Saturday, 15 December 2012

Ski Season Training Week...


Sitting, sitting and more sitting.


Training to be a chalet host is loooong. And involves a lot of sitting, sitting through lectures, sitting at lunch, sitting in coffee breaks. Always sitting.

Every morning was an early rise, to prepare us for chalet host life I think, and something I'm used to thankfully. After breakfast we went straight in to lectures on a number of different subjects from Mountain Health including avalanche safety as well as protecting your package should you decide to do some serious Apre Ski activities of the bedroom variety, to Housekeeping and everything to do with making a bed and cleaning a bathroom.

Being a fairly large company there was the usual box ticking exercises of explaining the grievance policy should you do something wrong or decide to leave prematurely etc. Ski season operators have a notorious turnover of staff, with some people taking the job just to get a free ride out to the Alps!

The Fire Safety talk was fairly in depth and shocking including a video that was a little too graphic for my liking. It did re-enforce the importance of fire safety in the Alps with the chalets being built from lovely Pine wood and the realisation that, at altitude, it may take the fire department a number of hours instead of the usual minutes we are used to at home in the UK.

This point was bolstered when Kerry and I arrived at our chalet to find that the adjacent chalet had burnt down just a few weeks prior. There was no snow on the ground and the fire brigade were able to get to the scene very quickly. Even so the wood was so dry the fire spread and only a shell remains. Quite scarily we have to walk feet in front of the crumbling building to get to our Chalet and we have heard parts falling down during the night.

After all of our training we were called in to the main lecture hall of the hotel to have one final speech from the European Operations Director before we were let loose to hunt out A4 printed sheets that had been pinned up throughout the hotel. On them was the information everyone was craving, our resort and chalet placements!

We have met some amazing people, both from our cooking course in the summer and from the companies training course in the hotel, so I was a little upset that we were placed in a resort on our own. As it turns out our closest friends were all split up over the French resorts. What was a little worrying to start was that Kerry and I were literally the only 2 hosts to be placed in our particular resort, Sainte Foy.

We met with our Area Manager, a very French guy who immediately put our fears to rest. He explained how being chosen to run a chalet in Sainte Foy was a great compliment from the company. That the managers saw our potential over the rest to provide a premium, quality holiday and to run the whole resort without guidance (or interference) from management. This basically means that we run the resort ourselves, giving guests information and advice as well as maintaining the chalet to our standards.

So off we go! To Sainte Foy!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

36 hour day, 700 miles, beer pong tournament and breakfast at 7!...


We are in the alps... and already loving it! We left for our ski season today.

The day had finally come. It seemed like an eternity and then it rushed up on us before we knew it. Kerry's Mum and both of my parents were there at the train station to see us off, and a good friend Sarah came up to Victoria with us and our stupidly heavy bags. Lugging them the short distance down the road to the coach station was a real mission! But we found a nice italian and sat down for dinner.

Charlie, jemima, Stef and Lucy met us just as Sarah left for University. We had all met on the Chalet cookery course and by some fluke were all now employed by the same tour operator. We had a good chat and met some of their parents before heading across the road to the coach station where alot of young, ski/board people stood around with bags as big as ours! We all piled on to two coaches. It was a nice touch that there were 50 people to get on 2 x 47 seater coaches meaning we had plenty of space to loll around and generally spread out.

The coach journey was murder, for me atleast. It wasn't too bad on the way to the ferry but after we'd hit france it seemed to go on for ever. And it seemed I was the only one having trouble sleeping. I remember sitting there staring blankly in to space, everyone around me asleep, even the reserve driver, as thick thick snow fell. And we were only 2 hours in to France!


 We pulled up at an Aire, a small area similar to a service station, to fill up with fuel at about 8am. I used an android app I purposefully wanted to try out before our driving tour of Europe called NavFree. It allows you to download an entire countries road network on to the phone locally so the maps can be used offline (Without using data) The interface is a little clunky but it pinpointed where we were quickly and informed me we'd only travelled 400km and still had another 400 to go! That and I had to poo in a hole ;(

Everyone was a little bleary eyed and we all piled on for the last stretch. I did actually manage a little sleep between the aire and the start of the mountains, waking up to snow topped peaks on either side of the bus as we trundled down the autoroute. A quick check on Navfree showed we were only 40km from La Tania, the moutain village we were to be staying at. Of course these 40km were mainly the mountain road with steep hairpin bends that the bus struggled to negotiate. As good as our 2 drivers were at manoeuvring the large coaches, they just can't compete with the excellent (and sometimes scary!) driving of the French coach drivers.

We were greated in to the companies flagship new hotel by some of the managers, reps and hosts/hotel assistants from the previous week. We hauled our bags up some steep stairs and I was reminded just how much thinner the air was up here! We were only at 1400m altitude but my chest heaved for air, struggling with the half tonne weight of clothes and electronics I'd brought.

The afternoon was used for settling in to our rooms, collecting and signing for uniform and finally some welcome drinks and a small speech from the companies French Operations Manager. We were encouraged to mingle and get to know everyone and sat down for dinner, looking weary. After dinner we moved in to the lounge area where a large fire place sat with a chimney extending up and around a set of stairs that look like they could have been taken straight out of Harry Potter (Thanks Jemima)
All of a sudden 4 tables appeared, cups were laid out, an easel with a tournament hierarchy on was erected and a a loud voiced rep declared the start of the first 2012/13 Beer Pong contest to begin. I grouped up with a nice girl from Cheltenham who ski'd and we decided on “Sticks and Trays” for our team name, promptly getting annihilated in the first round!
The noise was incredible, everyone seemed to get a new lease of life and games were played for 5 minutes or until someone lost, with any drawn games being decided upon by a 'Dance off' resulting in some very funny and acrobatic moves!

The beer flowed and come 11:30 I was knackered, Kerry and I retired to our bedroom (which I've subsequently found out is an 'Executive' room!) so we could get some sleep before a 6:30 rise and breakfast at 7.

We are in the alps... and already loving it!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The last few days...

We have come down to the final few days...

The last month has been pretty manic if I'm honest. Meeting people and cramming in the last few parties before we head out on Wednesday 5th December. The company we are to work for have now let us know the departure time from London Victoria coach station and we are getting the 14:42 train out of Littlehaven. Booked in advance and limited to that specific time we were able to get the usual cost of £40 down to a measly 10er!

At the start of the month we enjoyed a very wet and windy day over at Brands Hatch race track to watch the closing day of the Truck racing. I've been for a few years but this year surprised us with a HUGE fireworks display at the end. Thanks to Alex and Claire for inviting us along. We reckoned it was the best display we'd seen in England.

I had fun last Sunday when my Mum organised for a few close family to sit down, grab a carvery plate and just gorge! It was a nice meal but I ate way too much! I got given an awesome 'Beard Beanie' from my Dad to keep my beard warm when I'm hurtling down the slopes. It's weird that it looks just as good on my sister as it does me!

That wasn't the only gathering for us either this month! We've been meeting people left, right and center, whether for a coffee, movie or 15 pints. All of our close friends were able to come down to Brighton for a night out of shenanigans.

I'd been researching which action cam to buy for quite a while and then the GoPro HD Hero 3 popped up. Capturing 1080p footage and 720p at 60 fps with the new flat lens means it is the best video quality camera out there. There were other cameras with sleeker designs such as the contour HD but their picture quality just wasn't as good. So I stumped up the money and got a Hero 3 with a load of mounts. One I particularly like is a suction cup mount thats good for 200mph! I'm not sure if the Blue Smurf/Smartie van will quite get up to those warp speeds, but I should be able to get some stunning shots from the side/front/top/bottom of the van, especially along those coast roads :)

An email popped through with the updated and final chalet cookery book, this time from the ski company. It looks very good, top quality meals yet the individual components aren't too taxing for a knackered/hungover vagabond. Here I cooked salmon with a chorizo and tomato topping with Aubergine (even though I prefer the yanks 'Eggplant') Masala with rice.

I'm off to Edge and Wax this morning to pick up the trusty board, funnily enough I've had the edges done and had it waxed! We have spent a small fortune in there on two new helmets, snowboard gloves and a nice 20L bag and the service has been pretty good. Always able to answer any questions.

The fellas at work took me out on the town in Crawley. If I'm truly honest I can't remember past the first pub! All I know is I was very hungover and my Dad got in an hour after me with Domino's Pizza!

Kerry has done a stella job at wrapping the presents again this year as usual. The things that woman can do with cellotape! So we can leave these behind and hopefully take a few small ones with us to open on Christmas Day

And finally we have now moved our UK phone numbers on to a Pay As You Go tariff to hold our numbers. This means we are not able to text or call but can receive texts and calls as well as being able to use anything to do with the internet. Whatsapp seems to be the most popular messaging service but I'm also on Google Talk, Skype and Facebook chat. If we don't message back straight away its because we don't have Wifi and will get back to you when we do!

3 more days of work (Overtime so self inflicted) , 5 days in total and we will be on a ferry headed for the land of frogs!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Delays: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy...

Grrrr....!

We have had our start date pushed back.

And by quite a long time. We thought we were meant to be getting a coach out to Tignes, France on the 16th November. Subsequently I handed my notice of resignation in asking for an end date of the 8th November.

Now we don't leave until the 5th December, nearly 3 weeks later than we had expected.

That means that I will be sitting around at home spending money rather than exploring the new ski resort and earning money (Granted very little). I'm not one to sit around and I can estimate I'd spend between £500 and £800 in those three weeks living at home full time.

The extra 3 weeks wages I could be earning in England would put a substantial sum of money in to our vagabonding pot rather than being detrimental to our saving efforts and draining it.

Solution? Plead for an 'extension' to my resignation (If that even works). I emailed my boss a few days after handing him my Notice of Resignation to ask that my end date be changed. I asked to work until the 3rd December giving me a day to pack up my ski gear and head on out!

Thankfully I have been granted the 'extension'. I was fairly lucky as the payroll run was a day later and had this been processed It would have been very difficult to re-instate my employment.

I'm back to having 32 calendar days and 18 working days until I leave. I'm glad I am able to earn the extra money but every day at work seems like another long stepping stone. I really am counting down the days!

PS: Anyone guess I went to see Stanley Kubric's 'The Shining' last night?

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Notice of Resignation...

Done and dusted ... one month of work and that's it.

I'd left it quite close to the wire too. I want my last working day to be on the 8th of November 2012 and my contract states I must give one months notice. Today is the 5th and I am not back in on shift until the 10th so today was my last chance. My boss had agreed to meet with me in Costa coffee.

I sat down to a large mocha and got off to a good start by asking he excuse me should my phone ring. I was expecting a call from the Police of all people, with regard to a complaint made by a neighbour about the Smurf van. Great! Luckily they rang later.

Handing over an envelope I hit right off the bat with "I've asked to meet with you so I can hand you my notice of resignation". Not something you say every day!

My boss seemed quite surprised. I haven't discussed my plans with this particular manager who is effectively my acting line manager. In the letter I stressed that my decision was not through wanting to resign but with the lack of a suitable sabbatical programme was a necessity. I explained I'd had lengthy talks with the Head of Engineering and we could not come to any sort of agreement.

I revealed our plans about working in the Alps for a ski season and then using the van to tour Europe. He was very supportive, echoing everything my parents and other 40-something adults say when I mention travelling. "Your at the right age... got any kids?" Which is usually followed up by "Then there you go" when I admit I haven't (atleast that I know of)

I believe he has children of a similar age so may have breached the subject of traveling within his family. He definitely seemed very comfortable and supportive of the idea. I urged that I really would like to work at the company again and he thought I'd have no problem if I was to re-apply for engineering jobs, even going so far as to imply that, having gained the personal skills associated with travel, may be suitable for a managerial job. Which was unexpected yet very welcomed.

He assured me that he would help in any way he could in my future career, giving a good reference whether I chose to re-apply within the company or for an outside company.

I thanked him, and the company, for the opportunities for personal and professional development. Afterall they had paid over £70,000 on my education!

I offered my assistance within this transitional process. I'm not quite sure what is involved in leaving a job after 6 years. So I've set the ball rolling. I've now got one month left at work (15 working days to be exact!) and I have a feeling I'm going to. strangely, enjoy them.

Ever resigned? Comment below

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Blue Smurf/Smartie Motorhome...

We've bought a Motorhome.

Whilst our plans may seem sporadic and ... well ... UN-planned they are far from it. We will definitely be working ski seasons during the winters whilst we are in Europe however our intentions during the summers are somewhat changeable. And that, I feel, is the beauty of vagabonding. There is always a choice.

We've toyed with cycling through Europe, but my cycle camp with Kerry's Dad soon dispelled the myth that we could carry it out. I found it very hard cycling with enough stuff for one night let alone an indefinite amount of time.

Many travelers backpack through Europe, using public transport and hopping between towns and cities. We contemplated whether backpacking would fit with our intentions for the summer. We are interested in the WWOOFING programme and invariably these farms are located in rural parts, as expected. We were unsure whether backpacking would make getting to these Wwoofing farms more difficult.

I've always been interested in motorhomes. I think they are a viable way of life and have been fascinated by stories of people who live in them 'Fulltime'. So we looked in to the costs associated with motorhomeing around Europe but soon hit a brick wall. It seems the majority of insurance companies want you to be aged 25 or over to insure a motorhome and there is a certain grey area over whether a motorhome can be classed as a van and insured on a van policy.

We've been looking at motorhomes on Autotrader and eBay since April and nothing seemed to fall in to our budget until the beginning of September when 4 or 5 potential vans popped up.

Alex, a very good friend and Auto Mechanic, agreed to come up to Swindon to view a 1995 Ford Transit that had been converted to a camper.

She's a basic van that's been Self Converted in her previous life but to a fairly high standard. The rear and driving compartments are totally seperated with a carpet covered bulkhead. Entrance to the living area is through the rear doors.

Upon opening the doors there is a gangway between two kitchen type units. The left houses a propane/butane gas bottle that powers a gas oven, grill and 3 burner hob. Alongside this is a sink and draining board that have an electrically operated water pump from a container that you place outside the van.

On the right are a row of low level cupboards under the work surface, one of which is big enough to house a simple porta-potty type camping toilet that we may invest in. Above this unit is a row of smaller high level cupboards.

Moving forwards towards the front of the van there is a U shaped bench seating area with table that folds away to the floor at night. Above the driving compartment is quite a large storage space that houses the centerpiece of the bench seating area to convert it to a comfy sized bed.

Structurally the van is quite a tidy example of a 17 year old Transit. The door sills have had work done to them but other than a few spots of surface rust the main steels seems to be in good condition. The chassis has covered 160,000 miles but apparently the original engine was damaged during a cam belt change and a re-conditioned engine sourced from the Royal Mail with 74,000 miles on. There is, however, no documentation backing this up so must be taken at face value.

Electrically the van has a 12 volt Leisure battery connected to the water pump for the sink and 2 fairly power hungry, yet lumen low 12v lights. I intend on completely changing the wiring and installing a new Surface Mounted Diode LED lighting system along with a number of cigarette lighter sockets and a rather stylish mirror with LEDs down the side.

Unfortunately the 12 volt leisure battery is wired directly to the starter battery with no automatic (Split Charge Relay system) or manual isolation. I found this out when Kerry and I were sitting in the van one night with the lights on and the next day she wouldn't start :(

There is also a 240 volt hook up system installed with Distribution board and a set of 240v lights and sockets. This is quite a good install and I intend on further expanding it with the addition of a trickle charger so that when hooked up to mains the leisure battery is charged and we can use all 240v and 12v appliances and lighting.

So There are a few things to sort out. She drives like an old Transit, which is to be expected, but after a good service, bleed the brakes and a few water tight problems she should easily take us around Europe.

I've already started on the Electrics and managed to pull out a massive amount of redundant wiring from the engine bay. I can only assume that an after market stereo head unit was installed and just the unit taken leaving the wiring behind. Some of the wiring I have no idea what was used for and I'm quite surprised there were no direct shorts resulting in a fire!

Andy and Debs, the people selling her, were very helpful, answering any questions they could. He had had it over the summer for festivals, camping trips and fishing. My kind of guy! However he wanted to move on to a trike so the van had to go.

Andy said he liked the idea that she would be used for her purpose and would see Europe. After a touch of haggling we were able to secure her for £2100 and collected her the following Monday with the help of a work colleague and friend Ross. We ate a KFC in the back at a service station on the way home!

Now I have a little project to be getting on with! Then, once she's tip top, we have to put her in to storage over the winter while we slip and slide on our ski season, ready for our return in April.


We are currently arguing over names for her. I'm all up for the Smurfmobile, or the Blue Smartie van while Kerry is adamant with Betty Blue Eyes.

What do you think? Comments below

Friday, 24 August 2012

Hitchventure 2012: Day 5...

I woke up and couldn't breath!

I was gasping, squinting in the dark. I seriously couldn't breath! I could slightly breath out but not in! Oh My God! Asthma attack!

I was so confused and scared. I was also boiling hot. Pepe's apartment was darn hot, nice but pretty hot. I think this coupled with the amount I've had to smoke recently made me freak out. I started breathing long but volumeless breaths. Trying to work all of this out in the dark.

I got my breathing under control and grabbed a glass of water. What was that!?

The next instant my alarm was going off at 9am. Lie IN! I checked to make sure my lungs would function properly and slunk off to the shower. Ah what a shower, just the right temperature, nice pressure, fresh cold water to brush the toothy pegs. Actual heaven on earth is Pepe's bathroom. Pepe's sofa was the first time I'd slept inside in 4 days.

We both got ready and I declared "Pepe! That was a lovely shower, now lets go and I'll get breakfast!" He took me to a cheap pub he knew of which turned out to be a Weatherspoons. Bloody old weatherspoons though. The building was older than Buckingham palace and the design for the Clifton Suspension bridge was decided in the same room as me tucking in to my bacon, sausage and egg.

We chatted a bit more over breakfast and walked around Nelson Street where the majority of the festival was conducted. Huge pieces were strung up at every turn. This  piece of a black woman holding a baby was formed using parallel lines. Pepe said that this gave it a sort of 'Japanese Garden' feel to it. I think he was right and I'd never seen anything like this before.

It was time for Pepe to leave and we bid farewell to each other. I really needed to get out to the road and start flying my sign. I didn't know whether I was going to hitch home, south towards Bournemouth or anywhere. I thought I'd let the road decide.

I walked about a mile out of town to a petrol station and instantly spent 2 hours standing at the side of the road. There were plenty of cars passing, and they were only going about 20 miles per hour. I'd chosen a spot with loads of space to pull over, but no one was playing ball.

A guy approached and said "Listen mate, used to do alot of this back in the day, you'll be better off just up 'ere" I walked with him for 15 minutes whilst he told me about his days hitchhiking and that the spot he was taking me to was a gold mine. Plenty of traffic, slow pace and lots of room to pull over... Sounded just like where I was.

We got to a subway under a flyover and he pointed to where I needed to be. He'd already told me directions for how to get to his house if I had no luck, wanted to sit down, or even stay the night. A pretty nice bloke. But one who was drinking 'Special Brew' at 11:30 in the morning. Damnit Adam. Why do you get sucked in to this stuff!?

I stood at the sparsely populated, fast flowing section of the M32 with no suitable place for cars to stop. Mr Special had no idea what he was talking about. This was the worst place a hitchhiker could try and solicit a ride from...Ever! I trudged the 20 minute walk back to the Shell garage I'd come from. Lesson Learnt.. look for open cans of +7% alcohol before taking someones opinion as gold.

I stood for another hour and a half. Absolutely no one was even taking a whiff. I was holding a rather ambiguous 'East' sign as well. Nothing too specific. I gave up. I was tired, lonely and I wasn't sure of where I was going to sleep that night. A Megabus drove past and I wondered how much their £1 bus advert was true.

I pulled up the website and plugged in Bristol to London. I wasn't surprised to find that the journey was not a pound but was surprised at its cheap price. £5. I booked the 15:30 from Bristol town center, kind of ashamedly. It is a Hitchventure afterall and this was the first time I was going to PAY for any sort of transport.

The hitchventure is more about the free travel though. It's about meeting people, hearing their stories and experiences. One of the Spanish guys had said to me the night before at the Board Game night, "You can get a bus for £10". It was as if even to these CouchSurfers, who, I'd have thought would share the same mentality, the IDEA of hitchhiking was alien. This surprised me.

I used the remaining 2 hours of my stay in Bristol to check out the shops in Cabot Circus and soak up the glorious sun on a bench. The bus was on time and boarding was simple. I cosied in to my seat with Bob Marley in my ears, frantically googling on my phone for places to stay in London.

It was no use... For couchsurfing to work you need to be prepared and know what your doing weeks in advance. Hitchhiking doesn't lend itself nicely to Couchsurfing. You can never tell where you will be at any one time. Never knowing when you'll arrive somewhere.

I got to London and walked around Pimlico, admiring all of the very regal buildings. Wondering what scandalous behavior was going on inside those of the rich and famous.

I checked in with a couple of nearby hostels. Every where was sold out of the Large mixed dorms at £12 a room and wanted £50 for a twin private. I gave up. I walked back to Victoria and bought a ticket to Littlehaven.

I'd been away for 5 days, covered hundreds of miles and enjoyed every minute. It was an apt time to go home. The road had told me to go home.

I let on to Kerry, my girlfriend, that I was staying in London. "Don't sleep on the streets!" she pleaded. I played along, not telling her I was on my way home. I asked for a hug just as I got to the front door and she asked how she'd do that! "Come and open the door and you can"









Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Hitchventure 2012: Day 4...

Rain rain go away. It woke me up... at 5:15!

I'd seen on the TV the night before that the rain was on its way but I atleast thought Id make it through the night ok. I dragged the tarpauline over me and rolled over. My hips always seem to hurt with these little foam camp mats and I couldn't get back to sleep. Baby wipe shower it was for me.

I trekked down the hill in the rain, bought a can of monster and a sausage roll from the Londis in Llanberis and sat waiting for the public toilets to get unlocked. That felt more laborious than waiting for hitches so I grabbed a bit of card from the Londis bin and set out. I was on the road and flying my 'East' sign by 6:45. Way too early. About 4 cars passed in an hour. Luckily Dug was in the 5th.

He was just on his way back from work. His friend had secured the civils contract of a stretch of road between Caernarfon and Porthmadog 6 years previous and the council paid them to conduct daily bat surveys on the local Hook Eared bat (?). It pretty much meant Dug had to walk a 3 miles stretch of road at sunrise and look for dead ones.

He was very informative. Apparently you can buy a bat detector! It works by picking up the sonar like sounds that bats use to navigate and, through their differing frequencies, the device then pops out a breed of bat. All of this was 'good for £140 a day!' or so I was assured. His Shiatsu Fall-apart told a different story.

Each town meant another tributary on to the A5 and more traffic and I was soon in Betws-y-coed. Hitching was slow. Drivers in Wales seemed to excuse them not giving you a ride by pointing in different directions and then holding their hands out through the windscreen . Then a G reg Golf rumbled past, slowed, braked and turned around in a car park. 

James and Gina turned around and shouted out 'Where you going?' I said 'whereva, England?'

They were going to Gloucester, just a few miles North of Bristol, my next destination. Awesome! I had considered hitching East to the motorways and then Service hopping back to the South East and home, but with a direct ride pretty much to my second option how could I decline?!

James played the most awesome compilation CD I think I've ever heard, I snapped a photo of the track listings for later. The reason they were driving from Wales down to Gloucester was that their friend, Tom, was on a walking adventure. He was walking around Wales, then hoping to go on to Ireland and Scotland, continually walking untill he raised £10,000. It was his 54th day and he'd raised about £200. Ouch!

To top it all off he had just had his pack stolen. The rats had been kind and un-tied his boots from it for him, but taken the pack and its contents. James and Gina were delivering a whole new pack with contents to him and were now on their way back.

I was knackered, sitting in the back of the car I started off my normal happy chappy self but I could sense I was starting to flake. We had a bit of a mad dash back as Gina had to be at work at 12:00. I suggested we jump on the M5 and James hooned it down the motorway dropping Gina off at 11:59! Just in time!

This is where Hitchhiking really does show people at their best. James was willing to drive 30 miles South to drop me in Bristol city centre and then drive back again. If you ask me that is humanity at its greatest.

I wandered round Bristol aimlessly for a few hours, surrounded by an enormous array of decent, well produced graffiti. Some were sprawled over 7 floors of office blocks and other high rise buildings. There was no way this was all done illegally. I later found out that this week was a festival devoted to Graffiti and that the best artists had been shipped in and had scaffolding erected to show off their skills.

The standard really was incredible. I've only really seen graffiti that is 'thrown' up in rushed minutes for fear of being caught.

This stuff was different. The artists had been drafted in, some paid, and time allocated without prying public or authoritarian interference. And it showed.

I still hadn't anywhere to sleep for that night. I'd seen on the map that there was a large green park just to the South-East but I didn't fancy another night under the stars, bat/sheep friends or not.

I sat in Maccy D's trawling the Couchsurfing listings for Bristol. I'd done the same the day before in Llanberis but I'd had no replies. I even posted in the 'Emergency Bristol Group' for people who arrived in Bristol and had no immediate accommodation.

I sent out about 30 'surfing' requests if you combine yesterdays and todays efforts. I didn't think I'd get a bite. I've never surfed before but I know from talking with the surfers I've had stay that it can be very hit and miss.

One profile stood out, a guy called Pat, and I sent him as humorous a request as I could, while still telling my plight. To my surprise he messaged back 30 minutes later saying that it wasn't ideal for me to stay and he was out of the house until 11pm at a dinner party. However he said that if push came to shove I wouldn't have to sleep on the streets.

This was encouraging and I continued to send request after request. I also clicked on the 'Activities' button. I've been invited to the Brighton and Hove CS Monthly Meetup and wondered whether Bristol organised similar events just on a whim. Voila! They DID. And it was tonite!

The Bristol Board Game Night was to be held at the Full Moon Backpackers Hostel. Perfect, Board games, company and a cheap(ish) bed if I could bare my wallet to stretch to it.

I sat in the garden of the bar staring down everyone who entered, eagerly expecting them all to be attending. Then Pepe strolled through and I instantly recognised his face as the organiser of the group from the site.

He walked over and extended his arm, obviously catching sight of my pack. Two others joined us shortly afterwards. Turned out all three were Spanish!

Now, when I read Board games I usually read Bored games. This night was not the case. We played such bizarre and interesting, thought provoking and skillful games that I wished I hadn't had the 2 beers before they arrived.

One involved a sort of snap competition coupled with a wooden Totem, another used little runes with numbers on and another a kind of pawn moving game but you could put up walls. It was awesome. I'm sure to buy the Totem pole one. 'Speed Jungle'

We played and laughed for a few hours until Pepe looked at his watch and said he had to leave for the gym at 22:30. I had succumbed to getting a room at the Hostel. £15, not too bad and it was the cheapest in town. I messaged Pat and thanked him for his offer but I was sorted.

Just as everyone was leaving the bar they all congregated at the end of the table and nattered in Spanish. I thought they were just chatting and supped on the half of cider that Hector had given me. Then Pepe came back. "I can't leave you here in the hostel. Will you come and stay at mine?" Sure. I'll stay, but I could sense some sort of hesitation in his voice. He explained that he was going to the gym and would call me in an hour.

He rang exactly an hour later and we walked to his apartment which was very nice. He explained his caution as he knew I was a hitchhiker. In Spain hitching used to be fairly common untill the 80's and now pretty much no one hitches. (Sounds a bit like England) This made him uneasy with my motives for being in Bristol and wanting to get a Couchsurfing host.

We chatted about politics, London riots, Spanish corruption and the importance of CSing untill about 12:00. I was knackered. Up at 5:15 with the rain and all. He offered the comfiest sofa in the world and I'm pretty sure as he said good night and shut his bedroom door I was out like a light. Good ... Night

Final day over at Day 5

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Hitchventure 2012: Day 3...

I woke up groggy. I'd had a tough night.

When I was rigging my tarp up I didn't notice the little white clouds with black legs walking around. Now it was dark and I was trying to sleep I really did notice them. Sheep, everywhere. They were noisey, I could hear them pulling the grass out, a couple baaaa'ed all night and I swear one of them let out a prolonged, human sounding, fart. One tripped up on my guy rope and there was a large commotion as I shoo'd them away wearing my boxers and a head torch.

Shower was awesomsauce as per usual. Had to pay £1 for 7 minutes though. Then I was free. It was ascent time! I ate a huge breaky in 'Pete's Eats'. A caffi (Welsh spelling) but more like a hostel. Obviously taken up the slack of the official YHA property. Big, cheap food, communal areas to be used 'as and when' by scouts, groups etc. and showers at £3 a go.

Asking in a few shops, mountaineering outlets etc if they could look after my bag for a couple of quid revealed that the "No win, no fee, lose my stuff and I'll sue you" mentality had hit Wales. All I wanted was somewhere to leave my pack while I went up the mountain. A small hotel was obliging 'but if anything happens we accept no responsibility'. Yes, yes I gathered that was coming.

I'd read that there was an 80% chance of a clear summit today, and it looked like it was going to be true. Lovely fluffy clouds soared over, casting shadows on the  surrounding mountains.

I'd done it again though. with the big 'I am'. Snowdon. Pfft piece of cake. Far from it. I'd even taken the least steep route! Llanberis path runs from the town of Llanberis over a 4.5 mile route to the summit. But I was panting and sweating and spluttering. A sign of my bad fitness and the need to give up smoking!

My back was the worst. my shirt was drenched. I'd, sensibly, worn a non-wik-away super-duper mountaineering shirt. Some people call them I'm-going-out-on-the-town-not-a-mountain shirt. And this collected ALL of the sweat my body could produce. It was disgusting. As I was passing people they would wait a minute and then murmur, presumably to their comrades, about the big dark patch on my back.

Oh well, screw it, I'll never see them again. That's what travel makes you appreciate. Your not in the business of impressing, you don't really give two hoots what anyone thinks. It's pretty selfish business.

Then at about 800 meters in came the clouds. Big fluffy clouds that soaked anything and anyone in them. Luckily I'd bought the 'cheapest mac in the shop' and pulled it out of its stuff sack, tearing the sack in the process.

So now I was sweating on the inside and getting pretty much rained on on the outside. wonder if there was any point in the jacket... Wasted £24.99.

I was gasping for a drink when I got to the top. Gave the Cairn a hug and hurried in to the cafe to shelter from the wind. No cold tap to be found. None in the toilets and none of the staff would fill it up. I bought a snickers, ate it, then bought another one and munched that down.

If I'm really honest with you I was ready to get the train down there and then. I was shagged, 2 nights of sleeping rough, a party with a heard of sheep during one, and walking 1085 meters up a mountain in a cloud had sucked it out of me.

I queued for the ticket, plastic debit card in hand. 2.5 hours to wait and £10 to get down! Screw this. I huffed out of the cafe back in to the fluff and started down Llanberis path. I'm glad I did. It was no where near as hard as the climb up. I was using bizarre new muscles very rarely used. Walking-down-hill muscles. And I was facing the scenery. not a path of rock and gravel.

Grabbing my bag I spoke with the guy behind the counter of the hotel who was intrigued with what I was doing. I explained and urged him to grab a piece of card and try it. He told me about a hotel that served £2 pints with free internet. I ran till my little heart could pump no longer. Lager


I ended up pretty drunk off of my £10 in the bar. The sign of how little I was eating. I wandered around Llanberis and found a quaint old church with its gates locked. I scampered over the dry stone wall and noseyed round. Seemed like no one was there and what looked like the perfect hobo alcove in a side door to the right. Out of sight and out of mind. I fashioned a little bed as best I could, tarp at the ready incase it rained.

Then I just sat there, listening, watching the clouds and generally trying to take my mind off the fact that I was hunkering down in the grounds of a church with a graveyard!

I'm in no way superstitious or have any belief in the afterlife blah blah blah but something just didn't feel right. It was probably the thought of getting caught. But hey, what's the worst they can do? Ask me to move on?

I turned my netbook on to chill out a bit with a film. My choice: [Rec], The Devil Inside or Machete! Nice one Adam. Only horror films.

Then all of a sudden the organ chimed up inside the church! Not just random notes but whole scores of music. I was nervous as hell. I was now snuggled down outside a door with god knows how many people inside practicing the organ!

It was played well though. I have plenty of videos of it! They'll be coming later. They practiced for about an hour and then I heard shuffling, banging and finally a big ole lock turning. Phew.

I had trouble sleeping the whole night. The concrete wasn't particular comfortable, the temperature was alot cooler than the previous night and whenever I opened my eyes I could see 4 or 5 bats flying around the alley next to me.... Oh god

Click here to carry on to Day 4

Monday, 20 August 2012

Hitchventure 2012: Day 2...

I woke up really late. The sun was already up and it was about 8 o'clock. A lie-in if you ask me.

But I felt good, turns out stinging nettles make good bedding when laid on. I brushed my teeth and packed up, putting my long johns on over my shorts to get out of the wood alive and without big nettle bumps all over me.

At the services I found a shower... BLISS. Showers are awesome. If you haven't ever been without one, try. You will fall in love with the next one you see. So I stood there for ages, soaking up the hot water, I felt so good after and stood outside the services with a sign for West, sheepishly asking a few punters who were exiting.

Peter was a Doctor before retiring and offered to take me 20 miles down the road to Shrewsbury. He knew of a service station there and said it'd be ideal. I'm always cautious of taking other peoples opinions of hitching spots as, usually, they have never hitched themselves and so cannot judge whether a particular place will be good or not. Peter on the other hand was spot on. It was on a busy junction and had a lay-by on the road West which is what I wanted to take.

I waited about 30 minutes with no bites before the heavens opened. It chucked it down too, not rain, more sheets of water, like a waterfall. So I sat outside the Esso garage feeling like Jay or Silent Bob outside their convenience store. I still flew my sign. 'West'

Surprisingly I heard a shout from a little Suzuki something. "Where you off to?" came a weird, Devonshire/Welsh accent. Vicky was coming back from V Fest and she looked it! I explained I wanted to get to Snowdon eventually but anywhere in between would be good. She laughed and said she could take me to the bottom but she wasn't driving up!

So we sat for an hour an a half, driving down the A5, a beautiful road, and chatted about marriage, child birth and other bizarre subjects. It was cool. She rang her husband who had the thickest Welsh accent I've ever heard, so much so I couldn't understand him. She thought that her picking up a hitchhiker would be an issue but, I think, he wasn't too fussed and more concerned with which baby pudding to buy their 6 month old for dinner.

I was in Llanberis by 2pm. Sat at the bottom of Snowdon and in the rain. My cheap £4 Tesco umbrella had broken and I was getting wet. The road to the Youth Hostel was about half a mile of 30 - 40 degree uphill that killed my legs with my pack on my back. I was treated to a disheartening note on the door of the Hostel. "Sorry no vacancies tonite". Damnit. I walked around the building looking for an alcove or even a pair of trees where I could string up my tarp.

I found quite a large room on the basement level which had chairs stacked neatly in the corner. It must have been a meeting room or something similar, but it was empty, and that's what mattered to me. That was my haggling weapon.

I waited around outside as the weather improved, topping up the tan on my neck! I began to become curious as to how 'youthful' this youth hostel was as reams of 40 somethings with glasses arrived or departed from the keypad controlled door. I personally thought the YHA had a rule that it's accommodation was suitable for youngsters (under 30) who needed cheap, no thrills accommodation to help them in their travels.

Well it turns out it isn't. Not his particular Youth Hostel atleast. It's more of a hotel i'm afraid to say. To be booked well in advance by 40 - 60 years olds or families with young children. I was quite disappointed when the Warden said I could not have a space, even when I notion-ed towards the, seemingly, disused meeting room. They could not spare a space big enough for a young traveller to lie down. I guess times have changed.

I continued up the mini mountain road to a campsite about 200 meters away. I explained that I had little money and needed somewhere to string my tarp for the night. "Your a student right?" Said the farmer with another thick Welsh accent. "Erm ... I can be?!" and he charged me £5 instead of the usual 10er.

I fashioned a pretty terrible tarp setup and hurled my bivvi under. I ate a whole load of Bombay mix whilst I watched 'Kurt and Courtney' (Documentary) on my netbook and swatted at the hundreds of midges that flew around my head.

I'd had a mixed day. I'd made huge progress hitching wise with a direct, 1 ride, stint to Llanberis, but my high was ruined by the apparent loss in morals of the YHA. Still nothing could be worse than shooting yourself because of a crazy wannabe rockstar misses.


Plus all I had to do was lean out of my tarp to look at this! Tomorrow, I walk up it!


Keep going for Day 3

Hitchventure 2012: Day 1...

So that was a bit embarrassing! A full blown mental meltdown quite publicly on VagabondingAdam Facebook account! Sorry about that!

I really don't know what came over me. I was sat at Pease Pottage for a good hour and a half. There were no takers for my 'M25 East' sign. Just a few good people asking if I wanted to go West, towards Heathrow.

All of a sudden I just freaked. There were a few trucks in the truck park from the continent. An Albanian, Lithuanian and others I couldn't work out. None of the drivers looked particular nice, clean or in anyway friendly. I started to worry about the channel crossing. What would it be like? Would I ever get a lift? I'd read loads on the internet before leaving and was bold as brass sitting at the PC at home, but now I was out there, really doing it. I was having a Britney moment.

It all got a little too much. I rang Kerry and urged her to bring me the Collins Handy Britain map as I only had the European one. Europe was out. I couldn't do it. My gut feeling told me not to and with Hitching, that is what you listen to. Not your heart or even your brain sometimes, but your gut.

I freaked a tiny bit more while she drove to me and ended up sitting in Crawley park while the car had some work done in the garage, grimacing through my teeth and audibly moaning at my disappointment. I had a chat with Kerry and she thought it was because of my control freak nature. She's probably right. There was just too many things that were out of my control. Language, ferry, places I'd never heard of, let alone knew where they were geographically. I would be totally removed from everything.

I rang my Mum (Yes I know, pissy girl again) and texted a few good mates. It was back on. Screw Europe with your funny voices and unknown places. Great Britain here we come.

Kerry dropped me back out to Pease Pottage and I proudly span my 'M25' sign with glee. This is what Hitching is about! Joy. There were 2 female hitchikers just round the corner. They wanted to get IN to London and not around so we agreed I could hitch in my spot and pass on any rides headed in. It took no longer than 20 minutes and I was in a car and on my way.

I got to Oxford services in one ride with a nice lady who was quite high up in a pyramid sounding business. She tried her hardest to get me to sign up but I've dabbled with Ponzi schemes before and it only produces losers. I entertained her babble though and she got me a hell of the way up the road.

Mark and Carly were next to pick me up. And in a magical film makers moment it was all caught on camera. They had just been to a lavish wedding in London with boating trips on the Thames and a full 3 course meal for 150 people!

They were bound for Manchester, where they lived, and were able to drop me off on the M6 just after Birmingham. Sam gave me a short trip down the road to Telford services where the sun started to go down. I'd travelled 180 miles in under 4 and a half hours. Quite an achievement!

I found a small wood next to the services and got stung to death getting in! I lay down my bivvi and didn't even set up a tarp. I was confident it wouldn't rain.

Head over to Day 2

Friday, 17 August 2012

Biggest Adventure Yet...!

Hitchventure: Going South

I know it sounds crazy, I know it probably isn't advised... but its different. From tomorrow morning I will be hitchhiking to Barcelona, Spain ... or trying at least!


 I'm rocking a new quiff hairstyle courtesy of Mumma Vaga and have my best-est cheery chappy face on to try and get as many quick rides as I can, but deep down I ... am ... pooping it.

At the end of the day I've chosen to do this.

I'd like to go back to Barcelona. I have visited once before and it was a long weekend of drunken haziness so I'd like to re-visit with a clearer head.

Having said that the main goal (If there is one) of the trip is to get to a night club called Razzmattazz. It's basically clubbing heaven on earth. 5 warehouses all joined together, each playing a different genre of music. Cheap drinks, tables made out of concrete, rammed with up to 5000 people. The video below is probably a bad example of why I want to go back...

The 'goal' is very loose. If I don't make it to Barcelona and end up sleeping in Newhaven Ferry port for 8 days and coming back I will still be happy. The whole idea is to get back out there hitchhiking, exploring and interacting with everything/one in the world.

I've managed to amass a pile of probably unnecessary items of clothing and essentials for a ten day trip. I have to be back on English Terra firma, and preferably home, by 28th August as Kerry has an amazing couple of days planned camping and safari-ing at Longleat House from the 29th.

Whilst my pack and its contents looks big, it only weighs a mere 10kg which is more than comfortable.  
So if your anywhere between Horsham and Barcelona and you fancy giving us a lift, let me know... otherwise pray for fast, frequent, quality rides and keep checking back to see my progress!

P.S. Check out the mutha of all scribes! A Sharpie Magnum!