Author Archives: Jools

Jupiter's Travels, by Ted Simon

A decent read- Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon

“When people asked me, later, why I chose to ride a motorcycle round the world I had dozens of ingenious explanations. The question was usually put by interviewers and I was expected to entertain them.  I talked about curiosity, about my interest in the nature of poverty, about the pursuit of self-knowledge, and of my reluctance to leave the world without having seen a great deal of it. The honest answer was too short and uncomfortable. I did it because I felt like it. All else followed from that”

Ted Simon, Riding Home

As a young man I was interested in British motorcycles and had a wanderlust only partly sated by overseas postings whilst serving in the British Army. It is not surprising that I, along with tens of thousands of others, was enthralled and inspired by Ted Simon’s tale of his setting off on his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 in 1973 for a four year, 60 000+ road mile journey round the world.

Many of the encounters from Ted Simon's four year trip round the world, not included in his first account, were recalled in his book Riding Home, in which he also records his relocation from the South of France to California

Many of the encounters from Ted Simon’s four year trip round the world, not included in Jupiter’s Travels, were recalled in his 1984 book Riding Home, in which he also records his relocation from the South of France to California

I never followed in his tyre tracks, though countless others were inspired enough by his 1979 account to do so. Jupiter’s Travels is a rattling good read that led the way for the plethora of similar, if often lacklustre, motorcycling travelogues that followed from others detailing their own exploits.

The very best of travelogues involves jeopardy and mistakes, the author was no fool, but he certainly had errors and misfortune aplenty, interspersed with adventure and life experience.

Crossing the Sudanese desert, the author discovered the perils of crossing sand and is, as a result, focibly immersed into the culture of a country and its people- "my feeling for the Sudanese was one of total admiration. Never had I met such unmotivated generosity, such a capacity for imbuing the simplest life with a touch of splendour"

A page from Jupiter’s Travels– Crossing the Sudanese desert in the early 1970s, the author discovered the perils of crossing sand and is, as a result, forcibly immersed into the culture of a country and its people- “my feeling for the Sudanese was one of total admiration. Never had I met such unmotivated generosity, such a capacity for imbuing the simplest life with a touch of splendour”

He was 42 years old when he set off on his first circumnavigation. Aged 70, he set off again. This time, he rode a BMW R80 GS. It was not just the bike that had changed, this time he took a laptop and digital camera, electrically heated clothing and gloves and a folding seat to save him from sitting on the ground- “something that has always disqualified me for the New Age”. The account of his second motorcycle journey was recorded in his 2007 volume- Dreaming of Jupiter.

Another of Ted Simon’s books that I have enjoyed, one that never reached the elevated sales figures of Jupiter’s Travels (it sold over a million copies), was his account of his rediscovering his old haunts in the British Isles by motorcycle. In Rolling through the Isles much had changed- “busier roads, bureaucracy and, worst of all, the dreaded ‘Sat Nav’. “

Two other books by Ted Simon extended his motorcycling accounts- Dreaming of Jupiter (2007) was a re-tracing of his 1970s adventure. Rolling through the Isles saw the old adventurer back on the roads "that led to Jupiter"

Two other books by Ted Simon extended his motorcycling accounts- Dreaming of Jupiter (2007) was a re-tracing of his 1970s adventure. Rolling through the Isles (2012) saw the old adventurer back on the roads “that led to Jupiter”

For those, literally, more pedestrian in their travels who have no interest in the motorcycling exploits of others, Ted Simon did venture out on foot for another of his journeys. This self-devised adventure is recounted in his book The Gypsy in Me. Seeking to walk from his mother’s birthplace in Hamburg to his grandmother’s birthplace on the Baltic coast, from Russia, his route would take him south through Poland and the Ukraine to Romania. His plan on walking much of the 1500 miles comes steadily undone. This is no ‘how to’ book, more a fascinating personal account of encounters with a part of Europe undergoing change, and its people in a time that shall, thankfully, never be encountered again. This is a fairly well presented story from an accomplished author and traveller. But it is no Jupiter’s Travels.

The Gypsy in Me by Ted Simon was his account of a 1500 mile journey across Eastern Europe soon after the fall of the communist regimes in the countries he traversed

The Gypsy in Me by Ted Simon was his 1997 account of a 1500 mile journey across Eastern Europe soon after the fall of the communist regimes in the countries he traversed

When I left the army, my intention was to travel to India, buy an Enfield motorcycle, still being made there as a pattern copy of the British made Royal Enfield, and ride it home to the UK. That would be my adventure. Postponing this, I instead travelled to England and found a home and a job. As a consequence, that particular adventure never occurred for me. Give thanks for the true adventurers out there.

Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon, First published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton 1979. ISBN 0-241-10180-8

Ted Simon's four-year global journey, recorded in his book Jupiter's Travels

Ted Simon’s four-year global journey, recorded in his book Jupiter’s Travels

Cleaning my Leatherman S4 Squirt

A well overdue clean-up

Sitting at home, full of the lurgy, I decided to put procrastination to one side and clean up a couple of my knives and multi-tools. It is surprising how much gunk can build up in the slots and crevices of these tools.

A bit of kitchen towel, a couple of cotton buds and a rinse under warm water with some scrubbing from a nylon brush sorts them out nicely. No need to dismantle any that I have been looking at. Dried out over a warm radiator and a wipe over with a smidgen of dedicated oil is all that is required.

Job done…

Journals

Now into 2018 and the start date for my Three Points of the Compass walk gets ever nearer. Time to start gathering together some of those items that will have to be renewed during my trek, sent out to me, while on trail. One of these will be my journal. I have just received my latest order of replacements.

Like many hikers, I keep a written record of my wanders. I have written before about choosing a journal most appropriate to personal needs. However I came across the Rhodia rhodiarama after I had written that post.

My choosing the Rhodia rhodiarama is my compromise between written journal and sketchbook, with an emphasis on the former. I am also taking a small art kit with me which I will use to illustrate my trail record. The hard covers of the notebook, though heavier than soft covers, are useful when sketching and provide a deal more protection with extended handling over multiple weeks. There are 192 pages of cream coloured Clairefontaine brushed vellum 90gsm paper. This will take ink, from both biro and fountain, with little if any bleed through or feathering, it will also handle light washes with watercolour, though it is not ideal for that. A compromise is a compromise. I use blank pages but there are also lined versions of the notebook available.

Rhodia rhodiarama notebook in the hand. This makes an excellent journal for longer trips due to it being robust and well made with quite heavyweight pages and hard covers. Far lighter options are available but will have less pages and are more likely to come apart over time

Rhodia rhodiarama notebook in the hand. This makes an excellent journal for longer trips due to it being robust and well made with quite heavyweight pages and hard covers. Far lighter options are available but will have less pages and are more likely to come apart over time

I include a little pen loop from Leuchtturm1917 in which I keep a Fisher Stowaway pen. The elastic loop keeps a good grip on the smooth, narrow barrel of the Stowaway pen. This diminutive pen gives a write length of some 3500m which is phenomenal compared to the woeful offering of many alternatives.

There is a small gusset pocket in the rear of the notebook, a single ribbon marker and elastic closure. These notebooks come in a wide range of colours but I have chosen the chocolate colour coupled with a tobacco coloured self-adhesive pen loop. The three items- journal, pen loop and pen weigh 161g. Not light, but it is important to me to create a long lasting record of such a trip. Replacements can be sent to me periodically on trail as required.

 

CNOC bladder and MUV filter 2

Tweaking my hydration set-up

CNOC Vecto and MUV water filter

CNOC Vecto and MUV water filter

I write this over the festive season. During the weeks leading up to Christmas there have been numerous packages and packets arriving at home and workplace, containing various online purchases. Amongst these I was chuffed to finally receive a couple of items that I had supported months ago. I have had a couple of other projects that I have backed on Kickstarter fail miserably to come to fruition. While there is still forlorn and distant hope that progress may yet occur, I remain suspicious that I have been taken for a ride with them. That is not the case with these two items of gear- the CNOC Vecto water container and the MUV Survivalist water filter.

CNOC

The CNOC Vecto is a two litre collapsible water container, with a wide opening at one end and a 28mm screw neck at the other. It is a tough product, weighs 74g and is my intended dirty water container, what I will use for collected water prior to filtering. I have used a 1 litre Platypus up until now but have found this not only a tad small, but the small opening makes it more difficult to fill unless from a tap. The wide opening on the BPA free Vecto is a great improvement. It also makes it easier to clean the inside.

The only downside of receiving this item a week ago was that I had to go to the local sorting office to collect it. They wouldn’t release it to me until I had handed over £13.12 in customs and admin fees. Not a happy bunny…

My previous filtration system, this incorporates a Drinksafe filter

My previous filtration system, this incorporates a Drinksafe filter

My previous water filter was from Drinksafe. This has been fine for me for years and I have never felt the need to switch to a Sawyer, either original full size or the Mini, as I could see no advantage to be gained.

As a UK backpacker, I have long had concerns over the ability of a filter to clear water of not only viruses and bacteria but also heavy metals and chemicals. This is an increasing problem with agricultural run-off into the streams and rivers from where I can gather water. Not so much a problem in the wilds of Scotland but a real issue in lowland England where I do a lot of my hiking.

MUV

Component parts of MUV filter joined together

Overkill mode- all component parts of MUV filter joined together

I backed the MUV water filter on Kickstarter back in June 2016 and wrote about it then. Eighteen months later, it was deposited at the local sorting office. I was drawn to this product by the modular construction and the ability to also filter heavy metals such as iron and lead and chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides, and diesel fuel.

I recognise that if I take every part of this filter, it is then a heavier option than my previous choice. My intention is to use this filter on my Three Points of the Compass walk commencing 1st April next year, by the time I hit the north of England I can send the MUV 1 part home, followed by the MUV 3 section once in Scotland.

What each section of the MUV filter does

Straw top and cap 20g  
Cap- 28mm outlet thread 19g
MUV 1 30g
MUV 2 56g
MUV 3 48g
Pre-filter- 28mm inlet thread 19g

The filters are what they are and their weight is the penalty it is. These are dry weights, which will, of course, increase once water saturated. I have replacement pre-filters in my ditty bag which do not even register on my scales. But look at the weight of those two threaded ends- 19g each, of which each rubber cap weighs 7g, 14g total. The plastic and rubber cap to the straw cap weighs 8g. I’ll have to consider if I want to include these as there is a 22g weight saving to be made there, how anal do I want to be…

A possible drip filter system incorporating CNOC Vecto, MU filer, Evernew bladder and a section of hose. I may have to include a longer section of hose to reduce the potential strain

A possible gravity filter system incorporating CNOC Vecto, MUV filer and Evernew bladder. I may have to include a section of hose to reduce the potential strain

I am still considering what other elements to take for my water carry and filter system. The picture at the top shows my probable set up, or at least something close to what I shall eventually settle on.

This is comprised of the complete Survivalist MUV filter, two litre CNOC Vecto, two litre Evernew flexible water bottle, 850ml Smartwater bottle and a short section of hose with 28mm threaded ends. Almost five litre capacity, not something I am going to be carrying all day on the trail in the UK, but useful for end of day camp.

I am very pleased with both Vecto and MUV filter. I have yet to use either in anger but reports from other backers are already good and I have high hopes.

Replacement elements of the MUV water filter can be purchased independently

Replacement elements of the MUV water filter can be purchased independently

 

Winter Spiced Mixed Nuts

Trail snacks- Festive nuts

Three Points of the Compass is a great fan of nuts as trail food. If ever I am including a bag of snacks, invariably one sort of nut or another is a constituent. Of course this time of year, for some unfathomable reason,  the supermarkets are swamped with various nuts for the festive household. Time to take advantage of this.

I do not show an allegiance to one supermarket over another but Mr and Mrs Three Points of the Compass do pop in to Marks & Spencer on a not infrequent basis… A recent visit saw a seasonal addition to the food hall, and with a couple of quid knocked off too, I snapped up a couple of tubs to try them out.

A handful of the M&S winter spiced mixed nuts

A handful of the M&S winter spiced mixed nuts

The 300g tubs of M&S Winter Spiced Mixed Nuts comprise almonds, cashews and peanuts with cinnamon sugar and ‘a warming hint of cayenne pepper’. These really are quite a lovely mix, sweet with just a touch of heat. Many trail foods can get a little boring after a while, this tasty addition will make a change for a few months of day hikes. At 563 kcal per 100g, calorific content is high. Though I do note that the M&S plain roasted and salted mixed nut tubs, containing almonds, cashews, macadamias, hazelnuts & pecans, come in at a whopping 673 kcal per 100g. Not only have I returned and stocked up a little with a few extra tubs, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for any post Christmas dip in price too as the supermarket clears their shelves.

M&S Food Hall is a slippery slope for the lover of nuts

M&S Food Hall is a slippery slope for the lover of nuts

 

 

MSR Windburner

looking at stove choices

Following my recent shake down trip on the Icknield Way, I decided to abandon my long term favoured meths set up for cooking and return to gas. I used gas, or canister, stoves for quite a few years but mostly switched to meths (or alcohol) a decade or so ago for the unfussy, silent, simple set up that these cook kits provide.

However I have to recognise that gas does work out the more efficient and lighter option over multi day hikes. So for my Three Points of the Compass hike next year, I am looking at my gas options. Not every option out there, instead I am mostly looking at gear that I already have  but have not used much in recent years for one reason or another.

Jetboil Flash and MSR Windburner- two fantastically efficient options, but for boiling water only, not cooking

Jetboil Flash and MSR Windburner- two fantastically efficient options, but for boiling water only, not cooking

This weekend saw pretty dismal weather outside with most of the UK beset by storms, rain or snow. So I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen reacquainting myself with the Jetboil Flash and MSR Windburner. Both of these are integrated, all-in-one designs, everything packing away inside their respective pot. While ruthlessly quick at boiling water, attempt to do any cooking in these and you will come unstuck, which is more than can be said for the food burnt on to the inside of the pot.

The Jetboil is good but the MSR is, quite simply, an amazing piece of kit. It is probably the most efficient gas stove out there at present. It will bring half a litre of water to the boil on just 7-8g of fuel in just about any strength of wind. For that you need to actually get it lit first, which is no great hardship despite it having no piezo igniter fitted. Also, it is most efficient when using the actual integrated pot. I see that MSR are releasing the Windburner as a remote canister stove but not until next year. I believe the weight increases too. Instead, I have been looking at how my Windburner canister top stove performs when using the pot stand that is supplied with the Jetboil.

The pot stand that is supplied with the Jetboil Flash slots in perfectly to the ring surrounding the radiant burner of the MSR Windburner

The 37g pot stand that is supplied with the Jetboil Flash slots in perfectly to the ring surrounding the radiant burner of the MSR Windburner

I won’t bother giving all the weights for the respective kits as that is out there on the web and no-one takes every component. The burner head of the MSR alone weighs 200g, so no lightweight, put the folding Jetboil pot stand with that and it totals 237g. At the very least, I have to add a pot (and probably a lid) and a fuel canister (and probably a canister stand). That said, I can still make a lighter set up with a lighter titanium pot or pan than when using the MSR Windburner pot.

The combination of the MSR Windburner and the Jetboil pot stand work well. There looks to be sufficient room between the pot stand and the radiant burner head to prevent dangerous stifling and overheating. Obviously it is less efficient in wind than when the integral MSR pot is fitted, but this set up permits me to obtain a simmer, something impossible when used with the 1lt MSR pot that slots directly to the burner.

MSR Titan Kettle on the Jetboil pot stand

850ml MSR Titan Kettle on the Jetboil pot stand

I tried it out with my old 128g MSR Titan Kettle first. This is a classic little titanium pot with a tight fitting lid. It comes with a pouring spout which I don’t reckon to be the most efficient. One advantage of this pot is that the MSR Windburner stove will fit inside (with lid closed) for storage and transport. However the Jetboil pot stand will not fit in also. The pot is 118mm wide and some of the heat from the stove is disappearing up the sides when in use.

Evernew 900ml pan resting on Jetboil pot stand

Evernew 900ml pan resting on Jetboil pot stand

The 140mm wide 900ml titanium pan from Evernew that I have used for the past few years is a better option on the Windburner/Jetboil pot stand combination, allowing less heat to slip up the sides, however the stove head will not nest inside the pan.

I think I am going to have to continue exploring my options a little. Time to look at the smaller gas stoves I have available and see if I prefer one of them.

A basic watch

There are some terrific watches on the market. I have eyed up the various offerings from Suunto, Garmin and the like on many an occasion. I have even strapped one or two round my wrist. But they all seem to do more than I want or require for an everyday watch. I have no inclination to be syncing my watch with my PC. I don’t need a depth gauge for snorkelling,  no need to measure oxygen levels or any of the other myriad functions. As to the need to charge some watches every day due to their GPS function promptly draining the batteries, good grief!

Brunton Pro hanging from pack daisy loop

Brunton Nomad G3 Pro hanging from pack shoulder strap. Easily accessible and temperature readings not affected by being wrapped around a wrist

On trail, basic ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass) functions are useful on occasion, but until now, I have continued to rely on my Brunton Nomad G3 Pro, clipped to my pack shoulder strap. I would be the first to admit that it has never proven to be the most accurate pieces of kit, but sufficiently so for me. Even the manual proved to be a headache. If I ever find a similar but more reliable product, I will snap it up. I can find cheap and cheerful offerings, probably all made in China with little chance of a return if problems arise. I doubt accuracy is ever going to be something I would be troubled with from any of those.

Smiths watch

Smiths W10 watch

While in training as a young British soldier, we were never issued with military watches. It was only once I had ‘passed out’ as a fully-fledged, if still wet behind the ears, trained yet naïve squaddie, that I was issued with a watch along with other kit on my first posting. Little did I know at the time that not only would this watch be signed back within three years prior to my being sent to my next posting but I would never be issued another.

The Smiths W10 was also the last ever British made watch issued to the British Armed Forces. It was ideally suited and perfectly functional, though perhaps a little small (35mm) for many peoples taste today. Black face with simple, luminous indicated, Arabic numerals and luminous hands. One advantage that a military watch has over most other types are the fixed lugs. These do not have spring loaded pins to hold a strap in so there is virtually no chance of your watch coming adrift and being lost while you are totally oblivious. The strap had to be threaded through non-removable pins. The Smiths brand is now owned by Timefactors who produce a modern replica- the  PRS29A  (or the PRS29B). Smiths also made the speedos for my BSA D10 and A65 motorcycles that I had at the same time. I wish I had hung on to both motorcycles and the watch. Sad losses.

Other suppliers to the Armed Forces took over, prominent were the Cabot Watch Company (CWC), their modern day General Service Watch equivalent,  the G10, does look a decent piece of kit at a good price that may tempt me one day.

For a fairly cheap ‘n’ cheerful watch that will do what a watch should do- show the time, and is also waterproof, you can’t go wrong with the Timex Indiglo range. The Timex Indiglo Expedition Camper with quartz movement I have, and is worn most days, was purchased for less than thirty quid. It is still available today with a bit of hunting. It comes with a 37mm wide plastic case, is water resistant to 50m, has a high visibility dial, date function, (the aforementioned Indiglo) backlight, and, well, that’s about it. Weighing just 32g and with a fabric strap it is comfortable on the wrist and easy to forget I am wearing it, which suits me as I am not a great fan of heavy watches. For the price, if I did ever lose  or break it I am not going to be that upset and will simply buy another.

Timex Expedition

Timex Indiglo Expedition Camper