I’ve been trying to find the words to finish off the tale of my epic adventure but just between you and me, those words have proved incredibly elusive this week…perhaps they’re off somewhere partying with my willpower, which has also been AWOL.
I suppose writing this final post about my trip to Cuba was always going to be as much of a challenge as the challenge itself, purely because I can’t recall anything ever meaning more to me than this has, you know? The whole thing sort of became part of me as I strode through 2016 without once taking my eyes off the big red circle hovering over the 7th of October.
Waking up on day five felt weird. Day four had been so tough, and it was hard not to feel a sense of anti-climax even before we’d finished the trek, after all, the hard bit was done, wasn’t it? Rumour had it that day five was a breeze, in fact to quote our group leader, it was going to be a gentle walk downhill with a lunchtime finish.
Which wasn’t exactly unwelcome news, but by this time I’d grown quite attached to feeling like a rock star as I smashed one challenge after another. I imagine Bear Grills would feel similarly deflated if all he was required to do was to jump over a muddy puddle instead of traversing a set of rapids in an upside down canoe with no paddle…gentle strolls downhill were for pussies, not proper explorers like me.
Anyway, we rode out from our hotel on the support truck, which dropped us a couple of miles away at the edge of the jungle, next to a bloke selling bananas by the side of the road. As our pint-sized guide puffed out his chest and prepared to negotiate a good deal, it all seemed a bit unnecessary since we’d had a cracking breakfast at the hotel and we were going to be eating a restaurant lunch. We were hardly going to starve during the next couple of hours, right?
However, the bananas were soon forgotten as all eyes turned to the two tarantulas which the banana man had evicted from his stock. They were pacing up and down in a box on the floor looking not a little bit pissed off. Sweet Jesus they were enormous. They had more hairs on their body than your average kitten, and every hair on my body – and that’s a lot of body – was standing on end just looking at them.
Holding my arm out and allowing one of them free rein to wander up and down it was not a plan that immediately sprang to mind, but seeing as everyone else was stepping up to the challenge and posing for selfies with these bad boys I figured what the hell…the day needed spicing up with something other than a gentle stroll and it was likely to be my only opportunity ever to face my fear of spiders in quite such a spectacular fashion. I’ve got to be honest, my smile for the camera was more like a grimace but I didn’t pass out and I didn’t shit my pants, and since both of those things were very real possibilities, I’m claiming it as a victory.
As it turns out, when we eventually set off walking the gentle stroll wasn’t quite as gentle as promised. I mean there was none of the insane climbing we’d done in the last few days but day five’s terrain brought with it its own unique set of challenges in the form of bushes that spilled onto the path and ripped leggings, scratched chunks out of legs and generally made life hard. The biting ants were out in force, and the carpet of stones under foot made walking very hard on the ankles. It was blisteringly hot, and humidity was very high…it was wretched.
I spend a good deal of time muttering under my breath about the person who’d written the itinerary and coined the phrase gentle stroll downhill, not to mention using those very words to lull us into a false sense of security. Eventually though, the walking got a little easier and we found ourselves following the trickle of a stream, which got gradually deeper and morphed into a river.
I remember smiling as someone took a picture of me by the edge of the water, in a spot under the trees where the colours were so vibrant it was one of those defining moments where you wonder whether you’ll ever be somewhere as beautiful as this ever again. It was magical. As the sunlight bounced off the water, and the leaves on the trees cast their dappled shadow over everything I imagined fairies under toadstools and mythical creatures hiding just out of sight. Time stood still for a while, and so did I…I just wanted to soak it all up, because I knew it was almost over.
It was probably only a few hundred yards past that spot where we came into a clearing, and right up ahead of us was a rickety old wooden suspension bridge over the river. And there it was. The end of the trek. I can’t even describe the emotions which hit me right in the solar plexus as my head started to process the fact that I’d actually done it.
I’d walked 90 kilometres in four and a half days.
Through the jungle.
Shit the bed!!!
It seemed fitting that I crossed the bridge last, in fact I even hung back a little and watched everyone celebrate at the other side so I could. I wanted to walk it on my own…well, me and my dad. It almost felt like I slipped my hand into his as we stepped out, and I walked into a wall of sheer emotion as I felt him right beside me.
My tears weren’t about the four and a half days, you know? They were about the nine months‘ worth of preparation. They were about setting a goal when it seemed impossible, and working every single day since then towards achieving it. They were about the hurt machine, and walking with Charlie-dog for miles in all kinds of weather, even back in the early days when everything still hurt. They were about the classes, and the effort, being supported and encouraged by old friends, new friends, and you lot, and just sheer dogged determination that I could make this fat old body climb a mountain to honour the memory of my dad.
And as he and I walked over that bridge together, I fell apart.
I was probably about halfway across when I realised that my fellow trekkers were stood on the other side of the bridge clapping for me. Some of them, the ones who knew my story were crying almost as hard as I was as I took those last few steps…I will never forget that moment as long as I live. Pure joy, enormous pride and a feeling of being truly connected to my body, for all its flaws. And love, you know? So much love for all the people who helped me get there…love for my dad, God rest his soul, and most surprisingly of all love for myself.
Who saw that one coming 🙂
The story of my trek came to you in stages, since I’ve been wrestling on a regular basis with my asshole voice since I came home. If you’ve caught the tail end of it and want to hear the rest, here are all the pieces for you to join together along with a link to all the photographs of those incredible few days…
So, where do I start!
Hiking In Rollerskates
Not Giving Up, Ever.
They Weren’t Kidding!
I’m beyond proud to say that I raised over two thousand pounds in my dad’s name to help support people struggling with mental heath issues. My sponsorship page is now officially closed, but for every single person who supported me with a donation I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart…your belief in my ability to pull this off surpassed my own and I can’t tell you how much it helped me!
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