From Wild Camping to Comfort Camping with Go Outdoors

When travelling light is second nature it's easy to forget that life's little comforts are easier to take camping than you'd expect. Emma Taylor teamed up with friends and puppies to test out some comfy Go Outdoors gear for their brilliantly titled #GoOutpaws campaign.

[This is paid advertorial content, which we totally enjoyed!]

Wild camping has become second nature to me now, whereas a couple of years ago I would have had to look up the term. I remember my first ‘wild camp’, which was on my friend Anne-Laure’s rooftop in Shoreditch (hardly what you might call ‘wild’!) and my second was a few weeks afterwards on the night of the Summer Solstice with The YesTribe.

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I enjoyed sleeping ‘out’ without a tent so much (my friends thought I was bonkers) so I went alone to Hadleigh Castle with a bunch of people I didn’t know, just to sleep out under the stars and it was utterly magical. So much so, that I have done it countless times since and now don’t even need to think about what to pack, I’m already out the door.

So now it’s time for a new challenge - camping in the traditional sense of the word. I had no idea that camping could be so comfortable without becoming (that wonderful combination buzz word we all love) ‘glamping’. When asked by GO Outdoors to test out some of their equipment, we thought we’d set ourselves a new challenge - camping in comfort! With more and more of our friends starting families, we set aside our usual considerations of how much we could personally carry on public transport, and started venturing outside the box into the realms of ‘what if we had a car and weight was no object?!’.

We started with the largest item on the list - the tent. We had no idea they came with so many interchangeable options! After much deliberation on the GoOutdoors website and using their super handy comparison tool, we decided to go for their own brand of Hi Gear Voyager Eclipse 6… or as we lovingly dubbed it, ‘The Spaceship’.

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After getting over the initial shock of how big and heavy the pack was (a whopping 22kg!) we realised that one handle each made it pretty easy to manage. We were slightly skeptical of the store’s own brand at first but perceptions were blown out of the water once it was up - this was a well designed piece of kit. Being one who is usually happy to rise with the sun on a campout, I am now definitely a fan of the Eclipse style bedrooms, which keep the morning rays out with a blackout blind to allow some extra snooze time. Another very cool feature of this tent was the bedroom configurations and how flexible they were - you could choose to have not only one but two or three bedrooms - perfect for group camping. We invited some friends to join us camping and there was plenty of room for everyone, even the dogs.

We couldn’t believe how much room there was in there, including an enormous porch, which will come in very handy for those unexpected downpours we’ve been getting recently - we were even thinking ahead to Yestival planning later this year and upgrading the staff quarters in the festival field! The tent had plenty of little (and large) pockets to keep gear, hooks to hang lamps and clothes from, options to open and close doors and windows, along with flysheets to keep the bugs at bay and power access points if we ever needed to plug in our widescreen, Playstation and blender for a truly luxurious escape from the city.

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Next largest on the list was the sleeping situation and Dave and I have never tried out a double sleeping bag - it had to be done. Opting to trust the GO Outdoors own brand Hi Gear again, we went for the Divine Double in blue and I must say, that nights’ sleep was divine indeed! There was plenty of room in there, it’s super soft and we were both toasty all night. The only disappointment was not to have a zip on either side so you can escape without having to assault your partner trying to get out. Otherwise though, this is a perfectly cosy duvet substitute for a night under the stars with your bear.

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Normally ones for lightweight inflatable roll mats, we decided that we needed to upgrade to a full on double airbed to match our new comfy double sleeping bag. We went for the Coleman Maxi Comfort Double Airbed - go big or go home, right? The reason we opted for this one over the other potentials was because of it’s unique Dual Chamber Inflation, which means that no matter how fidgety I get in the night, Dave won’t feel a thing on his side - and it works pretty well in that respect. Weighing in at a sizeable 3.7kg, it packs down pretty flat into a bag and is totally worth the effort - speaking of which, we definitely recommend investing the extra £3.99 on the Hi Gear Bellows Foot Pump to save you from going lightheaded when blowing up this beast. My past experience with air mattresses is that they always deflate a little during the night but I was surprised to see this one hold it’s own. It’s strong, the double lock valves are simple to use and they actually work, and the ultimate test was inflating it outside the tent on a bed of thistles (we only spotted them afterwards!) and having the dogs wander all over it and it still lived to tell the tale.

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One job which is a guaranteed chore for us every time we go to The YesBus now is filling large 20 litre containers with drinking water and transporting them to the bus in a wheelbarrow, unless we’re lucky enough to have a car on site. As you can imagine, this task can be quite a lengthy one as the tap is 500 metres away and filling five containers and transporting them across campus is no easy feat. For this reason, when we saw the 40L Aquaroll Rolling Water Container, we were overjoyed at this potential new solution to our water carrying dilemmas! It’s a brilliant bit of kit and does exactly what it says on the tin and with a handy additional tap and and stand, it’s a perfect and essential kitchen sink, water fountain and shower source in one.

So, now we had our water source and a mega comfortable bedroom in our giant spaceship sorted, this adventure called for some fun outdoor activities that the pups and kids (big and small) could enjoy. GO Outdoors have a pretty cool range of giant versions of games and toys I used to love when I was a kid so I was in my element choosing from an Aladdin’s Cave of Nerf Guns, Super Soakers and lawn games. Always the child’s entertainer, I opted for the Handy Heroes Giant Bubble Making Kit. I have always wanted to try it after seeing them wow the crowds on London’s Southbank and it did not disappoint! It comes with everything you need and even the bubble mix is non-harmful to the environment.

To fuel the creatives among us, we also go the Handy Heroes Stone Painting Set, which comes with a bunch of colours and a tiny brush. I was super impressed on finding that the kit even includes the stones, but then a little abashed on discovering that the ‘rocks’ were created with moulds with evidence stickers stating they were ‘Made in China’. This kit did the same for our mental health as colouring books do for adults, it was very therapeutic, it’s just a shame the stones weren’t natural.

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Now for the real laughs, when the Handy Heroes Giant Racket Set and the Pop Up Football Net came out. Both really inclusive, everyone could join in the fun and it was great quality gear that will keep coming out throughout the summer. You don’t need to construct anything or fit parts together, they are instant and ready to go. The rackets are massive and there’s a choice of playing with the ball or shuttlecock, even with the size of the rackets, I still managed to miss the ball! The football net comes all twisted into a clever little flat packed bag and just pings into action when you take it out. I thought getting it back in there would be a mission but it came with simple diagrams and instructions that made it easy.

And no lawn party is the same without a comfy picnic blanket to save from unwanted prickles and a damp bum - we chose the Hi Gear Fleece Picnic Rug as it was a great size, was soft on the top size so the kids and puppies were happy, and has a waterproof backing to prevent moisture from getting through.

All in all, we loved discovering how comfortable family camping can be and aside from the heavy tent, there really wasn’t too much compromise on weight and bulk in order to have a much more luxurious camping experience. This is the perfect collection of gear for a family who are new to camping. It’s all super simple to use, really comfortable and fun with no concession on quality.

Would I take all of this on a trek up a mountain on my own? No. But with a group of friends and family escaping for a few nights making fun memories in nature and in comfort, then it’s a big YES from me.


nb. This is a sponsored post, but the experience and views are authentic!

Five Quick Questions: Anna McNuff

What's your name and how do you describe yourself?: Anna McNuff (Do I win a prize for getting my name right?)

Your Website: http://www.annamcnuff.com

How are you spending your time these days?: I spend my days 50% outdoors - either running or cycling up mountains, splashing through muddy puddles, sleeping in bushes, exploring our beautiful planet. And then during the other 50% I tell stories about those outdoors shenanigans (I totally had to google how to spell shenanigans). 

Telling stories means visiting big kids in offices, and little kids in schools and running around on stage trying to make any kid (big or small) understand that they are capable of more than they will ever know (which is true). I also sit in coffee shops a lot, writing books, articles and wrestling with my inbox. For my brain I do yoga, go swimming, watch keeping up with the Kardashians (totally had to google Kardashians), and when I'm feeling really frazzled I go to the cinema on my own and watch a Disney/Pixar/Marvel film and eat my bodyweight in popcorn. That's how I roll. 

And in my spare time (?!) I run a non-profit women's adventure community called Adventure Queens - which is brimming with 3,000 women supporting one another in getting outdoors and getting WILD.

What's your favourite website?: Your website Dave. I'm kidding. But am I? Yes I am. Sorry. Can I say www.google.com?? I know that sounds redunk, but I come up with new adventure ideas ALL THE TIME. And so Google helps me out in fantasising about them. That would be my proper answer. Okay, I can already see you sitting here going 'McNuff, you muppet. Give me a REAL website.'

Here's one: https://www.theschooloflife.com/ 

I love everything about the School of Life :)

What's one thing you need to change?: One thing?! Crikey. I say yes too much, I try to please people, because I like it when people are happy. That makes me feel happy. But I've done a lot of work over the last year to be more assertive, and I have to say... I'm pretty darn assertive now. But I still get caught out, say yes too much and end up a frazzled mess. So the one thing is... to catch life, to slow it down, to have the nouse to look after myself before it gets to the point where I end up a frazzled mess.

How often do you check your emails?: TOO MUCH. The thing about being self employed is that you never know when a very exciting thing is going to pop into your inbox and blow your world wide open! So I am often checking my emails hoping for that thing to arrive again. Sometimes it does, sometimes it's just a lot of other things I have to do to be able to do the cool stuff. I have recently welcomed a no screen day into my life however... and it is getting me back into balance. I whack my out of office on and spend the day reading, writing in notebooks, heading up a hill, seeing friends. I find the problem with running your own thing is that you never take a break, I can easily go a month without taking a day off 'work'. Thats insane! So this year is about getting my weekends back (even if my weekends happen in the middle of the week - that's cool too).

Anything you want to plug?: Yes please - if you're a lady come join Adventure Queens over at www.adventurequeens.co.uk. And if you're a lady or a man, you can read my book about running the length of New Zealand: 'The Pants of Perspective' - you can get it on Amazon.

Tentipi: Camping for the spacious at heart

Whether you're heading out on a micro adventure, a long-distance expedition or have a garden party to organise, here's a look at what Swedish outdoor experts Tentipi have to offer this season.

 Hiding out with a 1000 miles of Norwegian coastline under the belt

Hiding out with a 1000 miles of Norwegian coastline under the belt

As the warmer months approach it's natural to spend more time outside, which for me means figuring out a variety of different ways to sleep in nature. I've always loved the Scandinavian approach to camping and since meeting a super chilled-out Torsten Gabrielsson midway through my Hobie kayak trip from Oslo to Helsinki in 2014, I've been a big fan of the company he runs marketing for, Tentipi. 

I should say up front that while there are cheaper tents on the market I've always preferred spending a little bit more on a product that lasts. The cheap tents of my twenties always ended up with broken zips, torn tightening-straps and a cluster of snapped pegs, so a tough waxy rainfly, bomb-proof pegs and a zip that two rhinos couldn't pull apart always gets my vote. 

With this in mind, when Tentipi asked if I'd like to write about their range I was more than happy to do so, they've been in my adventure bag for the last four years and I can't be more of a fan.


OLIVIN 2

My Tentipi love affair began with the first iteration of the Olivin 2, the smallest tent in their range and a reminder that a little extra space makes for a more comfortable wind-down after a long day's work. Made for two people + bags, the Olivin 2 is plenty high for sitting upright and getting changed in, boasts a built-in inner tent and vents in the roof and sides. At a gentle squeeze you could sleep a 2 child family or swing three cats in there; your choice. 

 Stockholm, September 2014 - Image by Torsten Gabrielsson 

Stockholm, September 2014 - Image by Torsten Gabrielsson 

In fact, during the first year of the YesTribe, the Tentipi crew challenged us to break the 'world record' for the amount of people that could fit inside an Olivin 2. Believe it or not, we managed 25!

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The Olivin 2 weighs in at 3.4kg with the inner tent so it's not a backbreaker, and I'm still surprised at what comes out of that bag. There's such a power in carrying a temporary home on your back (or in a kayak or panniers) and I love that process of creating a basecamp. Turning a bag into a shelter is beautiful, and there's nothing more simple than putting up a tipi like an Olivin. Eight pegs, one pole. Welcome home.

Read more about the Olivin 2


Erecting a tipi

One of the factors that draws me to a tipi is the ease of putting it up. No longer are there multiple stringy poles to feed through tight sleeves, instead you peg out the octagonal tent first and then give it some shape with just one chunky (but lightweight) pole. The process is just delicious, I adore simplicity (it goes very well with my intelligence levels) and a 90-second put-up average makes bad weather and fatigue days more bearable. 


The Zirkon

The Zirkon family of tents is seven strong. There are four CP tents, which are heavier and built for comfort, and three Zirkon light tipis are exactly what they say on the tin - they're lighter and more manageable. 

 A northern Norway camp. Photo by Yellow Matilda

A northern Norway camp. Photo by Yellow Matilda

Last Summer I decided to carry a Zirkon 5 Light tent for a 9 week expedition along Norway's coastline. It gave me loads of room to spread out clothes dampened by a long day on the water, and even without the inner tent it provided more than adequate shelter for those moments when I got sick of the gorgeous views outside (*this never happened). 

View the full run-down of the Zirkon range


Hekla Firebox

I rarely came off the water dry in Norway, so the option of enjoying a fire inside was a big attraction to the Zirkon. In full transparency, it was a fairly warm Summer/ Autumn in Norway so I barely used the Hekla firebox, but it's pretty cool to get a fire going inside and I'm looking forward to some cosy winter camping with this set-up in future.


Why a tipi is worth considering over another type of tent

  • They look really, really good
  • Plenty of space inside
  • Hard-wearing
  • Simple to erect
  • Stoke up a fire inside (model and size dependent)

OTHER TENTIPI PRODUCTS

 

The Canopy

Adding a Tentipi canopy to your Nordic tipi gives you more room to hang out and it works great as a stand-alone too, if you really want to pack light.


Rucksack Frame


Okay, some of Tentipi's larger tents are a bit heavy so this year they built a rucksack frame to easily carry them to base camp. Of course, you can use it to transport logs, water containers or your best buddy as well.


The Half Fleece Floor

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Tired of cold feet and dirty shoes? Tentipi's new half fleece floor has a cosy surface, even for bare skin. 

It is fully damp-resistant, like all their other floors. Having half a floor in your Nordic tipi means you can have a surface with floor to sleep and hang out on, and one without floor where you put your dirty shoes.

They are also fitted with Velcro so you can join two half fleece floors together to make a whole floor, or combine a fleece floor with a half ordinary floor.


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Where do you put your dirty shoes when camping?  The new half innertent from Tentipi creates two rooms inside your Nordic tipi, one to sleep in, and one for cooking, wet dogs and smelly socks.


Safir 7 CP

This is the classic Safir 7 cp from Swedish tent maker Tentipi. You can have an open fire inside or fit it with a stove for really cold nights. It's made out of cotton and polyester which keep rain out while letting condensation vent away. You can fit up to seven people in this one and it's full standing height even for tall guys, at the same time as packing down into a kayak or rucksack.


Stratus 72

Okay, I know that you're not going to bring this one on your next kayak expedition around the Shetland islands, but in case you discover true love on that trip you might need somewhere to celebrate your wedding! You can rent these amazing Stratus 72 tents all over the UK and in many other countries.

And in case you're tired of your 9-5 at the office, why not change careers and start your own Tentipi rental? Just sayin'...


The Zirkonflex

For basecamp or for garden parties, the Tentipi Zirkonflex can be folded up half way for panaorama views or all the way to use as a sun roof on warm days.

And finally, for a full rundown of Tentipi's products or just a sumptuous browse of gorgeous pictures of tipis in beautiful places, check out www.tentipi.com


Five Quick Questions: Dave Cornthwaite

Each week I'll be asking someone who does cool things regularly to answer these five quick questions, which I hope will make them seem more normal.

I forgot to ask somebody else to do it before my first newsletter of the year went out, so I'll have to do as a starter. The rest of these will be much more interesting.

 

Dave Cornthwaite

How are you spending your time these days?: I'm taking a little break from 1000 mile trips for the first 3/4 of this year and am focusing on developing the YesBus - a countryside escape, coworking space and all-round creative hub. In between landscaping and chopping wood I'm slowly working out how to spend less time online. Somewhere along the way I forgot how to put aside some free time.

What's your favourite website?: Desert Island Discs on the BBC. 70 years of wonderful, insightful interviews with some good music thrown in. It's my favourite site at the moment: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnmr

What's one thing you need to change?: Honestly, there's too much to reasonably fit in here. I should cook more. Get more sun. Do regular exercise. Stop caring so much about what strangers on the Internet think. I'm a work in progress.

How often do you check your emails?: I've spent so many days getting sucked into an ever expanding black hole of emails and to-do lists, so now I check emails just two days a week. Hello, creativity!

Anything you want to plug?: The YesBus, it's a magical little place which can be booked by anyone who wants to get a group of friends, colleagues or strangers together in the countryside, to think and act a little more positively. I think it's the coolest thing I've ever had a part in creating. Find out more at www.sayyesmore.com/yesbus

A sneak peek around a brand new GoOutdoors store in Reading

With the warmer months approaching, Emma Taylor visits Reading's newest outdoors store for some inspiration and a cheeky bit of shopping.

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I've always been of a minimalist mindset when it comes to owning stuff. Creating surplus waste or filling space with items I’ll rarely use isn't a hobby, so like many other nature lovers, it takes a very specific mood to motivate me to go shopping. Occasionally this is brought about by a chance encounter of something exciting and I just can’t help myself! 

As you might guess, this is what happened this week when Dave and I were invited to get a look behind the scenes at the new Go Outdoors store in Reading, which opens its doors to the public at 9am on Saturday 17th March.

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The new store is a massive Aladdin’s cave of outdoor wonders spread over two floors and when an outdoor tent village is part of a store, you know you're in for a treat. Any adventurer’s dream! We happily got lost in there for a couple of hours browsing everything from solar-powered gadgets, to expedition gear, geeking out on all the camping essentials and checking out outdoor cooking options for The YesBus. 

We do differ slightly on our ideal new toys in the new Go Outdoors store though; while I was skipping off happily day-dreaming of the horse riding gear I could invest in (for my non-existent but very gorgeous horse!), Dave’s attention was captured by the gorgeous neon yellow fat bike suspended up on a pedestal, just waiting to be played with! It got us thinking of where he could take it off on an adventure worthy of those epic beast tyres; Iceland, Canada, or maybe somewhere in the Middle East…? 

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Besides the vast amounts of gear to fit even the pickiest adventurer, the overwhelming positive of visiting the new Go Outdoors store at Reading was the staff. Every staff member we spoke to not only had in-depth understanding of all the products but had their own tales of adventure to tell and a wealth of knowledge that can only be earned by having a background spent in the great outdoors. It was so lovely to see so many people truly enjoying their job because they get to encourage more people to get outside and share the happiness of being in nature. 

Of course, as we're doing just that with SayYesMore and the YesTribe we were lucky enough to get a bit of pocket money to spend at the store, so walked away with plenty of new bits and bobs which we decided will live at the YesBus and help people get their outdoors fix, even if they can't afford their own gear.

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If you get the chance this Saturday to visit the new store on opening day, you won’t be disappointed. Not just because you can get a balloon giraffe and your face painted like a tiger if you want, or even the fact that Ross Kemp will be cutting the shiny blue ribbon, but it might surprise you with inspiring a new passion you never even knew you had.

And with all this done, I'm going outdoors!

Waterbiking the UK: a communal adventure

2018 began with aching bones and a crumpled mind. It was taking longer than expected to recover from the previous year's waterbike journey along Norway's coast and in these situations a few things help the steady crawl out from a pit of adventure blues.

Problem is, winter doesn't bring much sunlight or incentive for exercise, so I turned to my old friend: planning an adventure.

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I love having an idea and then making it happen without so much as a second thought, there is so much power in not letting any doubts get in the way of something crazy and just going for it. Mapping out a big old plan and finding support is right up there as one of my favourite things to do, and the focus and excitement generated from a project like this never leaves me feeling bluesy.

Quite often in the past this has resulted in a personal project or journey but as I write this in early March I still don't physically feel like heading off on my own trip.

So I got to thinking about creating a communal ride, one that would harness the potential power of the British public, include hundreds of different people in a single adventure, and one which would have a positive social and environmental impact along the way.

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So, the idea is to launch a Schiller Bike into the English canal and river system in April 2018 and invite the public to claim a leg of a 2000-mile loop of the waterways. A leg could be an hour or a week - whatever people feel comfortable with, and along the way we'd aim to hold events alongside the journey and inspire regions far away to join a collective goal to pick up #onemillionpieces of litter from our beautiful countryside.

Just imagine how much positivity this adventure could create, and how many people could get involved to be a part of something bigger. 

I'm excited. Are you?!

If you are, here's a really short form that will take about 30 seconds to fill in. Sign up if you're at all interested in riding a leg, getting a group of people involved, or simply supporting from afar. 

Very soon I'll be building a small team to ensure that this project is successful as possible, and at this stage am totally opening to ideas, support and enthusiasm! We're also looking for a little corporate backing to cover the costs for at least one part-time co-ordinator to keep this going for what I reckon will be a project lasting from April to October. Any thoughts, pop a comment below or get in touch here.


You can follow my adventures, articles and reviews on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

And why not join one of my workshops on adventure planning, filming, social media and more, held either in a double decker bus conversion or in my floating home in East London.

Said Yes More: 2017 in Review

Another year down. So much happened in 2017 it's taken me the first two weeks of 2018 to recall it all. I've visited thirteen countries, camped under the stars 52 times and spent 183 nights at home this year. Ticked off two more non-motorised journeys over 1000 miles (that's 14 in total, now!) and became engaged to my partner in crime (life).

Behind the scenes it hasn't always been easy and I touch on this at the end, but all in all I've been lucky enough to have another super year and would rather focus on the positives; the results of lots of hard work and a few well chosen yeses. Here goes...

 

January

I started the year with a delicious spell of man flu, but once movement was possible Emms and I explored London using our non-motorised fleet, including Swifty and Trikey.

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The first show of the year is usually the Adventure Travel Show in Olympia, and this was no exception. My role as host is to introduce speakers on the main stage and interview the main guest. This year, Extreme Fisherman Robson Green and a few professional adventurers joined the stage.


February

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A brand new mindset project kicked off in early February, where SayYesMore partnered with Way of Nature for the first Winter Quest. We headed to a gorgeous remote base in eastern Iceland with a group of twelve lucky souls.


LIFEHACKING Workshops

In early February I started hosting regular workshops on Enigma, passing on skills like planning big adventures, making a living from a passion and filming with a smartphone among them. I really enjoy these sessions, especially seeing the subsequent growth of participant's careers and skills.

 

March

It's always a privilege to receive an invite to speak at a TEDx event, especially when it's one of the biggest on the continent. I really struggle to retain new information and credit to Emms for helping drum a new 12 minutes of content into my tiny brain. And a big thanks to Tegan Philips, who skilfully illustrated several slides of this speech with her fun, quirky style.

 

TEDx Square Mile

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With a stroke of luck, or perhaps the opposite, a week after TEDx Brussels I took to another TEDx stage, at the Square Mile in the centre of London. This talk, again pounded into my head by Emms, was inspired by a single line fired in my direction by my brother at four years old - "Dave, you're a waste of sperm." I've been determined to a live a life unworthy of that accusation ever since.


April

This month should only be started by testing out how gullible your friends are. First, an announcement that training has begun for a cross-ocean run in a hamster ball.

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And then a cruel promise to the YesTribe that the community would soon be owning a herd of Alpaca. I must admit, it took me a few days to build up the courage to come clean on this one - mainly because everybody absolutely loved the idea! 

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The early signs of summer always do wonders for my motivation, so I started a regular blog called Self Propelled which honed in on adventure planning, gear reviews and regular articles about non-motorised transport, including the wonderful Halfbike.

Tentsile make some awesome tree tents and after an old film I made for them translated into a few sales they sent me their latest companion, the Trillium. It's a three-sided hammock and seemed like a good item to take on the YesTribe's April campout. 

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And then Em and I took the SayYesMore ICE trikes on a little weekend micro adventure around the south of London. This film was filmed and edited entirely on an iPhone...

That little trip got the legs moving for a much bigger one. We ended the month by heading over to southern Germany, where the annual Spezi event plays host to an endless array of special bikes, recumbent trikes, and non-motorised contraptions the rest of the world haven't cottoned onto yet.

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Our idea was to leave this awesome show on a form of tandem bicycle, and we asked Facebook to vote on which one we should choose - just so we couldn't take the blame if everything went badly.

 

May

On the 1st May we left Germersheim and our annual hosts to embark on what would become my 13th thousand mile journey, and the first Em had completed with me. We zoomed East (once we'd gotten used to the Hase Pino hybrid tandem) and followed the Danube to Budapest.

Seeing as tandem bikes are known as 'Divorce Bikes' it was just as much an achievement for our relationship to be strengthened by this journey as it was to ride 1000 miles together. So it seemed fitting to take things to another level on the last day of the trip. You'll just have to watch this film to find out what happened...

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ETAPE CALEDONIA

For the first time the annual Etape Caledonia bike race opened their weekend with a series of talks. I was honoured to open up the schedule ahead of the always motivating Chris Boardman. I remember being a kid and watching this guy zooming around a track in a futuristic helmet, and now my head was bigger than his body on a poster!

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At the end of May Em and I joined our favourite adventurous family for a weekend of swimming down a little river. Fellow Ordnance Survey Outdoor Champions The Meeks were completing a big old triathlon; running 1000km, cycling 1000km and swimming 17km in 2017, and it seemed like a great reason to squeeze into the old wetsuit and spend a few hours underwater. 


June

In early June another attack in London claimed eight lives and filled the city night with sirens and horror. How are we supposed to feel in the aftermath of a terror attack? I wrote this blog the next morning. 

 

The YesBus

For over a year the mighty Chris Barnes had been leading the renovation for SayYesMore's new countryside HQ, the YesBus. Turning a double decker bus into a co-working, learning and events space was never going to be easy, so we decided to wait until the renovation was close to completion before trying to raise the money and support needed to make the project work.

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In June we launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the YesBus, thanks to a wonderful group of volunteers, and other people and brands who offered up prizes in return for donations. On the opening and closing day of the campaign we drew a prize every single hour, won by someone who had donated in the previous 60 minutes.

All in all we raised just over £22,000 towards the ultimate £50,000 goal, enough to get the project finished off. The rest of the total will be raised in the first months of 2018 once the YesBus opens up a regular programme.


JULY

My first speaking gig in July was at the awesome Sunday Assembly community, a kind of church for the positive. With SayYesMore and the YesTribe taking up so much of my time and admittedly, becoming an extreme struggle periodically, it's always nice to see other communities working well - ideas a plenty to take home.

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Kudos

In July the UK's most famous explorer, Ranulph Fiennes, was kind enough to send a message of support ahead of my 14th non-motorised journey over 1000 miles. Very kind of him.

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Before the journey started, though, I had one more speaking gig, this time on the eclectic Sunday Papers Live stage at the Citadel Festival. What a great venue and a superbly engaged crowd, nestled into sofas and bean bags. Awesome!

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To norway

At the end of July I jumped onto a plane and flew to Tromsø, Norway, then boarded the MS Finnmarken, a Hurtigruten ship heading north to Kirkenes. A couple of days later I began a journey by Schiller Bike, a water bike built in San Francisco.

August

Emms and I live on a boat in London, and every couple of years the boat needs to be taken to a dry dock for the hull to be repainted. There are a lot of boats vs not so many dry-docks in London and it was impossible to shift our booking, which had been made long before I decided to water bike the Norwegian coast. So I took a few days off, flew home and didn't get much rest at all. Turns out painting a boat is more than a full time job!

 

September

I returned to Norway a few days later and continued south, encountering endless kindness from the Norwegians I met alone the way. When people have a big connection to the nature around them it brings out there own good nature, and the people, as always, left me with so many fond memories.

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Perhaps my favourite moment of the trip was being invited dinner by a farmer named Marten.

While I was there a new addition to his herd was born. Seeing as it was a redhead and a bull, he decided to call it Dave!

 

Another chance meeting meant that I ended up spending a night at Fordypningsrommet, otherwise known as The Arctic Hideaway. Created by musician Håvard Lund, my favourite hut in his retreat was fondly nicknamed The Nest and I resolved to return and write a book about this journey in the spectacular hut, raised up on a single shaft.

Travelling Norway's coastline by waterbike was undoubtedly one of the toughest missions I'd ever taken on. But for any mild hardship on this waterbike, I loved spending the best part of nine weeks getting absolutely nailed by a raw, gorgeous, ruthless coast.

Spending the Summer as the smallest 'ship' in Hurtigruten's fleet was made all the more special as the other ships started to outdo each other. The MS Lofoten dropped a goodie bag down to me. The MS Richard With sent out a tender with a takeaway meal, and the MS Spitsbergen opened up their tender deck and set up a table for one, serving me a burger as the hotel manager rode around on the Schiller Bike and hundreds of passengers stared in bemusement at this weird chap holding up their schedule. Magical!

October

Due to bad weather I made the call to halt my journey to Bergen 90 miles early. The back end of hurricanes that had ravaged the Caribbean and Southern USA had made their way across the Atlantic and going the distance was simply impossible without putting myself in danger. With much more important things in life than adventure, it was definitely the right call. 

Still, I'd pedalled 1243 miles from Kirkenes, making this the 14th 1000-mile journey of my life. Another, huge tick on the list.

Here's a playlist of video diaries I made from beginning to end, in case you missed it at the time.


Ontario

Without a moment's rest, I flew direct from Norway to Ontario to write an article for Active Traveler Magazine about the amazing paddling in Killarney Provincial Park. This place is absolutely gorgeous!

If you like the look of this, you can win an 8-day trip to the area with yours truly in 2018.


The YesBus comes home

Two days before Yestival, the annual SayYesMore Microfestival for Positive Change, the YesBus finally rolled down the lane into its new spot. It was quite the moment, a dream in the making for over two years and here it was, a double decker bus in a field! I was in tears as the bus parked up in its new home, wearing a brand new blue coat. What a moment!

Yestival 2017

The third Yestival went down a storm, quite literally, thanks to Storm Brian, but despite 50mph winds our largest crowd yet enjoyed a weekend in a field dripping with inspiration, kindness and stories of adventure, survival and ambition. Always my favourite weekend of the year, and this time round much more so because the SayYesMore team did the majority of the legwork, especially Andy Bartlett and Emms. Managing to pull off another single-use plastic free festival also makes the feeling richer.

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HELLO, THIRTY EIGHT

I'm not sure how this number keeps getting bigger but I can't complain, it's been another full 12 months and our good friend Ged keeps providing the most incredible themed birthday cakes. This one depicted my summer's trip in Norway!

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November

In between the odd talk in Portugal, Spain and Belgium we spent November preparing the YesBus for a busy year ahead, introducing the Schiller Bike to its new home in London, and I became a patron of The Teddington Trust - a real honour to support children and adults living with Xeroderma Pigmentosum.


December

Early December whizzed by and before I knew it I was back on a plane, returning to Norway. The Summer's journey had been eventful enough for a book, I thought, and Norway seemed as good a place as any to write it.

I flew into Bergen and jumped on the MS Spitsbergen, which in September had so kindly stopped and served me a burger on their tender deck. I'm now known as 'The Burger Man' on that vessel!

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It was great to soak up the coastline from a higher, more comfortable viewpoint. Three days later, in Bodø, I jumped ship and headed back to The Arctic Hideaway, where I spent Christmas with Em and New Year with a few extra friends. 

 Perfect bedroom, swaying in the wind. And not a bad place to write, either...

Perfect bedroom, swaying in the wind. And not a bad place to write, either...

Snowstorms, northern lights, epic sleeps and a raw, remote environment was just the ticket after a long, successful but sometimes draining year.

 Jane having a beer in style at the Arctic Hideaway

Jane having a beer in style at the Arctic Hideaway

Floating in a survival suit in near freezing waters and hanging out with cool people on an arctic island. What a place to see 2017 out. 

 With friends on the last day of the year. Photo: Spike Reid

With friends on the last day of the year. Photo: Spike Reid


the other side of things

It should be said, it's so easy to sum up a year with pretty pictures and a record of the cool things that happened. In time, we tend to look back on the best bits of our years and when it comes to saying yes it's the things we chose to make happen that carry the bulk of our memories.

Of course, there's another side to life. I'm still learning to lead a community and this has an adverse impact on my stress and energy levels throughout the year. I give over half my time for free to making SayYesMore what it is and thankfully in 2018 we're building a stronger platform for volunteers to join the team. Personally, I'm aiming to spend less time online and carve out a more creative role at the top of the SayYesMore tree. I've not created enough this past year and it's down to doing too much without enough me-time. This is so important, lesson learned.

I've also suffered since returning from the summer trip in Norway. That coastline took a lot out of me and I've had a more-than-average stretch of blues in the back end of 2017. At the same time, my 'day job' is to speak to audiences about adventure and positive mindset, and although turning on a performance for an hour is possible, it saps the energy. I gave over 60 talks in 2017 and it has taken its toll, so I'll be winding that commitment back in 2018.

Luckily, I have the most amazing fiancé to keep me smiling and help me with SayYesMore admin. I couldn't do any of this without Emms, and seeing as she's to become my wife in 2018 my aim for the next year is to be as much of a support to her as she is to me.

Here's to making life count, and spending our time with the people who make us most alive.

Across Australia on the Indian Pacific

Ever since skateboarding across Australia in 2006 I’d wanted to travel back across the country a different way. The Indian Pacific is one of the world’s best long distance train journeys, and I loved crossing this big, red, empty country once more. This time in a much easier fashion!

Mississippi Portraits

The results of a portrait project taken mostly of river paddlers in Mississippi in September 2016, including the now sadly passed Dingo, in the first image. 

Three Days on the MS Spitsbergen

After several weeks exploring the Norwegian coast this Summer, following the Hurtigruten route between Kirkenes and Bergen in possibly the slowest fashion possible, last week I swapped my Schiller Bike for the comfort of Hurtigruten’s newest ship, the MS Spitsbergen.

The last (and only) time I had been onboard the Spitsbergen, I was being served the most bizarre meal of my life on the tender deck, one foot above sea level. That water bike drive-thru will remain one of the standout moments of a memorable journey, and apparently it had made an impact on the crew, as well.

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“I thought you looked familiar when you joined us last night,” a young waiter told me at dinner, “and the switch has just gone off. It’s really nice to meet you.”

“Ah, the burger man!” Frederick, the Hotel Manager and the mind behind setting up the table for one, had chuckled as he bustled into the lounge with Sonny, the Bar Manager who had also been present on the tender deck two months earlier. And then Tommy, the chef who had presented me with that famous meal, turned up to say hi. 

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Although my water bike journey had been peppered by endless encounters with kind, welcoming Norwegians, the trip could not have been considered comfortable. So it was that as Hurtigruten’s ships passed daily, I had asked myself a regular question: would I prefer to be down here, or up there?

The answer varied, depending on the wind, current, rain or sun, and sometimes the time passed since my last shower. 

What I can say is that now, two months on with the fatigue of an attritional mission still present in my joints, it is a pleasure to be sailing north with a comfortable cabin nearby, three meals a day, and regular port stops which require no prior-thought on where to dock and safely leave my transport.

My personal Hurtigruten experience so far has been unusual, of course, but beyond appreciating the home comforts taking this more traditional route has just bolstered an opinion that this is just as much a family as a company. Hurtigruten don’t stress the ‘cruise’ element of their voyages along the Norwegian coast or, indeed, along their other routes which include Greenland, Alaska and Antarctica, but boy they do it well.

The ships are well conditioned and simple, with passenger experience at the fore of Hurtigruten’s mission. Most amenities are kept to the fifth floor on this ship, which keeps navigation simple, and with less than 300 passengers on board the atmosphere is intimate and familiar. 

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Various excursions and tours are available at the long-stops in port, or guests can choose to explore on their own. In Alesund I joined three Americans on a slippy ascent to the Aksla Viewpoint, which offers a gloriously snowy panorama over the town and its surrounding fjords and islands. 

At lunch the communal water dispenser has run dry and one of the kitchen staff must have noticed my fly-by. I’d diverted my attention to the buffet and returned to the table to find a full glass of water waiting. It’s the little things.

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Every couple of hours I wrap up warm and wander up on on deck, where a giant lit-up Christmas decoration welcomes those who are taking in the vast expanses. I study each stretch of water knowingly, once travelled at a little less than walking pace. The Norwegian winter comes with added bite, but an endless range of snow-capped mountains, glaciers and dark, wild fjords are no less impressive just because the nearest coffee is two flights of steps away.

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On Day Three we cross the Arctic Circle and the passengers are invited to the aft deck, where one member of crew is dressed as Neptune and two officers ‘welcome’ any willing passenger into the Arctic with a handsome delivery of ice cubes down the neck. The range of distinctly uncomfortable faces and accompanying shrieks are as entertaining as the line of volunteers is impressive.

I’m only on board for half of this voyage and am invited to give a presentation about my water biking exploits, the night before I disembark at the port of Bodø. While it is an opportunity to reminisce and prepare the story structure ahead of three weeks of book writing on the same topic, sharing tales from the coast is the ideal ice-breaker. The next morning a few people stop by around the ship, to say thanks and to share their own adventures. I make a point of asking them about their journey with Hurtigruten and the reaction is never ordinary. 

One lady stared out of the window at the painting-worthy scene and paused before whispering, “this has been a dream of mine for so long,” her eyes filling with tears. “It’s even more beautiful than I hoped,” she smiled shyly, embarrassed at her reaction.

Another man, a solo German named Joe who earlier told me that he has an addiction to mountain biking, perched in the jacuzzi at the ship’s stern wearing a contented smile beneath a grey beanie. “Does it get better than this?” he laughed, lifting his arms from the water and moving them simultaneously towards the horizon.

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Visit the Hurtigruten website to start dreaming about your perfect voyage


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And why not join one of my workshops on adventure planning, filming, social media and more, held either in a double decker bus conversion or in my floating home in East London.

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I'll do you a deal. I write because I enjoy it and I don't expect payment. But for every new steamy, yummy tankard of donated caffeinated joy I'll write a new blog. You can't get fairer than that. You can even suggest a topic, if you have a preference.

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Tribewanted Monestevole

A sprawling Umbrian countryside property, turned into the ultimate escape. Monestevole is a retreat, refuge and working farm and was the perfect venue for a weekend of mindfulness, hosted by SayYesMore. Over 20 YesTribers flew into Perugia and drove to Monestevole, where we enjoyed discussions, games, food and wine over a long weekend.

I arrived a couple of days before the group to capture Monestevole at its quietest. Feeding time for the animals, golden hour slowly revealing the house each morning (perfect for the drone) and then, when everyone had arrived, a weekend of smiles and chats. 

I'm now a patron of the Teddington Trust

I'm really honoured to announce that as of today I've become a patron of the Teddington Trust charity.

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In March I heard a lady called Nicola Miller give a TedX talk about the Teddington Trust, a charity she'd set up after her son Edison was born with a condition called xeroderma pigmentosum (XP).

Effectively, this means that Edison and others who live with XP can't be exposed to direct sunlight, or even ordinary lighting, so either they have to hide away or wear a protective suit.

In October Edison and his family came to the SayYesMore Yestival and while we couldn't control the weather, we took the decision to ensure that every tent and venue had LED lighting so Edison could sit back and enjoy the entertainment like everyone else. He's an awesome kid with a massive smile and even bigger hugs - an inspiration to anyone who has felt held back from getting on with life.

Most of us don't have to think twice about walking into sunlight and enjoying the great outdoors, so in the years to come I hope to bring some awareness to the fact that we're not all that lucky, and that with a little understanding and help those who live with XP can do whatever they want to do, even if it is undercover.

To find out more about the Teddington Trust visit www.teddingtontrust.com and give Rare Revolution Magazine a read - it's a digital mag giving a voice to those who live with rare and often unknown diseases.

Nicola Miller delivers a Call to Action to join the #RareRevolution. Nicola is co-founder of rare disease charity Teddington Trust, and Editor and co-creator of Rare Revolution Magazine. Nicola talks with passion about the importance of better representation for those affected with rare disease across all walks of life and how the key to achieving this is RARE education.

The Uganda Marathon: A Race Like No Other

In the Summer of 2016 the Uganda Marathon invited me to capture their groundbreaking annual event, set in the rolling hills of Masaka.

Over 150 people flew in not just to run the marathon, but to volunteer for four days at the community projects funded by the event. Having spent over a year in Uganda in my early twenties, it was wonderful to be back in the Pearl of Africa, surrounded by the joy and kindness of local Ugandans.

The resulting film and photos are among my favourite collections.

Expedition Norway Part 6: Rørvik to Bergen

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For the first time since leaving Kirkenes the wind was directly behind me, and I couldn’t have been more thankful. If I’d been paddling north I wouldn’t be moving. Leaving Rørvik, I pedalled beneath a high, majestic bridge, a guilty pleasure I revel in when travelling on water. I adore the anonymity of passing beneath a train of traffic, nobody up there having a clue what strange craft is down below.

The sea state was uncomfortable that day, waves crashing around but, crucially, into the back of my bike, propelling us forward. I sought refuge that night in a community roundhouse in a tiny village called Utvorda, delighting in the shelter that had been built by the local government years earlier for village concerts and summer drinking by the water. On that wet, dark night I was just grateful for cover.

The weather wasn’t much better the next day, fishermen rubbed their eyes in amazement as I bounced past on the waves, but that afternoon a series of passes from Hurtigruten ships began that would shape the culmination of the journey. First, in the fjord north of Bessaker, the MS Lofoten stalled to a halt, the passengers waved over the starboard side and crew opened a side hatch and lowered down a dry bag on a stick. “It is a gift from all of us,” shouted the house manager, “something to eat, something to drink and something to wear.”

I spent that night in Bessaker, in a room above the local shop that the manager, Torhild, led me straight to after my arrival, but not before offering me a choice of the breads that the next day would pass their sell-by date.

The next day, the MS Spitsbergen opened up their tender deck in the open water beyond Stokksund and again, with all the passengers up above waving flags and snapping photos, I was beckoned to approach. But this time I was invited on board, where a single table and chair had been set up on the tender deck. Tablecloth and ice bucket and all the dressings, and a medium-rare burger and a side of potatoes and salad served to my amazement. I must admit, it was quite awkward eating with the crew and passengers staring down, knowing that the ship was halting its schedule for me, but the kindness, execution of a bizarre idea and the audacity to support my trip this way sums up Hurtgiruten as company. They’re family. You simply wouldn’t get this service from a typical cruising company.

At Lesøysundet the owner of the local Brygge kindly offered me a room, and the next day I was delighted to reach my primary goal for this expedition, passing the 1000 mile mark and ticking off the 14th different non-motorised journey over 1000 miles of my life. It takes a lot of time, energy and support to reach that distance without a motor, and such has been the resolve needed to make this journey a success, I can safely say I’ve never been so grateful to reach the 1000 mile mark - for so long it had seemed an unbridgeable distance away. The Norwegian coast can be as brutal as it is beautiful.

Later that day I got another treat, my fiancé Emma and good friend Andy were waiting on shore having driven from England to support my last two weeks, and they’d be there for each of the remaining nights whatever the weather.

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Hurtigruten’s MS Richard With sent a tender boat out with a takeaway meal for me north of Kristiansund, a gesture to rival its fellow ships. A local journalist asked me to try a sweet Svele snack in a film for his Kristiansund-based paper, we were treated to a night in the dreamy Hotel Brosundet in Alesund, and then woke up to the local TV2 crew waiting in the lobby - the resulting segment going out on national TV and ensuring that everyone we met for the rest of the journey would know about the ‘crazy man on the waterbike.’

The weather treated us kindly as I rounded Stadt, a peninsula famed for its rough waters, and then, on the final straight south to Bergen, I passed the remaining Hurtigruten ports, Måløy and Florø, names that had justifiably felt a great distance away when I started this journey two months earlier in Kirkenes.

Originally, I’d imagined that this journey would take six weeks and as I left a small marina on the west side of Florø the ninth week of the trip began. I had less than a week to go before further commitments back home began, and the tail end of the hurricanes that had left a trail of destruction across the Atlantic were now feeding into weather patterns in the eastern Atlantic. The forecast didn’t look great for the coming days and I decided on a dash south from Florø into hopefully calmer waters. Two hours later I realised I’d made a mistake as winds gusted up above 35 knots and hungry waves removed bags from my bike’s pontoons.

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Thankfully I retired behind a sea wall on the island of Askrova. For an hour I’d battled conditions that threatened to finish me off and I promised myself that given the same situation again, I’d opt to stay on land. I’ve been travelling under my own steam for over a decade and the joy of youthful freedom has evolved into life where adventure is still important, but not as important as life with a loving fiancé. Typically, under the shelter of a roof kindly offered by a local, I spent two days weighing up the increasingly poor weather against the importance of finishing what I’d started, and eventually I opted to stay safe, to call the journey 80 miles north of Bergen.

Norway is a country famed for its wild beauty, but all too often that rugged country can be taken for granted. Mobile phones don’t work everywhere. Weather can change in an instant. As important as it is to experience wide open landscapes and push our boundaries, there is no point risking our lives for the sake of reaching a goal. I chose to take on this journey for the same reason behind the other 1000+ mile expeditions I’ve enjoyed so far - to be alive.

And so, with a little tickle of relief in my belly, it seemed fitting to cover those last miles between Askrova and Bergen with my best friends and the biggest supporters of this incredible journey down the Norwegian coast; Hurtigruten. Several weeks earlier the MS Polarys has arrived into Kirkenes with my Schiller Bike on board, and here we were, riding the ship south through raging winds and angry waters. Not one thing I saw from the decks made me want to be back out there on the water and although the journey had ended prematurely, the memories I’d gathered since leaving Kirkenes will stay with me for a lifetime.

“What’s next?” is always the question people ask the moment a journey finishes, and my answer for now, is to rest and then, when I’m ready to take on this journey one more time, to write a book. I pedalled 1243 miles in 9 weeks, camped on the most beautiful of remote beaches, met hundreds of strangers who I’m now glad to call friends and enjoyed one of the most memorable chapters of my life. Norway will always be a special place and this a special time, where it was normal to spend my days two miles offshore, only to come back to the mainland where the locals would take one, amused look at my bike and ask, “are you crazy?”

And my answer: “I’d be crazy not to do this.”

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Tentipi Zirkon 5 Light

During this summer's trip along Norway's coastline I chose to carry a Zirkon 5 Light tent by Tentipi Tents. It gave me loads of room to spread out clothes dampened by a long day on the water, and even without the inner tent it provided more than adequate shelter for those moments when I got sick of the gorgeous views outside (*this never happened). 

In full transparency, it was a fairly warm Summer/ Autumn in Norway so I barely used the Hekla firebox, but it's pretty cool to get a fire going inside and I'm looking forward to some cosy winter camping with this set-up in future.

For a full run down on the Zirkon range check out https://tentipi.com/en-gb/zirkon

Photo Blog: Fordypningsrommet - the Ocean Sanctuary

Expedition Norway Part 5: Bodø to Rørvik

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As the impressive blue tidal surges of the Saltstraumen swirled around our rib, I was ever so thankful that I wouldn’t be bringing my Schiller bike this far inland. Two hours earlier I’d made my way into Bodø and found the nearest low-lying pontoon to the Hurtigruten dock. Soon afterwards two ribs joined me on the pontoon, piloted by Andrea and Meike from Stella Polaris.

“We’re taking Hurtigruten passengers to the Saltstraumen whirlpools,” Meike said. “You should join us!” invited Andrea. And that was that, it would appear that timing is always impeccable when a water bike is the transport.

I set off from Bodø late in the afternoon and was hit by growing winds before I’d made it across Saltfjord. It was a relief to eventually find a beach and pitch my tipi, then gather some driftwood for a fire to dry my shoes and socks, which truly haven’t been dry for weeks.

The next morning the wind was still up to its tricks, gusting over 25 knots, which is just a little too much for comfort. My worst nightmare on this trip is to capsize and the only likely culprits are large waves and high winds. The other is bring struck by a boat or having a whale breach directly beneath me, the latter is the only one I don’t have control of - the other three I can actively avoid by making sensible decisions. And this day was one of those times, I buried my left shoulder into the wind and edged into the nearest marina, which just happened to be overlooked by a Spar with a cafe. What are the chances?!

For three hours I nursed a coffee overlooking the water at Sandhornøy as evil-looking blasts of air sped over the surface. The store manager, Sandra, had asked me to let her know when I was leaving so she could take a photo and unbeknownst to me she’d told her boyfriend I was here. “My name’s Håvard,” said a breathless man as he shuffled into the corner seat opposite me, “I heard you were here and I came running. I’ve got a place you have to see.”

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When Håvard showed me pictures of his ‘place’ I couldn’t resists, and decided to end the day on a mammoth 1.7 miles. Minutes later we were in a speedboat bouncing over the waves to an archipelago several miles off the coast, and I can honestly say the rest of the day and the location of that night’s sleep was immediately bumped towards the top of this journey’s highlights. Fordypningsrommet was something else, a creative and architectural masterpiece that I’m quite sure will be the dwelling of choice for artists and writers on this coast for years to come. The peace, views, sense of protection from the elements and unique, waving sensation when sleeping in an elevated hut based on Sami food stores - all of this took me to a different place and I resolved to return here to write my next book.

 

A day off the water always does wonders, and as sad as I was to leave Håvard, Sandra and their island base it always feels good to gain more ground. The 1000-mile mark on these journeys is my holy grail and I don’t get there by sitting around. I skipped from island camp to island camp, soaking up the Northern Lights on clear nights and occasionally popping into a marina or waterside town for supplies but spending the majority of my waking hours on the water travelling at 5kmph, inching south.

 

On the island of Dønna I arrived at the southern marina as dusk began to fell. “We can find you a bed,” said the first men I met, and I was driven up to a community-renovated house on top of the nearest hill. “Rest well,” waved Magne as he rushed off to see his family.

 

I felt blessed by the weather, all around isolated rain showers fell across fjords, everywhere but over me. Until a 150 metre-wide column of water started making its way in my direction and all of a sudden I was utterly drenched. But boy was it worth it, the resulting double rainbow diving beyond its pot of gold into the water at each end of the arch. Gorgeous. 

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As I made my way against the current into the long Bronnøysund harbour I saw a figure at a window of a waterside office building open his window and stare at me in disbelief. Then another window opened, then another and I waved at twenty faces and cameras, giggling that work at the local government building had just come to a shuddering stop.

Bit by bit I was ticking off the Hurtigruten ports as I moved south. Ornes, Nesna, Sandnessjøen, Bronnøysund and then, after one of those days when the rain hasn’t stopped and my skin was reconsidering its natural waterproofing, Schiller and I paddled into Rørvik and fell into a marina apartment, desperate for a long sleep.

Expedition Norway Part 4: Finnsnes to Bodø

Everything felt familiar getting back on the water after a week-long break, except for this time I was solo. Luckily, in the first of a string of kind offerings from the locals, a forklift driver from Nor Lines in Finnsnes lifted up my Schiller Bike and drove it the 500 metres to the small pontoon which had greeted us a few days earlier.

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Just two hours of pedalling later the winds picked up and I sought shelter in an inlet. I parked on a beach and walked to the nearest house, where I knocked and a lovely lady answered the door. I explained what I was doing, she asked if I was crazy (I’m pretty sure this is a customary situation in Norway, it happens overtime I talk to someone) and then after chatting to her husband pointed at a cabin on the waterfront and said, ‘you can sleep there.’

I spent the evening with Ruth and Vidar, and the cabin owners Astrid and Ernst, eating, drinking and hearing tales of history from this area. Outside a storm raged, and I couldn’t have been more thankful not to be camping!

The next evening, another 20 miles south and east, I responded to a Facebook invite to stay at a new fishing and activity ‘resort’ called the Jaeger Adventure camp, in Kastneshamn. Trond was waiting for me on the pontoon, a man shaped like a tree trunk with fingers so thick it was clear that he’d been working since the day he was born. Trond showed me to a cabin and then switched on the sauna before inviting me to join him for dinner. I started to wonder whether I’d ever need to use my tent and stove again.

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The next morning was calm and I made plenty of ground, a relief after two relatively short days. The Norwegian coastline is long and it doesn’t get travelled by sitting around talking about reindeer, but the conversations of my new friends rang around my head as I edged along fjords, beneath bridges and past salmon farms.

The next big challenge came in the form of the Tjeldesund, a narrow fjord separating the mainland from Hinnøya, the largest island on the Lofotens, which are a collection of islands streaming off to a point in a blaze of other-worldly beauty. The Lofotens are a pearl for the Norwegian tourist board but, mainly because I travel at 3 miles per hour and need to reach Bergen before Autumn sets in, I’ve decided to cut through on the inside of the island chain. 

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This decision brings both frustration and joy over the next two days. The Tjeldesund is famous for having extremely strong currents, sadly flowing northerly, in to my face. Their strength changes throughout the day and I’m lucky enough to be invited in for eggs and bacon by a group of families who stare open mouthed at my water bike as I arrive at their campsite’s beach. ‘You’re crazy,’ they all wonder, one by one.

The next day, after a night of rain, I find myself battling the current and high winds for four hours, making the distance I’d usually expect from one. I find another beach and this time a farmer walks down to meet me. ‘I saw you in the news,’ Martin tells me, ‘would you like to join us for dinner?’ His wife Martine and daughters Emilie and Sigrun are wonderful company, and in the five hours I spend with them a new calf is born in the neighbouring barn. Martin shares this good news as he pushes me off into calmer evening waters, ‘as it’s a bull and a redhead, we’re going to call it Dave.’

Compared to the morning’s conditions, this evening was sent from the Gods. The water was like glass and I practically sprinted past Lodingen and out of the southern mouth of the Tjeldsund, eventually finding an island in twilight and settling down on a beach as the Northern Lights danced above in a cloudless sky.

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A 15 mile crossing of the Vestfjord was rewarded with lunch and a coffee at Tronøy Fyr, a lighthouse-turned-hotel perched in a glorious position on the mainland, and then I plodded on happily, making my way past bays and headlands, sheer cliffs climbing towards the sky to my left, the shadowed mountains of the Lofotens slowly becoming smaller as the Vestfjord widened to my right.

The next day I stopped for a coffee at a fishing village, where Tommy and Katalin keep a series of waterside cabins and rentable boats in immaculate condition. ‘Would you like to stay for the night?’ they ask, but the day is too young and I decide to push on. Ten miles and two wind-blown fjord crossings later I edge towards Nordskot, a deliciously beautiful little village which boats high speed ferry access from Bodø, the big city around 50 miles further south. 

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My nemesis, the wind, hasn’t stopped fighting and I seek shelter in a small bay bordered by pontoons and adventurous looking boats. A young man in orange overalls comes down to meet me and after I explain what I’m doing and ask if I can pitch my tent he nods his head and says, ‘You’ve come to the right place, do you know where you are?’ 

It turns out that I’ve landed on Mannshausen, the home and now resort belonging to famous Norwegian polar explorer Børge Ousland. And the young man who invited me in, his son, Max. I spent two days on Mannshausen waiting for the winds to die, enjoying the company of a fantastic, multi-talented team of volunteers who have travelled the world to spend some time here. Meanwhile, guests enjoy the most stunning accommodation in futuristic glass-fronted waterside cabins.

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I’m sad to leave, but the endless islands of Steigen make for beautiful water time, and I only wish I could stop longer and camp on each sandy beach that I pass. The next day I reach Bodø and cross my halfway mark on this journey. 700 miles complete so far, the rest is downhill.

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Expedition Norway Part 3: Hammerfest to Finnsnes

The three days after leaving Hammerfest were among the toughest and most rewarding of the journey so far. I set off from the dock beside Hurtigruten’s idling MS Kong Harald, with a crowd of 40 waving me off. I can’t explain the feeling of gratefulness I have with such support, especially from enthusiastic strangers, and little did I know in a few days time that the Kong Harald would provide one of the moment’s of the trip.

 Image by Andy Bartlett

Image by Andy Bartlett

I am largely alone on this journey, there’s arguably too much time to process information but I have friends to share it with, often in the form of puffins who gather in the centre of the biggest channels, sometimes in pairs and sometimes in groups of up to 100. It says so much about Finnmark that I’ve seen more puffins than humans since arriving in Norway, and their wonderfully confused paddling style sends them in zig zags as I approach, before they opt for their last resort: to dive out of site. They’re just lovely and dappy and make me giggle out loud.

I spent my first night out of Hammerfest some 35 miles west, making camp on a beach comprised of huge boulders. The tide was low, always the worst time to land, and it took over half an hour to haul my Schiller Bike towards the high tide mark, ensuring that the lapping water wouldn’t steal my steed as I slept. The effort aside, making camp in a remote spot is a glorious feeling. I am king here, just for a night, and my tipi is my castle. I pitch on the sand, using head-size boulders instead of pegs, then build a fire and clear part of the beach of driftwood, always leaving a little in case the next water biker comes along and needs some warmth. 

The next day I am in a fight with the wind. The Schiller Bike is stable - I’d take it over a kayak in open water - but the going is slow and tough. Endurance journeys are physical, of course, but it’s 90% a mental game. In the middle of a channel, sometimes 10 miles from the nearest land, I have nothing to gauge my speed with. It is a game of trust, just keep the wheels turning and eventually, however long it takes, you’ll get there.

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And there, of course, is unknown. I have never been here before, and it is that golden promise of uncertainty that drives me on. This was my hardest day on the water. Waves covering me each second, soaked to the bone, cold to shivering with just endless cycling to keep me going, but the ending was worth it. I reached a small village called Bergsfjord hidden down the bottom of a gorgeous, wave-filled fjord, and tucked into a pontoon, relishing the calm I hadn’t seen all day. A white van was up on the road waiting for a ferry, and I saw the driver incredulously taking photos as I approached. I’m used to this, a water bike is a rare species up here.

One hour later I find myself in the driver’s front room, which also happens to be a cafe in the village store, which he runs. A plate of veggies and wild salmon is kindly thrust into my hands, and then a beer. Oh my, this is amazing! Strangers are just friends waiting to happen, and Roar, my new friend, is one of those angels that so often appear in the midst of an adventure. There is something wonderful about travelling slow, moving with a story and a natural ice-breaker, and with the vulnerability you only have when you don’t have a place to stay. Humans are at their best in these situations, especially far away from cities, and Roar is the perfect example.

After food he walks me around his store picking out chocolate and energy bars from the shelves, with each one looking at me with a grin and the words, ‘Will this take you further?” So, so kind.

I spend the night in the village ferry terminal, a habit that I believe is now going to be become regular on this trip. ‘Of course you can sleep there!’ everyone says, as though I’m crazy for even asking. Imagine that kind of open doors policy in the UK?!

The next morning I’m joined by a pod of 12 small whales, who breach alongside for half an hour before going on their merry way. I love being so high up out of the water, with the extra views this affords. A special time indeed, to be graced with presence of the locals. 

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Three nights and 100 miles later I pitch camp on an island after another day of headwinds and views that will never stop astounding. Today is special. As Arctic Terns territorially dive-bomb as I scoop away sheep poop before pitching the tipi, I keep an eye on the horizon. It’s rare that anyone actually travels alongside me on a trip like this, but on this occasion my friends Andy and Chris have made the journey to Norway, and after flying into Tromsø they’ve paddled (one in a kayak) and pedalled (the other on a second Schiller Bike) 15 miles north to meet me in this gorgeous spot.

I’m glad to see them and grateful that now the Arctic Terns have some other targets, and we catch up around a camp fire as the biggest moon I’ve ever seen rises to the North, above fjords and mountains.

Three and a half weeks earlier I’d flown into Tromsø then jumped aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Finnmarken for an enjoyable 34 hour journey north and east to Kirkenes. It has taken me all of three weeks to make the return journey, and passing beneath Tromsø’s bridge was a milestone to be celebrated.  It feels wonderful to have completed that section, one third of the journey to Bergen, over 450 miles under the bows.

Two TV channels and the local paper shared our story the next day, which ensured the waves we received once back on the water were of recognition, not amusement! “Oh, you’re THAT guy!” said Ulrik, a 74 year-old resident of Vikran, a few miles south of Tromsø. We’d pedalled into a marina where he keeps his boat, and before we knew it he’d opened up the clubhouse and invited us to stay. 

Andy and Chris joined me for the last three days before I took a week off the water to heal some blistered feet, and a few miles north of Finnsnes, on a beautiful flat calm day with winds to our tail and sun blazing down, the MS Kong Harald came into sight. This time though we met mid fjord, and the Kong Harald came to a stop, right there. Hundreds of passengers were out on deck, waving flags and cheering down to us. The whole ship was visibly leaning to the right and we couldn’t believe it! The captain and staff up on deck waved down, saluted and took photos, and behind me Andy was wiping his eyes with emotion. Well, that set me off, and there we were, tears dripping down our cheeks at the kindness of all these people, making us feel like part of the Hurtigruten fleet despite our minimal size.