As most of you are probably aware by now, I had to pull out of my 'Walking Home For Christmas' challenge last month after completing 37 of the 95 miles that I set myself. It was a sad day and was probably the single hardest (and loneliest) decisions of my life thus far. It was only Day 1 and already I had seen and experienced so much that made the journey all the more enriching. There were friendly locals, angry farmers, never-ending roads and a beautiful sunset. One that could rival any seen abroad. It turns out that there are some beautiful areas of the country, even close to London. All I needed to do was to walk in order to find them.
I have done a few challenges before but this was the first endurance event I had attempted. It was also the first time that I would be going at it completely alone and carrying everything that I needed to survive e.g. tent, sleeping bag, waterproofs etc... I had been wild camping before but not in the UK and definitely not in winter. None of this concerned me in the slightest. The last time was when I was living in Australia back in 2008, I had used both an outdoor swag bag (a bit like a bivvy but more hard wearing) and a tent. Back then I had pretty much lived under canvas for many weeks without an issue. I knew what I needed in order to survive. All the kit I took along with me was well-used and I knew that it worked. What I wasn't experienced with was how carrying it affected my body over a long distance and how even the slightest niggle at the beginning can turn into a massive problem as the miles dragged on. I was carrying a sleeping bag that 'would keep you warm to -10 degrees' and as the temperatures were reaching -2/-3 at night then I thought this would be snug and warm. However, I soon realised it didn't pack down very small. In fact it was 4 times bigger then my one man tent even when compressed. Not a problem, I thought, I would just strap it to the outside of my backpack. But no, none of my backpacks had any straps to securely attach items to the outside. Instead, I decided that I would take a bigger backpack to fit the sleeping bag inside. It felt a bit cumbersome but overall the weight felt fine. I didn't think anything of it and packed the rest of my gear for the trip. Wrong! The bag was far too cumbersome and was not suitable for an endurance challenge such as this [the wonders of hindsight]. Over the course of [what turned into] 27 miles [due to some slight errors in navigation] that cumbersome backpack made a few uncomfortable niggles at the beginning turn into some massive issues causing me [I have since found out] a twisted pelvis and neck. Thankfully, nothing that can't be reversed. I finished my first day in pain, barely able to walk and hating myself for being so foolish with the kit choice. At the time, I figured that getting some rest would alleviate the pain and I would be recovered enough for the next day to continue. For the first 20 minutes of waking I was pleasantly surprised. I ached but nothing compared to how I felt the night before. That was until I tried to pick my backpack up for the first time, the pains returned in earnest. I wasn't going to let that ruin the day though, I knew this challenge was going to be difficult and tried to ignore it by listening to high octane music on my iPod and began Day 2.
It wasn't long into the morning that I began to doubt whether I could physically continue. Every step would be accompanied with a grimace of pain and a slight tear from my eyes. I was having to rest every few metres, whether that was leaning against a wall or post, removing my backpack and lying down on the ground. This continued for the next 4-5 miles. At this rate I would struggle to make Leamington Spa for New Year let alone Christmas. I carried on in this state for a further 5 miles getting just north of High Wycombe before it became too painful to even move my legs whilst carrying that backpack. I had to concede defeat. I would be lying if I said I wasn't absolutely distraught but I couldn't see any way forward without a period of recovery and a re-think of my kit choice. It was so disheartening because I was still mentally in the challenge and I knew my fitness was more than capable of it. It was my inexperience with the type of challenge that I had embarked on and how the choice of [what turned out to be] inappropriate kit can ultimately cause failure.
Almost a calendar month has past since the disastrous end to my challenge and to say it knocked my confidence is an understatement. I am still undergoing treatment for my twisted pelvis caused by an inappropriate backpack for the challenge but stand to make a full recovery. It is only really today that I have been able to write about this experience after spending time talking and listening to adventurers at London's Adventure Travel Show. I have realised that through failing this challenge I have actually learnt more about myself then I have ever done before, my resolve under intense pain and knowing when to stop. This was a decision solely based on health. I needed to stop to give my body chance to heal. It does frustrate me to my core that I have had to cut a challenge short but I am now at peace with the decision. It isn't the end of the World and I will be back having learnt the errors of my ways and to make sure that whatever challenge I embark on next will be successful. Failure makes us stronger.
Massive thanks for all the kind words and encouragement and keep supporting the lovely folk at Walking With The Wounded.