September Challenge #1 - Swim (in) The Sound Of Harris

Last December when I wrote about my plans to tackle a 'special' challenge each month in my 60th year, I listed swimming The Sound of Harris as a possibility.

We came close.  We swam IN the Sound of Harris. yeah, OK - not close at all.

I was nowhere near swim-fit enough to manage the crossing and I hadn't put enough effort into finding a support boat.

Swimming a big crossing is not something you do on a whim.  It takes planning and training.

We'd been staying on Benbecula to film The Heb adventure race for The Adventure Show.  It'll probably be on BBC-2 Scotland early in 2019.

We stayed an extra few days to walk and swim off the Uists and Berneray.  It felt particularly poignant to take this photo.  The white building is the Gatliff Trust Hostel where I stayed thirty-one years ago on my first visit to the islands.

When I had hair...
I wrote a piece about cycling the Outer Hebrides, a relatively rare occurrence back then, and the story appeared in The Sunday Times the year.  It ran in May 1998 with a photo of me and my then wife outside the hostel.  I later learnt that copies of the article were pinned up in some of the tourist information offices along the route.

I've since been back to the island kayaking and now swimming.  I suspect that wee white building will long outlast me.  Perhaps one day I'll actually swim across the Sound of Harris from it.

Skyak No More. Goodbye To The Broons.

It is the end of an era for Scottish sea kayaking with the departure from these shores of the country's best known coach.

Morag, Eilidh, Gordon and Iain Brown have emigrated to Canada.

They're setting up home on Vancouver Island, another superb sea kayak destination.  So as you might imagine, paddling remains Gordon's focus.

He also has a new book coming out with our existing publisher, Pesda Press - more details when I get them.

We all recently went out for dinner in Broadford and, although we hadn't seen each other for ages, it was a great night.  Their house on Skye is up for sale along with the separate 'school' building that would make an excellent studio or gallery.

The three coaching films I made with him, the Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown series, continue to sell well mainly downloads rather than DVDs now.  So what about Volume 4 in the series of films?  Will it be shot in Canada?

"Funny you should ask", Gordon said just before we said goodbye, "I have a few ideas..."  We're not done yet.

August Challenge #2; Complete A Cycling FTP Test

That's Functional Threshold Power if you're wondering.  One of the many metrics cyclists like, but one I'd previously ignored.

While training for my Ironman and half-Ironman races, my coach steered me away from FTP tests.  He felt they just tested how good you were becoming at doing an FTP test.

Coach Joe Beer felt the ramp test I regularly performed gave him a better metric from which to advise the power output at which I should ride events of different durations.  He was always spot-on.

August Challenge #1: Swim Bowfiddle Rock

I've kayaked it.  I've shot a TV piece about kayaking around it.  So ever since a friend commented on this blog and suggested we swim it, Bowfiddle Rock was scheduled for August.

Except we swam it on the last day of July.

Still, I'm counting it as an August challenge completed.

Access is easy down a reasonably steep slope from the houses above.  The rock is signposted from the centre of Portknockie.

When we arrived a local was cutting his grass, so I asked permission to park on the street in front of his garden.  I later saw that mini-busses from a local outdoor centre parked on the grass just a little further along the road.

July Challenge #2 - Swim the Gulf of Corryvreckan with Dolphins.

Photo: Ellen Taylor
Everyone who messes about in boats or kayaks
on Scotland's west coast knows this infamous stretch of water.

The tide pours through the narrow gap between the islands of Jura and Scarba, and the seabed topography produces what's said to be the world's third largest whirlpool.

The photos of it are fearsome, and one glance at the photo below shows why.

Of course, it is not always like that.

At slack water, when the tide is turning, things go quiet.  [If you find this interesting/useful please click a few ads - thank you]

Or rather, relatively quiet, and only briefly.  That's when people typically kayak through.  Or in our case, swim.  From Jura to Scarba.

July Challenge #1 - Get Broadcast Video & Audio Filming Bike-to-Bike

This little camera rig allowed me to get shots I'd previously been unable to achieve.

July is frequently a busy working month for me.  Many events that are covered by The Adventure Show take place in this month, so I knew there wouldn't be much time for my own personal challenges.

There is a big one coming this week- more about that when/if I complete it.

Towards the end of last month I filmed Ride to the Sun and came up with a great way to shoot one of our presenters bike-to-bike.

Previously I've held a small Sony camera, but the sound wasn't great and the shots were liable to wobble.

Using the GoPro wrist mount with the GoPro Hero 5 attached allowed me to keep my hands on the handlebars until needed (safer), then because my arm was at full reach when taking the shot it acted like a counterbalance, soaking up any bumps and vibration from the road.  The audio from the GoPro 5 wasn't great, but I was pleased with the footage.

June Challenge #2 - Donate Body to Anatomy Department

While working for the BBC, I filmed in the dissection room at Dundee University.

The boss, Professor Dame Sue Black, wanted to go on television to appeal for more people to leave their bodies to anatomy departments.

The doctors, anatomists, surgeons (and more) of tomorrow learn most from human cadavers.

We expressly did not record pictures of bodies.  We focused on the students doing their work.

It made a big impression on me,and I must have spoken about it quite a lot because, years later, I discovered it made an equal impression on Liz.  In particular, I was impressed by the respect shown to the ex-humans, for whom they hold a group memorial service to which relatives are invited.  Students almost always attend too.

I've always carried a donor card.  When I die, the nearest transplant team can have first call on any organs.  But as I approach my 60th birthday I have to be realistic - they might not want my bits!

However, my body and that of Liz, might still help someone learn a little more about what goes on inside a human.  So six months ago, I telephoned the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee and asked to be sent two sets of bequest forms.

Then we paused.  This is not something to rush.  On and off, Liz and I talked about it, during drives, over dinner, whenever.  Then we read a book.

All That Remains is written by Sue Black and is an absolutely fabulous book.  It's about death, based on which Professor Black has made a fascinating career.  Few people have been on such nodding terms with the grim reaper.

Her book answered many of our outstanding questions and more we hadn't even considered.  For example, we know for sure we wouldn't want to be part of the USA style 'fresh/frozen' approach, where universities can order 4 legs and a couple of arms.  Where's the dignity in that?

Since I filmed at Dundee, the centre has pioneered a new form of preserving a cadaver that makes the flesh more realistic.  The old approach, preserving in formalin, left the bodies looking and feeling like air-dried tuna.  The new method is the one we would prefer.

So Liz and I signed the forms with witnesses and sent them back.  I also dropped a line to Professor Sue Black to explain this background and to thank her for writing such a good book.

Oh, and to hope it's a long, long time before I meet her students again.