Monday, 22 March 2010

Weekend Findings

Spring is definitely in the air and the weather's getting better by the week which only makes me want to get out more, even if it's a short bike ride to the local playing field to sit in the sun with a book. The weather was good for the British Leisure Show on Sunday; blue skies and sunshine. Although not quite as big as I'd imagined there was certainly loads to check out. I watched the mountain boarders putting on a show, had a go on a coolboard (balance board), picked up the usual stack of free magazines and leaflets and nosed around the camping area choosing my next tent (I'm favouring the Vango Green Bean or Green Leaf from their new eco range).

Mountain Boarding is something I'm keen to have a go at so I'll be checking out the ATBAUK website in a bit more detail. There's a place literally up the road from me that does it but it's only open to "youths". Another company I'm interested in now is Camp In A V Dub who hire out VW camper vans. They're based pretty close by so collecting the camper would be easy. I'm feeling a road trip coming on! Something else that would be lovely to do in the summer months is kayaking on the Thames . And what do you know, there's a company that can arrange that for you! I could have tried scuba diving, kayaking, water orbing and quad biking if I'd felt so inclined. I could also have paid £25 to bungee jump but the thought of it made me feel a bit sick.

I watched Eddie Iz Running over the weekend and found it hugely inspiring and a little emotional in places. It's things like this that make me wonder what I'm capable of. Of course I'm not about to try and do the same thing. I imagine that without the sizable support team he had I'd find it even harder. But you never know. Probably best to start off with just the one marathon eh? The Million Pound Bike Ride was also impressive, not least because I realised how out of practice I am on Sunday.

This week will be my last climbing lesson. I've found out that I'll be returning to Berkshire from Wales, where I've spent my working time for the last 6 months, in just over a month. This means I'm on the look out for place to do the activities I was starting to get into in Cardiff. The local college has a climbing wall but I think it's limited. There's a new climbing centre opening in Reading in July though so I look forward to that. I'd like to get back into swimming, seeing as I've got a pool membership, and maybe start regular 5km runs with ParkRun on Saturday mornings. Then there's the free gym at work to make use of. Hurrah! Sadly I think Parkour's off the cards for the time being.

The knee's been feling a lot better since I went climbing last week but I've got a doctors appointment on Friday to see if Physio is an option. Would be nice to not have to worry about it one day. Oh and it's week two of the 100 pressups challenge. I managed to complete week one's schedule ok so I'm hopeful!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Sport Relief

Tonight is Sport Relief on the BBC. From 7pm onwards BBC1 will be dedicated to the event. There's been a few things shown on other BBC channels this past week including Eddie Izzards marathons and the million pound bike ride, both of which my mum has very kindly recorded for me for viewing at my leisure.

Something I've probably missed is Phil Packer's 3 Peaks Challenge. Phil was the chap who completed the London Marathon a mile a day on crutches, having been told he'd never walk again. There's a little video about it below, courtesy of Alastair Humphries.

Phil Packer and Kate Silverton climb the Three Peaks for Sport Relief from alastair Humphreys on Vimeo.

I'll be driving when the coverage of Sport Relief starts tonight but I'll watch what I can and catch up with the rest on iPlayer if it's there. I've been so impressed with what people are capable of.

As far as my activities have been going, I had my second climbing lesson on Wednesday which was great. I remembered how to do my knots, had a go at climbing with no hands, tackled an over hang and learnt about falling. Safely. I think I completed a 4+ or maybe a 5. I won't be doing the Reading Half on Sunday but will be supporting Shruti instead (from afar) and maybe going to the British Leisure Show in Windsor in lieu of The Outdoor Show.

Shruti's been making me decide what I want to do for my birthday this year and what I'd like. I'm getting a skateboard :)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Bored with Long Distance?

Try Ultra Distance. This seems to be a collection of challenges in the UK. Not content with climbing Pen Y Fan? Then try a route incorporating 31 peaks and 72 miles in 24 hours. The guidelines for ultra challenges are that they have to be at least 35 miles with at least 6000' of ascent where 90% is off road and is mostly mountain, moor or fell preferably with sections off paths.

Now I'm not going to be attempting anything like this any time soon but it's good to know there are things like this out there. Check out the website for full details of craziness.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Outdoor Show

Yesterday I won tickets to The Outdoor Show in Birmingham. I was thrilled for about 5 minutes before I realised I had a spa weekend booked in the New Forest (deserved and eagerly anticipated). I think these have now gone to a worthy home and I'm expecting to be brought back any decent freebies that are going. But I'm disapointed because the show seems to cover everything I have a passing interest in these days and much more besides. There are talks by James Cracknell, Ben Fogle, Kate Humble, Joe Simpson and many more besides. There will be stands relating to camping (with plenty of tents on display I bet), triathlon, cycling, climing... basically anything you can think of.

So I'm having to content myself with their website which seems to be quite a mine of information in itself. I've found some cool new websites to amuse myself with such as Cycling For Fun and information on mountainboarding.

I also found this page listed under the Mountainboarding section but it's about all extreme sports and in particular, a blind guy doing extreme sports. How inspiring's that!?

I'll just have to get to the show next year. I think it's worth a day off work...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Drop and gimme 100

In light of not being able to do my usual cardio workouts involving running and the like, I'm taking the opportunity to work on other aspects of my strength and fitness.

Now this is going to seem a little bit of a round about way of explaining something... I'm a big fan of the clothing brand Howies. They are associated with the DO Lectures. I'm also a big fan of these. I've been working my way through the last two year's worth on my iPod when I'm on public transport. One of these lectures was given by Alastair Humphreys who I found to be immensely inspirational. During his lecture he mentioned how he'd worked up to being able to do 100 press ups with the help of a website and plan. I thought this would be a cool thing to be able to do so I've hunted out said website and over the next 6 weeks I hope to work my way up to being able to do 100 press ups.

There's also a matching website for 200 sit ups which I may well try too.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Life After Kili

Despite having completed the trip that this blog was created to document, I intend to carry on writing, mostly because I feel I've started to find my "thing" with running, trekking and fitness and there's plenty more where this came from. I've thoroughly enjoyed all the training and running I've attempted this year and want to keep it up for at least a while longer. I want to take part in a triathlon (yes more kit, more training... god I love kit!), a few more races that I've either already done or want to try (the Grim Challenge being one) and learn a few more things like surfing. I might even join a running club, to see how that works out. I don't expect to keep up with everything, or for it to become my entire life, but I enjoy the challenges, the fitness factor and the thrill of achieveing a new PB or discovering you can do something you never thought you could. I also really enjoy writing about it all.

There are a lot of things that inspire me and so I'll be posting some quotes and details of sites and books, and maybe even films, that I particularly like.

Since I've been back I've not really taken much rest. I signed up to an indoor climbing course just before I left, on the basis that I enjoyed the taster session I wrote about so much that I wanted to take it further. It's funny how many people announce that they share an interest in something once you start doing it yourself. At least two people I know have been learning to climb that I didn't know about. Unfortunately they don't live very nearby. I was hoping to do the Reading Half Marathon this coming weekend and so went for a short run on Saturday to test out the legs. It was not good. My shins didn't feel 100% and my knee started to ache as well so I'm going to have to pass. I'm going to see if I can get myself referred to a physio, to try and aid and speed the recovery. This means running's off the cards for a while but this might be the time to try and improve my swimming. There were a couple of open water swims I had my eye on taking part in so I'll consider those a little more seriously. Also means I might not be starting Parkour either...

I managed to get to Cotswold on Sunday to get my boots replaced. Turns out that the seam on the heel of both boots was going and seeing as I'd not had them a year or put them through excessive use it seemed only fair I get new ones. Luckily there was no arguement and I'm not the proud owner of a new pair of Meindl softlines in this seasons colour. Which is dark grey. Only trouble is I've got to wear them in all over again. Good job Brecon's not far away...

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Commitment is doing what you said you would, long after the mood in which you said it has left you.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 8

All I wanted to do was get off the mountian. We were told we would have a mere 4 or 5 hours trekking left but I'm sure it was more. The scenery was beautiful so I tried to concern myself with looking around, keeping my distance from the main body of the group and listening to the iPod again. Newton Faulkner - "Photograph" was today's appropriate song with the lyric "don't take my photograph cos I don't want to know how it looks to feel like this". The weather was still being unpredictable. We'd had frost overnight and hail on the way down. After a mid morning break the sun came out and I somehow managed to get to the front of the group and just zoned out. The guide had to shout at me to stop and wait a few times.

I wasn't in the best of moods when I reached the bottom, but a hug from Alan, Justin and the Doc helped to turn that around. The Doc had some kind words to say for which I'll be ever grateful. I discovered that I'd managed to rip the back of one of my boots somehow. I'm hoping I can get it fixed. We took the minibus to a place called Glacier Bar for a buffet lunch, where we got to say our thank yous to the porters and dish out the tips. It was baking hot. We had a bit of a dance-off; the porters doing their "Maximum Respect" chanting and us with "Hey Baby (oo ah)". Then it was off to the hotel to freshen up and get ready for the gala dinner.

The hotel was superb. A shower has never felt so good and beer has never been enjoyed more. I was on my third before we even got to dinner. It was funny to see everyone in normal clothes, the girls with hair straightened. At dinner we all got a t-shirt bearing the legend "Veni, Vedi, Vici, Kili". Alan refused his but I decided I'd done enough to warrant one, even just as a souvenir. I've since worn it to my indoor climbing class. Dinner was over fairly quickly and somehow we all ended up back at the Glacier bar where there was a live band and a really terrible cheesy disco afterwards. The kind of disco that doesn't mix the songs, will play the same song twice in a row if it was well received and that you think's amazing because you've had three more beers, two sambucas and are managing to dance despite your knees being shot.

When we got kicked out at closing time it was back to the hotel bar which we forced them to reopen. Several deep and meaningful conversations later I found my way to bed. It may have been 4.30am. And there we'll leave it.

The next part of the story is really just about paying a quick shopping trip to the local town of Moshi and our 16 hour journey home. It was only when we were in town and driving through the African countryside to the airport that I really took stock of where I'd been. I would love to go back to experience Africa properly. I think I got more bites in the airport than I got in my whole time on the moutain but I did manage to sleep on the plane, which never normally happens.

It was lovely to see mum and dad again and get home. I had so many messages on facebook that I was quite overwhelmed. I had some cards and mum had bought flowers. Top prize goes to John though, for the carrot cake he'd made and posted ready for my return. John, you are terrific and I will never forget that. It was delicious too.

So that's the story of my Kilimanjaro adventure. I'm sure there's plenty I forgot to mention. Like the Nottingham boys leading the warm up one day and making us laugh so much. Like standing in a circle massaging each others shoulders. Like how much I missed Shruti. Like how my Nan has been quite encouraging with regards to trying again. Undoubtedly it was the most amazing and testing thing I've ever done and even though I didn't make the summit with the majority, I still think I've achieved something fantastic. Oh and I've raised over £4500 for charity. Not bad at all.

Kili Video Diary - Day 8

Kili Video Diary - Day 7

Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 7

This post actually starts on the eve of Day 7 at about 10.30pm. This was when we were woken up so that we could get ready for the summit trek. I say we were woken up but I don't think many of us actually got any sleep to speak of, which was unfortunate given that we'd just trekked for about 10 hours during the day, but understandable due to the mix of nerves altitude and excitement. There was little excitement to speak of at about 11.30 when we'd gulped down some Milo, forced a few biscuits down our necks and were facing a long walk, uphill, in the dark and cold, with head torches. We were probably wearing almost every item of clothing we'd brought. I for one was wearing long johns under my thicker trek trousers, the merino base I'd practically been living in for the last 3 days (and nights), t-shirt, long sleeved running top, charity t-shirt, fleece and waterproof, hat, merino buff as a balaclava and three pairs of gloves. I'd also packed my down jacket in my backpack as an emergency measure.

Set off we did though, at a very slow pace, over scree and slippery rocks, eyes on the heels of the person in front of us and iPods well and trully plugged in. I'd set mine to random which was proving to be rather enjoyable, whereas James had his set to Trance and seemed to be trying to rave his way up the mountain. My legs were still sore from the days trek and I felt really sorry for the Doc who not only had to try and get himself up the mountain but had to try and deal with all of our aches and pains and sickness as well.

We had many more porters and guides with us for this part of the expedition. I reckon it must have been about one each and it soon became apparent why, even if we'd not listened to the briefing before hand. It was about half an hour in when I started to struggle and was told to give my backpack to a porter, who effectively became my dedicated porter for the night. If this trip hadn't felt like an expedition and test of endurance during the previous day then it certainly did tonight. It was easy to think, at the foot of the mountain, that this was just a very long walk. It was easy to forget why you were doing it at all. The months of preparation seemed distant and charity was the last thing on your mind.

Despite the layers, whenever we stopped, it took less than a minute to start feeling cold. I couldn't really say how long I'd been going for when I sat down on a rock and started to cry, but it was at about 5100m. I had pains down the fronts of both legs, I was tired, cold, miserable and wanting to go home. Of course I wanted to get to the summit, deep down I always wanted to, even if at that precise moment I'd have said I didn't. The Doc made his way to me and had a chat. Well, he talked and I tried to make coherant noises between body wrenching sobs. Diagnosis - shin splints. Decision - mine to make as to whether I wanted to try and push on, bearing in mind that if it got worse later I'd have further to go to get back to camp. Hardest decision I've ever had to make. Harder than deciding whether to turn the PhD into MSc or whether to take a 6-month job with the National Trust.

I decided to go back to camp. I'd heard that shin splints can turn into hairline fractures and I felt I'd have had to have moved so slowly that I'd not have made it before sunrise anyway. Better a contender than a casualty. Miley Cyrus "The Climb" was playing on the iPod as I started back. My porter accompanied me all the way back, making sure I drank enough water. It's easy to forget to hydrate when you don't feel thirsty. I don't really know when I got back to camp but I just crashed out in the tent for a couple of hours. At around 8am I was woken by the porters asking if I wanted to move down to the next camp, where we'd be staying that night. I declined, just wanting to try and sleep some more. A bit later Alan, who had made it to 4800m before exhaustion set in, came to find me and we drank Milo and chatted in the mess tent, trying to figure out how we felt and how we were going to cope when everyone else started coming back.

Charlie was the first back. Or what was left of Charlie. He was being carried by two porters and looked like a shell or a person. Between 10 and 11am I think most people got back, few were unaided, some were being ill on the way. General consensus was that no one had enjoyed the experience one little bit. I almost felt glad I didn't make it. I do wish I'd been able to get that picture at the summit and do the dance. There's always next time. I brought a bit of the mountain back so I guess I'll have to return it one day. Maybe with a bit more rest I'd have managed. Who's to say.

Couple of hours kip and lunch done with it was time to head off to the last camp on the mountain. It took about 3 hours and we arrived early in the evening. Wash, dinner and the sleep was the order of the evening. I just tried not to have to hear too many stories about the summit. Apart from the one about James stripping down to a mankini... that one I could stand to hear.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Dance of the Porters

Let's have a musical interlude.

Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 6

This was my favourite day. We were climbing the Barranco Wall. We got up super early yet again to try and beat the crowds. Once we started climbing it was easy to see why that was a good idea. The bottlenecks happen pretty quickly. This was more like climbing and scrambling than trekking and I loved it! I'd have gladly done it again the next day and the next day. Don't ask me why, I guess it was just easier on some level than just trudging slowly up a hill.
And the views were just incredible!
But we had to head back down the valley afterwards and right back up on the other side for lunch. The whole up and down thing was getting rather depressing because you'd see the summit at an almost achieveable distance and then have to head AWAY from it for another hour or so. Lunch was more soup. With lashings of pepper. Yum. I got very emotional at lunch again (but not because of the soup) so Jo made me listen to his iPod for a bit... Razorlight - Before I fall To Pieces. Very apt. And it did cheer me up. The mood of the whole group was very up and down. We had a funny five minutes at our middle afternoon break which was fantastic. I tried to have a snooze at almost every stop and got told off repeatedly for it which I think was highly unfair.
It was a tough old day. About 10 hours of trekking in total and really steep towards the end. The camp we ended up at was perched on a ridge. A little precarious perhaps but well in reach of the summit. We arrive fairly early in the day by relative standards and by 7 we were all trying to get tucked up in the coldest camp so far to grab a couple of hours sleep before we set off for the summit attempt.

Kili Video Diary - Day 6

Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 5

Day 5. Up even earlier. A glorious eight hours of trekking ahead of us. The landscape was wide and open and sprawling. The exponentially increasing effects of the sun were really making themselves known. Even though the terrain wasn't very steep to start with we still had to stop fairly frequently and remember to slap on more sunscreen. Today was the day that the altitude really started to kick in.

I really wasn't sure how, if at all, the altitude was going to affect me. I think I was lucky in most respects. The only real symptom I got was a headache. The lower oxygen levels got me feeling a bit tired and emotional. By lunch time I was feeling pretty miserable. I had the option of taking a more lateral route to the next camp but felt that would be copping out so I carried on; the whole point of this was to start getting acclimatised so I thought I'd do better to keep going. James managed to cheer me up a bit after lunch with talk of music and stuff so by the time we hit our highest point of 4600m I was feeling tonnes better and even found a massive rock to climb and sit on. James has that picture somewhere.
Later in the afternoon, on our descent, it felt like we were in the wild west (see above). The day seemed really long, not least because we got more rain; and they all start to merge into one a bit.
The porters and guides seemed to have a never ending supply of good cheer though. I think if it wasn't for them far fewer of us would have made it to summit day, let alone summit night. Below is the view we had from our base camp that evening. That bit of rock that's covered in clouds... we had that to contend with the next day. But not until after we had a makeshift pub quiz!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Kili Video Diary - Day 5

Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 4

The tent didn't leak and I was warm enough in my sleeping bay. The two main concerns about the first night under canvas were unfounded. We were woken by one of the porters doing an astounding impression of a rooster, at around about 6am. It was drizzling which was not a fantastic start to the day but a table loaded with porridge (later referred to as gruel due to the decline in quality), toast, eggs, sausages, tea, Africafe and Milo awaited so there was every reason to get "dressed" and up.

Almost everything out there is Kilimanjaro branded. Tea, beer, anything you care to think of really. I got a real taste for the beer once we were back down and also Milo, a hot chocolate drink which I know you can get over here so I intend to source it next time I'm out shopping.

Where as the day before we'd covered about 16km in 6 or 7 hours, today we were covering a mere 8km in the same time. This was due to the change in terrain, which was now quite rocky. The vegetation changed dramatically and the sun was beating down until about lunchtime at which point we had a downpour. The tent leaked and we almost had to swim out, I swear. Lunch was cucmber soup, as I recall, and masses and masses of pasta and coleslaw. These lads really know how to cook up decent food on a mountain. I don't think I lost a single bit of weight while I was up there, despite burning off about three times as many calories as usual.

We got into a bit of scrambling after lunch, heading ever upwards, now having to traverse waterfalls too. The weather changes to quickly as the clouds sweep across. It continually took me by surprise. We weren't too worn out when we got to camp two but still ready for tea and popcorn (yes popcorn). This camp was more spread out. The thing that got tedious was all the waiting around. Once you got to camp you had to wait for tea, then you had to wait for dinner and then you had to wait until it wasn't too early to go to bed. There was very little to do. So we entertained ourselves with the Doc's heart rate and blood oxygen level monitor. Couldn't make much sense of the results but it passed the time. I also spent a bit of time looking at the clouds and chasing the white collared crows that were about the place. Maybe I should have taken a book...

Monday, 8 March 2010

Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 3

After the last good nights sleep I was going to get for a week it was up bright and early (I don't remember how early), breakfast of toast and weetabix (breakfast of champions!) and once our possessions had been sorted into staying, day bags and duffles, it wass time to hop on the minibus to Machame gate.

There was a fair bit of milling around while we collected water and lunch (in the cutest little tins) and signed in so that the park, in theory, would know who was inside at any time. Having seen the system through to the end I have very little faith in this system and you could probably get nice and lost in there for weeks at a stretch if you wanted to.

We had the obligatory group photo and got introduced to the vast team of guides and porters who were to accompany us all the way to the summit. We had 3 main guides, cooks, water porters, toilet porters (has to be the worst job but they were fab) and an abuncande of other people. We were probably outnumbered 2 to 1. And then we were off. The way was pretty well trodden to start with, good packed dirt track and steps. Started to get to know my fellow trekkers and the immediate team. Dr Geoff intrigued me most as he's a real action man but keeps it very down low. Simon is just insane. He was going to be climbing Kili again with a different group as soon as we'd finished! And Tariq was just along to see what it was all about.

Of course there are no toilets to speak of on the mountain. Actually there are a few sheds with holes in the floor on the lower reaches (thank you India) but otherwise it's a case of finding a spot where you won't be spotted, so to speak. You get better at this, or at least more daring, as the week goes on and the vegetation thins out... Anywho, we eventually stopped for a lunch of sweet sandwiches, baby bananas, cake and chocolate. And water. Lots and lots of water.

I don't really remember anything amazing happening until we reached the first camp. What was amazing was watching the porters over taking us with duffles, tents and other assorted equipment balanced on back, shoulders, neck and heads. One was even carrying fresh eggs! We saw him repeatedly over the course of the week. The first camp was a little cramped compared to what we experienced later. Several groups were there at the same time. The tents were comfortable enough, 3 man tent for two. Dinner was soup and either pasta or rice, I can't remember, vegetable sauce and fresh fruit. Despite the fog that swept in, the views across the valley were spectacular... just some of many we were to see...

Kili Video Diary - Day 2

Kili Video Diary - Day 1

Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 1 & 2

I think the best way to tell you about Kili is to do it diary-style with bits of video and photos thrown in. The whole set of photos are on facebook but I know some people don't "do" facebook so I thought there's no harm in putting the best up here too. So let's start at the beginning.

Day one is actually day one and two I guess. It started with a breakfast of boiled eggs and soldiers and packing the last minute things.

My parents arrived at about 11am with a bottle of bubbly which we cracked open after a nice lunch at the local deli. Suitably tipsy I was driven to Heathrow with approximately 25 kilos of lugguage to find the rest of the group and check in. It was relatively easy to spot the group, just looked for the people with huge rucksacks and walking boots on. It was a little overwhelming because I didn't really know anyone but I soon spotted Donna and Claire. Tickets collected, bags dropped, hugs from Mum and Dad and I was off through security control. Eventually, after sitting on the plane for nigh on an hour we were off. At least I had a window seat. I soon got to know some of the people I was travelling with, Phil and James who were sat next to me, for instance.

We arrived at Kenya airport just in time to catch our connecting flight to Kilimanjaro International from where we got a shuttle bus to the Protea Hotel. After a complimentary fruit juice and being assigned room/tent buddies we were out by the pool and then being introduced properly to the leaders and talked through what we should and shouldn't be taking up the mountain. Once we'd decided that we didn't need 3 pairs of trainers and that unfortunately that bottle of shower gel was going to be a bit useless it was time to chill out and explore. My roomie, Kelly, and I went to explore out the back of the hotel where there was a river. We met a few of the local kids and saw coffee growing!

After a group dinner it was time for bed and dreams (or nightmares) of what was to come...