Friday, October 19, 2012

Marmot Basic Work Glove: a review


As noted before, I've long taken an interest in the 'outdoor sports' equipment industry: as a climber/hiker/mountaineer/cyclist/etc., as someone who has worked in the industry (albeit at the very lowest level as a shop assistant); as gear reviewer for UKClimbing.com and, finally, as someone who just uses the bloody stuff.

Belaying in the basic work gloves
Perhaps like all apparel industries where fashion plays a much bigger part than many care to admit, there is little static about it. Certain brands do keep certain models in their range year after year, but these are the exceptions and its more likely to be, for example, technical climbing gear that goes years unchanged than technical clothing. Some items of clothing do make it into the 'classic' status and stay forever. I still wear a Patagonia Snap-T fleece jumper that I bought in January 1992 - but you can buy an identical one from Patagonia now if you wish! But far more normal is finding some item of clothing or equipment that you think is great - using/wearing it loads until it starts, fairly, to wear out; trying to replace it only to find the firm has dropped that product from their line. You then end up buying an alternative model that doesn't work or fit as well as the old one. C'est la vie. It also makes reviewing many things more than a year old kinda pointless as the chances of people being able to buy the same product drops off.

Ski touring in Arctic Norway in the basic work glove

Anyways... that's a long way of saying I really want to recommend the Marmot Basic Work Glove. Not only are they good - I've had a pair for something like 4 years and have used them loads - but because the old ones were looking really tatty I recently bought a new pair for 'town use' and they seem to be identical! Yes, a product that works really well, and remains in a company's line year after year. Would you believe it?

Grubby and tatty but still going strong
The Basic Work Glove is, well, rather basic: all leather with a fuzzy warm synthetic lining. That's it really; but what you get is gloves that you can grip things with and that are pretty dextrous (meaning less taking them off); that are windproof and breathable; and that are for me at least surprisingly warm. They are not waterproof so aren't great for ice climbing due to that. I waxed mine with Nikwax and that helps a lot, wet snow isn't a huge problem for example, but still they are gloves I use whilst walking to the icefalls, and whilst gearing up and the like, but I'll put on Goretex or eVent gloves to actually climb in. I like wearing them for skiing in all but the foulest of conditions, again because of the dexterity whether that's grabbing your pass to beep at a resort, or taking off climbing skins when touring. A basic leather glove seems to be favoured by many guides for summer Alpine as well; I've not used mine for that but I suspect they would work well. Perhaps one place where they might not be the best choice would be UK winter hillwalking and climbing, where having something more designed for rain and sleet might be better.

Strong and well sewn seams
They are as tough as old boots (or "old gloves" maybe?!), I got some slices in the palms of mine from the edge of a file when sharpening an ice screw whilst out climbing once but that's the only real damage to them. It didn't cut right the way through but went pretty deep, so I painted over the cuts with seam grip and this seems to have very effectively fixed it. It's nice that being leather you can 'fix' them so easily. Perhaps the best thing about the quality of their construction is the bomb-proof stitching. On my old ones it shows no signs of blowing even after four winters of hard use, something that isn't true on many of my more expensive ice climbing gloves.

So there you go: a simple glove that works really well. Finns should note that Partioaitta always seems to have them in their annual (or bi-annual?) sale. I think the normal price is €30, but both times I've paid only €20. There are various work gloves available from other brands that look very similar and cost a bit less. They may well be just as good, I don't know, but I can say the Marmot Basic Work Gloves are the best value and toughest general winter gloves I've owned.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Watching Syria from afar: some thoughts on reading the Crisis Group's report "Tentative Jihad"

Photo Freedom House via Flickr/Creative Commons
I've long been interested in the extremities of politics in all directions. In the last year I've followed some discussion on Syria and taken part in others and it has been fascinating to see how different groups on far right and left, have tried to deal with the complexity of the situation and arrive at a 'position' on it. It has been both bizarre and amusing to see how many who describe themselves as being of the radical- or anti-imperialist-left have ended up, defacto, supporting the Assad regime. Jess Hill in the Global Mail calls these predominantly Western leftists: Assad's Useful Idiots; it's a bracing read if you, like me, find it deeply creepy how unwilling some are to not learn the lessons of the 1920s and 30s, and the willful ignorance of some over Stalin's crimes

Following the Syrian regime's line, the "anti-imperialist left" claim the rebels in Syria are all foreign-sponsored al-Qaeda throat-cutters, who want to turn a supposedly progressive Socialist secular state into a Taliban-style Islamic one. There are many things deeply problematic about this claim; it is at its heart deeply patronising, even orientalist. The Arabs of the Middle East are given no agency, they are forever pawns in machinations of the West (i.e. the US). Not only does this deny them agency, it also takes away the moral responsibility for their acts: if a Syrian rebel group decides to use a suicide bomb, well it's just because "they're al-Qaeda" and "they're being controlled by the Saudis/CIA/Mossad/Biderberg group/etc.". In actual fact those rebels should be answering for their actions just as the Syrian government should be. To me the moral case for the rebellion seems pretty clear; the Syrian regime has become a neo-monarchy, power passed from father to son; power that was, of course, gained originally in a military coup and maintained over the decades via violence, fear, corruption and co-option. The revolution began peacefully like elsewhere in the Arab Spring - protesters on the streets. But people power was met with regime bullets, mass arrests and torture. The anti-imperialists have to cling to the idea that those tens of thousands of unarmed Syrians on the streets in early 2011 were all "al Qaeda" or American stooges because, if not, then Bashar al-Assad's resort to brutal repression would be the crime that most know it is.

Nevertheless violence begets violence and the regime's reaction led to civil war. From Our Own Correspondent this week has a haunting illustration of this. Ian Pannell interviews an Aleppo businessman turned rebel commander. He was turned by the horrific torture he experienced and saw happening to others after being arrested for peacefully protesting:
"Dr Raouf said that before they were arrested, the group had long discussions about whether they should get some sticks to defend themselves during protests. 'But when we were released, we decided to buy every weapon we could afford,' he said."
Homs. Photo Freedom House via Flickr/Creative Commons
The situation in Syria has changed - it is evolving or, perhaps better, it is mutating. The recently released Crisis Group report "Tentative Jihad: Syria’s Fundamentalist Opposition" I think is a very important document of this. It is (as so often with Crisis Group reports) a fine example of actually 'going and looking', and reporting back on what you actually see - not what fits your ideological persuasion. I won't try to sum up the report, beyond saying it is centrally about the role of Salafism amongst the armed opposition, a role that is becoming progressively more prominent as Salafi groups both fight more successfully than the more secular groups (generally grouped under the FSA banner) and as those secular fighters become attracted to Salafism (be that for purely instrumental reasons - attracting funding from the Gulf monarchies and Syrian exiles - or because it's austere simplicity becomes attractive to men facing death daily). The Crisis Group report is good at pointing out that the Salafi ideology on the rise differs in some ways from the more nihilistic Jihadism that we have come to expect from the various al Qaeda franchises around the world, and most clearly seen in the horrors of Iraqi civil war. For example, Crisis Group argue that the most prominent Salafi group, Jabhat al-Nusr, while being the most radical and sectarian and unapologetic for suicide bombing a regime intelligence installation in a Christian neighbourhood of Damascus that killed many civilians, still made it clear that they were not targeting Christians per se, they were 'collateral damage'. This differs from the intentional massacres so often seen in Iraq.

I've seen many on the aforementioned "anti-imperialist left" say that the US/NATO is just itching to intervene in Syria, like it did in Libya. This is another bizarre claim in the face of now over a year of 'the West' failing to really do anything helpful for the people of Syria. Many in Syria were imploring the West to save them a year ago but the US electoral calendar, military exhaustion and budget deficit was always going to make this unlikely. If the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia are the only people handing out money for guns, you can see why some Syrians will grow beards, shorten their trousers and take the cash, even if it is obvious to outsiders that only further darkness will come of this. Crisis Group leaves us with a horrible image for the future of the Syrian Civil War:
"As the number of internally displaced and refugees grows, and entire towns and neighbourhoods are damaged to the point of becoming uninhabitable, armed groups risk cutting themselves off further from their social base and coming to resemble combatants roaming in the rubble. As they eat, struggle and pray together, fighters increasingly form insular units detached from the cross-cutting popular movement from which they sprung, inhabiting their own world, so more prone to spin out of control. Their reportedly high attrition rate may empower second-generation leaders with less of a strategic vision, legitimacy or experience – lacunae for which they might seek to compensate with ever more radical beliefs and violence."
The obvious and frightening parallel is Syria's neighbour to the east; six or seven years ago as the US lost control and civil war flared. But as the armed groups amongst the Sunni Muslims sections of Syrian society differentiate themselves on religious grounds, or by allegiance to one area or one commander, and whilst Alawi communities radicalize in support of the rump regime, other communities like Christians and Kurds will end up either defending themselves with militias or fleeing. Syria's neighbour to west, Lebanon, and the horrors it saw from the 70s to the 90s in its vicious and multifaceted civil war, serve as another stark example of what Syria may still have to face.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Trail riding and avoiding cold toes


After a family walk this morning in one national park east of Helsinki (Sipoonkorpi), the weather was still so good in the afternoon, that I decided to head out west on my still newish, but getting ever more grubby, cyclocross bike to hit a second (Nuuksio). OK, they're only 'pocket' national parks compared to the huge wildernesses of the north, but they are not without their attractions. If nothing else, the trails designed for easy walking make decent non-surfaced cycle paths when so much of the forest is sodden, if not actually flooded. Whilst having a little break to eat and massage some life back in to my toes, I posted the picture on the left to Facebook and Twitter  along with the plaintive cry of a caption "Does anyone who rides in autumn and winter manage to keep them warm?" It was actually more or a rhetorical comment on the passing of the seasons, and the fact that my toes had gotten a bit nippy by this point, than really are a request for advice. I've had cold feet many times whilst riding, even once getting some superficial frostbite riding home from work. As a result I've spent a lot of time and quite a lot of money, trying to combat the problem down the years. But via both channels, many kind hearted mates and contacts who also bike left suggestions on what works for them. All were pretty sensible suggestions and actually things I have tried down the years. But I thought I'd bang out a few lines here on my experiences with trying to keep toes warm whilst riding to accompany some phone-snaps I took while out on the trail. It was a beautiful evening, and my phone's camera doesn't really do it justice, but these are the best I got.


It's an odd thing, I don't have big problems with cold toes anywhere except when cycling. Ice climbing - yes: occasionally they get cold. I bought some warmer boots last winter partly to combat this, but if I get cold feet ice climbing, it is normally a predictable result of choosing to climb in light boots that day. These are better for climbing in, but not so good for keeping your feet warm. If you're willing to wear old school plastic boots, your feet will stay warm almost no matter what.


But cycling is different - even in summer when the temperatures are in the teens, my toes can get cold in my road shoes. Cycling shoes are stiff; this transfers more power from your legs to the bike, but the lack of your foot flexing really limits the amount of blood that flows to your toes, and coldness easily results. The fact that I ride all my bikes with SPD (or clip in) style pedals adds to this.



So the first thing - loosen your shoes off. In summer, that is often enough. Next up, again very thin shoes covers - my came from Decathlon and are cheap 0.5 mm neoprene ones and work very well. In rainy or damp three season usage on my road bike, they're normally enough. On cooler autumn days I'll wear some thicker socks as well and make sure the shoes are pretty loose from the start.


For riding off tarmac, you're far more likely to get damp feet. And damp feet get cold quickly. For commuting and also I've used them touring, some big, slightly bulky Shimano DH-style shoes with minimal mesh sections work well. In damp conditions or as autumn turns to early winter I use water-proof socks made by SealSkinz


I've been pretty impressed with these - the membrane that makes them waterproof also makes them much warmer. I also use them a lot with more classic XC MTB shoes, like I was today. But even if they keep your feet dry, if your shoes get wet, you can get cold toes. Dry cold toes, yes, but cold all the same.


So the next step is to add over-shoes as well. I've got two different pairs, with the best being some super cheap Biltema own brand ones; the Swedes make them out of some seriously thick neoprene. The others are stupid Decathlon ones, where the zip won't lock at the back and creeps down as you ride. Been meaning to sew a velcro tab on for years to stop it! The problem with over-shoes is if you have to get off and walk. Most cycling shoes can be a bit slippy, but a layer of neoprene under them makes even MTB shoes hopeless to walk in.


Finally, for mid-winter riding, i.e. -5 or below: this is the serious business. I've come to the conclusion that the cleat on cycling shoes (metal) that itself clips into another bigger lump of metal (the pedal) conducts too much energy away from my feet. Via the sole is how you supposedly loose the most heat from your feet in winter, so it makes sense. For mid winter, I change pedals from SPDs to some basic cage-style ones with the addition of "Power Grips": a simple but really effective strap system. Then I wear a baggy leather hiking shoe, with thick wooly socks (or the Seal Skinzs), and then the neoprene over-shoes on the outer layer. That seems to work ok into the minus teens. 



As the temperatures head down toward -20, I decide I'm too old for this shit, and walk to the bus stop. 



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mud and gears and rock and roll(ing over it)

Autumn colours
Bike with bags

I apologise to Joel because I think my phone is playing up - he tried calling me Saturday morning to arrange climbing as we had discussed, but couldn't get through. By the time my phone did ring, I had had enough of sitting inside the house watching the un-forecast blue skies and sunshine and had decided to go bikepacking, so the climbing got shelved. Helsinki has had the wettest September for 150 years or something equally depressing (there have been floods elsewhere in Finland, something that is pretty unusual here), so climbing has been a bit hit and miss this summer anyway. The Finnish Meteorological Institute also seem to be incapable of getting their forecasts right more than 24 hours in advance anyway, which makes planning if and where to go climbing difficult in times of changeable weather. So bikepacking seemed the less conditions-dependent option.




oh bugger...
Once having made a decision, I needed to pack. Compared to climbing where I have a bag packed with my current rack/rope/shoes of choice, this took some time - it's not so much that I didn't know what to take, it's more about getting that packed in bags that can be strapped to my bike or me successfully. I've used a seatpost rack in the past, but this time I decided to see what would happen if I just strapped a dry bag under the saddle. This turned out work almost perfectly. Fortunately one of the Alpkit dry bags I have has lashing points on it and with some bungee hooks and web straps it stayed on fine. I threw some more gear in my Alpkit Gourdon 'dry' rucksack and some more in super-cheap but effective handle bar bag and it all seemed to work out well - very little weight on my back but the bike felt balance and stable as well.

Sausage and beer, what else do you need?

slightly damp trails
By this point it was late afternoon so I knew I didn't have huge amounts of riding time before it got dark. Fortunately from where I live I can use some single track and forest roads to hit the top end of Nuuksio national park in about 20 kms, there's even a convenient petrol station just before going into the park to pick up that bivvy essential, beer. Quite a lot of the way I was following Reitti 2000/Route 2000, which must be a really dull hike, but makes an OK if very untechnical off-road ride. The woods are so wet currently with all the rain, that being on prepared trail is a big help, otherwise you'll be up to your ankles/axles in mud. The first challenge of the ride was just after if had got proper dark and I was riding by headlamp. A sudden "ping" and my chain snapped. Oh, the joy of fixing a chain by headlamp in a dank, cool, dark forest where the soil is typified by clay-like mud. Oh well, the pliers on my new half-price Leatherman tool came in handy but the main thing was that past chain breakages have taught me to CARRY A BLOODY CHAIN TOOL! And so I had - insert smug grin here. I arrived at my chosen camping ground a little later and more dirty handed than intended but you can't win 'em all.

View from my campsite

Campsite
The one thing to say about horrible wet windy weather is that when the sky finally clears, it is really clear. Finland is for the half the year a dark place and the cities compensate for this with lots of street lighting. It's odd, but it's much easier to see the stars where I come from in small and crowded England than it is anywhere in the Greater Helsinki area. So it's always nice to get out away from town and see the stars, planets and even some shooting starts so clearly. After pitching my tarp and stowing my kit under it, I rode the kilometre down to one of the 'official' campsites, with the a huge supply of chopped wood for the fireplaces. National parks in Finland are a rather "convenience" type of "wilderness experience" but it stops people from attacking the standing trees in order to grill a sausage. So I chopped plenty of logs into smaller pieces, loaded them into my bags and cycled back up the hill to my camping spot and had a nice little fire in the fire ring there. A slightly out of date but still surprisingly good chicken casserol ready meal followed by grilling sausage on the fire, drying my socks out, drinking beer and reading this week's Economist on my phone (again, "wilderness" is relative) filled out the evening under the stars. Just before going to bed I thought I saw headlights shining through the trees, but with no engine noise I wondered if it was other late night mountain bikers with very bright/expensive lights. Only after watching for a little and the lights not moving, did I realise it was actually an incredibly bright moon rising. Later it was above and bright enough to cast shadows. Magic. In the morning, I had some breakfast, packed up and rode home getting rather muddy in the process.

Normally that would be enough to feed the biking bug for a weekend, but - oh no - some people just don't have the good sense to know where their very limited limits lie. Having recently become the proud owner of cyclocross bike, in a fit of completely abnormal enthusiasm I had signed up to the Facebook group of VPCX - a (the?) Finnish cyclocross group - and promised to attend a race. If you don't count some sportives I've ridden, I've not done any type of race since leaving school - knowing that I'm just not one of life's natural athletes and generally, even when trying hard, I will suck. Anyway, I tried really hard... and I sucked, but that was almost completely besides the point. All of the other VPCX people were super-welcoming and friendly to the foreign idiot falling down rocky hillside on a bike only vaguely designed for that. Then again, they were doing exactly the same, only faster and in more style.

Strapping on my race number. Photo courtesy of Jasu. Click here to see the rest of the set.

The Kivikko track was a horror. When some people started strapping on body armour I should have realised. Before Sunday, I would have been quite happy riding it on my mountain bike and surviving. The evil geniuses at VPCX have even tracked down some utterly horrible cobblestones (built by the Russians a century ago to haul artillery along) to include in the course. There was technical rocky single track, bomb holes full of muddy water, more slippy tree roots than you can shake a stick at and even spectators to applaud/laugh as you passed.
The fear! The fear! Photo courtesy of Mikko, see the rest of set here.

It hurt like hell and was ridiculously good fun. Then we all went for sauna and beer, Finland at its best. I didn't come last although only just. Somewhere at the back is my natural place in athletic endeavours though, so I look forward to floating around last place at next race in a few weeks.

Taking your bike for a run. Photo courtesy of Ville. Rest of the set here.

Thanks to all the photographers and BTW, you don't need a cyclocross bike to join, any bike will do - so if you're in the Helsinki area and want to get muddy and have a laugh, join up!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Terrorism, cliche and teapots.

A friend tweeted a link to Stratfor article called "Terrorism Tradecraft" to me, asking for my thoughts on it. There's no way I can get my thoughts into 140 characters, so instead I might as well blog them here. Scott Stewart who wrote the article should certainly know his stuff, but to me the article is rather representative of unhelpfully pushing ill-fitting phenomena into certain frames. Once 'framed' that way, we might have a pretty picture to look at and study, but the frame shapes how we see the phenomena, we no longer see the shape of the phenomenon itself.

In this case, I can't think of a better word for the frame than "cliche". At home, I have a terrorist teapot. It scalds my hand or dribbles tea down the side, no more than any other averagely functional teapot and, hence, is no more dangerous. It is just a teapot that looks like a terrorist. It wouldn't be funny, and my sister wouldn't have bought it for me as a Christmas present, if we didn't all know what terrorists are supposed to look like. I also know what "tradecraft" means, I've read enough Len Deighton and John le Carré. You're not going to get through Checkpoint Charlie and successfully retrieve the microfiche from the dead letter box without the Stasi picking you out without good "tradecraft". The idea that there is an identifiable "terrorist tradecraft" is a conceit designed to encompass wildly different situations whilst keeping them wrapped up under the neat, if useless, bow of "terrorism". In a way Stewart makes exactly this point in his article but seems to miss the implications of it: he notes that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was essentially a small unit military operation. Probably a young infantry lieutenant studying at any decent war college would recognize the "tradecraft" (the tactics) used. What this has to do with, say, Mohammed Sidique Khan or Anders Behring Breivik deciding to attack London and Oslo respectively, I don't really know. If there was "tradecraft" to compare it to, it should perhaps be the Navy SEALs assaulting Bin Laden's house in Abbottabad, or the SAS taking back the Libyan Embassy in London. That the "tradecraft" of Ansar al-Sharia's small unit tactics and Sidique Khan deciding to blow up the Tube are somehow connected is only the result of the frame that we, as observers, put on two different events separated in time and space; the same frame that makes my teapot mildly amusing. I think this frame has much to do with Hollywood now as it does to what, problematically, could be called "real life". We just 'know' what terrorists are like, therefore we then look for things that connect them - in this case their 'tradecraft'. The very obvious danger here is that because we 'know' what terrorists are like, when real life doesn't look like that image, we don't see terrorism - Anders Behring Breivik and Wade Michael Page (the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shooter) being cases in point.

So the concept of "terrorism tradecraft" just seems a pretty useless classification. There is now lots of evidence of particularly bomb making technologies spreading through Jihadi chains - from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan or from one group to another. But of the terrorist attacks seen in the West, both the tactics used and the ways individuals or groups decided on them is too diverse to claim there is a tradecraft somehow indicative of terrorism. I simply don't think it is identifiable as separate from the methods used by other evil/crazy/both dudes blowing people up or shooting them. Breivik showed all too clearly that you do not have to gain bomb making training from al Qaeda to build a successful large bomb. But considering that his bomb accounted for only 8 out of his 77 murders, it wasn't a huge step up from the horrific bombing of the Myyrmanni shopping centre, here in Helsinki in 2002, by the 19 year old Petri Gerdt. Gerdt killed six innocents including a 7-year old child along with himself. There are bad people who want to do bad things, and some will do them. How they do those bad things will differ, there is no body of method we can call tradecraft.

But the cliche doesn't stop on that level; the article notes the importance of "operational security" for terrorists. Alternatively, and less self importantly, this could be called "the importance of not being an idiot and getting caught". Potential terrorists who are stupid, get caught (or blow themselves up along the way). Indeed, the FBI has become unsurprisingly adept at catching really stupid wannabe terrorists - (hint to aspirant but intellectually challenged [that means 'stupid', stupid.] wannabe terrorists: spraying on the internet your hate of the West and love for OBL is not good "operational security", you can have that as a freebie). Calling it "operational security" is spy movie cliche, it doesn't help us define anything. Not being stupid isn't terrorist tradecraft, it is simply not being stupid.



Six years and a day ago it turns out, I wrote about the terrorism industry. Plus ça change... Actually, that was more about the private sector trying to find ways to make money out of governments spending on 'counter-terrorism initiatives' and the like. This is more a question of the academic and para-academic area of "Terrorism Studies"; of which the Stratfor article is (just?) within that field. Some high quality research is being done, and some not so high quality. There is though plenty of discussion on the more meta questions involved in studying terrorism. There is even now a sub-field of "Critical Terrorism Studies" aimed at deconstructing Terrorism Studies - looking at the unanswered but inherent questions in the field (although I trust the irony of creating an industry to comment negatively on another industry isn't lost on the participants). But, as ever, the issues should define the field of analysis, not the field define the issues. Let's keep "tradecraft" in the spy movies and describe what violent political extremists actually do rather than what we would like them to be doing for reasons of analytical neatness.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Mountain biking in Komio

It started with a tweet. Peter from Yeti Rides noted he had found an interesting blog: another Finnish fat bike aficionado who has started blogging in English about trips in Finland. The blog "Duckboards are evil" is great - nice pictures and written with an engaging and lighthearted style; for example: "our unofficially and unintentionally slightly homoeroticaly named duo Metsäveljet was in it's full line up." Metsäveljet means "forest brothers", but the phrase may well have more direct cultural connotations about what the brotherhood of the forest might be getting up to out there in those dark endless woods than my Finnish is up to understanding. Anyway, from my point of the view, one of the best things is that Mr Duckboards-are-evil is Helsinki based, which means his local stomping grounds are mine, so the blog immediately provided me with some new ideas and inspiration to get out.

A view from a hill top, a surprisingly rare thing in wooded Finland.
As you head north from Helsinki up the motorway towards Tampere, the geography of the country to the west changes. Sand is central to this, meaning quite specific local flora and a certain feel to the woods that is specific to the sandy ground. This area known as Hämeen järvilylänkö or the Häme Lake Uplands, isn't really uplands in the way a Brit would understand the word, but it is a pretty wild area with some interesting geography, the after-effects of major glaciation. I've been up that way before with the family for some hiking at the beautiful Torronsuo national park, one of the biggest mires - or swamps - in the country. We also went rock climbing at one of the more esoteric Finnish crags I've been to, the amusingly named Nakkivuori, near Somero. But Duckboards-are-evil sent me to the nature reserve of Komio, for some excellent trail riding. I've been biking a lot - I've recently bought a cyclocross bike (more of which at a later date); but mainly road biking. It was nice to get out my mountain bike and throw it around a bit. The trails there are superb for mountain biking, mainly 'flowy' single track, hardly anyone on them and traversing a geography of "rugged eskers [that] form a characteristic feature for the gorgeous landscape along with sunny and shadowy slope-side forests, clear watered ponds and vast bogs". The eskers form short, but very steep ridges and the trails going up and down them provide challenging riding. The paths going along the tops of them are just wonderful. One helpful by-product of the sandy-esker geography is that despite the huge amounts of rain we've been having recently the trails were well drained and not really very muddy at all.

A lake
I had left a bit late, so only got to ride for a couple of hours - nevertheless its the best riding I've done in ages and reminded me of just how much pure fun mountain biking can be. Thanks very much to Mr. D-A-E for the inspiration/information and keep on blogging.

As slippy as wet ice, these duckboards really were rather evil.
Here's a film I was inspired to make. As I don't have a GoPro or similar, I sort of tied my little Lumix to the handle bars with its mini-bendy tripod. The results were predictably shaky and silly, but I'm not really expecting an Oscar. It does give some idea of how much fun it is though!

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