Well it’s been an interesting few years. In 2009 I was 23 stone and dangerously ill. By 2010 I was heading to Everest Base Camp to raise money for kids in India, after losing half my own body weight. A year later I was climbing Grand Paradiso in the Alps for Chernobyl kids, and this year (2012) I took part in the first charity multi-adventure challenge in Uganda for the Irish charity Concern, climbing a volcano at altitude before cycling 200k to the Nile where the team took turns in kayaking down a grade 3 rapid. I kept a training blog here for my African Adventure, and now I’m back in training for a whole new challenge.
Throughout these adventures I learned to love our beautiful mountains and stunning seas, and to forge an ever-growing respect for our bodies, which can do so much more than our minds believe.
In 2013 I want you to come with me.
I’m inviting those of you who secretly dream of being adventurous to leave the TV remote behind, and come out to explore the great outdoors. I know how scary that can be, but I want to share how wonderful it is to break down those walls and find the inner you, the inner explorer. So if you’re looking for a life-changing New Year resolution – come and join me – and “Get Off The Couch”.
Updates from the Uganda Challenge…
My big brother Raymond knows how to fly – a real-life pilot. He did some gliding too and once when I was a little girl, he talked to me about turbulence. He explained it was like driving a car fast along a bumpy bog road. Even though you bounce up and down, you’re not going anywhere, just bumping up and down on pockets of air. I was really glad we’d had that chat, as with my eyes closed tight, my stomach lurched again, as the plane bucked and plunged, ploughing through pockets of air somewhere between Frankfurt and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia
Several hours of snatched sleep and three movies later, my climbing buddy Vera grabbed my arm excitedly to show me the dawn through the window. Such a pity I couldn’t see it from my seat! Yawning and putting the seat back up for arrivals, I stretched out cramped legs and thanked the universe for making me a shorty.
The boys looked like their knees were wrapped around their ears. Off the plane into a cold, crisp, but sunny morning. No rain here in Ethiopia, that’s waiting for us in Uganda. Two buses later, we piled out onto the Tarmac a five minute walk away from the plane we just left….and minus one member of the team.
Subsequent inquiries suggested James, or ‘Jam’ as we call him, was on a different bus. It’s been 20 minutes now and we’re still waiting for the bus to transport Jam the five-minute walk from the plane, which has now taxied away. But it’s pleasant sitting here on the runway in the early morning sun. Can’t really go much further without him really. After all, Jam’s leading the expedition….
Well it’s a week to go to Uganda, so if I haven’t trained enough by now, I’ve just left it too late. I’m excited, but I’ve got those pre-expedition ponders – when you just can’t help going over the last few months in your mind, and wonder… if only. If only I’d tried hot-yoga, it would have helped me prepare for the heat. If only I’d spent more time on the hills, more time on the bike, more time in the pool. But in fairness, I drafted a training plan several months ago, and I’ve pretty much stuck to my plan. I’ve cycled 15k into work and back, most days – I’ve lifted weights in the gym twice a week, I’ve joined Wild Water Kayak Club and learned the basics of how to paddle, I’ve got my level 2 cert to prove it. I’ve climbed Carrauntoohil twice, and Purple Mountain and Tomies – as well as several training runs up my beloved Spinc in Wicklow.I’ll know very soon if I’ve done enough to tackle the altitude on Mount Elgon, whether I’ve done enough to keep up with the rest of the group as we cycle over 200k through the African bush, and whether I’ll be able to Kayak well enough, when we get to the Nile and Hairy Lemon Island.
This was my very last weekend for training, and it’s been a howler. A day’s climbing in Wicklow yesterday, followed by climbing at Awesome Walls last night – and a day out on the Liffey kayaking today – and all with a film crew shadowing every move in preperation for “Get Off the Couch”, a programme I’m presenting for Athena Media on Setanta next year, which aims to encourage people to get up and get active and get outdoors into our lovely countryside. Thanks to Barry and Paula and Rob and Helen – you were all brilliant this weekend and I’ve learned so much already from you all.
I really don’t know whether I’ve done enough for Uganda on Saturday – I really hope I have, I hope I do Concern proud. But at least after today, I feel a lot more confident about the paddling. I’ve had a real mental block over paddling over weirs into white water and was gutted last weekend when what should have been my last training session didn’t come off the way I wanted it to. I decided to have one last shot and the guys in the club pulled out all the stops for me and got me in the water again this weekend. Last night I kept telling myself I could do it – even though I didn’t really believe it! Today I told myself the same thing, and eventually when the time came, I popped over Wrens, and stayed upright….then did it again… and again. Andy, my WWKC instructor was with another group downstream, and he told me later they all heard me screaming with jubilation and they laughed as he said “ah, Teena’s made it down Wrens!”
I’m so grateful to Wild Water Kayak Club. To Andy, Aidan and Dave – who first showed me the ropes, to Andy again who never gave up on me, and to John Judge and Sean who took me out today. Thank you to adventurer, friend and mentor Pat Falvey, to Wicklow Mountain Rescue buddy Ronan Friel, ATI ‘City Kayak’ chief Donnchadh McCobb, to gym guru David Dunne, to my own fantastic radio station 98FM, to Howth Coast Guard and all our ‘forces’, to the most patient dad in Ireland, to my brother who’s prepared a detailed list of all the spiders I need to avoid in Africa, to the Albany Clinic who gave me millions of injections for a very tiny price and no bruises, to Great Outdoors who always support me and who are on P41 of my book!, to swimming ‘Chanimal’ Fergal Somerville, and to everyone who hiked and climbed and encouraged and motivated me over the past couple of months. So many friends, including my FB & Twitter supporters, I’m so very, very lucky. And thank you to whoever told me to fake-it till you make-it… ‘cos today I faked my way over Wrens until I suddenly made it! If it turns out that I haven’t done enough for Uganda, I guess I know what I have to do.. 😉
Well it’s taken over 2 weeks to get myself back on the bike. I wimped out one morning during that heavy rain we had, and the bike’s been sitting forlorn and mud-caked in the hallway ever since.
I tried to cycle into work on Monday, but couldn’t bring myself to start off the week that way. I tried to cycle into work yesterday, but listened to the voices in my head telling me I was too tired (after a good night’s sleep too!)… Then finally this morning, when the alarm went off at 6am, I grudgingly dragged myself away from my pillow, struggled into my padded lycra shorts suit (this so wasn’t designed for my body) and after finding every reason not to leave the house, I eventually edged my silver dream machine (Les bike) out the hall door.
It was damned cold this morning, and I realised that as I wheeled off down the end of my cul-de-sac, my nose was already weeping, and my ears were cut to shreds with the breeze. I grumbled for the next 5 mins or so, and then I suddenly realised that I was in top gear, flying like the wind, and absolutely loving the freedom of whizzing down the road into the dark morning.
There’s a lesson here. I avoided cycling for 2 whole weeks and convinced myself I hated it. I don’t. I love it. I loved cycling in this morning, I felt really good and strong – and I got into work in 45 minutes flat – without pushing the pace. As it turns out, I hadn’t lost a minute on my time for the 15k cycle. I’m thrilled – and I’m back.
It’s 6 weeks now, to my Concern/Uganda challenge; and the training is stepping up in earnest for myself and my WeightWatchers’ buddy Vera Baker. We’re off to Kerry and Limerick this weekend to climb and hike. Personally, the plan from here on in, is an hour of heavy-lifting in the gym twice a week. Cycling the 30k round trip into work 5 days a week. At least one swim at the weekend, and as much kayaking and climbing as we can fit in, between now and the off-date.
I’ve also started my injections and have Hep A and the first of THREE Rabies shots done. They warned me it would hurt – it didn’t. Hope that continues, and I hope I don’t start howling at the full moon…. wuff wuff folks…
Our kayak training moved from the river to the pool last night – not this pool – but one like it, over on the Northside. ( I pinched this video from ‘John’ on YouTube.)
Concern/Uganda buddy Vera Baker and I got a full hour of tuition from our friends at the Wild Water Kayak Club, in how to roll.
Self-rescue will be important when we both head off to Kayak the source of the Nile in Uganda, this November, for Concern. We need to ‘right ourselves’ when we take a tumble in rough water.
The Wild Water Kayak Club came to my assistance later in the night when I needed another bit of self-rescue as I was driving home in ‘blondie’ , my dad’s car…thanks Andy!
So the challenge was to climb the beautiful but often brooding Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain at 1.039Mtrs/3,123Ft. But in fact, my climbing and Concern/Uganda buddy, Vera Baker and I were to summit two of the highest peaks in Ireland, in just one day.
Along with a group of close to 60 walkers we approached this weekend’s Concern training walk with a certain amount of trepidation. Both Vera and myself were aware that we were a little deficient in training times for this big climb. It wasn’t due to any laziness or lack of organisation on our part, but we had needed to devote time to learning to Kayak and building up miles on the bikes for our multi-challenge adventure in Uganda for Concern this November, and getting out on the hills had suffered as a result.
Today we would find out exactly how much work we had to do. The route chosen for the climb is considered to be one of the easier, or at least ‘safest’ ascents to Carrauntoohil. We were staying on a completely different side of the mountain to the much talked about ‘Ladder’ route, which was badly eroded, and had been turned into a virtual river of mud and rock in the recent rains. With such a large group, a solid route was vital.
This was Vera’s first attempt at Carrauntoohil, and though I am a familiar visitor here, this approach from the West side of the mountain, was a first for me too. We drove up in pouring rain, resigned to a long, wet and misty hike – well wrapped up for the weather and determined to enjoy ourselves despite the wet and damp and the lack of views. Our walk began by following The Hydro Road, presumably named for the resevoir that we shortly passed by, and after a while we realised that the heavy rain had been replaced my a light mist. I joked to Vera that my iPhone App which had defiantly been declaring sun all morning, might in fact be right. I didn’t for a moment believe my own humour, as the long range forecast had confirmed the rain was down for the day.
After an initial sharp climb on road, we made our way for close to an hour across steaming bog and took a break and food, before bracing ourselves for the sharp ascent to summit Caher Mountain, we were about 45 mins away from the top of Ireland’s second highest peak at (1001 m/3000 ft). Reaching the Summit and congratulating Vera, we discovered we needed to wait on top for the group to catch up, I hurriedly fleeced up as the gusting wind whipped around my gortex shell, chilling me extremely quickly.
Caher Ridge was the next challenge. The spiny, winding, dinosaur tail that stretched beyond into the wildness of the Kerry landscape before sweeping up to our most majestic peak – our final destination – Carrauntoohil. Stepping down the exposed narrow descent from Caher Mountain to the ridge was not for the faint hearted, with severe drops falling away to our left. However the mist which had spoiled our views up to now, proved to be our friend – masking the depth of the fall on either side, and allowing those with a less than even head for heights (me) to make our way through, in blissful ignorance of what lay below. Although I’d been in these hills long enough to know instinctively that careful footwork was a wise precaution! As we gained the more level passage of the ridge itself the wind magically gusted the mist away and we grasped an emerald flash of green – swept away in seconds, before other climbers just seconds behind us, had a chance to raise their heads. This ‘peek-a-boo’ through the mist continued as we made our way along the ridge, gasps of amazement, foiled by almost instant sighs of regret as the views disappeared – cloaked again by the cloud, as it played out its burlesque peep-show for the climbers making their way to the summit.
And then we were there. We’d been speeding up for the last 15 mins with the huge iron cross that marks the highest peak in Ireland ever-present as conditions continued to clear, drawing us closer to it, faster and more confident. We’re laughing and congratulating each other, as our group of 40 climbers pass through a descending group of around 20, as we embrace the summit in bright sunshine, with superb views in all directions. I’ve been up here often enough to know how lucky we were to see conditions clear like this, and I congratulated Vera on her first, highly successful Carrauntoohil summit.
Lunch with Vera has to get a mention here – this is the only time I’ve had a multi-grain salad with a chocolate mousse on top of this mountain – and Vera can take care of the lunches for ever into the future! We were the envy of the mountain, and I apologise to all those who salivated at our fare! Food played a huge role in our climb. There was more stopping and more eating than I’m used to – because of the size of the group and the need to keep us all together. I found it difficult, because I’m used to plodding off and up and getting there, without breaks – and I found that halting my progress and getting cold was more difficult for me. But I’d never climbed in a group this large, and I learned a lot about managing a large number of people in uncertain territory. The leaders were skilled, confident and cheerful, and I’m hugely impressed at how they kept us all moving as one. We made it up in 4hrs 15 and heading back across the ridge the way we had come, it was close to the same to come down.
8hrs is a long time on the mountain, but apart from a few stiff ankles and general tiredness, we were in pretty good condition. It was a good day, we tested ourselves well, and we learned a lot. Not least, we learned that we haven’t done nearly enough to prepare us for climbing the extinct Volcano, Mount Elgon, in Uganda this November. So it’s back to the hills and back to our lovely Spink Mountain in Glendalough to step up the hiking part of our training regime. We’ve got about 6 weeks left. It’s enough. Perhaps we’ll see you out on the hills this weekend?…
On Saturday I had an early morning swim in the pool to loosen out my muscles, which were a bit stiff after climbing the mast of the Tall Ship Fryderik Chopin on Friday – I kid you not! The swim was followed by a bruising session in the gym, the sort that make you want to go into a corner and whimper. I’ve been increasing the weights I’m working with, and I’m suffering a bit as a result. Still it’s all for a good cause.
Sunday was pretty spectacular. Donnchadh McCobb and my friends at City Kayak brought myself and fellow Concern/Uganda teammate Vera Baker out to paddle with the Tall Ships as they pulled out of the Liffey. There was a bunch of us from Concern and mutual friends of ours, and the memory of the day will brighten those winter mornings as we lose the light and the cold days kick in. I will always remember Tall Ships 2012, sitting watching those magnificent ships from water level, in a kayak. Stunning and mesmerising; I’m still grinning from ear to ear as I sit at my desk typing.
We left the water and enjoyed a couple of hours strolling around the docklands, taking in the sights and party atmosphere and vowing to come back to the quays to enjoy the beauty of this revitalised area, even when the Tall Ships have gone. There’s so much happening down the docks and we need to use it – or lose it. It’s tragic that all this wonderful development work finished just around the time the boom did, so the cranes pulled out – but so did the crowds; leaving beautiful but empty buildings behind. Dublin you have been invited to help keep a wonderful new area of your home alive and vibrant, and I hope this weekend gives us all a chance to be proud of what a beautiful city we have.
We waved goodbye to the Tall Ships – and each other, and then I headed over to Malahide for a late evening swim with the Low Rock swimmers. I spent 15 minutes in the sea in my wetsuit, and finally – shamed by watching everyone else braving it – I dumped the suit and got back in with just my ‘cossie. The initial shock of the cold nearly took my breath away, and I got brain-freeze when I put my face down into the water – but after a few minutes, the sting went out of it, and I found I was enjoying my new freedom in the water; without the restriction of the tight neoprene around my shoulders. I ended up spending 40 minutes swimming back and forth, parallel to the beach and I absolutely loved it. I’m still not certain I’ll be brave to do it again, but I can truly say that I’m chuffed to have done it at all, at least once. Chilled but chuffed!
Tomorrow is such a day. Somehow I’ve agreed to climb the mast of the Polish Tall Ship, the Fryderick Chopin on the quays tomorrow, along with a gang of mates from 98FM. That mast is 120ft high. That didn’t mean too much to me, until I saw this photo a short time ago, posted on FB by Mountain Rescue Volunteer, Ronan Friel. OMG. I hope I won’t need his services tomorrow! Hearing that gusty winds and driving rain are sweeping in from the Atlantic, doesn’t exactly make me feel much better. Lunchtime tomorrow, it should all be over. I just have to make it until lunchtime tomorrow.
In fairness, I kind’ve felt a bit like that all day today. I had a bit of a whine on FB, telling my friends that “I don’t always like exercising – and I don’t always like training on Thursdays.” Thurs mean a heavy weights session in the gym in the afternoon then kayak lessons on the Liffey in the evening. I like Kayaking… but on Thurs they make us fall in. It’s cold, and wet, and yucky. I don’t like falling in… and on Thursdays I don’t always like kayaking. 🙁
As usual, after a couple of hours on the river and a couple of wettings – I feel great tonight and assured of a good night’s sleep. The sleep of the good, and the exhausted!
The gym session today was bruising. I’m squatting and pressing and throwing around 30 to 50kgs around me, depending on the exercise. I’m finding it tough – and I’ve stepped up the durations from 40mins to an hour. Today I had one of those sessions where you sit in the changing room afterwards and feel slightly nauseous. I haven’t had one of those in about a year – which probably means I needed one!
The training for Concern’s Uganda mission in November is, I think, going well. But I could do with losing about a stone before I go, to be in best condition for coping with the heat. That means my next project is to look again at my diet…….. once I survive the Fryderick Chopin!