Bike Club Round 2 (ends in disaster for Phil’s bike)

Last night was my second experience of Webtogs Bike Club. The entire afternoon beforehand was a torrential washout, and I was thankful to be in the office – secretly dreading the inevitable soaked-to-the-skin experience to come. The rain was forecast from 3 through to 7pm. Rather miraculously though, in the last half hour of work the clouds parted almost as if through divine intervention, making way to what was a pretty glorious, warm evening! “Bring it on” I thought… (more…)

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We’ve Hired!… a.k.a. my first day at Webtogs

It seems quite appropriate that I should be writing the first post on the Togblog since Tim posted to advertise the vacancy of Content Manager back in June, considering that I am the successful (and very chuffed) applicant to that position. And so here I am on my first day in the new role… My name is Phil, wish me luck.

First impressions of Webtogs/SWMS were interesting to say the least. In most companies, the word induction is synonymous with health and safety videos and filling out mind-numbing forms – not so here. My introduction to the team consisted of a quick meet, greet and ‘up-to-speed’ session, followed by a 24-mile mountain bike ride around the beautiful Longleat and Stourhead estates. Taking in secluded back roads, green lanes overrun by nettles, and some occasionally muddy off road, it was a breath of fresh air literally as well as metaphorically. As Keith (boss and route-planner) had warned me previously, it could so easily have turned out to be a “bramble and nettle nightmare”. Thankfully my close encounters of the nettle kind were limited to just the one, and I survived my first ‘Webtogs style’ induction with nothing more than a few mud-splatters.

Slightly surreal encounter with Longleat House

If all my talk of mountain bike related fun has wet your appetite for some Somerset single track, the Webtogs team organise ‘Bike Night’ each Thursday at 5:30pm. Follow the link below to check out Webtogs on Facebook for more info – all abilities welcome. It promises to be great fun, and a new experience for me as well as those of you who’ve not yet come along to one!

As the content guy, I have been tasked with breathing some new life into the currently fairly inactive blog and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube), so you will be hearing a lot more from me over the coming weeks and months. I’ll be covering topics ranging from nuggets of information on our brands, products and offers, to my own experiences in the new role.

Thanks for reading my first post. You’ll hear from me after ‘Bike Night’ (if not before).


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Mayhem of mud

Well the teams are back and there are some fairly shattered folks after the Mountain Mayhem this weekend. The story of the weekend seems to be Mud. Oh and then a bit more on top. Cycling proved tricky in the conditions with folks pushing their bikes for up to a third of the course. There’s been a few negative vibes on Facebook to do with the gloop but the guys & gals here have had a good time, despite the best endeavours of mother nature.

We’ve pulled together our best photos of the weekend along with a couple of videos to give you a taste of what went on.

Camp mayhem

Team Webtogs

Lucys team

Bottom of one of the hills

Unicycle nutter

Charlie shows a bit of leg

Charlie keeps smiling

The Islabikes team racing on kiddy bikes

Post race gloop

To all those who went and participated – we salute you! If you went, how did you get on and is anyone planning on tackling it next year?

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Mountain Mayhem this weekend

Five of the Webtogs team are off to do the Mountain Mayhem this weekend in weather that’s looking a bit iffy to say the least! Mountain Mayhem is the largest and the most prestigious 24-hour mountain bike event in the world, where teams of up to 10 cycle off road for a total of 24 hours around a 10 mile circuit in Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Herefordshire. There’s a lot of night riding as a result, so the guys are really looking forward to testing out some of their Silva head torches, particularly Tim with his Silva Sprint plus.

Mountain Mayhem at nightWe’ve got two teams entering, Charlie, Keith, Mike & Tim are in one and Lucy has teamed up with other friends to cycle with another. So far today, everyone appears to have been huddling over computers nervously watching the weather forecast. Early reports have said the site and course resemble classic Glastonbury circa 1997 – not pleasant….

Best of luck to everyone who is entering this weekend, if anyone has entered previously or is taking part, we’d love to hear how you got on or what you think of it, so please post up in the comments below.

Photos courtesy of Nic R & Andy Armstrong on Flickr

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Keith’s cycle & camp from John O’Groats to Lands End – Stage 1

Our MD Keith is well in to the first week of his epic trip  cycling from John O’Groats to Lands End, camping as he goes. He began riding on Sunday 20th May and since then he has done 300 miles, 14370 feet of ascent, 0 midge bites, 27 near death misses by caravans, has a bit of sunburn, less fat and a good sweat pong!

He’s doing it all in aid of the Alzheimers society, which works to improve the quality of life of people affected by dementia in the UK. Keith’s a prop forward so cycling a 1000 miles isn’t going to be easy for him…. If you would like to support him he would be absolutely made up,  just click here to visit his Just Giving page.

He hit Loch Ness last night after cycling down through Glen Coe yesterday and sent a long update with photos of his journey so far. True to his word, he’s kept it hardcore and hasn’t stopped in to a B & B yet, camping or wild camping all the way……

more John O'Groats

hitting the road south

near Stac Mor

Wades Military Road - great riding

Bridge to Inverness

Canal Tow Path

Camping in Glen Coe

Buchaille Etive Mor

Long Climb - Loch Ness in the distance.

As soon as we get any more updates, we’ll put them up here. If you’ve got any questions about his route, gear or anything else in the meantime, post up in the comments below!

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Never The End…

Well, another trip is over. Eight months and 11,600km cycled, 725km sailed and 250km packrafted on the North American continent.

But my journey, continuing down the road around the world continues. Who knows where it will take me, but that is where the fun (and fear) lies.

But for now, here are some highlights from the last eight months…

Pushing up the Heckman Pass…
Top of Heckman's Pass
Top of Heckman's Pass

To cycle across the Chilcotin Plateau…

Chilcotin Plateau
Chilcotin Plateau

Cycling the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff in beautiful British Columbia…

Icefields Parkway, British Columbia
Icefields Parkway, British Columbia

Over the Elk Pass and into Montana…

Spray Lake Trail on way to Elk Pass
Spray Lake Trail on way to Elk Pass

Over the Lolo and Whitebird Passes through Idaho…

Whitebird Pass, Idaho
Whitebird Pass, Idaho

Biking the backroads of Nevada…

Off the Beaten Track...
Off the Beaten Track...

And facing snow in Utah…

Summit in the Snow
Summit in the Snow

Seeing some of the most stunning landscapes in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks…

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon

Crossing the Mohave desert and Joshua Tree…

Joshua Tree...
Joshua Tree...

Through Southern California and into Baja, Mexico with it’s abundance of cacti…

Cacti in Baja
Cacti in Baja

Sailing the Sea of Cortez with Kevin on board Alex II and sighting whales, dolphins, turtles and a shark…

Sailing Sea of Cortez
Sailing Sea of Cortez

Cycling Mexico’s coast…

All up and down along the coast...
All up and down along the coast...

And inland and over hill to Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas…

Oaxaca Cathedral
Oaxaca Cathedral

Visiting the Mayan ruins of Palenque and Tikal…

Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal, Guatemala

Cycling through Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras…

El Salvador, a small country of many volcanoes
El Salvador, a small country of many volcanoes

Packrafting the Rio Bocay and Rio Coco in the Moskitia border region of Nicaragua…

Packrafting the Rio Bocay in Nicaragua
Packrafting the Rio Bocay in Nicaragua

And finishing it all off with some back-road biking through Belize…

Backroads of Belize, Through Rio Bravo Conservation Area
Backroads of Belize, Through Rio Bravo Conservation Area
I am now back in the UK and looking forward to the rest of the year exploring a little closer to home… our little British island has just as much to offer!

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Water Travel, Like a Local

I’ve just returned from a great trip, packrafting down about 250km of remote rivers in Nicaragua.

Packrafting is relatively new to me, but so far I love it. Because the raft is so compact, I could carry it in my backpack together with food and gear for 10 days out.

Packrafting Rio Bocay in Nicaragua
Packrafting Rio Bocay in Nicaragua

The rafting trip had fun, adventure, challenge, white-water, wild-camping and a chance to see how the local indigenous Mayangna and Miskito people live.

I have only one other water trip I can compare it with, and that is paddling down the Niger River in West Africa. For that trip, we had a local fisherman build us a pirogue, just like those the locals use. If I had had a packraft with me, I probably would have used that. But I’m glad I didn’t.

Paddling a pirogue was physically much more challenging and we encountered difficulties navigating downstream which wouldn’t have been a problem in a packraft.

But the pirogue let us experience the river as the locals do. And it brought us closer to those we met.

Paddling a Pirogue on the Niger River
Paddling a Pirogue on the Niger River

In Nicaragua, I felt we were viewed as a passing novelty; rich tourists with hi-tech products. On the Niger river, we were just two more people heading downstream.

Both ways of river travel were great. And I’m pretty sure i’ll be doing more trips in both styles…

Since i’ll be back in the UK for the rest of the year, the packraft will be seeing plenty of action in the coming months. Pirogues aren’t so common on British waterways…. Narrowboat barges though, now there’s an idea!

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Stats Update from Chiapas, Mexico

Time for a quick update on how the Take On The Americas trip is going, now that the journey has passed the 10,000km mark. I suppose the best way to do it is with a few numbers…

Distance cycled: 9222km
Distance sailed: 725km
Distance travelled on bus: 425km

Total nights: 165
Nights camping: 118
Nights in paid accommodation: 34

No. of cycling days: 122

Countries cycled: 3 (Canada, US, Mexico
US states: 6 (Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California)
Mexico states: 7

Lowest/Highest altitude: -226ft / 9600ft (-69m/2926m)
Most km in one day: 136km
Coldest night/hottest day: -11C/+30C* (12F/86F)

Bridges/roads slept under: 5
Firestations slept at: 1
No. of times disturbed by men with machetes/men with guns/mountain lions: 3

No. of times cautioned/warned by warden/police: 2

Brake cables replaced: 1
Bottom brackets replaced: 1
Tyres used: 5
Punctures: 22*

Bears/coyotes seen: 6 / 3
Sealions/sharks seen: 1 / 1
Whales seen: 31*
Tarantulas seen: 3

No of times fallen off bike: 0(me), 1(Lars)

No of burgers eaten by Lars: lost count
No. of Thai red curries eaten: 6
No. of tortillas eaten: 173*

No. of lucid dreams: 5

No. of beers: 182
No. of glasses of wine: 31

Average distance cycled: 75.5km/day (not including rest days)
Average distance cycled inc. rest days: 55.9km

Average km/beer: 50.7km/beer (compared to Take On Africa trip of 24.5km/beer!)

If you want to read more about the trip, best go to my blog.

(Photo courtesy of Lars Bengtsson)

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A Wild Night to Remember…

Wild camping

So what do you do when you are seen wild camping in a not-so-stealthy spot? Where three teenagers, a cocky lad and two girls, walk past with a bottle of rum to be drunk down by the river, just 30km outside San Salvador near the main road?

Well, we said hello as they went by and stayed where we were.
But half an hour later the three return, inebriated.

The lad was staggering and slurring his words. Barely understandable. But he is asking for a phone. We don’t have one (so we say), but soon he gets aggressive and starts demanding our phone. And the girls are peering through the tents looking to see what they can take. Time to get serious. Take a stand. Make clear there’ll be no messing with us. How exactly they thought they could steal from us in their intoxicated state I don’t know. I suppose they weren’t really thinking at all!

But as they leave, we immediately start packing up. Time to find another place. We don’t know if they will come back, or bring others, or if someone else will see us.

And that’s how, at 8pm, in darkness, we push our bikes back to the main road and hesitantly cycle on. But being on the road after dark in these areas is not safe either. So we ask if we can camp in the yard of the first home we see.

Although it is difficult to understand all that the father is saying, he eventually tells us go follow him across the road to another house.

The gate is locked, but it’s only wood and barbed wire, so it is bent and we carry our bikes over. And up to the front door of this simple single room, corrugated roof house. The door is locked, the curtains drawn. The father and son knock on the door. No reply.

The son raises up one of the glass slats on the window, pulls back the curtain and calls inside. No reply.

I peer through too. The TV is on and a man is sat in an armchair with his back to us, watching it. The son calls again. No reply.

Maybe he is sleeping.

I feel guilty for not only disturbing one family, but now waking up another stranger having broken through his gate and pulled apart his window.

I say that perhaps it is better if we carry on and look for somewhere else to camp. But the father will have none of it.

I think the man must be drunkenly unconscious not to hear our racket outside. But his left hand is up in the air.

Now the father has a 3metre long stick from the garden and is starting to poke it through the window. I hope the man inside isn’t startled and have a shotgun close to hand. Seriously, how can he not have heard us? We have been here a good fifteen minutes trying to raise the dead…

Actually, it turns out we’ve been trying to raise the deaf.

So there we are, calling to a deaf man in the darkness and waving a long pole through the window to get his attention.

Finally he sees us.

He opens the door, wide lop-sided grin on his face, pleased to see his neighbour, even if it is nighttime and there are two strange gringos with bikes there too.

Now we know we are in a safe place. He wants us to stay in his home, but we insist on camping in the garden. We have intruded enough already.

The father and son leave us to put up our tents. The happy deaf man offers us fruit and gives us a bottle of ice cold water. With a few hand gestures he shows us the toilet and explains what time he must go to work in the morning. Not only is he deaf, but he doesn’t speak either. Surprisingly though, it is easier to communicate with him than with some locals who speak Spanish very fast and no English at all.

What a night and we haven’t even cooked dinner yet! But at least we are safe it. And so I sleep well… until the roosters start calling at 5.30am, which apparently is enough to raise even the deaf, because our man is already sweeping the yard when I emerge from the tent.

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The Grass is Greener Down the Road

So often I find myself wishing I was somewhere else. Or at least, that the someplace here (wherever that may be at that time) was just some little bit different….

Cycling in British Columbia

When I was in rainy Montana, I longed for the dry desert. After a month in the forests of British Columbia and I dreamed of barren lands. The cold, snowy passes of Utah and freezing nights in the high valleys of Nevada and I was looking forward to speeding south to warmer climes.

Freezing hands in the snow

While rushing along the busy interstate to Las Vegas, I pictured empty dirt tracks down the Baja peninsula, but when I got there, the corrugated paths and loose sand were not so fun afterall.

Las Vegas Strip

And now I’ve come south to a low land of sun, the sweltering heat and endless sweating find me once again looking forward to the interior highlands. Although I know that whem I get there I’ll be cursing the hills!

Dirt roads of Baja

Of course, all these places are great for a while. But familiarity breeds contempt and the road ahead always looks better. Perhaps that is what keeps me moving…

Fun cycling through the Red Canyon

I just occasionally have to remind myself to enjoy the here and now too, while it lasts. Because the here and now can only be had once and it’s a pretty darn good place to be, all things considered.

Cacti at sunset

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