Packing for holidays – kitchen sink to be included?

So one of the fun parts of an expedition is the final packing, when you try to figure out if you have everything on the list, and whether it will all fit into the bags. It can be considered an optimisation problem where you have to trade-off weight/cost/flexibility. 

Usually, option value wins, so you bring everything that you have, with tons of spares, which you can leave behind if you want. This is a picture of my current pack-out. Space in London being at a premium, I’m doing it in my room, which is not ideal. 


Every packing is different, because the whole philosophy behind the trip is different – in polar expeditions, volume is cheap, and weight is relatively cheap, meaning that it is easy to carry bulky things. That is certainly not true for climbing for example, where both weight and volume have to be minimised for efficiency.

Compare that to this one for one of my adventure races – when you have to do multiple evolutions in a couple of days, you bring bike plus all the spares (8 spare tubes in this instance), kayak gear (paddles and life vests), running gear, climbing gear etc, plus food and night equipment – you have to be pretty methodical about it, and make sure the checklist is complete. 


As my Himalaya climbing trip went, any single missing or broken item could cause a cascade of problems so it was critical to be spot-on with everything. E.g. missing lip balm mean that lips would crack, so you eat more slowly/eat less, which would lead to you getting weaker = not summitting. With the end-point of every equation being a reduced chances of success, it pretty much meant that you would be very much disciplined to do everything it took to succeed.

On this expedition, just the gloves I’m bringing include

  • 2 pairs of liners,
  • 2 pairs of fleece,
  • 1 pair thick ski working gloves,
  • 1 pair down summit mitts,
  • 1 pair super overmitts. 

So next time your partner complains about over-packing, remind them that the success of the holiday is at stake, and increased option value is the only way to do successful risk mitigation!


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What I think about when training?

To the consultants out there – here’s a estimation case for you – How many consultants does it take to train for the North Pole? Five. One to actually do the tyre-dragging, and a case-team of four to advise him to upgrade to sled-dogs!

Haruki Murakami has a book titled “What I talk about, when I talk about running”. There, he writes very lyrically about his relationship with running, and the Zen he experiences when racing or training.

In a much more prosaic vein, friends have asked me what I do or think about when I’m dragging tyres around Regent’s Park. The short answer – not very much, other than the fact that I’m tired, I’m hungry and wondering when the next rest break would be.

I recall when I first started training for an endurance event or mountain-climbing, I would just do what I needed to do – whether it was midnight gym sessions or running with a 25kg pack through the trail at night. No entertainment/music required. Even when I was clocking 7 hours on the bike while training for a triathlon, I could just watch my instruments and stay focussed on the three numbers of cadence, heart-rate and speed without listening to any music. And mind you, Singapore being the size it is, 7 hours means you are doing many laps around the same area.

As I got older, I must have gotten weaker/more easily bored or distracted. When training to go to the Himalayas in 2010, I clocked significant mileage climbing stairs at an apartment block near my house. After a while, I could recognise which apartments had kids learning to play the piano (badly), which ones had good cooks (tantalising smells), and which ones enjoyed watching Korean soap operas. It was also during this period that I started playing music to help get by the monotony. (80s pop rules. Sadly, many of these classic songs by groups such as Wham, Bananarama, Roxette etc. are alien to the younger generation.)

Laps around Regent’s Park are pretty much the same. You learn to watch out for dog poop, you figure out the areas where there is more drag, and travelling at such a slow speed, you occasionally have time to take things in – like the transient blooming of the cherry blossoms. But mainly, I focus on form – what my body is telling me – in cycling that would be the equivalent of monitoring the measures of cadence, speed and heart-rate. While you’d like the body to be on auto-pilot, and it can do so for stretches at a time, it is important to realise that even in mundane repetitive tasks, significant focus and attention is required to prevent injury and to aid in optimisation, which pays off in the long run.

Podcasts are amazing as well – not something I would usually have the time to do, but hey – it’s marginally more interesting than watching pavement. LSE Ideas is good, Roy Baumeister has a good talk on Willpower – how it is like a muscle in that it can be

1. Fatigued when resisting temptation

2. Tries to conserve its reserves when depleted, and

3. Can improve with more use.

Sometimes, it is just nice to be able to look at the trees.

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Tracks on the pavement

So there is a Chinese proverb that says “若要功夫深,铁杵磨成针“ which roughly translates to – if you persevere, you can grind an iron bar into a fine needle. That hasn’t quite happened yet, but I can already see the marks on the pavement of Regent’s park where my tyre dragging has left scratch marks.

Beautiful day out training today. Will post pix later.

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Life potential

As my MBA comes to a close, I find that my friends and I spend quite a lot of time trying to make sense of the past two years here. The classmates I have at the London Business School (until recently ranked #1 globally by the Financial Times 3 years running), are some of the most diverse, talented and amazing people around.

When you talk about the global elite, these guys are it. From Olympic athletes, to financial wizards to singers and entrepreneurs, this is a driven group that strives to squeeze every drop of meaning out their lives, and maximise their life potential. I guess that is the main reason they came to LBS (that and to party it up in London).

That is not a very different goal from MENCAP.

There are 1.5 million people with learning disabilities in the UK. MENCAP works to change laws, provide services and training so that people with learning disabilities can choose how they live and to maximise their life potential.

The way I see it, the goals that we have are the same – to become better people, to challenge ourselves, to be independent, to be happy, these are constant in direction; though the actual heights achieved may differ.

That is why I am raising funds for Mencap, and I hope you can help me achieve my goal.

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New addition to the family!

As part of the learning from my Canada trip, I realised that my tyre wasn’t heavy enough, hence I decided to add another one to the mix. It was strange walking up to the garage and asking for another tyre.

Great guys at the LBS maintenance team helping me drill a hole in my new truck tyre!

Taking the big one and the little one out for a walk.

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Arctic Circle Training

I just got back from 12 days on Baffin Island, (super far north Canada), which is in the Arctic circle. Training with polar adventurers extraordinaire – Matty McNair and her two kids, Sarah and Eric McNair-Landry (who hold records for being the youngest to reach the South Pole, 596km kite-skied in a day etc.)

This was a good introduction to the Arctic weather. While I had been in similar cold before, on a mountain, it usually started off cool and got colder the higher one got – which gave one time to acclimatise, or at least turn back. At Iqaluit, the instant I stepped off the plane, we were down to -30°C temperatures instantly, thank goodness I had some warm clothes with me.

In a crowd like this, there was a bunch of amazing people staying at the Northwinds lodge – Irish explorers and a Japanese man about to do a solo expedition to the North pole. A few of the guests and visitors had also summited Everest.  It was a real privilege to see the systems that they used, and debate the merits and trade-offs of the different types of gear to bring along.

Every night, I was out in the tent at the back, getting used to the weather, and trying out different sleep systems.The first few days were theory, where I reconciled my prior knowledge and experience from climbing, adventure-racing, work to the requirements of a polar environment.

I think respect for the environment is key – hence the need to come for training and learn from those that have successfully done it.

Great fun, had a chance to go on a dog-sled ride, kite-ski, but mainly learn to cross-country ski with a pulk and live comfortably in that environment.The photos don’t do justice to the excitement, speed and sheer fun of running with the big dogs!

Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. The main learning was in the field, with a 7 day mini-expedition with Sarah. We navigated, cooked and even went for a swim.All through-out, the weather was incredibly cold, and numb fingers and toes were pretty much par for the course. Holding anything – food, gear, cameras, all soaked away precious heat from the fingers, while sweat cooled and turned to ice, lowering the body core temperature. The sleds were loaded down with all our gear, and had an extra 80lbs of dog-food, just in case they weren’t heavy enough. Many people think that ice is smooth, but with the tidal action (we are skiing on frozen sea-ice) and wind, they form incredible rough patches hundreds of meters to several km wide that are an incredible pain to cross.

Many people say that jumping from a plane is a unique manifestation of a suicidal wish (having done it quite a few times, I would agree). The same goes for taking a dip in water when the air temperature is -50°C with wind-chill and frost-bite hits naked skin in 30seconds. This was to practise crossing patches of open water that could not be avoided

Me in my bathing suit! Worst thing was springing a small leak, and getting wet feet! A little bit worse than in London.

The final evolution was to make my own way back, once Sarah was convinced I wouldn’t blow things up when left alone. Armed with a shot-gun, tent, food, satellite phone and fuel, I took my bearings with the compass and sat off back to civilisation. The way was pretty far, and the howling wind on the second day made it almost impossible to set-up tent, or to sleep. The violent winds had me thinking all night about the tent collapsing, especially while the stoves were running. Not happy thoughts.

On the final day – I had to make it back to Matty’s by a fixed time, because I had a flight to catch. I had enough time to shower, change and then hop on the plane. A short nap later,  I was back in civilisation, having a good meal.

Surreal indeed.

PS – many people ask about going to the toilet in such conditions. I can only say this – if you are one of those blessed with huge capacity, then you’re the lucky one.

PPS – so why do this – answers below



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The skiing in London is great

ImageSo its not always easy to get the right snow conditions in London right for cross-country skiing, so I have to make do with roller-skis. Its great fun, but a bit slow when you have a tyre strapped to you. (Thanks for the photo Carolyn).

Love this comment by Jon on Facebook –

  • John PP ‎10,000 BC, the wheel invented in the Neolithic era to facilitate movement of heavy objects.
    2012 AD, a Cambridge mathematician with an MBA from LBS forgets how to use one.

Somehow I can’t help but feel that training like this is similar to what we do in the MBA – take abstract models that “kind of” simulate the challenge of reality, and tell ourselves that we still capture the important essence despite the simplifications.

So a tyre for a sled, because it is just about weight and drag, and roller-skis to simulate cross-country ski action. =0

But what to do, the snow in London isn’t always great for skiing.


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