Spring begins with some climbing, paddling and pedaling

Spring appears to have arrived! The sun has started appearing and we’ve had some beautiful clear mornings in London. This weekend I didn’t have a huge amount of activity planned come Friday afternoon. I decided to pop to The Arch in Bermondsey for some climbing after work, it’s always a nice and cheap (free for me with my membership) way to wind down after a week of work.

Climbing at The Arch's Biscuit Factory building.

Climbing at The Arch’s Biscuit Factory building.

On Saturday morning I got up and headed to Lee Valley White Water Centre for some white water kayaking. I recently bought a kayak, Tina. She’s a Jackson Rockstar playboat in the questionable colour scheme of tie-dye and I was excited to paddle her. The Lee Valley White Water Centre was built for the London 2012 Olympics and is a great facility for white water activities that’s only 40mins from London (train from Liverpool Street or driving). The centre has two courses, one longer and more advanced than the other, that are supplied by water pumped from the lake. It was a beautiful day, despite the water still being cold I had a great time on the water and it was fun to sit around and watch the rugby in the cafe afterwards.

Tina, the tie-dyed rockstar!

Tina, the tie-dyed Rockstar!

At some point after a beer or two on Saturday I decided to join some friends who were planning to cycle to Brighton from London on Sunday. I agreed with one of my housemates that I could borrow his bike and started to mentally prepare myself for riding a bike with cleats for the first time ever and one with brakes and gears for the first time in several years (I normally cycle a fixie). I’m not really a cyclist, and certainly have never expressed interest in becoming a road cyclist, but I thought I should jump at the opportunity to have a little adventure when I didn’t really have much else planned!

Sunday was a beautiful spring day and two of my housemates and I set off at around 8am to meet a few others and hit the road. We took a gloriously empty route through some of the iconic sights of London before passing through Clapham and finally out onto some more rural roads. I was thoroughly enjoying having a range of gears to work through as we climbed a few small hills, despite them taking their toll on a previous knee injury of mine.

We didn't make it quite as far, or as fast, as we'd hoped...

We didn’t make it quite as far, or as fast, as we’d hoped…

We took a few interesting routes down some bridal paths but somehow everyone escaped the mud, rocks and gravel with only one tactical dismount and no punctures. Once we were passed the M25 our pace seemed to slow, the early climbs had taken their toll on some of the group. Despite the low speed, spirits remained high and we continued to wind our way through the beautiful English countryside.

Just as we approached the 55km mark near Three Bridges we had a mechanical issue with one of the bikes that couldn’t be fixed with the tools we had. The pedal had become cross-threaded and eventually come completely free of the crank whilst riding down the road. With no thread whatsoever left on the crank and no replacement cranks it was clear that bike would not be making it to Brighton. In light of the slowing pace, and not wanting to leave someone behind, we decided to call it a day. Luckily, Three Bridges station was only a few minutes downhill roll from where we were and we managed to hop on a train home and get back in time to watch the final 6 Nations game of the weekend.

Despite the fact we didn’t get to our intended destination I thoroughly enjoyed the cycle and will be keen to get out on a bike again in the future. Just goes to show, if you randomly say yes to adventures you might find yourself enjoying them more than you’d think!

Adventure Travel Show 2016

This weekend (23-24 January) was the weekend of the Adventure Travel Show at the Olympia in Kensington. I went along with a friend of mine on Saturday and it was a great day full of inspiration and motivation. There were three auditoriums hosting talks and panels, a load of stands for companies and organisations trying to sell their trips and services, and a photography exhibition. The two panels I went to were fantastic (a little more on them below) and some of the talks were great too; however a couple of the talks I went to were simply sales pitches which were of much less interest to me. Wondering around the stands was worth doing, and some of them more interesting and useful than others, however it was really crowded at times which made it pretty stressful trying to get anywhere.

Sometimes it was so crowded it made it very difficult to move around.

Sometimes it was so crowded it made it very difficult to move around.

The Yes Tribe
One of my favourite stands I visited was for the Yes Tribe. It was one of the smallest stands at the event, although I knew that in Dave Cornthwaite’s twitter bio he mentions that he founded @YESisadoingword  I knew nothing about what that was, so I thought it might be worth having a look. Turns out, it definitely was worth checking out; the Yes Tribe was originally started in London and describes itself as “… a community of people seeking to share friendship, support, positivity and energy in order to make all levels of life count.” It seems to be a group of like-minded people who love to get outdoors, go on adventures and generally say “Yes!” to the opportunities that come their way. On the evening before the Adventure Travel Show a group had camped out on Box Hill because, well, why not? They seem to get together and share adventure inspiration and encourage each other to go on adventures, I certainly plan to get involved soon. There’s more information about the Yes Tribe on their website.

Panel: An Adventurous Life
Sean Conway, Ed Stafford, Rebecca Stephens and Benedict Allen hosted by Dave Cornthwaite

The panel prepare for their 'Leading an Adventurous Life' session.

The panel prepare for their ‘Leading an Adventurous Life’ session.

The very first thing we did when we arrived at the show was head to a panel that we knew was about to start. The session had no real structure which left it free to wonder over a variety of topics, a format that worked really well. The session ended up as a mixture of entertaining and inspirational stories and anecdotes. Dave Cornthwaite said something that really resonated with me, aligns with the Yes Tribe ideology and my thoughts when originally setting up Beyond The Smoke: “Humans are wild animals, and here we are living in this big city and it’s not natural. To thrive we need to get out there and go on adventures, even if that’s just getting on a train and spending a night in a bivvy bag before getting to work on time; there are plenty of places within half an hour’s train journey from London that you can do that”.

Somehow the discussion moved onto embarrassing moments in adventuring and other entertaining anecdotes, Sean Conway told a story about ending up having to use a dead sheep’s rib bone as toilet paper in the desert during his round-the-world cycle. Ed Stafford told us that he got expelled from school for chopping down a tree the Queen planted. Benedict Allen told us about when he underwent an initiation ceremony to become “a man as strong as a crocodile” which involved him being cut many times with bamboo blades and then beaten four times a day, every day, for six weeks, until he was deemed to have achieved the objective. I guess you could say that leading “An Adventurous Life” involves a variety of adventure, mischief and embracing unfamiliar surroundings!

Panel: Meet the Adventurers
Dave Cornthwaite, Leon McCarron, Duncan Milligan and Anna McNuff

The 'Meet the Adventurer' panel included some impressive individuals.

The ‘Meet the Adventurer’ panel included some impressive individuals.

The second panel that we attended was a similar format to the first, and was allowed to wonder across a variety of topics. All the speakers were really inspirational and had some entertaining stories too. Discussion moved to the impact of social media on the life of the modern-day adventurer and it was interesting to hear from what you could argue as very different ends of the spectrum; Duncan Milligan isn’t even really on Twitter from what I can see, compared to Anna McNuff who shared her full range of emotions experienced during her run through New Zealand. Anna also touched on an interesting point, that she thinks it’s important to share both the good and the bad moments, to give those following on social media a full picture. Her first video showing her crying got more interaction online than her other videos, which corresponds with Sean Conway’s story about his video of him falling and injuring himself whilst trying to take a ‘Selfie’ being one of his most popular; but perhaps thats just because people get a kick out of seeing the weaknesses of others?

One of the points that Dave Cornthwaite and Anna emphasised was that anyone can get out there and have these adventures, you just need the ambition and (perhaps more importantly) the guts, to go for it. In my own way I agree with this, whilst I’m at a point in my career as a Civil/Structural Engineer that isn’t conducive to embarking on a major adventure; one of the reasons why I set up this website was because so often people say to me “I wish I could go on adventures like you at the weekends”, to which my answer to everyone has always been “but you can!”

Talk: Blind and Just a Little Bit Dangerous
Dean “Deano” Dunbar

Deano's presentation was one of the most impressive of the day.

Deano’s presentation was one of the most impressive of the day.

One of my favourite talks of the day was by Dean “Deano” Dunbar. Deano was born with full sight, aged 9 his sight suddenly deteriorated over night, causing him to be registered as “partially sighted”. For the next 15 years his sight remained pretty static. Then in his mid-20s, his sight dropped again. This time he was registered “blind”. Deano’s done some incredible things, including quad biking, skydiving and tandem speed flying (it’s really worth checking out the video below about this). It was really inspirational to hear about some of the stuff he’s done and the challenges he’s overcome. I was really impressed with how well he presented, he definitely had the most polished talk out of everyone I saw at the show. 

Deano’s video of him speed flying is inspirational. 

One of the other highlights of the day was a talk by Sean Conway on #FindYourBeard which was both inspirational and entertaining.

For some time I’ve had a bit of a pipe-dream of going on a ski touring/splitboarding trip to Iran. I went and tried to speak to a few stalls who said they operated in Iran, however I was really disappointed by the combination of their total lack of interest in talking to me about the country, what they could offer, getting around the country, or anything to do with snow sports. I guess it may be best to try and go down a different route when trying to plan my trip.

Overall I got a huge amount out of the day, and learnt a lot. I bought a book on overland adventure planning as food-for-thought, I joined the Yes Tribe for further inspiration and future adventures, and I was inspired by all the presenters and panelists to keep on pushing mini-adventurers now whilst preparing for some major adventures in the future!


Banff Film Fest. Tickets

Every year for the past few years I’ve been to the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s showings in London, and this year will be no different. Banff Mountain Film Festival claims to be the outdoor industry’s most prestigious mountain film festival, and it’s probably justified in that claim. The festival started in Alberta, Canada in 1976 and is a competition (and presentation) of short films and documentaries about mountain culture, sports and environments.

The festival itself is held in Autumn and then a selection of the best films goes on tour around the world, visiting approximately 305 cities in 20 countries. This year (2016) the tour is coming to the UK January-May and has showings in London in Angel during March. The showings are held in the Union Chapel, a church in Angel that’s an award winning venue. There’s something quite nice about being welcomed into a venue that’s a bit different with a few free Clif bars and some competitions to enter before sitting down to watch some amazing people do some pretty awe-inspiring stuff. There’s normally competitions to win prizes from the sponsors, this year the tour is presented by Cotsworld Outdoor and Keen with partners including Osprey, Buff and JetBoil you can be sure there’ll be some good stuff up for grabs.

There are two programmes of films, a Red and a Blue (occasionally there’s a bonus Green too). I try to see them all each year and I’ve never regretted a trip. This year the Red programme is packed full of films that sound great, including ones about climbing, ultramarathons, female skiing, wild horses and dogs. There’s also a mountain bike segment from UnReal, which you may have seen at the Adventure Film Festival which was on in Whitechapel a few months ago. I’m really excited about the Red programme. The Blue programme includes one of my favourite films of the year; Eclipse, about a photographer called Reuben Krabbe trying to capture the perfect picture of a skiier during the 2015 solar eclipse. The Blue programme also features one of the films I’m most excited to see in this year’s line-up; 55 Hours in Mexico, which is all about weekend worriers (people that work in office jobs but try to go on adventures over the weekend) going on a trip to Mexico to climb and ski the continent’s highest volcano during a weekend.

If you want to buy tickets to this year’s tour they’re onsale now on the Banf Moutain Film Festival UK website, I’d really recommend booking tickets, it’s always a great evening.

2016 Begins!

2016 has begun and I decided to kick it off with a bouldering session at The Arch North in Burnt Oak. Read more about bouldering in London on the activity page here. This centre opened in September 2015 and it’s only the second time I’ve visited. It was blissfully quiet and we had all the time and space we wanted as we struggled to haul our holiday season bellies up the walls. We even had enough space to try out some interesting dismounts on the rings.

The Arch North The Arch North The Arch North The Arch North