June Challenge #1 - Tackle Another SwimTrek

Day one, and if I look apprehensive, it's because I am.

Firstly, I'm the only one swimming in a wetsuit.

Secondly, my injured shoulder hasn't fully healed and swims over 1km hurt.

But mainly because I'm read the bios of the other swimmers on this SwimTrek.  Oh boy.

Most had been swimming competitively for well over twenty years; one was hand-picked at 5 for special development squad; another played serious-level water-polo for twenty years; oh yes, and one has swam the English Channel.  Twice.  Once doing butterfly stroke.

On our first SwimTrek, Liz was at the slow end of the lead group and I was at the top of the mid-group.  Most people wore wetsuits.  Here, we're also-rans.  Hence that face.

However, I need not have worried.  Out of the water there was no hierarchy and everyone got along like old friends, with lots of friendly banter and fun.  My self-appointed role was to take photos, and once the team saw they were reasonable shots, most happily complied.

On the water Coll and Eoin successfully managed the groups despite the vast speed differences.

Our first SwimTrek last year was OK, but not great.  There were too many coastal swims from random point a to random point B with no real journey or reason for the swim.  A holiday sold as being a series of crossings delivered just one crossing. But we asked around at the time and everyone said, "Go to Montenegro" - so we did.

We flew to Croatia (Dubrovnik) four days early and acclimatised in the warm water around the town of Cavtat.  There's lots of boat traffic, but the swimming around the headlands is safe, provided you don't stand on a sea-urchin.  Cavtat is better than crowded over-priced, tourist-trap, cruise-ship-hell of Dubrovnik, which can easily be visited by bus or regular taxi boat.  It gave me a chance to swim almost daily and get my shoulder working properly in the warm water.

The two-hour transfer to Perast in Montenegro was simple to arrange (€50 for 2) and took about 2 hours.  Perast is crowded, stuffed with restaurants and places to stay, but relatively small so it retains a nice vibe.  The Mirshe Palace - not a hotel but a lovely house where Grandma and Migi run everything - is a lovely place to stay.  The Bay of Kotor - find it on Google and you'll see how amazing it looks - is largely a UNESCO site.

The swims are utterly superb.  Each has a story behind it - a crossing, a circumnavigation - whatever.  They are varied and each is different.  We even took a 2 hour coach trip to Montenegros biggest lake for an island-crossing swim followed by a swim down a river.  With lilly-pads and the local equivalent of mangrove, it felt like Vietnam.  It featured heavily in a wee video I made for our group.

We had almost two days back in Cavtat at the end by which time my dodgy shoulder had improved so much I managed a 4.5km swim, something I couldn't have contemplated at the start.

The best thing for swimming is swimming.  We'll definitely go with SwimTrek again.  If you're contemplating such a holiday, Montenegro is highly recommended.

Don't Buy Winter Swim Socks Until You Can Get These

The Tri-X swim gloves have been my favourite for winter swimming for several years.

Now the team at Lomo are making swim socks.  I have tested samples and they're every bit as good as the gloves.

The production versions might be several months away, but Lomo will put them on their website as soon as they arrive (so please don't email asking when they'll be in stock).

Hopefully, they'll be for sale before next winter.

I'm writing this now because, if you're planning ahead and thinking of buying some new socks now, it might be worth waiting.

They are different to the Lomo Surf Socks because the samples have a cuff around the top.

So what are they like?  I suspect they'll be sold as 3mm neoprene, which is fine for a sock given that your blood will retreat to your core in cold weather.  I put a micrometre on my pair, double thickness, and it measured closer to 5mm, so perhaps not quite 3mm?

The sole is thin - which is a GOOD thing for swimming.  However, it will easily tear if you walk on sharp pebbles and shells, or run into T1 in a cold-water triathlon.  Wear Crocs or aqua shoes to the walk to the shore.

The ankle cuff is what distinguishes them from the surf sock.  It's not as tight as the wrist cuff on the gloves.  It couldn't be, or no-one would be able to squeeze their feet in.

Despite this, they didn't flush through with cold water when swimming or mucking about with my camera.  Makes sure your wetsuit legs come outside the socks - obviously.

In short- I like them and will buy a pair for Liz as soon as they become available.  I didn't test them on a particularly cold day, but they felt as warm as the rest of my excellent Thermal Helix by BlueSeventy.

May Challenge #2 - Charity (Video) Work

I started this particular challenge earlier in the year.  Now seems an appropriate time to explain it in more detail.

Last year I helped organise and photograph a few local charity swims. This year we put the organisation on a formal footing and registered as a charity.  I'm one of the five trustees.

You can read about the swims we're running at HighlandOpenwaterSwim.com and on Facebook.

As (bad) luck would have it, the best weekends for our swims are also weekends when I'm already committed to filming work for The Adventure Show or I am out of Scotland on holiday or business.  Consequently, I'll miss most of this years swims.

I did manage to attend our swim across the Sound of Mull last weekend, so I used it as the basis for our promotional video.  Soon it'll find its way onto our website, but until it does you can take a look here.

May Challenge #1 - Attempt a Craft

When I told friends we were heading back to the Isle of Muck, one of our favourite places on Scotland's west coast, they assumed we'd be kayaking, swimming or running around the island.

"We're doing a two-day basket making course", I explained.  I was greeted by stunned silence.

Basket making was never on my bucket list, but my #yr60 campaign is more subtle than that.

It's about doing things I'd never got around to doing - for whatever reason.  Crafts are really not my thing, but I suspected basic basket making might be more about knowledge and experience - time actually doing the thing - rather than specific skills.  Turns out it was great fun, in good company, with great food, in an idyllic location.

Cyclists Visiting the Dordogne

Cyclists heading to the Dordogne, looking for good routes to ride, could do a lot worse than hooking up with The Dordogne Cyclist via his Facebook page.

Over 9,000 sq km in size, Dordogne is a big Department, and very popular with British visitors.

It does, however, have at least one quiet corner which I've marked on the map alongside.  This is Perigord Vert, so called because of the trees and lush fields.

It's great for cycling.  There are no massive climbs, sweeping vistas, or huge tourist attractions.  Those might sound like negatives but the locals love it that way, because it means the roads are amazingly quiet.

April Challenge #2 - Ride with my Best Friends in France

Good friends are hard to find and, arguably, harder keep.  This challenge has been about the latter. 

I've been friends with the bloke in the orange shirt for 33 years.  Last year he sold his business and moved to a quiet part of the Dordogne with his wife and dogs.

We waited until they were settled (and had the house live-able) and then decided - now is the time to visit.

It's too easy to procrastinate, to put off visiting friends for a few months which easily drift into years.  None of us know how long we can keep doing that.  

So while we were visiting London, we left our wee dog Maggie with Liz's family, hopped a cheap-ish EasyJet to Bordeaux and here we are.  The photo was taken in PiĆ©gut just before one of their local French cycling club outings.  It's a multi-cultural affair with French, Belgian, Portuguese and British languages circulating through the peloton. 

The temperature topped 35C and it felt fantastic to roll along on almost traffic-free French roads.  It's a far cry from our early cycling days, thrashing around on mountain bikes with my mate in Northumberland and Scotland.  And yes, we do know exactly how lucky we are to have our health, time and just enough money to enjoy it.

Routes for Cyclists Visiting London Area, plus Drop-In Club Rides

Walking into The Dynamo cyclist cafe in Putney early last Sunday morning I saw tow folks sitting at a table, and couldn't resist.

"Is this the right place for a Dirty Weekend?" I asked.  "Er, ride that is".

Within twenty minutes the place was heaving with about forty riders.  We split into three groups, each doing rides of slightly different lengths and speeds but meeting for coffee, then saddled up for the lanes and hills of Surrey.

In my previous post I mentioned I'd ridden Box Hill.  On previous visits to family in Richmond - and we come twice a year - I've rarely ridden outside Richmond Park.  The reason was simple.  I didn't know where to go.