Monday, 6 February 2012

Indie Travel Manifesto

Above is the Indie Travel Manifesto as presented by As you may remember they started a weekly community blogging project back in January and the first prompt was 'What makes an Indie traveller?'. The above manifesto is a culmination of that prompt, no doubt inspired by the many blog responses and in some part the knowledge of their experienced staff and contributors.

I've taken part in a couple of their weekly prompts and reading the contributions from other blogger's has certainly opened my eyes to new experiences and increased the number of places I would like to visit!

Although I tend to shy away from labels and find terms such as 'indie' or 'alternative' a bit woolly I fully endorse the Indie Travel Manifesto. I believe it can provide the framework for which we should all approach future travel ventures. Even a weekend away or a day trip down the road can provide a opportunity to better yourself and/or have a positive impact on the places you visit and the people you meet.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Week 4: Indie Travel Challenge

When the weather gets cold, do you prefer to head to sunnier locales or do you love the outdoor adventures or off-season prices of winter? Warm or cold, what’s your dream winter travel destination, and do you have any travel plans for the coming months? 

I look forward to winter. Being born in Northern England, fair headed and without doubt of Viking descent it's easy to see why the summer and in particular the sun is not always something for me to look forward to. Sure I can lounge on a beach, under the cover of a wide umbrella and with the company of a good book. I enjoy a good summer festival whether it's revelling or stewarding so long as there is a bit of a cover for me to duck into - preferably the local ale tent.

But winter is me, it's in the blood I'm sure of it. Autumn is like a teaser, with leaves starting to disappear and the temperature creeping slowly downwards. Then boom, the frost is here. Suddenly you're scraping your car every morning, searching for the scarf that you haven't worn for ten months and praying, yes praying for the first signs of snow.

Snow is that great you can feel it coming in the temperature outside, almost taste it in the air. I'm by no means an accomplished skier or boarder but getting pummelled into the snow all day safe in the knowledge that what awaits you just outside your location in Chamonix is apres-ski with friends and the locals is a winter comfort in itself.

I've no concrete plans to get away for this winter period but if I could it would be to the mountains or the slopes. The Highlands, Alps, Dolomites, Sierra Nevada, Cascades....The list could go on but mountains were made for winter, even if all you can do is stand under them and gaze at their lofty summits.

Dream location for winter? Vegas. Nah, I'm only joking! I'd love to go back to Yosemite and be allowed behind the scenes winter access, I can only dream how that would play out. Finally, food can be indicative of winter wherever you travel. For me at home, I can smell Scotch Broth being cooked by my dad. Comfort food for any time of the year but for me it will always signify the best season we have. Winter is here.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

My 2012 Indie Travel list

This is week one and the first challenge from the BootsnAll team is here. For linking purposes and for any would be bloggers who are debating whether to get involved check it out here.

Well, where to start? On a lasting note of positivity with inspired notions of world travel to exotic destinations and life changing experiences? Sorry, afraid not. Possibly not in keeping with the true spirit of the blog but there you go. 2012 will see me complete my long overdue degree and so a significant portion of time and resources will have to be dedicated to that. So this is the grand travel dreams, micro style but definitely my style.

My current location is Eastbourne, UK.

- Improve and refine my hiking skills.
- Hike more sections of the South Downs Way Trail.
- Commit to saving a higher amount of my monthly wages for future travel projects.
- Visit and camp in the Lake District by the end of summer (this will be one more off the bucket list!).
- Learn to Kayak at the Seven Sisters Country Park.
- Get a free weekend at Cornbury festival by stewarding.
- Spend a weekend in the amazing Sheffield to watch the even more amazing snooker world championships.
- Complete my level one football coaching course to add a useful skill to my travel related CV.
- Attend an Olympic event....yes I do have a ticket!
- Meet old friends and new at Oktoberfest to celebrate the end of my studies.
- Spend Christmas with my family but be separated by at least two time zones by new years eve.
- Wake up on 1 January 2013 on  a beach in the Southern hemisphere.

So there it is. It might not be everyone's cup of tea but if I achieve all of these which is certainly possible then by this time next year I'll be all the better for it. 2012, the year for putting the past to bed, blogging and micro list dreams. Lets be having you!

BootsnAll Indie travel challenge

Awesome indie travel site have released details of their weekly challenge for 2012. They are going to be sending out prompts, questions and general musings in all things travel related every week for the whole of 2012. Participants can then respond to the prompts via their own blog (you can see where this is going) and could potentially be featured on BNA's blog/website/social media channels!

Now I know that those of you who can read a date will scoff at the frequency of my posts on this particular blog but I've been busy...honest...and well it is the new year and in the spirit of resolutions maybe it's time to take up this challenge. I think it's going to be quite a nice distraction from my other volume of work for this coming year which you can read about at Well ok, you will be able to read about it shortly. I mean one blog at a time and all that.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

2011 - An American addiction

So it's a year to the day and I find myself at Heathrow airport waiting to drop off my bags, once again bound for the land which brought me cactus, cheap chicken wings and life long friends.  I feel nervous and I don't know why - am I expecting more of myself? Maybe other people are expecting more of me and I know it? Either way I'm heading West into a slight uncertainty albeit six months later than I had originally planned.

I'm already in Flagstaff as I write this, having completely forgotten about my blog until a chance run in with another blog inspired me to seek it out and explore it once again. It's not that I don't want to write about my travels, it's just that I find it a chore and I suppose I need to fall in love with writing again before I can really express myself. I won't say this post is based on true love but there may be an ember of an affair here.

I'm heading back out to Lake Mead tomorrow, having already completed one hitch based on the Arizona side of the lake. It was my first fencing project and I can genuinely say I enjoyed myself as I have done on every project but it was without doubt the toughest one to date. As I knew it would, the heat played a major part in my struggles. Last time around (January to March) the climate was much more bearable and I guess I chose a summer series of projects to challenge myself more than anything. Another factor in this challenging project was the amount of hauling we had to do. Hauling is as it sounds, effectively carrying shit loads of material miles and miles. Add to that the desert terrain and the blazing sun and you have an interesting  conundrum.

I know I'm not the sort of person to throw in the towel and quite simply you have to get on with it, to suck it up and keep going. You have to invent stories in your head to pass the time as each painful step just adds to your catalogue of gripes. You duct tape your blisters, re-apply your sunscreen and carry on. And then, when you've reached the fence or your final destination and finally unload your cargo, you hike back to the road to do it all again. I did a long haul the first day and then hauled for all of the second day and it was brutal but the sense of achievement was and always will be worth it. There are others who hauled more material and for longer periods and the statistics for the total amount of material moved in that week were very impressive.

I moved away from hauling to try to experience all aspects of the fencing project and found myself on the stretching crew. Our task was to effectively construct the actual 'meat' of the fence. We would follow the pounding and 'H' brace teams and stretch three rolls of wire (two barb and one smooth) from post to post. We would then divide up along the fence line, hand-stretch each wire and clip it in place adding or removing tension on each wire as and when needed. This process would then be repeated down the fence line for as far as the eye could see. Now parts of this process are easy and slightly tedious at the same time. For example if you are stretching you are basically standing at the same place for at least an hour with very little to do. The biggest challenge for our stretching crew was the hiking distance both to and from the section of fence we were working on. We were not based with the rest of the fencing crew and had to drive around 40 minutes further in the morning to our drop off point. From here we would hike for around an hour to the work location and it was a nice downhill hike in the early morning sun. This of course meant the return journey was uphill, in soft sand and again, oh yeah in the blazing desert heat. Also, the more progress we made throughout the day the further we had to hike back and often we would leave at 2.30pm to allow for increased distances. This was easily the toughest part of stretching and quite often we would be hauling material out and so again it came down to a mental battle. The best method I found was to focus on a point in the distance and then just keep my feet moving. I know this sounds basic but I'm under no illusions that my hiking skills are not quite as refined as they could be and there were certainly more accomplished hikers in our crew who found it quite manageable. For me it was definitely a challenge and one I accomplished without moaning or serious injury. I guess that's an achievement in itself.

On the eve of my second project I am feeling quite optimistic for my 2011 American odyssey. I know I can overcome the toughest of challenges, I've had enough practice after all and life around Flagstaff and the ACE community is shaping up to be quite interesting. He who dares wins, go on my son.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Project 4: Zion National Park

At last, no more re-vegetation and no more Lake Mead. For my fourth project I would travel to Zion National Park in Utah to help set up the irrigation system in preparation for the Spring and Summer months where the campsites and surrounding areas require large amounts of water. This is glamourising the job quite a bit as effectively we would be cleaning out ditches but hey-ho, I would rather do that in Zion than just about anywhere.

It was obvious before I went that Zion is one of those projects that most people want. All of the supervisors and past volunteers rate it very highly and many prefer it to the Grand Canyon in terms of beauty. It was also apparent just after entering the park that this could be true as you drive to the bottom and then along the canyon which towers over you from all angles.

We worked the rest of the day that we arrived and the warning we had received about the weather and the cold seemed to be true. It was raining from pretty much the moment we started to the moment we tooled up and there were times where even the beauty of the surroundings didn't count for much. It got pretty low when we had to erect a tent in the pouring rain, cook and eat huddled together under a tarpaulin and then go to bed at 7.30. We had better luck with the weather the next day and for the majority of the hitch to be fair. It only rained on the Saturday night although the mornings were freezing.

One feature of my morning routine was to put the warm water on the stove. Firstly this was so that I and the rest of the crew could have warms drinks but this also helped to defrost my fingers. Imagine holding a shovel for ten hours a day, seven days straight. I would wake up and due to the cold not be able to close my fingers all the way into my palm. One morning my right hand couldn't close and my left hand was clasped shut! Still now I have pains in my right hand first thing in the morning.

Digging and cleaning ditches is pretty easy and doesn't require much thought. After the first day I assumed that by the end of the week I would be ready to kill myself with my own shovel but it didn't work out that way and I was rarely bored. At points where the work does get to you, I would just take a look around and drift off into some random thought. Also, working in a line helps as you can chat the people next to you and it is probably the project where the working day has gone the quickest.

We were also fortunate to have a supervisor who loves Zion and so after work rather than just going back to camp to cook, eat and sleep we would spend a few hours hiking around the park. We managed to hike the Emerald Pools, Watchman, Weeping Rock and Canyon Overlook trails. This allowed us to see Zion from a height rather than the canyon floor and in my eyes only helped to enhance it's reputation as a stunning place to visit. The park rangers at Zion were also fantastic and had collected a weeks worth of fire wood for us. They even provided a tarpaulin so we could keep it all dry. Work hard all day, hike to an amazing location with stunning views, hike back down and then eat a large, lovingly cooked meal in front of a campfire. Add to that an excellent crew with people you enjoy spending time with and it doesn't get much better.

There is supposed to be a lot of light pollution around Zion and so the night sky is not as amazing as it could be. However on one night the moon was so bright that it lit up the side of a mountain as if it were the sun. I woke up at 3am and it was so bright that you could easily see 100ft and didn't need to use a torch at all. Like the scenic drive on the first night I was actually speechless and couldn't quite believe my eyes. I would happily dig ditches on every project if it were in Zion. It is a very, very special place.You can see all of the photos here. My camera did run out and so there are more on my Facebook page.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Road Trip: New Mexico Loop

Another set of days off! Our plan, the seven of us, was to go to New Mexico via Southern Arizona and get some first class American culture. To say we had the foundation of a plan is a massive, massive lie and after renting the cars on the Thursday we set off down towards Phoenix on Friday at 6am with pretty much no idea of what we were going to do.

Phoenix is not over-rated, because no one rates it to start with so we sent sailing past there and stopped around Tucson to fill up on petrol. We could have visited Tucson but we had finally come to the conclusion of visiting Saguaro National Park further South so we carried on. We ended up visiting Saguaro (with the massive cactus) and then Chiricahua National Monument (with the massive rock pillars) in the day before ending up in small town America at Willcox. This was basically a ghost town and we were lucky to find a petrol station, both because you wouldn't expect to see one in such a place and we really needed petrol. Somehow we stumbled across a Texan BBQ restaurant that was actually a train and so the majority of our first evening was spent inside a train carriage in a dead beat town. Rather than stay in Willcox we headed east into New Mexico and decided to do some night driving so we could get to Las Cruces and be in a good place to start the next days travel.

After an awesome breakfast at Pancake Alley we headed to White Sands National Monument which is basically a collection of brilliant white sand dunes in a desert. It was shocking to see it there as it looked completely out of place but it was beautiful at the same time. Like kids we ran about on the dunes and rolled down them. This was a fairly brief visit and we were soon on our way to Roswell. We didn't necessarily want to visit Roswell but it was a good connecting location for our journey South. The drive to Roswell from White Sands only took about an hour and a half but it was probably the best driving experience of my life so far. We had to descend quite a distance and at one point it was just both of our cars on the longest, straightest stretch of road you have ever seen. Nothing in front, nothing behind for miles, and you lost the road in the horizon. We had identical cars and so it was only fair to have a mini race. I was comfortably doing 115 mph when Hayley came racing past closer to 130mph. Unfortunately this wasn't the first time a girl has beaten me at something but we got to speed all over the state to be honest as the roads are so empty and so inviting!

Roswell turned out to be pretty boring as we had been told it would be. We paid a quick visit to the UFO museum and headed South to Carlsbad. We wound up in a pretty little motel and went back to Carlsbad to get some beer and wine for a little house party in our rooms. The next morning we were up nice and early to visit the Carlsbad Caverns which are undescribale. Just a massive space beneath the earth with amazing rock formations, stalacmites and stalactites. My pictures don't really do it justice as it was obviously dark but it was probably the highlight of my trip. Also, the entrance to the caverns is at the top of a large hill and there were amazing panoramic views into Texas for miles around.

After Carlsbad we headed North and visited the smaller Las Vegas. This was pretty pointless as it was Sunday and everything was either closed our out of business. I definitely prefer the Nevada version. That evening we arrived in Santa Fe and ate at the highly recommended Cowgirl Hall of Fame Cafe. This was the best meal of the trip and I had some rib burger which was humongous! The next morning we spent a few hours looking around Santa Fe at which point it began to snow! Unbelievable. I visited the Georgia O'Keefe museum which was fun in places but I expected more. American Hayley was due to go out on project today and so we set off for Flagstaff at around 1pm, stopping in Gallup at the famous El Rancho hotel. Apparently Ronald Reagan stayed there! 1500 miles in just over 3 days and you get see all of the pictures here.