Steve Jobs said that “boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity.”
It was week four of isolation and I was up early again, drinking too much coffee and waiting for the dew to evaporate so I could mow the lawn for the fourth time in as many days. If I’m honest I hadn’t hated isolation to this point, in fact I had quite enjoyed it. For the first time in what seemed like years my head had emerged from beneath the backlog of emails and I had begun to indulge in some of the past times ‘I didn’t have time for’. As productive as this was and despite the lawn being manicured to within an inch of its life there was an inevitable itch developing. I suppose if you spoke to my wife she would describe me as restless. I thought I was doing pretty well combating this particular personality trait but I suppose questions have to be asked when your sat waiting for the grass to grow so you can cut it again. The grass was taking a while so I started flicking through the news and inevitably Captain Tom was dominating the headlines with his incredible gesture to the NHS by walking lengths of his garden fundraising. This got me thinking of all of the other charities that are struggling at this time and that there must be something I can do to help. It was time for some lateral thinking.
I picked up the phone and called my mate Ross who a couple of days before had climbed the height of Elbrus on his stairs. ‘Whats the crack then mate, how hard is this?’ Actually before I continue it’s probably worth saying that Ross is not alien to doing some pretty gnarly things. He’s a yes man with a big engine. Just a few months ago he climbed Mont Blanc then jumped straight on his bike and cycled to Calais, canoed the channel and ran to London. So the response I got to his assault on the staircase was a bit of a surprise. ‘It’s brutal mate…my legs are in bits and it’s painfully boring…’ The original plan was to climb the height of Snowdon (1,085m) which I calculated would have taken me about 4 or 5 hours. Ross agreed that was probably a good idea given that I was going to have to only use one leg, he gave me a few tips and wished me luck. I cant really remember the thought process within the next hour that took me from Snowdon to a four day expedition climbing from sea level to the height of Everest (8848m) and back again whilst camping at the bottom of the stairs but there was definitely no alcohol involved as it was 10am and I was mowing the lawn. Unfortunately for my wife and parents, once I’ve thought of something I find it very difficult to let it go so this was going to happen, I just had to play it down enough so they would allow me to start.
Although the main reason for the challenge was fundraising, I thought that if we tried to have some fun along the way it might break up the monotony of isolation and give people something to smile about at home. Persuading my dad that pitching a tent in his kitchen was a good idea however has to be one of the more bizarre negotiations of my life. Fortunately my family were as bored as me so were open to a bit of change…they just weren’t sure how much ‘change’ they had let themselves in for.
I started at 8am on Tuesday morning and it was obvious within the first couple of hours that I had wildly underestimated what I had let myself in for. In preparation for the climb I had worked out that I could cover about 125 flights in an hour. That number was now looking more like 80-100 flights which may not sound like a big difference but it meant that I was going to have to endure 10-12 hours a day rather than 8. I had put a white board next to the stairs to tally up the total, marking a dash every time I completed 10 reps. You would have thought counting to ten was easy but it’s amazing how quickly your mind wanders when you’re doing something monotonous. In fact after filming myself I realised that I had done 23 extra in the space of just one hour, so I taped a clicker to the banister at the bottom of the stairs to keep me on track, or closer at least.
I finished the first day at 8pm, 12 hours after starting. The last hour or so was really tough physically but all in all considering I had just done the best part of 23,000 single leg step ups my body felt ok. Because of the spinal cord injury I suffered a few years ago my right side doesn’t have any pain or temperature sensation and seeing this was the side doing the majority of the work the lack of feeling was turning out to be a blessing. There were a few expected blisters but nothing to write home about so I patched myself up, tucked into a big feed and retired to my tent to pass out.
The next morning I woke up and it felt like I had been run over by a bus and as much as I wanted to just lie there i knew the only option was to get moving, so I rolled out of my tent, had a good stretch, tended to some blisters and set off.
Each morning I started with a live session on Instagram in the hope that a few punters would join in from home. By day two I couldn’t believe the amount of people who didn’t have anything better to do than tune in to watch me climb the stairs! Lois would read out questions and my dad would be taking music requests as he read the paper. It was amazing how quick those live hours went past and how much fun they were, in fact I’m not sure I could have coped without them as it was becoming clear the main challenge was going to be a mental one and these hours were the only thing breaking up the monotony. As well as having a laugh it’s amazing how much difference that moral support makes even from a distance. I had felt it before when I was in hospital and although the stakes were slightly different this time it felt very similar.
After lunch on day two I lay down outside for 20 minutes before trying to get up and carry on. I was already shattered and despite not even being at the half way mark all I wanted to do was close my eyes and stay there for the rest of the day. I took out my phone and glanced at the fundraising total which turned out to be all the motivation I needed. The original target was 2k which incredibly we had passed before I set foot on the first step and by this point we were already nearing the 10k mark! I had joked about now not having to carry on because we had hit the fundraising goal but the truth is the exact opposite. There is no bigger symbol of support than someone actually donating some of their hard earned cash to the cause, especially when times are as tough as they are at the moment. The simple fact that so much money had been raised assured that no matter how long it took, I had to finish. Having that motivation makes a huge difference when times get tough and you might want to give up, you focus on the people who have supported you and the people who you are helping and you crack on, it wasn’t about me. Not long after I re started news came in that we had hit 10k and Berghaus had been in contact and matched it. Berghaus has been very supportive of me since my accident as we share the same belief of the physical and mental benefits of the outdoors but this was an unprecedented gesture that meant the fundraising total was now at a whopping 20k and counting!
I had almost been defeated but that afternoon I hit the stairs with a spring in my step, put on the Red Hot Chilli Peppers ‘By The Way’ album and nocked off 300 flights before the live session at 5:30pm. Looking back I feel like this was the tipping point, I had the urge to give up but thanks to that boost I was able to push through and now felt like I had broken the back of it ’no pun intended’. During the live session I got caught in my first avalanche when my step mum chucked a bucket of ice over my head then ran off. This sums my family up…I was angry for about a second and then realised how nice it was to be cool for the first time since I started. A few more hours and the second day was finished by 9pm. I was again tired, blistered and sore but passed half way so it was all downhill from here…ye right!
Fatigue was accumulating and my pace on the stairs was slowing so I decided to start slightly earlier than usual to get some reps in before we went live. My hands were slightly too big to fit between the bannister and the wall so by this point there was blood everywhere from small grazes on my knuckles and blisters on my hands. By this point I had done over 1500 flights of stairs and I was really having to dig deep to stay on track, luckily there was help on the way… The evening before a group of my mates who are DJs lined up four live sets to get me through the day and it made a massive difference. I kept stopping and chuckling to myself thinking how bizarre the situation was and some of the comments from people stumbling across the live feed were hilarious. It must have looked so weird, half your screen was a DJ playing house music and the other half was some bloke limping up the stairs. It may have been confusing but the donations were still rolling in and unbelievably still with a day to go we were up to 30k.
After the live session that evening I had the opportunity to chat to F1 legend David Coulthard who is a fellow ambassador for ‘Wings For Life’, one of the charities I was supporting. I had heard good reports and it’s fair to say he didn’t disappoint. Incredibly measured, friendly and funny, I was amazed at how comfortable I felt talking to him given that I was worried I would be fan girling from minute one. It was a pinch yourself moment and made me take a moment to think about the momentum that had built and how supportive everyone was being. I mean I just spoke to a formula one legend live in my house about walking up and down the stairs from the kitchen to the bathroom…I tell you what when people say these are unprecedented times, they’re not joking!
That night I finished at 9pm but short of my target so I knew that if I was going to make it to the summit on time the next day then I would have to start early. I was actually quite excited by getting up at 4am, it was going to be like a proper summit day, starting in the dark and watching the sun rise over the mountains…or garden.
When the alarm went off I awoke full of adrenaline, it was the final day and I knew I had a nice cold beer and a big steak waiting at the end. Unfortunately my body wasn’t as enthusiastic as my mind so it took me a good 20 minutes before I resembled a human being at the bottom of the stairs. A long day awaited but I was adamant that I would finish on or before the time I had told everyone so that they had the opportunity to join in from home if they wanted. The head torch was on and I set off up the stairs in the darkt. I mean if it wasn’t so warm, I was on steps, I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, 1 trainer, there were handrails, the air was normal, I had just had a good sleep and almost everything else was different then it was effectively exactly the same as being on the real thing. I actually loved the morning session, by the time my dad emerged weary eyed at 6 am I had already done 160 flights bringing me back on target and setting me up nicely for the final 500 to the finish. I did a few radio interviews that morning before I set off constantly shaking my head in disbelief as to the interest being created but grateful nevertheless as the fundraising total had now climbed to 40k!
Remembering how I felt on day 2, I couldn’t really believe that my right leg was still going so strong to be honest I was two hours in and it was the best my body had felt since day 1. The body has a way of adapting to its stresses over time and I think I had broken through that barrier now, it was day 4 and my leg was just thinking, “oh well, I don’t like it but I guess this is what we do now so better just get on with it.” Blisters were the only real issue by this point but my spirits were high and things were just made better when I found myself joined by current F1 driver Alex Albon who wanted to walk some stairs with me. I mean I know he probably doesn’t have anything better to do at the moment but what a hero.
I was now climbing live again with people joining in from home when all of a sudden I noticed that @thebodycoach was requesting to join the session. I obviously accepted a bit taken a back and the next thing you know I’m chatting to Joe Wicks… as if this couldn’t get any weirder! After a good chat and a solid bit of motivation from the internet sensation I cracked on towards the summit. I watched the numbers tick away as I approached the final push and with only about 80 flights left to go I had another call from a very special guest indeed. Berghaus had lined up a chat with Sir Chris Bonnington. Sir Chris, now in his 80s, is mountaineering royalty and still widely considered one of the greatest climbers of all time. He has numerous first ascents and of course pioneering climbs on the real version of the mountain that I was currently attempting. He was an absolute delight. I was engrossed as he described the magic of some of his favourite climbs and I nearly fell off my chair when he went on to offer me advice for the final push to the summit. It was a magic moment and one that I will treasure for a long time.
I put on my mountaineering gear for the final push which was almost a mistake as the heavy boots combined with how tired I was nearly resulted me tumbling back down the staircase a couple of times. As I took the last few steps I was met by a barrage of Prosecco to the face and some whooping from the family and i couldn’t help but burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. I was stood outside my parents bathroom in full mountaineering gear being sprayed with Prosecco whilst speaking to hundreds of people via a live feed on my phone. I mean its not what I envisaged whilst I was sat staring at the lawn a week ago, in fact I’m not sure what I envisaged but this was definitely weirder. The support I received all week and on that final day in particular had been nothing short of amazing but just like that it was done.
I took my jacket off and sat on the top step to take it in. It’s usually at this point of an expedition where all of your hard work pays off and you are rewarded with an incredible view. I looked down at the blood stained walls before peering up at the same window that I had been looking at for four days and you know what I felt equally content. In fact I felt a bit sad that it was over. Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t rush back and do it in a hurry, it was savagely hard work and mind numbing at times but it had evolved into the most amazing week of positivity, community and most of all fun. It was as clear of an example of ‘it’s about the journey not the destination’ that I had ever experienced. I had seen and spoken to countless old faces, met some incredible new ones and had the chance to have some hilarious quality time as a family. There were so many positives but most of all we had raised over fifty thousand pounds for some incredible causes…
It has been nearly a week now and my body is back in one piece, base camp is packed up and the parents have forgiven me for having to repaint the walls. I’m sat here wondering what’s around the bend on this crazy road we’re all on and the answer is that I don’t know. I’m supposed to be returning to France and Nepal this year on fundraising trips and I have just received official registration of my own charity ‘The Millimetres to Mountains Foundation’ which I’m excited to start making an impact with but the truth is a lot has changed recently and If there’s one thing i’ve learned over the last few years it’s that you never really know what’s around the corner. Change used to scare me, now I embrace it, in fact I seek it out. New experiences, challenges and opportunities are everywhere and in every situation if you’re open to them. Sir Chris summed it up perfectly when I asked where his favourite mountain on earth was; “you don’t have to go to the other side of the world for an adventure dear boy,” and of course he’s right…you don’t even have to leave your house.
Thanks again for all of the support, it’s been one hell of an adventure, until next time.