Tag Archives: trekking

335/365 – Mountain challenge 2016

One of the many things I want to do in 2016 is climb the UK and Ireland’s four tallest peaks: Scafell Pike, Snowdon, Carrauntoohil and Ben Nevis. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to climb Ben Nevis but as I drove past the mass of sharp grey rock earlier this year, it became clear that I’d need to be mountain fit to take on the challenge. As there aren’t many mountains to build up stamina near London, the idea came to try to see a bit of the country while climbing. 

I can now share that we have a date for our first climb. As part of Elaine’s Christmas, I’ve booked two nights in the shadow of Carrauntoohil and got to see her face light up about it last night. Before that, we will try to climb Scafell Pike and Snowdon so that we do them in height order. 

Am I worried about being strong and symptom-less enough to do this? Yeah, of course, but I have months to get fit enough. The thought of looking out from Ireland’s tallest peak, hopefully, is more than enough motivation. 

149/365 – Things people with myasthenia gravis need for the Camino de Santiago

Having now done two stages of the Camino de Santiago, I thought it would be useful to compile a list of things anyone with myasthenia gravis who is considering doing the walk, or indeed any hiking, should consider taking. This compliments all the standard things you should take like good quality hiking boots and socks, a comfortable backpack and a pack of cards.

Medication 

Bit of a no brainer really. As with everything you do in life, the first priority has to be medication (unless you are one of those very lucky people in remission). Make sure you take enough with you for the whole journey as it is likely there will be many places you stay where there is not a doctor nearby. 

Walking stick
If your vision is affected, one or two walking sticks will help with your balance as some of the paths on the Camino are quite tricky to navigate. Also, if your muscles are weak, they will give you an added boost. 

Factor 50 sun cream and a hat

If you are on aziathioprine your skin will be thinner and more prone to skin cancer so protecting yourself is essential. As most of the Camino is in Spain, it can get very hot and there are many stretches that are very exposed. 

Good quality sunglasses

The sun is strong in Spain and you will be spending a lot of time in it so invest in good quality sunglasses that will protect your eyes.

Light long sleeve tops and trousers 
For the same reasons as above, long sleeve tops and trousers are useful for keeping your skin covered. As it gets very hot, it’s a good idea to get the walking trousers which can be unzipped as shorts. For the same reason, light weight long sleeve tops are important. There is also the option of UV protecting tops which a doctor friend of mine recommended.

MG card and/or a label for your bag
If you plan to do the Camino on your own, or with people who don’t know about your condition, it is important to carry your MG card in case of emergencies. Also, another idea is have a tag on your bag that alerts people to your MG so that they know right away if something goes wrong.

Quick breakfast snacks

Sometimes you may have to walk for a while before breakfast so it is worth taking something you can eat right away if you take your medication first thing in the morning. 

Ear plugs

I would recommend not sleeping in dorms as sleep is so important for strength and from what I have heard it is a struggle to get much in the large dorm rooms. However, if you feel this is an essential part of your Camino, it is probably worthwhile investing in some earplugs. 

Tennis ball

Like a compact foam roller, tennis balls are brilliant for massaging aching and tired muscles. They can be used when you are on your own against a surface or someone else can use them for you but they definitely help your tight muscles relax and recuperate.

145/365 – First walk done by lunch

Meeting at 8am for breakfast, our group filled up on St Jean’s finest croissants, orange juice and, most importantly, coffee. Some of our group are not happy campers without coffee – to the extent that three of us paid 4.50 euros for cafe in a can just in case we can’t get our hands on any. 

I was a bit worried as I had had a troubled sleep the night before setting off and breakfast didn’t feel particularly substantial. My vision was double again, but I hoped, having taken my medication with a bit of time to digest before walking, that it would quickly get closer to normal.

    After a last minute purchase of a walking stick and a poncho, we headed off through St Jean Pied du Port’s main thoroughfare, averting the eyes from its array of cute shops selling tasty treats, through the seemingly ancient town gate’s and onto the road. 

    The first day was, as promised, spent scrambling up steep ascents. The first 5km or so was on little roads past farmhouses with the Pyrenees backdrop getting more spectacular with each bend we turned around. Soon we could look down on St Jean and hear the bells chiming. Then it turned into a muddy path, still at a steep ascent, complete with slip marks and sheep poo. Just as we said ‘this would be treacherous in the rain’, it started to drizzle. But after a light shower, it stopped and the fog seemed to part for a moment or two. We had climbed into the mist clouds that were widely admired earlier. 

    Just as we finished a really tough part of the upward slope, I shouted down to Anais what the name of the place we were staying was. Low and behold it was just on the next bend – Kayola. We had made it. No more climbing today, or at least until dinner which we had to walk 800 metres for. 

    Although it was only around 8-10kms, a two and a quarter hour walk, our clothes were sodden with sweat from the humidity and exertion. My calves were screaming to be stretched out, so Ruth and I did some yoga on the grass outside the house with this stunning view in the background. 

    Day one is complete but, from the flyer we got in St Jean, day two will be even tougher in terms of the gradient we’ll be climbing at. The sticks have come in handy so far and I expect are will be indispensable tomorrow. 

    Physically I’m feeling strong and my eye is beginning to look a little less startled. Perhaps a combition of the antibiotics and exercise. Once again, this year I find my pilgrimage is about challenging my body to stay strong while facing a tough test. One day down, three to go.

    135/365 – 22kms of East Sussex countryside

    With just a week to go to the Camino, this weekend was the last opportunity to clock up some miles before following the yellow arrows through the French-Spanish border. Leaving the house before most people even roll over on a Sunday morning used to be a weekly occurence for me in my football-playing days. However it’s rare these days and I struggled to get out of the door in time to meet our friends for the long drive ahead. 

    By midday we arrived in Crowhurst, East Sussex, bursting for the loo and with nothing but a church and a closed train station in sight. Thankfully a kind minister/priest/vicar let us use the facilities (I would highly recommend if you’re in the area). Much relieved, we set out on our 20/21/22km trek (depending on what book/app you use). With the sun warming our faces, many striking panoramas and a reasonably flat gradient, the first 10km flew by and before we knew it we found a seat in the sun and were tucking into Westfield’s finest fare, and cider, at the New Inn. 

    After hearty lunches, the second half was a bit trickier. Thankfully the views were even more striking as we carefully manoeuvred our way through bluebell meadows, burrowed through enchanted woods (at one point expecting a wicked witch to jump out), gazed at thatched mansions and then had to battle our way through thick nettles for hundreds of metres.  

    Despite our more adventurous second half, my knee and the myasthenia behaved well. By the time we reached the last climb, I still had plenty of energy, my muscles felt strong and my feet showed no signs of blisters. Time to celebrate with a pint! 

    As I supped my celebratory cider, in Battle (of Battle of Hastings fame), a smug smile spread across my face. My cross training has paid off, I am strong and I am ready – Pyrenees, come at me.  

       

    128/365 – 15 days until the Camino begins

    I completed my first mini duathlon two weeks ago today and the next physical challenge on my list is only 15 days away. On Monday 25th of May I’ll be setting out with nine others to walk 65km of the Camino de Santiago. While significantly less than the 120kms Elaine and I trekked last year, the challenge will be the terrain – the rough paths and slopes of the Pyrenees. 

    The first day is meant to be the toughest of the French way because it is a near constant ascent until you reach Ronascevalles 26kms away. As some of us have health conditions/dodgy knees (in my case both), we’ve split that first day in two. That means we have a build up of distances – 10km, 16km, 22km and then 20km for our last day. These chunks feel manageable – particularly if we set out early and take breaks on the tougher days. 

    While I haven’t had many opportunities to get out of London for long walks this year, I have been building my walking fitness most weekends and doing strength training for my legs and core. I have no doubt the mountains will challenge me, but I’ve promised Elaine that I will be honest about how my body is feeling. 

    With the days flying in now, I am going to get out for one of my last long city walks today. Sadly there are no mountains to scale but perhaps I’ll route in a couple of flights of stairs and hills if I can find some. 

    108/365 – Unexpected weekend break 

    There’s nothing better than the unexpected to shake you up. Whatever it is you do, stepping out of the routine has the potential to make you feel really alive and appreciate the vast choices available every day. This weekend has done exactly that for me.

    After a lovely catch up with some of my old workmates on Friday, Saturday had the potential to be a complete write off. However, it turned out to be just the beginning of a sundrenched, beach filled weekend.

    Having left me passed out first thing to to do befriending, when Elaine came back she floated the idea of going for a drive. We didn’t know where – but decided to pack a few bits just in case the notion took us to stay over. 

    So that’s how we ended up walking along the white cliffs of Dover. As it was my first out of London walk since the ill fated Windsor ‘walk’, I felt a bit nervous setting out. But with the below image as the backdrop, it was quickly impossible to feel anything other than humbled by the beauty of the National Trust cliffs. 

       

    We spent around an hour climbing up to the South Foreland lighthouse and each corner we turned around was more beautiful than the last. My legs held up well all the way up to the lighthouse and my feet didn’t even have a hint of a blister during the 4 mile jaunt. On the way back, we took the higher route which had more climbing – all good practice for the Pyrenees in a few weeks time.   

     

    Rather than feeling tired from the walk, I felt full of energy and not ready to go back to London. So following that feeling, we booked a cheap as chips hotel in Folkestone (with a sea view thrown in our night came to £29). Best decision of the weekend.

    While the hotel had more than a hint of the faded glamour associated with Victorian seaside resorts, I fell in love with the place itself. With a contagious out of the way stillness, beautiful beaches with wild landscaping and quirky places to eat and drink with friendly staff, it’s somewhere I’ve already vowed to go back to (if not live one day). We had an antiques shop all to ourselves for dinner (Follies), heard an amazing blues band play (The Chambers), got lost in the winding path at the beach full of caves and vegetation and even managed to pick up a few bargains before setting off in the town shops. 

        

       Having fallen in love with Folkestone, we drove on up the coast back through Dover to Deal (also incredibly cute), Sandwich (even cuter), Ramsgate (great selection of pubs at the harbour), Margate (we had planned to get out but it’s very run down) and then finally to Whitstable. 

    With a more touristy vibe, we walked away from Whitstable, of Oyster fame, to Tankerton along the front. We kept walking as the colourful beach hits kept pulling us in. With the hundreds of dogs along the way, sadly my legs started to feel a bit shaky because of my phobia rather than fatigue. The gorgeous walk had a few surprises including a camper can meetup and a canon. 

       

          

      

    After a couple of hours of walking, we headed into Whitstable finally and, after climbing over oyster shells, decided to pick up another kind of seafood – fish and chips. 

    Making the last of the glorious sunshine, we found a picnic table to eat our fish and chips and made promises to ‘do this’ more often. While we could have done more miles over the weekend, we did enough to warrant saying we had good walks on both days. Plus the sense of calm of being at the quiet (and not so quiet) coast and the sheer joy of exploring new territory made this unexpected weekend an absolute pleasure. 

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    83/365 – A royal crash and burn

    After a hectic six-day working week, Elaine and I decided to get out of London and go for a walk in Windsor today. Although the wild wind was making the rain whip hard against exposed flesh, we decided to wrap up  and brave the elements. With only two months until the Camino de Santiago, getting ourselves physically prepared is becoming a matter of urgency. 

    After a longer lie than anticipated, we decided to drive to Windsor and set off from there rather than the previous plan to catch a train to Sunningdale and walk to the queen’s home town. After a walk to the castle we set off via Eton. Right away I could tell that it wasn’t a day for long distances. My legs felt like lead and like they give way under me, my temperature soared almost instantly and my head went fuzzy. As predicted, I had overdone it and knew I needed rest. I pushed on for a while hoping I would get a second wind but it never came. By the time we reached Windsor after turning around about 5 miles in I according to Elaine I looked like I was ‘dragging my knuckles behind me’. She dragged me into a cafe to get a sugar boost and we ended up treating ourselves to afternoon tea. The rest helped, but I didn’t have energy to keep walking after our break.  

    With a four day week ahead, and one of those days spent at a training session, I know it will be a much easier week. But for now, it’s time for this tired body to curl up and hope for more energy tomorrow.

    22/365 – Girls gone wild

    During this period of rest between jobs, I’ve been keeping myself busy with bits of work, volunteering with Childline and Myaware and trying to get myself as strong and healthy as possible. A key reason for this drive to get fit is because I’m going to be doing the Camino De Santiago with Elaine, and hopefully some of our friends, this May.

    Today, I spent time doing another thing that’s been keeping me sane during my break from work – I went to the cinema to see Wild. If you’ve not heard of it, Wild is Cheryl Strayed’s true story. She walked 1,000 miles on her own, from the Mexican border to Canada, to deal with the grief of losing her mother, her subsequent drug addiction and the guilt over the breakdown of her relationship with her husband. As you can imagine, aside from Reese Witherspoon’s raw and powerful portrayal, the film’s concept has got me rather excited about our trek this spring.

    Let me first tell you about why we decided to do the Camino for the first time last year. Last Christmas, Elaine and I bought each other flights to Santiago de Compostella without giving the logistics of what we were doing much thought. We had both wanted to do at least a part of the Camino for years – me since watching the film about it, The Way, and Elaine since hearing about it at church.

    When I got my diagnosis of MG, I felt the desire to go become even stronger. I had something to prove to myself – I needed to know I could still live fully and challenge myself physically and psychologically.

    If you haven’t heard of the Camino de Santiago, it’s a pilgrimage to Northern Spain that started in the Middle Ages. The idea back in those days was that you started your journey to Santiago de Compostella (where it is believed St James is buried in the cathedral) from your front door, however now there are many established hiking routes including the Portugese way and the French way.

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    Last year we walked the last 120km
    of the French way – from Sarria to Santiago. Along with many other glory hunters, we joined the groups who had been walking for months for the final stretch of the journey and it is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. We met people from all over the world with fascinating stories to share, got the buzz from achieving a really tough physical challenge, had too many blisters to count and saw a beautiful part of Spain that we probably would never have visited otherwise. I also used it as the first stage in my staggered triathlon to raise funds for Myaware, which felt fitting as the reason I had finally pushed myself to do it was myasthenia.

    In preparation, I went out hiking from January onwards with my friend Keith, tried to walk as much as possible in my day-to-day life and even dragged my brother out on a mammoth trek one weekend in Edinburgh. The one bit of prep I didn’t do was training with a full backpack on – big mistake. Still, my back has nearly recovered. I also bought cheap shoes – even bigger mistake. My feet still hate me and can’t believe I’ve signed up to do it again this year.

    Physically, the hike was challenging but I believe that was due to my poor shoe choice. While my muscles felt equipped to deal with the 20ish km stumble, my blistered feet did not. By the end we were being over taken by elderly ladies, chihuahuas and snails.

    Psychologically, the trek was incredible for me. I never allowed doubt to creep in, I gave my mind space to wander anywhere it liked, I handled the challenge of being around all kinds of dogs (I have a dog phobia) and I felt mentally cleansed at the end of it.

    When your daily routine is eat, walk, eat, read and sleep in the quiet wild, with the sound of frogs and birds singing as your constant companion, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll ever be stressed again.

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    This year we are doing a shorter walk – the first stage of the French route from St Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona. It’s 60ish kms, about half the length, however it is in the Pyrenees so the terrain is more intense. Whether I do the pass over the mountains will probably be down to how fit I’m feeling at the time and how the weather is. But, at this point, I want to give myself the best chance of being able to conquer the Napoleon pass (the French general and his soldiers used the route).

    The satisfaction of completing physical challenges like the Camino is something I’ve always enjoyed and I was delighted to find out last year that I was still capable of achieving such a feat.

    Today’s photo is from my night walk around London. Stay tuned for more news about the Camino and about other physical challenges I have for this year.

    I leave you with this quote from Cheryl Strayed from her book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

    ‘I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.’