I Miss My Bike…

It seems like an eternity since I last felt the saddle between my cheeks, the wind-rush in my face and sweet smell of chammy cream in my nostrils. Fantasizing of those good things in life, home and play I feel fit and strong – all the riding seems to have paid off, training for something entirely different. I’m a million miles away from my trusty carbon steed, hauling large rucksacks around the rain forest, climbing previously un-scaled cliffs, exploring new cave passages deep with the mountain and abseiling into the abyss, down a vertical kilometre drop beside the world’s highest waterfall.

Riding a bike and being on a ‘hard-core’ filming expedition in the Tepuis of Venezuela might seem light years apart and in some respects they are, but starting out with a dedicated off-the-bike fitness programme and moving up the gears to putting in the miles, and getting the heart used to pumping for extended periods of time is working. Scrambling beneath fallen trees the ground steepens, greasy boulders the size of dustbins pull away from their tenuous fixing between a tangle of slimy roots and the humidity of the forest bears down. There is a longing for the fresh air of a blast down the hills of my Scottish homeland but a confidence in the knowledge that I know I can hack-it – somewhat literally, machete in hand, forcing a trail where no one has gone before. For me, being on the bike is about preparing my body’s cardiovascular system and mind against the shocking rigors of adventure. We stop after an hour to glimpse at our objective through a dense canopy, dripping with the outpourings of a fading day. There’s no call from the heart or head to stop, just an arresting sight of what’s to come, sights that make the heart beat faster still – there is capacity for that. For this part of Venezuela is a lost land, still ripe for exploration. A land of high drama.

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Drones on the Slopes

Shout it from the bin, from the chair-lifts and tows, “This years must have fashion accessory is here to capture your every turn in ultra dynamic high definition. Helmet cams and selfie-sticks are just so last year. Now it’s the turn of the drone.”

Our technologically accelerated world has showed us all manner of marvels. The GPS driven ski speed & distance app for the mobile phone has been with us for a number of years promoting the hard and fast. The helmet with on-board camera has been added to with cameras mounted on extending sticks and chest-straps.

Now, just when you thought that the potential to pose and posture could get no bigger, is drone technology set to invade the media and air spaces of the ski-resort ? Launched above the slopes, buzzing like some bumble-bee on steroids, ready to capture a glorious run down the piste, the reality has the potential to turn out somewhat different.

Probably the best outcome that could be hoped for is a few minutes of footage of graceful turns with a spectacular backdrop. The worst is that the ‘drone operator’ manages to slice the blades though the lift queue or crash into a snaking ski-class of six year-olds. The flight of the drone is something to be very concerned about.
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The Consultant’s News

Spring 2012. I was in the consultant’s room waiting for the results of an MRI scan on my right ankle. I’d snapped my foot in two in a climbing accident and thought that 20 years of additional wear and tear, of expeditions to all corners of the globe, would have certainly been enough to cause excruciating pain in anyone’s joints let alone one that had been so heavily traumatised. I was fully expecting to be told to hang up my boots.

It had been operated on in 1994. Bone wedges chiseled out of my pelvis had been hammered into the sub-talar joint to partially fuse the ankle. I had limited mobility and zero side roll.

But after years of heavy use in the mountains it was at the point where most days I couldn’t actually stand out of bed, often taking as long as an hour before I could put any weight through my right foot. And that was after maxing out on anti-inflammatories and pain relief to the point where I rattled like the pill bottle I clutched immediately the morning alarm went off.
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One Day In The Wild

‘We nearly got swallowed by a humpback whale !’ They are words forever etched in my memory. With a sea kayak and an inflatable boat, little bigger than a lilo, we’d been paddling through the silky waters off the coast of Alaska when herring started to jump clear of the water. They knew too well while our own blissful unawareness remained. Moments later thirteen wide-mouthed hump-backed whales erupted vertically out of the water like ballistic missiles, scooping tonnes of water and as much fish as were unfortunate enough to form lunch. We were lucky not to go down with the fish or at least head for a very cold swim. Steve’s words had barely settled across the ripples left as the whales dived to line up a 2nd helping when another idea surfaced.

The tide was turning and the need to camp somewhere along the rocky shore to allow the adrenaline to subside was appealing. But adventure and all that goes with it was proving highly addictive. The hit from the morning’s activities was enormous and going to be hard to beat but our day was less than half through with the perpetual light of high latitude. We put up our meager nylon shelters on a raised platform out of waves reach and turned our attention to a salmon filled creek.

A few hundred metres upstream a small waterfall formed a natural barrier to the gravel spawning grounds that the sockeye were looking for. Experience also told us that it was the perfect fishing beat for Bear.

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Hideous Places We Find To Grab Sleep

Scrabbling through loose coils of rope at the right end of our bivouac ledge we discovered a black scorpion, sinister looking, its tail curled round it’s needle point sting. At the left we found inch-long bullet ants – the world’s most venomous ant where a single sting is said to be like being shot. Given the ‘interesting’ variety of bedfellows the choice of a place to lay your head simply had to be driven by other things – space, flatness and the nightmare possibility of rolling off the ledge to hang abruptly from rope and harness hundreds of meters above the rain-forest canopy in a sleeping bag. Fighting to regain your perch like some panic stricken chicken rather than bursting free like a butterfly is not conducive to a return to slumber.

This particular expedition into the wild lands of Venezuela led me to think of a series of places we as adventurers find chances to rest and just occasionally grab forty winks.

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