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DofE Diamond Challenge

After 8 months of planning and training, In August I undertook one the biggest challenges of my life and one completely out of my comfort zone – normally I think nothing of tackling a mountain in Snowdonia but this time I added cycling into the equation!

As part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Diamond Anniversary I undertook a challenge to raise money for an organisation that has been a big part of my life for the last 14 years.

The DofE is all about going the extra mile – gaining new skills, pushing yourself physically, helping others and exploring new territories. At the same time, you’ll gather friendships, experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, as long as you’re 14 to 24, you can choose the activities that motivate you and go on your own personal journey.

In its 60th year The DofE is asking the public to help raise money by taking on their own challenge and help more disadvantaged young people get involved and keep The DofE going for a further 60 year.

Anyway back to my challenge

“What I hear you ask”, “how I hear you ask” and “how did you come up with that one !?”

Well let’s start at the beginning. Looking at a challenge to keep me busy in 2016 I came up with the idea of cycling from the headquarters of The DofE in Windsor, Surrey to the foot of Mt. Snowdon in the ore inspiring Snowdonia National Park. Once there I would complete the Snowdon Horseshoe, and all of this in 5 days ! did I mention I had only been cycling on a road bike for 6 months?

I must say at this point that it is never a good idea to come up with a challenge when there is a bottle of single malt scotch whisky involved but before I knew it my justgiving page was set up and there was no turning back. Fortunately for me I had the support of a companion to attempt the challenge with me and little did I know but a month before we were due to start an ex-professional athlete would also join the team for the cycling, three is most certainly the magic number!

So onto the challenge itself and the morning of the 3rd August 2016.

Day 1: Windsor to Stow-on-the-Wold

A large crowd gathered in Windsor to wave us off and wish us success for the next 5 days. We had planned to cycle in 1.5hr blocks to ensure we still had enough energy as we got towards the end of the day.

What a great start! Windsor cycling through the Chiltern Hills and onto Oxford for lunch with glorious blue skies. After refueling, something I would come to enjoy as we were burning up to 5000 calories a day so menu choice was…. as much as you like (music to my ears!), we made our way through Oxford, on to Eynsham stopping in Finstock for a drink and then amazing the local Post Office owner with our crazy challenge before reaching our finish.

The afternoon went as smooth as the morning and 72 miles from Windsor we found ourself free wheeling into Stow-on-the-Wold and our first night stop.

At this point I need to send a massive shout out and thanks to our amazing support crew, well I thought you might be wondering how we were getting all the equipment to the finishes each day!

Day 2: Stow-on-the-Wold to Much Wenlock

So we awoke to another beautiful day and after a full English breakfast and some black coffee to wake up the senses we said our farewells and headed out into the countryside and onto the  wonderful Cotswolds hills.

A rain storm would try to put a damper on things but we soon got back into the rhythm we had finished with the day before. The cycling was fun, the weather was improving and each mile seemed to fly by. There was many a discussion about fatigue, blisters and even the dreaded chafing but thankfully for me I had so far experienced none.

Day Two would see us pass through Evesham, Droitwich Spa for lunch, Kidderminster and then onto the finish in Much Wenlock and Wenlock Priory, another 71 miles further on.

And then the realisation for us all, ‘That’s half way’ we said as we cycled into the car park singing…yes a certain Bon Jovi song !

Yet again we were met with drinks, cakes and congratulations from our support crew explaining that accommodation for the night had been located, bags unpacked and dinner planned (this I could get used to I thought !)

Day 3: Much Wenlock to Corwen

So it was getting interesting now, I was certainly out of my comfort zone, having never cycled this far and also having the joy of a 30% climb facing me not long after we cross the border into Wales (yes we reach our second country and I still do not really understand 30%!).

Some incorrect route choices trying to take us cross country meant we had to cycle further than planned but by mid-morning we found ourselves in Shrewsbury and another coffee shop…two large slices of carrot cake later and you guessed it more cycling, I was starting to enjoy myself again. Not long now we thought and we would cross the border…

Lunch was taken in Oswestry and as there was a cycle shop in town with thought ‘what the hell’ and in we went. Fortunately we didn’t spend money apart from some energy blocks to get us up and over the hill we would soon face.

This afternoon would be my highlight of the trip as we crossed the border just after Craignant and stopped in Pontfadog to refuel and prepare for 30% incline !! The next hour would be simply breathtaking as we pushed our way up the hill, even turning down a lift from a farmer in his van and then finding ourselves at the top, overlooking Llangollen and thankfully a freshly tarmaced road. We freewheeled down stopping for photos and then cycling into Llangollen, an hour later we would be sipping a cold one and reliving the adventure at our 4th stop in Corwen – 55 miles on and 198 since leaving Windsor

Day 4: Corwen to Pen-y-Pass

Energy levels were definitely on a high today even though we had nearly 200 miles under the belt. The task, to cycle 33 miles with the majority on one road to get us to the finish and the Pen Y Pass car park.

With only a small distance to travel we thought it was only right to make a stop off in one of my favourite places, and to visit my favourite cafe in North Wales (no not Pete’s Eats !). We would pit stop in Betws Y Coed and have yet more cake, this time Scones and Jam, at the Alpine Cafe

A leisurely two hours later, after visiting the many outdoors shops that line the main road, we set off on the final leg of our cycle.

Leaving Betws Y Coed its all uphill as you travel past Swallow Falls, the Ugly House, then past our B&B accommodation for the next two nights Dolgam and through Capel Curig.

As we passed Plas Y Brenin, the National Mountain Centre and stopped to take in our first view of Mnt Snowdon and the famous horseshoe it dawned on us that the cycling would soon be over. After nearly 4 full days together we had cycled nearly 230 miles and created memories that would stay with us a lifetime.

I have to say though that we saved the best to last when it came to the view. For those that have travelled along the A4086 from Capel Curig, to the Roman Camp and the Pen-Y-Gwryd hotel you will understand. Even though we had a headwind, for the final 4 miles before we turned right and climbed up and around Moel Berfedd to the finish, the views were once again breathtaking and it was difficult to concentrate on the road ahead.

Before we knew it we had made the turn and were on the final mile of our epic journey. But wait what is that screaming and shouting… It’s only our support team driving up behind us windows down cheering us on and meeting us as we crossed the pavement and into the car park.

Amazed that we had done it the celebrations, photos and high fives were wrapped up and we packed the car to journey to our accommodation and focus our minds on the final element of our challenge, the Snowdon Horseshoe.

Day 5: Snowdon Horseshoe

I must admit today did not start as I had planned. This is unusual for me but I found myself at the breakfast table with a full English (or should that be Welsh) breakfast in front of me and no appetite or energy to even start it!! This was not good. In an attempt to ‘Man up’ I managed a banana and some toast along with a large black coffee to kick start the old man (not advisable on a 5 day endurance challenge).

Breakfast over, the weather checked and the route choice discussed there was nothing for it and we set off along the Pyg Track. Down to just two of us now the first half an hour went great, weather was on our side and the energy level was good as we stopped for a quick water break before leaving the Pyg Track and heading towards Crib Goch. This for me is where things started to go wrong.

As we started the ascent up to the summit of Crib Goch I found my energy levels drop and with every few meters of scramble I found myself taking longer and longer to recover.  Having discussed this with Chris after breakfast we had made the decision to put safety first and if in doubt turn back. Easier said than done when you are in the moment and heading towards your first summit of the day. A little further more and Chris made the decision for us to break and take in the scenery whilst we reviewed how I was doing (not good). After a 10 minute break and two banana and peanut butter wraps (I had my appetite back) we were off again but no sooner had we started and reality hit home to me, today was not the day I would be seeing the top of Crib Goch and walking along its famous ridge.

They say that the mountain will always be there for another day and with a feeling of failure hanging over me I told Chris that we were to turn back and review the rest of the day. As you can imagine this was not an easy decision to make and even harder as we then had to scramble back down to a safe position to look at our options.

We both had come so far and had such an amazing experience that we felt we would at least aim to reach the summit of Snowdon before the day was out. Returning to the Pyg Track we joined the many other tourists fundraisers and enthusiast all with the same aim, to reach the top.

What felt like only an hour or so later and we were proudly standing on top of Wales, after leaving Windsor 4 and a half days earlier we had reached the highest point and the view was simply……. Terrible, well about 20-30 metres actually !!. Never mind we had made the top, and after a hearty Welsh Oggie we started the descent and a date with a Whisky in the famous Pen-Y-Gwryd hotel.

Knowing the route fairly well I decided to take us off the path and we followed the flow of Pant Y Lluwchfa down the mountain to Glaslyn before rejoining the Miners track.

It must be said that the last hour was completed on pure adrenaline and with the realisation that we had just cycled over 230 miles and climbed to the highest point in Wales.

Opening the door to the hotel we were met by our amazing support crew all cheering and congratulating us as they gave us a glass of champagne each, and me a rather large amount of chocolate (as the colour of my skin was resembling the colour of the wall behind me, white!)

Even as I finish off this blog I still cannot believe the achievements of those 5 days and the memories I will take from it. Massive props to my co-conspirators Chris and Viv – it was amazing 5 days with you guys!

For all those thinking of a challenge, maybe a 5km run or a 10km walk, even a London to Paris or a summit attempt on Everest, whatever the challenge no matter how big or small, what are you still doing thinking about it, crack open that Whisky and get planning !!

P.S. I nearly forgot to mention that our fundraising escapade even got a shout out on national television on the Sunday !!! The excitement Chris and I had as we received the text and then tried in vain to download the clip whilst walking through the biggest signal blackspots in North Wales was equal in measure! Watch in all our glory here:

You can see more pictorial loveliness from the trip here: https://www.facebook.com/blueskyexpeditions.co.uk/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1137092183023491