Fundraising adventures

What’s new with the Flat-Footed Adventurer and my Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure?  Actual Fundraising has taken up a lot of my time, pre-adventure recently.

In the last few months I have spent entire days collecting in National Rail stations Paddington and St Pancras.  I have also spent large amounts of time collecting on a local retail park, outside a local Tesco store, and at a Poundland fun day near Elephant and Castle.  Some volunteers I’ve met while out collecting have told me they don’t like street collections and find them depressing.  I’m not clear in what way they find them depressing, but I enjoy them.

Sure, they’re often long days; my collections in national rail stations have had me on my feet for 12 hours (give or take some breaks), and I’ve heard complaints from volunteers that the collections recently aren’t nearly as profitable as they have been in the past.

I enjoy the human interaction.  Most people just chuck a couple of quid the bucket as they hurry past, but some people stop to talk — they’ll stop and thank me for the work that Macmillan Cancer Support do.  Or they’ll tell me how cancer has affected their own lives, as a patient or through knowing someone with cancer.  Sometimes they are sad stories, sometimes they are stories with a happy ending — but these people remind me of why I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support with this adventure.  Some people don’t just put some coins in the bucket, either — some people will reach into their wallets and put a banknote into the collection.

I also enjoy observing life, watching people going about their business.

I was recently at Droidcon — a conference dedicated to the Android operating system.  While there I had the opportunity to talk to HTC, Sony Ericsson and Accenture about the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure.  HTC were enthusiastic to hear about it, and the other two were progressively less interested.  Unfortunately, attempts to follow-up haven’t been very fruitful.  I have also tried to make contact with RedBull in several different ways — but have had the same frustrating lack of response.

To date, my fundraising efforts online and offline have helped me to raise just over £2,000 — which is roughly a 30% of my way towards the total, and I haven’t yet been told how much my collection in St Pancras raised.

I need to have raised £4,800 by December 26 — so I still need all the support I can get.  You can contribute towards the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here and show your own support for Macmillan Cancer Support.

What are you thinking?

Every now and then I have a “What are you thinking?” moment and the enormity of the Arctic challenge hits me.  In that moment it’s like I realise my place in the universe, how small I am, and at what tremendous odds I am up against.  It’s truly terrifying.

I think about the £6,000 I have to raise.  I think about the physical challenges.  I think about the sheer speed the dog sleds are going to be travelling at.

I think about all of these things, and I worry that I’m just not up to it.

Sometimes I think maybe it’s too hard, and I should admit defeat..

But I haven’t given up, and I won’t give up.

Yes, I’m out of shape, and yes I have only raised 25% of my fundraising total so far.  Yes the Arctic Circle is one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, and yes I will be in charge of some hyperactive huskies pulling me across ice and snow at break-neck speeds.  And, yes, the fundraising is still hard work.

But I can do this, and I will do this — one way or another.  I think perhaps you have to be slightly crazy sometimes to see the odds stacked so high against you and want to carry on anyway.

As always, you can show your own support for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here:

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Adventure is out there

Preparations for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure have got into full swing this week — and hardly a minute too soon.

Donations via the Just Giving page have reached £220 this week. It might seem like a slow start, but that’s 5 donations — including one from someone who is a little bit a personal hero of mine, Peter Lubbers.  The man does it all — ultra-marathons, bungee-jumping, skydiving — and still finds the time to be an expert on HTML5.

Corporate requests for sponsorship have so far been met with polite declines.  From a sports marketing perspective, I also approached several brandsto see if they would get behind “The Flat Footed Adventurer”, with much the same level of success.  Adidas have told me that while Macmillan Cancer Support are one of the charities they are supporting this year, they can’t support me “due to resource & budget limitations”.  Animal — without a doubt one of my own favourite brands — agreed that Macmillan Cancer Support are a great cause, and like so many others the friendly press office contact had seen first-hand their work, and said on a personal level he “supported” any charity fundraising for them.  However, like so many others, Animal have to draw a line somewhere.  In this case, I was told normally they offer goods to raffle off or to support in any event that ties in with their core of surf, board and bike sports.  However, dog sledding doesn’t count as one of their core board sports — although it involves snow.  As they say, there has to be a line somewhere.

Among the other responses I have had included a no from the office of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.  As a publicly funded organisation and a strategic body for London, I am told the Greater London Authority is not in a position to assist individual causes, no matter how worthy they might be.  As “sorry, no” responses go, while it may be entirely copy/pasted, there’s very little you can argue with in it.

I have not had any kind of response from the press offices of London’s various transport services, nor from my local MP.

In a more positive light, the organisers of the Hacker News London Meetup made an announcement to their members about my Arctic Fundraising Adventure ahead of this month’s meeting, and I was given a very kind donation by the organiser of the London Java Community.

Outside of fundraising, I was generously given a free personal training consultation by Matt Wolstenholme this week — Matt has a variety of fitness qualifications and bags of experience under hsi belt (as well as being a talented sports writer), so I considered myself very fortunate to get an exclusive consultation with him.  Although I am sore today, and noticeably out of shape, I found I’m not nearly as disastrously unfit as I had thought I was — but this could just be as a result of Matt’s motivational style.  If you’re in London and want a personal trainer, Matt comes highly recommended by me — and hopefuly, if finances allow, I will be able to see Matt on a regular basis for more personal training. With his help, I have no doubt that in no time I will be fit for chasing huskies and pushing sleds uphill.

So , where does this leave me?  I consider this some of my first steps along the road — I have made a start on fundraising, but there is an awful lot more to go.  I have also had one personal training session, the first of many more hours of fitness training.  From here, we can only go up.  There needs to be more donations, which will surely come as a result of more effort to find the donations — so there must be more emails written and more contacts made.  I also need to start some traditional supermarket collections.

I should also get a proper press release written, since all contact with the Docklands newspaper was met with a resounding silence.

In the news his week was a report that Four in 10 Britons will get cancer.  According to the Guardian, “Figures obtained by Macmillan Cancer Support show that 42% of Britons had cancer before they died – compared with around 35% a decade ago.  The study, which analysed data from 2008, also revealed that 64% of cancer sufferers will eventually die from the disease.”

It reminds me of why I am doing this trip in the first place.  You can donate to my Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here.  Adventure is out there!

Mon amour, l’aventure commence

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It’s official.

I signed up.  I paid my money, I filled out the form, and I signed up. The Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure starts here.

I saw the doctor last week, and it was probably one of the fastest check-ups ever.  I explained I was travelling to the Arctic Circle next year, he raised an eyebrow.  I told him I wanted a clean bill of health before signing up.  He checked my notes, listened to my chest, confirmed that there wasn’t anything I was currently suffering with, and ordered a variety of blood tests — just to be thorough.

I asked, “Should I be concerned by the trip down the stairs I had a few years back?  Before the Peru adventure?”
“Do you have any symptoms now?” He responded
“Then I’m sure it’s fine.”

And that’s it, it’s official — short of the blood tests showing up anything alarming (which, let’s face it, they won’t): I am healthy.  I won’t say “fit and healthy” as there is a lot of fitness work to go between now and next March — along with a lot of fundraising.

The fundraising goal is £6,000 which seems insurmountable — but the way I see is if I can get 60 companies to each donate £100, then I’m set.  The publicity and promotion machine must now get to work.

Speaking of publicity, a special thank you goes out today to David Gallagher, the Senior Partner / President of Ketchum Pleon PR who kindly retweeted a link to my JustGiving page.  Thank you, David!  Also worthy of heartfelt gratitude for a retweet is John Williams, author of the inspirational book Screw Work, Let’s Play — his 30 Day Screw Work, Let’s Play Programme has given me some much needed support and contacts.

As mentioned, I have already set up a JustGiving page, along with a Facebook page, and a LinkedIn group.  Take up of memberships to the social media  pages has been slow getting started — I expected donations to take a lot of work, but have been surprised by a lack of interest to join the Facebook page.

Donations, on the other hand, have started strong — I have received to date two donations of £50 each, which means I only have £5,900 left to raise.   One of the organisers of the Hacker News London Meetup group has agreed to put out a message to the group about my fundraising adventure, for which I am very grateful –I was hoping this might be a way to find 60 companies each willing to make a £100 donation, but that might have been a little optimistic.

I am now wrestling with myself over whether I should ask more groups I am associated with through my work for their help, or whether I should keep a separation between the two.

The message remains the same however: all donations, of any size, are equally welcome — and if you are unable or unwilling to donate, there are other ways you can help.  You can help by telling people about my adventure, and why I am doing it. You can help by finding out if there is anyone in your company I can ask for a donation from. You can help by suggesting big companies with PR budgets I could talk to. You can help by suggesting press contacts who would be interested in my adventure.  Or you can help by just giving me messages of encouragement — it’s all welcome.

Warning: road block ahead

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We left the flat-footed adventurer last time trying to find support from adventurer-turned-Gardener’s-World-presenter Ben Fogle, as well as financial help and press coverage from the Docklands newspaper.  So, what is new?

My email to the editor of Docklands was met with an auto-reply: he was out of the office, please contact x in his absence.  Fair enough, I redrafted the email and sent it to the new news contact.  Two emails, two auto-replies.  This contact had actually left the newspaper some weeks before — and was now on an adventure of his own, in Africa.  You can follow his own adventures on the site It All Began in Africa.  It’s very inspiring stuff — doing good work, and finding positive stories in such an often-misunderstood continent.  This auto-reply gave me yet another contact — but I figured maybe the paper’s editor was just out of office for a day or two.

I called the newspaper the next day, using all of my own journalist training to sound expected, asking for the editor by name, and feigning surprise when I was he was out of the office.  What I didn’t expect, when I asked if he would be back in the following day, was to be told he was on long-term sick leave.  Often this is code for a nervous breakdown, but I wish the man well, whatever the circumstances.  I got from the receptionist a name for the news editor who was effectively in charge these days, but didn’t take the offer of being put straight through — people rarely appreciate cold calls.  The third email — to the news editor — ddn’t bounce back.  It also got absolutely no response whatsoever.  My offer to the Docklands newspaper for exclusive coverage of my dog sled adventure was as good as refused.

In a continuing theme, I have also not had a response from Ben Fogle.  That’s hardly a surprise, however — I get more emails than I can handle at work, I can’t imagine how many emails someone like Ben Fogle must get.  I doubt he ever even saw it.

But help has come from an unexpected place.  My work.

I deliberately didn’t ask them for any donation for financial support before now — not because I didn’t think they would provide it, but because I didn’t think it was fair to put them in that position.  However, when I was telling a colleague recently about the adventure and my struggle to get the money to sign up, he pointed out the obvious: I could earn it.  It was obvious: in exchnage for £500, I will work one evening a week for the next 10 or so weeks — on top of the day job.  Yes, it means that once a week I will be working 12 hour days or longer, but it’s worth it.

That was one road block stormed through: I’ll get the money in this month’s pay.  I am now free to sign up for the adventure.

I made contact with Cancer Research UK, to register to fundraise for them, to tell them my plans — and to get their permission.  This last part has thrown up road block number 2.  I am welcome to fundraise for them, and they will give me all the support I need: except for the option of the “minimum sponsorship” for the trip.  The charity does not have the facilities to pay Across the Divide for the trip, so if I want to take part and want to raise money for them, that’s all great — but it has to be self funded.

My early attempts at securing a corporate sponsor for this failed, and my more recent attempt to just get sponsorship for the deposit also floundered.  If I didn’t have £500, I certainly don’t have the best part of £3,000.  So, I have returned to the idea of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support.  It’s not a case of favouring one charity over another, I was planning to fundraise for Cancer Research only because my cousin requested for my uncle John’s funeral that donations go to Cancer Research — his illness had been too rapid for him to receive any support at home from Macmillan.  I like to think of cancer patients and their families getting the support that they need, and I think my uncle John would have felt the same way.  Naturally, my family have no objections to any choice of charity.

Macmillan Cancer Support have in a way given me a third road block in the process of helping me overcome the second.  They are absolutely fine with the “Minimum Sponsorship” option, and being invoiced by Across the Divide for the cost of the trip — except that they have a different cost to donation ratio than the organisers.  What does this mean? It means that I will have a higher minimum sponsorship — instead of £4,500 it will be more like £6,000.

Next week is the beginning of July. The trip will be in March.  I expect I will have to have raised the money by about January.  That’s roughly £1,000 a month.  Do we think I can do it?  I have to think about it and talk to Macmillan’s fundraising team.  I spoke to someone tonight who told me that his own experience of fundraising has shown him that recording your event and making it available afterwards can double your total raised — just in donations received after the event.  It’s worth bearing in mind.

The next wave of companies being contacted for help/sipport/collateral will be footwear companies — who better to support an adventurer with flat feet like myself — and perhaps electronics companies who would like to give or lend me a small camera.

But first, I should sign up for the adventure.

Day 6: Winay Wayna-Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, PeruYou think you know Machu Picchu. You have seen it in guidebooks, in things to do before you die lists, in Facebook photo albums of various friends. You’ve seen it in high-definition technicolour. How can seeing it in person not be an anti-climax?

I thought all of these things, until I saw it. The lost city, that technically has no name, but is referred to by the name of the mountain: Machu Picchu.

And maybe it’s the altitude, and maybe it’s exhaustion, maybe it’s that you’ve been working towards this moment for so long: planning and training and fundraising and hiking — but either way, it’s a big emotional moment. I tell everyone the same thing: if you want to see Machu Picchu, you should hike the Inca trail to get there.

Sure, you can take a bus up the mountain from Agua Calientes, and arrive all fresh and rested, but where would be the sense of achievement?

The last day’s hiking started with an unexpected lie-in. When this became the plan, I don’t know, I was fairly sure it was meant to be an early start to be there for sunrise: but none of that mattered once we were awake and on our way. To tell the truth, the hike to get to Machu Picchu on the last day fades in my memory: because there was an enormous event waiting at the end, and everything else becomes over-exposed because of it.

 Inti Punku, the sun gateWhat I remember most is the stone steps up to the sun gate, from where you look down on to the lost city below. One more set of steps, except that lining the steps on both sides are the trip guides, the doctors, the porters you have become close to over the last few days. And they are all cheering and applauding. I raised an arm in triumph for a photo: I did it. On bruised and blistered and broken feet, I did it.

After the photo opportunities with mountain Machu Picchu in the background, we were encouraged to spend a few minutes in quiet reflection about why we were there and what we had accomplished. That’s about the time that the exhaustion and altitude combined to have almost everyone break down in tears. We were all there raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and all had stories about how cancer had affected the lives of people around us — or us personally. My aunt would have loved Machu Picchu and Peru, and it seemed like a fitting tribute to her memory.

What I don’t often talk about is the pain I was in on this last day. I’d been on a prescription pain killers all week to deal with the pain in my injured foot and in my knees, and had foolishly decided for the last day to start reducing the dose. Looking back, I could have waited another couple of days, but I under-estimated how much of a hike the final day would be. But you know what? Look at that smile. I was genuinely happy. In that moment, it was all worth it.

Among the ruins of Machu Picchu there are wild llamas just wandering around, and once you have descended the long, winding path down to the city you yourself just wander among the ruins and the grass: marvelling at the pyramids and the buildings, and the ingenuity of this long lost civilisation. Everyone there probably wishes they were alone to experience it without the slightly grubby hikers, like me, or the fresh faced tourists just off the air-conditioned bus. Just the same, you remember the feeling of the city and try to memorise all the details to report back later.

Day 4: The Inca Trail, Wayllabamba to Pacamayo

After a restless night disturbed by tentmate Joe’s frequent and noisy vomiting, we started the second proper day of walking with the knowledge that this would be perhaps the hardest thing many of us had ever done — and possibly the hardest thing we would ever do.

We had camped overnight at an altitude of 2700m at a place called Wayllabamba, which in the Peruvian Quechan language means “grassy plain”. Both of these are quite safe, reassuring facts that you take comfort in on the trail. The altitude is low (although that is still double the height of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles), and the name tells you how it’s nice and flat. This contrasted with the focal point of the day: Dead Woman’s Pass, standing at an altitude of 4200m, over three times the height of Ben Nevis and nearly four times the height of Snowdon*.

It wasn’t long before the ascending trail took us up through what is referred to as “cloud forest”, where the forests are persistently misty — this made it cooler for the uphill hike, but the altitude was still tough. Joe hadn’t recovered from the night before, and was struggling to continue going since he couldn’t even keep water down. We were lucky that it stayed dry for us, since this part of the trail had a reputation for being hard going when it got muddy as well as steep.

I remember one stop we made for a rest and water, which really symbolised the contrast of the traditional Peruvian society and the “modern world”. We stopped to regroup and rest, and a few feet away, under a tree sat two Peruvian women in traditional dress, with their donkey. And a table selling bottle water, Coke, chocolate, Powerade and various other delicacies. Every now and then the donkey would wander closer to one of the women, and she’d hit it with a stick. I got the impression the woman was telling the donkey to go away, but maybe it was the other way round — the donkey enjoyed it, and every now and then just had an urge to be hit with a stick again, whereupon the old lady would oblige.

Lunch a couple of hours later was a beautiful lush valley, with views of snow-capped peaks and the heights of Dead Woman’s Pass lying ahead of us. Joe was in a bad way. He was dehydrated and weak, from being unable to keep anything down but still being determined to keep going. I think the trail and the long months of preparation did that to you: giving up was not an option. If I thought I had things bad with dodgy knees and a bad foot, Joe had to be put on an intravenous drip in a tent.

When I arrived at the lunch stop true to form our team of trusty porters had already erected the three group dining tents for us, as well as the cooking tents and done all the cooking — and there was still a few minutes to go before meal time. Most others had been there a while longer than me, but I was perpetually slow. It’s now such a bad way to take the trail, you get the opportunity to take in all the sights around you — which never have the chance to become familiar or run of the mill.

I encouraged a fellow trekker to venture in to one of the surrounding fields where llamas (or maybe alpacas, I can’t tell the difference) were peacefully grazing. I had been tasked by Ali to hug a llama for her, and I was determines to meet my obligations, and have a photo taken to prove it. Unfortunately, the llamas had other ideas about this. They might be big. And smelly. But they are also still timid of people, and weren’t keen on the idea of being hugged by someone who hadn’t showered in a couple of days. I settled for a photo near a llama instead, though I won’t post it since it’s not a very flattering picture — and I don’t look a whole heap better.

Lunch was packed with carbs — the now-usual selection of dishes ranging between soup, chicken, white rice and traditional Peruvian dishes. It was delicious, and best of all plentiful — and we needed it, since Dead Woman’s Pass still lay several hours ahead and several thousand meters above us.

After lunch the trail got steeper and relentless, there was often barely enough room for two people to walk side by side, when there would come up the mountain a shout of “Porters!”. Everyone would move to one side to let these Peruvian supermen past — with port-a-loos and stoves on their backs and nothing more than sandals on their feet.

The altitude made the trek hard going. We’d be able to walk no more than a few minutes before having to stop to catch our breath — the thing about altitude was that the air literally did feel thinner, you could take long, deep breaths but the air just didn’t go so far. Your heart would pound, your head would thump, and you just had to stop and let everything settle — no amount of eagerness or speed would get you up the mountain any faster.

With the altitude came the cloud, and once we reached Dead Woman’s Pass (so-called because it is said to resemble a dead woman lying on her back, with the view of two mountainous peaks resembling breasts) it got cold very quickly. We all assembled together to appreciate what would be the highest — although not necessarily the hardest — point of our trip. The views were limited by the cloud around and below us, and strangely reminded me of Dartmoor — probably because of the cloud/fog, rock and desolate landscape. On many of the surrounding hills were small piles of stones, not unlike the cairns found in the British Isles — they were apparently expressions of wishes by Quechan travellers, who would return and add another stone to the top of the pile when their wish came true.

Getting to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass was only half the battle — there was still a 500m descent to camp to go. While the ascent was hard-going because of the altitude and steep climb, descending is often just as hard, and the relentless steps are torture on your knees — and like with the ascent, you can’t speed up, even if you want to, and know you are against the clock to get into camp before dark.

The second night camping was in the Pacamayo (or “sunrise”) valley, where instead the sun was quickly setting. My tentmate Joe (who had been carried at one point on the steepest part of the trail uphill) was already in the tent and his sleeping bag and fell sound asleep almost as soon as I got back. After a hard day, many of us were a lot more tired than the night before and went to sleep right after dinner.

The next day was promised by some to be the hardest, with another very early start.

*Readers outside of the UK: please feel free to chip in with how this compares with mountains you are more familiar with — I appreciate the UK isn’t known for its mountainous terrain.