Rockett heads to Baffin Island


One of the things I particularly enjoy is hearing about peoples adventures, expeditions and challenges that they are taking on regardless of what or where it is.  I was very pleased to be able to grab some time with Ben in between a busy schedule of last minute packing and preparing, for a quick interview on his thoughts prior to him heading north to Baffin Island and his next adventure. Having followed his progress cycling from land end to john  o’ groats and back and nailing the world record in the process to seeing how far he can cycling in 24 hours I am very interested in seeing how this one goes. Baffin Island is an incredibly inhospitable place up in the Arctic circle where temperatures reach -30C. You can follow his progress on the link below:

http://www.rockettrides.com/?page_id=2214

How did you come up with the idea?
For a while I had been thinking about taking on something that posed a new challenge. I was not sure what that would ultimately become, but a few conversations with a variety of people turned to the idea of cycling somewhere that was completely different from the road scene and attempting a ride on snow. I’d also felt a bit flat after the previous year’s competitive racing and I was eager to get back to what I loved about cycling; using a bike for an adventure! Eventually, (and I know I’m missing out a lot of details!) the idea of attempting the traverse of Baffin Island arose and I was straight on it. 

Baffin Island

Baffin Island

 

Have you done any specific training to cope with the environment over there?
Absolutely. Getting used to the temperature and ensuring that not only the bike but also I function in that environment was essential. And I can tell you I’m not the most resilient to the cold! Getting used to that by being in simulation situations (sitting in a freezer) and preparing myself to get in the right physical shape has taken its time. Especially as it’s rather different from any event I’ve done before. I’ve had to train to be more efficient with my packing, too! 

 

What do you think will be the hardest end most enjoyable part of the expedition?
I am particularly looking forward to experiencing the isolation when I’m up there. My ‘professional’ lifestyle keeps me pretty inactive and there’s so much that happens with a computer screen. I’m excited by the physicality of the expedition and the absence of a screen! I think the hardest part will also be overcoming the struggles whilst being so isolated, and fighting through soft snow! So the hardest and the most enjoyable aspects I’m guessing will be the same. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m excited about overcoming the hardest parts. 

 

A Snap shot as the Adventure Begins

A Snap shot as the Adventure Begins

What food will you be eating?
I’m going to be surviving on dehydrated ration packs and regular snacks, such as biscuits and chocolate bars (which I need to keep near my body to prevent them from freezing). 

 

Lance Armstrong said its night about the bike but what will you be riding for this adventure?
My longstanding bike sponsors, Qoroz, have built an entirely bespoke bike for this expedition. They’ve taken the demands of the environment and the self-sufficient nature of the traverse into consideration as they’ve constructed the bike, and the finest of details have been tested and modified to ensure the bike is up to the task. We are extremely grateful to Hope Technology who have provided the components and Strada Wheels for supplying the hand-built wheels. There’s a lot of rubber under this thing! 

 

A specially designed Qoroz bike

A specially designed Qoroz bike

Why did you opt for working with action for children?
Having spent several years working with children in care, I had come to see just how vital the work of Fostering and Adoption services were. They provided safe homes for children most in need and sensitively helped those children towards more secure futures. Accordingly, I wanted to do something that would support those services in a different way than the research I was doing. I wanted to try and raise necessary funds to assist the Fostering & Adoption work of Action for Children who play a remarkable role in helping some of the most vulnerable children and continually seek to improve the system for children and youth of all ages.  

If you would like to learn more about the charity or donate please see the link below:

http://www.justgiving.com/BaffinIslandBike

 

Into the Atlas Mountains


The alarm sounded or at least I initially thought so, it was in fact the local mosque’s call to prayers, known as Adhan, in the early hours of the morning. After this initial disruption we had a long lie in thanks to some confusion within the group, our phones and we realised the local vicinity as no one really seemed to know what the time was or should be. We were instead woken by a knocking on our door wondering where we were at what ever time it was.
Breakfast arrived and I stuffed my face as if the expedition had already started with bread, omelette, muffins, pancakes coated in honey all washed down with copious amounts of sweet mint tea. It did however lack one ingredient initially, much to the dismay of some coffee lovers within the group. We were soon on our way into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.

 

Heading into the Atlas Mountains

Heading into the Atlas Mountains

The drive was broken up by a quick stop at an argan oil factory. This was also the time to experience having a snake wrapped round your neck as a guy came over and draped it over me. It all felt very touristy!

The snake to be draped round our Necks

The snake to be draped round our Necks

We continued the drive, passing an estate car which quite literally had the entire football team squeezed inside of it before finally arriving at the lunch stop and the point we were to begin the walk up the valley. It had felt like we had spent the whole day eating! Whilst sitting there with me trying to get comfortable in the cross legged position, which seemed much easier when I was smaller, we began to notice a change in the weather. The wind was picking up with the trees swaying and the dust being whipped into the air.

The bags were tied onto the mules which are different to donkeys we discovered  as we were off.

We began the trek wondering up the dirt track past terraced plots and olive trees. It was like a green oasis curving along the side of the river that meander it’s way down the valley. The villages that we passed through appeared to be becoming more basic with the animals living on the ground floor and the family upstairs with mud walls and roofs. Yet there were still the satellite dishes fixed to their sides, it was quite a contrasting sight especially with the smells mixed into it of smoke and manure.

IMG_6627

Villages Gripping onto the Hillside

Local bus service with vertical drops

It started to spit ever now and again, finally the heavens opened, the temperature dropped and we could no longer hold off from wearing a waterproof. It was the first time it had rained in weeks apparently. It was a case of hunkering down and getting to the gite quickly.
We arrived dripping wet and fumbling around for places to hang all the wet items in the low light under head torch. A light bulb was found and screwed in giving us time to take in our surroundings. The village only got electricity a few years ago and mobile reception the following year. It sounded like such a dramatic and quick transition.

Our sleeping area for the next couple of days was effectively a massive covered balcony open to the elements but with loads of blankets laid out.

IMG_6649

Clothes Everywhere (our sleeping area was behind the wall)

Gas fired light bulb
Gas fired light bulb

The wind continued to increase and the clouds rolled in further as we munched down food. We tested our oxygen levels so we could start seeing how we were dealing with the altitude before getting our heads down for the night.

Storm Rolling In

Storm Rolling In

Morocco Bound


My trip to morocco came round a lot quicker than I anticipated as I was throwing and squeezing all the kit I needed into a rucksack that was either far too small for the trip or I had far too much stuff.

Packing for all eventualities

Packing for all eventualities

In between this I was preparing (microwaving leftovers) my last meal in the UK or at least until I reached the airport. My previous trip to morocco had been in the searing heat of the Sahara as part of the Marathon des Sables. This trip had the potential for the heat of the desert to the snow up in the mountains, on top of this we were leaving England as a storm was due to hit so I was packing for all eventualities! As I sat on the tube the rain started to come down hard, I was glad I was going to miss the remainder of what was to come. I made my way to Gatwick to meet the rest of the group who had arrived in a timelier manor than me. Despite it only being a 3 hour flight, not knowing when my next last meal would be I thought I would savour a chocolate bar on the flight which needless to say was eaten before boarding the plane. I was clearly in a mood of great self restraint.
Arriving in Marrakech it came to passport control and spotting a small queue in front of a booth I opted for this one only to receive a wagging finger and being pointed towards the much large queue that had formed and I had being trying to avoid. Finally making it out, we met Steve our expedition leader and Ibrahim our local guide. This formidable pairing of Steve with a huge amount of experience and stories which made many a famous explorer or adventurer seem very tame and Ibrahim with his local knowledge and connections spreading across the Morocco we certainly had the ingredients for a fantastic trip.

Marrakesh Airport

Marrakesh Airport

Arriving in the main square and the souks in Marrakech in the evening can only be described as mind blowing with such a contrast to the London we had left behind as our sensors were hit with a rich mix of smells, sights and sounds. Locals and tourists mixed together in one big melting pot. Wondering around you were introduced to every kind of smell from incense to freshly cooked food and the odd whiff of drainage system or lack of.

people, bikes, horses and cars all sharing the space

people, bikes, horses and cars all sharing the space

Topping up on supplies

Topping up on supplies

After many offers from different food stalls we were greeted by a cook in his once pristine white uniform, now highly decorated in a variety of colours and food stains, which we opted to stay at. A young couple were mid way through what could have been a romantic meal in Marrakech. This was broken when the waiter realising the lack of space for our group decided without telling them that he would move them along. In his haste he knocked the ladies drink over her and the table. But at least we would all fit now. The meal was really good despite warnings of not eating meat and I assumed that the calamari was probably even riskier given our distance from the sea, all were very tasty. My meal was made slightly more interesting when I felt a rubbing on my arm. Looking round I realised it was the cooks arse going up and down my arm as he bent over to pick up something. All part of the experience. A quick tour of the souk before me and roommate crashed out in the hotel a head of the next day’s trip into the mountains.

Rich Smells of the Souks

Rich Smells of the Souks

An Atlantic Rowers thank you


About this time last year I was arriving a head of my Atlantic row. The festive period had been an incredibly exciting period, in some respects quite a tense one with final preparations and certainly a time to gorge on those extra calories. I thought the timing was right to thank my sponsors, friends, family and work colleagues for all their support as I opted to spend my time training, eating and sleeping on top of my day job impacted on you.

The Team Has Landed

The Team Has Landed

When you make a serious choice in your life I don’t think you can ever comprehend the effects it has on those around you. I think what really brought it home was first seeing my Dad in Barbados, then Mum and brother who were unable to make it out to the finish and the relief that they had for our safe crossing.

So thanks goes to Binn Skips who have supported me on a couple of challenges now. Skye Skyns who provide the softest and most comfortable sheep skins I have ever felt, we sat on them and it made the journey all the more comfortable. Cameras underwater who provide an amazing camera case that allowed me to take my camera underwater and take some incredible pictures! Patra kindly gave me some silk underwear which despite the harsh conditions held up very well and were very comfortable.

A sunny Dover coastal rowing experience

A sunny Dover coastal rowing experience

Numerous people helped me train and prepare for the event Fulontri with their numerous quality training sessions. Rin Cobb from Pnd Comsulting on my nutrition and managed to help me gain the necessary weight in time. Phil Barratt from Physique Body works for regular holistic sports massages. Simon James and Heal physios of Dundee also seriously helped with both my pre-race preparation and post race recovery. Roger Gould from extreme rowing challenges for his advice and enabling me to get some rowing practise including rowing behind the Olympic torch. Dover rowing club enabled me to gain some valuable coastal rowing experience as well as rowing from Gravesend to Richmond with them.

Rowing with the Olympic Torch

Rowing with the Olympic Torch

River views on our row from Gravesend to Richmond

River views on our row from Gravesend to Richmond

Finally the Ocean Row Events support team and most importantly Leven, Livar, Tim, Calum, Pete, James and Jan who made for a thoroughly memorable adventure. If you are interested in and ocean row I would highly recommend checking out Ocean Row Events!

Arrived safe and sound

Arrived safe and sound

There are many others who inspired, helped and kept me going whilst out there. Maybe if the book deals ever comes about then they can be additions to that…

The main thing is I may have been out there in the middle of the ocean but to reach that point there was a much longer journey that involved far more people than just myself. Regardless of what they are exactly without you all life’s challenges and adventures are not possible. So whatever your next challenge remember those who help with the journey in whatever way that might be.

The Next Challenge


Since getting back I have been asked quite a few times on “what next” or “how do you top rowing the Atlantic”, both very difficult questions to answer. Despite the fact that there was plenty of time to think on board and so many different forms, types and ideas for my next challenge it’s all about finding and more importantly actually choosing the right one. It all started whilst having breakfast with my dad the morning before flying out to the start, who asked those questions before I had even completed it. He then went on to suggest that it would be good to have an idea before I arrived back. Something I would definitely recommend you do before taking on any sort of challenge, adventure, career step anything always have the next step in mind. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to have a concrete one by the time I got back but I do have a good few ideas up my sleeve and still very much have the desire for one or two.

I have done some smaller events or challenges but it wasn’t until I read an article in a recent copy of national geographic (check the full article out http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/06/125-risk-takers/gwin-text) that made me think about the motivation for taking on a challenge, adventure or similar in a completely different way to previously.

national geographic

At the bottom of all challenges it points out that regardless of whether it’s exploring the unknown, starting a company, going for prime minister or shooting for a goal there is risk involved of varying degrees and types. It comes down to the balancing of the rewards vs the risk, the interesting bit is that this results in a chemical reaction within the brain. Similar to adrenaline fueled sports the difference being that adrenaline makes you effectively flee or fight where as dopamine associated with risk can push you towards the danger to achieve the goal. The article was summed up with a great quote from John Wesley Powell who explored the Colorado river and Grand Canyons:

“They entreat us not to go on, and tell us that it is madness to set out in this place. And yet to leave the exploration unfinished, to say that there is a part of the canyon which I cannot explore, having already nearly accomplished it is more than I am willing to acknowledge and I am determined to go on.”

IMG_4138

The important bit is that everyone has this effect to varying degrees. We take some form of risk every day. My take on it is that the more we step outside of our comfort zones regardless of what it might be to overcome the challenges and to ultimately reap the rewards then the more the mind and body will desire the chance to take on another. So whilst I am thinking and working out my next it would be great to hear yours that are coming up.

IMG_4133

Extreme Dieting: Ocean Rowing


Last year saw me write about my experiences of following a nutritional plan after meeting up with Rin from PND consulting (http://www.pndconsulting.co.uk/) to get me up to the recommended weight to row an ocean. Not only has she worked as a dietician for a number of years but she has also put it into practise completing expeditions and multi-day races around the globe from the arctic to the desert. This I believed gave her great insight into what was required before I set off on my row as well as how I would go about hitting my targets.

It had been a challenge to hit these targets initially as the amount of exercise I was doing was burning a huge amount off. Something that I hadn’t talked about previously was how this process makes you feel incredibly hungry every couple hours and then very stuffed following gorging on far too much food and then just sitting in front of a computer. Now I could have spread the eating across more meals than just the main three and some “small” snacks. Ideally I would have but just convenience wise having maybe five to six smaller meals through a day would have felt like I never stopped eating. I’m also not sure that work colleagues would have appreciated the constant crumbs and debris round my desk following trying to cram as much in as quickly as possible as I tried to complete whatever needed doing between each meal.

Those last few calories

Those last few calories

Towards the end of the year this did mean eating everything in sight to the point where we went round to friend’s houses and they would insist on third helpings or more. Seconds had become the norm by this stage. Importantly however I was making good progress in this final big push to hit the magic 95kg. It’s safe to say between the Christmas celebrations and then the pre-row time in Gran Canaria that this magic number was easily surpassed. One family member saw a picture of me and described it to me when I got back “I didn’t recognise you in the picture, you looked….. chubby”. This had always been the plan with Rin to strike the right balance between lean muscle and some useful fat supplies. I may have taken the supplies side slightly too far but it did make for a very enjoyable Christmas.

The "chubby" start

The “chubby” start

So over the row we joked initially that we were not losing weight as we went across. We had 6000 calories to eat per day and were not generally managing to eat all of these despite eating at all times of the day. I had a reputation for cooking up regardless of the time so super noodles in soup at 2am became pretty normal. However soon we could all notice that the weight was beginning to be shed and pretty rapidly at that. Physically we had all changed shape quite drastically over a short period of time. In particular our legs which had begun to lose their size quite a lot, mine ended up looking like a long distance runner’s legs; skinny, lean and sinewy.

By the end of the trip I had lost around 15 – 17kg in 35 days, a huge amount given it had taken the best part of a year to gain that weight. My kilt had not fitted so well since it had been bought although this didn’t last long. Being given steak at 4am when we arrived washed down with a couple of cold ones was all that was required for our bodies to kick into overdrive and to start eating up everything in sight a bit like Labradors for anyone that has had one. Within weeks most of us had wee pop bellies; I think we all put this down to our bodies still maintaining that we needed 6000 calories a day. Or it could have been that it was amazing to taste everything that we hadn’t done for a month at sea and were just making up for lost time.

The weight loss in progress

The weight loss in progress

Overall the plan we had put in place with the amount of weight gain had worked a treat as throughout the trip I didn’t dip too far below the weight I seem to naturally sit at. This I think means that I could continue to perform despite the weight lose. Although I have wondered what if I had stayed quite lean whether the weight loss would have been as extreme, I just couldn’t afford to risk reaching part way across and finding that I was becoming weaker and too skinny.

James with his minimal 7kg weight loss

James with his minimal 7kg weight loss

If you have stories of extreme diets to increase or drop your weight then would be great to hear. If you want advice on achieving your weight or dietary goals and particularly if your preparing for an event or expedition I would definitely suggest checking out Rins website and getting in contact with her.

http://www.pndconsulting.co.uk/