Friday, 28 August 2015


If you read last weeks blog you'll know that I am on a quest to try and eliminate dairy from my diet. This is not as part of a vegan diet, or because I am intolerant to milk, but simply because I am appalled that dairy cattle are artificially and forceably kept pregnant, not to mention pumped with drugs to increase their milk yield substantially. And did you know all veal, which I have never eaten, come from male calves born to these dairy cattle?!

So since last week I set myself two challenges to begin with: find a milk alternative for cereal and tea, and a cheese alternative.

First the milk. I knew of almond milk long before I started this, so that was on the list from the start. Sourcing one unsweetened was not difficult, as it has become very popular, and there are many brands to choose from.

I chose four other milk alternatives; rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and a mix of almond and coconut.

Straight away I found the two coconut varieties, well, too coconutty! Even the mixed one had too much flavour. It isn't that I don't like coconut, it's just that the flavour dominated everything I put it in. As a drink on its own the mixed one was OK.

The almond milk on its own was pretty foul, but I have discovered that not all brands are the same and that making it yourself is very easy. At this point though almond milk was off the menu.

Next up was rice milk. The look of this product is very thin in colour. This was the only one I tried in tea and it didn't colour or flavour the tea at all. It has a naturally sweet edge to it but in overall flavour it was not much different to water, and in cereal I just found that grim.

The final product was hemp milk. Oh boy, my hat off to anyone that can consume this! OK, so the clue is in the name, but I never expected it to taste like actual rope! This was the only one I actually spat out.

At this point I thought I was defeated, however, I decided to venture into Edinburgh city centre, to a wholefood store called Real Foods, to see if there was any other solution. The staff were great and most agreed with my findings. The products I had bought were sold by supermarkets and thus lower priced which was reflected in the quality. At least that was my own deduction. I then found an almond milk mixed with rice milk, made by a company called Rude Health. Without overstating it, this was delicious. A winner at last, and I have used it every day in muesli. Result. Plus it works out at only 12p more than a litre of dairy milk.

None of the milks were any good in tea, but I have found a soya milk sweetened with apple juice that works OK. I'm not a fan of soya milk, but in tea its fine. You can't use it in instant coffee as it splits, but recently I have been trying soya latte at my local coffee shop, and its pretty good. The sweetened version takes the soya edge off the taste, and it has also led me to reducing the amount of sugar I put in my tea.

Quest two was cheese. This was in some ways hilarious. At first it never occurred to me for some reason to start with the Real Foods shop, and I ordered three items online: cheddar, blue and mozarella. The look and texture of these "cheeses" was like set plaster! The flavour was quite easily the most disgusting thing I have ever tried. They all looked identical as well; an insipid grey wheel of plaster!

But, you guessed it, a visit to Real Foods led me to a product made by VioLife. They have quite a range, but I just tried cheese slices first. Not a product I normally buy but good enough for the experiment. The flavour could have been stronger, but I found no real difference between this and dairy cheese slices.

I love pizza but will now revert to making my own, which I used to long ago. VioLife make a mozarella alternative specifically for use on pizza. It's popular, so out of stock a lot of the time, but I'm looking forward to that experiment. For now though the injury to my arm from my cycle accident has left it weak, and so the ability to knead pizza dough is a few weeks off yet.

As for butter, well I rarely ate butter before, and mostly stuck to olive oil spread. One thing I have noticed is that milk powder is in a lot of products. I bought a box of crackers yesterday, and not until I was home did I discover one of the ingredients was milk. In the UK allergy labeling is very good, and if a product has milk in it, then the manufacturer must state it on the ingredients list, so spotting it in the future should be easy.

So far so good. Time will tell how it integrates itself into my life.

Next quest, pizza!!!

Thursday, 20 August 2015


Traveling, especially by bicycle, brings you into contact with experiences, sounds, smells and landscapes that would otherwise whizz past the tinted glass of a cars windscreen. Cycling through a landscape is the only way to fully appreciate the richness of a country.

Every mile I've pedaled by bicycle whilst touring, no matter which country, have all had one thing in common; the people. Everywhere I've been it's the people that have made the trip special, and the last few weeks were no exception. One key element of those meets are the things you learn.

My journey ended in Missoula, Montana, where I finally met Jennifer, the senior cartographer at Adventure Cycling, who I have been corresponding with for almost five years. Her husband Rob met me at the airport, and with a seal of approval from the family dog Tiika, we were already old friends.

Jenn and Rob follow a vegan diet, to put it simply, a plant based diet. No part of an animal, or anything they produce, is in their diet. Though I knew vaguely about the vegan way of life, I had never really delved into it. From the word go I was amazed and impressed at the fantastically tasty meals that they served up at the table, and a conversation ensued.

Though it is highly unlikely that I will change to being a total vegan personally, there was one aspect that struck me, and I was a little amazed that I hadn't previously known about it. That aspect was milk.

When I was a little boy in single figures, my father was a dairy herdsman, and every morning before school I went with him to bring in the herd for milking. Almost five decades, thanks to Jenn and Rob, on I have just learned a disturbing fact.

All dairy cattle are artificially, and forcibly, kept pregnant in order to constantly produce milk for us. When the calves are born some are disposed of and some are taken to be locked in darkness to produce veal. All veal comes from the calves born to dairy cattle.

In addition most dairy cattle are pumped with hormones in order to produce as much as 12 times the normal yield, requiring the cows to be milked twice a day!

I've never eaten veal, but I certainly consume milk.

Yes I eat meat in various forms, and I choose carefully what I buy with an eye on the welfare of the animal raised. But I can't abide the thought of this blatant, and not talked about, cruelty to an animal just to satisfy our thirst for milk.

So I have recently started a quest to switch part of my diet to dairy free. I believe it will be a healthier diet too, so that's an added bonus.

I have sourced five different alternatives to cows milk and over the next week I'll be trying them out in various parts of my daily diet. Included in this is cheese, which I have also sourced an alternative to, which should arrive in the next few days.

I'll publish my thoughts of my experiences next week. It's a tiny step in only one aspect of the whole animals-for-food trade, but at least it's a step.

Friday, 14 August 2015


I write this on a sunny day in Portobello, Edinburgh. 

I'm home.

My last blog from Jackson, Wyoming, was the day before I traveled to Missoula in Montana to meet my friend Jennifer and her husband Rob. I had said then that Jackson was my kind of town, due to its sporty atmosphere mixed with wild west charm, albeit manufactured. But I push it down the scale now for Missoula to take top spot in small towns.

Maybe under the influence of where Adventure Cycling has its US headquarters, it is a very bike friendly place. Then there's the micro breweries, coffee shops and independent restaurants. One of the micro breweries is called Highlander, and I spotted a studenty guy sporting a baseball cap with the brewery name on it. On the back was embroidered, "If it ain't Scottish, it's crap". Not sure that I concur entirely, but it certainly started a conversation.  The University of Montana, with its 10,000 students, is also here in Missoula giving the town a fun student vibe. My home city of Edinburgh has a strong university vibe as well, and many of its streets are lined with mature trees with a backdrop of the Pentland hills. And so it is in Missoula, with its wide streets also lined with trees, and with a backdrop of densely wooded hillsides, six to eight thousand feet high.

So I fell in love with Missoula, as I tend to do with most American landscapes, but this place just has that little something extra.

Rob met me at the airport with a fun sign he'd spent hours making, which said "Limo for Graham Kitchener", together with an accurate Scottish flag! Immediately I knew we were going to get on well.

I'd corresponded with Jenn for almost five years but we'd never met. Apart from one brief phone call a couple of weeks ago, I didn't even know what she sounded like!  Instantly we met you'd think we'd known each other all our lives, it was that easy and comfortable. Jenn's mum was visiting too and the four of us spent a happy three days together. There was one family member who gets the most attention, still to meet: Tiika the dog. She and I seemed to be instant friends, and I received the seal of approval.

My first visit into the town from Jenn's house in the suburbs, in an area alarmingly called Rattle Snake Ridge, was to the local weekly farmers market. I run a monthly one back home in Portobello, and I was very jealous of the size and variety of the Missoula one, and how well supported it was. Right in the middle was an old steam locomotive from a bygone era, and just over the perimeter fence was the familiar sight and sound of the bright orange BNSF, mile-long freight trains, that I fell in love with on my 2011 cycle.

On one of our days together we went on a road trip, first to visit a Buddhist garden where they have made a design from creating 1,000 Buddha statues. It was very impressive. From there we set out for the huge Flathead Lake, and at first glance, when we stopped at a viewpoint, I thought it looked exactly like the southern view of Loch Lomond, which was a nice coincidence. The lake is 30 miles long and 16 miles wide, and lies southwest of Glacier National park. After a very relaxing lunch on the side of the loch, with a cool breeze, we returned, directly south, the 70 miles to Missoula.

In the evening a work colleague, and friend, from Adventure Cycling, Arlen, joined us for dinner and brought along a bottle of Dewars. I think it was a surprise for him to meet a Scotsman who doesn't like whisky!
I had one more friend to meet, who had moved to Missoula not long after we first became friends in 2011, when I cycled into Havre, Montana. Luke is the son of Kathy and John Donaldson, who generously gave us a place to stay at the time. So we had lunch at The Shack, together with his partner Stella, and caught up.

The day before my homeward journey was to start, a violent thunderstorm passed right through town, bringing down powerlines and trees, causing havoc, but everyone just got on with it, clearing up the mess and continuing with life unabated. In the UK that would have been headline news!

I had a nice treat at the end of my stay; a tour round Adventure Cycling headquarters. And despite not making it by bicycle I still managed to get my photo on the wall of fame. 

Eventually it was time to go home, and apart from problematic flight delays, being re routed through London and lost luggage, it passed quickly and soon I was home to friends and all that is familiar. Once again my friendship group has grown, albeit some 4,000 miles away, but I know I will return in the not too distant future, and finish what I started.

One thing I know, is that once again I proved that the most important thing in life is friendship and the memories you make together that last a lifetime.

On one memorable occasion in Missoula, while we were all out for a woodland walk with Tiika, two mountain bikers whizzed past us. As is usual we greeted them with a friendly "hi, how you doing?", when one replied "living the dream!"

I would echo that, especially when soon I will get back on the bike for the next adventure, but maybe this time with protective padding!

As before, photos on Flickr (please scroll down the Flickr page to see the latest).

Friday, 7 August 2015


Following my discharge from Lander General Hospital, I spent five more days recuperating in a nearby motel whilst being an outpatient. Slowly my walking was improving, and the wounds were healing well, enough to visit the Pioneer Village on the edge of town.

There were ten original buildings that had been relocated to the site to create the village. Among them was a house belonging to one time lawman Charles Stough, who made fame at the end of the 1800s by arresting the outlaw Butch Cassidy.

Early on the Tuesday morning I transferred 160 miles north, with Bob the driver, to the famous town of Jackson Hole, named after David Jackson, who trapped beaver in the area in the early 1800s. The "Hole" comes from the geological fact that it sits in a depression between the Teton mountains and the Snake River.

On the way we passed several touring cyclists and I felt quite jealous. Finally though I was in Jackson, just a few days later than originally planned by bicycle. Though the centre is very touristy, I loved the feel and look of the place, with its boardwalks and timber-clad stores. My motel this time was right on the edge of downtown, so everything was within easy access. In the centre of town at various places, were arch sculptures, made from thousands of Elk antlers, collected at the end of winter from a large refuge on the outskirts of town, where every winter 11,000 Elk gather. On my first night I went to the Silver Dollar Saloon for supper and was entertained by a live bluegrass band. 

The following morning I awoke to torrential rain and thunderstorms. This was my day to join a tour up to the worlds first National Park, Yellowstone, something I had been thinking of for months, and thanks to friends back home, here I was! It was roughly 70 miles before we were in the park proper, and the rain cleared and sun came out.

First stop was Old Faithful geyser, and within a few minutes of its predicted eruption time, it lived up to its name. We were just about to move on when an announcement went out that the Beehive geyser was about to blow, which only happens once every five days or so! It was bigger and louder than Old Faithful, and I thought much more impressive. I was very lucky to witness it.

Next stop was the Grand Prismatic Spring, which had always been my main goal. Had we had more time we would have trekked up a nearby hill to look down on it, but getting up close and personal was still a big thrill.

I've included an aerial picture here from the internet to give you an idea of why I wanted to see it so much. As everyone followed the boardwalk round we were treated to a hot steam facial! Most geothermal sites have this feature, but each has its own characteristic, be it bubbling water, roaring steam vents or boiling mud.

As we were on the way to our next geothermal  boardwalk, we noticed a large number of cars parked at the side of the road. Clearly something interesting was nearby. As we walked through long grass between Lodge Pole pine, the dominant tree species in the park, we came across a large adult male elk grazing, with antlers five feet long and just as wide between the tips of the two. Then, in a nearby clearing, something snorted. A bull Buffalo was quietly minding its own business, sunning itself in a clearing.

The landscape highlight of the day was the astonishing Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. If ever there was a geological feature with a wow factor then this was it. It looked almost artificial, it was so picture perfect. The drop to the canyon floor was vertical, varying between 800 and 1200 feet down. Words are hard to describe the view. We viewed it looking toward the falls, then journeyed to the brink of the falls themselves.

The skies were darkening again as a large thunderstorm started to move in. We had been very lucky with cool temperatures and glorious sunshine all day, so we had nothing to complain about. But it actually set the mood for what was to come next. As we headed for the exit we passed Hayden Valley, famous as the best place to spot the wild animals of the park, and where the wildlife encounter of the day was about to unfold.

On the side of a hill, roughly 250m away, was a Grizzly Bear and two cubs! It was too far to photograph, so I took a set of binoculars and just sat and enjoyed the moment. If that were not treat enough, just after we left, and wondering why we had suddenly become part of a large queue of traffic, we saw up ahead the cause. A herd of roughly 100 Buffalo were crossing the road! As we eventually got to the point where they had crossed, they had mostly finished blocking the traffic, but we still had close up views of several beasts.

It had been truly an amazing day, very much an out of this world experience. Yellowstone has the largest collection of geothermal features anywhere in the world, and it was a privilege to get up close and personal with many of them. But to see the wildlife at such close quarters in their natural habitat was the icing on the cake.

Today I have just returned from Jenny Lake, just 45 minutes out of Jackson. It is nestled directly under the astonishing mountain range of the Grand Tetons, something I have wanted to see for as long as I can remember. If yesterday was about geothermal events and wild animals, today was about jagged wild mountains over 13,000 feet. I felt right at home. A small boat takes you across the lake to a trailhead, and there are many trails to follow once over, but I had to be careful as I was still recovering. I'm notorious for pushing myself too soon after injuries and undoing all the recovery, so I cautiously set out on a signed short and easy walk to Hidden Falls.

Cloud covered the peaks all morning, and I thought I wouldn't be able to get an iconic shot of the Grand Teton. But on the way back by bus, the clouds cleared briefly. I told the friendly driver that I'd have to try again tomorrow, at which he pulled over to allow me to get the shots I was after.

My time in Wyoming, and America, is drawing to a close. Tomorrow I will fulfill the final goal of my journey when I finally get to meet Jennifer and her husband, in Missoula, Montana. Jenn is the cartographer for the Adventure Cycling Association, and we became friends in 2011, when I crossed America by bicycle with Pauline. But we've never met, so tomorrow will change that. Not only will I meet Jennifer, but also her cute dog Tiika, and do I have a surprise for her!

Next week I'll be back in Scotland and I'll tell you all about the final leg.

Lots and lots of photos on Flickr! (please scroll down the Flickr page to get to the most recent)