The Great Divide Trail

Recently, I’ve been watching Dan Durston’s videos on the Great Divide Trail in Canada. If you like trail videos I recommend watching them.

Dan’s blog: https://intocascadia.com

Dan’s wife, Tara’s blog: http://intobohemia.ca/

Wikipedia on the Great Divide Trail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Divide_Trail

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New Tramplite Shelters

Photo courtesy of Colin Ibbotson

Colin has updated his website with two new versions of his DCF shelter http://www.tramplite.com/2018/11/original-tramplite-tarp-discontinued-uk.html. I’ve been very happy with my Tramplite and if you’re in the market for this kind of shelter it’s well worth the wait and the cost for a very high quality product.

Disclaimer: my Tramplite shelter was purchased with my own money and I have no contractual or financial relationship.

Mariposa Rescue

My Gossamer Gear Mariposa has seen a lot of action over the years. This has taken its toll. On last year’s TGO Challenge I ripped the mesh on the front pocket badly. I tried to repair it with a patch of material but wasn’t very happy with the repair. The foam in the shoulder straps was also starting to collapse. I wasn’t sure what to do so I sent out an SOS on the Trek-Lite backpacking forum to see whether anyone could repair it for me. Step forward Craig who offered to replace the front pocket and the shoulder straps. Yesterday I got it back and what a brilliant job he’s done!

After a bit of discussion, I opted to replace the mesh front pocket with a solid one, which should be a lot more robust. Although it’s not stretchy like the original mesh one, it has a similar volume and some shock cord keeps it from billowing. There’s also some shock cord at the opening. Clearly the downside is that gear can’t dry out in the pocket, but on the flip side, it will allow much less water ingress if it’s raining and I’m not using a pack cover. It should also be practically indestructible.

Craig also replaced the shoulder straps. I actually prefer these to the originals. They are a little thicker and a slightly different shape. Joy of joys, they have a proper daisy chain too. While I’ve not tried the pack with a full weight, just stuffed with sleeping bags, it feels very comfortable.

Overall, I reckon the repairs have made the Mariposa into an even better rucksack than when it was new. I’m really happy with it and glad to have it back in service. Hopefully it should last for a good few more years yet. Thanks Craig.

Wellhouse Toyota Alphard camper van review

I’ve had my camper van for two years now and thought it would be worth sharing some thoughts on it.

Owning a camper van

I’ve never owned or used a camper van before, so the whole experience has been new to me. Overall, it’s been very positive. I’ve really enjoyed having a camper van to go back to after both day walks or short backpacking trips. I love the comfort compared with a “base camp” tent, especially in the colder months. Being able to relax in the warmth with no draughts and sleep on a pull-out bed is wonderful. It’s also great to be isolated from the sounds and hubbub on a camp site. So far, I’ve only used camp sites. Next year I might do some offsite stops. It’s also great to have all your gear to hand, especially in bad weather. It’s a deep joy not to have to pack up a wet tent too. The only drawback is that sometimes you have to book ahead on camp sites rather than just turn up.

The Toyota Alphard as a base vehicle

My Alphard is a 2002 3.0L V6 4WD, which seems to be quite rare. Despite being relatively heavy with the camper van conversion, it drives well. The V6 has got plenty of power and the 4WD means it doesn’t struggle on difficult surfaces. It has a four speed automatic gear box (from 2005, they use a 5 speed auto gearbox on the 3.0L). It revs at around 3,000 doing 70mph on the motorway, which is a little strange when you’re used to cars doing about 2,000 rpm, but it never feels strained. Even at higher speeds, the V6 engine gives it a bit of zip. Overall, it feels very relaxing to drive. Not surprisingly, given the engine size, age and that it’s petrol driven, fuel economy is not a strong point. I’m getting around 25mpg on long journeys. I did manage 27mpg once! The only mechanical fault I’ve had was a drive belt snapping. The mechanics at the garage where I’ve had it serviced have been quite complimentary (jealous) about it.

In terms of the build qualty and standard specs, for its age, it’s very good. The paintwork is immaculate (pearlescent white). The headlights were slightly yellowed but I’ve sorted that with fine glass paper and polishing paste. The interior was almost completely blemish free. Not surprisingly, for a 2002 vehicle, it doesn’t have the level of gizmos of a modern car with a very basic trip computer. The aircon works but tends to be a bit all or nothing. It has front and rear parking sensors. I wish I’d had a parking camera installed. I did have a new stereo installed along with a Cat 1 alarm/immobiliser. I also had cruise control fitted, although I’ve not used it much. I had leather seats and a solar panel fitted (more of which later). The other really nice touch, which was standard, is an electric sliding passenger door.

Overall, I’m really pleased with the Alphard as a vehicle, especially given its age. Aesthetically, it’s not very pretty, especially from the front, but it’s not bad.

The Wellhouse conversion

Both reviews and personal recommendations suggested that Wellhouse do high quality conversions and I’ve not been disappointed. The side unit is excellent with a sink, two burner hob and worktop fridge. The fit is millimetre perfect and the laminate is very attractive. It is a bit tight on storage space, which is mainly a function of being a conversion rather than being built from scratch. I’ve increased storage by leaving behind the Dometic portable toilet. For solo use, storage is adequate but would be a bit limited for two people. Indeed, if you were using it for two people, I think it needs a side awning.

As I mentioned before, I have leather seats (front and rear). While they are high quality and look very smart, I wish I’d had cloth. Firstly, the leather smell lasts for ages. Secondly, leather tends to be hot or cold and not very cosy for sleeping. The pull out bed is easy to operate, but quite hard to sleep on, so I use an inflatable mattress with a fleece under blanket and a sheet. I use a backpacking quilt or sleeping bag to sleep in.

The pop up roof is straightforward to use and means you can stand up. It also increases storage space. I generally close it at night because it makes it quieter and warmer. There are zipped panels to expose mesh ventilation, which is nice when it’s warm, but the mesh is not fine enough to keep Scottish midges out (not that I’ve had a problem yet as I’ve not been to Scotland in it).

I had a solar panel installed, which is the only thing that has gone wrong. It seems the charge controller hasn’t been working properly and it’s wrecked two leisure batteries. Wellhouse replaced one battery last year and installed a new controller and another battery recently, so hopefully it’s now sorted. Customer service has been good and there were no quibbles over replacing them gratis.

As standard, there is a hot air heater which runs off the petrol tank and is really efficient. I’ve only used it occasionally as I’m generally hooked up to mains electricity and use a small electric fan heater. I’ve also hardly used the hobs as I usually eat out or boil water in an electric kettle. The fridge has been useful to store some food in, although it is quite small.

I’ve hardly used the sink or water tank either. For drinking water, I use a large water container which I keep in the space where the portable toilet used to be stored. I’d rather drink from that than the storage tank. Both the water storage tank and the waste tank have warming elements to stop them freezing, which were low cost extras.

What would I do differently?

If I were ordering again, what would I change? I would have cloth seats rather than leather as I think they are more comfortable for a camper van. I think a reversing camera would be useful for backing into bays. The vision out of the back is reasonable but it’s still tricky to judge. I might get a camera retro fitted. I’m not sure cruise control was worth the cost, but I’d probably miss it if it wasn’t there. I’m going to look into all weather tyres as I’ve shied away from using it in snow, but with 4WD, it should be pretty capable. Beyond that, I’m very happy.

Summary

I’ve loved having a camper van, especially a compact one. It’s just right for solo vanping and it’s meant I can do more walking and backpacking in the colder months. The Wellhouse Alphard is an excellent camper van and is half the cost of an equivalent new or nearly new VW T5/6 conversion, plus it’s probably a better vehicle to drive. Mine cost £24,025. It is a bit thirsty, but I don’t do huge mileage so it’s not a big issue. The conversion itself is high quality and staff at Wellhouse have been excellent both in guiding me through the purchase and after sales service. Since I bought my Alphard, they have started converting Mitsubishi Delicas and Honda Elysions at similar price points and are worth considering too. Wellhouse are happy to discuss the pros and cons of all of these conversions, so it’s well worth giving them a ring. At a much higher price point they do Ford Tourneo, Hyundai i800 and Toyota Proace conversions.

Wellhouse Alphard web page with details and photos

Disclosure: I bought the Alphard with my own money, with no discount. The only relationship I have with Wellhouse is as a customer.

Eggs and hair regrowth

Ok, this is totally off topic but may interest some people. This year, I changed my every day diet. I’ve been reading a load of stuff on the impact of diet on brain function. Our next door neighbour is suffering from dementia and I want to make sure as far as possible that I avoid it. There’s a burgeoning volume of literature that links diet and gut health to cognitive function. If you want to read a couple of books, I suggest Genius Foods by Max Lugavere and The Diet Myth by Tim Spector.

As a result of reading these books (and others), I decided to reduce the amount of processed food (mainly sugar and gluten based) in my diet. I’ve increased my protein intake (especially fish and eggs). I now have a good portion of green vegetables (mainly, spinach, broccoli, kale) or a large green salad every day and instead of puddings I have fruit. Snacks are fruit and nuts. One of the main changes has been to have a good portion of protein at breakfast (poached egg and smoked salmon, in addition to my usual porridge). I’ve found this gives me a lot more energy in the morning. When backpacking, I often have freeze-dried scrambled eggs, sometimes with Biltong for breakfast.

I definitely feel healthier for these changes and they haven’t required a huge sacrifice. Admittedly, it’s more difficult to follow when backpacking, when I tend to eat more sugar and gluten than I would normally. As it’s only for a short time, I figure the damage shouldn’t be much.

After being on this “diet” for just over six months, I noticed a strange, unexpected but welcome side effect. I’ve suffered from male pattern baldness from my late thirties. Both sides of my family have it, so I just accepted it as part of life and made no attempt to mitigate it. Over the past few months, the hair on my bald pate has started to regrow. At the moment, while it’s not thick, it is noticeable and has good coverage.

My hairdresser has noticed it too. It’s got to the stage where I’m starting to use hair clippers regularly to keep it neat. While it’s still not thick, it is getting thicker. It feels very weird but quite exciting. I’ve no idea how far it will progress and how thick it will become, but I’m hopeful that it will continue.

My mind turned to finding out the reason for this strange turn of events. With a bit of digging, it appears that our modern diet, particularly when it is composed of a lot of sugar and carbohydrates is deficient in many vital nutrients. More specifically, L-Cysteine, which is an amino acid which is important for hair growth (amongst other things).

It appears that my daily breakfast of and egg and smoked salmon has significantly increased my intake of L-Cysteine which has kickstarted hair regeneration. Here’s a short article about it https://aminoacidstudies.org/major-study-confirms-that-l-cysteine-can-reverse-hair-loss/ It also seems that my revised diet has increased my intake of vitamin B5, which also helps hair growth https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vitamins/vitamin-b5-or-pantothenic-acid.html

Biotin and zinc are beneficial as well. Eggs seem to be a wonder-food with all these nutrients. Now that the eggs and cholesterol scare has been debunked, it looks like eggs are a great food to include in your diet.

I’m sharing this because I suspect that many other men have accepted that hair loss is “just one of those things”. However, it seems that dietary changes can help to reverse it. I do wonder what might have happened if I has adopted this diet in my mid-thirties. Even so, it would appear that it’s never too late to change. I’m not saying it will work for everyone, but it’s worth a try.

Footnote: the correct diet is a contentious subject and I have no intention of entering into any discussion about carnivore, vegetarian, vegan or any other diets. It’s really up to you what you want to eat and as Tim Spector’s book suggests, none of us are the same and everyone’s body has a slightly different requirement.

Dovedale, Lake District Oct 2018

Originally this trip was going to be a three-day backpacking trip around the Eastern Fells in the Lake District but storm Callum intervened. I had one lovely day before the rain and winds arrived. Before it got really bad, I packed up and went home. Judging by the subsequent pictures of rivers in spate, I made the right decision. Still, I had a good walk along the tops surrounding Dovedale. Here’s a slide show of my walk.

My route was a circular walk from Sykeside campsite up Hartsop Dodd to Hart Crag, returning via Hartsop above How (13km, 820m ascent).

The next day was a bit of a contrast!

GramXpert eLite Apex 133 quilt

I bought this primarily to use in my camper van. However, I thought it would also be useful as a summer quilt as it opens up to make a flat blanket. I took it on my Carneddau trip to give it a bit of a test and I was very pleased with it.

I sized up and bought a Wide/Long. I’m glad I did as I think a Regular/ Medium might be a bit constricting. The W/L has plenty of wiggle room, which is important for me as a restless side sleeper. It’s important to be able to rotate within the quilt to keep the fasteners underneath you to prevent losing heat. I’m 1.75m in height and I found it just about long enough to wrap over my head. If you are taller than that, I suggest getting the XL.

Weight came in at 505g without the stuff sack, which was lighter than the advertised 536g. I had the longer foot box zipper (70cm), which I think was a good choice. Indeed, if it had been totally customisable, I might have had a slightly longer zip. The foot box has a simple draw cord with a unique pull closure (see website for details) and worked well. The closure was tight to prevent draughts.

The closure snaps are easy to locate and engage. I might add an extra one between the bottom two. The worry with quilts is always that they might gape when you turn over, but having extra width meant I didn’t find this a problem. There is a neck draw cord with a cord lock. I found this a bit annoying as it tended to dangle in my face, so I’ve cut it off.

The materials are very nice. The outer fabric is smooth and silky to the touch. It’s not quite as nice as the Schoeller fabric used in the As Tucas quilts, but it is lighter. The Apex 133 insulation is soft but resilient and has a decent loft for a synthetic. It feels quite robust too. Pack size is reasonable, although not as compressible as down, obviously.

The Apex filling has very even coverage, unlike down quilts/bags with low down volumes, so there were no cold spots. I think this is an advantage of synthetic fillings over down in very lightweight quilts. Having said that, in my As Tucas Foratata quilt, which has 250g of down, I’ve never had a problem.

The quality of the workmanship is very high. I can’t see any faults in it at all. It was dispatched to me within seven days of ordering and arrived within four days, which included a weekend. I was kept in touch with emails to confirm the order and dispatch.

How did it perform? Overall, it was very good. It’s not as warm as down, obviously. I’m a bit of a cold sleeper and I reckon, for me it’s about a 10c quilt. I found it very comfortable to sleep in and it was nice to open it up to lie under in the evening as a bit of extra warmth. The design is very good, simple but functional. I really like the zipped foot box. If you’re in the market for a synthetic quilt, it’s definitely worth a look. There’s a good range of colours and sizes too.

Photos courtesy of GramXpert website

Disclaimer: I bought this quilt with my own money and have no relationship with GramXpert other than as a customer.

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