Alpkit Know How To Throw A Party.
Going alone, I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable weekends of the year. How often do you get to go foraging with a record-breaking cyclist, go kayaking (backwards), attend free seminars and free gigs, and wash down your dinner of road-kill squirrel with delicious craft beer?
Starting The Weekend With A Nice Surprise
The weekend started Friday. I left the North East and made my way in to the beautiful Peak District, arriving at the top of Monsal Head just before 1600 to pick up a new bike. It sounds odd, but through some freaky coincident, just days before the Big Shakeout I found a guy online who had just the bike I was looking for (On One Dirty Disco), in exactly my size, and worked just five minutes from where The Big Shakeout was being held! …What is remarkable is – he wasn’t even selling it, but having suffered a series of knee injuries, he was happy to offload it – and I picked it up at such a bargain price.
Early Bird Gets The Worm
I arrived bang on time for the gates opening, and studied the campsite for a nice pitch. I always like to be in the spot that gets the most morning sunlight.
Upon pitching the tent, I was in for a not-so-nice surprise. The last time I used this tent was four weeks ago. Packing down that morning was one of those QUICK-let’s-just-get-the-fucker-down-ASAP-before-we-get-eaten-alive-by-mozzies efforts, and I rather stupidly hadn’t aired the tent out when we got home. My reward: A mould-ridden tent. Nevertheless, I robbed one of the Portaloos of their toilet roll and did my very best to get the worst of it off.
As you can imagine; you get a new bike and the first thing you wanna do is take it for a spin. After a blast up Monsal Head and back down in and around the gorgeous village of Bakewell, I was ready for a glass of wine.
The Lonely Drunk
Many thought I was a bit mad for coming along to an outdoor festival alone, but I didn’t think anything of it. After my first glass of wine, I realised that yeah, I was alone – and it did feel a bit weird, so I ventured around the site for a spot of socialising.
What better way to socialise than to continually sink beers and hang around a bar. I met some very interesting folk, including a very adventurous family who run a blog dedicated to promoting outdoor and adventure for families.
I was really looking forward to Al Humphrey’s talk, and he didn’t disappoint. I was surprised at how many of the audience had never heard of him or his adventures before. He certainly captivated the audience with his tales from cycling around the world, before moving on to his latest concept of the #MicroAdventure.
The two-hour session was split in to two, and the latter was dedicated to getting bums off seats and encouraging the audience to share their experience of micro-adventures. It was great to hear such diverse encounters of adventure – from long-distance bike rides to sleeping in a bus stop.
The seminar was fantastic. I owe a lot to Alastair Humphreys for it was his books Moods of Future Joys and Thunder & Sunshine that have had the most profound effect on my mindset. The seminar was marred only by my weak bladder. Too many beers beforehand meant I leapt out a few times for a toilet break! Tut.
In line with the ethos of Alpkit – the beer was great and it was also reasonably priced. ‘Draughted’-in (pun intended) were local craft beer-makers Blue Monkey Brewery, and their variety of beers were brilliant.
The night whizzed by as a enjoyed many a beer with some entertaining twins I had met after the Al Humphrey’s gig (that had been born and raised in the same village as me, but now lived in Bath), and watching the band. Coincidentally, I bumped in to a girl I once worked with about five years ago. I was spoilt for good company and it was close to 3am before I retired to the mouldy, stinking tent.
“The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Astray” …with a hangover
My best intentions of rising before sunlight to go on a 60-mile bike ride proved infinitely impossible as I stirred at around 0800. I couldn’t face life yet, and rolled over for another hour. I finally plucked up the courage to unearth myself to get the JetBoil fired up for porridge and a coffee. I cooked it but I couldn’t face eating it. I thought a walk to the toilets might sort me out – only to find Alpkit dishing out FREE PORRIDGE and all-you-can-drink-coffee-all-weekend for just £3. Luck does not favour the drunk, or the recovering drunk.
Back at the tent I ate my porridge, drank my coffee and lay down as still as possible in fear that moving may cause me to be sick. Eurgh, don’t you just hate that feeling? (Why do we even drink!?!?!)
I didn’t rise until after 1100 and I still felt like shit, but I knew I would regret not making the most of a beautifully sunny day in the Peak District and so set out to explore. I was not disappointed. The views, the stillness, the fresh air, the undulating landscapes. It felt like heaven. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face – I felt like the luckiest man alive. It was that good.
Foraging with Vin Cox
Back at the Thornbridge Outdoors HQ there was a brilliant opportunity to go foraging with ‘Record-Breaking’ round-the-world-cyclist Vin Cox. “Here’s one I made earlier” he should have said as he presented a roadkill squirrel and a pair of baby pigeons that had plummeted to an early death.
Vin took a small group of five of us on a little bike adventure looking for anything that was edible. Three hours of gathering saw us with mushrooms, brambles, elderberries, and other odd things that one wouldn’t dream of eating normally.
I left the group early for another spin round the Peak District and caught up with them again for the barbeque. While that was cooking I was challenged to compete in the mountain bike time trial – only I had put my bike away and had changed in to my running gear. Nevertheless, another runner had attempted it before me, and I was more than happy to give it a whirl to work up an appetite for my squirrel and pigeon dinner.
The squirrel was very lean, tasted like rabbit, and drew in gasps from onlookers. Curiously, we had a vegetarian in our group and her logic of ‘it died of natural causes’ meant she enjoyed the delicacy too.
Daylight was waning but I felt obliged, having been so lazy on the morning, to go for a run on the local trails. I took to the Monsal Trail and followed it as far as the steps down to the viaduct, before climbing up some wonderful trails to some fantastic walkways with rewarding views of the Peaks. A steady six miles at a sluggish pace was enough to work up an appetite for my veggie paella (I really wanted the big roast dinner option, but I was starving and couldn’t even face waiting in a two-person-deep queue).
Vin Cox and Friends
Following a show a movie clips in the dining room-come-cinema (the SteepEdge Café), it was time for Vin and Friends. Vin Cox had assembled a diverse lineup of adventurers (Emily Penn, Ron Fawcett, and Joe from In The Frame), all with different stores to tell. Vin acted as chat show host and interviewed each. It was really fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable.
Emily Penn was fantastic to listen to. A true inspiration (and very easy on the eye!), she has devoted her life to promoting alternative fuels and helping others. She also boasts an incredible portfolio of paintings and sketches.
I am no climber, but after listening to rock-hard Ron Fawcett I wish I was! You have got to read his book. A true dare-devil adventurer and visionary. Funnily enough; seeing the pictures of Ron when he was in his prime, he reminded me a lot like the squirrel I had just eaten. Extremely lean and muscular, brown, and very good at climbing.
The music in the Pavilion was great. Blues-rock from Hot Fiction prompted me to pop the cork on another bottle of red – but I was knackered, and couldn’t keep up the pace. I retired to bed around 2230 but the night didn’t end there.
The John Brewer Collective performed right in to the morning. It could have been 2am before they had finished, but while that was happening, there was a major issue with the lady in the tent next to mine. I don’t know what was going on but she was obviously in a bad state and was receiving medical treatment. The ambulance took her away some time in the night. I heard on Sunday morning she had suffered a head injury some weeks ago, and it was related to that. I don’t know who she was, but I hope she (and her two children) is OK.
Sunday Morning: Doing It Right
Despite the rough night, I responded well to the 5am beeping of the alarm. I got up, got ready and made my way out, lights blazing along the Monsal Trail. It was dark and I didn’t see an awful lot. In all honesty it was quite eerie. I passed a man asleep beside the path in his bivvy bag. I flew through long, dark tunnels (Monsal, Headstone, Cressbrook, and many others) and crossed bridges along the old disused railway until I reached the end. It was still early so I handbagged the bike up a hill and started along the Pennine Bridleway.
Kayaking: My First Experience
Back at the campsite I made sure I got a bowl of FREE porridge before I joined the group for kayaking. I honestly thought I would take to this like a duck to water (another terrible pun), but I was in for a shock. I was terrible. Everyone in the group had much more experience than myself, and I was a frustrated at my inability to keep a straight line. Nevertheless, our tutor from Pyranha was great and very patient, and he didn’t seem to mind too much when I went down some rapids backwards and snapped the rudder. Oops.
The over-complicated logistics of the kayaking trip meant that by the time I got back to the campsite and packed away the tent, I had missed the impromptu free barbeque that Alpkit had thrown together.
I managed to find a sausage and a bun plus a half-pint of ale and enjoyed the warm sun with my two new best mates, the twins Cat and Hat. All was well until some little black and yellow bastard decided to sting me, right under the arm. Ah well. It was one of the best weekends of the year, and it didn’t put a downer on it.
Next Year: 2014
Those lovely people at Alpkit have already started taking early bird entries to The Big Shakeout 2014. I can’t wait.