Winter on the Missisippi

This is another post from Guest Blogger Michael Barratt who is walking the length of Missisipi in aid of AHMSA –  helping educational projects in Columbia. Webtogs are proud to sponsor him.

December has brought me to the last month I can be in the USA. With the visa waiver I am only allowed to spend three months in the USA, so today I will be flying out of New Orleans (I have not finished the trek yet obviously, New Orleans was just the cheapest place to fly out of) back to Bogota, Colombia to spend Christmas with my fiance Camila and her family. This is going to be a very welcome break let me tell you. I will return to finish the remaining 500kms as soon as possible in 2012.

snow trekking It has been a good month that brought many more great memories, but also it brought me the cold weather and also a little snow. The cold weather started to get to my body a little, especially my achillies tendon. It got to a stage where in the mornings I could not even walk and I would have to hobble along for the first hour until it warmed up and stretched out a little. I was to find out I had developed tendonitus,so I had to shack up in a motel for a few days and live on Ibuprofen. It was amazing how quickly it healed after a few days like that, and it worked out great as the days I ended up in the motel, a huge storm hit with flood warnings in the area, so I was able to enjoy the view from my window from the warmth of my bed.

wrapped up in my Rab sleeping bagFinding my way eventually to Memphis it was nice to arrive there, marking off the three quarter marker of the trek. I was only able to get 50kms past Memphis when I had to start hitch hiking towards New Orleans to get my flight. I ran into an amazing bunch of people all hooked up with the Newspaper association in the states of Mississippi and Lousiana who were good enough to drive me all the way from Tunica (which is the town I got to before stopping) to New Orleans. With many stops along the way, doing interviews and meeting people connected to the media, I arrived in New Orleans 3 days after. Having met these great people along the route that I will be following on my return, I am really looking forward to the next stretch of the trek. The river itself is going to be a lot harder to follow as it is like a giant wiggly snake from Memphis on, compared to the nice, straight Mississippi river from the north. But I guess it will be a change of scenery which is always a good thing.

walking onSo as for now I am heading back to Colombia to spend the break at a little farm in the coffe region with my loved ones. My body is sore and I am really looking forward to being around family again.

I will be in touch January to let you all know the date of my return to the states. I hope everyone has a great Christmas and a happy new year, I know I will be enjoying it….

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A Chocolate-Loving Cyclist

Some people may say that I am not really living a conventional life. Well, it’s true that I’m not married, don’t have a mortgage (or a house) and don’t lead a regular 9-to-5 life.

I decided I didn’t want all that a while ago.

But some conventions are harder to change…

It has taken me to the age of 30 to realise I’ve been missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.

I’m talking about chocolate for breakfast.

For 30 years I’ve eaten toast with tea or maybe cereals and coffee. That’s what everyone does. That’s what breakfast is. Or sometimes I don’t eat at all. And I’ve never considered the need for something different.

But recently I happened to eat a chocolate brownie with my morning coffee. It was there, so I ate it.

And it was delicious. The best breakfast ever!


Chocolate Brownies -YUM!!
Chocolate Brownies -YUM!!

So since that revelationary day, I’ve had more brownie-coffee combo breakfasts.

Sure, I know it’s not healthy. But when you’re cycling several hours a day, calories are to be consumed, not rationed.

And one of the best things about being an adult is you are responsible for your own actions. No longer is mum saying what you should or shouldn’t do.

Of course, if I get fat from breakfast-brownie overload, it’ll be my own fault.

But with this discovery of one of life’s little pleasures, made in my third decade of life, I am confident I will find many more over the years to come.

Getting older has it’s advantages!

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Top 5 Outdoor iPhone Applications

We reckon this blog post might get a few hackles up, there has been some intense debate in the office on this subject and there still isn’t agreement on all of them! We wanted to see what apps we were all using when heading out and about, so without further ado, let’s get straight in to our Top 5 Outdoors Apps in reverse order.

5) Google Earth – FREE Has been around for a while, and it’s always been a fantastic jaw dropper to show just what that Interwebby thing can do. We love it though for the simple fact that it’s no good at route planning or tracking, but does enable us to just fly amongst the hills, dream and plan our next jaunt out and about while flying like a bird.

Go Sky Watch Planeterium4)  Go Sky Watch Planetarium – £2.49 Our favourite toy when we are wild camping and looking at the night sky. We really like the fact that you don’t have to touch the screen to navigate the sky and the display automatically shows correctly whatever angle you hold it at. You can ask it to point out Stars and Planets easily, and you have a groovy red version that keeps your night vision, or enables you to pretend you are on a Romulan battlecruiser.

Grid Point GB3)  Gridpoint GB – FREE Feels like a bit of a Ronseal advert this one but it does do exactly what it says on the tin. It simply gives you your ordnance survey grid reference for where you are. Pretty handy in a white out or if you are lost. Only useful if you have a map with you, we nonethless think it’s pretty darn handy if you do get in the schtuck and want your phone as a backup to let you know where you are.

Gorilla Cam2) Gorillacam – FREE Taking photos when you are out and about in the hills is part of the outdoors experience for a lot of us and helps preserve the memories. The best camera as a photographer will often tell you, is the one you have with you, so although I have a nice compact, my iPhone is nearly always with me and has probably recorded more journeys. Gorillacam tweaks the functionality of the default camera to add loads of useful features from an anti-shake facility, rapid fire shooting mode, autosave, grid overlay, bubble level, press anywhere to shoot & time lapse mode. Pretty handy and has now replaced the standard camera application for me on the homepage.

Viewranger1) Viewranger – £1.99 – £14.99  Our numero uno by some distance. There are a fair few GPS and navigation apps out there now, including classics such as Memory Map, but the one that stood tall in our eyes was Viewranger. Many people now have smartphones, so rather than lashing out on a brand new GPS, why not make use of the power that you have in your pocket? We have already reviewd it back in May and it has without fail been our most used outdoor application. There are two main choices, a £1.99 open maps version or a £14.99 version with credits to download Ordnance Survey or other local maps. Living in the middle of nowhere we love the ability to buy and download a map instantly, plus the maps work without having any signal. They also have a buddy beacon which enables you to track your friends, and link up to either their own service or Social Hiking to show your route real time and share your journey with others. From our point of view it also adds a safety element ensuring you have two maps with you when you head out.


So there we have our top 5 outdoor iPhone apps. Highly subjective and not without some heated debate in the office! We would have included Andriod aps as well but it looks like our office is filled with iPhones only (plus an Experian and one Blackberry) so forgive us for not including them this time around. What are your favourite outdoor apps and why? If you are an Android user, are there any other apps you have on the dark side we don’t have access to?

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Journey Down the Missisipi – November

We are lucky enough to have sponsored with Rab’s help Michael Barrett who is walking the entire length of the Missisipi in aid of Ahsma, a charity that supports education in Columbia. His blog can be found at Journey Down the Missisipi, but he is also going to be posting for us as well. In his latest extract, he gives the low down on November.


Super camp spot on the banks of the riverWell it has been a long walkabout so far to say the least. Last time I wrote I was a few days walk out of the city of Mineapolis. I caught good weather all the way to Minneapolis and covered good ground quickly, averaging around 33 kms each day. I was lucky enough to have s friend who lives in St Paul which is the twin city of Minneapolis and was treated to a shower, a bed and a good feed on arriving, gotta tell ya, it was a place I found hard to leave!

Trekking on.The next week saw me heading south east towards the city of La Crosse in Wisconsin. The walk has been attracting a lot of media attention and none more so than around this area. After doing a few interviews on the local TV and being in a few newspapers in that area, it became common for these two or so weeks for people to invite me into their homes for dinner or lunch and even people yelling encouragement out of their shop windows in the smaller towns, it was small things, but it is those small things that gave me a boost at times when I was really stuffed and struggling to keep going.

The middle area of the Mississippi river was very beautiful and I was lucky enough to be able to follow the river almost on the edge for 100s of kms. It has been the best part of the trek to date, wandering along the rivers edge through small little villages on the river – exactly how I had pictured the adventure from the beginning.

Sunset over the MissisipiThe people I have met and that have helped me out have been amazing. If had not met these people in my path I have no doubt that I would stil be 100 kms further north struggling with the cold weather. They really have been the best part of the whole experience so far, it’s amazing how many people you meet with a good heart.

I am now in a motel about a weeks walk from Memphis. I am in a motel as with today arrived the first day I have seen snow here since begining the trek. I am huddled up in my warm room tonight trying to enjoy it as much as possible as tomorrow I will be heading out into the snow and wind accompanied by the temperature of around -4c. Wish me luck…




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Helen’s Take On…Vancouver to Vegas

Trip Update

5,000km and 3 months since Vancouver and I’m in Vegas.

In neighbouring countries, these cities are worlds apart.

Vancouver is a modern, cosmopolitan city with high-rise offices, chic cafes and a buzzing life on the streets. It has green parks and a laid-back atmosphere.

Vegas stands alone in the desert. High hotels, casinos and bars concentrated on The Strip with their flashing neon signs and 24 hour doors. Beyond that is a sprawl that festers, feeding off this fabrication.

But the best bits of the trip, are the bits in between… In between is rural British Columbia and small town America. In between are thick forest, towering mountains and open plains, winding rivers and barren deserts. A bit of everything and all a whole lot better than either city.

It’s been Indian summer heat in the  Chilcotin, where water runs cold and bears roam free. It’s been wet, waterlogged and muddy in Montana. It’s been endless hills and long valleys in Idaho. And high desert in Nevada where the coyote calls through the night. It’s been snowstorms and freezing nights on Utah’s winding roads through red rock canyons.

Now it’s into southern California and the road to Mexico.

And I can’t wait…

As usual, if you want to read more about thecycle trip, see my website Helen’s Take On…

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9 ways to get cheap train tickets for heading outdoors.

This week has guest blogger Andy from giving us the lowdown as to how you can get out to the hills by train – cheaper.

Going walking by train is a great idea, especially as so many great walks can be found straight from railway stations. It’s good for the environment and is often faster than travelling by car. Arriving by train means you can take on a linear hike, and start and end at a different point – something very difficult if you’ve left your car 6 miles away! With even Government Ministers admitting train travel in Britain is expensive though, it’s more important than ever to ensure you get the cheapest train tickets possible. So here I’ve got some great ways to bag a bargain.

book in advanceBook In Advance – The easiest way to get the cheapest deals is to avoid buying your train tickets on the day you travel. Rail companies dislike the so-called “Walk On” tickets, and although they have to provide them, they are much more expensive than buying your ticket in advance. If you can plan your trip before the day, you’ll get better discounts – even if you book up to 6pm the day before.

railcardGet a Railcard – If you’re travelling often, see if you qualify for a Young Persons, Family and Friends or Senior Railcard – you’ll pay for a years’ card but then save a third on off-peak travel, so you’ll soon recoup that investment. There are other regional railcards too, the most popular being the Network Railcard in the South East – it costs £28 for the year and offers a third discount on off-peak travel for you and up to 3 others, and up to a 60% saving on the fares of up to 4 children travelling too. A brand new one being trialled in the West Midlands is the Two Together Railcard – where two people named on the card can travel off-peak and save a third. The card is again £28 for the year, and currently one of those named persons has to live in the West Midlands area.

buy singlesBuy Singles – Once-upon a time, a return was cheaper than two singles. Now, with most long-distance train operators, it is actually cheaper to buy two singles. Check your prices online and don’t assume a return will always be the best bet.

split ticketsSplit your Tickets – Try splitting your journey up into shorter ones at a station in the middle to see if it saves you money – this is easier if you have to change during your journey. For example, an Off-Peak return from Doncaster (the home of Walks Around Britain) to Llandrindod is £71.80, changing at Stockport and Shrewsbury. Buy 3 separate returns for Doncaster to Stockport, Stockport to Shrewsbury and Shrewsbury to Llandrindod, and it costs £44.50. You can even try this if you don’t have to change trains – it’s ok so long as the train stops at the split station – although you might have to move seats as you’re not guaranteed to get the same seat for both tickets.

avoid the peaksAvoid the Peaks – Unlike walking, where peaks are great, on the trains they are bad news! Travelling during peak times is very expensive and should be avoided. However, if you’re having a day trip walking you need to travel out in peak time, so here you should definitely split your tickets. Again, travelling from Doncaster at 7.55am for a walk in Telford costs an eye-watering £104 – but by splitting tickets and getting day returns between Doncaster & Derby, Derby & Birmingham and Birmingham & Telford cuts the cost down to £55.40.

try the competitionTry the competition – On many long-distance routes, there are several train operators competing – and this is good for cheaper tickets. On the East Coast Mainline, for example for journeys between Doncaster and London Kings Cross, we could travel on either East Coast, Grand Central or First Hull Trains. On other routes, like Birmingham to London, there are rival operators travelling over different lines – Virgin Trains run fast from Brum New Street to London Euston, while Chiltern travel semi-fast between Snow Hill and London Marylebone. There can also be other operators with slower services too – London Midland operate stopping services between Brum and London which only cost £6.00 but take more than 2 hours. If you buy two singles, you could travel there and back with different operators to take advantage of the cheapest fare.

wild roverBe the Wild Rover – If you’re on a holiday in a region and want to get out and explore, try a Rover or a Ranger ticket. They offer unlimited travel in a certain region for a set length of time and provide great value for money. For example, the North Country Rover offers travel on any 4 days in an 8 day period and costs £76 – just making two day trips from York to Carlisle and another to Settle costs £72.80 making the other 2 days travel only £3.20… If you’re feeling really adventurous, try the All-Line Rail Rover. This is a gem of a ticket offering 7 or 14 days rail travel across Britain – for £430 for 7 days or £650 for 14 days. It sounds a lot, but when you consider you only have to make trips costing £62 a day to break even, it’s actually a good buy. Couple that with a lightweight tent and backpack, and you’re ready for a trip around Britain’s countryside by rail!

form a groupForm a group – Just travelling in groups as small as 3 or 4 can get you discounts. For example, the Small Group Day ticket from some operators offers groups of between 3 and 9 people 25% discount on a day ticket. But remember, to get any group discount you’ve got to travel together for the whole journey – no breaking off early or the whole ticket won’t be valid.

use the rail companys own websiteUse their own website – Often, particular train operators discount their own tickets if they are bought on their own website – so it’s worth buying different tickets on different websites for the biggest savings. East Coast, for example, offer up to a 10% discount on their own tickets when bought on their website – so book with them direct for any part of your journey involving their trains.

You can catch up with Andy on you tube where he has a fab list of walking videos and inspiration for your next trip out and about. For more information on cheap train tickets Martin’s Money has got a fab guide to saving some dosh on the tracks as well.

If you have any top tips for saving dosh on the trains, do let us know in the comments below.

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What’s the best Insulation for cold weather?

What's the best insulation for cold weather?

As the weather gets colder, we are often asked what the best way to keep warm is, so after a bit of feedback on our Facebook page, here’s our guide to the different sorts of insulation out there for your mid & outer layers.

Sadly there is no “wonder insulation” that’s going to keep you warm, be breathable, pack down small, deal with snow & rain, save you from an avalanche and make you a cup of tea in the morning. We think it’s a horses for courses approach for your insulating layers, get the right thing for the right situation. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the three main types you can choose.


DOWN: Natures warmth, the fluffy stuff underneath a birds feathers.

SYNTHETIC: Synthetic fibres woven together to trap air and keep you toasty.

FLEECE: Another synthetic option that’s a fabric in it’s own right (rather than fibres that you put in to a jacket)

Now we’ve sorted out what we’re going to take a look at, let’s dive in and take a quick look at the good and the bad of our contestants.


Down Jackets & Vests

Down Jackets & VestsGOOD STUFF: The highest Warmth to Weight ratio of all the options here, goose down is fabulous stuff for trapping air and keeping you warm. It feels seriously sexy to wear, is incredibly lightweight, and packs down smaller than any of the other options here. Great to pull on after a hard day on the mountain, or when wandering out and about.

NOT SO GOOD STUFF: If down gets wet it doesn’t work, so it’s really important to keep it dry at all times. We reckon it works best in cold, snowy climates, or where you bring along a waterproof to stop it getting damp. A little more expensive than some of the other options and maybe too hot if you are doing energetic activities.

STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR. Without boring you, down is graded according to fill power, e.g how much space a load of down takes up by weight, the range goes from 450 through to 900 odd, the higher the number, the warmer (and lighter) the down.

Synthetic Jackets

Synthetic Insulated JacketsGOOD STUFF: Synthetic Insulation is best known with examples such as Primaloft or own brand examples like The North Face’s Heatseeker. Water resistant, it retains a lot of it’s insulating properties even if soaked through, and it’s less expensive than down.

NOT SO GOOD STUFF: It has a greater bulk and weight than down and is less breathable.

STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR: A favourite with climbers and those who use their insulation out and about. It works best in wet environments, which apparently we get rather a lot of here in the UK!

Fleece Jackets & Vests

Fleece jackets and vestsGOOD STUFF: Fleece has amazing breathability, and is an awesome choice if you are doing blood pumping activities in the cold. Fleece is water resistant, drys quickly and is great value for money.

NOT SO GOOD STUFF: Fleece is not usually windproof so unless you have some sort of shell layer over the top, the cold wind is going to go whistling through you and take that trapped air and heat away. Relatively heavy and bulky compared to some of the other options.

STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR: The best known fleece fabric is Polartec, but there are many other own brand examples out there too. Fleece comes in a variety of different flavours e.g. lightweight, midweight & heavyweight.

So there you have our quick guide to insulation. We reckon you need to balance your budget, activity and whether you are wearing it during the day or at journeys end. If you are a backpacker for example, weight is perhaps the most important thing to consider. If you need to get warm at camp at the end of the day, we would suggest grabbing a down vest or jacket. Down is also great if you are just taking the dog out for a quick walk. Climbing and need a belay piece? It has to be Synthetic. Running or walking out in the cold? Grab a fleece to wear underneath your windshirt or waterproof.

What’s your favourite insulation piece when the cold come round?

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Nameless Strangers – The Good Samaritan

On the road we meet many people. Some we will forget. Others will remain in our memories forever.

Travellers’ stories of hospitality from strangers are not uncommon. But that doesn’t make them any less memorable.

These chance encounters are often over with in a flash, but they will remain in the memory forever.

Whether it’s the tall grey-haired fellow who stops his red pick-up to tell you there’s a really scenic off-road route that will also avoid the steep hill and.then goes on to explain how to reach it.

Or the larger than life, jovial old chap from the farm you stopped at ons search for water, who tells of good spot to camp and later turns up there in his truck with wood for a fire, diesel to get it started and a thermos of hot water, on a particularly cold night.

Or the talkative man who asks interestedly about our journey over coffee in McDonalds one morning and tells of how he has damaged his car when he hit an elk in the way into town. And then as he says goodbye and wishes us well drops a $20 note on our table saying he’s sure we could use it for a meal or more coffees.

I never had a chance to ask these people’s names. As quickly as they entered my day, they left again.

But why is it that so often we don’t even know their name?

It’s because the stranger expects nothing in return. A purely altruistic act. (Except perhaps to feel good, if you believe in the selfish gene.)

And good samaritans don’t have names.

Not heroes with a name for whom fame usually follows.

(now since I rarely learn these helpful strangers names, it’s even rarer that I get a photo. So instead, here are a couple of photos of the kind of  places where these unlikely encounters sometimes occur…)

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Can you really find a wild camp wilderness in the Peak District?

The Peak District. One of the most popular National Park anywhere in the world. 8.4 million visitors a year. 1437 Square Kilometres of protected area. Busy place despite the greenery on offer. We love our wild camping here at Webtogs, but we began to seriously doubt whether you could find a true wilderness wild camp spot in the Park itself. That was until I pootled along at the beginning of September to Terry BND’s now legendary Outdoor Bloggers meet up. Whilst chewing the fat with some lovely outdoor folks amongst the tents, talk grew to our favourite wild camp spots and whether you could actually find somewhere in the Peak District to get that feeling of real remoteness that those of us who love wild camping crave.

One conversation with James from Backpacking Bongos began to tweak my ears. Bleaklow. One of the remotest and most desolate moors in the Park, it’s legendary for it’s boggy character, and although nice and remote, I couldn’t recall any areas suitable for pitching up. James mentioned a small spot he had been to previously and along with Phil from Social Hiking who was along for his first ever wild camp, we set off to see if this was the wilderness nirvana I had been searching for.

alport castles

alport dale

The day did not begin well, leaving the car not 5 minutes behind us, the rain decided to make it’s presence felt in a major way and the steady trickle of water down from my  hood spoilt the view ahead. Spirits lifted however as we began the climb to Alport Castles. The naming of some outdoor spots frequently leaves you scratching your head, but Alport Castles is aptly named, the pillars of rock standing out like turrets amongst the landscape. Climbing past them to the top, the wind bustled between us threatening to take my hat away. Boggy ground also made an appearance and we quickly got our heads down in silence to the trig point on top of Alport Moor.

meandering path on bleaklow

Slowly we began to relax. No signs of human habitation were visible and the paths were faint and indistinct, could this be what we were seeking? The wind became too much so we dropped down to the path halfway up Alport Dale. Immediately the winds absence made us feel more relaxed, and the seclusion of the dale dared us to dream of the spot we might hope to find. Strolling up, we began to ford streams making dents in to the hillside until we came to Grains in the Water. Nothing to the eye except moorland, wind and each other. Exchanging grins, we pitched up and settled down. We had found our wild camping wilderness in the Peak District.

grains in the water wild camp

night time on bleaklow

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