London 2 Brighton 2014

We finished 28 hours and 13 minutes after setting off – when I started writing this, it was ‘never again’ but now … well, watch this space …….. it’s all too tempting!!

Every journey starts with one simple step. Our journey on Friday started with one of us being jammed in the ticket barrier at Waterloo, backpack behind, person in front, barrier in between, and the other of us doing a passable impersonation of a concerned cat, trying to get out of the train onto a non-existent platform*.

Karma? Perhaps. Omen? Possibly. Hysteria? … actually, I don’t care what it was because Julie and I have been through the worst 28 hours of our lives and the best 28 hours of our lives. The rain that started in the early hours of Saturday morning followed us, on and off, all day and through the night, gently exhausting itself until all that was left was the odd puddle and occasional muddy patch (we’ll get on to the mud later).

Fortunately, I have a total goldfish memory, so won’t try and give a blow by blow account of the weekend, listing landmarks and re-visiting places of interest – in truth, I don’t really know how to express the experience.

Walking along towpaths and through suburbia (craving Cornetto, with a mild conviction that we’d discovered where Shaun of the Dead was set), being met at the first stop by adorable men serving food and drink (does that make my ‘adorable men’ standards implausibly high or just really, really sad?) and the kilometres just seemed to speed by.

I have no memory of not being in ‘London’. We just seemed to find ourselves somewhere else and heading towards the 25k lunch stop. After the first stop, we had realised that we had brought far too many snacks with us and that they were awfully heavy .. with no heed for any warnings I was given as a child or, indeed, for anything I’ve learnt in my current occupation, I wholly admit to stopping random children and giving them packs of sweeties. Had I realised the satanic taste of Cheese Strings at this point, these would also have been given away. We live, we learn.

Our first experience of the Tunnel of Love. I’m now writing this and crying at the same time – the London to Brighton Challenge (L2B) consists of people walking for a number of charities. Julie and I were walking for Walk the Walk and, although we knew they were great at supporting their walkers, nothing had prepared us for a group of pink clad lunatics, singing and bellowing (apologies if you were just singing!!) and then forming the Tunnel of Love for us to walk under. It may not seem like much but I can’t begin to describe how it felt – ok, I’ll try. It was like the most joyous thing I’ve experienced in years – people who don’t really know us but were there, calling us on, hugging us and making us feel so proud to be part of this amazing charity. Loved, unconditionally. That’s doesn’t come close – if you want to know for real, sign up for L2B15

Along the way, we met amazing people. The lovely man who stopped me in my tracks. Literally. By yelling at me to STOP 6 seconds before a train went full pelt past me, and following it up with the sage advice that ‘It was only a little train; it’d just have stung’. The beautiful Marina who does the MoonWalk but was doing L2B for a charity that goes into children’s wards and makes life fun for a time. A girl who was literally sobbing with every step as we approached the 56k stop; there’s a feeling of helplessness I don’t like experiencing. We hugged – she felt like my daughter – and the last time I saw her was as she was going into the medical tent at Tully’s Farm (56k) having made the massively strong decision to finish her challenge at this point.

We walked for a while with James and I do hope he and his two fellow walkers finished (and thank him for the out of the blue ‘saviour’ hug at 56k). I fell mildly in love with a chap purely because he had the most amazing white jacket which reflected any light at all and made him look like a sort of see through robot/storm trooper. It was that type of an evening!

Leaving the 56k point saw us hitting the mud that had, during daylight, been horrible, treacherous. The lead up to the midway stop had just been a taster of what was to come.
I’m told that it is called ‘friendly mud’. It wants to be with you. Every step of the way. This is not like going out and walking your dog.

‘Paths’ were one person wide. Steps were coated, generously, in mud. Foothold was considered a luxury; ankles, knees and hips became expendable as we tried to just maintain a semblance of being vertical. Please, set your car mileometer (or whatever it’s called) and drive 30k in the dead of night, don’t bother with lights, just pop a head torch onto your bonnet. Don’t drive on a road – find somewhere that’s covered in black ice and 6” of slime. That was our mud. It covered stiles – of which there were many- it covered our boots, it made life long friendships with wobbly wooden bridges; it wanted to claim our souls. Does this sound dramatic? Sorry then, I’m understating things.

Promises of a wondrous sunrise fell on deaf ears as we worked at keeping upright but the first rays of sun did warm our bones and, yes, my beautiful Julie was right – it did lift the spirits (if not the eyes).

People say this challenge is 65% mental and 35% physical. If the maths would allow it, I would up those percentages but, as Julie learnt after spending the best part of 28 hours trying to teach me how to convert kilometres to miles, maths isn’t necessarily my strong point.

Throughout, Julie and I laughed – we slipped, but never actually fell over; we made porn movie sound tracks just by being quiet and listening to our boots in the mud; we bullied each other and walked in more silence then I ever believed either of us could achieve.
I will never again smell wild garlic without being transported back to woodland between Richmond and Brighton Racecourse.

I will never take any part of my body for granted.

I will never forget the texts of support.

I will never forget the sorrow of seeing fellow walkers being told they mustn’t continue their challenge.

I will never forget the impossibility of Ditchling Beacon; nor the joy of reaching the top.

I will never forget the blessing that is my wonderful, gorgeous Julie – I can’t imagine doing this sort of challenge with anybody else. She didn’t need fairy lights on her back pack; her smile lit the way.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this challenge – whether it’s been with sponsorship or love – we couldn’t have done it without you.

I know I don’t want to post this yet because there’ll be so much more to say, and so much better than this first draft but I’m not clever enough to come up with other words or to show you what it was like. I will never, in a million years, be able to describe the mud. There was pain for both of us by way of blisters – but (and without underestimating the sheer pain of blisters on the soles of your feet, under toe nails, and even under the top of your socks) nothing like the hypothermia, hospitalisations and broken limbs others went through. There was joy for both of us, and that will live in our hearts forever.

We finished 28 hours and 13 minutes after setting off – when I started writing this, it was ‘never again’ but now … well, watch this space …….. it’s all too tempting!!

I will never forget any of you. Thank you for helping us take a few steps towards generations only ever reading about cancer, and not experiencing the fear.

Thank you and all my love – Sally xxx

*yup, it was me in the barrier and Julie on the train …

>>>Learn more about the London 2 Brighton Challenge


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