The Last Englishman Downloads
Firstly, thanks to everybody who downloaded a copy of The Last Englishman for Kindle this last weekend. It was primarily for promotional reasons, namely I figured the more people reading my books is the best advertising I can get but I also reasoned it would be a nice gesture. The response was overwhelming, I really had no idea how it would go or how many copies would download but I was gobsmacked when I checked on the Saturday whilst out hiking. It really was way, way, way above expectations! The final figures came in on Monday as I stared, open mouthed and speechless at the computer screen. Due respect to my American chums over the pond who were responsible for around 90% of the downloads with us English second (why do we always have to lose out to the Americans?!). Denmark chipped in as always with a welcome vote and Canada, Italy, Spain and France all responded well.
I hope you’re all enjoying the read and please, if you have the time, post a review on Amazon, or your website and spread the word!
The South Downs Way & the Lightweight Approach
OK, so I finally understand. Videos watched, text absorbed, advice heeded and accounts taken on board. I knew it all made sense, fully realised the reasoning but it wasn’t until last weekend that the penny finally dropped, or the weight dropped I should say.
Low pack weight is a no brainer. You move quicker, exert less effort, cover more distance in less time with less fatigue and reduce the chances of injury. More importantly, you enjoy yourself far more. My base weight on the Appalachian Trail last year was 6.2kgs / 13lbs. I was pretty chuffed with that. I put in some good research, managed to get some light gear sponsored and spent some cash on stuff I couldn’t. It was a less than the 6.9kgs / 14.5lbs I used on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010 and I won’t even go into the 13kgs / 27.3 lbs on El Camino a few years back.
Classic Downs scenery on the first day
The idea was simple – Walk The South Downs Way (100 miles) in 3 days and get my pack weight down as low as I could without suffering any discomfort because of a lack of equipment in the process. It’s pointless taking a sleeping bag that’s half the weight of your normal choice if you’re going to be shivering all night. Somehow I managed it and in retrospect I think I may be able to get it under 2.38kgs / 5lbs with a little tweaking, this is obviously for summer trips, winter kit would be a lot heavier.
So, what was the weight Fozzie?
3.5 kgs / 7.35 lbs
Let me tell you, the difference was astonishing and I’m convinced now that the lower I can get my pack weight the better. My speed on the flat hovered around 3.5 / 4mph and my average each day came in around 3.3 mph. I was flying, sure my legs were tired at the end of the day but they did what I asked them to do again the following day. I didn’t get injured, never felt as though I were rushing, didn’t hurt in the evening, I covered far more distance than I would normally and consequently, I had an absolute blast. At times I was laughing out loud!
This was my gear list; I have given the weights on the main items but not on everything:
ULA Ohm 2 Pack – 822 grs / 29 oz
Etowah Gear 10’ x 8’ Sil Nylon Tarp – 369 grs / 13 oz
ZPacks groundsheet that doubles as a poncho – 142 grs / 5 oz
Rab Neutrino Sleeping Bag – 600 grs / 21.2 oz
Multimat Superlight Air mattress – 300 grs / 10.6 oz (Brilliant, review coming soon)
Total weight: 2233 grs / 78.8 ozs
Adidas nylon running shorts, Smartwool mini socks, Rab Meco long sleeved top.
Crikey! Memories of the Appalachian Trail! Sitting outside a gas station with a packet of Snyders Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces!
Spare Smartwool socks, North Face nylon trousers, nylon boxer shorts, Smartwool short sleeved t-shirt, beanie, neck buff, wool mitts, Rab Generator Jacket. All in Mountain Laurel Designs stufsac.
Black Diamond aluminium
Cooking & Water Treatment:
Sawyer Squeeze Filter & 1 litre Squeeze Water Bag plus 750 ml mineral water bottle.
Trail Designs Sidewinder to suit MSR Titan 0.9lt pot
Alcohol for 3 days
Toothpaste and brush, toilet paper, antiseptic cream, sun cream, hand sanitizer, foot powder, lip balm, body glide (all toiletries decanted into smaller quantities for 3 days). New Trent Power Charger, iPhone 5 with earphones and charge cable, sunglasses, Joby camera tripod, Stickpik, Petzl Elite headtorch, Victorinox Classic Penknife, Pack Towel. Packed in Gravity Gear bag.
2nd night camping – Multimat Superlight (Review coming), ZPacks groundsheet / Poncho & Rab Neutrino Sleeping Bag
So how do I intend getting this under 2.38kgs / 5lbs?! Once the chill that seems to be hanging around this year has pissed off I can use my Mountain Laurel Designs Quilt which is 369grs / 13ozs. I didn’t need the spare t-shirt and pack towel so they can stay at home. The rest is just tweaks, less sunscreen, lose the beanie, gloves and neck buff and I reckon I’ll be there.
I took 2 main evening meals and 2 breakfasts which I mixed at home to my liking and to save me trying to find a store en-route. Snacks were included but as the SDW passes through a few little villages and pubs I was able to keep food to a minimum. Amazingly enough water is a rare commodity on the route purely because the chalk downs drain quickly and there is little standing water. An occasional stream was found when I dipped down in the valleys or I used animal water troughs, I tried to carry a litre most of the time.
As for the route itself I can only say it was stunning. The South Downs Way starts in Winchester, Hampshire, wiggles through my home county of West Sussex and finishes in Eastbourne, East Sussex. The last time I walked it I was 17 years old and it was my fist hiking adventure. I can’t believe I haven’t walked its entirety since but have always made regular trips up top for weekend walks and bike rides. It is my playground.
Much of it, especially the central sections I know well. The countryside during the first and last days was a little unfamiliar. The weather report was great and in true English fashion, because of this, it rained the first morning. After that I was accompanied each day by classic English skies and clouds. Down to shorts for much of the day but the temperature dropped at night to where I just about stayed warm and slept well.
The last day shall stay with me for a long time. The section from Southease and the River Ouse to Eastbourne was nothing short of monumental. It was the warmest day and the downs came out to play like only they know how. To the south a sea mist had converged on the coast, looking like a giant tsunami several hundred feet high. To the north the downs plunged down to meet the Weald, an area of flatter land that stretches north with views for miles. At times I thought I was in a different country, perhaps Switzerland or similar as the scenery had me speechless; I never remembered this section from when I was 17 years old. Early morning mists settled in the Weald each morning, the occasional church spire pierced through and gradually, as a red sun climbed, Sussex came slowly to life.
Jevington Church, 4 miles from the end
The route has a little of everything but favours open farmland dotted with woods and forests. Consequently, once on top the views are open and far reaching despite a humble elevation, the highest point at Butser Hill is just 271 metres (889 feet). It roller coasters gently and perhaps a couple of times a day dips down to a small hamlet where you may find a small store or more importantly, a pint of real beer and a stomach full of fine pub grub. Access to both ends is great with major rail stations at Winchester and Eastbourne, I was back in Winchester 3.1/2 hours after I had finished.
It is a fact that most of us travel to far flung destinations to experience what they have to offer but often neglect what is on our doorstep. A lot of hikers and travellers I have met over the years have seen more of other countries than their own and I am guilty of this also. OK, so I’m not going to get the Sierra Nevada, The Alps or a section of The Amazon here in the UK but my home country is stunning for its own, individual reasons. It has captured the imaginations of many a traveller over time and I’m proud to live here especially when I swing a pack on and go to experience it first hand for a few days.
Bloody press! Check out this guy, he was hanging off a tree hoping I wouldn’t see him. He fell out so I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
I’ll end with a retort to a few messages and comments I received recently in respect of a couple of posts I made on Social Media. One concerned whether it was possible for me, in my middle forties to take on the speed record for the Appalachian Trail, currently standing at 46 and a half days and also my intention to walk the South Downs Way in 3 days.
The general response was ‘Why rush’. My point is this, I don’t have to. I walked no faster on the SDW last weekend than I usually do when thru-hiking. Speed records and quick hikes are not about walking quicker, you just have to walk a little longer each day. 7 or 8 hours will give you a 20 miler, 10 to 12 will give you a 30 to 35 miler. I also got to knock off a national trail in a weekend and an extra day.
The Appalachian Trail record was not broken by walking quicker or running as most people seem to think. It was broken by putting in 17 hour days at 3 miles per hour. If you rushed those daily distances and increased your speed the net result would undoubtedly be injury.
And to a couple of people who claimed ‘I wouldn’t see anything’, well I understand why you would possibly think this but in fact, I’m seeing more! If I walk another 10 miles in a day because I have reduced my pack weight, then I have the reward of another 10 miles to experience.
Next? Well, I’m very excited about the whole weight area and what possibilities it is opening up. The North Downs Way could be next. 156 miles long in 4 days? Watch the blog.
Have fun wherever you’re hiking.