Sunday, 11 September 2016

Aaaaaaand.... relax!

It's taken a while to relax into this trip, but in the last few days it's finally happened. Mallorca will do that to you.

Mallorca provides a stunning setting to relax.

I had decided to fit a high roof to the van before going away again. If I'd known the DIY route was going to cause me enough stress to slide back into a serious depression I'd have paid someone to do it for me, but at the time it seemed like a good project to learn some new skills. As it was, my plans for a summer of british trad had to be put aside while I got myself back together, and got the job finished. I did of course learn a lot in the process, but the main lesson was that I never want to work with fibreglass again!

I also lost the chance to visit people around the UK before my departure - the ferry to Mallorca had been booked months in advance and it was a deadline I did not want to miss. Apologies to all those I missed, I will do the tour when I get back.

For the first few days, pretty much everything that could go wrong did. I had one mechanical issue that needed a spot of welding, my side door broke, my insurance broker told me I no longer have 365 day trip cover the day before I was due to cross to France (I didn't read the renewal documentation, assuming renewal meant, well, renewal), and the van starter battery died whilst overnighting in a quiet French layby. I felt the world was trying to stress test my recovery.

Thankfully, after a quick self-rescue from the leisure battery things turned around. Other than sweating through temperatures nudging into the 40s, the rest of the trip down through France and across the Pyrnees was pretty uneventful. Sleeping in the cool of the Col de Puymorens (1915m) was a blissful highlight.

Waking up in the middle of the Pyrenees is hard to beat.

I arrived in Barcelona a couple of days early to see some old friends (Marco, Monica and their delightful little handful Uma). I was just in time for the last evening of the Festa Major de Sants - a local festival where 26 streets are closed to traffic and decorated by the residents, with temporary bars installed to pay for bands that play late into the night. For the whole week, the residents eat together in the evening
Unfortunately I had missed the castellers, but the street decorations were amazing, and the Correfoc later that night - drums, devils, fireworks and a fire breathing dragon in narrow streets - was an experience. No health and safety getting in the way here as the catherine wheels spin around your head and are aimed at your feet (to encourage you to dance with the devil)... all the things we got told off for doing with fireworks as children!

Street dining - was impressive to see such community spirit in a modern city

Street decoration - Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Devils and fireworks

Just when you thought you'd got underneath the line of fire...

And the fire breathing dragon... suddenly I wished I wasn't wearing flip flops!

Just round the corner from the Correfoc was the square where Barcelona's left hang out.

I felt a lot better by the time I boarded the overnight ferry from the mainland, but it left just one small problem. In the last four or five months, I'd had three sessions climbing on plastic and none on rock... DWS, by it's nature, is not a gentle re-introduction to the vertical world!

I dived straight into Cala Varques... literally - the first thing I did was take the leap off the top of the Metrosexual Area, that to my shame I chickened out of on my first trip here. It settled the nerves well, and so while the first two days were spent mostly falling off Bisexual(7a) and Metrosexual(7b), that didn't matter - I was there for mileage on steep rock, and quite pleased to be immediately relaxed above the water.

Those two days did trash my finger skin and forearms though, so the next few were spent practicing the guitar and trying not to get burnt in the ongoing heatwave.

I had one more day back on, and started to feel a bit of endurance coming back - making it to the crux of Metrosexual 7 times in total, but lacking the power (or technique?) to stick it. That volume did come at a cost, and two more rest days were in order. More rest days than climbing days is of course the sensible way to proceed right now, but it is a little frustrating when you're surrounded by great climbing and have been out for so long!

On Friday things started to pay off though. I went to the Cova area, flashing the mega classic steep jugfest Big XXL (7a) and coming very close to onsighting the delightful pocket climbing of Golden Shower (7a) - falling at the last hard move. I'm confident I'd have bagged it had I tried on fresher arms, so considering it's less than two weeks since I put my rubber shoes back on I'm pretty please with where I am - it shouldn't be long before I'm back where I left off a year ago.

Aside from the climbing, the beach life relaxed me enough to restart a daily yoga practice - setting up a virtuous feedback loop. I've done a fair bit of swimming, and yesterday it cooled down enough for a hilly bike ride up the coast, with a stop off to watch Celtic consolidate their position at the top of the league in the familiar surroundings of an Irish bar. I've gone from surviving on four hours sleep, to nine or ten every night and I'm finally starting to feel like myself again.

It's good to be back on the road, but more importantly it's great to be back in a normal headspace. Some serious relaxation was needed, and on that score Mallorca never disappoints!

Jurgen - one of a team of strong Austrians who crushed the Metrosexual Area, on Smash It In! (8a)
Lorenzo on the steep traverse into the crux of Metrosexual (7b)
A Spanish climber on the super steep jugs under the roof of Big XXL (7a)

A German climber onsighting Golden Shower (7a)
In case you get tired of climbing...

Friday, 29 April 2016

Quitting gets easier

The first time I handed in my notice to go travelling, it felt like the world was turning upside down. Yesterday was an altogether more relaxed affair - after seven months of work it simply felt like time to get moving.

Last time was something of a leap of faith. This time I know what I'm getting into, and I know I'll still be employable when I decide to step back into "normal" life for a while.

I have four weeks left, then it's goodbye office chair and hello to the good things in life - being immersed in nature, climbing rocks, swimming in lakes, and sitting about in dusty car parks eating simple food and playing the guitar with friends I haven't met yet.

It seems following your dreams gets easier with practice. All you have to do, is take that first step.

I can't wait to be back on the road!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Life affirming moments.

It's nice when they catch you by surprise.

Going back to work was initially quite enjoyable; there was something nice about a bit of routine, and even the rather different social dynamic of an office.

That quickly faded however, as the reality of a Scottish winter working night shifts set in. The atrocious weather, some unexpected van repairs and the desire to save money for travelling combined to ensure I was doing very little with my free time.

I started working the odd overtime shift. Before long I had the pound signs in my eyes and it seemed the only thing I was doing outside of work was sleeping. I took to just parking up in the city all week. I rarely saw trees and countryside any more, or sunlight for that matter.

Life was getting rather dull.

Towards the end of one 70 hour week, I awoke to discover someone had blocked the van in the car park. My attempt to drive out over the grass was not entirely successful - due to the biblical amounts of rain that had been falling, my front wheels were promptly buried up to the axles. Half an hour of crawling around in a freezing peat bog digging with my hands got the snow chains on, and was able to pull myself out - just in time to see my tormentor jump in her car and drive off. I didn't even get the chance to rant.

To use a scottish turn of phrase I was fair scunnered, and that evening I came very close to handing in my notice.

Coming out of work the next morning I decided I needed a change of scenery. I headed towards the Crow Road, unsure even why I was doing so with the wind blowing the sleet sideways. The van skidded around on the icy hill, and there was still snow in the corners of the car park.

There were also three gentlemen with heavy coats and camera tripods hanging out by their cars... they must know something.

Sure enough, the sleet stopped, the clouds started to clear, and I watched a gorgeous sunrise as I made my dinner. I briefly wished I had my camera too, but then realised I was better without; I didn't have to worry about angles and apertures - I could just sit and watch nature at it's best.

That evening (my morning) I awoke with a renewed sense of perspective. The night shift flew by with a smile on my face, in the realisation that I'm a pretty lucky guy. I've found a sport and a lifestyle that I love, and which gives me the freedom to spend quite a lot of my time not working. After 18 months on the road I walked into a job which, whilst not exactly intellectually stimulating, is reasonably well paid and in an office full of really good people - and for a while at least I got to choose between three nights a week and a life, or six nights a week and quite a lot of money in the bank.

I decided to stick with the six nights a week, and reward myself for the hard work with a new toy inspired by the guys in the car park; I'd been wanting to get a DSLR for some time, but had found it hard to justify the cost. On the road however, I became quite frustrated by the limitations of a point-and-shoot so now it seemed a worthwhile investment.

Over the next five weeks I battered in the overtime like a man possessed, which means that in six months I've earned enough to sort out the van and put aside enough for another year on the road.

Since then I've spent quite a bit of time catching up with family, and out in the countryside getting photographs. In the process I've fallen in love with Scotland all over again, but I think it's almost time to move on.

I've booked a ferry from Barcelona to Mallorca at the end of August, for a month of DWS. That gives me four months to finish up at work, re-fit the van and get rock-fit again.

Perhaps a summer in Llanberis might be calling...

Winter morning on the Crow Road between Kippen and Fintry
Heading up to Glencoe for a day's skiing presented this stunning view.
Looking out to the Summer Isles, just outside Ullapool
One of my favourite shots of the winter - taken from Sighthill Cemetery one morning after work.