the jacker” and the search for the missing girls. It’s almost a standalone story but much more enjoyable if you have read the preceding books.
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America—majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way—and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I came to this book having watched the film a few days ago. The film is decent but I had a feeling there was more to the story in the book. In an unusual flip I found the book was enhanced by having seen the film. Sure, some of the scenes were modified, switched around or simply invented for the film but the spirit of the book is definitely there. What really enhanced the book though was Nick Nolte’s excellent portrayal of Katz. I couldn’t help but see and hear him jumping out of every page and piece of dialogue. Despite how it happened he ended up being a perfect casting choice.
Katz is the success of this book. Bryson himself is very straight, introspective and sometimes abrasive and arrogant. Katz provides the comedic element but also some of the most emotional and thought provoking parts of the story.
It’s hard to think of this book as non-fiction or a travelogue but it’s both. There are lots of negative reviews on Goodreads, mostly based on a negative view of Bryson but I really enjoyed it. It provides a great view of what it’s like to walk a long distance trail and also a nice historical record of how the AT came about. There are many interjections about how the nature of the American wilderness has and still is changing. Probably one for people interested in hiking and camping though.
The weather overnight was down to freezing and below and with the forecast giving 2/3°C plus sleet/snow showers it definitely wasn’t going to be a day for the road bike. Using Strava’s suggested route function last night I had a decent couple of hours on the MTB planned for late morning/early afternoon.
I haven’t ridden this route before but I know all the sections having ridden them all on previous MTB or road spins. It’s uphill from the get go on minor roads from the house, into the forest for a few km before a mixture of forest and minor roads back home.
Heading into the first section of forest trails the gate was open and it was soon obvious why. The trail was a mess of half frozen mud churned to bits by digger works clearing the drains. At the top junction I was relieved to branch off onto an older trail that brought me back out on to a short section of road. The exit gate was closed but I was able to squeeze out the side where walkers had worn a rough path over a few rocks. Being lazy I tried to do this without completely dismounting, hit a big rock too slowly and managed a slow motion fall to the side on to the rough track. Thankfully not a bad fall and I managed to keep my head off the floor but I’m going to have a lovely bruised thigh tomorrow!
The day had started off bright and very sunny but shortly after going into the next section of forest it dulled down and the sleet showers started. This soon turned to snow which was strangely invigorating to ride in. There’s something exhilarating about doing something that most people wouldn’t even consider and riding a bike in a snow shower is definitely one of them.
Shortly after stopping for these photos I was back on to the roads. The snow was getting steadily heavier and less comfortable all the time. In the space of approximately 1km I went from this:
At this stage I decided the fun was rapidly going out of the day and with a lot more climbing and high ground to cover I decided to turn for home at just over 12km.
Just over 2km later and the day turned to shit completely. I started to notice that telltale bounce in my rear tyre and no matter how much you wish it away, it’s obvious there’s a puncture. It felt like a slow puncture and with two CO2 cannisters in my bag I figured I had an opportunity to get most of the way home at least without having to change the tube. I didn’t figure in a faulty CO2 pump 🙈
Neither of the two cannisters would open and it appears that the pin that pierces the seal is broken or missing. Without a manual pump I was snookered and Hike a Bike was my only option.
Just over 1km later I had worked out that I had a minimum of 8km to walk home and as I was already getting cold this was a non-starter. I was just about able to get mobile network and got through to my Dad who was at home and able to come get me. Fifteen cold and miserable minutes later he picked me up along the side of the road having walked almost 3km in total. MTB shoes are no fun for walking in and my gloves turned out to be a bad choice for today so I was delighted to get out of the weather and into his warm car for the short drive home. Shower plus warm food and all was well again.
Next bike purchase looks like a new CO2 pump and a new tyre. That’s a series of punctures in the same tyre now and I can’t work out why.
A Darkness at Sethanon is the stunning climax to Raymond E. Feist’s brilliant epic fantasy trilogy, the Riftwar Saga.
Here be dragons and sorcery, swordplay, quests, pursuits, intrigues, stratagems, journeys to the darkest realms of the dead and titanic battles between the forces of good and darkest evil.
Here is the final dramatic confrontation between Arutha and Murmandamus – and the perilous quest of Pug the magician and Tomas the warrior for Macros the Black. A Darkness at Sethanon is heroic fantasy of the highest excitement and on the grandest scale, a magnificent conclusion to one of the great fantasy sagas of our time.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
A disappointing end to what I remember being a great series of books. The first two were really well written and well structured stories, this book didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do and wandered from one huge event to the next. I totally understand that it’s a fantasy story but the suspension of belief required to navigate not one but three huge battles was just too much with our major characters repeatedly putting themselves at risk and escaping at the last minute, remarkably unscathed.
I really enjoyed finding out the back story behind the elves, Valheru and especially Macros but the whole concept of the time trap and returning to the beginning of the Universe was baffling and seemed to have no significance apart from a handy way to get stuff done and move characters around. It’s like the author had a great idea he wanted to shoehorn into a story and nobody was able to talk him out of it.
Finally it’s very obvious that George R.R. Martin was a Feist fan at some stage. The immortal Black Slayers, who can only be killed by burning their hearts led by one key magical leader coming in a horde from the North, delayed by a battle at a fortress with giant walls and the use of naphtha to destroy a city. Sound familiar? There’s even dragons!
Feist went on to write many more great stories based on Kelewan and Midkemia and I definitely won’t be stopping here.
Thursday was the last day of isolation and I’ve been trying to get some kind of fitness back again. Starting with a simple 2km on Friday I’ve walked every day gradually working back up to 6km. Today was my first day back on the bike.
Initially I’d planned a simple 26km loop down as far as Clady and back up to Killygordon. However, coming back into Killygordon I felt pretty good and decided to push on to Stranorlar. It was a really nice day, not much breeze, just the right side of cold and some nice sunny spells.
the roads are filthy!
In the end I finished with just under 40km and feeling way better than I expected. In fact I felt so good I also went for a 4.5km walk later in the afternoon.
Long before he was President or head of the CIA, before he fought terrorist attacks on the Super Bowl or the White House, even before a submarine named Red October made its perilous way across the Atlantic, Jack Ryan was an historian, teacher, and recent ex-Marine temporarily living in England while researching a book. A series of deadly encounters with an IRA splinter group had brought him to the attention of the CIA’s Deputy Director, Vice Admiral James Greer—as well as his counterpart with the British SIS, Sir Basil Charleston—and when Greer asked him if he wanted to come aboard as a freelance analyst, Jack was quick to accept. The opportunity was irresistible, and he was sure he could fit it in with the rest of his work.
And then Jack forgot all about the rest of his work, because one of his first assignments was to help debrief a high-level Soviet defector, and the defector told an amazing tale: Top Soviet officials, including Yuri Andropov, were planning to assassinate the Pope, John Paul II.
Could it be true? As the days and weeks go by, Ryan must battle, first to try to confirm the plot, and then to prevent it, but this is a brave new world, and nothing he has done up to now has prepared him for the lethal game of cat-and-mouse that is the Soviet Union versus the United States. In the end, it will be not just the Pope’s life but the stability of the Western world that is at stake. . . and it may already be too late for a novice CIA analyst to do anything about it.
My Rating: ⭐⭐
I really struggled with this. The writing is slow and ponderous. The storyline has so much potential for excitement and intrigue with the CIA v KGB to bring across a high level defector and based around an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. However, Clancy manages to make it dull and boring.
There is far too much boring detail, far too much to and fro on inconsequential details and far too many characters with minor roles that make it difficult to follow. The main characters are unlikeable. There is a consistent arrogance from everyone towards the culture and traditions of everyone else that gets wearisome very quickly. Ryan and his wife have a particularly condescending attitude towards British life and portray what appears to be a serious personal issue of Clancy’s towards the NHS that is jarring and doesn’t contribute to the story.
The only likeable character in the whole story is Oleg, the Russian defector with a developing conscience around the assassination of the Pope and his desire for a better life for his family.
I struggle to see why this book became a #1 bestseller. I wonder what the competition at the time was?