In 83 days I, as part of Team Social Hiking, will be on a mountain somewhere in the Lake District taking part in the 10in10 challenge to raise money for MS Society. Actually as it is 6:13pm, I should hopefully be off the mountains and in the pub celebrating with the team after a job well done. But honestly? I am scared, very scared in fact, that I am going to struggle and ultimately fail to complete what on face value seems like a fairly straight forward challenge for a hiker.
The challenge does sound simple – hike 10 peaks in 10 hours (or 5 peaks in 5 hours, which is arguably just as difficult but over less time), but it is surprisingly tough. Last year I spent most of the afternoon at the finishes of both the 5in5 and 10in10 and every face going past showed that it really was a challenge – tiredness, exhaustion, determination and in some cases pain were emotions visible on most faces (as well as happiness, satisfaction, joy and pride in equal measure!). Our team, who raised over £2500 for MS Society, consisted of 22 social hikers – many of whom are experienced mountain hikers, and all of whom are at the very least practiced walkers, but they were not exempt and none of them looked like it had been anything other than a challenge (except Adrian, who looked like it he had just had a stroll on the Lickey Hills!)
Team Social Hiking 2014 (photo by @wellycath)
The reasons for my fear broadly fit into three areas:
Firstly I do not really do much mountain hiking, and have little opportunity before the day. I am mostly a countryside walker who strolls along lanes, through fields and over gentle rolling hills, which is very different to walking up and down mountains! I know from experience that mountains quickly reveal a whole new muscle group that is largely untested by rolling hills (the highest point near me is a whopping 225m above sea level!) Dartmoor, beautifully rugged as it is, only slightly helps – it has some quite high points but, as the whole Dartmoor plateau towers above the countryside around it, going from Tor to Tor rarely involves huge ascents. I remember looking up at the first ascent of 10in10 last year and being slightly grateful (albeit sad) that I had to pull out due to injury! Unfortunately work commitments mean few opportunities for strenuous training before the event. Beyond a week on Dartmoor and a possible weekend in the peak district, I only have my gentle rolling hills to practice on!
Secondly, I am not completely free of injury. My achilles tendon, which I injured in the snow on Dartmoor, seems to have recovered (although it is largely untested), however my back is of more concern. It was a major bout of sciatica which caused me to pull out last year and, thanks largely to the aforementioned work commitments, too many hours in front of a computer is starting to make itself felt in my lower back. At this stage it is just back pain with a bit of swelling, however the very occasional (and thankfully brief) twinges down my left leg are enough to hint at possible future dangers if I am not cautious.
Thirdly, and most frustratingly of all, is my MS. As I write this, the muscles in my legs feel sore and stiff, my shoulders and arms ache and I feel totally exhausted. What have I done to feel like this? A long Easter Sunday hike perhaps or a session in the gym? Nope. I took the dog for a walk in the local field – 1 mile tops…. This is MS fatigue – a lack of energy and unusual or excessive whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep. On the spectrum of what this disease can do to (or rather take away from) people, I thankfully sit towards the lower end – my day to day life, with a few adjustments (like my early-learning big key keyboard!) is mostly unaffected. Today’s fatigue is likely a culmination of several months of working too much (with the related bad diet and reduced sleep) rather than a single short walk, but fatigue has reared its ugly head before during a hike and my balance has been known to deteriorate on strenuous hikes.
But actually do you know what, as I write this, I am filled with a strong desire to not let this bloody incurable disease have its way. It might have its talons in me, but it does not have me – not yet at least. The mountains are not yet off limits, and every step I take on them is a middle finger up at MS.
So how can you help?
Firstly I want, and arguably need, you on that mountain with me. Left to my own devices, my inner strength will fade and my resolve will crumble – as soon as it starts getting tough, the map will be out as I plot a route to the nearest pub! However the more people out on those mountains with me, the more motivation I can borrow and sustain! It is not too late to join Team Social Hiking, and I would love for you to be part of the team. Just get in touch if you are interested.
Secondly, nearer the time, any support you can give the team (and me) would be very much appreciated – whether it is support on Twitter or a RT, it all helps to make a difference in getting me over those mountains.
Thirdly, it would be amazing if you could donate to help find a cure to MS and to support those affect by this condition. Even just one pound – it all helps, and hopefully one day a cure can be found for this disease. You can donate at: https://www.justgiving.com/teams/social-hiking