Just a few of my favourite pictures of my mam:
See you on the other side…………….
…..it is the day to stand up and be counted. Armegeddon, D Day, the time of reckoning. I leave for the airport in about four hours time.
It feels almost surreal. I wish I had time in the midst of my headless-chicken dances to properly tell you what is going through my head, but it feels sort of like every emotion you have ever had all at once.
I feel radically and terribly underprepared, and yet raring to go. I feel nervous, but ruthlessly determined. I feel happy and sad. I feel scared and excited. I feel anxious. I feel outrageously emotional. The last six months have been such a voyage for me – in practically every single aspect of my life. This trip today feels like the zenith, the peak of all that in so many ways.
Why do people climb mountains? The ubiquitous answer to this seems to be “because it is there”. I can relate to the answer, but it is not necessarily the one I would give. The mountain is bigger in every sense than I can ever be. Even if I get to the top, I won’t conquer it. It will beat me every time. I can however respect it, appreciate it, and all that it gives to nature, to humanity, to civilisation, to culture. It is sacred in every sense of the word. This is Kilimanjaro!
I have been asked along the way so many times why I am personally doing this, and there is no straight answer. When I set out to do it there was never any thought of doing it for love, for money, for glory, for any particular person. There still isn’t. I am undoubtedly however now utterly focussed and inspired by my mam’s memory, and that will get me through the bad moments, of which I am sure there will be some. I very much intend to lift my head up and enjoy the good ones too.
I have also been floored (in a massively great way) by certain things that have happened en route, which will remain private for now. I have to take some of those things up the mountain with me and decide what to do with them. I have not yet decided upon any of them. I will be carrying a few things with me however to leave there. One of those is a picture of my mam and me. Kilimanjaro can do what it wants to the picture – I will have the memory of it being there for however long that may be.
Thanks to anyone who has followed this blog, to the well wishers, the incredibly generous people who have so far donated almost £1,000 to Bowel Cancer UK. Keep the donations coming please whilst I am away right here –
I am very much looking forward to coming out the other side in whatever shape and filling you in on my real adventures, for it is only about to start today.
So to those people who inspire me the most in life, this one is for you. For my Dad, and mostly for Dan and Becca, who both make me ridiculously proud in equal measure, I love you, love you, love you, with every grain of emotion that I have in me.
To Kilimanjaro, and Beyond!
More later, but the anticipation, the anxiety, the packing, the unpacking, the nerves, the headless-chicken routine, and the overwhelming need to drink copious amounts of alcohol, are incredible.
I believe I am flying to Tanzania tomorrow to tackle some mountain or other. Is that really me? Sure? I am not at this moment in time sure of what reality is anymore. It all feels like a dream, and I am not sure yet whether it feels like a good one or a bad one.
Things run through my mind and back with relentless furosity: How am I getting from the airport to the hotel? What sort of travel adaptor do you require in Tanzania? Do I have the right suntan lotion? Will my Camelback freeze? Should I pack more clothes? Less clothes? Do I have enough money? What if my camera battery doesn’t work, or the memory card is defunct? What if my anti-malarials make me sick? What if I fricking DIE when I am there?
The phrase “headless chicken” has been used to describe me before. Now I am an absolute basket case. I am a parrot called Tim, a box of frogs of varying colours, and a bicycle pump, all rolled into one. Help!!!!!!!
What!???? You may well ask.
Well, I was delighted yesterday when a number of very nice charitable donations came through onto the Justgiving site. Looks like I might be lucky enough to reach £1,000 in total, which would be totally fantastic for the charity – I don’t think they are that big an outfit really, and so everything helps. Anyway, one of the donations is for a very nice sum of money, and is in the name of Mrs Ariadne Oliver. Now I have no knowledge of whom Ariadne Oliver might be. They (whoever they are) posted this beside it:
” This is a devil of a business! Be sure you take as many apples as the porters can possibly carry.”
Confused? I am! I therefore did a bit of fishing and texted a few people to find out if they were in fact Ariadne Oliver in disguise. I just wanted to thank them sincerely, as it is a very nice amount as I said. All I got were some even more confused texts back. I think I embarrassed my boss as I asked him too:)
I therefore googled the name and came up with this:
“…Ariadne Oliver is a fictional character in the novels of Agatha Christie. She is a mystery novelist and a friend of Hercule Poirot. Mrs. Oliver often assists Poirot in his cases through her knowledge of the criminal mind. She often claims to be endowed with particular “feminine intuition,” but it usually leads her astray. She is particularly fond of apples, which becomes a plot point in the novel Hallowe’en Party……”
So I am none the wiser at all. If you are out there reading this, whoever you are, my sincere and massive thanks for your wonderful donation – it is hugely and very gratefully appreciated.
As we are talking about Bowel Cancer, I will give you some information about it here:
• More than 37,500 men and women are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every year, making it the third most common cancer; this is someone every 15 minutes
• Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK and more than 16,000 people die each year; that’s someone every 30 minutes
• 97% of all diagnoses are in people over the age of 50
• If diagnosed at the earliest stage, bowel cancer is highly treatable, with a survival rate of more than 80% over five years
That is some sobering stuff there. That is just one of the reasons why I am trying to help the charity. Therefore in the words of the immortal sir Bob Geldof, “show us your f**king money!” I am not sorry for the language or the shameless plug – I am trying to raise money for them after all, so whatever it takes. I’d shave my head and paint it apple green if it would help more people put money in. Hmmmm, there’s a thought…….Ariadne, what do you think????
Can you believe that? I could not have believed when I started this blog last August I would feel like I do now. A lot of things have happened since then for a start, but certainly as far as the climb is concerned it is amazing. I remember when I first decided that I wanted to do it that I could have booked a trip there and then to do it in a couple of weeks time, but thank goodness that I didn’t. I do not think that from a ‘cold start’ as it were that you could be ready for this sort of thing inside about four months. There is just so much to do.
So how do you feel, really feel, when you are just four days away from flying off to Africa for the first time, on your own, to go and stay in a strange town and then trek for a week up to 20,000 feet or thereabouts? To a place where you might end up injured, hospitalised or worse? Well it is one of those obvious questions, or at least to me it is. A bit like asking that floozy (what was she called again – Mandy Smith or something) ” as a 21 year old, what attracted you to the 93 year old billionaire Fred Bloggs” (or whatever his name was). Well in my case I will tell you that the nerves are taking over for sure. I am feeling not scared exactly, as I am way too excited for that, but am certainly on edge. I am mostly just worried about the things I cannot control – what if I don’t get there, what if I lose my luggage, what if I get mugged in Arusha before I start the trek, what if I get toothache/flu/gastroenteritis/AMS etc.
The main thing that predominates now is just the sort of “get me to the church on time” type syndrome. I know I still have things to buy, things to pack, currency to collect, arrangements to be made, family and friends to talk to, cameras to be charged, insurance to be sorted etc etc. It seems never ending. I still have the need to go to the gym too.
You can never be fit enough for this thing. I heard of someone today who cycled across Canada a month after doing Kili and described Canada as “positively easy compared to Kilimanjaro, which was the hardest thing I ever did“. So tonight I went and tried my new fitness programme out. It hurts! I did my Spiderman push-ups (they’re real – google them!), my Rockclimbers, my 30/30 rowing machine exercise, my 100% incline Nordic Climb stuff etc., and it all felt pretty good, all apart from feeling out of breath and in pain on pretty much everything that I did!
I then thought “what’s the point?” – I have four days to go, and I cannot make any difference now to what I am, or what I can do. Well I will answer that question for you here below:
I got a post today by way of donation on my charity page. From Dan and Becca’s mum, Sue. It said “..Good luck with the trek – Your Mam would be very proud..”. Now this shows two things – one that she is a very lovely person, and so I am saying right here publicly that I am immensely grateful for her donation and the message itself. Secondly it answers the whole question about the point of this, and why I am doing it at all. So:
Mam – God bless you. I love you, and will do this mountain for you. When I come down, it will be close on ten years since you graced this earth, and I will leave a little piece of me and you behind on the mountain top.
So how soon should you start packing? Being as handy as the next bloke at packing, but being definitely better than the average guy at procrastination, I figured that I could do it next weekend, which is when I go after all. Sounded like a plan to me. Seems I was wrong. Seems I was being told to pack a week ahead of time! This seems overkill for me, but as the prospect of not unpacking and packing all over again all seems fairly remote regardless, as I will no doubt have several panic attacks whereupon I decide that I haven’t packed enough, or can’t find something, and it will all end up all over the floor again!
Anyway, armed with a list, and another list, and some help (much needed:)), I went at it. After some time, my bag was packed to heaving with the things that I need, or want. Only problem is, that not all of them will go in! I am going to need a rethink I believe. I also have managed to include just three T shirts, one jumper and two pairs of walking trousers, and that is the total sum of my clothes for eleven days away! Hmmmmm, not going to happen.
Then I realised that there were certain things that I didn’t have yet. These include a memory card for my camera (I have ordered three so far for my new camera, and none have arrived. Long story there , don’t get me started on it), a charger of any description for my phone and a few other bits and pieces. I had heard via travbuddy of the Powermonkey, a portable solar charger for mobile phones, so I thought I might just have to have one. I use an iPhone normally, and the battery on that won’t last me a day without being charged, so it would be useless on the mountain. In fact I had already decided to take my Blackberry instead in the hope that the battery would last. I would love to be able to text Dan and Becca when I get to the the top, and to at least tell them that their old Dad made it to the roof of Africa, although just saying that is no doubt tempting fate.
So anyway to cut a long story short, I managed to get said Powermonkey courtesy of Cotswold in Bicester. It’s quite nifty, and fairly rugged, and works:). It costs £65 normally, but they knocked me 20% off by virtue of the fact that I am doing a trek, so good for them.
So with a few more of these types of things stuffed into various pockets of my rucksack and my large duffle bag, everything seems to be coming together. Still way off deciding on what clothes to take though. I read someone’s blog today which said that on summit night they had 7 layers on the top half of their body and 4 on the bottom. I am not even taking that amount of clothing altogether!
So meantime back to work today, boo, and now only four more working days to go until it all happens. I feel like I am in a dream at the moment – it is all too surreal. I am sure I must be really distant, because I feel like I cannot see anything in front of me at any time of the day other than the mountain. It honestly pervades my every waking thought. It has become the monster, the elephant, but never in a bad way. It reminds me now of my all time favourite poem, Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, which just because I can and I want to, I will copy here:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
That poem has so much passion and meaning for me. I will be reciting it up a certain mountain for sure.
So on to tonight. Back to the gym, it is a Monday after all:)
I had a re-assessment of my levels with Tombo, a great young ex-Zambian personal trainer guy who has given me all sorts of new exercises to work on. He has shown me a great rowing machine exercise, and then strange things like Spiderman push-ups and stuff. I felt the benefits like straight away (or maybe it is just the pain in my badly out of condition belly that can feel the pain).
So tomorrow night I will practice them more. I know it is too late now to affect how I am fitness-wise for the mountain, but it is not too late to at least stay in shape, maintain what I have. I actually feel pretty good about it all right now, as far as fitness is concerned. There are many unknown things to cope with, but if I don’t know about them then I can’t deal with them can I!
So this week I have been corresponding with a few people who have done Kili before, and have received some fantastic advice. Thanks in particular to Melissa (who was there in January) who has been priceless in telling me things that I had not even considered. Little things like not spending too much time staring at the back of the boots of the person in front of you, but instead to take in your surroundings. And practical things like how sunburned and cracked your lips will get and so to reapply lip block stuff each time you take a drink.
I also discovered a really weird thing. Of all the people in all the world, and all the places to go, I discover that someone I work with is doing this at the same time as me, on the same route, on the same day! How weird is that? He is in a group of four I believe, and I am not sure how close our paths will be, but it looks like a fairly good bet that we will be bumping into each other a fair bit!
So meantime have been trying to get training in this week, with mixed success, but will be going tomorrow evening to the gym and at the weekend too – it is my last weekend after all. Need also to start packing, and to get my kit finalised. I am about to receive some berocca tablets and also hopefully get some zinc sun block.
I also must thank Henry Stedman this week , as he has featured this very blog on his website! If you therefore go to the following link you will see that fame, fortune and glory is all mine (haha)…
I even more importantly learned something about people who do trips like this, and something about me. Talking about this being an adventure of a lifetime, and something which will change my life, is just a true statement. But it is more than that. It is about putting something back. I have heard of many (and know a couple) of people who have gone to places like this and end up devoting the rest of their lives to a cause which is similar. I remain totally open minded for now. There is also someone who works at our company who did a trek recently in Africa who now wishes to go and spend time in a school/refuge in Nepal to ‘give something back’ – I love that, I really do. I think it is fantastic, and wonderful, and I am sort of proud to even know them. It lifts my spirits entirely.
I think I would love to be on a ‘reserve’ somewhere, being responsible for the livelihood/safety of animals. Wildebeeste, zebra and the like. Do people actually do that? Shows you just how ignorant I am I am afraid. I just want to be there. Want to hear the Kilimanjaro song. It is too close now.
Finally for tonight, I heard funnily enough the song “Africa” on the radio today – how old (and odd) is that? Anyway here is the second verse:
“The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become…..”
I try not to be frightened of the thing that I have become, but to learn, profit educationally, and be enriched overall by the experience that lies before me.
I feel very lucky, and also a feeling of trepidation too. I hope that is healthy…….
I have tried my best I think without being obsessive about things to get fit for this thing in front of me. There are lots of levels/degrees of fitness however, both mental and physical.
It has been interesting to watch and observe people at my local gym (The Park Club, Abingdon, Oxfordshire) over the last few months. I like watching people. You see the same faces and also the new faces, the happy and determined, the unhappy and undetermined. People seem to fall into categories. There are the posers, male and female, who spend nearly as much time looking in the mirrors at themselves as they are clearly wishing that others would look at them too. There are then those who are just there to be social, as they clearly do not spend time or effort on any of the pieces of equipment. Then there are the muscle-bound crew, whose aim is to show just how big their guns are, and to out-pump the next guy. It is all good fun.
So I remain committed meantime just to being as fit as I can within the constraints of work and life and stuff, and without ever trying to be too OCD about it. Trouble is, when you are as undisciplined and generally lazy as I am, you just have to push yourself. So I think now that there has been only one day in the last two weeks when I didn’t do some form of gym or exercise.
At the weekend for example I got up early Saturday and did a spin class before I went shopping for my remaining kit (which I find out today I need more of by the way – more of that tomorrow, – I mean what the hell is berocca, and how are you supposed to know that you need it?). Spinning was hard, but I did most of the climbs at gear 18 on the Kessler M3, for those of you out there who know your stationary bikes:), which was hard enough for me. Then on Sunday I did a walk of about 6 miles, including a small-ish hill, called Beacon Hill, in Hampshire. Nothing too strenuous, but a good pull, and in full boots and stuff so all good for something! Here is a piccie of me at the trig point at the top:
So meantime it is now Tuesday and I have a small dose of man flu, which I am hoping goes quickly. I am away through work for I think the next couple of nights and so training will be difficult. There is I suppose now a very limited difference in just 12 days (12 DAYS – Oh my God!) that I can make to my fitness levels, although I do have a new personal training session booked for next Monday just to see if the last week can be made the most use of etc.
At the weekend I will do a couple of gym sessions too – it cannot hurt after all, although in my case it always does, actually:)
So this weekend I went and bought most of what else remained from the list of things that I needed.
I have started to assemble things accordingly too. 13 days to go now – is that too early to start getting ready? I don’t think so!
So here assembled you will find a host of stuff that will come with me, and this is all before I start to put together clothes, sleeping bags, boots and the like. Everything here as far as I am concerned is essential.
There is, from top left across:
I hate to think how much this lot cost me. Or actually I don’t. It doesn’t matter really. It is all necessary, or not. How much I use is by the by – if I didn’t take just one of these things then I would probably find that I had a need for it. I will be away in Africa for 10 days after all, and have to carry (between me and the porters anyway) everything that I need for 72 miles – if it is not with me then I will not be able to use it. Which reminds me – better go and buy some toilet roll……
I was staggered today. Gobsmacked. It takes a lot for that to happen to me. I also know what a horrible, destructive, irrepressible illness cancer is. Here’s why I mention this:
There was a donation today on my charity page for Bowel Cancer UK:
from a gentleman (that word understates him, his generosity, and just how magnanimous, and indeed magnificent he is) for £250. Better than that, he did it unanimously, with a false name. The word ‘respect’ is so incredibly small here as to be almost worthless. I bow down to this act with an incredible humility, an unworthiness in fact on my part.
It has made me outrageously emotional tonight.
That gets me up the mountain, if I can beat the will of all those quirks of fate that I trust do not conspire against me.
Far more importantly, that is what I strive for, to be the sort of person that he is. And that is what the mountain has brought me.
I will never actually forget how I feel at this very moment. Ever.