Sunday, 24 January 2016

That time I went to a resort for pensioners

I knew something wasn’t quite right when I reached the palm-lined promenade. In front of me was a glittering blue sea but around me was a sea of grey – hundreds of grey-haired people.

Some shuffled down the sea front in slow motion on their daily constitutional; others, squeezed into fluorescent Lycra, peddled down the street (those in the less-fit category letting motorised bicycles propel them along); and in the many bars and restaurants lining the strip, sat elderly men in golf hats, drinking from oversized wine glasses, their Zimmer frames neatly parked beside them.

I felt oddly out of place. I scanned the scene again. Had I just walked onto the TV set of One Foot in the Grave meets Laguna Beach?
Parc Natural de la Serra Gelada

I don’t believe it, the delightful and sparklingly clean resort of Albir on the Costa Blanca, east coast of Spain, was practically a retirement village. Great! I was here for three days, clearly the token 30-something year old, standing out like a clown at a funeral.

I sat on the beach and ate my cheese bun, trying to ignore the orange, half-naked, pot-bellied gentleman lounging on a deck chair down by the water’s edge. Pity I wasn’t in the market for a sugar daddy, I briefly thought.

Of course, the party-town Benidorm, with its glitzy high-rises and drink-fuelled nightlife, was just mere miles down the road. But fake tan and crop tops didn’t appeal right then. I turned, instead, towards the Parc Natural de la Serra Gelada, a lump of mountain to the south of the beach. I set out on a brisk walk, overtaking the grey-haired dog walkers.       
As I strolled around the park towards the lighthouse, I passed super-fit pensioners in Nike trainers and weathered skin on show walking in the opposite direction. They were kitted out for activity but there I was in shoes not fit for walking. Again I felt awkward and out of place.

To prove my mettle I decided to take on the 438m peak of Alt del Governador. 438 meters – it should be a piece of cake (said the girl who completed the 60km Kepler Track in New Zealand in two days). How wrong I was. The flimsy plimsolls had no grip, the rocks I walked over punching into the bottom of my
feet, each stab of pain a reminder of how stupendously stupid this idea was but too proud to give up.

And still I could not escape the over 60s. Many claimed the mountain as their own; one man walking his mountain bike down from the top. As I stood, hands on hips, heaving in lungfuls of air, letting the man and bike pass, I pondered his skills in getting the bike to the top in the first place. If I was half that fit when I got to his age I’d be happy.

That night I sat in a restaurant on my lonesome, listening to the excited babble of Spanish and German and English coming from the other tables. I declined dessert, instead walking back to my room in my broken plimsolls, leaving the elders to enjoy the night.

A panoramic view of Albir

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The year that was – highlights and lowlights

It’s that time of year – taking a look back over the past 12 months. And it’s been an interesting one.


  • A New Year’s midnight swim to enter the year
I got to hang out with one of my besties for a warm New Year’s at Orewa beach, one of my favourite places in New Zealand, and topped the celebrations off with a midnight swim. 

  • Taking up rock climbing as a new hobby
A taster course quickly became a hobby and before I knew it I had all the kit and was scrabblingup rock walls like a wannabe Spiderman.

  • Went to Australia for an amazing wedding
The decision to head to OZ for my old housemate’s wedding was nothing short of genius. Not only did I get to catch up with old friends, and make some new ones, I got to see a great guy marry the girl of his dreams in one of the best weddings ever.

  • Winning a £50 voucher for an outdoor adventure store
For someone who doesn’t win anything ever, this was a real coup winning a £50 voucher that I spent on an awesome baselayer, which has been very useful for camping.

I’m hoping this was the best decision ever (jury is still out) but I no longer have to spend three hours a day on public transport under someone’s sweaty armpit. That’s got to be a bonus.

  • Pushed myself outside my comfort zone and climbed a pretty scary cliff face over the sea
I totally freaked out over this climb in Swanage but forcing myself to do it and reach the top without falling into the sea was a real buzz, and I might even consider doing it again.

  • Camped for more than three days in a row (without a shower) and survived
In the past, three days had been my total for camping. This time I topped five with just one shower. I not only survived but realised it wasn’t half bad and actually I sort of liked it.

  • Climbed England and Wales’ highest mountain in appalling conditions and survived to tell the tale
Climbing Mt Snowdon is pretty impressive in and of itself but climbing it in rain and wind with a visibility of only about 10 metres made it all the more challenging and rewarding.

  • Achieved my first scramble
Scrambling the north ridge of Tryfan in Wales was quite possibly the best fun ever and I now have a new love affair with scrambling.

  • Flew through the air at almost 160km per hour along Europe’s longest zipline
When in Snowdonia you can’t miss the chance to take on Europe’s longest zipline. What a buzz speeding through the air. Highly recommend it.

  • Had an article published in the Daily Telegraph
By some force of magic the Daily Telegraph accepted my story idea on fitness trackers and published my words and byline much to my excitement, and they paid me.

  • Visited the buried city of Pompeii
For years I have wanted to visit Pompeii, the city that was completely buried by the huge volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in Italy in 79AD. Finally I made it there and it was very cool.

  • Climbed my first volcano in my 40by40 quest
In October, I climbed Mt Vesuvius, Italy, ticking off my first of 40 volcanoes I am to climb by the age of 40. Being at the top, looking into the massive crater, seeing wisps of steam issuing from the side, and glorying in the view of the surrounding countryside and Bay of Naples was really special.


  • Returning to London from a glorious month-long holiday in New Zealand and back to a job where the s*** hit the fan
After an amazing month in New Zealand I came back to a job and business that was struggling. Within two months of returning I had lost four colleagues and two freelancers and was not having a good time of it.

  • Quit my job, went freelance, started chasing a dream – and took a pay cut
Quitting was hard, going freelance was harder, and chasing a dream was hardest of all. Everyday has been a mission with chronic self doubt and a bank account that seems to get sadder.

  • Having a panic attack climbing England and Wales’ highest mountain in appalling conditions and thinking I was going to die
For the vast majority of the climb up Mt Snowdon I cried, believing I was going to die. It was a jolly good thing it was raining and there weren’t that many people about because I behaved like a dork.

  • Not seeing the view from the top of England and Wales’ highest mountain
Having made it to the top of Mt Snowdon without dying I was unfortunately greeted with a wall of white cloud and no view. It was a bit of an anticlimax to climbing England and Wales’ highest mountain.

  • Having a panic attack climbing a scary cliff over a raging sea and thinking I was going to die
This year consisted of far too many situations where I cried a lot. Here, I was just scared about climbing a cliff over the sea for the first time. It’s rather embarrassing throwing a tantrum and then two professional climbers come into view and start climbing next to you. What’s that? Oh no it’s salt water in my eye.

  • Eating burnt porridge
Deciding to cook porridge for breakfast while camping turned out to be an epic fail. I can not tell you enough how disgusting burnt porridge is.

  • Cheating on my first volcano climb
Yes, so I didn’t really climb Mt Vesuvius, I sort of got a shuttle bus to the summit car park and walked the last 800m to the top. But in my defence, there are no specific rules around how I get to the top.

  • Not climbing my second volcano by the end of the year
Due to various reasons I didn’t end up going to Tenerifeand climbing Mt Teide, which would have been my second of 40 volcanoes. I have been kicking myself constantly.

  • Not making the most of the summer and all round general procrastination

Why did I not do more walking or go to the countryside in the summer? And why haven’t I done more volcano trip planning? Excuses, excuses. I feel a New Year’s resolution coming on…