Tag Archives: endurance

camino sunrise – walking with my shadows

Camino Sunrise – Walking With My Shadows by Reginald Spittle

From Goodreads:

Walk? 500 miles? Across Spain? We can’t do that!
And so began the journey of a lifetime for Reg Spittle.

An outwardly well-adjusted professional and family man, Reg was a master of disguising a lifetime of debilitating anxiety that undermined his self-confidence.

Recently retired, he never dreamed he’d soon find himself chasing distant boundaries across a foreign land, sleeping in dorm bunks and sharing bathrooms as if he were a teenager experiencing his gap year.

When tragedy strikes, Reg reluctantly accepts his wife’s challenge to carry his red backpack on the historic Camino de Santiago, confronting past fears and humiliations, while packing weighty new worries.

Self-reflection, humor, and a recurring cast of characters create the backdrop for a story of hope in Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is the first book written by the author but I have already read his second book that details his later treks. This is the story of how it all began.

The book is an enjoyable account of the Camino experience. It’s very different from the PCT and AT endurance treks I’ve enjoyed in lots of other books but it’s most certainly a challenge in its own right. I found that the book captured a sense of sharing and camaraderie that seems more personal on the Camino compared to the other treks. The author describes his Camino “Family” and the spirit of this definitely comes across. This subtle difference may be due to the kind of trekker that is attracted to the different trails. The people Reg and Sue met were older in general while the PCT and AT seemed to be predominantly younger trekkers.

The book is also a very personal and private struggle for the author as the Camino experience brings his life-long struggles with anxiety to the fore. Even contemplating and agreeing to attempt the trek is a massive challenge for him. Throughout the book he describes events through his childhood that led to anxiety in his adult life and how he hopes that post-Camino Reg will be a different person to pre-Camino Reg.

At times I felt the personal stories uncomfortable. I was lucky to have a much happier childhood but many of the struggles he describes were very familiar. At the time I simply put it down to shyness and social awkwardness but it made me realise that anxiety that I sometimes struggle with in adulthood was there during my childhood too. Recognising this shook me a bit. Maybe this was my own Camino journey in a very small way.

Header image by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

the longest walk

20miles, 32 kilometres, it doesn’t sound like an awful lot but that was my target for Wednesday. Back in 2012 I did my longest ever walk at 30.5km on The Bluestack Challenge along part of the Bluestack Way from Glenties to Lough Eske. That was an organised walk and over some hilly terrain. Since then I’ve done some longish walks in the 15-20km area and last year walked a half marathon for the first time since 2012. A few weeks ago I repeated that same walk and pushed it out to 25km.

Since then it’s been rattling around in my head to push on and beat my personal best. I’ve been walking a bit extra this month as part of the fundraiser for the Irish Community Air Ambulance and I wanted to finish March with a big one. I’ve also been listening to a few audiobooks recently on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail and was inspired to put in one of their days. One of the big milestones for those thru-hikers is their first 20mile day so 32km became my new target, albeit without the 15kg backpack!

I walked a very similar route to the other two days linked above but with variations to increase the distance. It was all on roads, some of which were very familiar but I also managed to find roads I’ve never been on before and yet so close to home. I was surprised by the variety of landscapes that I saw and just how quickly they changed. I had great weather, cold and breezy at times but dry all day. I had a great time and despite the throbbing knees and ankles had a massive sense of achievement at the end.

beautiful birch at lunch stop

(For some reason this video has uploaded in a low resolution version and I can’t work out why, yet another thing to learn.)

So what is the next challenge? I guess the next logical step is to walk the full marathon distance which is 42km. I already have a route pencilled out for that and I’m investigating a 50km route also. That one will require a long dry day in summer and it’s probably the absolute maximum limit for me for a single day walk. I’m going to enjoy the current achievement for a while but also enjoy making plans…

Header image by Pixabay from Pexels

where’s the next shelter?

Where’s the Next Shelter? written and read by Gary Sizer

From Audible:

Where’s the Next Shelter? is the true story of three travelers on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,000-mile hike that stretches from Georgia to Maine, told from the perspective of Gary Sizer, a seasoned backpacker and former marine who quickly finds himself humbled by the endeavor. He teams up with Megan, a sassy college grad whose indomitable spirit eclipses her lack of experience; and Lemmy, a cartoonist from overseas whose off-kilter commentary on the wonders and frustrations of the trail keeps everyone laughing.

Sprawling through the woods and towns of the Appalachian Mountains, the trail carries the trio through real and fanciful ups and downs ranging from hilarious to perilous. Much more than an orderly account of mountaintops and meals, this book is an adventure about friends figuring things out as they go. It’s about screwups and solutions, awe and inspiration.

If you long for the horizon or to sleep under the stars, then come along for the hike of a lifetime. All you have to do is take the first step.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Yes, yet another audiobook on long distance hiking and my second in a row on the AT! This one took a bit of getting used to. The author reads his own story and he reads at a speed that is slightly too fast for comfortable listening. He also has a slightly irreverent attitude that while novel means quite a lot of swearing. Hearing fuck in an audiobook conversation while not shocking is kind of jarring and I was nearly at the end before I was getting used to it.

A consistent element of the story style is the author recounting conversations as they happen and verbatim. I find it difficult to believe that he was able to recall so many conversations over such a long period of time and almost a year after finishing the trail.

Sizer himself is an interesting character and I found his friendship and relationship with other hikers and trail angels really well written and described. In particular his special relationship with Voldemort (Megan) and Lemmy is particularly enjoyable.

Another good depiction of the AT and I found it particularly interesting how Sizer’s description was different to that of David Miller’s while still staying so similar in many ways.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

awol on the appalachian trail

Awol on the Appalachian Trail written by David Miller and read by Christopher Lane

From Audible:

In 2003, software engineer David Miller left his job, family, and friends to hike 2,172 miles of the Appalachian Trail. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is Miller’s account of this thru-hike from Georgia to Maine. Listeners are treated to rich descriptions of the Appalachian Mountains, the isolation and reverie, the inspiration that fueled his quest, and the rewards of taking a less conventional path through life. While this book abounds with introspection and perseverance, it also provides useful passages about hiking gear and planning. This is not merely a travel guide; it is a beautifully written and highly personal view into one man’s journey and the insights gained by abandoning what is comfortable and routine.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

I listened to this straight after “Journeys North” and I think it would have been more enjoyable with a gap between the two. It’s also the very first AT based audiobook for me and it seems that the PCT is a much more diverse adventure and also seems to attract a more interesting participant. This means that while the author is interesting and has his own good back story those around him seem less so. Again this could be due to comparing everyone to Journeys North.

I did enjoy the writing style of the story which kept it tipping along at a steady pace. He also provided a lot of information about the AT itself and I felt that I knew it much better at the end compared to Bill Bryson’s book which was more about his experience than the actual trail.

At a similar age to the author I found great admiration for how he was able to recognise the way his career was affecting his mental health and happiness and was able to change the script of his life with the incredible support of his wife. I was really glad he filled us in at the end on how he returned to real life once again.

My only regret with this book is that I should have listened to it before Journeys North.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

journeys north: the pacific crest trail

Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail by Barney Scout Mann

From Audible:

In Journeys North, legendary trail angel, thru hiker, and former PCTA board member Barney Scout Mann spins a compelling tale of six hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 as they walk from Mexico to Canada. This ensemble story unfolds as these half-dozen hikers – including Barney and his wife, Sandy – trod north, slowly forming relationships and revealing their deepest secrets and aspirations. They face a once-in-a-generation drought and early severe winter storms that test their will in this bare-knuckled adventure. In fact, only a third of all the hikers who set out on the trail that year would finish.

As the group approaches Canada, a storm rages. How will these very different hikers, ranging in age, gender, and background, respond to the hardship and suffering ahead of them? Can they all make the final 60-mile push through freezing temperatures, sleet, and snow, or will some reach their breaking point?

Journeys North is a story of grit, compassion, and the relationships people forge when they strive toward a common goal.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I absolutely loved this, easily the best  audiobook I’ve listened to so far. Really well written and excellently narrated but it’s the story that makes it special.

Most thru-hike stories focus on the author, their personal story and the people they meet along the way. This one gives the other five stories equal merit and this makes it unique.

Scout seems to be a very special person and I really enjoyed his take on the PCT but also his insights into the lives of the friends he made along the way. It’s obvious that much of the information was provided by them, rather than just observations, which points to the close relationship he had with each one.

A truly inspirational story of resilience, determination and the strength of humanity.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

section hiking

I’ve read and listened to a lot of stories about long distance hikes over the last year or so. From Bill Bryson’s adventure on the Appalachian Trail (AT) to Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and recently Reg Spittle’s second book about trekking in the UK and Europe. I’ve just started yet another PCT themed audiobook, by Barney Scout Mann, entitled Journeys North.

In the opening chapters Mann mentions how some hikers walk long distance trails in sections rather than thru-hiking the entire trail in one go. This has been mentioned in every story so far but yesterday it seemed to have found more fertile soil in my brain and I started considering my own options for section hiking.

© toughsoles.ie

Close to home I have a number of waymarked walks. Of Ireland’s 42 National Waymarked Trails there are 5 in Donegal. Of these the only one I’ve walked is The Bluestack Way. I walked the Glenties – Lough Eske section of this almost 10 years ago as a charity walk for the Bluestack Foundation, approx 30km in 9 hours was, and still is, my longest day’s walking.

Three long distance walks also pass near my home. The Irish leg of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) approx 450km from the Slieve League cliffs in Donegal to Larne in Co. Antrim, The Ulster Way, a looped trail just over 1,000km that circles Northern Ireland and The Ireland Way that is also 1,000km from Castletownbere in West Cork to The Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim.

the international appalachian trail – ireland

the ulster way

the ireland way

All three routes meet and overlap at the border between Donegal and Tyrone and follow the same route until The Giant’s Causeway where The Ireland Way stops. The IAT carries on with the Ulster Way until Larne where it stops before skipping across The Irish Sea to Scotland.

Many years ago I read one of the few books on The Ulster Way by Alan Parker and first published in 1989. Alan was the first ever person to walk the entire Ulster Way in 1979. It’s a really interesting read for more than just the walk itself. Alan was a real old school hiker and used B&B accommodation all the way. It’s a fascinating glimpse of a different pace of life in Northern Ireland at the end of the 70s and surprisingly unaffected by The Troubles.

I was familiar with the Ulster Way having seen the signs on many occasions throughout Northern Ireland and reading this book gave me my first real desire to do a long distance walk. However, 30 days is difficult to fit into any life when work and family also need attention so unfortunately it never happened.

The idea though has never left me so it’s unsurprising that it was The Ulster Way that I turned to today to investigate the possibility of section hiking. WalkNI have a very detailed section on their website that details a variety of different 1, 2 & 3 day and 1 week suggestions and there are 2 that really appeal.

Belcoo – Belleek: a 47km section including the optional Lough Navar loop. This is an area I’m very familiar with and Lough Navar has an amazing viewpoint looking out over Lough Erne. Possible as a day hike but more enjoyable over 2 days.

Lough Bradan – Gortin: 60km and recommended as a 2 day walk. Being close to home this is a very familiar area and although I’ve walked or cycled some of it, most of the route would be new to me.

In the middle of a very wet, cold and stormy February it’s nice to look at these routes and dream of long days walking and camping in warm sunshine (ideally!).

trippin’ through my 60s

Trippin’ Through My 60s by Reginald Spittle

From Amazon:

As a child of the Sixties, Reg Spittle was no stranger to unrest and rebellion. So it was no surprise that, at age 60, when he closed his office door for the last time and left the working world behind, his restlessness would lead him to a path less traveled.

Trippin’ Through My 60s is a lighthearted look at how Reg discovered and pursued his passion for trekking along four famed European long-distance trails:

  • Scotland’s West Highland Way
  • The Alps’ Tour du Mont Blanc
  • Italy’s Way of St. Francis
  • England’s South West Coast Path

Unexpected challenges, wrong turns, and humor evoke memories of life in the Sixties and create the backdrop for Reg’s adventures as he tackles backpacking escapades that push him to the edge.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve been following Reg’s blog for quite a while now (Books and my Backpack) and enjoy his reviews and recommendations of books by other authors. He mentions his own two books occasionally but isn’t pushy with them. However, I’ve been meaning to check them out for quite a while now. Recently, I spotted this book, his second, on Amazon and added it to my reading list.

This book covers four trekking trips that Reg and his wife Sue undertook in their retirement. I was particularly interested as the first two treks were The West Highland Way and The Tour de Mont Blanc. I was interested to see how they coped with the challenge of these two tough trails.

Reg has a very casual and relaxed way of writing. Even when he and his wife are struggling to cope with the conditions and demands of the trail he seems to be able to retain good spirits and take the best from every situation.

I very much enjoyed those first two treks as I’ve watched some YouTube videos of walkers on the West Highland Way and canoeists on the Great Glen Way. My visit to Switzerland in 2019 to Pierre’s house in Valais also involved a day trip to Chamonix which is where the Tour de Mont Blanc starts and finishes. Lots of the scenery and placenames were familiar and there was a real sense of adventure from their depiction.

The final two treks were also interesting but less adventurous than the first two. I also found the descriptions of these two trips a bit repetitive, especially the English trip which is why I dropped a star*

Overall I really enjoyed this book, Reg and his wife are inspiring to anyone considering long distance and multi day treks. They are living proof that age shouldn’t be a barrier to your dreams and that it’s never too late to chase them. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in walking or the outdoors.

*I was very tempted to drop a second star due to his horrified reaction to eating smokey bacon crisps for the first time. My favourite flavour!

Header image by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

pan celtic race

As part of my interest in longer distance Audax cycling I came across this fantastic event a couple of years ago. It’s a self-supported ultra long-distance endurance cycling event. The 2019 event was the first as far as I know and the route was simply amazing.

The 2020 event was scuppered by Covid but by keeping it restricted to England & Wales, they managed to put together a route and run the event for 2021.

As part of the celebration of the 2021 event they created a really good film and I’ve linked it below. I’d recommend it for anyone with even a passing interest in cycling or endurance sport of any kind. The standout for me was the camaraderie of the riders and how ordinary so many of them are while still being extraordinary.

The 2022 route has been released and as a nod to the fact that they couldn’t get to Ireland in 2021 it’s almost exclusively here this year. I’m especially glad to see that they are also visiting Donegal.

All images © Pan Celtic Race

the last englishman

The Last Englishman by Keith Foskett read by Adam Stubbs

From Audible:

Born traveller Keith Foskett had thousands of miles of thru-hiking experience when he prepared for his toughest challenge yet: a gruelling 2,640-mile hike from Mexico to Canada. In a six-month journey along America’s Pacific Crest Trail, he crossed the arid expanses of California’s deserts, the towering peaks of Oregon’s volcanic landscape, and the dense forests of Washington.
Battling phobias of bears, snakes, critters, and camping in the woods after dark, can Foskett find new ways to achieve his ultimate goal when the worst winter in years bears down on the trail?
Shortlisted for The Great Outdoors magazine Outdoor Personality of the Year and Book of the Year multiple times, veteran storyteller Keith Foskett lets you join him for a trek across the greatest long-distance hiking trail on Earth. With witty humor, astute observations, and a delightful cast of characters, you’ll discover a compelling narrative that turns the travelogue formula on its head.
The Last Englishman is an extraordinary travel memoir by an experienced long-distance hiker. If you believe there’s more to life than work, yearn for new horizons and challenges, and believe in overcoming adversity, then you’ll love Keith Foskett’s tale of exploration. 

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was going to give this 3 stars but then the last two chapters tipped it into 4 star territory. I couldn’t help but compare it to Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods“. That is set on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and this is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Along with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) they form the Triple Crown of Hiking in the US.

Bryson’s story is about his personal challenge and his relationship with the trail and his walking partner Stephen Katz. This story also deals with the author’s personal challenge but also spends a lot of time on his interactions with the various other hikers on the trail. The PCT has an official launch party and there’s a specific window that most hikers walk during so there are a lot of people on the trail at the same time.

The author does a good job describing the challenges of the trail, both physical and mental, as well as the high points. He meets some interesting characters and makes friends with many of them. He does a good job giving us a good feel for their personalities.

I found the use of trail nicknames very childish and irritating. I get that it’s a tradition of the trail but I’d rather he would have mentioned the trail name and then used real names.

I think I would have enjoyed this more with a different narrator. I found his reading style and tone of voice quite pompous and it did grate at times. I understand audiobook narrators are expected to mimic voices from the story but it sounded odd in this reader’s voice.

Overall a good story well told that is saved by the last two chapters.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

the man who cycled the world

The Man Who Cycled The World by Mark Beaumont

From Audible:

The inspiring story of one young man’s record-breaking solo cycle journey around the world.

On 15 February 2008, Mark Beaumont pedalled through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. 194 days and 17 hours previously, he had begun his attempt to circumnavigate the world in record time. Mark smashed the Guinness World Record by an astonishing 81 days. He had travelled more than 18,000 miles on his own through some of the harshest conditions one man and his bicycle can endure, camping wild at night and suffering from constant ailments.

The Man Who Cycled the World is the story not just of that amazing achievement but of the events that turned Mark Beaumont into the man he is today. From the early years of his free-spirited childhood in the Scottish countryside to present day, he has been equally determined not to settle for an average existence but to break free and follow his dreams.

Mark Beaumont grew up in the foothills of the Scottish Highlands. When he was 12, he cycled across Scotland, then a few years later, completed the 1,000 mile solo ride across Britain from John O’Groats to Land’s End. His next long-distance ride took him the length of Italy, a journey of 1,336 miles, helping to raise £50,000 for charity. After graduating from Glasgow University, and having also qualified as a professional ski instructor, he decided against a conventional career and devoted himself full-time to raising money for his endurance adventures. 

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was brilliant! Hands down the best audiobook so far. It’s an absolutely amazing story of endurance and perseverance written in a very humble and unassuming manner. This feels like a very honest story. He has no arrogance about his abilities and conveys his nerves and worries. He revels in his successes but also describes the many low points. Having the story written and read by the guy that actually completed the expedition gives it a sense of realism. He also eloquently conveys his feelings at the time. Listening to him you can almost feel him relieving the experiences all over again.

I was amazed by how little formal training he did (although I definitely think he was already a very fit guy) and how little preparation was completed in some ways. His journey in Australia and America seemed particularly haphazard and he admits himself that he hardly even considered the final leg through Portugal and Spain. Also how inexperienced his Mum was and in such a critical role.

I found the story quite emotional at times. I could feel his passionate dislike of the Pakistani police escorts and their treatment of him yet also his delight with the Madrid police and his final goodbye to the main contact. I also found the last couple of days very emotional, especially that last section into Paris and meeting his family again.

Another interesting aspect was his difficulty staying focused after a rest day and getting back in the zone. This was most evident on the American leg when he decided not to stay overnight with prearranged contacts when he had opportunities almost every night. He felt that it would hamper his focus and drive to have company every night. It really enforced for me the importance of mental strength for endurance athletes. It also explains the almost selfish and self-centred approach that they have to take.

The version I listened to had a chapter at the very end telling the story from his Mum, Una’s point of view. At first I didn’t like this. Mark is a much more accomplished reader and Una seemed nervous and hesitant. However, after a short while I found her perspective interesting and overall that it added to the story.

I obviously found this interesting from the aspect of a cyclist but definitely feel it’s worth reading or listening to for anyone interested in endurance sports, expedition or adventure.

Header image source: fossbytes.com