29 December 2014
It's quarter past three on a winter's afternoon. The sun is starting to dip beneath the side of the Medway valley and I know that the temperature will drop below freezing again soon. My calves, thighs and ankles are feeling every step of the 31 miles I've done since five o'clock this morning and I'm knackered. Then it hits me. I've got around seven hours of walking still to do if I'm going to complete my 50 mile walk. For a moment my morale takes a dip and I wonder if I have the strength to carry on. I need some resilience.
Then I remember that my friend Darren is waiting at Ham Bridge with sweets, water and encouragement. He's just over 10 minutes walk away. I can make it that far I tell myself. I go again.
Darren is one of the team of instructors at Hindleap Warren and he does encouragement for a living. Every year 10,000 young people are supported by Darren and his colleagues to stretch themselves on adventurous activities at Hindleap and this is why I'm doing the walk. To raise money for London Youth's My Hindleap appeal, the aim of which is to offer gold standard outdoor education to 100,000 young people over the next 10 years. (It's also Hindleap's 50th anniversary this year, hence the 50 miles idea.)
As well as offering adventurous activities, Hindleap Warren also excels in reconnecting young people with the natural world. These days, only one in ten young people regularly play outdoors, compared to nearly half a generation ago, and Hindleap's 300 acres of woods and streams and wild animals are perfect for inspiring young people to engage with, value and develop a love for nature.
And for me personally one of the best bits of the walk has been to be out of doors on foot on one of the most beautiful days of the winter so far. To become aware of a subtle pre-dawn lightening in the south-eastern skies at half past six in the morning while the owls are still making their presence noisily felt. To finally feel the warming sun on my face after hours of walking in the frozen dark. To see deer and foxes and experience an incredible stillness and quiet as I put one foot in front of another on a carpet of frosted leaves.
Above all the day inspires me through the generosity and thoughtfulness of others. So many people supporting My Hindleap through my justgiving page. Tony, the Head of Centre at Hindleap getting out of bed at 04.30 to pace me on the first 12.5 mile leg. Zoe and Russell coming to offer encouragement at the half way point. Laura texting messages of support. My wife Ilaria waiting patiently for me at the finish. Darren walking with me on the last 12.5 miles and coaxing and supporting me like I'm one of the young people in his group at Hindleap. And this is another bit of the Hindleap experience that's so important. As well as giving young people confidence and resilience, they learn invaluable lessons about working in a team, through practical tasks accomplished collectively. And for me, although my challenge was conceived as a personal one, I couldn't have done it without the support of others.
You have plenty of time to think when you walk 50 miles. Especially those last five miles where the aches and pains start to become greater than the sum of their parts and the finish still feels a lifetime away in the dark. Plenty of time to do a few sums. I take about 125 steps in every 100 metres. That's 1,250 per kilometre and seeing there's about 80 kilometres in 50 miles, that's pretty much 100,000 steps in total. One for every young person we're going to reach through My Hindleap.
You can sponsor Gareth here http://www.justgiving.com/quietfundraiser50