I had had the idea for a big charity walk floating around in my head for some time. Floating around in heads is what ideas do best, but it is not the best thing for them to do. Most of the ideas I have ever had have never left their mental holding pen, or at best have hitched a brief joy ride on phrases like “wouldn’t it be cool to…” before deciding that actually the head is where they belong.
The idea of walking the Three Peaks presented itself with a few advantages, for a putative big idea. Firstly, most British people would understand the challenge and have a rough idea of the distance involved with little or no explanation. As British people would, for the most part, be the ones I was raising money from, this seemed like a good thing. Secondly, I would get to learn a bit more about my home country and see parts of it I wouldn’t otherwise see. Thirdly, a bit of googling indicated that not a huge number of people had done it this way. I found a couple of records of people running it (the tragedy of being a walker is that no matter how impressive a feat you think you might have pulled off, some cheeky jogger will have done it in a third of the time), but there was no set route and I would get to plan it myself. Fourthly, I wouldn’t have to fly to reach the start. We’re in a climate crisis guys.
However, I was held back by doubts. I was uncertain about how my seemingly-healed injuries would handle prolonged strain, and about how I would find a place to camp every night, and about how I would go about fundraising, and even about whether the very concept of sponsored challenges was flawed. I let these doubts stop me from making any progress, or even from telling people that it was something I was thinking about. If it didn’t happen, for whatever reason, then the fewer people who knew about it, the fewer times I would have to admit that I had failed to go through with it.
I had a window of time to aim for. I was working as an ecologist on a six-month contract, ending in mid-September. If I could start immediately after that, then I might be able to do it before the worst of the Autumn weather set in, or before any other commitments got in the way. Months passed, and it was still just an idea. I had got as far as looking up the distance on google maps. Time was pressing, if I was going to be able to plan it properly, so I had to commit or fail. I sent an email to Spinal Research, proposing the idea. That was it. It was real, and happening, and pulling out would involve letting them down via some shameful admin. A completely unearned sense of achievement washed over me. I had to start planning.
Feeling like everything I did was just a wild guess at how to go about this, I subscribed to OS premium, and began route plotting. I started at the top of Snowdon and clicked my way east and north, with the general rule that I would try to follow long-distance footpaths wherever possible, and avoid roads. I began creating legs of 20-25 km, assuming that would be roughly what I would be able to manage at the beginning. I still had no idea where I might camp. Spinal Research were incredibly enthusiastic and sent me a fundraising pack and some t-shirts, which I took to imply some level of faith in me, utterly unfounded.
I also began telling people about it. I made a justgiving page and a facebook page, and said that I would love for people to join me for sections if they could. A few friends who lived along the way, or who had a relative who lived along the way, offered me places to stay. Donations started coming in straight away. “Bloody hell,” I thought, “I really hope my knees don’t pack in on the way down Snowdon.” I bought some knee supports.
After plotting legs as far as Scafell Pike, I let it rest for a while. I found the email address of Tina Paige, who was one of the people who had run it, and asked her for advice. She sent me a lovely, long, detailed reply explaining the route she took. When I started plotting again, I think I forgot how far I had been planning for each day, and created legs of more than 30 km, day after day. When I had finished, the whole thing came out as 29 legs, which, despite being completely arbitrary, I decided to try to stick to. It would mean I could start and end on a weekend, at least.
Suddenly there was not much more to be done. I printed out some maps. I bought some camping food. I booked a train ticket. The days ran down and the donations mounted up. At last, the time came to check I had everything packed and to set off on foot for the local bus stop. I looked at my watch and realised that after all that planning, I was going to be late for my bus. I started to run.