“Downhill from Here: Running from John O’ Groats to Land’s End”

Downhill from Here

An upbeat account of a ‘downhill’ challenge

This gem of a read has interest for everyone. It will appeal to those who have made a five-kilometre jog the limit of their running experience as well as those aspiring to run distance – particularly the length of the country itself. Those who enjoy living their adventures vicariously from the comfort of an armchair and who may have never given the sport a second thought will also appreciated its page-turning grip.

A rich vein of wonderful and quirkily descriptive English flows from Gavin’s Scottish pen like a seasoned wordsmith. He places you so firmly into his running shoes that as someone in preparation to complete the challenge myself I was actually a little disappointed – because thanks to Gavin’s exciting, detailed and inclusive narrative I feel like I’ve run it already and have to do it all again! In truth, alongside Gavin’s clever observations, ever-present sense of humour and self-deprecating wit, there’s a wealth of winning detail, from planning and navigating the route, to booking accommodation, liaising with support vehicles, which kit to take and what to fuel your body with.

‘Downhill from Here’ is not pitched to the wannabe-macho somewhat naïve audience that lap up over-hyped nonsense. You won’t see our ‘hero’ surmount impossible odds or breakthrough a superhuman-pain threshold and the barriers of endurance while achieving a cheering mass of mere mortal followers struggling to keep up with his momentous pace in the Rocky Balboa-style. Gavin not only tells you of his personal history, shortcomings and motivation but also – and quite often! – how not to go about running from John O’ Groats to Land’s End. Candidly, he retells how he loses his way on many occasions, which has you shivering on top of a Pennine Peak clad in a pair of shorts with him or up to your neck, camera equipment held aloft, attempting to ford a bitterly cold river. You can expect the police and the goodwill of strangers, hikers, pub landlords and farmers to help our protagonist on his way on more than one occasion.

And how delighted was I to find that after running with Gavin for less than half a day (when his 1117-mile route passed twenty miles from my home) and being treated to a meal for my efforts, he went on to include a couple of pages about my own life story along with a photo which makes for a great souvenir. Gavin is honest and generous, an accomplished writer (and filmmaker) and a credit to the long-distance or ‘ultra’ running community. This book makes for a seminal text with respect to ‘running’ that most British of British endeavours, the JOGTLE.

Chris Thrall is an adventurer and author of the memoir “Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Crystal Meth Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland”

Who Turned The Lights Out? – Chris Thrall’s diaries #amwriting #ppl

Date: Sat, 10 Jul 2004 10:20:03 -0700 (PDT)

From: “Chris Thrall” chris@mailingu.com

To: Mission Control

Subject: Who Turned the Lights Out?

sea_flightHola Amigos!

Here I am in sunny Florida, in week two of flight-school training for a private pilot’s licence.

Firstly, please excuse any punctuation, grammar and spelling mistakes in this e-mail. The only thing you learnt at my school was how to push a big cupboard in front of the headmaster’s office so he couldn’t get out. He was only five foot one – which made it all the more hilarious! I think our school must have produced quite some many furniture removers.

The other day I flew solo for the first time. I can’t believe these maniacs trust me with a whole aeroplane – but as they have an airport full of them, I suppose they can afford to lose one or two.

Yesterday evening I flew a Cessna 172 to a tiny airport called Okeechobee, right out in the sticks, to do some practise landings. My instructor had warned me that it got dark around 9pm, so I decided to leave at 8.30pm for the half-hour flight back to Fort Pierce where the flight school is. For a student pilot, it’s strictly against the FAA regulations to fly solo at night.

Just as I’d taken off, it started to sink in it was getting dark already. But as I climbed to cruise altitude, I realised that wasn’t such a problem – the problem was the swirling fog coming out of nowhere and reducing visibility to under a mile! No pilot is supposed to fly ‘visual’ flights (i.e. without specialised instruments and training) in less than three miles visibility unless they’re granted special landing clearance from Air Traffic Control. If I didn’t get this permission, it would mean flying back Okeechobee and then a sleep in the plane to avoid the alligators.

As it got darker, I thought it best to make myself visible – that way the trees might see me coming and get out the way. I put on the red flashing beacon light, the white strobe lights, the red and green navigation lights, the tail light and the landing spotlight. I would have put on the Christmas lights, too, if I could have found them and at one point was considering setting fire to something – perhaps a wing and anything else you have two of. I radioed through to the control tower, hoping it would be that the guy from the Airplane movie – the one who’s so completely wrecked on every substance known to man that he would clear me to land upside down and backwards if I wanted. Fortunately, it was him – either that or just a very nice man with a soft spot for lost English halfwits. Not only did he clear me for approach, he didn’t even mind when I mistakenly gave my position as east of the field instead of west!

Actually, it’s easier to fly at night in many ways. You can use the street lighting for navigation and the airports have a flashing green and white beacon (so long as your pointed in the right direction or it seems to go out). He gave me ‘number two’ in the traffic pattern behind another plane that I had to avoid crashing in to. I had no idea what it looked like, but at night that’s not such a problem – especially when he or she has more lights than you do.

Then he very kindly gave me a short cut, ‘straight-on’ approach instead of a ‘holding pattern’ landing. By this time, it was great fun, a light aircraft landing on a strip designed for DC 10s and jets. The runway is all lit up and it’s just for you! I was hoping he would call out the Fire Brigade, some ambulances and the National Guard – maybe even evacuate the local city, too – but then my instructor might get to hear of it, so maybe not.

I did probably the best and most rewarding landing I will ever do, thanked the very nice man in the control tower (who even directed me to the parking ramp!) and wondered if like the guy in Airplane, he was floating upside down while sniffing glue.

The good news is that the experienced pilots I’ve spoken to say you learn by these things. And that my lack of knowledge didn’t stop me passing the theory exam the next day with 87% – and I didn’t even cheat . . . or have to move any cupboards.

Did you know the second language in Florida is Spanish?

Vaya con Dios, Amigos!

Chris X

Chris Thrall is the author of the memoir: Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland.

Scuba diving in Antarctica. Expedition 2013

The journey south …

As a polar explorer it’s not easy travelling south these days. Not like it was in the early part of the 20th century for the likes of Shackelton, Scott and Amundsen, whose sole preoccupation was sailing scott-free (unless you were Scott or traveling with him) on the open ocean with nothing to occupy their time but stroking huskies and fellow expedition members or surfing Facebook. No, these days you have to battle your way to the Polar Circle through a never-ending stream of frigid bergs hovering below the waterline ready to sink your chances of making Queen, Kate Middleton and Country proud … in the form of airport security, Immigration and KLM stewardesses.

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Cheers!

After spending 40 minutes at Heathrow having my hand luggage searched to check I wasn’t carrying more than my allotted allowance of Semtex, detonators and radical-extremist literature, I ran to the departure gate gutted that I had to forgo my pre-flight pint and the chance to spend time enjoying the truly authentic British pub atmosphere that only an airport departure lounge can offer. Instead, I opted for a bottle of Jack Daniels from the tax-free shop, only to be told by the shop assistant that I couldn’t take it onwards following my connection in Amsterdam and that I would have to drink it on the hour-and-a-half plane ride. Contingency plan! “What would Scott have done in this situation?” I asked myself. So, surreptitiously, I did drink it on the plane, despite having read the in-flight magazine which clearly stated the not bringing of alcohol on-board – along with electronic cigarettes, East Europeans and badger porn. Continue reading