The jam jar encased candle light flickered in the ever deepening darkness was the only contact I’d have with my dad for the whole of the night. The wind toyed with my senses playing effortlessly with the trees, water lapping at the bank side. I re adjusted my bin bag and tried to settle for my first night fishing adventure, I was 8 years old, I never felt anything other than a feelings of contentment and comfort, outside cold or darkness only ever felt natural to me.
The build up of excitement as I sit at our patio doors watching the onslaught of big hard rain drops purposely fall from the sky so hard they bounce back into the air. The ground so dry I can hear the water being sucked into the grass. Before long another home cooked Sunday lunch freshly picked from the garden that morning is sitting heavily in my stomach and fuelling my desire to get outside and find every possible puddle to jump in, ruin yet another set of clothes! We are soon on the hill sliding down on whatever part of our bodies give us least traction on what is now a mud to puddle slip & slide. At 11 I am even further fuelled by being outside at one with nature, only being put off by the thought of the two baths to clean Sunday night but the thought of a hot meal always won me over coming home.
Tip toeing through the gates of Leon’s back garden at 7AM trying not to wake next door neighbours to find him as I did most Sundays downing pint after pint of orange juice at his mums disgust. His face filled with a love for cycling I’ve never since seen in anyone else, a love which has never left him, it’s who he is. Losing valuable seconds we scurry out the garden and head into the Derbyshire countryside, smiling laughing talking about today’s plans whilst at the same time trying to suck enough air inside us to calm the burning in our thighs. We stop to fill up at Ticknell shop, cheese & onion naps & fig rolls stock us up for our day ahead. 12 miles done we jump back on the bikes and settle ourselves into the long unforgiving hill that gets us every Sunday sapping us momentarily of our excitement for what the day holds for us.
The gravel path leads us down to the woods mist sitting low between the trees our excitement notches up another gear as we sprint off down the fire track winding around the bends pretending we’re Steve Peat. As the woodland gets thicker we pull up and gather ourselves before hitting our handmade of road track zig zagging round berms avoiding trees trying to stay flat over the jumps riding so hard just getting to the bottom still holding onto the bikes is the only goal. The day is spent digging holes with such purpose it’s as if we’re hunting for gold, moving trees so big an hour or two is passed just getting them into place. Our whole winter was spent digging, moulding riding over and over until daylight escaped us, that cold horrible ride home was always the toughest of training rides. I was 17, cycling is my life my closest friendships were grown and found in the years I spent in these woods…
My foot slid once again into the snow until my knee passes the thin frozen crust left by last nights freeze. Neither of us were expecting this to be such hard work or this route to be so steep. We again make eye contact as the snow continues to fall we say nothing but both know this is out of our comfort zone, not just out its burst through. We cannot down climb, nor move left or right the gully we have found ourselves in might at this point be the end of us. No rope, ice axes a purely exploratory trip our first in full winter conditions. I can see daylight the brightness making the day seem so inviting but for this moment the gully seemly wanting us to fully understand the stupidity of our actions shields us from the warmth we should by now have on our backs. We tentatively move upward begging with each footstep that the one thing that could kill us chooses to compress into another solid placement and grant us another breath and passage into the people we are to become from lasting out exploration of self. Any feeling of cold is swallowed by fear snow now falling so hard that hard inviting crust has vanished beneath soft fresh powder. Moving upward slowly with purpose into the unknown knowing at some point it couldn’t go on forever, we pause to check our own sanity “ok Tim” “yup” was the only reply, time seemed to stop the world left my side head only focused on moving, staying alive finding an end to this. Then there it was the twin stones of the summit, winter sun behind desperately trying to burn through the cloudy evening sky. On making flat ground we hug and burst into laughter our first winter climb in the bag, by the seat of our pants I might add. Deep inside I knew this had touched something and awoke a desire for empty cold dark miserable places. We laughter and talked the whole route down whilst inside my lust to be back in that gully grew and consumed me, that period of time where nothing matters more that each breath, footstep and hand hold. We swiftly as always head to the pub to talk over the day, plan the next adventure and talk about altitude mountaineering. I am 28, I wasn’t to know but this trip and many like it fundamentally changed my life, maybe for better,maybe for worse. I’ll never know….
Stepping out of the tent at midnight to see the never ending trail of head torches stretching seemingly endless into the night sky, zig zagging between the stars. I now start to worry and wonder what the hell I’m doing here, I close the tent up and tighten the laces on my boots “right let’s crack on” I join the back of the group as we wind our way up the path nose to ruck sack all sixteen of us. It’s not long before intermittent back problem slows me so a stop, I lean forward on my poles and stretch out the cramp and hope for ten minutes of walking before the next stop. Being able to breath or not haven’t even come into play as it hits 4AM guides are bringing people down the mountain who simply cannot cope with the thin air. Stop start stop start, I am frustrated beyond belief but my guide can see I’m only struggling with pain in my back as we talk freely as we walk. We climb on stop start stop start, now begging for the sun to appear to our right, hands feel frozen unable to tear the grip from my poles, with the wind building the guides says it’s the coldest so far this season our jackets covered in frost my right eye feels frozen shut, I refuse to test my feelings in fear they’re true. Stop start stop start, then out of now where the sun shows itself revealing the curvature of the earth I use it as another excuse to stop stretch out and savour the view, time has all but stopped I’m in pain but enjoying experience and didn’t want it to end.
I meet the group on their way back down at Stella point, they are moving slowly but all elated they’ve topped out. The cramps in my back are causing my shortness of breath, the final push with it now day light and 8 hours after we left the camp I’ve now got summit fever I can see it no turning round this is it I know my hard works paid off. 10AM I stand alone on the highest part of continental Africa, the highest free standing mountain in the world. I’m 31, this trips exploratory for myself physically and mentally. I don’t know how it’d gotten their but I left a piece of myself that I could finally take back.. Somehow going to Africa lead me to London, we truly never know what lies ahead for us….
Standing in court having the accusations against me read out, inside I’m broken but know I’ve nothing to fear, I’ve chosen to face this. I’ve not seen my son for over a year now, I cannot explain such a feeling having to prove you’ve done nothing wrong to the point of having a psychologists report to prove my innocence. I’m 32, I cry most of the two hour journey home. My comfort zones been pushed even further away, being comfortable with being uncomfortable is becoming easier to me now. Another thing to put in my motivation locker for a later date….
It’s 7.40pm, I’ve cycled 165 miles in under 12 hours, I’m so happy and broken all I can do is weep from my swollen eyes, I’ve traveled my human power for around 850 miles now in 6 days as I roll into Marlborough knowing I’ve only 100 miles to cycle tomorrow to take me to the beach and the start line of my first road marathon in Brighton. A week previously I had set out in the darkness to climb Ben Nevis, now some 900 miles south I’ve got to summon the strength to run 26.2 miles. I’m 34 and am drawing a line under my life with my first big challenge. A line to stay I’m going to be in charge of my life and which direction it’s heading. From now on this isn’t my chance it’s by choice….
I stand alone in a park, sun beating down for what must be the last glimpse of summer reminding us just how energising it can be. After a lengthy court battle today I watch my near 9 year son old run across the freshly cut grass towards me, without looking back his mum disappears. I’m 35 and today this is the first time in 4.5 years I’ve been totally alone with my son. We play on every piece of park equipment before I introduce him to picking conkers whilst trying to hold myself together from over spilling with happiness.
Life always will have a habit of throwing curve balls our way, it can be cruel, tough and punishing. But I’ve learnt through various times throughout the years that giving up isn’t an option, yes you’ll find yourself with your back against the wall and you’ll have to summon the best of yourself from somewhere.
Epic adventures are about choosing to put ourselves in those positions, and those places where to conquer and rise up against adversity we have to simply dig in, grow as a person and be better than before. We go in search of those moments where we have to grow because sometimes with the daily struggle of life it’s nice to have the choice to challenge ourselves….