Friday, 4 July 2014

The Unfinished Blog of the Interrupted Adventurer - A tale of 4 and a half days, many cans of Irn Bru, 15 kilos shed, only about 16 miles walked and the rude and unwelcome arrival of a twat in a camper van...

Friday 27th June 2014 -

After nearly 6 months of planning - 6 months of dieting to the extreme and losing over 5 stone in weight - 6 months of exercising like a mad man; lifting weights, doing cardio, walking 24 mile practice treks on the weekends in all weathers - 6 months of telling the world what I intended to do... the time was finally here... the hour had come... it was time to put away the talk and walk the walk (so to speak) by setting off on my Little Stroll.
 
My brother in law, Colin, was coming to the house at about 10:30pm to pick Lorna, Niamhy and I up and take us all to the Milton Keynes Coachway. The plan was for them to wave me off as I hurtled away in a National Express coach to Inverness against the midnight sky and over the horizon.
 
In typical Dave Redmond fashion, the last few hours before Colin's arrival had been a manic blur of last minute panicked activity. There I was - printing off additional back up copies of maps from the OS Get a Map site - repacking parts of my backpack and then cursing at the additional weight that those changes now represented - downloading a playlist onto the Ipod, which at around 6pm I had decided that I would, in fact, bring along - squeezing in a last minute bath around 8pm which was a suitable follow up performance for the whistle stop haircut I had factored into my day at around 3pm (don't worry... no beard hair was harmed as a result of this haircut!).
 
In many ways it was a good thing that those last hours had been so busy. I must admit that the day had been one of very mixed emotions. When my thoughts were occupied by a specific task that needed doing I felt nothing in particular, but in those quiet moments between tasks I felt giddying highs of excitement and anticipation, quite staggering lows of anxiety and self doubt, and repeatedly pangs of regret and remorse that I would be leaving Super Wife and my little Monkey Face behind for so long. Thankfully, Super Wife was in cracking form and those negative feelings were short lived. Quite quickly as the time fast approached 10:30pm those emotions were replaced with the frustration and anger at myself in the realisation that my pack was evidently too heavy...  by at least 10 kilos I'd say. I resolved to throw all items into either the backpack or into a large wheeled holdall to sort out once I had arrived safely in John O'Groats.
 
Before I even knew it I was loading my bags into the back of Colin's pick up and putting Niamh's car seat into the back of the double cab. Cols had handed me a good luck card when he had arrived which had taken me aback. I think it was only at that point, that simple gesture, that I truly appreciated, this was big. Not just a challenge, but a truly big deal to a lot of people other than myself. It had an instantly galvanising effect, steeling my determination to smash those miles and return triumphant having conquered the behemoth task I had set myself.


Once at the coach station, having arrived 20 minutes early, we discovered that in fact the coach was due to be at least half an hour behind schedule. With a little one in the car, smiling like a Cheshire cat but clearly very tired, we decided that it would be best to say our goodbyes now so that a heavily pregnant Super Wife, a significantly injured brother in law and a very tired monkey face could get home and get some sleep. I had a last cuddle with Niamhy who properly cuddled in with her daddy and I confessed filled my eyes with tears tinged with happiness and yet an unexplainable sense of loss. It washed over me like some enormous tide, the simple fact that I would not see her again for at least 53 days and it overwhelmed me.

Super Wife held it together incredibly well, but the sentimentality of those final five minutes must have been significant... because we all nearly forgot my packed lunch! I saw Lorna leap from the Hilux as it was about to pull away, but it wasn't some Whitney Houston in the Bodyguard "Stop the plane!" moment leading to a lingering snog on the tarmac - there was the serious business of Ginsters pies and toffee crisps to be addressed!
 
 
Saturday 28th June 2014 -
 
At around 12:30 I dragged my bags into the hold of the X588 to Inverness and boarded the unexpectedly packed coach.
 
They say with National Express you get what you pay for. If that's the case I must have elected the "only one arse cheek on the seat, no leg room, tibia snapping, shite option" with a side order of "a snoring smelly old git immediately across the aisle from me," together with "a boozy Glaswegian couple kicking off at each other at 190 decibels" to follow. But for just over twenty quid...
 
I got zero sleep during the course of that journey and was massively relieved to arrive in Inverness about 11:35. I was straight across road and into the little café there, Ashers, which sits in the same hall as the ticket office. For the next couple of hours  just sat at the table in the corner drinking tea and coffee, demolishing a bacon roll, tweeting and Facebooking whilst listening to Faithless on my Ipod... bliss... and, most importantly... loads of leg room!
 
The Orkney Shuttle Bus by comparison was an absolute dream. Loads of room, very comfortable and the option of buying refreshments en route. 119 miles of remote highland highway for only £25... you can't argue with that. As we sailed along the A9 northwards I studied the terrain of that road very carefully as it was going to be my home for the next 4-5 days and I must say, it wasn't too bad at all. Despite being the Highlands, the road itself is, for the most part, relatively flat, save for a bit of an undulation around Berriedale. I felt quite content sitting there watching picture postcard perfect scenery fly past my window.
 
There was only myself, a little old Scottish lady about three rows ahead of me and what I think was a German backpacker about 6 or 7 rows behind me, but who rarely made a sound. The young girl of about 19, who was taking the money and the tickets was clearly English, with quite a well pronounced home counties accent. The driver was a big chunny fella (not unlike myself) who was clearly a highlander. The two of them chatted away together as we travelled, the young girl constantly giggling in a shrill tone at all of the rawdy, risqué and very funny, to be fair, tales the driver relayed to her. The one thing I found very disconcerting though was the way in which the young girl constantly said "aye" in a Scottish accent every time you would normally say "yes" or "yeah" but then go directly back to talking in her native pinched BBC voice. That said, I don't want to be mean or rude about her, she was lovely, and compared to the waking nightmare that had been the previous 11 hour coach journey - the trip up to Orkney had been a little slice of heaven.
 
We arrived at John O'Groats just before 5pm and I went immediately with my rucksack on my shoulders trailing my wheeled holdall behind me along the gravel pathway to the gentleman taking photographs beside the official John O'Groats signpost. As it had been my intention to head off at the crack of dawn on the Sunday morning and get a head start on all those miles I decided to try and get the obligatory mug shot in front of the famous mile marker right away. A big jolly man with a massive red beard met me as I approached and was more than happy to take my picture with the next days date marked up on the sign. He was probably one of the most upbeat characters I had ever encountered in my life. He warned me to watch out for the precarious stretch of road near Berriedale and declared with no detectable falseness or insincerity at all that he was sure that I would make it the whole way south... and I say that as one of the most pessimistic and cynical people I know. I took an instant shine to him.
 
A short while later I was walking the 150 yards or so back south to the Seaview Hotel where I was booked in to spend the night. I hope I don't so it any discourtesy when I say that from the outside you could be forgiven for feeling that this is probably going to be no better than an average travel inn, but I can honestly say that I was very impressed - with the bedroom, with the shower facilities, with the bar, with the food... it was all good, and at £60 a night including a cracking cooked breakfast in the morning, it was very much worth the money. 
 
I dropped my rucksack onto the bed, put my holdall on the luggage rack and proceeded to empty it's entire contents out all over the bed. I made myself a cup of tea, noted that there was no phone in the room and so dug out my phone charger before making a call to Super Wife back home. Only problem was that the phone wouldn't maintain signal for more than 10 seconds, so after several failed attempts, and Lorna no doubt feeling she was being stalked by a man who wouldn't talk, I gave up on the endeavour and carried on packing my bag.
 
Once I had everything from the holdall on, in or attached to my rucksack it was so monumentally heavy that I broke my watch strap and one of the Camelback clips just getting it onto my back - and that was without ANY water weight. I could walk about in it sure... but I knew in my heart that it would cause my feet to be shredded within 4 days and that essentially if I went out with it the walk would be doomed to fail. The problem was simple. I had intended to take about 10 dehydrated meals with a combined weight of about 1kg - instead we had bought about 34 pouches of Wayfayrer food with a combined weight of nearer 10.4kg! I had also managed to amass a reasonably heavy foldable shovel, a pair of trainers, some replacement walking pole parts, emergency ration pack, and various other non-essential items.
 
Feeling completely desolate about my chances of realistically completing this challenge under the pressure of all this weight, I decided I would go and get something to eat from the Hotel and then call Super Wife to discuss my cunning plan. I had intended to leave early Sunday morning, but officially the walk wouldn't begin until the Monday, so my thinking was that I would strip out all the non-essential kit on the Sunday (non-essential in my eyes not under the caring but overly cautious watchful eyes of Super Wife) and then courier all the excess stuff back home on the Monday morning. There was a post office less than 100 yards south of the hotel and the Seaview could allow me to keep the room for an extra night. It would mean I'd lose my head start but I thought it would be worth it to lose over 10kg as a result.
 
After I had eaten my fill and had a soppy conversation with Super Wife I returned to my room and instantly took out all but 5 packs of food, the trainers and the shovel - the bag was instantly immensely lighter and a significant weight was emotionally and psychologically (not to mention literally!) lifted from my shoulders. I returned to the bar post haste for a celebratory pint of the black stuff.
 
 
Sunday 28th June 2014 -
 
I awoke surprisingly late, I can only assume as a result of being safe in the knowledge that I no longer needed to be anywhere today. My only task was to strip down my bag further and then take it out for a test run... but first... breakfast.
 
Having had my fill of bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, toast and beans, and appreciating every mouthful of what were like to be my last couple of meals not out of a Jetboil cup from a sealed foil pouch, I headed back to my room in the singular mind to ruthlessly decimate that back pack.
 
I then switched on the SPOT Gps device, slipped it into the top pocket of my rucksack and trundled out of the hotel, onto the road and struck out in a generally southerly direction.

The first thing that hits you as you begin to walking up in the most northern section of the country is that it is three things... bleak, stark and astoundingly beautiful. My intention was to test out my overall rig by taking a stroll up to Dunscansby Head, the furthest north easterly point of mainland Great Britain.

The going was good. A little bit of uphill, a little bit of downhill, but nothing too strenuous. As I made my way downhill on my way out to the lighthouse I found myself bouncing, actually bouncing, along to Fix Up, Look Sharp by Dizzee Rascal. It's quite a comforting fact to know that no-one can see you, at 31 years of age, swaggering along to a bit of top quality London grime.

In terms of the kit itself, the weight was monumentally better. I still had aspirations to strip out a little bit more to make the comfort factor ultra-sweet but generally I was feeling good, feeling strong... feeling sweaty! Those Helikon army fleeces certainly do their job.

It was about 2 miles out to the lighthouse and about 2 miles back so all in all just under 4 miles in a pretty fast time.

No pain, no discomfort. If I could shave another half kilo off I'd be laughing.

I recorded what had been intended to be the first of many handheld short video updates - I wasn't to know that this would in fact be my only foray on film... but we'll come to that later.

video

I went back to the hotel and got about 5 hours of much needed afternoon shut eye. It dawned on me that I hadn't gone to bed until 4am on the Thursday, had woken up at 7am to start all over again and then hadn't slept at all on Friday night. I was shattered - time to recoup for the big start tomorrow.
 
Don't get me wrong... I got up later that night, tucked into a lovely bit of sirloin steak and washed it down with a pint of Irn Bru.
 
I sat in the bar area with a half pint of Orkney Ale and eavesdropped the conversation of a group of forty to fifty year old men and women who had clearly just completed a bicycle journey from Lands End to John O'Groats. They looked absolutely shattered but they were brimming with the happiness and excitement of teenagers, and justifiably so. One of their number put Careless Whisper by George Michael on the jukebox which made everyone in that little bar laugh, everyone being the group, the barmaid, myself and two leather clad, long hair and bearded German bikers. This selection was immediately followed up by Ace of Spades by Motorhead much to the approval of our Germanic cousins and feeling light of heart and reasonably content I left the scene to have an emotional half hour conversation with Super Wife which further spurred me on for the next days adventure.
 
Then... it was back off to bed.
 
 
Monday 30th June 2014 -
 
Here it was!
 
The official start of Big Dave's Little Stroll 2014!
 
I woke up at about 6am and I was absolutely buzzing. All the apprehension, the self doubt, the negativity had just lifted from me. If anything I was frustrated that I couldn't get straight out there as I had to wait for the post office to open up at 9am. Breakfast wasn't even being served until 7:30 so I set about packing all the gear up that needed to be sent home to Super Wife in Houghton Regis. I had another shower, and then another cup of tea, put the extra double strike insoles into my Scarpa Ranger boots and then strapped them on.

I ate heartily over in the main dining room of the Seaview Hotel, receiving friendly nods and good mornings from all of the German bikers (for they had multiplied) that were sat dotted all around me. I thanked the lad serving once I was done and seemingly skipped back across to my room to collect all the gear to send back. The two little ladies who run the post office were more than happy to help me box up all the excess gear to send back and wished me luck with my walk. I had decided to wear the bright green t-shirt of Macmillan Cancer Support that morning and it was noticeable how many more smiles and nods you get from people when you look like me but are wearing such a beloved shirt.
 
Once I got back to my room it took me a matter of minutes to buckle up my webbing, velcro on my osprey vest, bustle my rucksack onto my shoulders, apply the sternum strap and don the flat cap at a jaunty angle.

I checked out at the Seaview Hotel reception and the lady behind the counter kindly came out and took a picture of me in all my gear about to set off. Not only that but she switched on my GPS for me, as I had forgotten, which saved me having to do the special dance in getting my rucksack off and the back on again. It was important to take a picture on my phone as I could upload that instantly through twitter. Although, I had brought both a camcorder and a camera with me I didn't bring the means to upload files from either without the need for a USB port in a computer. Neither Super Wife or I had realised that the Kindle didn't have one. Schoolboy error. This had led the previous day to someone tweeting their doubts that I was even in John O'Groats or walking the route at all. The person even demanded proof. Obviously I had always intended to provide a blog, pictures and video (I had even spent money out on an expensive GPS system) but the blunt way in which my honesty had been challenged, I must admit, had upset me more than I could comprehend or would have expected. So armed with my image burned onto my Blackberry... I was off!
 
The first section of  the walk was along a largely featureless stretch of road - plain, stark but beautiful. As I steadily plodded along the gently uphill of Warth Hill, I soaked in the vast open horizon before me whilst listening to the uplifting strings of Elbow's One Day Like this.

Before I had gotten as far as the hamlet of Freswick I came into contact with a young lad on a bicycle coming the other way. "Have you got far to go?" he chirpily enquired. "Just a bit" I chuckled back. I asked him if he'd come far and he told me he had "only come up from London."
 
Staggering.
 
His name was Dan and he was writing about his travels around Great Britain. He was on something liker day 58 of his journey (I can't recall exactly now) but he was keen to know who I was fundraising for, what the name of my blog was and asked if he could take my picture. The well known poser that I am (ahem!) I readily obliged.
 
I strolled on through Freswick and the Hill of Harley, rationing my water and my polos as I went, treating them as rewards for reaching each hill crest ahead. That said I was accosted by some ponies on a stretch of downhill road who followed me for quite a while quite clearly eyeing up the circular mints protruding from my chest pocket. I paid the sugary sweet toll to my equine companions before leaving them behind me as I traipsed through Auckengill and past Nybster.

And then disaster struck... quite literally.
 
Along the stretch of road between Helberry and the remains of Keiss Castle I was walking along quite happily on the right hand side of the road and as close to the nominal kerb as I could be comfortably. I was striding along with a pacerpole in each hand, a red flashing bike light on my chest and a luminous yellow hi-vis vest hanging down my front so that any oncoming vehicle could easily see me. The day had been warming up, the midges were out in force and, being the middle of the afternoon, visibility was pretty damn good. I was listening to a bit of Ed Sheeran's A team with an ear bud in one ear only so I could still hear what was going on around me.
 
Then all of a sudden I felt an almighty thump in my back which caused my head and neck to snap back violently and my arms to spring out to my sides. I don't remember the rest very clearly, such was the speed at which it happened, but I felt myself being hurtled forward several metres, twisting in the air and landing in a twisted heap of limbs face up on my rucksack and the side of my webbing in the flint filled ditch/border at the side of the road. The pain in my right shoulder and upper chest was instantaneous and searing. My head was literally spinning and my neck felt numb. I had no idea what had happened. I half-rolled, half scrambled onto my knees, using my left hand to push myself off the ground, but as I went to push off my right foot to rise up I heard several loud cracking sounds and I fell back onto my hands and knees with some force. I looked up from this position, initially to find myself facing the grass verge at the other side of the tarmac, before twisting my entire upper torso to stare with eyes half filled with muck up the incline of the road. As I did so I could see quite clearly about 250 to 300 metres away an old style white box campervan, rapidly decreasing in size on the horizon. I wasn't in the right frame of mind to note the registration, nor do I think I could have seen it in any event. There was no doubt in my mind that it was that vehicle that had struck me as there was literally nothing else around and there was no indication that the vehicle had even slowed down; as I watched it disappear from sight I hadn't witnessed even the glimmer of a brake light.
 
I rolled onto my arse, pulled my right ankle up towards me and squeezed it. It felt painful, but not unbearably so, and was not yet swollen. I wriggled out of the straps of my pack and slowly stood up. As I did I felt a sharp shooting pain run down my left shin to my exterior ankle causing me to exclaim reasonably loudly. My right arm hung painfully and as I pressed on the front of my clavicle I could tell something wasn't right.
 
My first thought was to ring the police there and then, but when I went to use my phone it had no signal at all. The more I thought about it the more I realised that I had hardly any details to give in any event and with no CCTV and still absolutely no soul around I resolved to take a handful of extra strength Ibuprofen, harden up and battle on to at least the next little village, which was Keiss.

By the time I reached the hotel and the little shop opposite it in the middle of Keiss, the pain had begun to numb out and although walking in a somewhat laboured and staccato fashion, I truly began to believe I would simply be able to tough it out and get on with things. There was a little picnic table outside of the convenience store where I dumped my bag and my poles, brushed myself down properly, before going into the shop and buying myself a couple of cans of Irn Bru, a bottle of coke and a bottle of water.
 
I returned to the bench and a short while later my mobile phone started buzzing in my vest. I was obviously now in an area of signal. I replied to a message from Will Scrivener, a friend who is in the Sons of the Late Colonel (the band who had done the #GoBigDave charity single) and incidentally who was an usher at my wedding, saying "GO BIG DAVE!" I told him that I'd just been clipped by a campervan but that I had managed to keep going.
 
It's a strange thing the male ego... having been told that I was essentially "a legend," that I was going at a cracking pace on the GPS which was being keenly followed by many people and having just down two cans of Irn Bru and another handful of extra strength Ibuprofen, I was honestly feeling good to go... In fact, I was feeling invincible... In fact, if I had come across a white camper van with a large wing mirror hanging off it or a Big Dave shaped dent in it's body work, I would have felt fit enough to knock that sucker clean out! (Mr T style... obviously). That said, as I had conveyed to both Will and Super Wife via text, I couldn't actually lift a can of Irn Bru to my mouth using my right hand... never a good sign.

I did the special dance getting my rucksack back on to my shoulders and then hobbled for forty paces or so ever southwards, before regaining my normal stride as I joined a proper footpath that ran along the A99.
 
But alas all great things must come to an end, and so it was here. The first thing to diminish at an alarming rate was the established footpath and before long I was back to plodding along the tarmac into oncoming traffic. I trundled on uphill past the Bridge of Wester and Westerloch. The second thing to come to an end was the absence of pain. By the time I made it up to Quoys of Reiss I was in my own personal agony. Pain seared through my right ankle and left leg with each and every step, and each step was about a third the length of my normal stride, On top of that, the front of my right shoulder was beginning to move beyond the realms of a painful distraction and into the vicinity of laying me low.
 
In a spate of desperation I began to wave one of my pacerpoles at vehicles passing me by, in the hope that one may be inclined to give me a lift to the nearest telephone as mine was again without signal, but it was to no avail. To be fair I think most of the vehicles passing me by were mistaking my grimace and raised arm to be a smile and a wave. Cars pass by at quite a pace on that stretch of road. I eventually admitted defeat and stopped dead at the side of the road, building up the courage to give it one last push down the last stretch of the A99 where it joins to the A9 at Reiss.
 
My first bit of good fortune arrived in the guise of two quite remarkable elderly people who pulled up beside me in a small hatchback, genuinely concerned as to my condition. Together myself and the elderly gent managed to get my bag onto the bag seat with me positioned beside it. They were extremely apologetic that they couldn't take me any further than the crossroads at Reiss but I will be forever indebted to those two wonderful people. It might only have been three quarters of a mile at best, but at that time I would never have gotten myself and my kit to the end of the A99.
 
I leant against a wall that formed the boundary of someone's front garden. My phone now had signal but I had no idea of the number of any local taxi firms and with the battery running dangerously low I was loathe to use it for anything other than essential calls. My second bit of good fortune was spotting a taxi turning towards Sibster, a company called Miller, and so I rang and shortly thereafter another older gentleman came and picked me up with the intention of transporting me to Wick Caravan and Camping Site. Being completely truthful with you, before the taxi arrived, having stripped off my backpack, vest and webbing, and whilst being in so much pain that it was hurting to even stand leaning, I felt actual tears of frustration and guilt welling up. I had sworn I would not use any vehicles at all on this expedition, and here I was on my first day within 14 miles taking lifts from strangers and ordering taxis. I managed to keep my emotions under control by convincing myself that I would get myself properly patched up at the campsite and then tomorrow get a taxi back to the exact spot from which I had taken the lift. It was far from perfect, I thought to myself, but it was honest and I wouldn't feel that I had cheated myself.
 
As we approached we got to Wick Camp site I was suddenly filled with dread that they may well be completely booked up, but I need not have worried. Immediately upon our arrival we were met by a lovely lady by the name of Tricia Miller who was the embodiment of helpfulness and concern. Although I mentioned to her that I'd been involved in an accident it later transpired that she had only realised that I may have turned my ankle. In fairness, I may well have been quite spacy and more than a little vague, but nevertheless she sorted me out with a space to camp, the code for the shower block and told me she would take me to the hospital if I needed to go.
 
I had no intention of going to the hospital at the time but was extremely grateful of the offer. I sat on the bench near to where I intended to set up camp and pretty much downed another two cans of Irn Bru. I then very slowly set about pegging out my basha using bungee ropes, shuffling around like a hobo. I completed the task to a borderline satisfactory standard then pushed all my gear under its cover. I then went to the shower block and made the fundamental mistake of removing my boots. I won't go into the ins and outs of the 15 minutes that followed, but I emerged from that shower block pale, shaking, in absolute agony... and wearing boots.
 
Another lovely couple who were friends with Mrs Miller offered to take me to the Caithness General Hospital, again without any wish for payment and without any hesitation - absolute diamond people. I sat in the A&E department for about an hour and a half before I was seen and having been examined by one medical professional then sat for just over another hour in a small curtained cubicle, barefoot with my trouser legs pulled up past my knees, shirtless and slightly high on some serious painkillers. During this time I sent several texts to Lorna to let her know what had happened to me. I later found out that these were pretty incomprehensible... well... that's serious painkillers for you. The doctors allowed me to go later that evening, strapped, wrapped  and with a bag of drugs with the clear advice that I would not be able to continue with my walk for at least 4-6 weeks, best case scenario, and that in any event I should keep from putting any sustained pressure on either leg for at least 2 weeks (which is difficult when both your legs are injured. One of the doctors actually suggested complete bed rest for a few days, but the other humorously waited until she had left the cubicle then essentially said she was being a "Jessie."
 
Mrs Miller kindly came and collected me from the hospital. I was a mess. One severely sprained right ankle, one seemingly severe high ankle sprain of my left leg with deep tissue bruising, fractured clavicle, torn trapezius muscle and soft tissue damage to neck, trapezius and my mid-back, plus a beautiful array of cuts, scrapes and bruises - but most importantly no broken ankles, no misaligned clavicle fractures and no head injuries. Small mercies and silver linings - but as both Super Wife and the medical professionals pointed out, if it hadn't been for the size and shape of my kit it could have been gravely more serious, if not fatal. One of the doctor's suggested that it was likely that the driver was of foreign extraction and had reverted to driving on the right hand side of the road. Then as a result of not paying proper attention he must have clipped me. Everyone I've spoken to has suggested that the driver must not have known otherwise they would have stopped and maybe I'm being too cynical, but I just don't see it. I'm nineteen and a half stone carrying around 2 or so stone of pack. If you hit that at any speed, even with your wing mirror, you're going to know about it.
 
Mrs Miller immediately offered to ring around and try to find me a room at a local hotel or bed and breakfast. It took a lot of effort as everywhere was booked out but eventually she found one room at the Queens Hotel in Wick. Then Tricia and her husband William helped me to gather all my gear together and load it into their car, drove me to the hotel and carried my gear into the lobby before bidding me farewell. They both seemed genuinely apologetic that I had been hit by this driver, which was heart warming in itself, but on top of that Tricia in fact refunded the money for my stay at the campsite. I vigorously attempted to refuse to take the money in light of all the amazing assistance they had rendered me but in the end took it on the proviso that I would donate it to the fundraising site on their behalf. 
 
I booked in at the front desk of the Queens Hotel at around 8:30-8:45pm and inched my rucksack, webbing and vest up the stairwell and along the hall to room one where I was lodged. There I straight away lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling for well over twenty minutes.

I was overcome with regret, disappointment, dismay and a profound sense of guilt towards all the many people who had believed in me and donated to the cause. I felt deeply that I had let them all down, that I had failed, that my word was worthless. I know that many people will tell me that those feelings are ridiculous, that it was taken away from me, that I should be proud - but I promised that this blog would be honest at all times, the good with the bad, the rough with the smooth - and that's how I felt. As I lay there with a burning anger, overwhelmed by disbelief and melancholy, tears streamed down my face. I wasn't sobbing, but I couldn't stem the flow. All I kept thinking was that I'd let everyone down and that 6 months of starving myself and putting myself through so much pain had been for nothing. Again I know that may seem imbecilic in the cold light of day, but that is what I truly felt.
 
I was forced to stagger 50 yards up the road to a local Chinese takeaway to get any food as the hotel had stopped serving. I did however sit in their dining room tucking into said oriental cuisine, with a pint of Irn Bru on the go and my mobile plugged into the wall being consoled by Super Wife on speaker. Bless her, she had been through hell that day. As I had no real recourse to the internet up until that point Lorna had been in charge of updating the social media sites, fielding enquiries from lots of concerned people but not really being able to give full or accurate response, and all the time worrying as to whether  was alright. Considering she is 6 months pregnant that is a phenomenal effort and I truly don't know what I would do without her.
 
I managed to drag myself back up the stairs, unwrap and unstrap myself, struggle through a nice hot shower, completely forget how to put the bandages back on, eventually exasperated giving up and collapsing on the bed.
 
 
Tuesday 1st July 2014 -
 
I woke up late, about 7:30, managed another shower and to dress myself and then hobbled down to the breakfast room. I wolfed down a full cooked breakfast on a par with that of the Seaview Hotel and asked the hotel porter how far away we were from the Wick Railway station. It turned out that it was less than a five minute walk away but, with my collarbone now being twice as painful as it had been the day before and much more inflamed, I knew that I would be unable to carry my kit a few feet, let alone for five minutes. So the porter booked me a taxi for 12:15 for the 12:35 train. Only problem was that check out was at 11.
 
Not wanting to fanny about up in my room for any longer than I needed to, and fearing that my ability to hold or carry anything at all would only get worse as the day went on, I inched my bag down the stairs at a snail pace, all the time placing both my strapped up legs under immense pressure, dragging it through to the dining room where I stayed from 9 until 12:15 reading and sipping coffee.
 
The taxi driver was an absolute star, single-handedly loading the kit into the car, unloading it at the station and in fact walking it right onto the train for me. I couldn't have been more grateful. Unfortunately the ticket inspector was less helpful, insisting I walk the 120 metres down the station to the ticket office to buy a ticket (every single step a fresh agony), only to discover that the ticket office computers were down and I'd have to get it on the train (120 metres back). Once back at the inspector she simply said "oh yes that's fine" (ticket machine hanging around her neck) before telling me that the kit bag would need to be moved two carriages further down the train... and then watching me essentially crawl along the platform in clear distress, having been told only minutes earlier by the taxi driver assisting me that I had two injured legs and a cracked collarbone. If she had been a man...
 
Once on the train the joy didn't end there. The train to Inverness, it turned out, was not a train to Inverness at all but a train to Brora due to an obstruction on the line. As such the rest of the journey would be by replacement bus service. When we arrived in Brora I again carried the bag out of the station and onto the coach to which I'd been directed. By this time I was moving very much at the pace of an old man on oxygen with a zimmer frame. Only once I had boarded the coach was I informed by the inspector that if I wished to make the 6pm connection to London (the only one incidentally until the next morning) I would need to "very quickly" get onto the "other" replacement bus. So I did, as quickly as I could unload my own bag from one coach down the road about 50 metres and then onto another coach, before quite audibly collapsing into my seat.
 
A couple of hours later we were at Inverness Railway Station. Problem was I needed Inverness Bus Station, which I was reliably informed was through the station itself and then about one block away. Problem was... I by now quite literally couldn't lift my bag. In fact, I could barely walk.. I left my bag completely unattended and hobbled off in search of a luggage trolley, which I found deep within the station, one of two, linked by those £1 release mechanisms. I went back to my bag, wheeled it through the station and clambered my gear into another taxi, before returning the trolley and myself then staggering back to the taxi. In less than a minute and a half in city traffic we were there. A fit Dave could have carried the bag there in 40 seconds... pathetic. To his credit the taxi driver unloaded the bag onto the pavement, before I somehow managed to get it into the Ashers Café that I had visited a few days before.
 
I bought myself a couple of drinks and sandwiches and was told by the middle aged lady that worked there that they were closing in 15 minutes. I specifically asked her whether we were still permitted to sit on the chairs in the hall even when they closed and I was categorically told yes. So, I bought the food and sat myself down at a table in the corner. I shit you not, 10 minutes later the woman comes over to me and says you need to move into "the other area now sir" - the area with no chairs, no tables... the area the other side of the poxy ticket hall! I swear I could have lost it. Steam must have been visibly coming out of my ears. Pure anger alone gave me the strength to move my bag, food, the lot across the hall and everybody knew that I was not a happy man, without me even uttering a word.
 
I waddled my bag back outside to the stand where the X588 to London was due to arrive nearly an hour and a half later. I no longer cared. I just knew that I didn't want to move that bag, or indeed walk, anywhere anymore.


When I did finally get onto the coach I sat right at the back in a seat with slightly extra leg room, I placed my bag fashioned out of the combat vest and bungees on the seat next to me, I squeezed my boots off, and promptly went to sleep. I wasn't moving for anyone and if anyone really wanted to sit next to me they'd have to wake me up and hope I was in a considerably better mood. It had been an horrific 24 hours, one that I would never want to repeat. I had gone from the absolute highs and euphoria of setting out on a new adventure surrounded by so much wild and beautiful landscape to being brutally flung down the tarmac sustaining multiple injuries. I had suffered the ultimate indignity of having to abandon something I had repeatedly sworn I would do and the profound sense of guilt and failure that accompanied that decision. And I had struggled at nearly every stage throughout the day to get anyone to assist me at all with my bags when I was clearly physically injured and in a great deal of pain.
 
 
 
Wednesday 2nd July 2014 -  Onwards and Upwards!
 
So, I'm sure you would forgive me if I had decided that I would give up on this whole endeavour entirely... one bridge too far and all that jazz... but I haven't.
 
Before I had even gotten home to Houghton Regis in the taxi that carried me away from the Milton Keynes Coachway at 5:30 in the morning I had sworn to myself that an idiot in a camper van was not going to stop me. I swore that I was going to do all I could to raise awareness and money for the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes by walking from John O'Groats to Lands End and that is what I am going to do. Broken bones and sprained ligaments and muscles will heal. I will train my arse off yet again. It's not going to happen in a matter of weeks but Big Dave's Little Stroll lives on.
 
The support has been phenomenal.
 
The response has been fantastic.
 
The donations keep rolling in.
 
It'll take at least 4-6 weeks to heal - minimum. Then my little boy is due in October. Super Wife and I have discussed it and we think late next year I can get out and attack this challenge again - and I intend to smash it!
 
In the meantime, once I am healed, I will undertake as many smaller challenges as I can get involved with, I will continue to diet and I will continue to train... and I will do my upmost to keep that fundraising total ticking upwards so that the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes can receive a decent total once I'm done.

Big Dave's Little Stroll will continue... onwards and upwards!
 
I suppose the real question is... will you guys continue to support me?
 
 
 
 

4 comments:

  1. Inspirational! No other words x

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  2. The kindness of strangers is remembered forever. The stupidity of a*se holes fade as your rage dissipates unless you take the trouble to curse them to their seventh generation!

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  3. Of course we will continue to support you Dave! Good luck with 2015!

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  4. Big respect to you for continuing as you did, and all the best for the future.

    Pete

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