Saturday, 5 April 2014

Sidetracked Journal, Volume One – Perhaps My Favourite Journey

Sidetracked has been a fantastic journey for me and one which continues to excite me. A road leading from a wistful dream – at once fleeting and ephemeral – towards something which is now very close to me being able to leave my career in law behind and make a living from writing full-time. I write for a dozen magazines now, some regularly, but Sidetracked has allowed me to grow as a writer in ways which I now carry close to my heart. How to write for others; how to inspire people with words and images; how to work effectively alongside those with very different perspectives and skills and how to understand the disparate ways in which the broad and beautiful cross-section of humanity which write for us can themselves inspire.

2014 has been a difficult and challenging year for me. Sidetracked has taken up a great deal of my time, but so has my work and my first two novels. Balancing it all has been an exercise in time management and faith. There have been highs and lows which have exhausted me. This blog has been hard to update regularly. My life has evened out and Sidetracked has been a major part of that. I cannot explain how proud I am to be a part of it and how proud I am to work with some amazing and talented people.

Sidetracked was born from a dream John Summerton had some years ago which he describes in an eloquent and honest way on Al Humphreys' blog. "Believe in yourself and the choices you make." I've worked with John for nearly two years. I featured in the Fourth Edition of the online version of the magazine and joined the team in August 2012. I have lived his dream and it has resonated with my own in that time. My co-editor, Jamie Bunchuk, and I are as alike as chalk and cheese. We disagree regularly but we both hugely respect each other's work and we each bring something very special and unique to the Sidetracked mix. Our writing styles are very different, but one thing remains clear – our editing styles are almost identical. We both have a passionate belief that Sidetracked should be beautiful to look on, and breathtaking to read. We aim to reach the highest standards in the written word and we both believe that allowing others to tell their stories – and helping them to do that – is one of the great things about Sidetracked. It started off small but quickly gained the support of the people it wrote about best – ordinary people doing extraordinary things, as well as the professionals and adventurous elite now gracing its pages. In fact, what we have now seen in the inaugural edition of the Sidetracked Journal is equal importance given to the likes of Steve Behaeghel, as we do Kenton Cool. That is where Sidetracked's future lies – where its greatest asset remains – we don't care who you are or where you've come from. We only care about the amazing things you do.

John explains the reason we decided to print: 
"The move into print has been a long term ambition for me. There’s definitely a renaissance in premium, well made publications and I think holding a book in hand, the feel of the paper and the smell of the inks is something that far outweighs any digital counterpart. With the help of the editorial team and Martin Hartley, our new Director of Photography, we have created a journal featuring a broad range of stories that encapsulate and aspire adventure. And the most exciting thing to see is the orders and coming in from all around the world. Love it!"
Perhaps the most important part of the process for me has been the discovering of an exciting new skill – copyediting. I imagine it doesn't sound particularly sexy, but to me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the production of Volume One was putting together and editing the features you'll be reading. Like the Orizaba feature on page 10 – I put that together from the combined accounts of Luc Mehl, Steve Fassbinder and Jim Harris having spoken to them a little about their experiences on that amazing multi-discipline trip. Or Through the Mountain, where Paul Mackrill and I worked together to find a way to explain technical scenes in way which were compelling and exciting but also accurate. In the vignette of Steve Behaeghel's amazing trek on the Great Himalaya Trail, working with Steve to turn his words into an inspiring story about poverty, faith and spirit was something I'll always remember.

Volume Two is already being planned. It will be even better, we think. But there will always be a special place in my heart for this first Volume. I will leaf through the pages when I am older and think – 'I helped tell those stories'. I doubt there is a better feeling than that.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Interview with Alex Roddie About Being an Author and the Success of the Atholl Expedition

I first ran into Alex Roddie as the creator of the impressive Glencoe Mountaineer outdoor blog. Glencoe Mountaineer was established by Alex Roddie in 2009 with a humble mission: to provide accessible reports on winter climbing conditions in Glencoe. Since then it has grown to become a chronicle of adventure in the Scottish hills. It changed hands in 2010 when James Roddie took over and has thrived under his editorship. 

His historical fiction, inspired by the mountain heritage of Britain and the Alps, has been described by award-winning author Susan Corrag as "extraordinarily accomplished storytelling - tense, taut and deeply atmospheric". I admire his simple goal – to bring the drama, heroism, and beauty of the mountains into the lives of everyone. He believes that the British hills aren't only for mountaineers and climbers, and that you don't have to be the member of an elite group to enjoy them. Good for you, Alex.

HIs most recent book is superb – "swashbuckling" adventure according to TRAIL magazine and I find it hard to disagree. Should you want to read it, and I urge you to, Amazon can get it to you pretty quick.

The interior art within the Atholl Expedition is marvellous – here's a sample:

His writing is not bad either. So I thought I'd interview him. Here's what he had to say...

Friday, 21 March 2014

Sidetracked Volume One: Now on Sale

We are incredibly excited to bring you our very first issue of the printed Sidetracked journal. As always, we aim to capture the emotion and experience of some of the most breathtaking adventures taking place throughout the world. This 132 page journal is filled with remarkable long distance journeys, inspirational expeditions and features some of the most beautiful, dramatic and challenging regions on earth – all told and presented by the incredible men and women who undertook them.

It is available to pre-order now. Delivery is expected to commence 31st March.

Click here for more information and a foreword from Al Humphries.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Arc'teryx Fission SV Jacket - Review

I've not ever used a waterproof, insulated jacket before. In really cold temperatures, it has a place but I usually layer instead. However, on two winter trips - one last year and one this year - I used it and it was superb. Compared to a comparable down jacket, it performs very well indeed. In the -20C of Norway last January, I used it and switched to a heavyweight polar down jacket and found the latter warmer. And heavier, and harder to wear. So much so, I reverted to the Fission SV. Whilst being dragged along the snowy ground by a team of dogs, it kept the snow off me and kept me warm. It's an adjustable piece which fits nicely although, as I'll note later, it's an expedition cut so VERY ROOMY. Bear that in mind when buying online. The shell feels smooth and pleasant - not as malleable as Neoshell but not as hard as most shell layers. Very nice. The downside? Cost - it retails for a cool £500. But you're paying for quality, innovation and design. If you want to pay that much for a jacket.

Arc'teryx describe the Fission SV, one of their top of the range garments, in this way:

"Maximum warmth in a GORE-TEX® garment that is waterproof, windproof, durable. New GORE-TEX® face fabric has a softer touch and moves quietly. Reinforced panels in the hood and across the shoulders, chest area and sleeves address areas of high use and sustained abrasion. Lightweight, radiant Coreloft™ insulation is stitched into place and delivers exceptional warmth that is almost weightless. Lighter weight insulation is used in the underarm gusset to reduce bulk and aid with ease of motion."

They love it. It means the world to them - this is a special piece and they're proud of it. Do I agree? Well that depends on what use it is put to. It's not a trekking piece to my mind - at least not the way I trek. I prefer to layer rather than to have a single unit doing all the work with the exception, perhaps, of the Buffalo Special 6 on local hills (we're talking pimples really - Leith Hill in Surrey is hardly likely to have Mountain Rescue coming out, but as I will post shortly, I did spend some time with Lowland Rescue recently). But, for sunday afternoon walks, doing stuff out in hard, cold weather and the like, it is great. It really comes into its own for winter sports. Skiing, snowboarding, dog-sledding (as above) - this is the perfect jacket for all of that. A down jacket will pack smaller than this but will be nowhere near as durable, versatile and easy to use.

What about features? It's gore-tex so waterproof and breathable, as much as that means at the current level of technology. I'm not going to enter a debate about waterproofness vs breathability - we all know the trade-offs. This range of gore-tex is getting rave reviews and is worth a try instead of eVent and Neoshell. More so than ever before. The construction of the jacket is designed to reduce bulk - seams, stitching, it's all meant to make the jacket less of a bruiser. Drawcords are adjustable with one hand and with gloves on. Elbows are articulated. The zips are Arc'teryx waterproof zips and have garages to protect from snow (and rain) ingress. The chin guard is laminated and smooth as fleece.

The collar is insulated, so is the hood. And it's all helmet compatible. Cuffs are velcro adjusted and easy to use with gloves. The hem drops down below the butt (so you can sit on cold ground, and is adjustable. However, the waist is not and here Arc'teryx have missed a trick. The cut is expedition cut which means it comes up big - it's built that way to allow other layers underneath should you need them. I would have liked an adjustable waist to bring it in. 

There are six pockets - two hand, two chest and two internal mesh. These last are useful if you want to stow lightweight things in there like a hat or gloves and which would benefit from being close to your body. Insulation is a serious business and 100gsm, and 140gsm, Coreloft means business. This jacket is very warm. As I have said, I used it in -20C and did not feel the pinch. It's easy to care for too - machine wash in warm water without fabric softener. Can you say that about down?

All in all this is a class jacket for the right activities. It breaths well through all that core loft but high-intensity activities are going to make you sweat. You cannot expect moisture to simply evaporate through all that fabric and insulation without some remaining nearby. But I doubt anything else will beat it. It's user-friendly too. A couple of changes here and there - perhaps some larger toggles on the zips, an adjustable drawcord at the waist - but in reality these are small points but perhaps, for the money you're paying, they are good points to consider. Arc'teryx pay attention to this blog apparently, so comment away and they'll pick them up.