In the rain, mud and almost in the dark, with my trusty navigator and Meningitis Now Young Ambassador Holly, I completed all 25 plus kilometres - with just a map, my water supply and my well-worn walking boots.
My daughter Holly has taken part in many outdoor activities for Meningitis Now, so when she was invited by St. James's Place (a sponsor of Meningitis Now) to take part in this new DofE Adventure Challenge, naturally she jumped at the chance.
‘Bring someone with you’ they said, ‘my mum likes to walk’ she said - And so it began...
On arrival in Hope Valley, they strapped the GPS trackers to our rucksacks and gave us the co-ordinates for our 3 checkpoints. We had a safety briefing, a warm up and then they sent us off out into the morning drizzle.
We could have gone with others and followed the footpaths which were marked all the way through scenic landscapes, but my daughter likes a challenge – so we were self-navigating. Yes, we were going to find our own way through the Peak District!
Checkpoint one to Checkpoint two was long, both in physical and (for me at least) in psychological terms. It seemed to take forever, and by then the rain had truly set in - a hot coffee and a KitKat at the checkpoint was sheer heaven. It was then that my daughter broke the news to me that our self-navigated walk could take anything up to nine hours, depending on our navigating ability and of course our pace. Mentally, that was a bit of a blow.
Our start time had been 10.30am, and I naively anticipated being showered and tucking into hot food by about 5.30 / 6.00pm. Once I had had a good mental sulk, I realised sometimes you’ve just got to crack on, that’s the only way to get to the end - one foot in front of the other. And that’s exactly what we did.
Adrenaline is a wonderful thing – we were nearing the end and the energy came out of nowhere. I positively marched the last few kilometres, through Castleton and out the other end. We made it to the finish line just as everyone was reaching for their torches.
It had taken us almost nine hours but we had earned our medals! Then suddenly that was it – no more walking, only to get from our tent through the mud to the food tent.
Holly and I finally collapsed on bean bags in the chill out zone with boots off and hot food (really good food!), and drinks in hand, listening to my favourite song (New Radicals ‘You Only Get What You Give’), being played by the live band. Despite the rain and the mud (oh so much mud!), it was an amazing day. From that very faint rainbow I saw in the morning, to the amazing landscapes we crossed. The music, the food and the organisation were excellent.
More amazing was the fact that we were there in the first place. Five years earlier, this perfectly healthy middle aged woman found herself in intensive care fighting the evil that is Meningococcal Septicaemia.
With my life hanging in the balance there were also serious concerns about my limbs. In particular one arm was not looking good, and when Meningitis was eventually mentioned, no one really knew what it was. My daughter googled it and up popped Meningitis Now.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. With the help from staff at Meningitis Now, the skill of the hospital staff and the love and support of my family, in particular my daughters and sisters, I survived, all limbs intact.
Recovery wasn’t quick and there were a few hiccups along the way – a dodgy heart, an inability to concentrate and remember things. There were horrendous headaches, legs that would suddenly give way without any warning, and the inability to walk in a straight line, forever veering off to the right! And fatigue, fatigue, fatigue.
Completing the DofE Adventure really was a challenge. I still struggle sometimes to concentrate when reading a book, have useless memory and occasionally my heart does a weird thing that freaks everybody out. I no longer get headaches but the fatigue still lingers. I can no longer multi-task as I once did, physically and emotionally it’s just too overwhelming. But I am alive and so very lucky to have had the outcome that I did.
Some of you reading this may have had far more tragic experiences and my heart goes out to you. Nothing prepares anyone for the speed with which this horrific disease can damage or even take your loved ones from you. I want to say ‘thank you’ to St. James's Place for the opportunity to take part in the event and as always, a massive thank you for all the support from Meningitis Now.
Take good care of yourselves.