Filmmaker Jonathan Doyle, with Ben Cianchi, expedition leader, began a journey in December 2019, of the world’s first human powered vertical crossing of Australia. We followed them via social media updates the whole time (find them here) until it was sadly cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are all safely at home now, reflecting, recovering and gathering together what looks like is going to be an amazing film.
We were stoked to be asked to help out. And we’re stoked for the final product.
Jonathan has kindly put together some words about how we contributed to this effort…please read below.
Dirtbags are an incredible independent company based in the Lake District, UK, who specialise in recycling old outdoor and climbing gear to create beautiful bags and accessories. Dirtbags were kind enough to support our world first expedition, The Great Australian Triathlon (thegreataustraliantriathlon), providing us with pannier bags for myself, an expedition-ready powerbank and solar charging system, and most importantly, a set of custom-made frame bags both for myself (the cameraman) and the athletes (Ben Cianchi and Daniel Lamb).
We spent a number of evening working closely with Dirtbags founders, Jen and James to ensure we able to create the best possible bags which satisfied exactly what we needed, and from the get go, I was so happy to be working with them. They were warm and welcoming and super-stoked to get involved with the project. Their enthusiasm was electric and ideas were flowing faster than the teapot!
Having used the frame bags intensely during the filming of the expedition’s first leg; Ben, Emma and Claire Cianchi covering 640km from the most southern point of Tasmania to the most north-eastern point by foot, I can safely say that the bags are the absolute dogs-whatsits.
I tended to use the frame bag to carry two litres of water, lunch for the day and additional camera accessories such as audio recording equipment that I needed quick access to. The top-tube bag was used to carry a small-powerpack for my phone, snacks and bike repair accessories. The material itself easily held up to the abuse I subjected it too, whether that was a little overstuffing, heavy-handedness with the zips, or when the bike inevitably hit the ground during tricky sections of trail.
The most difficult task for Dirtbags was making sure the bags could handle whatever environment decided to throw at them. There hadn’t been much rain in Tasmania proceeding the expedition, so we had to deal with copious amounts of dust as we crossed the state. Obviously, we needed to keep that away from any electronic equipment being carried, but more importantly we needed to keep it away from the sandwiches. We were subject to one massive rainstorm up on the highland plateau and I did fear the worst for my lunch, however Jen and James absolutely nailed it. Upon opening the bags, everything was dry, the waterproof zips and the additional waterproofing of the bag material worked a treat. I was genuinely impressed.
Finally, the bags are incredibly eye-catching, every bike-packer we met during the crossing stopped me and commented how much they loved the look of them, saying how cool they were and how they wish they had a more interesting setup.
Overall I have been bowled over by the Dirtbags team in going above and beyond what was promised and provided such exquisite bike-packing bags. I will absolutely be using these bags for a long time into the future!
Handmade pockets using salvaged log wood. A step by step guide.
So, the last hold was too easy, huh? James upped his game and chipped away to make a two finger pocket wooden hold.
1. Get wood, drill hole.
It all started with a perilous journey to find the perfect tree, chop, and leave for a year to dry and season.
In our case, we saved our shed from destruction by a scary, heavy looking branch, and kept it as it ‘might come in handy’. It wasn’t seasoned, either.
Prepare your ‘might come in handy’ bits of wood, obviously it needs to be big enough to have a hole big enough for your pocket. This was about 4″. Saw off the end so you’ve got a nice flat end to work from.
I used a 3/4″ spade hole cutter bit; a Forstner bit would’ve been better- but I don’t have one. Alternatively, drill lots of small holes with a regular drill bit, the bigger the better. Make sure you do this carefully with the log in a stable position, ideally clamped in place.
Using a chisel and a heavy object, dig out the hole to make it larger. Enough to accommodate as many fingers as you want. Please be careful doing this, chisels are sharp. Unless it’s ours, which is not.
Countersink to a depth of 5mm at the positions of the mounting screws (we used three screws, one at the top and two at the bottom). The depth of the countersink is to accommodate the screw head but is not absolutely crucial if you don’t have a countersink bit.
4. Shape and saw.
Using a rasp, bevel all the square edges and give the face of the hold some shape. Measure where you want the base of the hold to be, and saw it off. Keep it nice and straight, as this will be the back screwed against the wall. Obviously, when you cut the hold off the log, consider how deep you want your pocket to be. The length you cut off will determine the pocket depth.
5. Drill mounting holes, sand.
Drill holes for mounting. In order to shape and finish the hold, mount it to something solid (waste bit of wood, for instance) so you can go at it with sandpaper (250/400 grit), without having to hold it in your hand, until it’s nice and smooth.
6. Screw to board.
Make sure you screw this to something relatively solid. We don’t want you to pull your shed down. Climb.
Expert level, completed.
Disclaimer: we take no responsibility in loss of limbs, grazed skin, or bruised egos whilst you make your own holds. Use your common sense.
Amidst the current crisis, of which we are all VERY aware, travellers across the globe are rushing home to loved ones as the pandemic continues to cause disruptions locally and worldwide. My rock climbing and planned motorbike adventures for Laos-Vietnam (upcoming blogs) were cut short, as serious decisions had to be made quickly to escape to Thailand before borders were fully locked down. Being stuck in Laos was not an option, with their limited emergency care and lack of an international airport. Turns out the day after I crossed, my border closed.
Finally accepting defeat and turning my gaze towards the red bricks and rolling hills of sunny England, I now find myself in a rather sticky-rice situation.
I’m waiting on refunds from three different airlines and coming to terms with the horribly inflated price of my winged journey home now scheduled for Sunday. If this plane doesn’t leave the country, that’s it. Trapped in Thailand.
Interestingly, the choice as to coming home or staying put is not so simple and many fellow travellers are similarly questioning their next move. I don’t have a job to get back to or rent to pay, the crags and climbing gyms are closed anyway, and my family are probably safer without me potentially carrying the virus back to them. Thailand is warm, cheap, and my accommodation situation actually allows me private outdoor space (a pool, no less).
So why am I so desperate to leave to confinement in England?
I would be lying if I hadn’t considered waiting it out here. But Bangkok will shortly be on lockdown too and who knows how long the travel restrictions will last. If I commit to staying, I have to COMMIT to staying. For months, even.
Not so bad though? I have a guitar, chrysanthemum tea, air conditioning, a yoga mat, jungle-esque scenery (despite being in the middle of the city), and all for a fiver a night. Plus, when this blows over, I can start moving again.
Add on travel insurance (mine expired, whoops). But then minus the extortionate flight ticket home. Add on the same confinements as at-home UK citizens (there’ll be no island-hopping; in doing so, backpackers only threaten to transmit the virus to smaller isolated communities). Add on the incessant uncertainty of changes to the country, NAY, THE WORLD. But minus the support network. Add on the psychological claustrophobia as all the other travellers also manage their own brain-turmoil regarding their own personal situation.
Add on that I have to drink my tea out of a bowl.
Finally, add on the prospect of my family being affected and me being helplessly 6000 miles away.
Personally, it becomes matter of physical comfort versus pragmatism and mental stability. Ultimately and to the relief of my parents, I have decided to pursue the latter. Though really, I’m still not entirely sure I’ve chosen right.
In this blog, I endeavoured firstly to summarise briefly my travel situation, and why Zoe may not be going to too many places in the immediate future (surprise, it’s Covid-19). Secondly, I wanted to address those who are lusting after confinement abroad into the mindset of someone actually locked in another country. Grass is always greener, ey.
I admit to being surprised at my yearning for England.
Nevertheless, IF I get home, I’m sure I will welcome maybe 2 days of relief followed by weeks of the same isolation mania as everyone else. I’ll make sure to re-read this entry when that happens.
Step by step guide to creating your own wooden, plastic free climbing holds for a home training board.
Home climbing walls are becoming a pretty big deal, what with ‘ahem’ not being able to roam free at the moment. Home training is a cost effective way to stay strong, and to maximise training time; being able to do it in bursts in between dinner, putting kids to bed, washing pots blah blah blah.
As per usual, we gathered together random bits of wood to make our holds out of. We already had everything in the house so didn’t need to buy in anything. Woohoo – free holds!
1. Get wood.
This is a branch kept from a condemned Hawthorn tree. It is a nice dense hardwood, good to work with. Nice and chunky. You can use any old branch/wood scrap provided it is dead and dry with some weight. Using a rasp, I shaved off the bark into a rough shape and size on one edge.
2. Saw bits off.
Carefully saw off end at desired length. Be careful to get a square cut as this side of the hold will be against the wall.
3. Drill and countersink.
Drill two holes 4/5mm approximately two inches apart (distance will depend on the size of wood you are using). Then counter sink both holes to accommodate the screw head. Counter sinking creates a tapered hole about 5mm in depth. This can be done either using a tapered counter sinking bit or with a 10mm drill bit, drilling 5mm into each hole.
4. Flip and mount.
Now, flip the hold over – flat side up. I temporarily screwed it to something solid (wood cutting horse, for example) to keep it secure for the next step.
5. Shave more.
I then shaved the opposite edge on the opposite side to create a tapered hold. We are going for a small jug, here. But you can do anything you want, be creative.
6. Rough sand and shape.
I have a fancy machine but this can be done with a coarse sand paper block and some elbow grease or an electric hand sander. The aim is to smooth out the surfaces from the coarse rasp shaping, and to fine tune the shaping. No nasty splinters.
7. Fine sand.
250 or 400 grit paper works well. Sand away until nice and smooth.
8. Screw to board.
Voila. Get training. You can get creative and make lots of different shapes and sizes. Be sure to send us pictures of your finished pieces – we want to show them off too!
Five things you need to know before a winter bouldering trip to Albarracín
Let’s be clear. Bouldering is free. It’s more of a guide for getting to/from/general survival.
The plan was Font in early November, book at the last minute after seeing what the weather was doing. It was a good plan as it turned out the weather looked horrendous, cold and rain. So a plan B was needed, long story short we headed to Albarracín (with a reputation of being one of Europe’s best bouldering venues with “bomb proof” weather) We had a great time, so much so that we went again in early January, right in the middle of storm…with knee deep snow. So here we’ve put a crib sheet about getting the most out of winter bouldering in Spain.
1 Getting there. Flights and car hire
From the UK you can fly reasonably cheaply if you shop around to Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante and Madrid. The nearest airports are Valencia and Madrid. We used Barcelona and Alicante because the flights were cheaper and earlier in the morning so we could there, if we got a wriggle on with enough time to boulder for a few hours on the first day. This is a good thing to do if you are short on days and don’t mind being knackered.
You can choose to offset your carbon footprint created by flying by giving something back. To find out how much impact your flight has, ClimateCare have a carbon calculator.
Hiring a car is really the only viable option, made cheaper if you have a car full of people of course. Using public transport is difficult, as would getting to the crag when you are there. Be really careful checking the condition of your car when you pick it up, and don’t take it back very dirty inside (easy to do on a climbing trip) or you may end up with a nasty bill. Be sure to understand what you are insured for. If you take your own mats you need to hire a car big enough. First trip we hired a VW Caddy, we didn’t take our own mats but hired 3 mats from the climbing shop in Albarracin. We comfortably got three of us and the mats in the car. Second trip we hired a bigger car a Vauxhall Zafira, with five of us and four mats. A tight squeeze.
It was like tetras trying to fit everything in.
2 What to take. Mats and stuff
To keep costs down for the first trip we took a sack each which fitted the size requirements for cab luggage (56x45x25cms) a decent size, this way we avoided the high costs of hold luggage, and skipped through the airport not having to collect baggage. Packing was quite tight.
All you need:
A good pair of approach shoes/boots which we travelled in
2 pairs of climbing shoes,
Warm crag layers, hat gloves etc
Flask, tea is important.
Change of clothes and toiletries etc. don’t forget you haven’t got any hold luggage so you are restricted on what liquids you can take, e.g liquid chalk or sharps (scissors)
With Easy Jet the hold luggage is measured by adding up the height, length and width of your bag, maximum total is 275cm, this is plenty big enough for most large mats. This meant we could put two mats together and count them as one. Jen constructed some large covers out of tent materials to hold them, and straps, together. This meant we could stuff boots and chalk etc inside the mat. We had no issues getting the mats through check in, as they are relatively light.
I think its slightly more expensive to take your own mats than to hire (hiring in November was 7 euros per day, but you had to pre book and collect when the shop is open. Taking your own is a bit of hassle but is probably worth it as you remove the risk of not getting hire mats.
3 Accommodation and provisions
There are less choices for accommodation in the winter, camping is less practical because it is very cold on a night, there is a carpark for campervans. Albaraccin is around 1300m high. There are plenty of Airbnbs hotels, a couple of climbing hostels, we paid about 20 euros per person per night for a really good airbnb.
There are two supermarkets very near each other in the town, we had no trouble getting what we wanted to feed ourselves, we didn’t go to the next big town Terual as it was 40 mins away, and there was no need. We cooked in for 50% of the time and also ate in the local restaurants/ bars. The food was good and alright value, the best we found was Bar la Despensa, a cosy tapas bar, with very friendly staff and good prices. The restaurants don’t open until 8pm which doesn’t suit everybody, but if you are climbing all day it suits us.
4. The Crags
The boulder areas are a 10 minute drive up the hill from the town, we took flasks of hot drinks, sandwiches, fruit and boiled eggs up to the crag. We generally got to the crag between 09.00 and 10.00 which seemed early enough especially if it was cold. You can easily spend all day at the crag with no need to drop back down to town for lunch. There are 3 main car parks, the first being on a bend, the second has some small out building in it and third has parking on both sides of the road. The third is the best places to start at, you can see boulders from the road and Sector Parking is right in front of the parking. This sector is great for warming up at it has some easier problems on fantastic looking walls.
We used a 2019 guidebook which we bought through Needle sports in Keswick. Its in English and is very good. Ticks with intials helped us keep track of everyone’s progress. We also used the 27crags app, which proved very useful later on. Go for the problems with stars or half stars, they are all excellent. We tended to climb in 1 area in the morning and another in the afternoon. You soon get a feel for the aspect of the crags, we were able to find crags in the shelter from the wind and ones in the sun.
On both trips it was very cold (between 0 and 10 degrees) but we were able to keep warm and dodge the wind.
The climbing is really good, a mix of edges, pockets and slopers.
There are hundreds of Youtube vidoes which give you a much better idea than I can. You can also walk up the canyon by parking near the sports centre (in the end we wound up using this trail to lug the mats to go climbing). This is a good thing to do perhaps on a rest day.
5 Plan B and C
On our second trip we had about 30 cms of snow on our third day. The whole area was very beautiful, but the conditions made salvaging any climbing virtually impossible as it snowed throughout the day and the snow was very wet snow. There are lots of overhangs (Techos area especially) where it may be possible to climb in rain or light snow. For us the snow was blowing in under the overhangs and the ground and our kit was sodden. But dammit, we tried.
So decisions had to be made.
There is plenty of walking or running in the surrounding area, but you are in Spain and its just that you are high up in the mountains in poor weather. We bailed and dropped down towards the sea to find better weather. This is where your choice of airport comes in. We were Alicante so we did the 4 hour drive first thing in the morning, we went straight to a bouldering area we had checked out the night before called Crevillante near Elche, had an afternoon and following days bouldering and stopped in a cheap air bnb.
If you fly from Barcelona or Valencia there is a boulder areas called Alcaniz which is gaining a good reputation. There is also an area near Madrid. The point is you have choices if Albarracin is rainy or snowing. Just call it early and bail. We used Instagram to find very recent photos of folk bouldering on the crags we were heading for, this was excellent for sussing what condition the crags were in.
Albaraccin is a great place to visit, I haven’t even talked about how magical the town itself is or much about the bouldering really. If you are organised, a trip in winter is really worth doing, we were a bit unlucky in our January trip as it was right in the middle of the big storms. But we had a fantastic time and the snow just added to the adventure.