Monthly Archives: March 2016

Fighting Fear

Everyone has a fear. Something that stops us. Holds us back. You hit that wall of fear and give in. Never considering what might happen if you conquer it.

Your head starts to process the consequences of trying to overcome that fear and failing. You breathe a bit heavier. Your body sweats. Panic sets in. You break down and quit. Fear. A mental barrier that stops you achieving the seemingly impossible.

I’m afraid of being alone. Of not finding that soul mate who wants to spend their life with me and come on crazy adventures. Which is ironic given I’ve never been the most social of people and was married for so long.

The last five months I’ve never felt more alone. I hated London and my initial experience of it turned me off so much I couldn’t wait to get away. That’s changed. I’ve gradually come out of my shell and in the last month London has felt more like a home. I’d switched myself off to the possibilities and opportunities. This realisation slowly dawned on me over the weekend.

From just a 3 day walk I’ve learnt a lot. Not only logistically and physically but mentally. Being alone isn’t all that bad. I’ve had to be self sufficient and not rely on safety nets to catch me. Happy in my own company, being in my own head.

I struggled at times. I got emotional and cried. I’m not afraid to admit that. It made me stronger and more determined. I sucked it up and kept going. Thoughts of my family and friends. Thoughts of why I’m doing this.

The initial goal of these walks was to focus on something else to get over a bad period in my life but it’s snowballed into something that could change my outlook on life. I have never been more scared but I want to get out and keep going, have that adventure and make a difference if I can.

So I now embrace fear. I’m going to grasp and hold it tight. Enjoy it. Make it my own. No matter how small or stupid that fear is I will take it on and overcome it.

Dont let fear hold you back. Take the bold steps, have a big heart, breathe deeply and jump in.

Yorkshire Three Peaks

Last year I planned to complete the Yorkshire Three Peaks but because of a long drive down from Scotland the day before, it didn’t happen. Just too damn tired to get up early enough to start.

So when I planned my walks this year I wanted to try a few micro-adventures or days out walking and figured why not get a train and do this. It’ll be good training.

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First impression of Horton? It really is in the middle of no where. One pub and the Peny-Ghent cafe (which never seemed to be open) Not even a shop to buy provisions. Luckily I had a few things and my hosts were very friendly. Even acting as a taxi service to and from the pub, the station and the start point of the walk. I can’t recommend staying at the Pen-y_ghent B&B enough and if I find myself doing more walking in the area I will be back. 

When I got off the train and looked over at Pen-y-Ghent I couldn’t see it. It was covered in mist which was fine with me. I managed to catch another look later on and there was patches of snow. Even better. I like a challenge.

I ate a hearty meal at the pub and went back to the accomodation. Having had a late night previously it was very welcome and I embraced sleep.

My alarm kicked into life at 05:30 and I dragged myself up. Not even god was awake that early but I wanted a good crack at the time.  

After an excellent and very filling breakfast I was dropped off and set off towards Pen-y-Ghent. The weather was overcast and cloudy but there was no rain forecast. It wasn’t warm but not freezing. Perfect conditions.

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Pen-y-Ghent

Pen-y-Ghent wasn’t that bad with a nice little scramble. I was up in under an hour with a nice easy descent. I had planned my own route down towards Whernside to save some time and it seemed to have done the trick.
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I arrived at the foot of Whernside and was up by 11:30. I couldn’t believe the time I was making. However the descent really took its toil on me and I started to flag.

By the time I got to Ingleborough my legs were aching but I powered through. Ingleborough was by far the hardest of the three. There is a slow steady ascent to the foot with a steep scramble up to the top.

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Ingleborough.

 

The flat top offered little protection from the cold wind so I had a 5 minute break and walked back down to finish at Selside. The traditional finishing point is Horton but I’m not one for collecting trophies. I had got round the peaks in under 8 hours and could have easily made it to Horton. But this was a training exercise with Hadrians Wall in mind for the weekend after so I had done enough

The question was how I would feel after a long day’s walk with a couple of peaks to climb. Truthfully? I was stiff but the stretches I was given helped. And after a day? My ankle feels a little stiff (I felt it go a little coming down from Whernside) but overall I’m good.

Lessons learnt? Concentrate. I missed a feature and it made my life harder. I recovered but if I had caught it sooner I would have saved myself some aggravation. 

Also realised I could survive a long day on a good breakfast, a bag of jelly babies and trail mix. And plenty of water. Although I wont be doing that every day for 2-3 months.

Why Do This?

I’m just a normal guy from Newcastle. From an early age I was always interested in the outdoors and travel. I was a member of the cubs, then the scouts.

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Me at my first night at cubs

I joined an outdoor activity group at school when I got older and went away for weekends around the Cheviots backpacking or staying in outdoor centres before moving on to the DoE.

My Dad is a keen walker himself having completed the Pennine Way a few years ago and he used to take me out walking with him. I also got the chance to travel abroad with my mother, brothers and grandparents. I still remember my first trip on a plane and my Granddad pretending to pedal to get the plane going.

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Canoeing at Lightwater Valley with Granddad and brother.

While my childhood wasn’t without problems I had a good upbringing and was lucky to have the opportunities I did to go out and make my own adventures. The kids that the Youth Adventure Trust help don’t have those opportunities and so I made the decision to try and raise some money to help.

This charity rely on donations to keep going and the work they do is awesome. They take vulnerable or disadvantaged children and put them on an outdoor programme to learn skills and build their confidence up. They show them that there are good things in life and that they have a future.

I never had to be a full time carer for my grandmother at 11. Or had to walk two hours because my parents didn’t care enough to drop me off at a bus stop to go away for a weekend with school. Or actually just take me places. Some of the things I have read and have been told were heartbreaking and will keep me going throughout the walks. Not only that but the support of my friends and family, and in particular my nieces and nephews, whom I want to share my experiences with.

Through my walks I want to inspire kids and adults to realise that there is a whole country to explore on their doorstep. They don’t have to climb Kilamanjoro or ride a bike across the desert (although great if they do) Everyone has the ability to go on adventures whether it be a day, a weekend or a few months. Just dare to take that step, have the heart to carry it through and the rest will fall into place. 

I just need your help. I’m up for the challenge (and it will be tough) so please visit my Just Giving Page and donate what you can. And please share the link with your friends and family.

Thanks

Way Outside My Box

I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the last 10 months. Stuff I liked, stuff I didn’t like and a side I absolutely hated and feel shitty about just thinking back on.

Moving to London was a decision I made quickly. I’ve talked about why before. Moving down without really thinking about it was not like me but I thought I was making the right choice. It might not have worked out how I expected but I stand by that decision as I learnt from it.

Late last year I went through a bad period and spoke to a counselor. I decided to focus on changing things in my life.

One of the crazy ideas I had was to plan three long distance walks before embarking on a 1,300 mile Lands End to John O’Groats trek. I wanted a challenge, to find myself and just be in my head to see how I would cope. Given what I went through it doesn’t sound like a great idea but it helped me focus and try to get over things.

At the start of February I had an attack of self doubt about what I was doing and went for a 10 mile walk along the canals of London to think. The ideas snowballed into something more. Belinda at Explorers Connect had sent out an email about a charity event she was planning called Wild Nights Out for the Youth Adventure Trust.

Having done previous things for charity and never really raised that much money I was happy to keep the walks in my box and just do them for me. But the more I thought about it the more I realised it wasn’t just about raising money. It was about raising awareness for such a good cause.

I responded to the email suggesting I could do my walks for this charity and on a recent EC weekend I chatted to Belinda more about it and was sold. I’ve never been the most sociable person with a tendency to shy away from large groups and putting myself out there. But I knew I had to change my mindset and from the early conversations I’ve had this is something I am relishing.

I handed my notice in at work yesterday. I’ve always had a job so this concept of not working, not having a home and carrying my life on my back for 2-3 months is a new one and way out my comfort zone. But its an experience I yearn for and just the start. I have plans that are starting to loosely take shape and a crazy idea for another adventure down the line. Something that will challenge me physically and is pretty unique.

Its crazy to think but this time last year I was living in a huge semi-detached, mortgage paid off with a comfortable life. Now I am embarking on a whole new life that will take me places I only ever thought about.

It goes without saying that I couldnt do this without a network. My friends and family have been very supportive even though they are 300 miles away. I will always love and appreciate what they have done and continue to do for me.

With the love and support from people I am stepping out of my box, out of the comfort zone and undertaking a challenge that will test me in every way.

Winter Skills In Aviemore

Last year I joined Explorers Connect. A social network for like minded people into adventure and getting outdoors. They run weekends away and I booked onto a Winter Skills course in Aviemore.  The aim of the course was to learn how to stay safe when out on the mountains in snow, movement on snow and using crampons, handle ice axes, make ice arrests, some winter navigation tips, read weather forecasts and digging out a snow hole to spend the night in. 

Last week I found myself on a 9AM train from London to Aviemore via Edinburgh. The first leg was a 5 hour journey so spent the time wisely. Going over the routes for my planned walks.

I met a guy called Sandie on the second leg from Edinburgh. I knew him from a EC Xmas night out and I told him more about my plans and he talked about his. Great guy, loads of experience, good laugh and brilliant company.  He runs an expedition company called Extreme Expeditions and has big plans for his future as well.

After a long day we eventually arrived at the youth hostel. First time in a hostel since I was a kid. Brought back some good memories. And of course I had to have a bottom bunk.

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I met my roomies for the night. A young skier from Derby and a big Maori dude. His first words were “are you a light sleeper?” to which my reply was “yes”. He explained he fell into an icey lake a while back and as a result his throat had closed up causing him to snore. I told him not to worry about it. I’d be fine. Found out the next morning he spent the night in reception sleeping so not to disturb me. What a nice guy. People can be so thoughtful.

Anyway, after dumping my bags I met Sandie and we went to get our snow boots and provisions. Never worn B3 boots before but found them to be pretty stiff and unforgiving. I would realise why once I hit the snow. 

After sorting through my kit I met everyone else in reception and we headed out for food. I can highly recommend the roast belly pork at The Winking Owl. It didn’t touch the sides. Then a few rums in the Ski-ing-Do bar (not a big whisky drinker) before heading back to sleep. And I slept right through to 7. That has not happened in a long time. Being out of London and in fresh country air will do that to you.

After breakfast we met our MLs. Paul Lewis from Peak Mountaineering and Rob and Hannah. I was in Robs group. Really interesting and funny bloke. Prior to working as an ML for Jagged Globe he was an air traffic controller for 18 years. Like me he’d had enough and wanted to do what he enjoyed. He has led treks all over the world and was a font of knowledge and encouragement.

We got in our transport and headed off to the mountains for our first days training. We walked into where we would be working and got our first taste of the snow.

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When we arrived we learnt how to walk in the snow and stop ourselves from sliding using the ice axe. Rob also showed us the cat on the hot tin roof approach that included a meow. Essentially you stick your arse in the air and use your arms and legs to dig in to stop the slide.

We then learnt how to use the ice axe to help keep balance and cut steps and also put on the crampons to learn how to walk in them. Pretty much like John Wayne. If you didn’t you could damage your trousers. As I found out twice. As well as also some how tearing my downs. No idea how I managed that as I had my waterproof shell over the top.

We then had a break for lunch and walked down to a hut to get out the snow and cold.

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After lunch we set out again to climb one of the nearby mountains and put into practice some of the skills. We stopped halfway to dig a hasty cube.

This is used to check the layers of snow and look for signs of potential avalanches. The idea is to dig out a cube and look for compact ice, fresh snow etc. Once dug you start pulling and tugging to see if it gives. If it doesn’t then jump on it to see how much pressure it can take. Good indicator for the type of snow you might be walking into but obviously one cube doesn’t paint a whole picture. And I had to really jump to get this to break which was a good sign.

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After that stop we ascended to the top to see the view of….a whiteout….so we headed back down.

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The last thing to learn was ice axe arrests. Now given the seriousness of this it was a lot of fun sliding up and down a slope to practice certain scenarios.

With the day done we headed back to our digs for a shower and food. Belinda (the woman who runs EC) recommended we eat at Skiing-Do. The food portions were gigantic. I was ready for bed after mac & cheese, onion rings and a large plate of fries. Figured I needed the food and wanted to get lots of fuel on board for Saturday.

After another sound sleep we had breakfast and, after a quick equipment check from the MLs, were bundled in to the van to head off to the bottom of Cairngorm which would be our home for the night. After a two and a half hours walk we arrived at…. and set to work digging out our home.

Digging out a snow hole for 4 hours is back breaking work but there is nothing more satisfying than knowing you’ve accomplished it.

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Once done we dumped our bags and took part in one of three exercises. I opted for the winter navigation. I was cold and wanted to warm up. The objective was to find a cairn, then a sky tow and then back to the holes. Easier said than done. It soon got dark and a whiteout came. Perfect practice as far as I was concerned.

A couple of the people in the group didn’t know how to read a map or take a bearing so I took some time to explain it while we walked. Felt good to help and teach. That’s why I want to be an ML. Get more people interested in getting outdoors for themselves. After a while we found the cairn and the tow and headed back.

Once back we cooked. It’s amazing how long it takes for water to boil in the cold. Felt like forever but that chicken pasta was the best thing I had eaten as far as I was concerned.

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After eating it was bed. I would be lying if I said I had a great nights sleep. I was near the door and kept waking up because of the cold. But I’m not going to complain. It’s why we do these things. Because we love being outdoors. Although my foot would argue. Took me hours to defrost it the next day

When I woke up properly at 7 it took me 20 minutes to work out what I needed to do in my head, figure out where everything was and how I would do it. Thought it was just me but a few people said the same thing. That environment seems to slow you down and focus a bit more. 

After getting ready and making breakfast we packed and made a break for the summit of Cairngorm itself. After 10 minutes Paul made the decision it wasn’t a good idea. Lot of snow coming in so we wouldn’t see anything and we had to make our transport link. Sign of a good ML and something else I took note of.

We stopped in a cafe on the way down for a quick brew and bacon sarnie. And the views on our way down were just awe-inspiring.

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Back at the hostel a warm shower awaited. Man was it welcome.

After a repack of my gear it was off to catch the train back down to London. Heartbreaking. But it reaffirms that getting out from behind a desk and into the outdoors is where I want my life to go. It isn’t going to be quick and easy but it’s my goal.

Overall a cracking weekend. Learnt some new skills for the future and met dome awesome people. 

Check out my Twitter and Instagram feeds for more photos.