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Zoe Goes Carlife: the dirtbag of Dirtbags

Because vanlife is too mainstream

It has been a minute. I’ve not gone many places, other than some of the darker zones in my mind. But we’re back now and exciting things are happening, and who best to tell but you guys. Aren’t you lucky? 

So now, when people ask where I live, I tell them ‘Astra Estate’ – it’s amongst the ranks of the X-Mansion, the Umbrella Academy and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – in the small town of Vauxhall. It has a white exterior and large windows, no double glazing but excellent natural lighting, complete with an office and a walk-in wardrobe…. Also four wheels and an engine.

YES I have moved into my car like any normal, itchy-footed, travel-starved gal would do when overseas exploration is off-limits and she also wants to hold down full-time study and two jobs in her beloved North East England.  

Why? Oh, for so many reasons, but namely – why not, and why not now? I have always fancied van-life but, well, I don’t have a van and can’t afford one right now. Life changes and it seemed like the opportune moment to get on the road. Plus, one of my jobs involves a lot of late-night travel in the car anyway and I don’t want to be chugging down the motorway at 60mph guzzling more diesel than my mileage contributions can cover.

Zoe sits in front of her white car with an open boot cooking tea in front of rolling hills.

I’ve sacrificed space and headroom for a better fuel economy, comfy riding and WAY easier parking. 

I’d like to say it’s stealthy… but it may well be even more obvious than a van when all of the reflective window covers go up. I found cooking difficult enough in a fully equipped kitchen, but I reckon I’m better with a penknife and plastic chopping board anyway. My hygiene levels have actually probably increased because I make a conscious effort to battle the usual stigma. My wallet thanks me because I’m not allowed to buy more clothes or toys as I simply have nowhere to store them. 

Internet? Unlimited data deal.

Showers? University/climbing wall/flannel and water/the sea. 

Toilet? Nature’s bathroom. Or time it with a supermarket run. 

Tea? Obviously.

Views? Spectacular. Also, incredibly ordinary. And I love both.

I figured to use a lint roller in lieu of a hoover

Talk about making mountains out of mole-hills, I found a new way to store away my blinds and my day was MADE. I discovered a little cubby-hole that is now dedicated to hot drinks, and don’t even get me started on the car-kettle.  I’m getting the highs of summitting mini Everests on the daily.

Honestly, my biggest problem is that the ‘carlife’ hashtag on Instagram is taken over by Ferraris and Aston Martins that wouldn’t fit a picnic basket, let alone the whole life of a dirtbag climber that works the mornings in muddy fields and the afternoons in a research lab.

It’s been about one month already and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.

I’m also making it a little harder for myself by trying to be as plastic-friendly as possible – no single-use wipes or cotton pads, soap bars instead of bottles, refillable water containers, loose-leaf tea etc. In fact, there are several aspects of car-life that are arguably more environmentally-friendly such as water usage, electricity and food wastage, but that’s another blog.

I will strongly emphasize that this is entirely my choice. I am no more financially strapped than your average student and I have a wonderful network of family and friends that offer unlimited home-comforts which I gladly accept if I’m feeling particularly starved of convenience. 

Looking forward to sharing some more of this adventure and always on the look-out for new park-ups. Anything in particular you want to know or read about? Any neat tricks or personal anecdotes to share? Need someone to cat-sit for a weekend? Tell me!

Finally, keep an eye out for when I’m headed your way – I’ll make you a Trangia tea and let’s catch up. 


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Zoe Goes Places: North-East England

North-East Bouldering: a re-reintroduction


I’m back!

Settling down to the prospect of little-to-no international travel for the rest of the year, but excited for getting out and about in the homeland.

Isolating alone for 8 weeks, I swore lockdown would be train, train, train. Two full wine bottles became light weights… and then lighter weights… until I filled them back up with water. At one point, I even improvised a pinch block with a yoga block, a sling and heavy books. It then sat proudly in the corner, the pinnacle of my quarantine creativity, and collected dust.

To my sheer amazement, I didn’t exactly emerge from lockdown as the beast I had envisioned.

Regardless, since restrictions lifted, I’ve been out and subsequently humbled on the local sandstone. I’m incredibly fortunate to reside in Newcastle and have the Northumberland boulders on my doorstep – and I count my rocky blessings each day. Ironically though, after ‘living at the crag’ in Laos and watching the aptly named ‘TV Boulder’ from the guesthouse sofa in India, ‘on the doorstep’ now refers to a minimum 35minute drive and 15minute approach…

…But I’m not complaining. The car journey becomes part of the outing. Watching the grey monotony of the city gradually succumb to a rich tapestry of green and gold brings about a gentle high, accompanied by the low buzz of adventure. On my own, it’s almost a meditation.

Plus, a long approach justifies immediately opening the crag snacks; one must obviously refuel for the day of hard climbing ahead.

Except, this is England. Notably, the North of England. We checked the forecast a week ago. We checked the forecast last night. We checked the forecast this morning.


It’s now noon and we’re huddled in the van in a layby while the rain lashes down and I sigh at the little sun/cloud hovering above ‘12pm’ on MetOffice.com. We crack a beer and toast to the solid attempt at a day out on the pebbles. We barely touched the rock and ate all the snacks. Overall, still a good time.

I’ve cowered behind a crashpad as an improvised windbreak on the exposed face of Ravensheugh crag, insufferable midges have forced us to run from the sunburnt rock in Yorkshire and, in just one short evening session, I’ve been subject to all the elements one after another.


When the weather does behave (and has done for at least 36 hours prior, given the fragility of northern sandstone), I am practising sloping crimps, sloping footholds, and… well, most things sloping. It’s a relatively new technique for me, partly due to an active avoidance thus far. Sticking a slap for a top-out is mad satisfying though – I’m hooked.

Bouldering in the County is hard and fulfilling, and the sunsets make for some epic scenes. But climbing aside, Northumberland gifts tranquillity and a strange feeling of safety. Maybe it’s the supporting mattress of bell heather, or the soft haze rolling over the Cheviots. Maybe it’s just me.

Maybe it’s just not having to worry about snakes and scorpions under rocks or in pockets (I won’t spoil the idyllic by mentioning ticks).


Having decided to stay put for a while, I’m looking forward to seeing the progress by starting my own project list and setting targets. I won’t list them here; my fear of admitting failure is second only to my fear of ticks. But follow mine or Dirtbags’ Instagram for when they’re smashed and I can claim success (shameless self-promotion).

Thank you to the poor souls with whom I get to share these outings, who lend me pads and guidebooks, and who are making UK life a little less intimidating than I had anticipated.


Zoe.

Photo credits include: (Instagram) @smupwalton @corndawg_25 @micky_j_p 


Sport climbing in Laos, Zoe Allin

Zoe Allin is Dirtbags’ resident writer, adventurer and boulderer. She does an alright job.

Follow her on Instagram for up to date antics: @zoallin

Zoe goes all over the place and is kind enough to write some stuff. If you have any questions or queries about said adventures and locations, shoot us an email at dirtbagsclimb@gmail.com and we will pass it on.


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Zoe goes places: Thakhek, Laos

Sport climbing in Laos, Zoe Allin

PAD THAI AND CLIMBING HIGH: A boulderer goes sport climbing.

In an unexpected turn of events, I find myself in Southeast Asia climbing 30m pitches on some seriously 3D limestone. We’re ‘living at the crag’ at Green Climbers Home in Thakhek, Laos, and I am VERY confused. Where are the crash pads? Why is the chalk bag secured to my waist, like ALL the time, and why is it so small? What is this rope attached to me? And, dammit, there are way more than 5 moves on that problem, sorry, route. 


Prior to Laos, I had only limited sport climbing experience indoors, never mind real rock, but I got the gist. Keep going up and keep clipping in. That stood to be fundamentally true and I enjoyed three weeks of climbing high and chilling out/eating my weight in noodles at the ‘Kneebar’ restaurant. 

zoe goes places chalk bag

For someone not afraid of heights, I was surprisingly wobbly on my first climb. Even on the tufa-ladder that was a 5b and with one hand in a jug the size of Jupiter, suddenly I felt quite unstable pulling up the rope to clip in. Nevertheless, I finished my time in Thakhek with my first 7a lead tucked neatly under my harness. 


As well as learning the basics like cleaning the route (I had never even considered that I needed to get the draws *down* – such is gym climbing life), I can also say I picked up some less conventional lessons/insights along the way. 

  1. Jumping to slopers and trusting a couple fingers on credit-card crimps are fun and games when two meters off the floor and protected by 3 pads and 2 spotters. Not that I had many as-extreme moves on my climbs in Laos, but holds I would consider bomber on a boulder definitely felt less-than-satisfactory on a route, even at the first bolt. 
  1. Following on from above, point 2 is a note to future self. It’s all in your head, throw yourself at it. Notwithstanding, the fear exists. I’m no mathematician but I think the formula would look something like this:

with Fi representing Fear Index. 

  1. Belay glasses: a gift from above (aka German inventor, Albi Scheider in 2007). Simple yet splendid. Prismatic perfection. Just yes.
  1. Now aware of ‘flashing’ vs ‘onsighting’, I propose a new category to delineate whether a route has been succeeded, notably if it is flashed or onsighted, when putting the draws up as well. That additional effort should be RECOGNISED.
  1. Sent multiple climbs in one day? Congratulate yourself with a Beer Lao. Not redpointed a single route? Have a Beer Lao and try again tomorrow. Rest day? Beer Lao by the cave. Sent your project? TWO Beer Laos. (In this respect, I find bouldering and sport climbing to be much alike but note that beer options may vary by country).

In conclusion, I would say that this trip went off without a hitch.

When I left for India, not in a mallion years did I think I would find myself in Laos. 

But now, I can’t think of anywhere that would have ‘biner more apt, or indeed, a beta place to commence my sport climbing adventures…

Hopefully, someone out there might relate to a thing or two I’ve mentioned above. Maybe you went the other way and started with sport before tackling a boulder. Let me know your experiences!

Thanks to a bunch of awesome humans including, but not limited to:

Mattias Sarvik for putting Laos on the map for me;

Yonatan Koren for the psyche and support on Schwitzerland (7a);

Jörn Störtebekker and Jules Guérin for the amazing photos;

Tom, Fai and all the wonderful people at Green Climbers Home.

Zoe Allin

Insta @zoallin


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Zoe Goes Places: Bouldering in Hampi

Zoe Allin gets to grips with sharp Hampi granite, bouldering in the Indian sun and life as a travelling climber.


Arrival at Hampi

If you have even heard of Hampi, I imagine it will be for its historical, archaeological and religious significance. But leave the temples behind for now and cross the river to Hampi Island, where you will be immediately welcomed to Main Street – a single line of cafés/guesthouses adorned with advertisements for yoga classes and sound healing sessions, colourful stalls of happy pants and two German bakeries.

Oh, and also one of the biggest boulder fields in the world. No surprise then, that Hampi is described as a ‘Mecca’ for the travelling climber. 

Hampi bouldering, India


Complete with hammocks, slackline, monkey bars and a campus board, The Goan Corner is the climber’s hub of Hampi Island where Dirtbaggers can pay 200 Indian Rupees (about £2) a night for a mattress and mosquito net on the roof.

I was lucky in that my bed does not catch much sun. I was *unlucky* in that the monkeys that use the roof as a playground stole my banana from my bag and left dirty fingerprints in my peanut butter.


Golden Boulders Festival


Within an hour of arriving, I was invited to join a crew for the next morning. Climbers meet around 6.15am for breakfast and a 7am ETD, marching out in various directions with our rented pads (120rupees/day from the Goan Corner) and then climbing until the problems fall foul to the Indian sun, usually around midday.

Dirtbags t shirt Zoe Allin spots Hampi climber

The afternoon session begins around half 4 and continues into the night, providing the crew has enough headtorches or a mini floodlight. Power screams, ‘Allez!’, ‘¡Venga!’, and ‘STRONG, TRUST THE FOOT’, followed by howls of success regularly echo across the Plateau. 

Spotting at Hampi Golden boulders festival, Zoe Allin climber and dirtbag

Two main points should be emphasised. 

1) Hampi granite is damn sharp. I caught a crimp slightly off target and sliced my finger open on a protruding crystal… on multiple occasions. We all grimace in solitude on hearing the cheese-grating noise of skin against rock as the grip gives or a hold is missed and fingerprints are erased in one fine swoop.

 2) Hampi grading is… unreliable. On the most part, the climbs are harder than they are graded; the most recent topo has downgraded a lot of the problems. Nevertheless, there is something for everyone and, whether I’m climbing hard or not, I revel in the energy created at the crag. 

Hampi climbing festival 2020, Zoe Allin


The Golden Boulders Climbing Festival and Competition was in full swing over my first week. Although I prefer to climb non-competitively, the vibes surrounding the competition were only those of good spirit and encouragement; I wear the blue vest with pride! More importantly, I am incredibly grateful to now consider the people I met through the festival as good friends. 


Time to reflect


Because of the aforementioned skin-loss and injuries resulting from overactivity, rest days are crucial. I practise doing nothing at the oasis by Space Baba Café, have sat (not stood) on a slackline spanning the river and appreciated the intrinsic beauty of the Island from the back of a Royal Enfield. Trust me, you won’t get bored. 

Water buffalo, Hampi India


The main bouldering season is limited to mainly Dec/Jan/Feb due to the heat but I am assured the psyche continues as night sessions into March.


Onwards

Remember when I was going to spend just 2 weeks here? Me neither… 
I’ve also made the somewhat rash decision to move out of my flat (many thanks to my boys for moving my stuff – love you both) and to stay out here seeking out more of the climbing spots around South/Southeast Asia in Dirtbag fashion.

Seriously, hit me up with recommendations. Where next!? 

Useful information:
The Goan Corner (Guesthouse): Meet your new crew, eat well, rent your pad, don’t get in trouble with Sharmilla (the owner). 
Golden Boulders Climbing Shop: Take private lessons, rent shoes and buy chalk, be charmed by the ever-smiling Jerry who also organised the Golden Boulders Festival (big thanks, my friend).
Nature Yoga: run by my talented companion, Jessie. Join for Hatha Yoga sessions away from the guesthouses – donation based. 

Feel free to ask me anything!

Zoe Allin

www.instagram.com/zoallin

Worn out, bouldering in India, Hampi. Goan corner pad rental
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Zoe goes places: Nepal

Yak soap and icy socks, spending Christmas dirtbag style.


I took the opportunity to travel to a country where 90% of the people are Hindus, where Christmas is not celebrated en masse, as a way to escape the western frivolities that I find somewhat claustrophobic. I saw myself high up in the snowy Himalayas on the Annapurna Circuit of Nepal, a 160-230km trek to altitudes of >5000m and with picturesque views of the Annapurna Sanctuary. I would find solace in the serenity of the mountains, perhaps with a fire and a good book. 


Yac Donalds – with ‘a side of happiness’

I avoided the throngs of people doing last minute shopping, instead trekking for up to 8 hours/day through jungle then alpine landscapes towards the Thorong La pass (see what I did there? ‘THRONGS’ of people… ‘THORONG La’….). 

I joined forces with two other ‘strays’, flew down a slope on a make-shift sled with a local family, played ghost football on the most picturesquely located football pitch and had a Happy Meal at Yak-Donalds.

I could be walking in a t-shirt under the sun, but the temperature plummeted in shade or after sunset. Teahouse rooms are mostly bare stone with the bathroom often having no glass in the window gap… and I had a 3-season sleeping bag with a minimum temperature of 0 degrees…

While folk at home would be receiving new socks, I was washing my 3-day-old pair in icy water and yak soap (that I also used for my hair), hoping they would not freeze overnight like the taps would. We filled our filter bottles from waterfalls along the trail, once they thawed of course, in true trekking style. 

So much snow had fallen in the blizzards that we passed multiple trekkers forced to turn back. We stubbornly pushed on, and the trail rewarded us with a white winter wonderland that was basically our own.


On days with clouds, the mountains were draped with a grey pashmina and trees appeared silhouetted as if calligraphied with jet black ink.

When the clouds cleared, blue skies emphasised sharp ridge-lines of the Annapurna range that rose in stark contrast to fluffy blankets of snow. Not an elf in sight. 


Nine days in, after sleeping in all my layers and (very fake) down jacket at 4900m, we started the final push for Thorong La as a fine team of seven. It was 5am, a clear sky and a -25 degree chill. 

Ascent on the Annapurna circuit. Creating our own path.

The ascent was TOUGH, man. It took all my strength to keep going. ‘I’m never doing this again’. Then, as the prayer flags welcomed our arrival to 5416m and we stood amidst mountains, a tear was shed. ‘Thank god that’s over’. We celebrated, I took note of my slightly frostbitten purple nose, and ate the best Kit Kat Chunky of my life. ‘I can’t wait for the next time’.  Unfortunately, the next time might have to wait.

Thorang-la Pass – we did it!

The immense descend that followed rendered me to walking with the aid of two poles as crutches. On the 23rd, after trekking a painful further 25km, despite hiking the full 180km, I had accepted defeat on the planned additional 100km and was on a twelve hour bus ride back to Pokhara.


The bus was forced to a halt by no less than four landslides, and I don’t know how the Nepalis can sit on their seats so calmly because I don’t think I made contact with mine for more than ten seconds at a time, my head smashing against the ceiling and windows on multiple occasions. 

My saving grace was that the hostel had put together a potluck style dinner for the 24th (big up to Kiwi Backpackers). There was no gift exchange and complete strangers became close friends within hours. On Christmas Day, I mostly read on the rooftop with a spectacular view of the sacred Machhapuchhare (Fishtail) Mountain and revelled in the simple tranquility. The only reminder of the ‘special date’ came from the messages I exchanged with loved ones old and new around the world. I don’t think I’ve heard Bublé once this year. 

Christmas away from home with new friends and amazing adventures,

Also, my Indian visa just got granted so that’s kind of cool.

Hampi 2020, coming at ya. 

Follow her journey on Instagram – @zoallin

Make your own journey – find out about trekking in Nepal