Before I put my walking boots on and re-visit the TAB UK Three Peaks Challenge – and ‘challenge’ was the right word – let me make a comment about our new Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson has won, he’s kissed the Queen’s hand and he’s appointed a cabinet. And – as we all know – he has promised to deliver Brexit ‘do or die’ by October 31st, just three months from now. In some ways – despite how I voted in the Referendum and despite how I still feel about the EU – I welcome that. We simply could not keep deferring the decision. Whether it is politics or business you have to take decisions, and I’m sure Boris will do that.
But I just worry what those decisions will be. He’s not Donald Trump, but he does seem to have Trump’s inclination to shoot from the hip.
I am, though, pleased to see that his Cabinet contains a mix of Leave and Remain supporters. I may not agree with his first ‘D’ – deliver Brexit – but the need to ‘Unite’ can’t be disputed. But I worry it’s too late. I’ve seen it described as the ‘footballisation’ of politics. It’s an ugly word but you instinctively know what it means. You can support Liverpool or Everton, Rangers or Celtic. There is no middle ground, and I worry that’s the way our politics – and maybe even our society – is moving.
The problem is, business likes the middle ground. It likes certainty and predictability – and right this minute our body politic is delivering exactly the opposite.
The Three Peaks Challenge
And so to the bottom of Ben Nevis, which is where the TAB UK team – plus Simon, our guide – stood at 8:30 on the morning of Sunday July 7th.
Our team of five was attempting the National Three Peaks – part personal challenge, part tribute and fundraising in memory of TAB UK founder, Paul Dickinson.
The Three Peaks Challenge is to walk the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales – in theory within 24 hours. Like us, most people start at Ben Nevis, drive down to Scafell Pike in the Lakes, and then on to Snowdon. The total walking distance is 23 miles, the total climb 10,052 feet and the driving distance – not to be sniffed at – is 462 miles.
We set off up Ben Nevis – and the team very quickly split into two groups. That was fine: we’d known it was going to happen.
We knew we had different abilities within the group. The months of training we’d done had made this very clear and everyone was comfortable with it. We accepted each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and we knew we weren’t going to walk up Ben Nevis as a group of five. Anyone who’s done any walking knows that walking slower than your natural pace is just as tiring as someone forcing you to walk faster than you’d normally go.
So we accepted that there’d be times some of us would push on, and there’d be times we’d stop to re-group.
“Wait at the hot tub,” Simon said.
Mags and I looked at each other. Hot tub? If there was one thing you could guarantee not to find on Ben Nevis, it was a hot tub. But there it was – a perfect circle of stones, looking for all the world like a medieval hot tub.
As we waited there we very quickly got cold. We went behind the hot tub to shelter from the wind and have a cup of tea. We sat down – and realised that we were surrounded by pink toilet paper. It was clear what one group of walkers had done on the ‘last stop before the summit.’ Mags and I decided to brave the cold…
We waited there for the rest of the group to arrive. If there was one thing we were going to do, it was reach the summit together. And that’s what we did, looking out at the quite stunning view from 4,413 feet. “There are just 15 days a year when the view is like this,” Simon said. “Someone up there likes you.”
Or – sadly – maybe not. One of our group had seriously strained her groin on the walk up. We’d barely started the descent and someone else fell, sustaining heavy bruising.
But we all made it down the mountain and by four in the afternoon we were back at the bottom. That in itself was a real achievement. I have nothing but admiration for all the members of our group: for the two who were injured, and came down without ever complaining, it goes a long way beyond admiration.
Gretna Green Services
And then it was in the cars and off to Scafell Pike. We’d arranged to meet up at Gretna Green services to eat. But, as we were driving down the A74, another metaphorical wheel fell off.
Mags had to stop her car. Simon was violently sick. “Think it’s just car sickness” our guide muttered.
It very clearly wasn’t ‘just car sickness.’ He sat in the service station, put his arm on the table, his head on his arm and groaned.
Meanwhile our two walking wounded were clearly badly wounded and – after 200 miles in a car – very stiff and very tired.
Mags and I looked at each other. We needed to talk. We had an obligation to everyone who had supported us. But we had another obligation – to take care of our team. And this was not a decision that could be kicked endlessly down the road.
We had a five minute conversation standing next to a fruit machine in a service station (quite possibly exactly how Brexit will eventually be sorted out…) and decided there was only one logical decision we could make. With two of the team injured and our guide throwing up more frequently than a child who’s eaten too much at a party, we called the challenge off.
We clearly have a moral duty to our sponsors and supporters who were, to a man, totally supportive and understanding when we told them the news. So we’ll return to Scafell Pike on Sunday September 8thand finish the last two peaks.
There’s also a personal itch to scratch. Could some of us have done it in 24 hours? We’ll find out one day in 2020…
Calling it off wasn’t the decision we wanted to take. Our families were slightly surprised when we turned up in the middle of the night. But there was no other choice. With two of the team injured and a guide who was still ill 24 hours later, it was the only decision we could make.
It would be easy to see our attempt at the National Three Peaks as a failure. You know what? I think it was exactly the opposite.
No, we didn’t achieve what we set out to achieve. But we faced adversity together. We came through it. We learned things about each other we’d never have learned in a lifetime of meetings. We found reserves of stamina – and courage – we never knew we had.
We’re better people for Ben Nevis, and we’re a stronger group. And we will return…
[…And the blog will return on Monday August 12th: I’m on holiday on Friday 9th, so I’ll be back on the Monday morning.]