“Mud, Rock, Blazes” written by Heather Anderson and read by Chelsea Stephens
This post may contain spoilers.
This was a fascinating insight into the mental challenges faced by an endurance athlete. Unlike all the other books I’ve listened to and read on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails this walker was trying to set a record. Heather Anderson (Anish) already held the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for self-supported completion of the PCT in 2013 but riddled with self-doubt and insecurity she had herself convinced it was a fluke. With incredibly low self esteem and a failure to set an FKT on the John Muir Trail she decided to give herself one last chance and aim for an FKT on the AT in 2015. Not content with the female record she set herself a huge challenge of the overall FKT requiring an average of 50 miles per day to complete in just over 50 days. An average of 3-4 miles per hour meant sleep deprivation, no rest days and a constant battle to keep fuelled and hydrated while fighting exhaustion as well as the mental torment of having set a daily target that simply wasn’t achievable.
Unlike all the other AT and PCT stories this is all a personal journey and a story about her personal battles. Don’t read this if you want to know about the trail itself or about the characters that you might encounter. However, if you want an insight into the mind of an endurance athlete and what it takes to keep going day in, day out this is the book for you. In today’s world of airbrushed and sanitised perfect lives depicted on social media this was incredibly frank and honest and dealt with her negative self image as much as the achievement of battling through conditions that most people can’t even contemplate.
The difference here between 4 and 5 stars was the narrator. She reads at the start in a kind of breathless and over dramatic way that kind of trivialised the author’s achievements and feelings. I don’t know if she moderated this as the story progressed or if I stopped noticing it but it definitely became less of an issue later in the book.
This is the second audiobook I’ve listened to that came from recommendations on Splodz Blogz weekly blog Episode 110. There’s a third one in there that is next on my list.
On Sunday last week I went for my second guest walk with the Bluestack Ramblers Walking Club. My first was out to Inishbofin Island a few weeks ago. Before joining the Club I wanted to try a mountain walk to see if the group dynamic would be any different.
Turning up at the meeting point it was nice to see some familiar faces from the first day, to be recognised by some and to see some new faces also. The group demographic was quite similar but tilted more towards the older 60+ range. This surprised me as I expected a younger group on the tougher walk. There was also a good few more men this time and the mix worked well for socialising.
The walk started high above Lough Eske just outside Donegal Town. It followed part of the Bluestack Way before heading off into the lower slopes of the Bluestack Mountains. The initial terrain was gravel track before changing to a grassland and bog mix. Ground underfoot was damp and boggy at times but easily manageable. I was surprised how much easier going it was in comparison to the terrain on Barnes Gap. I think this area has been used much more for sheep grazing which has kept the heather at bay and kept the grass at a shorter length.
On the way up we were following a faint track that was either a reasonably well established hiker track or a sheep highway. Either way it was a convenient guide to a small river crossing with a waterfall, that must be impressive in Winter, and a climb up a small gully that brought us to the first of many small lakes.
Retaining the height we had gained we continued along the lower slopes of the main Bluestack ridge and were soon at a great viewpoint high above Lough Belshade. We had a great view of the basin the lough sits in and a great feeling of the surrounding higher hills.
wide angle view
With a slight breeze and a great view this was to be our halfway point for lunch. However, the breeze quickly dropped away allowing the dreaded midge to rise, resulting in a very hurried lunch break and putting us quickly back on the track.
The way back was slightly different. We dropped down to a slightly lower level to wind our way among a few of the other small lakes and streams. This was a really nice walk back and I was surprised at the number and variety of little loughs as well as the small waterfalls and streams wending between each of them.
We soon arrived back at the gravel track and dropped down to the parking area where we started and I took the opportunity to enjoy the great views of Lough Eske that I missed getting ready to hike earlier in the day.
This hike was a very different experience for me. With it being a guided walk all the concerns about route and navigation were removed. While I was equipped and aware of my location, in case I got separated from the group, I didn’t have to worry at all about where we were going and I was able to relax, enjoy the scenery and chat to other members of the group.
While I won’t give up solo walking I’ve decided that I’m going to enjoy being a member of this club and have already signed up. There’s a hike every Sunday and I’m planning to go on a more challenging walk next week up Dooish in Glenveagh.
Forty Words for Sorrow (John Cardinal and Lise Delorme Mystery #1) by Giles Blunt
This post may contain spoilers.
This was brilliant! I have recently finished the TV series and was a little apprehensive about reading the books so soon but if anything it enhanced the books. The story was virtually unchanged for the TV production and going by the books was excellently cast. The only real change I noticed was that the senior officer was male in the book and female in the TV show as well as the reason Cardinal was under suspicion by senior officers.
The basis of the story is that John Cardinal has been demoted within the department for irrational focus on the case of a missing child, claiming that it was related to another written off as a runaway and that they were both the work of a serial killer. A body is discovered which appears to be the missing girl and Cardinal is brought back into the fold.
In the background Delorme is brought into the homicide department and partnered with Cardinal with an additional task of investigating him for supplying information to the head of a serious crime organisation. The two of them work together to identify and apprehend the psycho couple kidnapping and torturing victims.
This is one of the best detective stories I’ve read for a long time. The quality of the writing is superb and the characters are hugely interesting. I’m sure it was enhanced by the TV show but I could feel myself immersed completely in the situations being described and able to picture them clearly. The descriptions of the landscape and weather of a Canadian winter were so detailed. It was fab.
After a successful backyard test of my new Helm Compact 1 tent a couple of weeks ago the plan was to get out on an actual wild camp pretty quickly too. I’d decided Sunday 24th would be a good bet as I was able to book the Monday off work and it fitted in around some of the other stuff I wanted to do on other weekends.
The plan was to travel over late afternoon and take my time getting to the camping location. I would have loads of time to enjoy the location and cook dinner and also have plenty of time in the morning to cook breakfast before packing up and heading home.
Unfortunately the weather turned out terrible that weekend with heavy rain, thunderstorms and flooding in some areas including our main shop in Derry. I’d been keeping an eye on the forecast for a while and luckily it suited my boss for me to revert back to my usual Wednesday off and I decided to postpone until the Tuesday evening.
This meant a dash after work and less time to enjoy the evening. To make things easier I decided to stop in Letterkenny and grab a burger and chips so that I wouldn’t be under time pressure when setting up camp. That turned out to be a very smart move as I was invaded by midges and cooking would have been out of the question.
The spot I’d chosen was on the shores of Lough Altan, below Mount Errigal and on the edge of Glenveagh National Park. I parked at the Errigal car park before heading back along the road and taking the signed track for Altan Farm. I hadn’t been in this area for a very long time and the track turned out much wetter and harder walking than I expected and also longer. The bag that felt lighter than expected the night before somehow became 10 times heavier after crossing this boggy track.
Despite these slight difficulties the walk in was amazing. The impressive views of Errigal and Mackoght were soon replaced by those across to the Aghlas and Muckish in the distance. The setting sun was putting on an impressive show and the colours of the mountains were just stunning.
Treated to a stunning sunset I was soon down on the shores of the lough enjoying the waterfalls and being eyeballed by the suspicious sheep.
The sheep had the grass well grazed and I soon had a suitable camp site identified and my tent erected. During this time though the breeze dropped away and I was invaded by hordes of midges! I was forced to retreat to my tent and enjoy the views from behind the relative safety of my internal mesh fly. It wasn’t until almost 11pm when the temperature dropped with darkness and I was able to open up again to make a hot chocolate before bed and take the crucially important night photo of my tent.
Overnight I had a decent sleep. I was quite unsettled until 3.30am when I had to get up for a pee. At that stage I was convinced I would get no more sleep that night but next thing I knew it was 6.30am! I’d gone for a slightly thicker foil mat and that combined with my inflatable sleeping mat and summer sleeping bag kept me warm and comfortable all night. I was very pleased with the tent too. The fly worked great at keeping the midges out once I was zipped up and although it wasn’t easy I was able to get my gear sorted and change for bed without having to get out at all. The two porches were very handy for storing my gear and giving me a sheltered spot to use my cooker. A+ for the Helm Compact 1 ✅
When planning this camp I had a tentative plan at the back of my head that I’d be able to get a dip in the waterfall and maybe even a dip in the lake to get a really refreshing start to the morning before cooking a bacon bap for breakfast. However, the morning dawned grey and humid with barely a breath of wind, the midges were celebrating and I was the banquet! They were even worse than the night before and I was forced to pack up camp from inside the tent before dismantling the tent wearing a hat and buff over my face. Even at that they destroyed my eyes.
at home I was able to assess the battle scars
Breakfast was skipped as well as any romantic notions of wild swimming or exploring the waterfalls. Instead it was a quick inspection of the old house and off up the hill to try and find a breeze and some relief.
I was relatively untouched all the way back to the van but if I stopped for anything more than a few seconds I could feel the bites starting again so I kept plugging on all the way back. A quick change and into the van and on my way home again. I stopped on the way and treated myself to a lovely breakfast roll and all was right with the world again.
closing the barn door but now i’m prepared
Despite the midges I had a great time. I loved the post-work mini adventure type escape, the walk in was amazing and waking up with that view was just unreal. I’m pleased how my kit worked out and I’m looking forward to seeing where my next adventure will take me.
The YouTube link below will take you to the video I made of the experience.
The Heretics of De’Ath (The Chronicles of Brother Hermitage #1) by Howard of Warwick.
This post may contain spoilers.
This was recommended to me by my best friend who has read of number of the series and really enjoyed them. I really wanted to enjoy it too and tried really hard, especially as he recommended it, but I just couldn’t get it. If it hadn’t been for him I think I would have given up part way through and not have pushed through to the end.
The author has a very good style, reminiscent of Terry Pratchett and his humour. In fact I’ve seen this author compared to TP but there’s absolutely no comparison. TP created a rich world full of diverse characters and detailed storylines. This, unfortunately, was incredibly dull!
Hermitage is a monk in a very weird monastery in medieval England. During a long and pointlessly obscure theological debate another monk apparently drops dead. Suspected of murder, tasked to report to the Bishop and eventually marked for execution Hermitage finds himself embroiled in a bizarre plot of political corruption to swindle money from a building project. Befriended by Wat, a weaver and dealer of pornographic tapestries, they attempt to find the truth.
It sounds interesting but that’s about as deep as the story gets. The writing was humorous at times but infantile on many occasions. The lack of a story created a need for bizarre and incomprehensible situations to move the book along but it was ponderous with. When the cause of death is finally established and the political plot finally exposed it was simply ridiculous and I’ve actually forgotten what it was already.
A book with the potential to be very good and one I tried hard to enjoy but couldn’t. I will try the next one to see if this was just a poor start but I won’t be in any great hurry. There are 23 books in the series and the author has a loyal following so maybe I’m just missing something?
The song is named after Jon Fratelli’s wife Heather, a burlesque dancer whose stage name – a play on Britney Spears – he borrowed for the song. Fratelli described the tune as “a rock ‘n’ roll gig in an old speakeasy or something like that.”
To me this song is just a whole lot of fun!
Well, you must be a girl with shoes like that
She said, you know me well I seen you and little Steven and Joanna Round the back of my hotel Oh yeah
Someone said you was asking after me But I know you best as a blagger I said, tell me your name is it sweet? She said, my boy it’s dagger, oh yeah
I was good she was hot Stealin’ everything she got I was bold she was over the worst of it Gave me gear, thank you dear, bring yer sister over here Let her dance with me just for the hell of it
Well you must be a boy with bones like that She said you got me wrong I would’ve sold them to you If I could’ve just have kept the last of my clothes on Oh yeah
Call me up take me down with you when you go I could be your regular belle And I’ll dance for little Steven and Joanna ‘Round the back of my hotel, oh yeah
I was good, she was hot Stealin’ everything she got I was bold she was over the worst of it Gave me gear thank you dear bring yer sister over here Let her dance with me just for the hell of it
Chelsea Chelsea I believe that when you’re dancing Slowly sucking your sleeve The boys get lonely after you leave It’s one for the Dagger and another for the one you believe
Chelsea I believe that when you’re dancing Slowly sucking your sleeve The boys get lonely after you leave It’s one for the Dagger, another for the one you believe
Click here for a playlist of all the songs in this series on Spotify