You may wonder where we’ve been as I’ve not written for a while but its been quite a year. We’ve had a family bereavement and a redundancy to cope with but mainly we’ve been focussing on this little project.
The long walk…..
We were sitting in the staff room at work when my friend Linda said, ‘You do a lot of walking don’t you? We are doing this sponsored walk, why don’t you come?” As I couldn’t think of a good reason not to I agreed. Manchester to Sheffield, how hard could it be?
That was in February. Then the snow came and I realised that no matter how much I wanted to curl up in be I had to bet out and walk. I bought new boots and socks, donned my wooly orange hat (a Christmas present knitted by a friend in the Isle of Man) and headed off to Burscough a mere 3.7 miles away. It may as well have been on the moon. I had taken the decision to carry with me everything I would be carrying on the day so I could get used to it and the mile to work and back with a light bag disappeared into history. I took a taxi home.
Before long Burscough and back was a breeze so I engaged the services of my friend Mike, an ex Marine and personal trainer. Linda and I told him we wanted a challenge. Mistake! He decided that, snow or no, we were taking on Rivington. Not just the pike itself but a circuitous route round the reservoir and up to Winter Hill. You have no idea how big that mast is until you’re standing at the bottom looking up. (309.48 metres, or 1,015.4 ft) We climbed through snow, we slipped down rocky paths but we made it 12 miles, a fifth of the distance we were to walk on the big day.
I walked to Meols Cop in Southport one day and met Captain Jack Sparrow (I don’t think it was the real one). I walked along the Cheshire Lines section of the Trans Pennine Trail (a bit long and boring on your own) and finally I had Mike tale me for a little 27 mile stroll round Meols Cop, Churchtown, Formby and Southport. That was half of what I had to cover, there were blisters and black toenails. I was as ready as I could be. Bring it on.
I should say that I wasn’t doing this for fun. My aim was to raise £400 for the Albert Kennedy Trust which works with homeless young people. Linda was walking for Pancreatic Cancer. Team “Big Breaths, Short Steps”, seven of us in total walked for Mind, Alzheimer’s, Macmillan and Cancer Research. We aimed to raise £2800 between us.
I travelled to Manchester the day before with my back pack to stay with friends but admit I didn’t sleep much so it was a relief when the taxi came at 7am to take me to the start. Together with Linda, her sister and the rest of the team we collected our event passes, which would be scanned at every check point. I should mention here that Linda had torn a back muscle three weeks earlier so didn’t know if she could make it. Martin Hancock, ‘Spider’ from Corrie, called us to the start pen for our warm up and at 8.15 we were off.
The weather was humid but it looked like rain and throughout the morning it was coats on, coats off. I gave up in the end and just sweated. We all had 2 litres of water and food though we needn’t have bothered to bring anything to eat as we found out at the first check in. I have to say the organisers had done us proud. There was everything from porridge to pick’n’mix along the route, always with a smile and always a cup of tea and the chance to top up your water bottle.
Didsbury to Denton, Stockport and finally out of the city and into the wilds. Our lunch was in Hadfield. Two of our number had left us some miles back. We had all paused for a ‘comfort break’ near Broadbottom some hours earlier, real loos become very important on this kind of trip and we reached our lunch break about 4 in the afternoon! The Red Cross were on hand and a number of people had started to suffer from blisters and fatigue and this was only the 28k point! 700 people, runners and walkers, had set off that morning. It became clear that not all 700 were going to make it.
Our next leg was over the top of the Pennines. Linda had realized this would be a strain on her back so I took the decision to stay with her whilst the others went ahead. Off we went along the Woodhead Pass, along the reservoirs though from a footpath which looked down on them from above. We paused for a cuppa at Torside before the climb and descent into Dunford Bridge. The track along the former rail line lead us into a false sense of hope before we spotted the tunnel. “Any chance we’re going through that?” Linda asked. Then we looked up and saw a trail of walkers zig-zagging up the steep climb disappearing into the dusk.
One step at a time, no one left behind. We took the climb very slowly, pausing often to allow Linda to stretch her back and me to catch my breath. It is at times like this that you realize that mild asthma does make a difference. The climb was only about 200 feet but after 40k it seemed a lot higher. As we crossed the top a woman was sitting to take a rest. We saw her on her feet again then moments later a man ran past us. She had collapsed and he was running to find help as no one had any phone signal. Sensibly the organizers had a patrol on hand for just such emergencies.
At Dunsford Bridge we donned our head torches, ate some beef jerky which a friend had made for me (we’d had too much sweet stuff by then) and were setting off into the fading light when a voice behind us asked, “Can I join you? I’ve left my torch with my husband.” It turned out this courageous woman (Lesley) had wanted to o the 50k walk but this had turned out to be a 55k walk and she had argued with the organizers that it was not fair and would they give her the medal if she walked to the 50. She must have scared them with her determination as they agreed and we walked her to the 50k marker and a little beyond to meet her husband. The midges were out by now and we were a feast.
We made Pennistone and the ‘half way’ point (55k) before midnight. It was raining horizontally. The rest of our party were almost ready to leave but we needed to eat and have our feet looked at so they went on without us. Both Linda and I were shaking and unable to stomach anything so we decided massage and feet first then eat. I’m not sure either of us thought we would go on at that point. Lots of people dropped out here between the terrible weather and exhaustion. The younger ones it seemed had not taken their training so seriously!
It is hard to persuade your body that food is a good idea at one in the morning. The second cup of tea worked its magic though and we felt ready for the next few kilometers. The check out man had to run and get the scanner as he thought everyone who was going had gone!
By now we had glow sticks attached and hi-vis armbands flashing lights etc. No one was going to lose us in the dark! Tom, from Nottingham joined us at this point. He had been advised not to go on because his feet were badly blistered but he was worried about his daughter who had set off some 5 minutes earlier with another young woman. We must have put a spurt on because we soon caught them up. They were relieved to see us and it was great to have some company as we walked through the woodland into the night. As we came over one final ridge Sheffield appeared below us in a blaze of light. Not far now then.….oh, yeah. We watched the sunrise around 4 am as we stretched by some picnic benches along our route. To be fair by this point it was any excuse for a little sit down.
Full English breakfast was available at Wombwell. We had bacon buttoes which we couldn’t finish and one of the young women was given a tablet to stop her being sick. The medics insisted that she eat before they let her go so we bid farewell to our night time companions and set off to Wentworth. The sign just outside Wombwell said “Sheffield this way”
We had passed allotments, wood, houses, streams, and now a golf course. Yes, that Wentworth. At last there was tomato soup! We had dreamed of it since the half way point. It was Sunday and the local junior football teams were out training. We passed a chapel that invited us to come in and have a look round but not that day. We knew it was 15k to the end. The Red Cross staff a]had seen enough feet to last them forever and sounded like they were running out of plasters. One man was given some very, very strong pain killers just so he could keep walking. We took our last, anti inflammatory, iboprufen and set off. Not the last, they were expecting 50 more. We told them there woudn’t be anyone and we were right.
If I said there was a spring in our step by now I would be lying. Linda kept saying we’d mad it this far and weren’t going to give up now…..until we hit Sheffield. On our map it said cross footbridge and you’re there. We crossed the footbridge. We walked along the canal path. We walked along the canal path. We walked along the canal path….two more kilometers! Even Linda wanted to give up. I pointed out that the only way we were not going to finish at this point was of one of us fell into the canal as I didn’t think I had the strength to rescue her.
My phone went. It was Emma (the other one of this two step) and our supporters. ‘Can you see a bridge ahead of you?’ no we couldn’t. “You’re not far now” Could they see us? Where were they? As we climbed from the canal one of the organisers passed us, “Not far now.” We had stopped believing them. Then, round the corner three faces we knew. We both started crying. They gently lifted our backpack from us and coached us all the way into the Don Valley Stadium. Spider was there to greet us along with our team! We had our passes scanned and were presented with medals and t-shirts. Inside there was food and a massage.
Linda and I were not the last. We saw Tom and the girls across the line, and pain killer man. There were those we had met along the way who didn’t get there but in 31 hours and 31 minutes we had conquered the Trans Pennine Challenge.