It’s here, it is finally here

I almost cannot believe that I am writing this post. Tomorrow I will set off on the adventure of my life, to Everest Base Camp, and to (hopefully) the summit of one of the world’s great trekking peaks, Island Peak.

Island Peak, Himalayas, 6.189m

Since I decided to do this trip I have always felt incredibly nervous about it. So why do it, you may ask? Well there are several reasons why it is happening, and so let me explain.

Firstly I needed since doing Kilimanjaro to push myself higher and harder, and this has both of those elements.

Secondly I have a love affair with Everest, the whole notion of it, and have become a junkie to books, films, websites about it. I claim to have so far scratched only the surface of it, but I had to go there and see it, it has become a pilgrimage in that respect.

Thirdly, it is because of so many people saying that Everest Base Camp is so, well, uninteresting, that I had to do something else to combine it with. I am told that EBC is dirty, that you can’t see Everest itself from there (or not the summit anyway), that it is ugly and featureless. I care about none of those things of course – for me just being there will be the greatest thrill imaginable.

Fourth, it is about reaching a peak. If you have followed my blog previously you will know that whilst I don’t spend a lot of time on mountains, my greatest emotions seem to come out when attaining a summit. It can be a small ridge in the Lake District, or a massive climb with fixed ropes and ice axes like this one, but the attainment and the achievement is always the same, and something that I can scarcely put into words.

This trip actually is the product of a number of things, most particularly a conversation between me and a friend Paul, of “Darina and Paul” fame from Kilimanjaro (see previous blogs again, or let me know, I can send you links if you ask me nicely :)). So after we had been skiing earlier this year, Paul said that he’d like to go to Annapurna. I did too, but I felt that I couldn’t go to the Himalayas without at least seeing Everest, it just wouldn’t have been right for me. Paul then said that he wouldn’t like to just go to Base Camp without climbing a mountain, and I agreed, it would be frustrating. So we agreed to not do the trip basically, although then I decided that I just had to go and do it. Paul is now doing the New York Marathon, and will be off there soon (whilst I am away in fact) to do just that. So to Paul (and Darina, and Jason, and Ryan, and everyone else who is doing it) – I wish you the very very best of luck.

This trip for me is harder by a long chalk than anything that I have ever done. I will spend over a week at altitudes over 5.5km up in the air. I will be climbing an ice ridge which totally freaks me out.

I am so excited about it that I don’t know if I will sleep tonight at all.

There will be no more blog posts from me until I return from my trip, as I do not have the means to get them up here live as far as I know. I will do a daily diary however, and will describe to the fullest the things I experience, and this will be posted when I am back.

I am going on the same path as that followed by all of the great Everest expeditions themselves, from Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay, to Reinhold Messner and Ed Viesturs, and all of the mountaineering greats. I will move from the Dudh Kosi Valley to the Khumbu, passing through evocatively named places liked Namche Bazaar, until I reach the mighty Kumbu Icefall, which is the glacier coming down from Everest herself.

When I (hopefully) reach my destination of Island Peak, I will from the summit at around 20,400 feet be amidst (and be staring at) three of the highest five peaks on earth.

The words ‘bring it on’ seem sorely and hopelessly inadequate. I hope I am up to it……may I say wish me luck?

Pete’s Dragons Conquer Kilimanjaro!

I received the most wonderful email last night from Rebecca Layman, who is also known as ‘Dragon Bex’, of Pete’s Dragons fame. For those who don’t know about Pete’s Dragons, then please see the link below. I shall also quote from their website to tell you a little bit about them:

In January of 2010 Peter Wicks passed away. He was aged just 24 and the younger brother of Diva Dragon. Diva and her friends decided that the only way to say thank you to the people and agencies who helped Pete’s family and friends through this hard time was to raise money and awareness for them; to ensure that they can help other families in their time of need.

http://www.petesdragons.org.uk/Core/PetesDragons/Pages/Why_Petes_Dragons_1.aspx

I came across the Dragons last year, when I (and they) did the Great British Bike Ride, and I posted my small but enormously emotional tribute to them in this post here from last September:

https://aquavista.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/to-petes-dragons/

The poem referred to there I still cannot read without being moved to tears. I think what the Dragons are doing is nothing short of amazing, and it makes me feel very honoured just to have some very small association with them, even if just by sponsoring their efforts now and again.

So anyway, being friends with the Dragons on Facebook, I get to follow their activities, and noticed that Rebecca was doing Kilimanjaro a few weeks ago to raise more funds for their wonderful cause. I got to correspond with her a few times before the trip, and tried to offer a few snippets of advice from my own experiences. It was just nice to be able to share a few of them again – Kilimanjaro will never leave me, and I am so grateful to have such wonderful memories of my own time there.

I was so happy to find out that on 8th September 2011, Dragon Bex summitted the world’s highest free-standing mountain. Fantastic!

Dragon Bex at the roof of Africa

Bex has done a write up of her experience, and with her kind permission I am posting it all here below for you to see. It made me smile, laugh, and also cry, and brought everything back to me from my own trip. I am so happy for her, and for all the Dragons. And if you enjoy it half as much as I did, then please show your appreciation by making a small donation to their chosen charities – a link to their charity page is provided here:

http://www.petesdragons.org.uk/Core/PetesDragons/Pages/Your_chance_to_donate!_1.aspx

By Dragon Bex:

    Trip of a life time


It is Summit Night. It was cold and dark, as 7 people crowded around the table in the mess tent. Somewhere outside we could hear the muffled laughter of the porters exchanging jokes in Swahili. In the tent we sat with our head torches on crowding closer to Ramson our Head Guide.

“In my village at the foot of Kilimanjaro I often take a meal with some of my tribe elders.” Said Ramson in his excellent yet heavily accented English.
“I have been a guide on Kilimanjaro for some years and they still ask me the same thing- “Ramson we don’t understand why do the Mzungu do it? (Mzungu is the collective term for white man) The mountain is dangerous, you can get very sick and die up there, it is cold and bleak- and they spend a fortune to do it…….why Ramson Why?”

As I reflect on my amazing adventure “Why” indeed!

Earlier that week on Saturday we arrived at a very dusty Kilimanjaro airport having flown from Heathrow to Kilimanjaro via Addis Ababa and Mombassa. Very tired, myself and my companion Sue climbed on board the bus to be confronted by the tallest man I had ever seen. He explained that he was Paul the chef and introduced us to the rest of the team: Ramson our head guide and Amos and Thomas his deputies. Paul explained that his height was not unusual as he was half Masai and in fact at 6 foot 7 he was the smallest in is family! In addition to these 4 chaps there were also 18 guides who came up the mountain with us (more on them later) some who accompanied us on the bus and some who we were to meet the next day before the climb.
As Sue and I settled in our seats our fellow Mzungu joined us. A lovely couple from Northern Ireland; Daphne a Nurse and Rob a retired drug enforcement Policeman, Fiona from Scotland who ran her own pet grooming firm and Nigel- A paramedic who we referred to as the “Camp- Medic” ( Take that as you will!) All lovely people and will be friends for life I have no doubt. They were also really interesting and great fun and the conversations we had on that mountain were awesome and got me through some tough moments.

After an hour of driving Paul signalled to something in the sky. I thought he was pointing out an airplane or a bird, but no, nestled in the clouds was our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro. I don’t think anyone was prepared how big this mountain was and the mood on the bus changed…….Ramson noticed and quietly remarked that as long as we gave Her the respect she deserved we would all be ok.

We arrived at our Hotel, (lovely) had a few beers (lovely) and looked forward to the next morning and the start of “The Climb”.

There was no need for an alarm the next morning as the 18 porters had arrived with food for 7 days, our tents all the equipment and were noisily strapping it to our bus. I must now talk about the porters who were for me the absolute stars of the journey and there is no way on this earth any of us could have done it without them.

The first thing I must mention is how poor they are. They are paid very little and are poorly equipped. We all had spent a fortune getting ourselves kitted out with boots, warm clothes etc but some of them climb, every day, in flip-flops. I also need to mention that they carry the majority of their bags on their head. Yes head. They also can make several trips to and from the various camps on a daily basis to ensure the Mzungu have water. Each of us had to carry 5 litres of water per day in our ruck sacks so you can imagine the volume. Many don’t have sleeping bags and huddle together at night in a very flimsy tent. (This is also generally the same tent that Paul cooked in- Health and Safety…!?) Having said all this they are always smiling; are unfailingly polite and helpful and love to teach you Swahili; Jambo “ Hi”- Poa- “Cool” Habari Gani? “How are you”. Fiona thought she was being highly amusing by feeding me some lines from her Swahili guide book: I couldn’t help wonder why the Porters fell about laughing (Fortunately they have a brilliant sense of humour) when Fiona suggested I say

“Unafanya nini wikendi hii, Unataka kwenda kucheza densi”

Which roughly translated means: “What are you doing at the weekend would you like to go dancing?

Hmmm thanks Fi!!

So back on the Bus and off on the two hour drive up into the foot hills to the Rongai gate to start our climb. Now to give you some perspective we started walking on Sunday at lunch time at over 2000 m above sea level. This is higher than Ben Nevis the highest mountain in the UK. The weather was lovely and hot, the sun was shining and spirits were really high…

I think the problem with climbing Kilimanjaro is that the first 2 and a half days are relatively easy. Monday and Tuesday are spent walking up hill at a slight gradient, very slowly for about 4 hours in the sunshine, looking at the wild life, pretty flowers. Chatting, eating sweets, playing games getting to know each other and having a jolly time. Altitude sickness pah! We had would stop at camp for lunch, have a rest, go for a high walk in the afternoon to help us acclimatise and then have a nice dinner…..What comes as a shock is summit day ( More of that later) and also the lack of hygiene that slowly creeps up on you…which leads me to the Camps…..

Let me make this clear, there is no running water on the mountain. No electricity or gas. So clearly there are no showers. There is the odd “drop toilet” at camp and believe me, having used one of those I now know what hell smells like. It is also advisable at night not to use your head torch in the toilet as any glimpse down into the “pit” will lead to dry retching. I made a decision early on that I couldn’t use the “toilets” and felt happier going behind a rock. This is known as “checking the tyre pressure” I have no idea why! Each day at some stage on the walk the girls would go one way and the boys another, armed with toilet paper wet-wipes to relieve themselves by a rock….leave your dignity at home!
The next thing to mention is the dirt….it is very dry and dusty in Africa and the dust is so fine that it gets everywhere, ingrained into your deepest pores, it goes up your nose (black bogies) and into your ears, not usually a problem, however there are no showers so it is impossible to get clean. There is of course the “Shanklin Shower” named by Daphne which is a wet-wipe wash of your face, arm-pits and…well you can imagine the rest! We all turned our noses up at the start of the trip as the porters were a bit pongee but by the end we didn’t care because we smelt just as bad!

So with the exception of no showers or toilets the camp is made up of the Mzungu’s 2 man tent I shared with Sue, (cosy is the best way to put it) the “mess” tent where a trestle table and 7 chairs sat, where he had our meals and a bigger tent which had seen better days which doubles up as the porters accommodation and the kitchen. Now a huge amount of credit goes to Paul. I have no idea how at 4 km above sea level he managed to produce some yummy food. Breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, Porridge, Spanish omelette, bacon on some days and sausages, with lots of coffee. In the evenings after our walk we would come back to popcorn and hot chocolate. For our supper we would have soup followed by coconut based curries and pasta. It wasn’t Cordon Bleu but you eat everything that was put in front of you.

So I hope I am painting a picture so far of lots of- if somewhat dirty-fun.

And then Wednesday morning came and everything changed. As today was summit day and we had no idea what to expect……..

The days started with a 5 hour walk to Kibo Hut which is the last camp before the Summit at aprox 4500m above sea level. Now this is the tricky time for altitude sickness. Whilst we had been walking very slowly for the last few days and walking high in the afternoons- this was a critical time to get our bodies used to what was to come. The terrain suddenly started to change too, from lots of vegetation to desert as it is too cold and there is too little oxygen for anything to grow. It also started to get very cold, and we all had to put on gloves, hats and several layers. When we arrived at Kibo hut the mood was slightly flat was we were tired and frankly in my case scared of what was to come. After lunch we rested and were fed again early evening and briefed on what to expect that night. Ramson explained that we were to get as much rest as possible because at 11pm we would be roused from out tents to start the walk to Uhuru Point 5895 m above sea level with an expected arrival time of 7am the next day. We would be given a small bowl of porridge before we started as it was likely that we would be sick if we ate too much. We were to take the bear minimum in our ruck sacks: 5ltrs of water carefully wrapped because it would freeze, any sweets, flapjack or glucose tablets we might need. Two pairs of gloves, socks and other warm clothes, our head torches as well as sun high factor sunscreen because when the sun came up we would burn.

I have no idea what I thought about for those 8 hours. It was pitch black, we walked unbelievable slowly on a variety of terrain; we scrambled over rocks, slipped on scree, all at a very steep gradient. It was so cold (-10 degrees) I could barely feel my hands or feet and we were so very tired, I am fit and have done a huge amount of prior training but my muscles were on fire. We should have been tucked up in bed, yet Ramson would not let us rest too long for fear of getting to cold or falling asleep. Is strange, you are with a group of brilliant people who you have bonded with of the last few days and there are several other groups of people from all over the world ascending at the same time, so you are not alone however it is a very lonely experience walking in the cold with your own thoughts and fears of not getting to the top. Altitude sickness can hit anyone, no matter what age, gender, or fitness level. You have to keep focused though on the task at hand. Big strong men in their prime are being taken back down past you, covered in vomit with their noses bleeding because they could not cope with the altitude. You have to just keep going slowly and pray that the terrible headache you have and the acute shortness in breath will not lead to anything more dramatic.
I have focused on the negatives here because it was really really tough but it was also amazing. I was given a piece of advice by a Kili veteran before I left- make sure you look up from the boots in front of you and take in your surroundings. I am so thankful for that advice…..as mentioned there were several other groups on the mountain ascending at the same time as us and as we zigzagged in the darkness it looked like a beautiful pilgrimage to yet unseen point, as the little groups of light created by the head torches bobbed up the mountain. With no light pollution, the stars were like nothing I have ever seen- you could see the Milky Way and I lost count of the shooting stars. Dawn breaking made the pain disappear… (momentarily!) Sunrise at 5,500m above sea level is something to behold, we were so high we could see the curve of the earth as the gold line of dawn on the horizon lit up everyone’s dusty faces. Shortly after we felt warmer and I could feel my hands and feet again. Looking down we could see a blanket of cloud several hundred metres below us. We were now nearing the end and could see in the distance the summit, so tantalisingly near yet still so far. I thought it might be snowier at the top but it is Spring in Tanzania and Global Warming has shrunk the ice cap. What is left is still majestic, massive turquoise lumps of ice.

The feeling when you get to the top is strange. I felt personally felt a huge sense of relief and sadness in a way (everything you had planned for the last year was over), a few people shed a tear, some laughed hysterically. After taking the iconic pictures, I just wanted to get the hell out of there! I had gone from extreme cold to now very warm in the African sun; I was hungry and wanted my tent. The mind works in mysterious ways and I got a sudden surge of freakish energy, frankly I think I went a bit bonkers because, with the permission of Ramson, I ran down……..You walk up one side of Kili on summit night but part of the journey back down is 2km of sand dune, I had so much fun running and rolling down from the peak, I-Pod blaring return to camp to the best tasting glass of OJ ever, juice delivered by a smiley porter..

So you are shattered, you stink, you can’t wash, or use a toilet in private you are hungry but an hour after you get back to camp you have to pack up because you still have two days of walking to get back to the bus!! These last two days were in a way my favourite, you are all mad with fatigue- everything is very funny, the food is deliciously because you are always hungry and the sleeping bag is like a four poster bed because you are shattered….On our final night on the mountain the Porters got together and sung as songs in Swahili which was incredibly moving as we gave them gifts of our old tee shirts and smelly socks…they were so grateful!

The best bit though….. collecting my certificate at the bottom and celebrating with my new friends and a Kilimanjaro Beer.

RIP Severiano Ballesteros – 1957 – 2011

I decided some time ago (in fact from the start) that my blog would never be about trivia, or even things much more important than that, like relationships and family. Those latter things are the truly important things in life, and putting thoughts down here in a blog about them can firstly never capture them properly, but also is just not a medium for them. Not for me anyway. The only exception I think I have made to this is when on the eve of my trip to Kilimanjaro, I put a post up about my Mam, who had died ten years previously, and I wanted to pay tribute to her, as I was climbing Kili to (amongst other things) raise funds for Bowel Cancer, from which she had ultimately died. I say this as a bit of a precursor to this post, but not an apology for it, as I wanted to record today as an exceptionally sad and emotional day in my life, and one that I will reflect on in my future endeavours and efforts in life.

Today the incredibly sad news was announced that Severiano Ballesteros, former world no.1 golfer and five times major winner, died from Brain Cancer, after a long illness stretching from 2008. I don’t remember the last time that I cried, but that happened today. Severiano (or just “Seve” as he was universally known) was an incredible icon, inspiration, and hero to me. I was brought up with golf by my Dad, and was lucky enough to see a lot of golf from inside the ropes as a part time European PGA tour caddie during the mid 1980s. I was also lucky enough to have met him and caddied in the same group as him, when I was caddying for fellow Spaniard Jose-Maria Canizares.

I followed golf and Seve’s career quite arduosly, and having been at probably ten British Open Championships from around 1981 to 1990, he was always (alongside my other childhood hero Jack Nicklaus) the one I looked out for on the course. When Jack Nicklaus walked down the 18th fairway the crowds would roar, and give him a standing ovation for his fantastic achievements, and it made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. With Seve the crowds would follow him everywhere, which was often where he was, so wayward sometimes were some of his shots. And that was the thing about Seve – he was a marvel, a magician, a genius in every sense of the word, but he was also almost ‘human’ – he could sometimes just knock one into the trees like the average golfer. It was then what he did with it when it was there that made him so special. I remember seeing Seve play shots that I thought were impossible – he left me speechless altogether.

Seve, for the record, won 91 professional golf tournaments, including five major chamionships. He also has alongside Jose Maria Olazabal an unparalleled record in foursomes at the Ryder Cup, and his determination at that event simply made it what it is today, no question about it at all. I have to put the following clip in here, which is from the 1984 British Open at St Andrews, where the expression upon his face at sinking the winning putt epitomises so much of how Seve played his golf, and entertained at the same time:

I want though, to remember Seve for so much more than just his achievements in terms of golfing prowess. The following tribute, which was his Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show, is very fitting indeed, and shows the mark of the man:

Seve’s ruthless determination to win is also embodied in this quote, made I cannot remember when, but it is just him all over:

“I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck, but I am thinking, ‘I am going to bury you.”

For me, Seve was also the ultimate professional. It stood him above golf, and above sport. He had flair, yes; talent in abundance; drive and determination in spades. But he also had something else – he fought like a tiger, but was fair and graceful in defeat. He did anything and everything to win, and often did, but was so passionate and majestic in the way he carried himself, at all times. He transcended sport itself in fact, and made not just people who didn’t follow golf follow golf, but people who didn’t like sport at all like golf. He made them like Seve, because you couldn’t not like Seve.

He was a true gentleman, and an incredible ambassador for his country, for golf, and for life. He had passion, determination, and was and always will be, a winner.

Seve, you are my hero, the person I admire most in all of sport, and I cannot see that ever changing.

Rest in Peace.

Paul and Darina – They Made It!!

I am now back from my travels from the Zugspitze and also the Oktoberfest, of which more later. This is a brief dedication to Paul and Darina, who for those of you who have followed this page for some time, will know were away last week on a trip to attempt to summit the world’s highest free standing mountain, a certain Mount Kilimanjaro.

Well I was the happiest person alive (apart from them, I am sure) last Saturday morning, to get the following text:

“We made it, summited today. Tired. Catch up later. Darina”

If I told you that I was choked with happiness to receive this, then it would be a huge understatement. I told Heather at the time (we were sat in a mountain hut watching the weather in Germany) and I could hardly get the words out of my mouth. It more than made up for my disappointment of not being able to climb up the Zugspitze that very same day (of which more in a later post too, it can wait).

So please go and see their blog (http://mykilimanjarotrek.blogspot.com), donate some money to multiple sclerosis, or just enjoy the fact that they did it. It is wonderful, it really is.

I consider myself very very lucky to have come across two people as lovely as Darina and Paul. And I did so via this blog. They are simply two of the nicest, most genuine people you could ever meet.

I just knew that they would summit, and I hoped and prayed for them and their safe travels. To get that message was fantastic, and I look forward to hear more about their adventures when they return – they are right now I believe enjoying a very well earned safari, somewhere in the Serengeti.

So to Paul and Darina – well done my friends. You have been to a sacred place, where few will ever tread. It is the roof of Africa, and one of the ‘seven summits’ (representing the highest peaks on the seven continents). At just short of 20,000 feet (and 45% of sea level oxygen) a place where you rely on all of your senses and strength at once to get you to succeed in an atmosphere which tells you that you shouldn’t.

I am massively massively happy for you.

To Paul and Darina: Hakuna Matata, you are both ‘Poa K’chisi Kama N’Dizi’! (that’s the limit of my Swahili I am afraid:))

Can’t wait to see a picture of the certificates.

Happy happy days:):):):)

Kilimanjaro!

I haven’t mentioned Kilimanjaro on my blog for a while, but don’t for a moment think it leaves me ever, not even for a day. My blog statistics alone serve to remind me of this every time I log in, as the post “the summit….” or whatever it was called, had way more hits than any other post I did before or since, and so it sits there on the WordPress dashboard. I read the post again tonight in fact, spotted a couple of small typos and corrected them, and I actually cried with emotion at the recollection of Stella Point and Uhuru Peak, and everything in fact.

I feel so privileged to be able to say that I did it, and that feeling I am happy to say has not diminished at all. Paul and Darina, who visited me a couple of weekends ago, will be there in about three and half weeks time. I must write about that a little more sometime, but for now I wish them the very very best of luck on their trip. My thoughts will be very much with them throughout. If you happen to be reading this Darina/Paul, then if one of you would be so good to send me a text from the roof of Africa then that would make me very happy indeed. You’re going to make it both of you, I know it.

OK, so that was just a little indulgence for now. I have another important indulgence to sort out also, and that is the forthcoming Zugspitze/Oktoberfest trip – for starters I have to book some accommodation for the mountain where we will spend two nights. Did I tell you that I like mountains?:)

Right, so back to the cycling – I have today completed my long training rides, all of them, and so now I go into tapering mode. Whatever that is………

Alain Jourdain – A tribute to kindness

So after yesterday’s little quiz, I have another one for you. Even easier than yesterday’s this one. Ready?

Question 1 of 1:

What is this:

Not tricky is it?

Correct – it is a watch. But not any old watch, I promise you. I highlight it here for two reasons. The first is that it is the watch that I wore when I went up Kilimanjaro. It is just a cheap Timex job, and is very unspectacular. It was cheap, it glows in the dark, and is water resistant. That was all I needed.

You will also have noticed that it is a watch that is a bit scratched, and has the strap broken. This brings me onto the point of this post, and the title itself:

Today I went cycling at lunchtime from work. The weather conditions were absolutely atrocious, and it rained cats and dogs. Three of us did about twenty two miles, and I have perhaps never been as wet through in my whole life. Stupidly and unfortunately, after about a mile or so in, I turned round to talk to Neil, one of the guys that I was riding with, as he had just taken a mouthful of water from the back wheel of my bike.

As I turned back to face the front, my front wheel went from below me on a wet manhole cover. I tried to regain control but couldn’t, and I ended up flying into the kerb where I went over the handlebars and into a hedge and a fence. Having picked myself up again and counted that my fingers and toes were all still there, I discovered two very bloody knees and a few scratches up my arm, and that was it. I was very very lucky indeed.

So anyway, the ride continued, and about halfway round I notice that my watch is missing. I was very unhappy. It went up Kilimanjaro with me, and it is extremely special, probably because it is a cheap Timex, and that I bought it for the mountain only. I was wearing it today because my normal watch is broken and needs a repair. At the end of the ride I retraced my steps and searched high and low for the watch, checking the kerb, gutter, pavement, the hedge, and it was not to be found. I was gutted. I returned to the office quite upset, as it was something that I wanted to be able to look at in years to come and reminisce with.

After being back in the office for about an hour a few people had said to me that I should go and have my leg seen to, but all I cared about was my watch. I then had to go into a meeting for a couple of hours, and came out wondering whether I should go back one more time and retrace my steps. As I came out, the other guy who had been riding with us, Alain, was holding in his hand my watch, and told me he had gone and searched for it and had found it in the hedge!

I have to say, that in terms of a wonderful thing to do, this is off the scale. Firstly it was absolutely teeming down with rain, secondly he is stupidly busy with work, and thirdly it is not his watch. He did it because he is simply a wonderful and kind hearted person, who would give the shirt off his back to make any difference at all to other people. I have been fortunate to work with him for about nine months, and this is just the sort of person he is – utterly selfless, and wonderfully kind-hearted and good natured.

I was almost in tears as I thanked him, and I sent him a gushing note to express my thanks, and to which he replied with thanks as his humble, grateful and outstanding self. He deserves more than just thanks, and the world should have more people like Alain Jourdain.

Alain, I salute you. my scratches and bruises from today will fade, but the memory of a wonderful act of kindness never will. You are a prince amongst humanity, and so I thank you, truly, from the very bottom of my heart.

25 Days to Go!

I can hardly believe that there are just 25 days to go until I get to Lands End for the Great British Bike Ride. It seems rather surreal. I say this as someone who is filled with dread at the prospect of cycling 330 miles – I actually am very unsure as to whether I am physically capable of that at all. I have no idea what cycling more than 50 miles feels like currently, and time is rather running out.

I went out yesterday for my first cycle in almost a fortnight, and thankfully felt fine. I thought my holiday would rather have caught up with me (although I did do a few exercise bike sessions in the gym at the hotel, but it was hardly very much), but the legs apparently still work. I did 25 miles, at rather a good pace (averaging 20 mph, my best ever) and so all is back on track as such.

I got a call from Mike at the GBBR to ask if I wanted to go on their training weekend on the 13th August, but I have a big family party that weekend which I am hosting, so cannot do it. The weekend will be therefore rather a setback, as it will be no bike riding and probably a lot of vodka drinking (these things have to do be done sometimes :)). So much is happening now as far as the event is concerned, and I have a lot of organising to do. I still need quite a bit of kit, including some extra bib shorts as it is important to have a clean pair for each day, so I had better get the credit card out again. I have to sort out my transport down there too – I am hoping that I can get on the train with my bike, and then I have to work out how I get from Penzance to Lands End – I won’t be able to cycle as I will have too much kit to carry, so it could be interesting. Maybe they have big taxis down those parts….

Oh and another exciting piece of news that I picked up via Richard Hill’s twitter page (http://twitter.com/rhillrugby) – apparently Martin Johnson no less, will be riding day Three (Yeovil to Winchester) with us – how exciting is that?

So, with 25 days to go, that means I will be out probably only another 8 or so times in anger on the training front. The last week before the ride we have been told to take it very easy and get some rest before the event. I have only two weekends of riding therefore, and I need to make them count. Tomorrow therefore I am intending to do 80 miles, and then follow it with 60 on Sunday morning. There’ll be a few hills in there too. This will give me a taster of what is to come and how far I need to progress still. It is daunting, but very exciting too. It is interesting how you do progress with time, as the thought of 80 miles just four weeks ago would have terrified me, but now I am rather looking forward to it.

On Sunday after an early morning ride I am getting a visit from Darina and Paul, who are doing Kilimanjaro next month. They originally contacted me via this blog, and are coming to have a look at my pictures and stuff. I get to talk about Kilimanjaro all over again – yippee! Here is a link to their blog so you can see how they are getting on:

http://mykilimanjarotrek.blogspot.com/2010/07/updates-8-weeks-to-go.html

OK that’s all for now – off to work, and have just got my head together after an early morning swim in the Thames. Yes you read that right, I must be flipping nuts!