I’m sure that you’ll be thrilled to know that the blogs won’t stop just yet…
I survived the Extreme Character Challenge!
The organisers encourage those who have made it not to be too specific about the details of the weekend to maintain the mystery for potential future sign ups. Uncertainty in life is all around us they reminded us, and in many ways, it is a good thing, as it forces us to put our trust in someone or something else. It can stretch us and push us – sometimes to the very limits of what we believe we can endure – but when we come out on the other side, we enjoy the euphoria of knowing we have overcome so much more than we ever imagined we were capable of.
What I can tell you is that at several points, I felt like giving up.
Sometimes I found myself asking the question, “What was I thinking?!”
At other times, I asked my friend Terry – who was the main reason that I made it there at all, “What were YOU thinking?!”
Terry had been before in Wales, last October, when they had the worst weather ever – but this time the weather was remarkably kind. This time it wasn’t the weather that was our enemy. It was the distance, the grind, the slow, snail-like pace that took us further up the mountain, one footstep at a time… and the snow.
On the first hike, on the first night, every time I stopped to take a breath, I looked behind and saw a small army of men coming up from the rear, appearing as a train of angels, each with their head torch guiding them along the muddy path. This vision inspired me no end… except when I lingered a little longer than usual and turned back to face the front to find that there was no one in front of me at all! I had suddenly, and accidentally, become the point man. This was particularly daunting given that my head torch was far from beaming.
Another time, when we were asked to do something I was not particularly happy about, I turned to Terry and said, “I’ve realised the only way I am going to get through this is to pretend I am a prisoner of war.”
During what became infamously known as The Longest Day, our team made it to the saddle of the mountain and as we carefully made our way along the narrow pathway, we could spot some of the other teams still in the valley – appearing as nothing more than small dots on the lush green landscape. We felt sorry for them, knowing they were at least two hours behind us – but at the same time, getting a renewed burst of energy as we realised how well we were doing.
Some of us struggled more than others in our team of eleven. A couple of the guys had issues with their knees. One man swapped his rucksack weighing eight kilos in exchange for his friend’s rucksack which weighed fourteen kilos! I was both inspired by his servant heart and willingness to help his friend as well as embarrassed – and somewhat ashamed – that I didn’t force myself in front of him, an older man, to do the same thing. My pack weighed ten and a half kilos and I confessed to my friend who took the extra weight on that I wished I could make the same offer but at the time, I truly didn’t believe I was capable of carrying any more than I was already struggling with. That gave me plenty to think about for another few thousand steps.
Later, I realised I had run out water and had no idea when I had last drunk any. I asked for water from anyone who had some just as I realised I was becoming a bit delirious. I could literally feel myself about to pass out but my team-mates (by the time you finish this kind of challenge, we no longer use the term team-mates as we have all become brothers) surrounded me, fed me plenty of water and an energy gel. Within a minute or two, I was okay again and able to continue. Any pride I had stored up with the relative absence of physical issues quickly got blown away in the same way that another guy’s rucksack cover was swept off his back and flew down the mountain like a flag without a pole.
That humbled me at the same time as uniting me more than ever to this band of brothers – all of whom had dared to believe that four days’ trekking in the Scottish Highlands would enable them to find something that only extreme challenges like this can reveal.
By the time we sat in a tight circle on the last day, sharing our deepest thoughts, emotions and revelations, we had all discovered something worth fighting for.
The scariest thing of all is this: several of the newbies on this trip are already declaring their intention to do it all again. I need more time as it truly was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
Even the crew told us it was the hardest Extreme Character Challenge ever and yet, for the very first time, no one out of the approximately 177 men that had gathered together had dropped out early. That in itself, is quite an achievement for every single one of us.
Photos courtesy of 4MUK