Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not Putting My Foot Down

This walking holiday has suddenly turned into a cycling hol. I have a very painful heel. This is probably plantar fasciitis or, even worse, a heel spur. So I am unable to walk very far without a buildup of pain and increase in hobbling. It's a good job this didn't happen during the Big Walk last year.

I have a very good podiatrist in Christchurch so I would normally plan to visit him about my foot next time we are anywhere near the city. He operates from several different buildings. One of these is outside the city centre and was already condemned as a result of September's earthquake. Unfortunately, one of Nick's other bases is bang in the city centre, near the cathedral and the Grand Chancellor Hotel, now both in ruins. Naturally, even more than needing to see Nick professionally, I am very concerned for his health and welfare, but have been unable to contact him since last Tuesday's quake. We have our fingers crossed for him.

We are currently at Kaka Point in the Catlins. The photograph is of the Nugget Point lighthouse, visible from our window, although the camera is in this case 9 kms from that same window.I have to confess that Gay took the picture last year - because of my foot, I have not been able to walk out to the lighthouse this time.

Later. I have now heard from Nick, who was in the City Centre when the earthquake struck. Naturally, he says it was scary. He is now operating from the suburbs. I hope to see him in a couple of weeks, when we head north. Another problem will be getting accommodation anywhere near Christchurch. All surviving accommodation in the city is taken up with the task of accommodating the hundreds of volunteer police and rescue people who have come in from other parts of NZ and from abroad. Or with people made homeless by the earthquake. Many other towns have their accommodation full of Christchurch residents who have fled the city.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake: Citizens Last To Know

The dreadful news continues to pour out of Christchurch. Most of the city is still without electricity, so the population there have no access to news media or Internet. So they are mainly unaware of the size of the catastrophe.

They know what has happened to themselves and their immediate surroundings. They do not know that their city has been largely destroyed and that that there are multiple deaths.

The power should be on again within a few days, but the water supplies will take much longer. The sewage system is completely broken and will take weeks, months, or even years, to fix. In the meantime, they are not allowed to flush the toilet and will have to find other ways to dispose of their waste. There is obviously a great danger of cross-contamination between the broken sewage system and the water supplies, with consequent risk of disease.

One thing we, who hail from areas of the world not prone to earthquakes, are not aware of, is liquefaction. Solid ground turns to liquid mud.

And doesn't it warm your heart and renew your faith in youth, to see hundreds of students volunteering to help clear up areas badly affected by that liquid mud?

Taking A Bath

It is odd, is it not, how often one can be discussing something obscure, only to have that same thing pop up before your eyes, maybe for the first time in years.

Recently, Gay and I were talking (for some reason) about bath-chairs. You know the sort of thing – a cross between a chaise longue and a wheelchair. Neither of us has ever seen one, but they frequently featured in cartoons, usually containing a crusty colonel in plus fours, wearing a scowl, a monocle, a cigar and (so that you would be in no doubt of his gout) a bandaged foot.

This week, our regular morning walk of 25 kms takes us past the pictured item, which can surely be described only as a bath chair. It is by the side of the river track from the Alexandra bridge over the River Clutha to the Clyde bridge over said river.

Is it a work of art or a place to rest awhile? Presumably both. Certainly not a place to keep the coal.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New And Worse Christchurch Devastation

Today there was another earthquake in Christchurch. Unlike the one on September 4th last year, which was at level 7.1 (followed by thousands of aftershocks), this one was at 6.3, nearer the city centre and much nearer the surface. So the damage is much more severe. Many large buildings in the city have totally collapsed. Again unlike September's earthquake, which was in the middle of the night, this one was plumb in the middle of the working day.

So not only is there huge damage to buildings - including the cathedral, which has largely collapsed - but those buildings and the streets were full of people. The prime minister has already called this New Zealand's worst day. Although it is only a few hours since the quake - and already there have been many massive aftershocks, each one adding to the damage - 65 deaths have been announced. Experience from other earthquakes tells us that this will likely be only a fraction of the total.

It is appalling. Our friends and family around the world will be relieved to know that we are several hours drive from NZ (although the quake was felt here) so we are physically unaffected. We have many friends in and around Christchurch and so far we have heard from only some of them, who have damage to property but personal safety. We are worried about the others, of course.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Well, This Is A Bit Embarrassing ...

... but totally my own fault.

In January, a gentleman whose name I can not remember e-mailed me. He said that we had met while I was doing my Big Walk. He had been inspired and had now decided to do a major walk of his own - I think it was the Pilgrims Way.

He asked if I had any advice to give him. At the time, being away from home, I had limited Internet access and a lot of e-mails to reply to. So I gave him one or two pointers and said I would get back to him when I was able to do so.

I am still away from home but at the moment have much better I-access. So I sat down to make contact with a view to offering more help. But I seem to have accidentally deleted his message and my reply.

So, if you are still out there, I apologise profusely and ask you to contact me again, I learned a lot during the 2,000 kms walk and the 2 years of preparation, and would be very happy to help in any way I can.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


We are back where it all began - Vic's Big Walk, that is.

We are in Alexandra, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand. In the summer, very often the hottest place in the country. In the winter, sometimes the coldest.

It was while walking in this area, and particularly on the Otago Central Rail Trail, in 2008, that I had the idea for my epic walk from the French Pyrenees to the North of England.

And here we are, doing the same thing - this morning we walked from Alexandra to Clyde, along the river trail, paused after 16 kms for my breakfast of one date scone, in the Post Office cafe at Clyde, then walked a further 10 kms back to Alexandra along the first section of the Rail Trail which then continues another 150 kms or so to Middlemarch. We have cycled the full length of the trail in previous years.

In 2008 I did not regard myself as a walker, but as a runner recently retired through injury, and suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Since then, I have walked approximately 15,000 kms. So I suppose I am now a walker

The picture, borrowed from the Rail Trail website, is of Muttontown Bridge, which we walked over this morning as we left Clyde. We believe the bridge is sponsored by dentists, who must get a lot of business from cyclists who have ridden over the bridge and had all their fillings shaken loose.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pole to Pole

After a week in Tasmania, we are back in Oamaru, New Zealand. While we were away, temperatures of over 40 degrees were recorded hereabouts. Now that we are back, we are gnashing our teeth because our favourite walks are blocked off because of logging activities.

Gay took the picture of these 300-metre vertical cliffs, which are on the southern edge of Tasmania. The boat we were in was the only thing between the cliffs and Antarctica, several thousand miles south.

We were accommodated in Hobart, the capital of the state. In Hobart they make much of being at 42 degrees south, as if that is near the pole. By a strange coincidence, our home is at 42 degrees north – that is near the French-Spanish border, which is not generally regarded as being in the Arctic regions.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Walk 6 Miles A Week And Keep Alzheimer's Away

Greetings from Hobart, Tasmania. We have popped over here for a week to meet Gay's sister Dana. Then we are back to New Zealand until the end of March.

This morning I received an e-mailed newsletter fro, which is a site you should look at if you are interested in walking.

One of the items in the newsletter is about extensive research, conducted over 20 years at the University of Pittsburgh, which seems to show pretty conclusively that regular walking, or other types of physical activity, will preserve brain volume and keep Alzheimer's at bay.

The complete article from follows.

It's official - walking is good for your memory

It's official - walking is good for your memory

Researchers working at the University of Pittsburgh have studied 426 elderly individuals over 20 years to see if regular physical activity could preserve brain volume and so reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

During the course of the study, Dr Cyrus Vance* from the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh investigated the relationship between physical activity and brain structure in two groups of adults. One of these groups was comprised of healthy adults with an average age of 78. The individuals in the second group were cognitively impaired with an average age of 81. The distance walked by each patient every week was recorded.

Brain volume - which shrinks in late adulthood leading to impaired memory and an increase in the risk of dementia - was measured for each participant using MRI scans. As well as this, each participant undertook a Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) which is used to screen cognitive function. Walking activity was then correlated with brain volume measurements and MMSE scores.

The results were very encouraging - the researchers found that in 300 individuals walking at least 6 miles a week preserved brain volume and reduced risk of Alzheimer's by 50%. Furthermore, in people who already had the disease, the progression of cognitive decline, brain degeneration and memory loss symptoms were reduced by 50% over 10 years.

The researchers have concluded that it is really important that people with Alzheimer's and ageing - but otherwise healthy individuals - engage in physical activity such as walking on a regular basis.

By way of explanation of these results, Dr Raji says there is an important ' mind-body' connection involved in this ....physical activity improves flow of blood to the brain so brain cells have more oxygen and nutrients that help them stay healthy.

In a slightly different study** undertaken by another team also at the University of Pittsburgh, researchers studied a slightly younger (60s) group of healthy individuals. In this study the researchers were also able to show an increase in the hippocampus (the area of the brain associated with memory) and an increase in performance in memory tests associated with regular walking for just 40 minutes a day, 3 days a week.

Given the scale of the problem envisaged as our ageing population grows and therefore the number of people potentially with Alzheimer's increases - it's vital that there is a way of slowing the progression of this cruel disease. These studies appear to show that activities such as walking are a safe, effective ... and economic way of achieving this. And that has to be good news!

* From an interview with Dr Cyrus Raji from the University of Pittsburgh first broadcast on the BBC World Service on 30 November 2010. Study subsequently reported in Radiological Society of North America (2011, January 2).

** Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 31 2011