I grew up in Scotland and spent my formative years driving to the mountains then hiking up and down them (with a bit of mountain biking thrown in). Even when I moved to Yorkshire at 24 and travelled around the world I always loved coming back to my home country and seeing just what a beautiful place it is. As life got in the way I’d still visit Scotland but hadn’t been up in the mountains for too many years. I decided it was time to break that cycle and have an old school road trip around some of my favourite parts. A trip down memory lane, literally. And Scotland did not disappoint!
Way back in 1995 my friends and I took an old MG Montego on a road trip from Scotland to Chamonix in the French Alps which also happened to be my first holiday abroad. I wrote about it a few years ago – The Spirit of Adventure. My abiding memory of that trip was taking a hike up the mountains to see my first ever glacier. I was expecting it to look pristine and white, not covered in rocks and debris so initially asked my friend where the glacier was before he pointed out that everything in front of me was a glacier! You can understand my confusion, this is the photo I subsequently took:
Wind forward to the Summer of 2017 where I had the pleasure of spending a few months living in France including a couple of trips to Chamonix. First time was with a friend for a few days and we went up to the highest point a cable car can – the Aiguille du Midi (which was too expensive for the John Conners of 1995 to afford) – and I was hoping once again to catch sight of this amazing glacier I’d seen over 20 years before. Turns out I should have looked at a map – the glacier was on the next set of mountains over. But it was pretty spectacular nonetheless!
A few weeks later I returned and this time I had a better of idea of the glacier I’d originally seen – I reckoned it was the mighty Mer de Glace. So I figured out how to hike there and one morning that’s exactly what I did. Rather than being a lazy tourist and taking the funicular railway to the top I walked – starting straight up a ski slope (those things are pretty steep and relentless to walk up). And after a couple of hours I found myself in truly spectacular scenery.
It was shortly after I was in for a bit of a shock. Turns out the glacier has receded dramatically over the 22 years since I’d been. To the point where there are signs on the cliff as you go down showing you where it was in a given year.
I couldn’t help but feel sad – upset if I’m honest – to see such a dramatic difference in such a short space of time (22 years really isn’t long at all). The sheer volume of ice that’s melted just boggles the mind, but it wasn’t until I finally got around to scanning in the negatives of my photos from 1995 that I was really able to compare the before and after as it just happens that I’d taken pretty much the exact same photo 22 years apart (I’m nothing if not consistent).
The photos were taken at around the same time of year and it’s pretty clear that the rock and green line is significantly further from the glacier than it used to be. When you multiply that by how long the glacier is, that’s a hell of a lot of ice that’s no longer there. When you look at a photo like those above and see the difference it’s pretty unsettling. But when you walk there and see it with your own eyes and remember what it looked like before, it really does bring it home to you how our planet is warming. We live on a beautiful planet, but it’s fragile.
A couple of generations from now that glacier will be entirely gone. Enjoy it while you can.
Some friends and I went to Chamonix this year for 4 days of snowboarding and skiing. Turns out it’s not the cheapest of resorts if you like a few heavy nights out (as we did) but the conditions were very good considering the comparative lack of snow on previous years. Beautiful scenery in the shadow of Mont Blanc too as I’m sure you’ll agree!
I’ve watched the Tour de France on TV for probably 20 years and have driven up and down the insane mountain climbs they go up and power down, always marvelling at what I believe to be the toughest endurance sport on Earth. While Lance Armstrong may now be a disgraced rider that doesn’t detract from how much I’ve loved and love the sport (and even knowing the performance enhancing drugs he took I still loved watching him power up climbs and take the races by the scruff of the neck back in the day – great entertainment). So to hear it was coming to Yorkshire and pretty much past my house I couldn’t wait to see it!
That day came yesterday and the first stage passed Addingham (a couple of miles away and so a short walk) and the second through Silsden, the village in which I live. To say it was an amazing experience would be to massively understate things. Watching it on Eurosport as I’ve done over the years but see all the places I’ve spent the past 15 years of my life was awesome, and to see these guys shooting past at incredible speed in the flesh was a dream come true for me. Even better was seeing just how many people had turned out to watch – people were EVERYWHERE! The people and countryside of Yorkshire did us proud.
I took a few photos, but you really needed to be there to feel the atmosphere and appreciate just what amazing athletes these guys are!
Myself and a couple of friends spent 5 days in Borovets, Bulgaria to do some low cost, high fun skiing and snowboarding and were, to say the least, very lucky with the weather (in that following a season with very little snow, it snowed just before we arrived and through most of our time there). Perhaps unsurprisingly we took one or two photos which you can find below.
If you’re on a budget and are only going for a few days I’d highly recommend Borovets. If you’re going for a week or more you might get bored as the resort isn’t anywhere near as large as a place like Morzine, for example. But it was just right for us!
Regular readers may recall I went on a friend’s stag do snowboarding way back in 2009 and that I had a fantastic (but knackering) time. It was such a great laugh that 6 of us went again to Morzine in France (about an hour from Geneva) and, it won’t surprise you to hear, I took a few photos!
Europe has seen some incredible snowfall this season but also some startling low temperatures – certainly the coldest I’ve boarded in. However the conditions will still superb and a great time was had by all. Enjoy the photos! 🙂
I’ve always tried to have a positive outlook on life and make the most of it when I can. To that end I’ve made a point of spending as much time as I can doing interesting things be they climbing mountains, riding a mountain bike, sitting on tropical beaches, eating at nice restaurants (and some rubbish ones), going to see good (and bad) bands, fishing small rivers in the middle of nowhere, camping in beautiful surroundings, being torrentially rained on while camping and a thousand other things big and small. Rather than spending a life watching TV, staring at a computer screen (now doesn’t count as I’ll switch it off when I’ve written this), I’ve always wanted to go outside and live a life full of experiences.
But experiences alone aren’t what drive me. What matters to me is sharing those experiences with someone else and it’s something I’ve only recently realised I do.
Whenever I go hiking on my own my mind seems to switch into “training mode” and I use it to test and improve my fitness. I’ll have one earphone in listening to podcasts and push myself to my limit (to firstly see what it is) then I’ll keep pushing until I’ve gone to the top, back down and am taking my boots off at my car. I don’t even stop at the summit, I just keep moving along, resting when / if I need to. Sure I’ll take some pictures and admire the scenery, but to me it’s training – all physical and mental.
Contrast that when I do the same hike with someone else. This time there’s no earphones. No test of fitness. No pushing myself (unless I’m hiking with Nick who’s always fitter than I am). And I definitely do stop at the summit. When I’m on my own the objective is the mountain, but when I’m with someone else the aim of the day is to spend time with that person and enjoy that time with them.
Experiences only last a fleeting moment and they’re gone for ever. But the memory of those shared experiences is what stays with you and if I can sit having a pint with that person years from now and re-live them (like getting stuck in a bog and having to crawl out of it) and laugh then that’s what counts. That’s why I love taking photographs – you can capture a shared moment and relive it for years to come (click below to see a full-sized picture of ‘The Many Hairstyles of John’):
I suppose it comes back to the way I make “important” decisions. I picture myself lying on my deathbed decades from now going over my life in my head while staring at the ceiling. When I need to decide something now I try to see it from that point of view – knowing that my life had been lived and I can dispassionately make the right call. In the same way I ask myself what memories will stand out for me? It’s not the mountains or the beaches or the camping or the food or the drink or the bands or cleaning out that blocked sink. It’s not the things themselves, it’s the people I spent those times with. It’s them I’ll remember and the places and events were merely a backdrop to that most important and easily overlooked thing in the 21st century – human contact.
So the next time we’re out for a drink or something to eat, hiking up a mountain, buying a new pair of shoes while I complain that my eyes hurt from the bright store lights or anything else, remember that it’s not a race or a competition for me and what we’re doing doesn’t matter so much. I’m living my life in the moment and sharing that experience with you. And to me that’s all that matters.
I mentioned a while back that I’d been going to a physio to deal with the ravages of age combined with being kicked around a football pitch. It turned out that it was nothing to do with age and everything to do with me having no flexibility at all. I started spending time every day stretching and noticed a dramatic improvement in recovery times after games and improved movement during them. But then my physio started nagging me to try yoga and how it would be perfectly suited to me and I’d be crazy not to at least give it a go. So I did. And to show I was serious I actually cut back on a game of football a week to go to yoga instead.
Like many men I thought that yoga was just a bunch of attractive women in a room bending themselves into different positions, showing how flexible they were and that I’d find it pretty easy and relaxing. I was right about the first part, however completely wrong about the second.
I started going to an Iyengar Yoga class weekly and found, much to my surprise, that I rather enjoyed it. The first thing I was wrong about was it being relaxing and easy – I quickly learned that some of the sessions can be really hard work. Holding positions for periods of time that require quite a lot of strength it turned out I didn’t have meant I was sweating in no time. However after every session I’ve come out feeling great, relaxed and really glad I listened to my physio! Since yoga concentrates on good posture and doing the positions correctly I’ve found it a lot more useful than just doing stretching on my own – having an instructor really helps to make sure you’re getting the best out of it.
My middle back (which has always been stiff and inflexible) is starting to actually have movement in it, my endlessly tight hamstrings are gradually loosening and a lot of aches and pains I was living with from playing football are no longer there. In fact my footballing has definitely improved as my movement is better, my flexibility is improved and my recovery after playing is a lot better even than when I was stretching daily (no more hobbling around for days after a match). Heck, I even bought my own gear so I can practise at home:
While just doing stretching can be a bit tedious and easy to give up after a while, yoga’s one of these things you can spend a lifetime getting better at and while there are some things I can do, there are many I’m awful at. However the motivation to improve and feeling myself improve (albeit slowly) makes me keep coming back for more.
The one thing I was right about was the room full of attractive women. But while I was worried I might find it incredibly distracting it turns out that you lose yourself in what you’re doing so don’t have time to ogle the ladies (and that’s the line I’m sticking to!). Plus a few men go and they’re definitely not my type!
So while the last time I recommended going to a physio and doing flexibility work, this time I’d definitely recommend trying yoga whether you’re male, female, an athlete, a couch potato, old or young. Give it a go, you won’t regret it! And don’t be scared, I guarantee you won’t be as terrible at it as I am! 🙂
I’d always heard how the older you get the faster time goes. That youth is wasted on the young. That football is a young man’s game. That time waits for no man. And that there’s nothing in this game for two in a bed (Bullseye circa 1986). And so as the years have passed I began to notice that my body didn’t recover as quickly as it used to. That training and playing regular football meant I spent more time with aches and pains than without. I started to get used to rising in the morning and grimacing as I got out of bed before my legs started working. I accepted that playing football meant having niggling injuries in my ankles, groin, thighs, hamstrings and a host of other body parts. I kept saying “one more year and I’ll hang up my boots”. Time was marching on.
My good lady hurt her knee and went to a local physio to get it sorted out. It turned out I have medical cover with work so she got her sessions paid for. Sick of hearing me moan about being stiff and sore she suggested I get a sports massage to loosen off these tired legs and booked me in. I’d been warned that if they found anything wrong they wouldn’t be able to help themselves trying to sort it out. I sort of imagined a relaxing, sensual massage where I’d walk out feeling loose and on top of the world. Instead what began was a series of fabulously painful sessions where I discovered just how much physical pain one woman (my physio) can cause. Remind me never to fall out with a physio.
Much to my surprise everything was wrong! Pretty much all the muscles in my body were as stiff as a board. My flexibility was non-existent. My posture was terrible for many reasons including the muscles on the left side of my body were even tighter than the right. Joints barely moved and I was only going to get worse the older I got. Things had to change.
So each week my physio would work on a particular area of my body then give me a list of stretching exercises to try in an effort to loosen things off and increase my flexibility. Gradually, week by week I noticed things starting to improve. I could move in ways I couldn’t before (and hadn’t even noticed that I couldn’t). I wasn’t feeling stiff and sore after playing football any longer. I was waking up without any pain at all. Suddenly I started to feel years younger and realise that old age wasn’t getting to me just yet!
And since I’m relentlessly (or tediously) disciplined I’ve continued doing about 20-25 minutes of stretching every night and continue to get more flexible. I feel years younger and realise if I keep up the regimen (which I will) I should be able to extend my sporting days many years further than I thought I would. So if you’re in your mid-30s wondering how long you can keep on being active – get yourself down to your nearest sports physio. You won’t regret it!
Next on my list is finding a way to get rid of all these wrinkles… 😉