Sandra’s Three Land Challenge 2013

Was it, in the run-in to my second Edinburgh Moonwalk, when I first read about last year’s 3LC, thinking “that sounds amazing” and “I would really like to do that”? Was it when I walked the Great North Run with participants from last year and allowed myself to be persuaded (although not much persuasion was needed)?

The Three Land Challenge (3LC) has become a huge part of my life over the past year. More so, than I ever anticipated, and it is hard to know where to begin.

Was it, in the run-in to my second Edinburgh Moonwalk, when I first read about last year’s 3LC, thinking “that sounds amazing” and “I would really like to do that”? Was it when I walked the Great North Run with participants from last year and allowed myself to be persuaded (although not much persuasion was needed)? Was it when I registered my interest on the website? Or was it when I signed up on Thursday 25th October?

A year later, I am now sitting thinking “that was amazing” and “I have done that!”.

I initially signed up on my own, but that did not last very long. Walk the Walk set up a Facebook Group and I soon got to know some of my fellow challengers.   I first met Anne at the Great Winter Run in Edinburgh in January 2013, and through her met up with Elaine, Yvonne and Jane (who was “doing Iceland”) at the Edinburgh Rock n Roll Half in April.  Anne and Elaine went on to do Three Land Challenge Extreme, but that is another story.

London Moonwalk

I was  nervous about doing London as I have never done it before and know that it would bigger and busier than Edinburgh which I had done twice before.  As I arrived at Moonwalk City I spotted yellow Three Land Challenge Caps in the crowd and soon I was chatting to “Trouble in Transit” (Alicia and Debs) and others in the queue.  Then we were all in the Pink Tent and it felt like a reunion rather than a first meeting as we had got to know one another online beforehand. I also met Tania my number-sake from last year (prompt registration named me walker number 4 – the first and possibly last time I have had a single digit number!).

The highlight of the evening was when Nina invited all of the 3LC participants to join her on stage, a highlight which was repeated in Edinburgh. Two very special moments.

Soon it was time to start. I had arranged to walk with Yvonne and we ended up starting all Three Moonwalks together.  I thoroughly enjoyed London – walking through Battersea Park as the lights went out,  past the impressive Fire-fighters of Chelsea, passing Big Ben as it struck three,  crossing Tower Bridge as the sun came up and walking along the South Bank with hugs aplenty en route. Just as on a long distance car journey you keep passing and being passed by the same people, people with roughly the same pace as you. This time it was Neil and Pat Hipkiss. I spent so long looking at Neil’s back I could now give a detailed description of every stitch and sequin on his bra!  Yvonne and I finished together in 6 hrs 55 – comfortably inside the 7 hr  target we had set ourselves. We were greeted with hugs from Walk the Walks’s wonderful volunteers. Challenge 1 was now complete.

Edinburgh Moonwalk

Three weeks later, it was fun welcoming my fellow challengers to my home city. A few of us caught up on the Friday night, amongst the pre-show dinners and happy hour survivors of the Omni Centre, and soon got the weekend off to a great start.   The fun continued on Saturday – Trouble in Transit set up camp at ours, while my husband Tom acted as cook, chauffeur and bottle-washer for the weekend.  We gave the T.i.Ts a quick tour around the city in the afternoon, pointing out the main milestones of the route, before loading up on pasta. Soon we were within Moonwalk City, and this time it truly was a reunion.  The promised sunshine faded but the few showers were nothing like the previous year’s deluge.  Not long after 11pm, it was then time to set off. As ever my fellow citizens did not disappoint and they were out cheering and supporting us all around the route, sometimes in force and others on their own – from the Easter Road and West End pub-goers, to the lady in Craigleith with the bras in her window, to the Leith hairdressers with their oranges.

Arthur was soon upon us – I know that many people dread this section but it’s really not that bad and it was great to hear fellow walkers agree.  Yes, there is a short climb (or incline as we came to say) but it is but one mile out of 26.2 and worth it for the views of the city, especially that first glimpse of the Castle lit up in pink. This year’s route took us down to Princes Street and more views of the Castle. Soon we were approaching the Disco Bus at Silverknowes, on through Leith to one of my favourite sections – along the front at Portobello. Yvonne went on ahead at this time, and I walked the last 6 miles or so on my own. It was a beautiful morning, especially St. Margaret’s Loch in Holyrood Park with the mist coming down. It was the perfect time for some quiet reflection about what we were doing and why.  There was the small matter of a steep section up the Royal Mile and then it was downhill all the way. I passed Fiona, a cancer survivor who comes out to support the walkers every year, along with her dog and son, at Regent’s Road and stopped for a hug and to say thank you. The next few hundred metres were emotional as I fought back my tears – Fiona’s a truly amazing lady.

Soon I was at the finish line, completing in 6 hrs 45 a personal best thanks to my pace-maker Yvonnee, and was honoured to get my medal from Debbie – a truly special person who walks and volunteers for Walk the Walk as well as decorating many of the wonderful bras on display. Challenge 2 was now complete.

There was just time for Trouble in Transit to join me back home for a bacon sandwich, a short sleep or rest, before we headed back out again first to Holyrood Park, then to for the finish to welcome back the Over the Mooners. We arrived just in time to see Elaine cross the finish line, the first one home, in 11 hrs 50 mins – a very special moment.  Four others came in and then Anne. It was a privilege to share the very moment of their immense accomplishment.

Iceland Moonwalk

The next few days passed in a blur and before I knew it I was sharing a taxi to Edinburgh airport with Elaine and Louise, to meet up with Anne, Jane, Karen, Ann and Kirsten. We were all flying down to London the night before the flight to Iceland, meeting up with others at the Holiday Inn Terminal 5. The evening buzzed with camaraderie and wine. Liz had arranged a special bus to take us to the airport the next morning and soon we had checked in, going through security and made our way to the boarding gate. Eighty-plus people in bra t-shirts make quite an impact !

The Blue Lagoon was our first stop in Iceland and our last chance to relax before the walk itself – the next two days were going to be very, very  busy.  It was Pat’s birthday and Pamela had made a waterproof card which Pat’s husband Neil presented to her as he led the chorus of Happy Birthday, a lovely start  to the trip.

Another short plane flight, followed by a bus ride, and we were in our hotel.  During dinner we formed ourselves into groups for the remainder of the trip. I was in Team Moonwalk and loved being a Moonwalker all the way.

Friday was an amazing day – whale-watching in the morning followed by a trip up a volcano in the afternoon. I love walking and hiking but choose my routes carefully as I don’t have a head for heights. This was the part of the trip I was looking least forward to, and the only part I wasn’t sure I could complete. We went up the “easy” route and it looked fine. Stella, our guide, said we would be going back down a steeper and longer route but we could come back the same way if we wanted. I decided to give it a go. We soon got to the crater rim which was fairly broad and as long as I stayed in the middle I was fine. Others had no such problems and were gaily skipping to the edge.  We then walked along to the high point. Again this was fine – I started by staring anywhere but the views or the route ahead: at the ground, my shoes, the shoes of the people in front, but gradually I relaxed. I finally looked up and took in the amazing views of Lake Mytvan, around which we would walk the next day.

Then came the descent.  Stella gave us the option of checking the route and turning back, but I decided to give it a go.  We set off in pairs. I teamed up with Valery who was also slightly apprehensive. Stella had picked up on this and offered us the use of her Nordic poles. We took one between and started. It was not too bad – mainly because I couldn’t see where we were going but we did get glimpses and so Valery and I took it gingerly.  Stella them offered us the second pole which I took and then I felt more relaxed, although it is was as much psychological rather than physical.  Soon a gap emerged between the people in front of us and those behind. Val and I gave the others the options of passing us but no-one did. We continued to slowly make our way down. Guy offered to carry my bag and I gratefully accepted.   The path was long, longer than I’d realised, but soon we were nearly there, to be met by cheers and clapping from those waiting at the bottom. It was a magical moment and summed up the whole experience and ethos of Walk of the Walk.  I’d like to say a huge thanks to my fellow Moowalkers, for your support, and especially to Valery – we did it!

Saturday saw more sightseeing – sulphur fields, the mighty Dettifoss, Echo Canyon and the sea. The scenery was stunning – achingly beautiful. I fell in love with Iceland and plan to return one day. Then it was time for the tactic talk, the pasta party and to set off for the nature baths. We became quieter as each of us realised that the final challenge was rapidly approaching.

We began with the best warm-up ever. Nina led a conga around the café in the Nature Baths, into the car park where we formed a circle and did the Hokey-Cokey! Off we trooped, down to the start line, and before we knew it, we were off.

The Walk

As we started I looked left and saw the volcano which we had climbed the day before and thought: if I did that, I can do this.  As we set off Michaela was with very much in our thoughts.

The walk was an incredible experience – we were in the middle of nowhere with very few signs of civilization, walking around Iceland’s fourth largest lake, during the night, in daylight. If that wasn’t enough to mess with your head, all the markers were in kilometres rather than miles.  Gradually we stretched out and at times the only other person I could see was my walking buddy Yvonne. We had decided to take this one easier, to enjoy the scenery and experience, and we stopped to take many photographs – or at least I did until the cold seemed to stop my camera working.  As we walked we got glimpses of the sulphur steam at the finish which reminded us what a huge distance we were walking.  It was tough. It was cold. It was challenging. But most of all it was rewarding.

The walk had its funny moments – especially when I other shooed a little duckling to the side of the road, only to be adopted by it as it struggled to follow us.

The Walk the Walk support team were amazing – I don’t know where they get their energy from.

Yvonne and I walked together until the second and final toilet stop where she went on ahead.  As much as I valued having a companion, and I would have found Iceland very challenging on my own, I also enjoyed some time for quiet reflection.  The last few kilometres seemed to go on for ever but eventually the finishing line was in sight and a magical hug from Nina and medal number 3. Yvonne had also waited for me and we went in had breakfast together. My months of training had paid off – I had done it! I had completed not only Challenge 3 but the Three Land Challenge!  After a short relaxation in the baths, I went back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

The rest of the day was spent celebrating – we were presented with our Three Land Challenge Medals (or, in the case of Anne and Elaine, the Three Land Challenge Extreme Medals) at the Champagne Tea Party.  This blurred into the celebration dinner and the world premiere of Guy’s DVD of the trip.

We had time for only a short visit to Reykjavik the next day, before we were back at the airport for the final journey home.

It was an amazing adventure – made even more memorable by all the incredible people with whom I shared it .

Now for my next challenge!

Learn more about the 3 Land Challenge here

From Guy:

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