Last Monday I stood atop a mountain! An actual mountain! A mountain with rocks and boulders and mud blocking the route. A mountain in the middle of nowhere, that took hours for us to climb. As I sat up high, looking down at the tiny dots of candy floss sheep in the valley below, I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt so alive and excited and gloriously jubilant… yet also completely at peace. For during these past six years of illness standing on top of the world again has been my one dream, my big fixation, my most wished for item on the bucket list. It’s the one thing I’ve truly, heart-wrenchingly missed. And amazingly, wonderfully, thankfully I got to do it again. Happy happy happy days 🙂I first discovered the joy of hiking across muddy fields doing ‘D of E’ as a teenager. Many rainy and sunny and windy days were spent fumbling with compass and map, whilst carrying a ridiculously over-sized backpack (why did we need a sewing kit?! 😛 ). Ever since then, day rambles and walking weekends have been regular fixtures in my life. Photos at cairns on cloudy hill summits, eating trail mix whilst perched on enormous boulders. Sitting on ridges spotting tiny bonsai trees below, discovering secret caves hidden from paths. Climbing over stiles, jumping around muddy puddles, running down grassy slopes. Puffing up hills, scurrying across bull fields, searching for footpath arrows. I loved it all. But my favourite hiking memories by far, are of the multi-day expeditions that Phil and I did whilst travelling. Grander and harder and more beautiful than anything we’d done prior. It was our version of paradise.
But I didn’t actually realise how important walking in the wilderness was to my soul, until I suddenly couldn’t do it any longer. The great outdoors calms me, restores me, boosts my mood, fills my happiness tank. Losing my mobility has meant losing access to my number one happy place. So these past years of illness, I’ve craved it. Yep literally craved it. I’ve spent hours imagining the wind in my hair and the ferns scraping my legs; trying to recreate it in my mind, to take myself back there. I dream about walking in the hills, meditate about sitting in the grass, continually talk to Phil about future post-transplant hiking plans. I’ve missed it more than I ever realised I would. And so we’ve tried time and time and time again to get me to the middle-of-nowhere. Yet despite pushing my wonderful shopping-centre-designed scooter to its limit and more, despite researching accessible paths and routes all over Britain… I’ve never managed to scoot further than a kilometre into the outback, before being forced to turn back. Too many obstacles. Boulders and rocks and logs and gulleys and bridges and stiles. The countryside is not accessible for people on wheels. So my craving has grown and grown. I have an old photo of me atop a mountain, stuck to our fridge door; every day when I look at it, I feel determined to one day stand on a summit again. Like I say, I’ve missed it tremendously.
And then last year, out of the blue, a friend of Phil’s cousin read my blog and sent a message about a charity –Freedom Wizard– taking disabled folk into the hills. It was founded by a fellow outdoorsy girl, who became paraplegic and in a wheelchair… but then made a miraculous recovery. Knowing the sadness of being unable to access the countryside, she now helps those on wheels to climb Lake District fells using an awesome (and expensive) off-road wheelchair. Amazing and so kind! Last week, they agreed to meet me in the North Pennines, for the charity’s first ever summit attempt of High Cup Nick -Phil’s favourite view- and number one on my to-do list post-transplant.It was a fabulous day. An amazing day. My favourite day trip since developing Pulmonary Hypertension. The weather was glorious; blue sky and unusually warm March sun. We were accompanied by two lively dogs and six wonderfully kind volunteers. ‘Betsy’ the Boma7 scooter was brilliant; like a mini monster truck. With four large bicycle-sized wheels and a powerful motor, it took me over terrain that I’d not traversed in six long years. For the first hour, the walk was a steep uphill climb, following a footpath dotted with small rocks and big puddles. In retrospect this was easy for Betsy, but at the time I was astonished that I could scoot over these obstacles so easily, as would’ve been long ago forced to turn back with my scooter! As I drove upwards, the view became more magnificent, the villages even smaller, and the footpath progressively trickier. Steep grassy slopes, marshy bogs, rocks the size of footballs. Logs across the path, wide gullies, steps of stone. It rocked me around, tired my arms, and I needed continual oxygen… but wow I loved it! It was such fun. Fantastic fun. Like a fairground ride. I adored being on a hike in the great outdoors again. Wind buffering my face, the smells of grass and mud, heather scraping my ankles. Chatting about life, eating emergency snicker bars, sitting on rabbit pellet poos. Fleeing scared sheep, having a wee behind boulders, pausing to admire the view. I’d missed it all! I couldn’t stop smiling all day. 😀 After a few hours of bumping and bouncing, after climbing over rocks and stones and mud on wheels… we eventually reached the rim of the canyon. We were so remote: deep in the Pennines, miles from civilization, hours from home. Objective achieved. Happy happy days. And as Phil promised, the panorama was glorious. 🙂
The final section around the canyon top was over a steep boulder field, which had been deemed too difficult for the scooter when they’d recee’d the route. However on the day, they gave me the option to attempt it! I was so nervous, as it looked impossible on wheels… but I needed to try! The route was not only steep and abrupt and thin, but was made solely from slippery stones and boulders. A few hundred continual metres of uphill rocky path. It was hardcore, absolute hardcore. But unbelievably, supported by volunteer pushes, I was able to traverse the whole boulder field. I even drove over rocks that were as large as my coffee table… the scooter truly demonstrated it’s off-road prowess! 😛 I was buzzing! I absolutely loved every moment. Apparently it was their most technical hike ever attempted with a client. Proud, very proud! 🙂 So amazingly, wonderfully, thankfully… after four long hours of climbing, and against all expectation… I made it to High Cup Nick! I was ecstatic, joyful, jubilant! Later, as I sat on the cliff edge, looking down at the green and grey patchwork below, I felt at peace. A wave of calm. My body recharged, my mood boosted, my happiness tank filled. After six long long long years, I was once again stood atop the world, and it felt wonderful. Even now, a fortnight later, I feel tearful remembering it. 🙂
I needed a couple of recovery days after the adventure. My body was exhausted. My arms ached from driving, my head was tired from concentrating, my body fatigued from bouncing around. It had been seven tricky miles, and six long hours, of continual activity. But it was worth it. One of my favourite days since getting ill. I’m so thankful to Freedom Wizard and its kind kind volunteers; they make a big difference to those they help. Illness strips people of so many aspects of their life, so it’s amazing to get one of those stolen parts back again… even for just one day. Thank you.
I’m going to replace my old photo on the fridge with one of us atop High Cup Nick! A lovely reminder once again, that “we can adjust our sails”. 🙂