Curvy Clothing…

Waking up to sharp frosts over the past couple of mornings, coupled with needing an extra layer for my road walk yesterday afternoon, have brought into focus that the fact that winter is on its way, and that our glorious summer is fading away from us.  Which got me thinking ahead about suitable clothing in the colder weather.

There Is No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Only Inappropriate Clothing.”… a very well-known saying that is oft quoted, even if people cannot seemingly agree upon where it came from.  However, I discovered last winter that appropriate clothing is not always an option for us curvier ladies, and I strongly feel that outdoor clothing manufacturers are really missing out on this!

Watch the news any day of the week and there is nearly always a report on the obesity crisis or some new groundbreaking link found between exercise and health etc.  Us curvy folks are frequently encouraged to exercise more to become less curvy, improve our health etc.  This is absolutely no bad thing, and something I am happy to advocate.

However, we all know that using the correct clothing for whatever exercise plan you’re about to embark on is important.  If your clothing is not comfortable or appropriate, and is affecting your enjoyment of the activity, then it’s not an exercise regime you’re likely to continue with.  We also know that in order for the clothing to be comfortable it needs to fit properly, and if you’re not a ‘normal’ size or shape. you’re unlikely to find it in the high street, and buying over the internet can be an expensive disaster!  Which, for me anyway, rules out the numerous outdoor wear suppliers in the USA and elsewhere who seem to have extensive ranges of plus-size outdoor wear.

I can trawl only so many outdoor shops both here and in the UK, and try on only so many pairs of walking trousers that don’t fit, before I have to head home with my self-esteem in the gutter. feeling completely demoralised and whale-shaped.

So, through trial and error last winter I improvised and developed my own Curvy Hiker outfit for those cold days on the hills.

I won’t go into details on my headwear, neckwear and footwear as such, as they are obviously items that don’t need to come in plus-sizes.  Although I will just say this with regard to boots  – buy the best you can afford, and go to a proper shop to have them professionally fitted, by fully trained staff, to ensure you buy boots best suited to your planned activities.

Let’s work from the ground upwards…

Socks – a real bone of contention for me, as I have fat wide curvy calfs, and I find the cuffs of many socks to be uncomfortably tight, leaving deep marks where they cut in, restricting the circulation.  So I look for socks with a large, expanding cuff.  My current absolute fave pair of socks are the Classic Coolmax Trail Sock from Tog24.  Sooooo comfortable!  A curious quirk of my thyroid issues means that my feet don’t get cold.  No, I’ll rephrase that, they DO get cold, but I don’t feel it…I know that doesn’t make sense, however my feet can be like blocks of ice, but to me they feel totally fine.  Yes, I can and do walk out in snow in flip-flops or crocs, and my feet simply don’t feel cold.  So socks to keep my feet warm is not an issue, they just have to be comfortable and stay dry.  If my feet (or hands come to that) ever do feel cold I know I need my bloods done and my thyroid levels checked, because the chances are I’ve gone hypo. 🙂

SocksThey may look a little battle-weary now, but in fairness they have had plenty of use!

Gaiters – my curvy calfs are too wide for normal hiking gaiters, so when the going is likely to be very wet or muddy I use ankle gaiters…a total revelation and complete Eureka! moment when I first found them in a local outdoor shop!  They are perfect for those of us with curvy legs! You don’t see them stocked in many shops, but I dare say they could/would order them in for you if you asked!

Miracle Ankle Gaiters

Trousers – they aren’t a technical ‘base layer’ but on cold days I wear a pair of nylon-mix leggings under my trousers.  They came from Tescos and cost me around €6.00 Over those I used to have a pair of cotton mix plus size trousers, but then I discovered the Performance Sport range in Dunnes, which went up to size 20.  They aren’t designed for walking or hiking, but they are elasticated and stretchy.  There’s a vented side panel, a little like the aertex shirts we used to wear for PE back in my school days, which keeps you beautifully cool in the summer.  Incredibly comfortable, and because they are designed for fitness use, presumably gym-wear, they wick sweat, they are very light, and whilst they don’t repel rain, they don’t hold water either, and they dry out very quickly.  They may not be perfect for striding out across the hills but they more than do an admirable job of keeping my legs warm and dry-ish when I am striding trudging across those aforementioned hills!  I would love to have a decent pair of walking trousers, but so far I just haven’t found any that are anywhere near my size…so I have to improvise, and my priorities are that they are comfortable first and foremost, and that they won’t hold water and become heavy and uncomfortable in the wet.
Yes, I have heard of waterproof over-trousers, but let’s get real…I can’t find walking trousers to fit me, so finding over-trousers that fit is even more impossible!

Tops – again, I’ve struggled to find proper technical layers to wear under my jacket(s) so I just layer up with thin t-shirts, sleeveless tops,, sometimes a thin polo-neck and generally a Cotton Traders rugby shirt.  I have an ancient and beloved Berghaus full-zip fleece, which is really getting to the end of its days, but it is still the warmest fleece jacket I’ve ever owned, so I will keep wearing it until it completely wears out.  It zips into a cheap & cheerful waterproof jacket.  I’ll be honest, I bought the waterproof jacket in a street market in the UK, for very little money.  But at the end of the day, if fits me well. The zip meets and does up, it has a second set of zips inside, which means I can zip my Berghaus into it to make it incredibly warm.  It has plenty of pockets, and it has so far proved to be 100% waterproof…and I have had it out in some torrential rain in the past!  And I’ve owned it for about 8 years…so far, so good!  It got promoted last year from ‘winter/wet-weather dog walking jacket’ to ‘Official Curvy Hiker Hiking Ensemble’.  I did look last winter for a big ‘proper’ 3-in-1 jacket, but found nothing that would do up comfortably, let alone with any amount of layering underneath.  So for now, I’ll stick to my surprisingly good, and exceptionally cheap, waterproof jacket.

It would be lovely to think that I was fully equipped, with all the correct clothing, for most weather and environment situations I may meet whilst out hiking – and maybe one day I will be – but until I either loose a shedload of weight, or the clothing manufacturers wake up to the growing (no pun intended) demand for plus size activewear…then I’ll ‘make-do’ with my improvised Curvy Hiker clothing 🙂

At the end of the day, my top half stays dry in wet weather, my bottom half dries quickly if it gets wet.  My feet always stay dry and comfy. I can stay warm on most winter days, and I always have a complete change of clothes waiting in the car for me.  So, if I do end up cold and wet, I can at least be dry and warm for the drive home.  Ultimately I’m doing the best I can with the clothing available to me.  Proper clothing for winter hiking, that fits, will just have to remain a pipe dream for now.

Devil’s Bit Mountain, Co Tipperary – 24/03/2013

It really did seem like a good idea at the time, and I thought I was ready for it.

It was my idea, I wanted to do it, and I pushed for it.

01 Devils Bit Loop

Laying in bed the night before, listening to the wind howling around the cottage, I pondered my acceptable excuses for not going, for staying home and lighting the fire.  I decided that we wouldn’t go if it was raining.

It was cold and dry the next morning, and the husband started digging out his rucksack, sorting through his clothing.  I gave in to the idea that we were actually going ahead with this.  I sorted out some sandwiches, and filled a flask. He was in the unenviable position of still fitting into all his proper walking gear from when he used to climb serious summits in the highlands of Scotland etc.  I never managed such feats, even in my fitter and slimmer past, but I did previously have my own share of decent walking gear, for the less strenuous lowland hiking I used to enjoy…some of which was in my old VW camper van, sadly stolen December 2010, (including a really decent pair of hiking boots, my walking poles, beloved ankle gaiters and the best ‘plus-size’ 3-in-1 jacket I’ve ever found that actually fitted me comfortably, and a collection of fun & colourful hats I’ve collected over the years).  What remaining clothing I did have didn’t fit.  It may go without saying, if it did fit and I could still use it, it would have been in the camper van to be used whenever we were away…and so I was left with hubby’s ancient spare thinsulate hat, some mittens I knitted myself, a pair of leggings I typically wear under my jeans when I’m trading at outdoor craft fairs in cold weather, and some light trousers that I think I paid €6 from the ‘sale rail’ in my local Tesco.  I did have an old outer-jacket from another 3-in-1 set I had, that was just about useable, and I found an ancient old Berghaus fleece that would just about do up over my expanded waistline…not ideal, but we were hardly heading up Carrauntoohill, so I figured I’d survive!  To be honest, until that morning, I hadn’t put much thought into my lack of proper clothing :-/

We decided to bring Monty.  He’s a 12-year-old Jack Russell, robust for his years, and always up for a fun day out.

Taking the back lanes from Moneygall, up through Derrycallaghan, and around the sides of Benduff, Borrisnoe, and Kilduff mountain, I consoled myself that I could still call this off, and we could be satisfied with having a nice drive out…the other part of me looked up towards the summit of Benduff and wondered when I’d feel ready to attempt that…

In the car park at the trailhead, and a van pulled in.  A young couple nodded to us as they started up the steep track out of the car park.  OK, we’re really going to do this.  As we go through the kissing gate, I look up the track to see how far the young could have got, to find they are running….yes running….up that track.  I know I’m not fit, and I know I’m going to struggle…but I hope that even the fit amongst you, who know this track up out of the car park at Devil’s Bit, will agree with me that it is steep, and its a reasonable effort to walk up it, even for the fit & healthy…and these two were running.  I felt intimidated, I felt embarrassed, and without even starting, I felt like a failure.

A quarter of the way up that first section of track, and already I have to stop.  My legs hurt, I can’t breathe and my lungs are on fire.  I’m frustrated, because my walking at home has got so much better, and I really thought I’d cope better than this.  I decided that if we got to the top of this track, I’d be happy enough with that effort, and we could call it a day.  It was harder than I ever imagined, and I felt utterly pathetic.  I’d take 10, 20, 30 steps, and stop to catch my breath.  It must have driven the husband crazy, I could tell he just wanted to get going.

We got to the top of the track, and I decided to go along to the forestry gate, to check out the next bit of the trail.  OK, if we went up the next bit of trail to the next marker post, I’d see how I felt.  I was satisfied that I’d made a good enough effort having come as far as I had.  We went up through the forestry bit to Carden’s folly (AKA The Rock Tower), moving from marker to marker.  I was puffing loudly, and clearly puce in the face, when the young running couple passed us on their way back down.  I know I possibly (probably) imagined this, but I can’t help thinking that they cast pitiful looks at the mess I was in and the struggle I was having in just walking up the mountain they had just literally sprinted up.    The path up through the forestry is boggy and wet.  I’ve one wet foot from a particularly muddy section that was deeper than it looked.  My walking shoes have mostly coped, but have proved to be not really up to the job once you get off nice, hard packed trail paths.

At the folly I want to sit, rest, and ponder whether I want to go on or go back.  Have I achieved enough that I can go back to the car park and be happy with what we’ve done?  But the cold wind in this exposed area is causing the husband to be grumpy.  He (quite rightly) wants to either keep going, or for us to move somewhere a little more sheltered for me to do my pondering.  A quick check of the trail map against out surroundings, suggests to me that the next section is on forestry tracks and certainly starts off downhill.  I look up towards the peak of the mountain, see people up on Little Rock, looking at the base of the cross, and decide that I have come this far, I’ll just go a little further and see if I really can get up there.  At this point, we can either head straight on and go up to the summit (this option is quicker, I’d reach the summit, and then we could just turn around and go home), or we can follow the National Loop Walk map and turn left (this option is longer, but we’d complete the full 5k loop walk that had been my original intention). Feck it, in for a penny in for a pound, we turned left.

We were heading down a gentle slope on a proper forestry track.  Finally I could walk out properly, and not stop in a gasping heap every 50-100 yards…but in the back of my mind, I know that ultimately this loop walk is meant to bring us via the summit, so any ‘downhill’ trail we follow just means we’re going to have more ‘uphill’ to deal with further on.  But for now I didn’t care, I could walk, and walk properly, and not feel such a useless and unfit lump.  The dog was having a ball, and I found I was finally starting to enjoy myself.  Even then I knew that if I decided I had had enough, I could turn back towards the car park with no shame, and all was good.

Devils Bit Loop 005

Some of the forestry track had been ‘resurfaced’ with very coarse rubble, so for a few stretches we had to carry Monty.  He was struggling to find an easy route ‘through’ the track, and we were becoming conscious that he’s not a spring chicken anymore.  Finally we turned right off the track, and onto a softer path, upwards through a tunnel of forestry.  Just so incredibly peaceful, and I reckon on a bright sunny day, the sunlight filtering through the tree cover overhead in the forest glade would be breath-taking.  Then we were out in the open again, and the temperature was noticeably cooler with a light snow flurries all around us.  Small puddles were iced over, and there was a real bite in the wind.  We could see the cross on Little Rock, and it really didn’t look too far away from here.  I started to really believe that I could achieve this now.

 Devils Bit Loop 008

Devils Bit Loop 012

At the base of the rocks below Little Rock the path disappeared.  What had been a good strong and easy-to-see path to follow was gone, just completely gone.  Husband did his best mountain goat impression and went on ahead to plan a route up the summit, and Monty and I followed cautiously on behind.  It was the husband at this point who tentatively broached the subject of turning around, but when I pointed out we were well over half way around, we both decided that if we could find a way forwards we’d prefer to do that.
We did pick a route up to the top of Little Rock (well worth it for the views!!), and then around the side of Little rock, to rejoin the main path, but I’d suggest that as this is a ‘National Loop Walk’ then perhaps the path on this section could have a little more work done, if only to make it easier to find?  I appreciate that a ‘Moderate’ graded trail isn’t meant to be all flat & easy…but being able to see where you’re meant to be going would be quite helpful!

Devils Bit Loop 025

Monty was really struggling at this point.  It was -2°C, with a windchill of at least -8°C.  It was damp, it was lightly snowing.  We’d come a fair distance, and he was an old dog.  I felt pretty crap about bringing him, and he looked downright miserable.

We stopped briefly at the grotto halfway down the slope, where Monty got extremely freaked out my the Virgin Mary statue, then at the bottom of that slope, as we rejoined our out-route below Carden’s folly, Monty perked up.  I guess he recognised that we were finally heading back to the car park.

Devils Bit Loop 031

My walking shoes really struggled on the slippery ground going downhill.  Another incentive to start saving up for a decent pair of boots. At one point I slipped badly and ended up on my arse in a boggy puddle.  I was fairly soaked from head to toe.  Fortunately the combination of knowing that I was less than 10 minutes away from the car park, and that I also had a complete change of dry clothes awaiting me there, allowed me to laugh, to get up and to just get on with it.

All the way back down the final descent.  Monty was positively pulling my arms out again, his tail was waving and his ears were up.  I had a smile across my face.  Despite presenting myself with several options to ‘give up and save face’ almost all the way around, I’d kept going and I’d completed what I had originally planned to do.

It wasn’t easy.  I’m not fit. I’m grossly overweight.  It was sub-zero and snowing at  times.  And perhaps attempting a loop walk marked ‘Moderate’ was a little ambitious for a first timer.  I stopped countless times to catch my breath, stretch my back and rest my legs.  But I bloody well did it, and that was good enough for me.

Well deserved!

Well deserved!

Next weekend its the 4-day break over Easter, and I’d like to get out at least twice…but I think we’ll look for nice flat areas, so I can concentrate on getting some mileage in, rather than altitude, haha!  Will be slightly less demoralising perhaps?

Lough Boora Parklands looks nice and flat…!

I track my walks on Runkeeper – it lets me know exactly how far I’ve been and how fast I did it.  I’m not aiming for any speed records, but its nice to see an occasional improvement in my pace, no matter how small.  It also keeps me honest!  I have set it so that it also nags me if I don’t get out often enough at home, during the week.  I need that nagging!
I had the App set for ‘Auto-Pause’ so that I didn’t have to keep pulling my phone out and hitting ‘Pause’ every time we stopped.  I had hoped it would give us a more accurate reading of our actual walking time and pace.  But what actually happened is that ‘auto-pause’ did indeed engage whenever we stopped for me to get my breath back, but it also engaged every time I so much as slowed down, and wouldn’t disengage until I was 100m or so further down the path.  I never use ‘Auto-Pause’ when I walk at home during the week, and next time we go out hiking I won’t bother either.

English: a Picture of the cross on top of Devi...

Some quick facts on the Devil’s Bit:

It is 478m (1570 feet) above sea level at its highest elevation

It is listed as a ‘Marilyn

It is on OSI Discovery Map no. 59

The 5k Loop walk is graded: Moderate

The nearest town is Templemore

The Devil apparently took a bite out of the rock when he tripped over, whilst chasing St Patrick across the land.  He stood up and spat the rock out, forming the Rock of Cashel.  That’s the version I was told – other versions of this tale exist depending on who you speak to 🙂

According to the Mountain Views website it is the 516th highest summit in Ireland