It’s done. Completed. Over with. Fin. Snowdon and Llyn Padarn have been put to the sword. The cycle ride has been shredded, the hike stomped to dust and the kayak swept aside. The fundraising total has been smashed to bits – the Incredible Hulk couldn’t have done a better job. Our total is a massive £3,256. That’s more than £1,000 over our target of £2,250. It’s astonishing. With gift aid we’ve raised almost £4,000 for Mind and I could not be prouder.
I have been amazed at the generosity from you, our sponsors. We may have done the challenge, but without the sponsorship money we wouldn’t have achieved a thing. So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. The money that you have donated will make a huge difference to people suffering mental health problems. You can find out just how much of a difference here.
As you will know, I have been building to this moment for quite some time. For me, the challenge was about more than just raising money. It was about giving myself a reason to confront my issues and share my experiences, in the hope that I would not only help myself, but also help others to avoid what I had been through.
A week on, I feel better able to describe the physical and mental challenges presented to me during our cycle, hike and kayak. So here it is…
6.45am, Saturday 8th October 2016, The Royal Victoria Hotel, Llanberis. Frankie’s alarm goes off. “Oh shit” I say. I am already awake, the ring of the alarm serving only as a reminder of my lack of sleep. At most, I had managed to doze for about an hour. My night had been spent tossing, turning and coughing. Endless coughing. Sleep was always going to be hard to find – my brain caught up in thoughts of the challenge ahead – without the additional problem of feeling like death warmed up.
We had arrived the afternoon before; myself, Frankie, Bertie and Emily making the short hop across to Snowdon from Tarporley. One look at the car told you that we meant business. Three bicycles on a rack adorned the rear, whilst the interior was loaded up with walking boots, jackets, cycling gear and endless amounts of sugary snacks and energy drinks. Brad and Ant were already inside the hotel having driven directly from London and equally looking like they’d burgled a Moutain Warehouse store.
Chatter abounded and a loose sense of anxiety hung in the air. We knew roughly what we had to do: cycle 17km/hike 15km/kayak 4km, but we had no idea as to exactly how we would be doing it. Eventually talk turned to dinner plans. I stewed. I felt conscious that people were “there for me” and it made me uncomfortable. Despite finding it easy to be open about my struggles in my blogs, I still find it difficult in person. Having a group of people all in one place, because you’ve had depression and anxiety attacks, is a strange position to be in. Nobody acknowledged it directly, but we I knew that without it, none of us would be there.
The evening rolled in and we had a briefing from one of our challenge leaders before dinner. Plans were laid out. We would depart at 0830, cycling our way along the shore of Llyn Padarn before chucking a left and circling the bottom of Snowdon. We would finish up at Llyn Cwellyn at around 1000, where we would embark upon our hike up Snowdon via the Ranger Path. The hike would take between 5 and a half, to 6 hours, to complete. We would head down via the Llanberis path and make our way to Llyn Padarn for the final part of the challenge, the kayak across the lake.
I went to dinner feeling reassured. As a group we seemed in good spirits, ready to conquer the challenge that lay ahead. As an individual I felt out of sorts and exhausted. I excused myself from dinner, having hardly touched my food and headed to bed, determined to be in the best shape possible for the morning. Usually I would take my anti-depressant medication about an hour or so before bed and it would send me off into a deep sleep. Unfortunately, the stinking cold that I had been carrying for the past week seemed to be preventing this. That is why I found myself lying there awake at quarter to seven in the morning.
I showered and dressed in my cycle gear. I double checked my rucksack and kit bag, ensuring that everything I would need for the hike and kayak was present, then headed down to breakfast. Whilst everybody else indulged in a hearty breakfast, I managed half a bowl of cereal. I was too anxious to eat anything, convinced that I would be physically unable to complete the challenge. What would I tell people? Thanks for donating and that, but I felt a bit ill and hadn’t slept for a few days.
After breakfast the group at large (I think in total there were 18 of us undertaking the same challenge but for various charities) began to congregate outside the front of the hotel. Bikes were lined up, chains checked and tyres inflated. Kit bags were piled up, ready to be placed in the support vehicle. People were milling around, they were ready to go. I stood to the side, coughing until I heaved.
We had a group photo and then it was time to go. I froze, overwhelmed by the fear that I wouldn’t be able to complete the challenge. I told Frankie to set off and that I would catch up, I didn’t want to delay the group and bring the focus onto myself. Then I did a runner, headed to the gents and locked myself in a cubicle.
After several frantic minutes I composed myself and decided to take it one step at a time. I was sure that I could complete the cycle, no matter how bad I felt, so I focussed on the cycle and nothing more. Get through it, then reassess.
I emerged from the hotel to find my team waiting for me. The main group had set off, but Frankie, Bertie, Emily, Ant and Brad had decided to stay behind and wait for me. We had entered the challenge as a team, so we would complete it as a team.
We set off and I immediately felt better. I hadn’t cycled for a long time (although I had put in plenty of miles on an exercise bike) and had forgotten the sense of freedom you can find with a bike beneath you and the open road ahead. We hit the first hill, I stood up from the saddle and began to climb. I felt good. I looked behind to see how the others were doing… Frankie and Bertie had stopped. I turned around to see what the problem was. Thankfully it was a simple one, Bertie’s chain had slipped off. I managed to slip the chain back on the cog and we set off up the hill once more. Overcoming that minor problem gave me confidence.
The more that the cycle ride went on, the better I felt. I was comfortable in the saddle and distracted by the scenery around me. I was a fluorescent green blob and I was on the move. And then we hit the big climb.
Once again, I stood in my saddle and pedalled like I was wearing the polka dot jersey in the Tour De France. The climb went on… and on… until it was only Brad and myself left cycling. We had been forewarned that most people got off and pushed their bikes up part of the hill. I decided I wouldn’t be one of those people. I pushed myself, getting hotter and hotter with each turn of the pedal.
I had been prepared for the cold, but here I was overheating. The climb continued to wind upwards in front of me. At each corner, I convinced myself it was the last and that I would find the top of the climb and be able to rid myself of the jacket that seemed to be preventing all heat from escaping. At each corner, I was wrong.
Eventually, I stopped, I couldn’t take it any longer. My legs wobbled beneath me. I made a conscious decision not to get off my bike as I was worried I wouldn’t get back on. The jacket was removed, rolled up and tied around my waist. I pushed on, determined to reach the top of the climb by pedal power alone.
I gathered momentum and rounded the next corner… and found myself staring at Brad and the top of climb. If only I had convinced myself to continue for one more corner, I would have made it without stopping! I pulled alongside Brad, we admired the view and waited for the others to catch up.
The descent was much more fun than the climb and I embraced the opportunity to travel as quickly as possible. Once we hit the bottom, the scenery got even better. The route to Llyn Cwellyn was beautiful, we eased our pace and took it all in.
We reached the car park and the rest of our group, with barely enough time to change into our hiking gear and grab a coffee. Then it was off to the start of the Ranger Path and a quick safety briefing before our hike. At this point we were joined by my brother in law Steve, who had decided to come and do the hike with us.
For the first time in several days, I was beginning to feel confident about the hike. The cycle ride had distracted me from my coughing fits and I had convinced myself that my old biology teacher was right, the best way to get rid of a cold is to sweat it out. I was going to carry my mentality over. Focus only on the hike from now on. We started climbing… And I started doubting.
I immediately began to feel the effects of the cycle in my legs. My cough returned. My lack of sleep loomed over me like a dark cloud. So did a sense of panic. My doubts came flooding back. What the hell am I gonna do? It’s going to be so embarrassing when I give up, a quarter of the way up… I am not capable of this. I am too tired. Too ill. And that’s how the hike went on. My legs battled the ground beneath me whilst my head battled the anxiety that swirled around inside it.
Whenever the incline levelled out slightly and the gradient decreased, I would find myself able to take in the spectacular views. But as soon as the climb got steeper, I would find myself retreating, unable to take part in the conversations around me. Whenever we paused for a rest break, I would stand aside from the group, consuming energy gels and flapjacks in a desperate effort to replenish my energy reserves. In my head, Snowdon had somehow become Everest and my cold had become pneumonia.
At the 3/4 mark I thought I had finally reached my limit. I couldn’t move my legs any further and breathing was nigh on impossible. My body was conspiring with my mind to defeat me. The group took a rest break and I collapsed onto the ground. Within seconds I was freezing and placing on my additional layers of clothing. Before I could zip up my jacket we were off again.
The slope reached its steepest point and I slipped behind the group. I was finished. I stopped and took what I thought would be a final look up. What I saw changed everything. About 100 metres ahead of me, I saw clouds. There and then I determined that I was going to finish the climb. I wasn’t leaving without making it above the clouds. I whipped out my phone, stuck on some tunes and stomped my way upwards.
We had been lucky with the weather throughout the day – it was dry and mild with little wind. When we reached the summit, we were even luckier. The clouds around us seemed to part and the sun shone brightly. The views were spectacular and we all headed to the very top to take pictures. We had made such quick progress up the mountain that we were given 30 minutes to pause and take it all in.
The descent was a doddle and my ailments were forgotten as Steve, Ant and myself hip-hopped our way down the mountain (for those who don’t know, the act of “hip-hopping” means to dance and do your best Snoop Dogg impression).
The hardest part of the challenge was overcome. I had done it, I had dragged my sorry, tired arse, up and down the mountain and overcome my anxiety. Now it was time for the bit that I had been looking forward to the most, the kayak across Llyn Padarn.
Despite being soaked through, the kayak was great fun and a final chance to take in the breathtaking scenery. Boats seem to be an ever present for big moments in my life – I proposed on a boat in the Lake District, we had a boat trip with all our friends and family in Malta prior to our wedding, and now this. So it was nice to finish the challenge as just Frankie and I, together in a boat. Yes, I had completed the challenge as part of a team of six, but I had finished it as part of my most important team – a team of two.
Our kayak was dragged ashore and we were presented with t-shirts, champagne and medals. It was done. The challenge was complete.
Once again, I’d like to thank everybody who donated. I’d also like to thank Frankie, Bertie (who flew back from Malta just to take part in the challenge), Emily, Ant and Brad for being by my side throughout not only the Snowdon Challenge, but the challenges I’ve faced over the past year. It means a lot.
If you haven’t already, you can donate here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/MindTeam6