Dream Challenges

Dream Challenges
Life Changing Events

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Guest Bloggers - African Initiatives take on Ben Nevis Charity Challenge

Last time my friend José had a nutty fundraising idea for African Initiatives all I had to do was bake some flapjack to keep her going round her 100 mile bike ride. I'm not sure what made her think of me when choosing the final victim for her 4-woman team for the Ben Nevis Charity Challenge, but I frankly didn't like the young and sporty look of my teammates: José often commutes to Bristol on her bike, and Sal and Kate are runners. And José being CEO of African Initiatives brought an additional element: failure was not an option. 

African Initiatives is an international development charity that promotes the rights of marginalised communities, with a focus on women and girls. Together with grass-roots partners in Ghana and Tanzania, African Initiatives works in women’s rights, girls’ education, livelihoods and health.

We empower communities and individuals to change attitudes, which in turn changes behaviour, which influences policy and leads to positive practices. This results in communities in which everyone has their voice heard and is able to challenge injustice and exercise their rights, so allowing people to attain an improves quality of life and better futures. 

According to the Ben Nevis website the mountain is in fog 55% of the time during May and June. I wasn't sure how to extrapolate this for our September expedition, but it coloured me suitably scared. There’s also a page entitled ‘safety on Ben Nevis’ designed to really hammer home the fact that there isn’t any. Here’s a taste: “bone-chilling winds, sub-zero temperatures, heavy rain, snow and blizzards - sometimes all at once”. Eek!

I never want to be that person who calls the nice folk from mountain rescue out of their beds just because I've been an under prepared idiot (an unlucky idiot, fine – and thank you in advance nice rescue people).

José's husband ran a chess evening to raise funds and awareness. None of us are chessy people really but even Sal took part, having not touched the game since a defeat in her early twenties at the hands of a ruthless 7 year old. I ran a garden event. Some friends came for warm Pimms, others came for seeds and plants, a final, generous group came solely to stick money in the pot. I got stung by a wasp while pressing the last bare rooted iris on a reluctant guest. It was worth it: we raised £130. 

We trained. We walked. We canoed along the Kennet and Avon Canal and wondered whether a straight run across a flat, narrow waterway was anywhere near a good representation of the struggle across a choppy Loch Lochy.

Three weeks before we had a final big training push. We pre-tired our legs with a 20 mile cycle ride then walked 12 miles. It was all wet feet, blisters, soggy sandwiches, marauding cows, and a sodden map where we always seemed to be walking on the creases. It wasn't a mountain, but it had to do. 

Of course, none of this prepared us. Not even slightly. The weather forecast for Ben Nevis was wind at 50-80 mph, rain at times heavy, and poor visibility at the top. Oh goody. We set off from the youth hostel at 0500 hrs on our bikes, carrying our packs 3 miles to the start. Then at 0622 we were the 23rd team to walk back the same 3 miles to the youth hostel to join the Ben Nevis path.

Coaxed by Kate we tramped past team after team. And in turn, we were passed by teams who RAN. No, Kate, don't even think about it. We started snacking early, and we snacked often. Partly to lighten the load. In retrospect we may have over done the catering. We didn't want to run low on energy. But we probably didn't need this much food.

But had we been stranded on Nevis, we'd have lasted a week, and still been in good spirits. It was heavy though. Maybe the Hopscotch Hotties wouldn't have beaten us by 9 minutes if we'd carried less? 

If you haven't walked Ben Nevis, then be warned: it's hard and steep. Going up is not so bad. But coming down is painful to middle aged knees. Younger teams skipped past us. José stopped for a chat with every marshal and every other team. She handed out cake to most (it was a vain effort, but we were hoping for the Best Team Spirit Award). As we limped the 3 miles from the youth hostel to the transition point (how many times are we going to travel this same piece of road?) we really wondered if we had the legs for a bike ride.

Kate encouraged us through the transition. Don't stop. Keep going. She was right, if we had stopped for longer we would have stiffened up. The bike ride was actually a nice sit down. …until the hills. Who put those there? The canoeing was about different muscles and really quite fun. Another nice sit down …until we turned out of the inlet and into the open loch and were riding waves. Are we going backwards? Can’t we have a rest? No! says Kate. Keep paddling. Oh how our legs stiffened and cramped in the canoe. I crawled onto the jetty and had to be winched to my feet by the nice man put there for just that purpose.

Back on the bikes for the final leg around the loch. Almost back to the transition centre we saw another team just heading out on their bikes. We croaked out something meant to be encouraging and took our mental hats off to them. We'd been out for 9 hours and 9 minutes, and were the 8th team back. They were out for over 13 hours and never gave up, even when they had a puncture. The honour salute goes to them we thought, as we rode the 3 miles back to the youth hostel AGAIN.


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