For those of you who may be wondering where in the name of [insert relevant deity here] I have been well, here’s the story.
Plans to ski the length of Norway have convinced me of the need to up my game. So, I went off and created my very own website www.neilpitts.com. On the site you can find out all my plans and read about previous adventures as well as having access to all the old Gandalf on Tour blog pages.
However, this move means leaving WordPress behind. Which is a real shame as I really liked its usability on the move.
Anyway, if you would like to continue to follow my exploits including tales of Gandalf, our beloved campervan, and of course the ever delightful Mrs P then simply go to http://www.neilpitts.com, take a look at the blog page and, if you like what you see, click on the “Subscribe to my blog” button.
You will then receive a little email prompt whenever I pen a new post.
I had 6 whole days with no symptoms a couple of weeks ago. I really thought I had this long Covid thing on the ropes. Unfortunately however the last couple of weeks have not been great. On top of the on-off phantom smell thing I have just been suffering a general malaise. ‘Suffering’ seems a little excessive, but ‘malaise’ hits the nail on the head.
A general feeling of discomfort, illness, or unease whose exact cause is difficult to identify
Wooster: Jeeves old boy, I seem to be afflicted with a general malaise.
Jeeves: Indeed sir
Wooster: What can you recommend to chase away the blues and generally restore your normally chirpy employer to his usual tip top form?
Jeeves: A cup of tea and good sit down always does the trick for me sir. Though I think you may prefer something a little stronger…
Wooster: Abso-bally-lutely Jeeves! A cup of tea and a sit down? That just might serve to make me worse.
Jeeevs: As I was about to say sir, in your case I think perhaps something a little stronger. Since it is too early for a restorative of the alcoholic variety I believe a strong black coffee with lots of sugar and a large slice of cake should restore you to your usual self.
Wooster: Jolly good idea what. Make it so Jeeves, make it so.
I can only apologise to the memory of P G Wodehouse and his myriad fans for the above sorry attempt at a Jeeves and Wooster sketch.
So, back to my interesting new symptom.
Despite the ‘malaise’ I have continued to exercise, though not such long hours ( I had got up to 22 mile walks and 80 mile bike rides). This morning (Tuesday 11th May 2021) I woke early and set off on a 30 mile bike ride.
During the ride I can sense the phantom smell trying to take hold. Subconsciously I am pushing it away, but it is always there. It’s not affecting my riding though.
10 miles in and I’ve just rolled slowly through Marlow following the slow moving rush hour traffic. I turn off the main road and am approaching a long hill. I’m cruising along, conserving my energy for the climb and suddenly, totally without warning, I think I’m going to faint. My world view suddenly contracts and I can’t think straight. I have just enough sense (and fortunately space) to immediately stop. As quickly as it came on it was gone.
I would love to have asked the chap walking on the opposite side of the road who was looking at me as if I had just done something really odd, what he saw, but I didn’t.
After a minute or so, and feeling absolutely fine, I decided to carry on with my ride. Better to continue on the really quiet roads than take the short route home on the main road I thought.
For the rest of the ride I felt absolutely fine and had a generally lovely ride on quiet roads.
Should I stop riding because of one isolated incident? Should I give in to the weird symptoms that dog my days? I’d ask for your thoughts, but I already know the answer…
Onward and upward.
Now I’m off to fix myself a strong black coffee with lots of sugar and a large slice of cake.
UPDATE ON THE NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG PAGES:
As you may remember, I will be moving away from Gandalfontour soon and starting a new blog on a new website. I have got myself a domain name and will be launching it very soon. I will make sure that Gandalfontour runs alongside for a while to give you, my lovely readers, a chance to keep up.
On Tuesday 20th April I posted a ride on Strava boasting; “Celebrating 5 whole days with no stupid long COVID symptoms.”
Well, that was a couple of days ago. I certainly won’t be boasting about that again for at least 5 more days, since the most persistent of the “stupid” symptoms, the pesky phantom smell, returned yesterday. I hate the phantom smell.
I can only describe this phantom smell as being akin to someone burning something they shouldn’t be burning. Though I don’t know what. The smell is entirely in my head, not up my nose. Find me something else to smell and it’s gone, but returns immediately the other smell is removed. If I eat or drink something the ‘phantom smell’ doesn’t affect the taste, but, once again, as soon as the eating or drinking are over, back comes the phantom smell.
It’s called “parosmia” meaning a distortion of smell. It’s not debilitating in any way, but for some reason, it makes me anxious. I can distract myself from it, but never for very long. The longest it has lasted is 3 weeks. The shortest is 2-3 days. I hate it.
I even know what can trigger it, but sadly there is not much I can do about it. If I spend any length of time wearing a mask (10 minutes plus) it’s like a switch. No smell – 10 minutes later in a mask – pesky smell. Grrr! Got to eat though, and every Wednesday is grocery shopping day. Perhaps I have to accept that I will never be more than 7 days symptom free? As I say, at least it isn’t debilitating.
This would usually be the line where I say; “Moving on to lighter things…”
But, no, not today. Today is all about problems (sorry) and how they will be overcome (yay!).
The first problem is a biggie and requires a bit of background. If you are sitting comfortably I shall begin…
Long, long ago in a land not so very far away an evil ruler called David Cameron set the UK on course for disaster...
Or, for those who think Brexit is a good thing…
Long, long ago a wise ruler called David Cameron set the UK on a course back to greatness…
Ah, who am I kidding? This is not about the greater good, this is personal. I voted remain because I like going to Europe and greatly valued the freedom it gave us all to travel unrestricted. Particularly the ability to stay in any European country for as long as we wanted. For example, our 4 month European climbing trip in 2018 can now never happen again, for with Brexit comes the UK’s loss of unrestricted access to Shengen countries, Norway being one of them. In the proverbial nutshell before stoopid Brexit I could visit Norway for 6 months, no questions asked. Post Brexit 90 days is the maximum stay permitted. Those of you who were paying attention will have noticed that I need in excess of 110 days for my Norway ski trip.
So, I need to apply for a visa. Not just a tourist extension visa, oh no, no such animal exists for Norway. I have to apply for a “residence visa for cultural reasons”. I need to be able to prove that I am a “Disseminator of Norwegian culture outside Norway.” It’s a good job I have a blog. I’m going to have to be a bit more creative than that though. So, I’m going to attempt to write a book (which you should all buy) and arrange some talks after the event. I have to pay £430 for this visa application, which I don’t get back if my request is turned down. Wish me luck as the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. The alternative is that I only do about 2/3rds of the trip. Additionally it would mean that I would not be able to visit Europe/any Shengen country for 3 months before and 3 months after the trip. So, if you voted leave, you are not in my good books. I will however forgive you if you buy my book.
And, finally, I need to move this blog. I need to create my own web site and stop relying on WordPress. I don’t own the blog, which is a concern. All that writing I have bored you with over the last few years could just be taken away. Also, it’s not very user friendly. No search options and I have failed to separate my trips, art work etc.
Also, shock horror!!, I need to change the name. Gandalfontour is a bit of a misnomer since Gandalf is not going to be coming with us.
So, I’m asking for suggestions for names for a website. Any ideas?
At the moment I have two ideas for 2 websites based on the name Zero, which I have used for many years for my art (it is also the address of my instagram account zero1n)
Yesterday I found myself at the London Region Nordic Ski Club venue in Hillingdon, London for my first ever attempt at roller skiing. Roller skiing is, in a nutshell, the art of nordic skiing without any of the hassle of that pesky white stuff also known as ‘snow‘. A better description is provided by the good people at Tracks & Trails…
Roller skiing originated as a training method for cross-country ski athletes and enthusiasts to imitate the sport’s technique and practise ready for the winter seasons.
So, that’s the ‘what’ dealt with, now for the ‘why?’
I have a friend, David Hamilton, who is an accomplished mountaineer. And I do mean ‘accomplished.’ He has, for example, climbed Everest 10 times (show off), climbed all of the seven summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents of the Earth) twice(!), worked for many years guiding in Antarctica and skied the length of both the Pyrenees and the Alps.
My favourite question when I see David is; “What’s your next trip then?”
I last asked this question, back in January and he said, in a matter of fact sort of way; “I’m going to ski the length of Norway.” To which the only answer really is, “Oh!”. This is pretty much what I said.
Perhaps I should have left it at that.
A few days later, and clearly with too much time on my hands, I emailed David to ask if a person with only downhill ski experience could do such a trip, or maybe half of the trip (about 60 days). Next thing I know I’m part of the team. Not just for half the trip though, oh no. Mrs P, who obviously wants to get rid of me said, “why do you want to only do half the trip?” To which I explained how unfair it would be to leave her on her own for so long. To which she said, and I quote; “Oh piff and tosh! I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself.You boys go and have fun.” (well, maybe not an exact quote).
Upshot is, I am now booked to do the whole thing.
So, all things being equal, on the 1st January 2022 David and I will set off from the southern most point of Norway, Lindesnes and ski to the northern most point at Nordkapp. A distance of 1,700 km (1,056 miles). The journey will take around 110 days. We will utilise a variety of accommodation; predominantly basic huts (no facilities but a fire and a dry floor to sleep on) as well as staffed huts, where we can buy food and sleep in something resembling a bed, a few nights in hotels and a few (hopefully) nights in a tent. We will be carrying heavy rucksacks and will see pretty much the whole of a Norwegian winter. Finishing in mid-April 2022.
Only around 150 people have ever completed this trip in winter [source: http://norgepaalangs.info/] . And not all of them finished. It’s gonna be tough.
I’m excited. I’ve even drafted a patch to sew onto our kit.
So, all I have to do now is:
Task Number 1 – Recover from Long Covid
Task number 2 – LEARN TO SKI!!
Task number 1 – The recovery from Long Covid is coming on. It’s been just over 12 months now and I can safely say that I am definitely getting there. Although I have never had more than 3 days without any symptoms, those symptoms that remain are more irritating than debilitating. My fitness is certainly improving, but I have a way to go to get back to my pre-covid levels.
Task number 2 – This brings me back to the reason I found myself at the London Region Nordic Ski Club venue in Hillingdon, London yesterday. I had booked a taster session and was hoping that no-one would ask me why I had decided to have a go at roller skiing. Of course, everyone asked and, as I’m not a good liar, I told the truth. They were very good, no-one laughed in my face.
I was lucky enough to get a one-to-one session with an excellent teacher Dagmar who managed to keep a straight face throughout. Fortunately, I have been downhill skiing for many years and am quite good at it, however, Nordic, or cross country skiing, is a VERY different skill, but I do at least have a good sense of balance, am fit and, most importantly, have a good sense of humour.
My favourite part of the training was the bit where Dagmar had me skipping across the grass propelling myself with really long nordic ski poles, like a cross between Miranda andEdward Scissorhands.
I was pleased when, at the end of the 2 hour session, Dagmar assured me that I would “probably” survive the Norway trip.
Watch this space for what I hope to be regular updates on my progress including continued recovery, planning, problems and of course, more roller skiing.
Mrs P needed a holiday, so we booked a cottage on the Cornwall coast for this week. Lovely. Of course, that was before Lockdown – The Return. Or, as we call it; Oh no! Not again!! Holiday cottage cancelled we debated whether to take the holiday and have a staycation or not. That was a short debate. Did I mention that Mrs P needs a holiday?
Staycation. Hmmm. What to do… Ah, what we normally do, but without any of that pesky travelling. Of course we won’t see the sea, there will be no options for climbing and we will be living in the same house where the dreaded working from home office is but, we can still go out to play. We still have our outdoor toys and we are not afraid to use them.
Day 1. Saturday 7th November – Get up late, go for a ride. 36 miles on the road bikes. Lovely autumn colours and quiet roads. One of the lockdown silver linings.
Day 2. Sunday 8th November – Get up late (have you spotted a trend here yet?). Observe the 2 minutes silence at the local war memorial. Go for a walk. 7.5 miles (about 4 hours if you count sitting around eating sandwiches and putting the world to rights) in the Chiltern Hills. Started at the Warburg Nature Reserve near Bix Bottom (No, I didn’t make that name up) and quickly found ouselves immersed in the autumn splendor. If you like orange, then this is your time of year. As can be seen in the following photo. See if you can spot Mrs P. Who clearly likes orange.
A great walk. Once again quiet and so still. The silence is amplified at the moment by the lack of planes flying into Heathrow Airport. A true delight. Contentious perhaps, but long may Heathrow Airport remain mostly closed.
Off piste in the woods (don’t ask why) I came across this little stand of mushrooms.
Can you have a stand of mushrooms? Or, is that trees? Hang on, I’ll go check… Hi, I’m back. Better educated and ready to share.
Mushrooms that are in a close group, but not close enough to be called a Cluster, are said to be in a Troop. Mushrooms in a group that is a bit more scattered and irregular (loose discipline!) are said to be Gregarious.
This was definitely a Cluster, which is a shame because a Troop sounds so much more fun.
Day 3 – Yay! No work!! – Monday 9th November – I’m recovering from this Long Covid rubbish, so took the day off exercise to avoid a relapse. Long covid is rubbish. Silver lining though. I drew a picture. Always fun. Here it is…
For those interested I drew it using an App called Leonardo on my MS Surface Pro.
Later that day Mrs P and I retired to our very own garden Hobbit Haus for dinner and an atmospheric evening of chillin’ out.
Day 4 – Tuesday 10th November – Mud glorious mud! – Got up late (you knew that already though right?) and went for a 26 mile, VERY muddy and great fun mountain bike ride. I shall let the photos do the talking. But, before I do, here’s a mountain biker joke.
Q. How can you tell a happy mountain biker?
A. They have mud on their teeth.
Terrible and old jokes.groan
See if you can guess who got to spend an hour cleaning bikes while a certain other person had a bath? Go on, guess… Bath girl did make tea and wash the clothes though.
Tonight (Wednesday 11th) we are hoping that we may be able to do a very small adventure in Gandalf. Tune in to the next post for further details. Spoiler alert; we won’t be spending the night in our lovely, much missed camper van unfortunately.
Well, I managed to submit a drawing for every one of the 31 days of Inktober 2020. I exceeded my own expectations. I’m looking forward to a day off. Though I think I will miss the process of drawing every day.
Before I witter on about what I may do next I shoud really show you what I have done for my final drawing. The final prompt word is CRAWL. Baby crawling? Too obvious. Front crawl (swimming)? Nah! Mrs P suggested caving. I liked it but decided that I would twist that to crawling out of a tunnel to escape captivity. Perhaps during WW2, or perhaps escaping this darned lockdown that the UK is about to descend into. Yet again!
Here’s the drawing. I had fun thinking about the shading from the two candles. Let me know if you think I got it right.
I’ve learned a lot during this month of Inktober. It’s been great. Thanks to my friend Stevyn Colgan for introducing me to it. He has a blog (he has a Wikipedia page! He’s a bit famous) that you may wish to look at. https://colganart.blogspot.com/ Also, of course, thanks to the guy who originally came up with the idea Jake Parker. Finally, a big thanks to Mrs P for encouraging me and providing me with the time, space and encouragement to do it.
What have I learned? Here’s a list:
I’ve remembered, rather than learned, how to draw
I’ve learned loads of techniques from looking at the other submissions on Instagram
I’ve found my way round the Leonardo software that I draw with
I understand shading better
I’ve learned how much fun it is to do art every day
I’ve remembered that if you want to get good at something, you need to practice, practice, practice.
What will I do next? Don’t know. I hope to draw every day, but I think I will takke more time over a drawing and post maybe once a week. Who knows. Watch this space.
Here’s the final link to the Instagram page for #inktober2020crawl. I haven’t looked yet but I bet there are a lot of cats. Do cats crawl? Also included is the link to my Instagram page where you can see all my submissions so far.
Day 30 of Inktober 2020 and the rather apt prompt word, since it is the penultimate day, is; OMINOUS.
Once again, I couldn’t decide what to draw and, as usual, my mind wandered to the high mountains. Ah, the high mountains, that’s where the crevasses hang out. They are the epitome of ominous. So, that’s what I decided to draw.
I took my inspriation from a photo I took of Mrs P back in 2018 when we were on a 4 month climbing trip in the Alps. We were on our way down having summited the Gran Paradiso, 4,061m (13,323 ft) in Italy. Big crevasses on this mountain and a great photo opportunity.
Easy to draw. Until that is, I decided that it needed a bit of colour. Then, suddenly, the hours started to fly by. I reckon this one took me about 3 hours. Below are a series of images starting with the finished article.
In the meantime here’s the usual link to the Instagram page for #inktober2020ominous. Less cats today, more crows. Still a lot of cats though. Also included is the link to my Instagram page where you can see all my submissions so far.
Today’s Inktober 2020 prompt word is SHOES and I have gone slightly off-piste with regards my style. I’ve gone with the whole still life thing today. Gone are the cartoon interpretations and gone is the colour. All terribly serious ink drawing stuff.
Today’s Inktober 2020 prompt word is FLOAT. I enjoyed doing this one. It was pretty quick too. Managed to do the whole thing last night. A whole day ahead! Float. What to do. I went straight for the theme that has permeated through other drawings I have submitted for this year’s Inktober, that of Space. The Great Void. The Final Frontier. I even managed a nod to Major Tom. For those who have missed out on the joy that is Major Tom, he is a fictional character mentioned in no less than 5 songs by the late, great David Bowie. Here’s a link to the most famous, Space Oddity (1972), for your edification. Enjoy.
Maybe you could look at the drawing I did whilst listening to the song? Could be fun.
Here’s a close up of ‘Major Tom.’
I was going to post a picture of the ink only version of this drawing. It was pretty cool. However, due to a Layering error, also known as User Error, I lost that particular option. I’d say that I won’t be making that mistake again, but I’ve done it twice now!
The colour was too tempting. Mostly VERY dark blue and white. Great fun.
Parting question: Can anyone name the other 4 David Bowie songs where Major Tom is mentioned? No prizes. Just smug satisfaction for those who know.
As has become the norm, I’ve included a Link to the instagram #Inktober2020float page with nearly 2,500 submissions by people around the world who are also taking part in Inktober. Definitely less cats today. Though it is early.
Also included is a link to my Instagram page where you can see all my submissions so far.
Inktober 2020 Prompt word for the day is MUSIC. It’s difficult to explain how my thought processes went for this one. I started with the word, Music of course, where else? Then, as always happens, my mind drifts… and suddenly I’m in the mountains. I’m thinking how I usually climb more mountains in a year than I do drawings. However, this year it’s the other way round, as the pesky pandemic has totally put the kibosh on that particular past time. The South East of England is not renowned for its mountains, of that you can be sure.
Anyway, I try to bring my train of thought back to music but, really, I’m still up there, where the snow and rock are. And then, suddenly, I think Alpenhorn! As you do. And an idea is born.
For those who don’t know,
The alpenhorn, alphorn or alpine horn is a labrophone, consisting of a straight several-meter-long wooden natural horn of conical bore, with a wooden cup-shaped mouthpiece. It is used by mountain dwellers in the Swiss Alps, Austrian Alps, Bavarian Alps in Germany, French Alps, and elsewhere.
This drawing today allowed me to immerse myself in my favourite of environments. The high mountains. No climbing this year, but at least I get to draw snow (and a marmot).
Here’s a bit of close up action for you…
And a bit more…
As you can see, I got a bit carried away with this one. Spent the best part of yesterday evening on this. Some new techniques in the colour and shading areas. Let me know what you think.
For those of you who may be interested and as proof that Mrs P and I do actually climb mountains (we don’t play alpenhorns I’m sorry to say), here is a link to an old blog post showing Mrs P and I in action. Of psychology & free rides.
As has become the norm, I’ve included a Link to the instagram #Inktober2020music page with thousands more submissions by people around the world who are also taking part in Inktober. Once again, a lot of cats. What is it with cats!?
Also included is a link to my Instagram page where you can see all my submissions so far.