Back in February, six ordinary people from around the country met with myself and a production crew from Athena Media. We went for a short walk in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, while we discussed our plans to get out and get active in the great outdoors. It was our first day of filming for a six-part television show that will be broadcast on Setanta TV this September. In the months that followed, we ran and trained, climbed mountains, cycled bikes, learned to swim, took part in triathlons and became firm friends.
When I started this project, I was widely enthusiastic, exhilarated by the opportunity to preach my message once again – that if I could lose 13 stone and get healthy, anybody could. For me, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle have exploded into a life full of passion and colour and I can’t help but get carried away when I talk about the joy of waking up each day with my new-found health. I hoped my group of six ‘Get Off The Couch’ participants would have a similar experience; but I could hardly have imagined the outcome.
I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re not just talking about six people who got fit and healthy, we’re talking about new jobs, a return to college, a major sports deal, giving up smoking and whole families changing the way they spend their leisure time together.
Strictly speaking, we finished filming back in June. But on Saturday we met again, to catch up, and because I wanted to show them my lovely Spinc Mountain that I had been bragging about throughout our months of training together. They were invited to bring friends and family, but I was a little concerned when I saw the youthful bunch that turned up – our youngest walker was just 4-years-old, and I confess I didn’t think they’d last 5 minutes. To my amazement, they hopped around the mountain covering a 9km hill-walk with a climb of 380m in just under 4 hours; and 4-year-old Charlie was the most energetic of all of us. It just goes to show that sometimes our kids can be limited, not by their lack of strength or maturity but by the preconceived and erroneous notions of us boring old adults.
Thanks to my GOTC gang for a fabulous day – to the kids for the life lesson – and to Joan Kavanagh (local historian and member of the Glens of Lead Project) who met us on the trail along the way to introduce us all to ‘Paddy Byrne’ (wooden miner model) and to tell us about the history of the old lead workings and mines at Glendalough.
After a ‘Last Supper’ with the team, several of us went back out on the hill again for a night climb on Spinc – as part of my climbing mate Vera Baker’s preparations for a Concern hike to Kenya later this year. Staying in Wicklow overnight, the Concern trainees were back out on their bikes for some cycling exercise on the Sallygap on Sunday, and then I was back up on Spinc for a 3rd and final climb on Sunday afternoon, before I returned to the city and prepared for work and the gym on Monday.
My own training intensifies next week. I’m preparing for the Liffey Descent kayak and cycle challenge that I’m doing this September with ‘Mr Kayak’ Kipper Maguire, to raise funds and awareness for LauraLynn Hospice – Irelands ONLY childrens’ hospice. If you have a few bob, please drop it into our MyCharity page here – and please pass it on….
Today kind’ve hurt the body, but fed the soul. But I knew in advance it would be like that, and it was a glorious day in the snowy Wicklow hills. I’d been sick and my fitness left a lot to be desired, but the snow was here and that was just too good an opportunity to miss.
A group of hardy hikers, we set off from the Glendalough Visitors’ Centre, trekking through the parkland then across the carpark and back out to cross the road, and then simply headed up into the woods in the direction of the snowline and the Camaderry summit.
The first incline through the trees was pretty steep and pretty slippy, and I danced over my boots, carefully picking where I placed my feet to avoid an unexpected slide. My breathing was pretty rough, a witness to my lack of presence of the hills lately. My dodgy knees felt well though, although I was using sticks to help them and I could feel the tension in my shoulders from the poles and my rucksack. But as we found our rhythm, old muscle memories came back and the skills picked up in the hills in the last couple of years kicked in. I shortened my stride, relaxed my shoulders and lifted my head a little to help the air to reach my lungs. I’d forgotten how good this felt, when your body lines up with your mind and works as a team, at one with yourself and the mountain around you.
As we reached the snowline, the chance of slipping eased and the new challenge was to step over the deep snow and into the footprint of the climber ahead. The snow was 9 inches deep in places and the joke was who would come looking for me, 5″foot tot that I am, if I completely disappeared in the snow. Such sympathy and empathy from my climbing buddies!
We got the ‘science’ along the way from Everest Summiteer Ian Taylor and Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue buddy Ronan Friel. As we got higher, our boots crunched through hard-crusted snow to sink deeply to the ground below. The height and cold was freezing the top layer of snow, and the lads explained how layers of soft and frozen snow can build, become unstable, and depending on the incline and what lies below, can cause an avalanche. But not today in 9 inches of snow in Wicklow. Thankfully.
As we left the treeline the mist cleared and gave spectacular views across Glendalough. I always think views like these are the reward for the hard slog, but you don’t always get them, and that makes them extra special when you do.
Within moments the snow had descended again and we pushed on towards the summit in a white-out. I’m always hugely impressed at the skills of people like Ian and Ronan, who can unerringly find their way to a chosen point regardless of the weather and visibility. I’ve got my MS1 and should be able to navigate, but I’m not; mainly because I’ve been too lazy to practice. That’s something I must tackle this year.
On cue, the stones that mark the summit, pushed up through the snow covering them and the mist surrounding them. Time for snow angels and lunch, as we grab fleeces and layer up. So quickly the chill sets in when you’re not moving and before long we were striding out again, back towards the treeline.
Today wasn’t a long hike and it wasn’t a particularly hard one, but it was hard for me. I wasn’t panicking about that though. I haven’t been able to exercise properly for nearly a month, and I realise that it’s natural to expect a lack of energy after surgery, a fever, and weeks of drips and pills. The main thing is that the mountains haven’t gone away and there’s a whole year ahead to get fit and strong again and enjoy these hills and others.
Today was a very good day.