Well hello again, it’s me, the van dwelling, bike riding, kayaking paddling, mountain climbing, 9-5 avoiding, huge risk of long term financial instability loving and probably retire at ninety seven Jack Mac (….and by retire I mean the cold embrace of death).
Life is good.
I recently completed a ten-month stint in the Arctic Circle and finished off an amazing year of adventures with a two and a half thousand-mile road trip back to the UK. I’m currently up north in an over-landing workshop ripping my home-on-wheels to pieces and upgrading it ready for another year of extreme adventures. With that in mind, here’s what the last 365 days have bought…
A year in my Explorer Active Mid Gore-tex shoes!
This year I had the privilege of field testing Berghaus’ 2018/19 winter gear and for the last ten months I’ve worn it every single day. That isn’t a joke or exaggeration. Every. Single. Day. Space in the van (my full-time home) is at a real premium and therefore I pack extremely light. I need my clothes to be comfortable both at home and in the mountains, compact, technical, lightweight, warm, presentable (for work) and extremely durable. They need to be adaptable for the variety of sports/adventures/work I tackle daily and dependable when Arctic weather turns nasty.
I’ve worn Berghaus products on every expedition I’ve ever tackled and almost every day during the past five years of living on the road. A year in my…Explorer Active Mid Gore-tex…shoes (short, snappy and rolls off the tongue) documents the journey of these products from arriving in the post last January to where I’m writing this today. Sure, my life is a little unpredictable, I might have eaten noodles a lot and sure I think Lord of the Rings should be the bible we live by…but life is short and time is precious.
I wear Berghaus because I choose something a little different from the nine to five and in this article, I hope to inspire others to open their hearts & minds to the great outdoors!
Jack’s journey to the Arctic
This January I decided to drive from the UK to the Lofoten Islands during the Arctic Winter in my thirty-three-year-old VW T3 Syncro (also my home). I’d spent the previous summer doing the same journey over three months but this time I’d be doing it in just seven days in temperatures touching -30. I had just two weeks to prepare the van for ten months living/working in the Arctic Circle and when it came to my wardrobe it was almost exclusively Berghaus.
(Sure, I know what you’re thinking ‘shameless plug’, well sorry to disappoint but that’s just the truth. I do have some Surly products for cycling and some old jeans/band tees but that’s it. I have two small containers for my clothes. Upper and lower body. I need clothes that are lightweight, space saving, extremely warm, comfortable & multi-functional. That’s just my reality).
This was by far the most intimidating drive I’ve ever done and required painful concentration to navigate sheet ice roads, almost twenty-four-hour darkness and one of the worst Arctic storms the country had experienced in thirty years. At night I’d switch off my heater to ensure my leisure battery had plenty of charge to jump the van should the Syncro fail to start in the extreme cold. Consequently, the van interior would regularly drop to minus ten. Thus, I literally lived in my Berghaus gear and not only did it keep me warm enough in the van, but it also allowed me to be outside for a long duration for photography/videography.
I’m always super nervous before a big journey that perhaps the van won’t make it but by the time, I’d reached the Arctic Circle I was just completely immersed in the landscapes and ready to begin another year of adventures. If you’d like a more three-dimensional account of the journey, then check out my YouTube episode ‘VW Syncro – Journey to the Arctic’.
‘Go for a walk’ might be one of the most important skills I’ve ever learnt. I know that may sound a little silly, but I think most of us underestimate the value of getting outside and stretching our legs. I appreciate it’s not going to solve all problems but more often than not it’s a great first ‘step’. If you’ve had a bad day, need to relax, if you’re looking to get in shape, if you need some thinking time, want to hang out with loved ones or that it’s simply #TimeToGetOut you can’t go far wrong. I guess that’s why over the years, I’ve increasingly positioned myself in locations that offer great walking routes from the moment I leave work. Lofoten is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world and when it comes to hiking, you’re spoiled for choice.
The latest Berghaus gear is certainly most at home in this environment and the latest range of products did not disappoint. I regularly joined local Norwegian mountaineers who put me through my paces and showed me some of Lofoten’s lesser-known trails.
After a year of extreme cold it was time to get some sunshine. Thus, at the end of September I packed up my bike, a holdall of adventure gear and flew to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Spain. The route was designed to push us to our limits with daily elevation of over two thousand meters in often unbearable heat and rewarding us with some of the most dramatic mountain landscapes in the whole of Spain. One of the best things about Berghaus gear is that it’s made to last and I therefore kitted myself out with a collection of products both old & new. These included:
–The latest Explorer Active Mid Gore-Tex Boots – I’m not a big fan of SPDs on bikepacking rides as we often choose torturous hike-a-bike routes that require extensive pushing/carrying and I absolutely love the combination of these lightweight, breathable yet rugged mid ankle boots and my Ride Issi Stomp pedals.
–Paclite Gore-Tex Overtrousers (I’ve owned these for almost five years and they’re superb – completely protect me from the rain, pack down super small into their own mesh bag and in hot countries double up as my main trousers for when the temperature drops)
–Berghaus Flannel (I’ve also owned this for almost five years and it’s probably one of my favourite products – warm, comfortable, mega flexible, can be worn for extended periods without getting smelly, features clever ventilation and is made of quick drying Polyamide)
-Ramche 2.0 Down Insulated jacket – The latest offering from the company’s Extrem range of high performance bodymapped Hydrodown jackets. Super warm, lightweight, comfortable, flexible, and;
–My trusty Merino Wool Berghaus.
This ride was everything we expected and much more. More beautiful, more brutal, more fun. I was joined by my partner and two close friends who made this one of my most memorable two wheeled adventures to date. The full story will be uploaded to www.surlybikes.com & www.jack-mac.com this xmas but for now enjoy this small collection of photos.
Kayaking is arguably the best way to explore Norway. There’s something about being alone deep in the fjords, surrounded by six hundred metre cliffs and paddling on water up to thirteen hundred metres deep. The silence only broken by the sound of your paddle gently breaking the surface of the water and sea birds inquisitively flying overhead.
This year I kayaked an average of forty miles per week, paddling alongside Killer Whales, Seals and frequently just metres away from huge sea eagles. I’ve been working for some clients who specialise in kayak expeditions and consequently had the opportunity to shoot several epic multi day trips. I generally wear a dry suit on the water and very rarely strip back to just dry trousers due to the water temperature. That said, I almost always wear my Berghaus gear underneath as it offers super comfortable, breathable and warm layers that are great for all day paddling. I also pack my super lightweight Ramche jacket in the hold as it takes up no space and is perfect if I decide to venture on land to climb mountains only accessible by water.
This year I’ve shot for a number of brands out in the Arctic and generally this involves packing up the van, bikes, kayak, photography/videography essentials and heading into the wilderness for a week or so. This year I took some time out for a solo trip to the remote Arctic Island of Senja in April, Norway’s National mountain Stetind and surrounding National Parks. This was followed by regular multi-day trips throughout the year with other like-minded adventurers and a subsequent series of hikes, camp outs, kayaks & road trips.
I’ve also been shooting the Northern Lights for some local tourism companies and some of my favourite shots are featured below. It’s not uncommon for me to spend four to six hours sitting in the cold in pursuit of the ‘shot’ and it’s quite literally freezing. I was very impressed with the thermal body mapping technology in the Ramche Extrem 2.0 jacket (particularly when paired with the Berghaus Aonach Down mid layer). The lightweight Explorer Active.
Mid Gore-Tex boots were not suitable for such long durations in subzero temperatures, so I upgraded to the Hillmaster II Gore-Tex boots, which are quite simply the best shoes I’ve ever owned. I lived in the Explorer’s for the first half of the year but since owning the Hillmaster boots I’ve not taken them off. The warmth is absolutely mind blowing even with thin socks, grip is exceptional, support is superb, totally waterproof and the comfort is truly outstanding. I often send Berghaus thoughts on product development, but these boots have been flawless.
This is probably a rather strange heading for an adventure article but bear in mind that I live in my van full time in some of the most extreme conditions in Europe…
I do a lot of my own mechanics, I work/eat/sleep inside the van and it’s the complete hub of my life. Electricity is always at a premium meaning I choose not to run my heater and live in my Berghaus gear inside the truck. I leave work and sleep in the shadow of huge snowcapped mountains, along the spectacular coastline and frequently shelter from the fierce arctic storms during the winter months (winds regularly hitting eighty miles per hour). I’m regularly asked whether I get tired of living in a van and whether I miss the luxuries of living in a house and quite honestly, it’s the opposite. The longer I live on the road the more I fall in love with the simple life.
This lifestyle certainly has its challenges, I’ve been broke more times than I can count but I truly believe that it’s better to fail at what you love than succeed in a job you hate. We learn more through failure than success and whilst the journey here hasn’t been easy, I don’t regret a thing. If you take one message from this article remember this. The outdoors isn’t exclusive, good or bad months, it’s there for you. There’s healing, inspiration, support and love in simply going for a walk. I learnt so much over the last five years and I’m now running expeditions for clients in the Arctic Circle.
I may ramble on about how great Berghaus products are, but I remember the times their products kept me warm in the bad times not just the good. So, here’s a little look at my day-to-day Arctic vanlife (I often meet up with other likeminded adventurers and share these stories on my YouTube – watch below).
Road Trip Home
After a year of adventures, it was time to head back to the UK and an excuse for me to cram in one last mega road trip. My plan was to drive seven hundred miles from the Arctic Circle to the south-western national parks surrounding Geiranger with one of my best mates.
The roads over Saltfjellet National Park were absolutely deadly and a HGV actually took a corner to fast on ice, almost took us off the road, ripped off a mirror, smashed a window, destroyed the rear air vent and damaged my rear mounted bicycle…that was within forty eight hours of the journey. The route I’d devised took us to some of Norway’s biggest peaks and most impressive fjords – a real challenge due to winter road closures. With winter always on our tail, it came to a dramatic finale when we had all four wheels fighting to climb the 852m switchback out of Geirangerfjord. It was at this point that we decided that without studded tyres it was no longer sensible to tackle remote mountain roads!
After several days of exploring the South Western national parks I dropped Ben off at Oslo airport and drove through seven countries and thirteen hundred miles in two days.
I’m now back in the UK and based in an overlanding workshop where I’m rebuilding my home-on-wheels ready for another year on the road (the full build will be featured on my website & YouTube channel). In January 2020:
-I’ll be heading back to the Arctic Circle
-Yosemite in April and;
-in May I’ll be hitting the road for a month of European adventures!
I’ve worked tirelessly over the past five years to create a professional framework that supports long-term adventure. Whilst it can be challenging, I’d have it no other way. It’s all too easy to settle for what’s comfortable…but it’s only when you step outside your comfort zone that life gets interesting!