Explore Sweden 2009

As soon as I heard about Explore Sweden I knew it was a race I had to do at some point. Race Director Mikael Nordstrom has a great reputation for organising exciting, adventurous and interesting courses with one of his last offerings, the 2006 AR World Championships, being hailed by great racers such as Ian Adamson as the greatest race course of all time. With this near guarantee of quality, we knew that travelling all the way to Sweden would at least give us a great race experience regardless of our performance.

Over the months leading up to the race we changed team members a few times and lost our main sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management. Thankfully we got a settled team together and some help from interim sponsor Helly Hansen, however, it was still a tough call for me to commit to such a huge race and financial commitment with current personal circumstances. However, the opportunity was too good to miss and my chances of getting away to major expedition races in the next 4 years look to be few and far between so this was a last chance to lay it all on the line.

It was everything it was billed to be and the only thing I could say it was lacking was technical mountain biking. We spent a long time on roads and gravel tracks but a tiny amount of time on technically challenging and fun mountain biking. This was made up for though by the awesome variety of activities we completed including some exposed mountaineering, whitewater rafting on a grade 4 river, white water kayaking on a grade 3 river, canadian canoeing on a grade 2 river and a lot of inline skating! I’ve written a full race report that will be published in either the UK Adventure Sports Magazine or Sleepmonsters, I’ll post it here too when I know.

The final rafting section. 6km on flatwater!
The final rafting section. 6km on flatwater!

The race went pretty well for us and my only personal problems were my feet blisters sustained on the 60km mountaineering section and a bit of overheating on the same section. I did fall asleep a bit dramatically and get a serious dose of the sleepmonsters on the long 270km bike leg. I was seeing all sorts of safari animals, though was lucid enough to tell teammate Bruce Duncan that I realised he probably couldn’t see them. Still, didn’t stop me ‘sprinting’ when he shouted that they were charging after us! We finished 8th in the end and were satisfied with this. We lost maybe 4 or 5 hours on the inline skating compared to the Scandinavian teams ahead of us, so potentially we could have been nearer the top 5, but for now it just gives us another discipline to work on and bring up to par with the rest.

Helly Hansen UK at the Finish Line
Helly Hansen UK at the Finish Line

It sure as hell was fun and I did what I went there to do – give it my all. It was hard work and very painful at times and 2 weeks later I’m still suffering with tendonitis and am on antibiotics for infected blisters and a haematoma I developed, but that’s what adventure racing is about for me – seeing how much I can push my body and mind through and this time it was pretty far!

Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Waterproof 0.7

Summary: Well priced kit with most essentials
Price: £28
Value: 7/10
Performance: 7/10
  • Designed for adventure sports particularly those involving water
  • Swift wrap elastic bandage with Velcro closure
  • Moleskin dressing for preventing and treating blisters
  • Trauma pad and compression bandage for bleeding
  • Medication for diarrhoea, inflammation, allergic reactions, bee stings and insect bites
  • Wound irrigation system to clean and close wounds
  • It seems a little strange reviewing something that I would hope to never use, a bit like an avalanche transceiver or the safety rope on an abseil. Inevitably though we will all need a first aid kit at some point and of course it is more often than not mandatory kit in an adventure race. Besides the obligation to carry it during a race it is common sense to carry one whenever out on the hills and Adventure Medical Kits are designed specifically for that purpose.

    Adventure Medical Kits have been designed by an Emergency room doctor and active outdoorsman. They are used by some of the top AR teams in the world and come in a range of sizes for every length of race from sprint to expedition.

    The Ultralight 0.7 (it’s weight in ounces) is designed as a bare minimum “ultra lightweight” first aid kit for 2 people for trips of up to 4 days. However, this could easily be stretched to fit use in a team expedition race and its light enough that it would be fine to carry on an Open 24 or Rat Race.

    The kit is contained within two inner bags featuring a ‘leak proof, waterproof and airtight seal’, which I found did not always seal 100% without a lot of fiddling and I could not ever trust the seal to remain closed, despite claims to be tested and approved by the US Navy; I kept it inside another dry bag just in case.

    With no standard first aid kit for adventure races, I had to tailor it for every race, adding and removing items as determined by rules and common sense. The current version in the shops seems to have an altered content list to the test kit so it is worth double checking the contents match your requirements. The U.S. version of this kit comes with ibuprofen, antihistamine, and antibiotics but not in the U.K. You will probably want to bolster the contents with some pain relief medication, more effective blister protection materials, and Loperamide as determined by your race’s mandatory kit list or your own sensibilities.

    Most racers’ first aid kits are cobbled together from bits and pieces acquired over time, but if you are starting from scratch or want to be sure your adhesive dressings are still sticky and sterile when you need them, then it is worth checking out the AMK Ultralight range. They produce the 0.3 and 0.9 kits with less or more contents depending on your group size and trip length. The 0.9 kit has been popular with teams competing in Primal Quest, Raid Gauloises and Eco Challenges and contains a few extra items sure to be needed on an expedition race at some point.

    The most important piece of medical kit you could have with you in a race is knowledge and Adventure Medical Kits acknowledge the necessity of sound advice by publishing a free ebook called ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Wilderness and Travel Medicine’ which you can download here: http://www.adventuremedicalkits.com/documents/Comprehenive%20Guide%20Wilderness.pdf

    The AMK Ultralight and Waterproof 0.7 kit currently contains the following items:

    Bandage Materials
    2 Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 3″ x 3″, Pkg./2
    2 Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 2″ x 2″, Pkg./2
    3 Bandage, Butterfly Closure
    1 Bandage, Conforming Gauze, 3″
    4 Bandage, Adhesive, Fabric, 1″ x 3″
    2 Dressing, Non-Adherent, Sterile, 3″ x 4″
    3 Bandage, Adhesive, Fabric, Knuckle

    1 Gloves, Nitrile (Pair), Hand Wipe

    Blister / Burn
    11 Moleskin, Pre-Cut & Shaped

    Duct Tape
    1 Duct Tape, 2″ x 100″

    Fracture / Sprain
    1 Bandage, Elastic with Velcro, 2″

    1 Splinter Picker/Tick Remover Forceps
    3 Safety Pins

    2 After Bite Wipe

    2 Aloksak Waterproof Bag, 6.75″ X 6″

    Wound Care
    1 Tape, 1″ x 10 Yards
    1 Tincture of Benzoin Topical Adhesive,

    5 After Cuts & Scrapes Anaesthetic/Antiseptic Wipe

    For more details please visit: http://www.adventuremedicalkits.com

    Bridgedale X Hale Trailhead Socks

    Summary: Comfortable and durable, about all you need in a sock
    Price: £12
    Value: 6/10
    Performance: 7/10
  • Ankle sock with targeted impact padding and ventilation areas,
  • T2 anti-compression loop,
  • Mesh surround areas,
  • WoolFusion fibres.
  • 41% polyamide, 29% merino wool, 29% polypropylene, 1% Lycra.
  • As part of their Fast and Light range, Bridgedale’s X-Hale Trailhead sock is designed to be worn with lighter, more breathable footwear in warmer conditions and during high intensity activity. Essentially they are designed to be worn with lighter, lower height footwear like trail running shoes and for adventure racing type activities.

    It can be hard to get too excited about socks; most people just find ones that work without giving blisters and swear by them. Getting geeky about bikes and kayaks seems to be acceptable but talking about socks in extreme detail can raise a few eyebrows!

    Well, I’m going to have a go…I have been a long time fan of merino wool socks and have not used synthetic socks for years, so when these arrived I was sceptical that they would win me over, but reading the materials list I was surprised to see they contain 27% merino wool. Merino wool is great for keeping you warm when it is cool out, cool when it is warm out and has the supreme talent of being naturally anti-bacterial so does not allow bacteria to breed, hence merino fibres do not get smelly. Merino though is not that durable when it comes to high friction applications like socks, so the main construction is from a nylon and polypropylene mix with Lycra to give it all a nice snug fit.

    The Trailhead has ‘T2’ dual cushioned thick loops in the heel and ball of the foot, the areas where you need it most, and has a thinner more ventilated layup in areas where you do not need the cushioning. After a year of near daily use the cushioned sections are not quite as sprightly as they used to be, but still do the job and are standing up far better than my other merino socks – the strength of the nylon gives them durability, though they do get a bit smellier than socks with a higher merino content.

    I have used these for epic runs and expedition races and cannot really remember much in the way of blisters, so that is a tick in that box. They kept my feet mostly cool and they are still going strong after a hard year so double tick there. The price is maybe a little steep at £12 but you can find them cheaper if you shop around and bearing in mind the weaving technology involved in making them and the durability, then it is probably a fair price really.

    For more details please visit: http://www.bridgedale.com

    Battered and bruised

    A weekend in the Lakes can be a bruising and bloody affair at times!

    A blast at Whinlatter Forest on Sunday in the glorious sunshine was a great experience until near the end of the lap. I’d been enjoying a fantastic ride with my dogs, doing a bit of yoga on the way and taking in the views until I smacked my foot with an almighty whack off a trailside rock and the pics below do the rest of the talking…

    ouch 2
    Ouch 2!

    Victorinox Swiss Champ

    Summary: Highly featured, superb quality multi tool
    Price: £50
    Value: 8/10
    Performance: 8/10
    • Classic design
    • Swiss precision multi tool
    • 33 stainless steel tools
    • High quality construction
    • Lifetime guarantee
    When I was a child in the Scouts, we would play games of Top Trumps with Swiss Army Knifes, constantly trying to out do each other by revealing some tool from the belly of our knife that supposedly more niche and of higher value than our friends. The bigger the knife, the more tools it contained and the more creative the imagination would have to get to define exactly what some of them were used for. Horse hoof stone picker…or parcel hook? Nut cracker or wrench? Small spike for making tiny holes in windscreen washer jets or…oh that’s what it is for!

    Thankfully, the Swiss Champ Knife, the one I dreamed of owning as a boy, came with a universal picture manual to show exactly what each of the 33 tools were for. Of course, there are many of them that I would not dream of ever actually using, but is that really the point of this knife? The Swiss Army are, after all, issued with a knife with only 6 features. Top Trumps to me!

    The tools are all made from stainless steel and are of the highest quality, still being manufactured in Switzerland since 1884. Using some of the tools to prise and bend puts a lot of torsional force on the main body which would cause less well constructed tools (like you get in the local market) to split open. Not a hint of it with the Swiss Champ, it is rock solid and shows no signs of the hinges loosening. This particular model is the most well equipped model in the range and has become such a classic item of design that it appears in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

    A knife is often on the kit list for expedition races, but this would simply be overkill to carry with you, it is heavy and at what point in the race will you need the corkscrew anyway? It is one for the transition box though, and worth having. The tweezers alone could be a saviour to remove annoying thorns and a support crew could find a good use for the can and bottle openers.

    While it is certainly not a necessity for adventure racing, it is a really nice tool to own and with a lifetime guarantee it should be a purchase for life.

    Here is the tool list in it’s entirety:
    Large blade, Small blade, Corkscrew, Can opener, Cap lifter, Screwdriver, Wire stripper, Reamer, Punch, Key ring, Tweezers, Toothpick, Scissors, Multi-purpose hook, Wood saw, Fishscaler, Hook disgorger, Ruler, Nailfile, Metal file, Nail cleaner, Metal saw, Fine screwdriver, Chisel, Pliers, Wire cutters, Wire crimper, Phillips screwdriver, Magnifying glass, Ballpoint pen, Pin, Mini-screwdriver (patented)For more details please visit: http://www.victorinox.com

    Hippety Hippety Hop

    Danny MacAskill burst onto the mountain bike trials scene a few years ago with some homemade videos appearing on youtube and a wee stint on BBC Scotland’s Adventure Show. He was going places then and if he isn’t signed up by some mega sponsor after this latest video then he never will. This video is one of the most amazing bits of moving image I’ve ever seen.

    He’s totally dedicated, committed and shows what can be achieved when you really set your mind to achieving your dreams. He’s also a pretty nice guy.


    Giant Anthem First Impressions

    Although, we’re lucky enough as a team to have a sponsorship deal with Marin, we’ve had the bad news that the much anticipated Alchemist short travel full suss has been delayed until probably September 2009. In the meantime I’ve been busy on eBay and found a bargain Giant Anthem frame and here’s it’s first pic below.

    Giant Anthem Side Shot
    Giant Anthem Side Shot

    It had its first decent ride last night and first impressions certainly match up with all the incredible reviews it’s received. The rear suspension wasn’t quite as plush as I expected, however, I think new bushings and spacers just need a little time to settle in and I’m sure it’ll be swinging free. I may have a little too much air pressure in the shock as Giant’s recommendation to put the same pressure as my weight in pounds, seems to stiffen it up a bit too much and with the efficient pedalling design of the Maestro links, then it should enable me to soften it a little and increase small bump sensitivity. It only has a Fox RP2 fitted which is probably in need of a service too, so not going to expect miracles in small bump sensitivity.

    The Anthem is really designed for an 80mm travel fork so the 100mm Reba I have fitted has kicked the head angle back by half a degree, which is probably a good thing. The Anthem is known for its super sharp steering and that little bit of layback will help take the edge off a bit which is probably a good thing for epic racing and training rides.

    I still have an Xlite carbon riser fitted to a Race Face Deus stem and I’m thinking seriously about altering this setup. I find the Deus to be a bit lacking in torsional stiffness when I really pump on the bars on a steep climb and I’m on the lookout for a suitable alternative. I would like to try an oversize bar and stem and see how that feels. On the bar front I’m thinking it might be a good idea to go back to a flat bar with bar ends, particularly with Explore Sweden on the horizon. The sweep angle on the Xlite bars isn’t quite to my liking and I think having the muliple hand positions offered by bar ends may be of benefit to my wrists on the long Swedish bike sections. I had a little lower back pain at the start of the ride and I need to figure out whether that’s to do with my position or just because it’s been so long since I’ve been on the bike. I think the latter and I just need to do some more hamstring stretching. Can’t wait to be able to start back at yoga now that my knee is getting stronger!

    Ride on!

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