Sunday, 28 April 2013

Looking back, moving forward

So after you have returned to the real world, unpacked, sorted the pile of dirty laundry and waded through the many photos of your travels (ok, so technically I'm still doing this, but 3000 photos are a lot to get through!), what comes next? Why, planning the next trip of course! My adventures in New Zealand were very much a 'highlights' tour, and there are many places I'd like to go back to, plus visit a few places we missed - and that's just on the South Island! So, here is what I'll be looking to do on my next trip to New Zealand, along with a few tips and recommendations for places to go and things to do...

Marlborough Sounds - like many visitors to the South Island, our experience of the Marlborough Sounds was limited to the ferry ride into Picton and travelling along the Queen Charlotte's Drive. But the glimpses of hidden inlets, golden beaches and lush, forested hills has put it firmly in my top 10 of places to go and explore properly. Our of season, the Queen Charlotte track is open for mountain biking - and with the lack of crowds that flock to Abel Tasman, what are you waiting for?
Nelson Lakes National Park - definitely one of the remoter parts of the South Island - head here for some solitude and a good old tramp!
Golden Bay - a place to relax, take life easy and escape from the world for a few days
Arthur's Pass - the TranzAlpine train journey is supposed to be one of the most spectacular in the world, but sadly we didn't have time to fit it in. Though if the weather was good, I'd also want to take in the views from the summit of Avalanche Peak
The mountains - ok, that's a bit generic, but I'm a mountain girl at heart and boy, did we drive through a lot of mountains... The beautiful drive through Mt Aspiring national park, and our all-too-brief time round Mt Cook reminded me of alpine adventures and the magnificent views you get from mountain summits - I was down in the valleys but longed to be on top of the mountains.

And places not to return to?  Well, we didn't feel our heartstrings tugging when we left behind the grey gloom of Bluff and Invercargil...but perhaps we were just there on a bad day.

Don't miss!

In no particular order, my top 10 Trip highlights:
  1. Swimming with dolphins in the Catlins
  2. Trekking the Routeburn - great track, fantastic views
  3. Floating through pitch-black caves with thousands of glow worms overhead with Underworld adventures
  4. Golden Bay - the wild expanse of Wharaiki beach with its nursery pool of baby fur seals, followed by the tranquility of Shambhala and the nearby, lively Mussel Inn
  5. Sunrise over Milford Sound
  6. Sea kayaking round Abel Tasman National Park
  7. Swimming in Scorcher Bay followed by great coffee and lunch at Scorch-O-Rama
  8. The West Coast - desolate, beautiful beaches, weird rocks and tongues of ice- trapped between the mountains and the sea, this is one place I would definitely like to explore more
  9. Mt Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo - beautiful moutains, stargazing and hot pools - what more could you want?
  10. Wine tasting in Marlborough country

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Port and Stilton Truffles

Paul A Young is rather a hero of mine, and one of my ultimate indulgences is to treat myself to a few of his chocolates.  After seeing him in action at the Feast of St George yesterday, I felt inspired to dig out the monster bag of chocolate couverture that has been lurking in my cupboard, and get creative.  In homage to the master, I decided to make some port and stilton truffles, which had the added benefit of giving me an excuse to go and buy a bottle of port...  They turned out rather scrummy, even if I do say so myself!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Psyche...and chocolate cake

There is a boulder problem which is part of the current green circuit at the Arch climbing wall which I desperately want to get up.  So far I have inched my way closer and closer, and there is now only one more hard move to conquer, before linking it all together and going for glory.  Yesterday I had planned to only have a short training session at the wall, but the problem drew me in, calling to me to try it just once more, following my failures on it last week.  Perhaps this time, it seemed to say, it will be different.  

I fell rarely work on projects at the bouldering wall, generally preferring to give a problem a few decent attempts then move on. But every now and then I get sucked into a problem - usually a problem I can't quite get, but which seems that may, with a bit more effort and strength, be doable.  And then I get psyched.

One of the key ways of identifying a group of climbers in the pub - other than the random waving of hands that reenacts their current project - is the overuse of the word 'psyche' in conversation.  It is a sin I am as guilty of as any, and possibly stems from watching too many American climbing films, where the terms 'dude', 'rad' and 'send it' are also commonplace.  But what actually is psyche?  A quick Google search yields various definitions, none of which seem to wholly encapsulate that amazing feeling you get when you're truly psyched for something.  Psyche is the drive to try a problem again and again, even when you fail, because you know that one time you will succeed.  Psyche is pushing yourself up the hill circuits because you know that someday they will help you win that race.  Psyche is walking past the cheesecake in the supermarket - and the wine section.  Psyche is what will make you achieve what you want to achieve, and is often what separates the top athletes from the rest of us.

Psyche can also make you fail, by pushing yourself beyond what your body can physically take.  It can make you ignore that nagging voice in your head that tells you that you are pulling too hard on that tiny hold, that you are running down that steep rocky slope a bit too fast, until it is too late and you are left cursing that tweaked pulley or twisted ankle.  But for most of us it is a lack of psyche, rather than too much, that holds us back.

So, how do you get hold of this mysterious nonentity?  Well, I am far from an expert - I guess I spend around 60% of my training time in a definite low-psyche state.  But from experience, there are a few things that make all the difference to me:

Have a goal
If you have nothing to train for, you have nothing to get psyched for.  Whether it's to climb a particular route or boulder problem, to run a marathon PB or to increase your orienteering ranking points, if you have something you want to achieve, it makes it so much easier to train and try hard.  If your goal is long term, then perhaps set smaller goals to keep you motivated along the way. Succeeding at these will feed your psyche.

Train with positive, psyched people
Some people are naturally full of psyche - the type of people who have boundless energy and enthusiasm, who try and again and again, and are the first to encourage those around them.  Other people are natural mood-hoovers - they suck the life and soul out of a party, and completely drain your psyche.  If you train with a group of really motivated people you're pretty much guaranteed to pull harder, run faster and get one step closer to your goal.  If you hang around with mood-hoovers you're on the slippery slope down to failure...  That said, if you are one of life's natural mood hoovers it  isn't all over - tell yourself to have a positive attitude, find a super-psyched group of people and feed off them!  Before you know if you'll be feeling positively cheerful.

Eat well, sleep well
It's stating the obvious, but if you're properly fueled with food and rest, you're more likely to perform better than if you were up until 2am drinking, and breakfast consisted of a couple of doughnuts.  Some of the UK's best climbers seem to have been exceptions to this rule, but I'm not sure this necessarily endorses this lifestyle approach as a route to success!

Train, even if you don't feel like training
Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes I go to the wall feeling knackered and demotivated, I fail on a few easy problems and decide to call it a night.  Other times, I go feeling like I'm going to have a rubbish session, get stuck into a problem and end up feeling super-psyched.  The same applies to running.  You don't lose anything from trying, and even if you stagger round for half an hour, you at least feel like you've earned the chocolate cake your self-indulgent, depressed inner-self demands afterwards.

For those with the dedication and self-discipline (both of which I lack) to create and develop their own psyche - to push themselves when training on their own, in the snow and the rain, I take my stripey, pom-pom decorated hat off to you.  The person who encapsulates this most to me is Dave MacLeod, whose levels of dedication to training are only exceeded by his self-discipline - check out his cheesecake blog on resisting temptation!

Sadly, I do not have Dave's self-discipline, and temptation just has to raise its head and I jump on it.  Which is why this evening, my resolve of reducing my cake and pudding intake has failed after just two days and I have been baking.  I could try and justify this by stating that I did go for a run this morning, or that the drinks I had planned for tonight were cancelled, so I am only eating the calories I would otherwise have consumed in wine....but the reality is I was just too tempted by the yummy looking chocolate cake recipe on Ruth Clemens's The Pink Whisk blog.  Which is, incidentally, delicious.  This is why I will always be an average, and never a great climber or orienteer.  But at least I can have my cake - and eat it too.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


One of life's small (and relatively insignificant mysteries) that never fails to amaze me, is the temperature control - or lack of - on our train system.  I'm not even referring to the sweaty and suffocating depths of the London Underground, much bemoaned by London commuters, but to our overground trains.  As a relatively sensible and practical person, I try to dress for the weather - so if it's cold, I wrap up warm, and if we ever get a proper summer, I will dig out my lighter, thinner layers.  Whilst I appreciate the train company's efforts to give us a nice warm ride to work, I also expect them to realise that in cold weather, people will generally be wrapped up warm and therefore may not totally appreciate the train carriages being turned into mobile saunas.

Personally, I have a nice technique for warming myself up prior to my morning train ride, commonly known as the 'oh-crap-I'm-late' run to the station.  Those of you who fall into the 'smug-left-plenty-of-time' camp, will never truly understand how one minute, you have all the time in the world, and the next you're flying out the door, bag in hand, racing to catch the train that is due to depart in three minutes time.  If I had time to stroll to the station, casually stop for a skinny latte en route and still arrive two minutes early, I have obviously been wasting valuable time when I could have been productively loading the dishwasher or hanging out washing.

Once I've jumped onto the train seconds before the doors shut, I tend to divest myself of a layer or two, whilst trying to not to elbow any of my fellow commuters in the face.  This, I feel, should allow my body to regain a nice equilibrium with the temperature of the train carriage.  Unfortunately, all too often I get to the point where I've removed both coats, hat, gloves and scarf and I am still overheating.  Take any more clothes off and I would be subjecting unsuspecting travellers to an unacceptable amount of naked flesh.  I mean, you can get arrested for that kind of thing. 

Presuming you are not one of the unlucky people squashed up against the door, you then have the choice of trying to catch the attention of one of the long-distance commuters who have got a seat (and are generally plugged into their music player and firmly refusing to catch anyone's eye) to ask them to open a window, or suffer in silence.  Generally I opt for the latter and focus my attention on not fainting until the train gets into London Bridge and the carriages empty.  And for the pleasure of this experience, I get to pay ever increasing fares.

Of course, what I should be doing is rescuing my bike from its cold, outdoor home and getting a bit of exercise whilst cycling to work, but personally I'm rather a fair weather cyclist and sub-zero temperatures and bitter easterlies don't do it for me.  So, next time the heating goes into overdrive on the 8.03, I apologise to the unfortunate person who may have to deal with a fainting woman - it was that, or get the bikini out.