Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Spa day par excellence!

The concept of a spa day is as alien to me as carrying 70lb on my back, although the latter became a reality last Sunday (20th September). The Spa day however, well that's just a dream but there was a lot of mud involved, some swimming, and there was definitely no dressing gown or towling slippers!

The weekend began with our first Core Management Team Meeting for The 100 Peaks Challenge, the subject of which will command it's own, very much overdue blog post.

#BeInspired #BeInspiring - THE 100 PEAKS CHALLENGE


Once the meeting was done it was a hot footing exercise to Brecon. Everyone who knows me knows how much the Avalanche events mean to me, I'd missed out on Ironman because of the London Marathon and expected that I'd miss out on Ricochet too because of the date falling on the weekend of the first opportunity we had to get The 100 Peaks CMT together. Luckily KJ was relaxed as to when I could get myself there.

My training in the last few months has consisted of base miles and strengthening work, thankfully about a month before Ricochet I'd managed to kiss the constant niggles of training volume goodbye and had been able to step up my training again to include intervals and hill work. The old man Achilles niggles still remained though.

Physically I know I'm fitter than I have been since I first embarked on this little journey, but I still have some weight to shift and I also hadn't had the Bergen on since the Summer Fan all bar my 'panic' 10 miler with 60lb the Saturday before Ricochet. To be fair though the 'panic' tab was a decent workout, I cracked the 10 miles out in 1:55, albeit on a pretty flat track, but I wanted to accustom myself to what that weight felt like more than anything else. To be fair to myself I was coming in to this off the back of my best effort to date on the Summer Fan and a decent London Marathon under my belt this year. I'm pretty comfortable at cracking out miles and spending a lot of time out on the ground, with and without pack now, so it really was nothing more than a getting familiar exercise. The weirdest sensation was the circulation issue the additional weight seemed to have, the fingers got numb pretty quickly and a lot of that 1hr 55 was spent giving it the jazz hands!

I decided that I needed to rethink the Bergen packing because something wasn't working. At 35lbs the Bergen doesn't really weigh enough to 'cut' but with 55lb of kit and food and water on top I knew I had to really think about where I was loading kit to ensure I was going to be as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible.

In prep for Ricochet I stripped everything out, and decided that I'd make a change with my bladder position in the first instance. The likelihood was that we'd need a minimum of 5 litres and that meant two bladders, I decided that I'd pack them at the sides and try and balance things out from there. I thought it better to configure that way than risk issues with circulation and endure a little lower back trouble (which packing water at the sides generally gives me as it messes a bit with my COG). I pulled the doss bag up higher than normal, almost to the top of the Bergen to give a little extra padding against the back, and repacked. Dry kit, warm kit, emergency rations and extra first aid supplies, poncho and jetboil and a mallet for a bit of extra weight! Side and front pocket, contained waterproofs, mess kit and first aid/emergency bivi and all my utility items in the top flap.


We banged in on the money at the weigh in, with a few tins of extras, should the proverbial hit the fan. Everything was loaded up Friday night and Strokey and I set off just after 3pm on Saturday. The traffic Gods were kind to us and a little after 6 we're parking up in our new home for the next 24 hours. Not even out of the car moments and familiar and some of my favourite faces appeared, the chat was nervous and excited and laced with a little bit of fear of what was to come. KJ and the DS had promised us some proper naughty scenarios, the first of which would become evident pretty quickly.

I got myself registered and noticed that Rob, Steve and Scott had a spare bunk in their room and asked Staff Bigg to put me in there. He joked (or at least I think he was joking) at me that he was getting fed up of seeing 100 Peaks Tess at his events and where was my AEE one, I pointed at KJ and said "he sold it". I'd managed to catch up with everyone and there really is no finer company, just as I'm beginning to get my pasta and meatballs down my neck and feel content with my lot, we're interrupted by a call from Staff Bigg to get our 'weapons'.  

Those of us who hadn't attended the training day were marched up to a store shed where he delighted in presenting us with our new best friend for the duration. A piece of scaffold tube weighing in at 10 to 12lbs to act as a mock SLR for the exercise. I knew the terrain was going to be shit when KJ joked in a message to me to "bring my flippers", I retorted at the time "I'm packing my water wings just in case", I wish I had, come 0610 the following morning that wish was compounded!

Back to the mess, the next interruption to eating came the way of why we were instructed to bring colouring pencils, ruler etc. We were given a map sketching exercise of the area we would need and we were given 45 minutes to get as much detail on our maps as we could. The next 45 minutes were spent realising that I was pretty dire at cartography whilst trying to get as much food into my gullet as possible! Time was called and relief was felt, more so it meant I could finish my apple crumble and now cold custard. No hardship really, but I was flapping enough already as is SOP for me anyway! Our maps were gathered up and subjected to scrutiny by our peers and then handed back to us, with what felt like a rhetorical question "would you navigate with your map" to which the stock answer appeared to be "no Staff"! We were then issued with Staff prepared sketched maps and instructed to ensure our OS and/or Racing snake versions were tucked away safely in our bergens, they were not to be used! 

With the enforced panic over I could now begin to flap properly, safe in the knowledge I still had to get all my kit to the room, pack my bergen again and get my water in there and get my food sorted for the march. With some very welcome help from my friends, notably Andy Heller, Strokey and James N, who fabloned my map for me, slung my scaffold tube and filled up my bladders. Bergen reweighed it hit 65lbs dead on loaded with water. Finally I get my kit up to the room and get the stuff I didn't need squared away back in the car. 

I was very conscious back in the room that I was still flapping for England when I should have been letting the guys get their heads down. We had a good chat about what was happening with the 100 Peaks and finally I managed to switch the light off at 11, knowing that in 4 short hours we'd be climbing back out of those bunks again! Those short hours got even shorter as God only knows what must have been going through my head because before I knew it, it was 1am and the next time I'm aware of anything it's just gone 3 and there is plenty of movement from other rooms around ours. My alarm hadn't even gone off, I'd set it for 0330, trying to cram as much sleep in as possible, I guess on some level we all knew there wasn't going to be much sleep had that night, so there was little point pulling the doss bag over your head and ignoring the noise.

Dressed and packed away, the bergen is dropped outside the mess at 0350, I load up my mess pocket with food for the march, grab my new best friend, place it next to my bergen and stand in line waiting for the steel cut oats. I'd kept the trail mix with me that was given to us in our 'packed lunch' to throw it on the oats for extra energy, it struck me as a stroke of genius at just after 4. Oats down, I tuck in to the cooked breakfast, I manage most of it, but like so many find, it's tough throwing that much food down your neck at that time of the morning, especially against the clock.

Bergen's on we file in, it's 0515 and we're off in two ranks. 10 minutes in I'm sure if it were light we'd all be looking at each other with puzzled faces, wondering if the exercise had started. This was no ordinary warm up and we were going at a decent clip. After 30 mins we see the white van pulled up as promised by Staff Bigg, make our way through the barrier and drop Bergen's. The instructions are to layer up as we might be there a while before being called forward to start. I don't, I'm running pretty warm and I just get a bit more food down me and top up with a bit of fluid. 

The banter is already flowing, it's amazing, despite the realisation of what we're about to embark on, sure, some of it may be down to nerves but there is a fair buzz among the group.

Over breakfast Al, big Dunc, Mick, Paul Southerwood and myself had teamed up, Al relayed that to Staff Bigg, Staff insisted we weren't going out as a five, which we expected and were separated out to Paul, Mick and myself and Al and Dunc. Just after 6 we were called forward, Bergen went back on the scales and with food now topped at 70lbs on the nose, this was gonna be an arduous day.

First grid given we are instructed to get over the sty and from there we begin, it's just after 0600. It's still pretty dark out but the sun is slowly beginning to add a little glow to the darkness. We decide on our bearing and off we set and it isn't very long before we realise what we're in for, within moments we're lifting our feet over babies heads and each footing is wet, very wet, it's only 0610 and I go back to the wish that I had indeed packed the water wings or at least taken KJ at his word.


I lost track at the amount of times we were pulling ourselves out of water or trying to find easier places to tread only to end up in deeper shit. It pretty much carried on in that vain until we reached RV1 where Staff Bigg jovially remarked "anyone get wet?" 

Only up to my chin Staff!


By the time we had got ourselves to RV2, the three had become a significantly larger number, in so much as we piled in to the RV with Strokey and Chris D. RV protocols done we unload for a few minutes, quaff the pie handed to us and take stock. Everyone hits the RV with a similar expression, it's comforting in a way! We know the next RV and it's a long haul up to what is referred to (affectionately now) by some of the group as 'Lloydys Point'.



Heading out of the RV Fordy joins us, he's not having a lot of fun, but for me this is why I do these events, to share the misery and fun, that's where the bond comes from, and I wouldn't give that up for anything. It's all up hill and it's all bog, by now my lower back is in rag and Strokey breaks the pills out. I'm not one for pills unless things are dire, the little capsules are welcome. Thankfully the discomfort gives way to hilarity as Fordy decides to try and jump a bog, the only issue is though his Superman Cape is under his bergen and he hits the shit in dramatic fashion, which somehow manages to happen in slow-mo! There is serious concern for his welfare as we watch his bergen begin to slowly lower him further in to the muck' "Strokey get the f******g camera out quick!" Laughing at his expense was just what the group needed, because it did put a massive smile back on everyone's face, those last few km's became a little easier once we'd dragged his arse out of there.



By the time we'd gone through RV3 we also picked up Mr Dando, who looked like he'd been dipped in chocolate. He'd managed to find the same bog as Fordy, however it would appear he'd managed to go in backways and frontways. For me there's not much point talking about the rest of the march, it was pretty uneventful, we took the cautious route on the advice of DS from RV3 to RV4 and again erred on the side of caution from RV4 to FRV, which probably added time to our day, but hey when your among friends, hell ain't a bad place to be!


I think in the main, getting it done in the group we had kept everyone going. The banter flowed as often as we ended up balls deep in water and although at times it was nothing but utter misery we had a day none of us will ever forget.

FRV - Endex

So to all the guys I finished that march with, Chris, Paul, Micke, Dando, Strokey and Fordy, thank you boys it was emotional (and dare I say it a lot of fun)! On a personal level it's so humbling to be able to count so many incredible people as friends and share that time in the hills, especially in the rawest moments. Nothing gives me greater pride than seeing so many of them tabbing those hills wearing the Tee that has now become the symbol of tribute to Lloydy. 

I know he's not the only soldier who's climbed those trails and his aren't the only 'giant footsteps' we tread in, after all KJ and the DS laid down that marker for us too and have given us that opportunity in the first place. However, Lloydy's example and the pride I have in him and what he achieved gives me that reason to do so. I find it amazing that so many who never even met him, want to pay him tribute too. 

As is customary I'll finish with my thank you's, firstly to Ken, Staff Bigg and the DS, without whom this wouldn't be possible. I owe so much of what I've achieved in the last few years to you and The 100 Peaks was born out of the confidence and desire to get myself into a position where in 600 days or so, I will be aiming to pay the ultimate tribute to my little brother. I don't think I'll ever be able to express my thanks fully for that.

To all the friends I've gained as part of this journey, thank you for sharing this with me and for the friends that are always there, big love.

And of course to my very understanding wife and beautiful boy, who instantly take the pain away and supports these crazy endeavours. You are the strength that keeps me walking! Nothing beats getting home to that gorgeous face and hearing "daddy home" as the little man's first words the morning after! TTDOF xxxxx

To the reason I do this, who is and will always be my hero, big love and blue skies little brother. You may be beyond the glimmering sea but my heart walks with you always and together will continue to climb the mountains barred with snow. xxx