Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hello Possum

A 15 kms walk this morning, which brought the week’s total to over 100 kms for the first time this year.

After cleaning up we popped into Omru Blue, a delightful shop on the magnificent main street of Oamaru, Thames Street. We have been visiting Omru Blue for several years, usually buying something, but also for the pleasure of again meeting the proprietor, Maureen McQuillan. She is one of several people all over NZ who greet us with a casual “Oh hello you two”, as if we just live around the corner instead of 20,000 kms away.

Today was Maureen’s day off so we had the replacement pleasure of a chat with her partner Robert McLean, who claims to be the longest surviving prostate cancer sufferer in Australasia. He has had this illness for 13 years and on one occasion he was told he had 3 weeks left. He certainly looks well at the moment and clearly enjoys every moment.

When I told Robert of my plan to walk 2,000 kms for Pancreatic Cancer research, his response was to ask me what size shoes I take. All became clear when he made me a gift of a pair of Lothlorian possum and merino trekking socks, which he recommends for the journey.

Another sponsor!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Zealand Giants

Here are a few famous New Zealanders we passed in yesterday’s drive from Akaroa to Oamaru.

First there is the giant trout at Rakia. The one we pictured at Adaminaby in Australia claims to be the biggest trout “statue” in the world, but there are several in New Zealand which might dispute the claim, including this one.

Then, approaching Timaru, at the Phar Lap racing track, a new statue has been erected of the famous New Zealand horse Phar Lap. Phar Lap spent most of his racing career in Australia, which of course claims him, as they do with so many famous New Zealanders who have moved to Australia. That would be fair enough if they made mention of the origins of these people (or in this case horse).

Phar Lap is believed by many to have been the best racehorse of all time. He certainly had a wonderful career, making many other superb horses look as if they should have been pulling something other than the fillies. He died in mysterious circumstances after travelling to USA and putting several of their wonder horses in their place.

The third statue, in the middle of Timaru, is of Bob Fitzimmons. Bob was born in Cornwall but spent most of his life in Timaru. An ex-blacksmith, he was first the middleweight, then the heavyweight champion of the world, taking that title from the famed “Gentleman Jim” Corbett (played in an excellent film by the Australian actor – and ex-boxer himself – Errol Flynn).

Most of Fitzimmons’ fights of course had to take place in Europe or America. Each journey would have taken weeks or months, which makes his achievements even more astonishing. I know from experience that it is not very easy to keep fit when on board ship for prolonged periods, and of course he would have been wanting to improve his fitness as he approached a fight, not just maintain it.

And look at his build. Heavyweights were so much slimmer, even in my lifetime, than the massive brutes who fight in that division these days.

(Of course the photos have appeared in the opposite order to my listing, but you can cope with that)

Oh, nearly forgot! This is a walking blog, is it not? We have walked 15 kms so far today and expect to add to that this afternoon.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Filadelfio Story

A driving day today. We had the car packed and were away from Akaroa by 7.30. Unusually for our trips to New Zealand, we shall not be back in Akaroa this year – normally we are here twice or even thrice during our normal 3-month sojourn in the country.

The drive to Oamaru was easy enough. Of course there was little of the morning rain threatened by weather forecasters just before we left. We stopped off for lunch in Timaru and I bought another pedometer to replace the crazy one.

Booked into our usual chalet at the Oamaru Top 10 campsite. Genial hosts Tracy and Shayne were away on a camping trip but had left a message with Rose (unlike the award-winning Johnny Cash record “Take a message to Rose”). **

And when we entered our temporary abode, there was also a pleasant surprise. A $30 dollar voucher for Filadelfio’s pizzeria, with a message written on the back – “Hi guys. Sorry we have missed you. Away camping. Enjoy your treat. Lots of love. Shayne and Tracy”. Can you see why we love New Zealand - and Tracy and Shayne?

We managed to get about 10 kms in today, despite the long drive.

The picture was taken by Gay yesterday as we came down from the heights above Akaroa.

** That would actually be "Give my love to Rose" - Ed.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Boot Camp Akaroa

Wednesday morning the cloud layer was down to about 300 metres so were chary of trying the new, higher Stony Peak Walk. Instead we did the previous day’s Round the Mountain Walk, but in reverse. It is much harder that way – and wet too, in these conditions. The last few kilometres are downhill on a sealed road, very steep, very little traffic. As we emerged from the cloud we discovered a beautiful sunny day, which stayed with us until nightfall. I don’t know the distance. I had become very suspicious about my pedometer.

Thursday morning, the first morning this week for which the forecasters had mentioned low cloud, of course there was none. The weather was brilliant and we set out at 7.30 for a combined Round the Mountain/Stony Peak Walks. Up the aforementioned road to “the cab stand” at 625 metres. My altimeter was functioning well, unlike the pedometer. I was getting distinctly warm and starting to liquidise when I looked at it and found that it believed I had walked 40 metres. My estimate was about 1 km (the liquidisation was because it was already a warm day and the track up from the campsite to the road was almost vertical – as the road is also). At the top of the hill the pedometer was so clearly wrong that a decision was made to get a new one as soon as possible.

We walked down to the Purple Peak Saddle at 590 metres. At this point, instead of the descent into Akaroa, the weather being fine, we opted for turning left onto the Stony Peak Walk. This was more of a climb – hands were definitely needed, as well as feet. The path was very overgrown, so with my crummy eyes I found it very difficult to see where it was. Eventually it got us to the peak at 785 metres, where Gay took the picture above.

The path down was much more civilised, swathes having been cut through acres of gorse bushes –cursed immigrants here – before meeting an unsealed road which took us all the way down into Akaroa centre for a welcome cup of tea, before climbing back up the murderous steps to the campsite. Even the corrupted pedometer had recorded 15 kms. The truth was probably nearer 20.

Our walks in Akaroa are very tough, which is why we refer to this as Boot Camp Akaroa. We normally get a week of such climbs in to get us going before we head off round New Zealand. This time we have managed four days here, 3 hard walk/climbs. Tomorrow we have quite a long drive down to Oamaru.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Worst Weather Forecasting In The World

Monday we drove from Oxford to Akaroa in brilliant sunshine, which really showed New Zealand at its best. Travel and chores meant that we only walked 4 kms, but the forecast for Tuesday was more of the same so we knew we would be able to get our legs moving at last.

We were out by 7.30. The weather was not quite the same, as there were some clouds in the sky, unlike Monday. But it looked promising. As we headed uphill on the “Round the mountain” walk, we could see threatening rain clouds at the top. The cloud came lower as we went higher. Soon we were in the clouds ourselves. As we descended, expecting to emerge from the mist, the weather had other ideas. The cloud came lower and lower, following us from over 600 metres down to sea-level. We never saw the sun again. Weather forecasting is subject to ridicule everywhere, but I think in New Zealand it is some of the worst I have seen anywhere in the world.

The “Round the mountain” walk is really pretty strenuous. It takes us almost 3 hours (it is billed as 4 to 7 hours) but my pedometer shows only 10 kms when we get back “home”. We noticed while up there that there are signs for new walks, so intend to do one of those tomorrow if the weather is, as promised (yawn, yawn) fine.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An English Summer In New Zealand

Having seemingly carried the English snow weather to Australia, it appears that in New Zealand they are having an English summer. But they can’t blame us for this – it has been going on for some time before we arrived. Several people have told us that it is the worst summer they can ever remember.

So we have not yet got into our walking stride here. Thursday was a write-off in that respect because of our late arrival in Christchurch and various appointments.

After one night at the Annabelle we drove up to Oxford to stay with Denise and Robin Illingworth at Ribblesdale. Here our accommodation is a small cottage set in Denise’s wonderful garden, which attracts coach tours and weddings as well as B&B guests. We picked a very sad day to arrive. Thursday was the funeral of Denise’s father Graeme. We had offered to stay away. Denise would not hear of it but of course we did not see much of her and Robin that day.

Friday we were scheduled for a 5-6 hour walk up Mt Robinson with Jan and Ian, their children Sophie and Felix, and Jan’s parents Robyn and John. We had to call this off because of torrential rain in Oxford and a completely invisible Mt Robinson. Instead we drove into Christchurch, which is nearer the coast and, when we rang, rain-free. They all took us off Bottle Lake Park for a lesser walk. The lesser walk was then itself curtailed by rain and the the fact that our group became separated and turned into a mutual search-party experience. It was Jan and Ian’s wedding anniversary and the plan had been, after the walk in Oxford, to all have a splendid dinner, with Denise and Robin, at the excellent Café 51. That plan had gone to pot, but we had a very nice picnic at Bottle Lake before Gay and I drove back to Oxford, where we still had the splendid dinner but just with Denise and Robin instead of the planned party of 10.

Saturday the weather was still dismal. Sunday afternoon brought the promised clearing of the skies, but only for an hour or so before it was quickly followed by black clouds, rising winds and a return of the rain. From Monday onwards we are promised, in South Island, 3 days of good weather, so we hope to commence some decent walking, after moving on to Akaroa.

A Few Clicks For Pancreatic Cancer Research

After a few hours sleep and a magnificent, world-beating date scone at the Ground Floor Café opposite our motel, the Annabelle Court, we walked across Hagley Park in Christchurch City Centre. I had an appointment with Nick Haley, my podiatrist, who has kept my legs functioning since I had to give up running because of a knee injury.

I needed to discuss the same knee with Nick, as it has been giving me a bit of trouble from time to time and I need it to be capable of walking 2,000 kms with me, starting in May.

Nick adjusted my orthotics a bit and gave me some tips on stride length and walking technique. Then he kindly said that there would be no charge and I should put the equivalent amount into the fund for Pancreatic Cancer research, the cause for which I am undertaking VBW.

The fund currently holds 35% of my £7,000 target. It has stalled a little over Christmas, as most things do. Christmas is one of those handy landmarks which people hide behind when they do not want to make a decision or spend money – “I’ll do it after Christmas, or Easter, or the summer holidays …”

Well, it’s after Christmas now, nowhere near Easter, and I would like this fund to get up to 50% before I start the walk on May 15th. And there are a lot of people out there with pancreatic cancer (or just about to get it), a cancer which is swift, deadly, and for which, unlike most cancers, there has been no progress over the past 50 years.

I am walking twelve and half million steps to help draw attention and funds to this cause. All you have to do is make a few clicks with you mouse. See the blue “donate” button up and to your left on this screen?

There are still many people out there who have told me they will be donating but have not yet done so. Now is the time.

Fluctuating Fog

Monday morning, still astonished by the snowfall, we drove from Jindabyne, via Adaminaby and this big fish, to Warrangobilly Caves, where we oohed and aahed at stalactites, stalagmites and all the other mites. Back to base for one more night, then Tuesday it was the long drive back to Dana’s at Falls Creek.

Wednesday she drove us into Sydney, where we had a jolly lunch with Ang, our next-door neighbour in France, and her friend Dianne, who we met last summer when she came to Puivert on holiday. Dana handed us over to Ang and Dianne, who drove us to the airport.

This is where we found that our flight would be delayed by several hours. A delay which saw us beginning the descent into Christchurch at 2.30 in the morning instead of 11.30 the previous evening. The captain told us that there was fluctuating fog on the ground, that he would make one attempt to land and if that failed, we were off to Auckland.

Fortunately, the one attempt succeeded – there was no sign of any fog – and we managed to get to our motel and into bed by about 3.30.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Top Down Under - 7310 feet

The omens were not good for our 3-day visit to the Snowy Mountains of Australia. We hadn’t gone far before we saw a dead wombat by the roadside - clearly a recent roadkill. Gay was very stoic about this. Then, while we were stopped at a t-junction, we were rammed – or thrutched, as they say in Stoke-on-Trent, in the boot by a car driven by a young man who was dreadfully upset by the experience. Not to be outdone, Dana was very stoic about that. After all it could have been worse, and after all it could have been her own car she was driving, instead of husband John’s. I should say that was not Dana's attitude at all, just a little joke by me.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt and the young man clearly took responsibility. And, even if his insurance cover did prove to be illusory, he rang John to say that he would pay for the damage.

After a 5-hour drive, we arrived at Jindabyne and booked into the Alpha Centauri apartments. The next morning we drove on to Thredbo (altitude 1365 metres), and took the ski-lift up to a height of 1900-odd metres. At this point I took off for the first decent walk I have had since we left home in France on 4th January. I walked to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko (2228 metres or 7310 feet), the highest point in Australia, then back past the ski-lift and down into the heart of Thredbo, where a Blues Festival was going on. Total for the walk was over 20 kms, with other bits and pieces for the day, over 25 kms.

Back in Jindabyne, the next morning when we arose, it was snowing! Although we were in the Snowy Mountains, we were at an altitude of only 914 metres and this is the middle of January - the summer - the equivalent of the middle of July at home. Fortunately it soon turned to rain but stayed cold for the remainder of our stay, and plenty of snow stayed on the ground at only slightly higher altitudes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fine Feathered Friend

How about this splendid creature, who greeted us when we arrived at Coolendel? For the full effect double-click on the picture so it fills your screen

There is no getting away from peacocks for us at the moment as there is one, name of Percy, who roams the grounds at Dana's house.

In an attempt to escape, we are today driving (or rather, Dana is) over 5 hours to Jindabyne, in the Snowy Mountains. We shall be there for 3 days. Despite the name of the mountains, and the fact that Jindabyne is a skiing resort, we don't expect to see much snow (haven't we had enough lately!) because it is the middle of summer and today's forecast for there is 30 degrees Centigrade.

Wombat Heaven

Although of course this blog is about walking, as it says above, it is also about snapshots of my life during the run-up to VBW, which starts on May 15th this year. So from time to time it will contain posts, such as this one, which have nothing to do with walking. We are currently in transit and little walking will be done until we arrive in New Zealand, where there will be a burst of several weeks at a reasonably high kilometrage, after which there will be another period of quiescence while in transit back to Europe, then a few weeks light training before I line up at the start.

I don't know if I have mentioned that my wife is mad about wombats. Yesterday Dana drove us to Coolendel, which is about 40 kms from her home. It is a campground set in the woods, well down a very rutted track and deep in the woods. Completely cut off from the outside world, no phone signal, anything could be happening out there and probably is.

The attraction for us, especially for Gay, is that, in addition to many wallabies, it is home to lots of wombats. It is the first time we have seen them in the wild. We were told they would appear in late afternoon. Somebody told us we would fall over them on the way to the toilet. This was almost true. There were certainly plenty, including one mother with a baby, which she seemed to be trying to get rid of. I don't think we got a decent photograph of that, but the one above with Gay shows how approachable the creatures are, certainly at Coolendel.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Changing Skies

We have arrived in Australia and we have brought some weather with us.

Gay's sister Dana picked us up at Sydney Airport yesterday in bright sunshine and drove us to her home in Nowra, three hours awaay. She was telling us about the recent high temperatures, breaking records in some parts of Oz. As she drove, the skies blackened, fog descended, and the forecasts worsened.

We just about made it to the house before it started raining, and it has done little else since. We are expecting some sort of an award from the government for this, or perhaps just a parade of triumph organised by a grateful people.

Of course we all remember the terrible fires in Oz last year. Every bit of rain must be regarded as one more brick in the defensive wall.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Beautiful Walk

So here we are, siting in an air-condioned Starbucks in Singapore. Our European friends will hate us for saying this, but we have had to dodge in here to escape the 30 degree heat outside. I have clapped on the sunnies extensions to keep out the painfully brilliant sunshine, and the humidity is way too much. Meanwhile, Europe - and much of the Northern hemisphere - freezes.

It is difficult to remember that Singapore is actually in that same hemisphere - only just, because it sits barely north of the Equator and they have this weather the whole year round. It is also difficult to believe that only two days ago we could not take a full stride because of icy pavements and driving was even more hazardous than normal.

I was just reading the Straits Times. Like many newspapers at this time of the year it is anticipating the year of sport ahead (when will Tiger make his "comeback" and will he be up to the job now with his head held so low?). Strange that in this country of largely Chinese ethnicity, even now preparing for the forthcoming Chinese New Year, they did not point out that soon it will the Year Of The Tiger.

Much of the emphasis was on the forthcoming soccer ("the beautiful game") World Cup in South Africa. I am now almost as excited about that event as is the newspaper. This is because for the first time I have realised a big advantage of that other soon-to-be-upon-me great sporting event, Vic's Big Walk.

It seems that the World Cup starts on June 11th and finishes five weeks later. Hallelujah! VBW starts on May 15th and finishes on July 23rd. This means that, out on the open trails and enclosed in our TV-free campervan, we shall entirely miss the whole tournament. What wonderful timing! What incredible foresight my parents had!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Winter Blunderland

This is a photo from this morning's Daily Telegraph. It is a picture of the whole of Britain.

There will be no walking done during the four days we are here. Conditions do not allow, even if our rather hurried schedule could fit it in.

We drove off the ferry in Portsmouth on Wednesday morning (after a one-hour delay which resulted in us reversing down a very narrow alley because there was a fault) to find ourselves in a place obliterated by snow. There were thousands of abandoned vehicles on the motorways. We were diverted here, there and everywhere. It took us 7 hours to drive to Cheltenham - a distance of less than 200 kms.

We stayed with long-term friends Fred and Brenda and arose on Thursday to find that the temperature a couple of miles away had been recorded as minus 17 degrees Celsius. But the motorways (at least, the ones we were using) were clear by then and we had an easy drive to Ambleside. Several hotels are closed because of the weather, but the Ambleside Lodge had stayed open for us - we are the only guests.

Once again, this country seems completely unprepared for a burst of bad weather - just about to run out of rock salt for the roads, schools closed everywhere, people not making the effort to struggle to work.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Eye Protection

Yesterday we drove 400 kms and walked 6, and that was just an accumulation of short incidental walks at various places where we stopped for a break and at our destination for the day, Fontenay le Comte.

We stayed overnight at a hotel called Le Fontarabie. The original inn Fontarabie was establiished in 1520 under the reign of Francois 1st, when Spanish traders of the Fuenterrabia "came by with their balls of wool and miniature ponies to exchange them for mules of the Vendee at the Hotel Fontarabie."

The temperature here is -6 degrees Celsius. We took the opportunity of being in a town with shops. I had a pair of flip-up clip-on sunnies made for my specs. One of the effects of my eye problem is that my eyes have become even more sensitive to the sun and I have been told to wear sun glasses any time the sun is out. In fact I had a bit of a problem on the way here yesterday as the road twisted and turned so that we were frequently facing the sun one minute and next minute not.

On today to Ouistreham, near Caen, where we catch the overnight ferry to Portsmouth.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fatness Test

More than once I have heard Brendan Foster, commenting on TV about the fact that he, as a once superb athlete, had let it all go, and how he would love to be running in the London Marathon. Steve Cram, his great mate and another great athlete who has not gone to seed, suggested that Brendan would have to take a "fatness test" before he could enter any event.

I know how Brendan feels. For me, the abiding mystery of 2009 concerns my weight.

I have read several times that people are encouraged to do long, slow, aerobic exercise - specifically walking, if they want to lose weight. Of course they are also advised not to negate this by increasing their food input.

So why, when I have walked nearly 5,000 kms in one year, and not changed my eating habits, have I gained 6 kilos? I am totally baffled by this.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Satmap's Walksaver

I finshed up 2009 having walked 4657 kms. Yesterday I entered the year of the walk with a 24 kms burst from Lavelanet to Puivert, during which I started to accustom myself to Satmap's Active 10 Plus navigation device. This is hopefully going to be a lifesaver, or at least a walksaver, for me as my eyes have so much difficulty (no, admit it, impossibility) following the tracks on paper maps.

Early indications are very promising. If the Grandes Randonnees (national walking tracks) show up as clearly on the device as the one I was walking on yesterday - and as long as I can keep the Active Plus fully charged - I should be able to find my way most of the time.

Today there was to have been a further test of the same device - for which I have just received the electronic card maps which Satmap are kindly loaning to me - with the normal Saturday scramble up and down to Quillan. But we awoke to another fall of snow (unforecast) which, while not enough to inhibit driving, will have made some bits of the path at the Col du Portel difficult, if not dangerous.

Hopefully there will be a better day tomorrow so that I can get in a final walk in France before we set off, via a very few days in UK, for Australia and New Zealand.

Vic's Big Walk kicks off on May 15th, which means I have just over 4 months to go. Most of that time will be spent Down Under. We arrive home at the end of March, giving 6 weeks to prepare before the start gun.