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Doodlecat's Homepage

Picture of Doodle - a 
black cat

Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

I would love to be able to say that Doodlecat is all my own work, but it isn’t. Much of the outdoors content is courtesy of the splendid people who participate in the annual TGO Challenge (there is a section entirely devoted to this unique event) and many others.

To help in tracking down that elusive morsel on Doodlecat, the search facility under the title bar above is tailored to help you find it, either on this home page (Doodlecat's Blog) all the rest of the site (Main Site) or – if all else fails - the internet!

So have a rummage around the old cat basket and enjoy your time with us!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wet and Dry - TGOC 2011

More on this year's TGO Challenge later once I've sorted out the photos and gathered my thoughts into a comprehensive (and maybe comprehensible) review of the experience.

Despite the the very windy and extremely wet weather, I had a truly excellent time this year, mainly because I have finally arrived at a set of kit that really works in tough conditions. It's not lightweight, but unlike the soaked and shivering souls that I observed from time to time in wetted out skinny waterproofs and sodden Innov8s I was warm, dry and snug (and, yes, maybe just a little smug) throughout the whole two weeks. So here's the list of my "daily clothing" ... if you're interested.

(I yawn a bit when I see yet another kit list too, but this is comfort list, not a gramme by gramme list using a chemical balance in a vacuum chamber obsessive weight saving type thing).

Paramo Velez Smock - the older heavier version (reproofed just before the off) kept the rain and wind out even when blasted at 100mph.

Icebreaker Merino 200 zip neck baselayer kept me warm.

Helly Hansen trunk style wicking briefs kept things dry & comfy "down below"

Rohan trousers (which I Nikwaxed to make drizzleproof and fast drying)

Bridgedale "thinny" liner socks

Smartwool Heavy Trekking crew socks

Asolo Flame boots (carefully cleaned and reproofed). Not a drop of water got in - I was dry shod throughout).

Rab EVent gaiters (except for the last couple of days on roads & tracks)

Rab EVent overtrousers for when it was hosing with rain (quite a lot of the time).

Old TGO light polartec cap or Lowe Alpine mountain cap as required.

Polartec gloves and light over-mitts as required.

A buff worn from time to time.

A pair of Crocs tackled deep wades over burns that couldn't be rock-hopped.
Phil in Challenge kit
Me in 2011 Challenge kit - sans hat

Now I know it's heavy, I know it's all a bit 'trad', but the point is that it works. The deep zip on the baselayer and the fact that the front of the Velez smock can be fully unzipped to hang free means that with the sleeves rolled up it is really quite cool. When the wind begins to howl, just zip up, hip belt on the outside on with hood gloves and buff. Snug as bug, and no need to take off the pack or even stop walking for more than a moment as you make the adjustments. The Rab overtrousers zip from the top or bottom to full leg length, so a venting gap is easily left (and you can reach trouser pockets when you want to).

I can honestly say that I've been untroubled by this year's weather, except for the last Monday when getting blown over and having difficulty moving did become a little tedious. And it would have been nice to spend part of an evening outside the tent rather than cooking in the porch and eating in a recumbent position.

One recurring theme talking to other challengers this year was foot problems, and I put this down to three factors:
a) Badly fitting boots or shoes, or boots with poor footbeds that fail to locate the foot properly (I swear by Superfeet replacement footbeds that support, align and, crucially, cup the heel to keep the foot in place on downhills and keep that shock absorbing pad of gristle located under the heelbone. Green for men, Berry for women. Custom fit if you've got really weird feet).

b) The wrong sock system. Alan Sloman recommended the one that I use with the "thinny" wicking moisture into the outer wool sock, thus keeping the skin dry. It works for me.
c) Both of the above, plus wet feet making softened skin more vulnerable
I prefer to walk with well fitted and not-too-heavy boots that keep the water on the outside where it belongs - and (with some trepidation and touching every wooden object within reach) I can say hand on heart that I have never had a blister. There is a first time for everything ... I do hope I haven't tempted fate now.

One factor that should be considered when undertaking the TGO Challenge is that for most participants it involves two weeks of walking. This means that if, like me, most of your trips are a maximum of three or four days, it is easy to overlook the fact that your ultralight frameless pack is putting too much on your shoulders, and not enough on your hip belt. Nothing wrong with a frameless bag by the way, but it needs to be packed carefully to give rigidity where needed. I lack both the skill and the patience for that kind of faff, so my Gregory Z55 suits me perfectly - especially as it gives great ventilation with the curved frame, eliminating that hot sweaty back if by some chance the scottish weather becomes a little balmy.

By the same token wet feet for three or four days may be tolerable - but two weeks is asking a bit much of your abused tootsies. The same goes for a waterproof that ends up wetter on the inside than out. It's deceptively easy to overlook the limitations of your gear once you're back home, everything is dried off and you've enjoyed a long soak in a warm bath.

Most years the weather is mixed, and there is enough fair and dry weather to compensate for the odd drenching or snowstorm. However, this isn't guaranteed - as we all found out this May!

For the experienced walker (like you) all of the above is just stating the bleedin' obvious of course, but for newcomers to the challenge who refer to Doodlecat before taking the plunge, reading some of the challenge accounts on the TGO pages can make it all sound rather a jolly jaunt. And so it is, provided that your kit works, and continues to work, for a fortnight of either benign sunny days or fourteen days and nights of hell, high water and bloodsucking bats.

I made up the bit about the bats.

A full report will follow. Right now I'm going to enjoy the luxuries of home for a few days. Comfy chairs, food that hasn't come out of a bag, comfy chairs, soft bed, Miss W caressing the fevered brow, comfy chairs to snooze in ....

more soon ....

Did I mention the comfy chairs? Oooooh they're lovely ....zzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Food, Drink and Good Grooming

Food and drink. If it wasn't for food and drink my TGOC pack would be truly lightweight. But it isn't.

You see, I thought a four day trek before hitting civilisation would be a great way to get into the walk - a wilderness experience and all that. Trouble is, I have to eat, and the food bag has come in at a staggering 51/2lbs! That and the fact that I ve added a few luxuries (proper shaving soap instead of that ghastly oil stuff, a little shower gel, some deodorant, full sized toothbrush etc.).

Why all the grooming products? Well, a gentleman should always loook his best for the ladies. I well remember Miss W meeting me at the staion after one trip. As I approached the car, she promptly drove off and parked around the corner a few hundred yards away. As I puffed up to the car I asked,

"What did you do that for?"

"Because you look like a vagrant, and someone I know might have seen you getting into my car".

So, you see, no matter how handsome, urbane, charming or witty you may be, a few days stubble, dirty hair and an indefinable pong undoubtedly present a considerable drawback in social situations. For the same reason a change of clothes is included.

So, my target weight of 261/2lbs has ballooned to 33lbs. Oh well, determined eating will put that right. What possessed me to buy a huge bag of peanuts and raisins I don't know - I hate the bloody things!

But at least I am ready now to trundle down to Londinium this evening to catch the sleeper to Inverness. I will be accompanied by Andrew Walker and Alan Sloman who will be taking a coffin with him, ostensibly for his Wake for the Wild.


photomontage of Dracula in coffin

That's all from Doodlecat for now - I'll tell you how it all went on my return. To any Challenger reading this, have a great trip and I'll see you in the bar at the Park. I'll be the well fed, well groomed fragrant chap in clean trews ;-)

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