Mon amour, l’aventure commence

Image source: http://bit.ly/nw3xgY

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
“No…”
“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

Image source: http://www.roadblockdnb.co.uk

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.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

What’s the latest with the Flat-Footed Adventurer?

Having drawn a blank on corporate sponsorship, and come away empty-handed from any recent sharing of this blog, I have stepped my campaign up a gear. This trip is not going to beat me before it has even begun.

On the advice of a gentleman by the name of Nick, I have contacted the legendary Ben Fogle — who as an adventurer is perhaps best known for his participation in the inaugural South Pole Race. Will Ben Fogle be able to give me any advice on preparing, fitness, publicity or raising even the paltry sum that is the trip deposit? Will Ben Fogle even read my email, let alone respond? You, dear reader(s), will among the first to know.

I have also been advised that I should seek medical opinion on if it is even advisable that I make this trip, given the accident I had before my Peru trip. One should always consult a doctor before embarking on a new fitness regimen, but how many of us ever actually do? I certainly never do, and don’t recall when I last saw a doctor — other than the recent trip to see one in France when I broke my collarbone snowboarding. Yes, I am accident prone and clumsy. Yes, these two things plus dog sledding in the wilds of the Arctic Circle might lead to calamity. But will that put me off? Hells, no. Just the same, I feel I should at least tell my doctor of my plans and give him a chance to object.

Other than contacting adventurers-turned-Gardener’s-World-presenters, I also have made contact with the editor of a local newspaper. In exchange for their financial support — either of the trip deposit or a larger sum towards the fundraising total — I will provide them with content. How much content will be discussed with regards to how much help they can give me. Once again, I am filled with suspense. Will the editor read my email? Will he file it in the tray marked “bin”? Or will he think it’s a good idea and make contact? I have given first refusal to this particular newspaper — if I don’t get a repsonse, or get a response in the negative, then I will widen it out to other newspapers instead.

Until I can pay this deposit and sign up, I am kind of stalled — the usual recipes for charity fundraising don’t apply until I actually am fundraising for the charity. At which point, there will be requests to collect outside supermarkets, in Tube stations, and anywhere else I can think of.  But there needs to be action, so the first action is keep making contact with people who might be able to help.

Even if you’re reading this, you can help. You might not be able to donate money, or your services as a fitness trainer or native Norwegian speaker, but you can still help. I need people to help me organise events, I need people to help me get publicity. I need people to keep me motivated, to say “you’re doing great!” or “Must try harder!” (as all my school reports used to say).

In the words of John Hegley: “I need you like a lookalike needs somebody to look like”.

Day 5: Pacamayo – Winay Wayna

Our last full day’s hiking began shortly after 5.30am, on a cold Andean morning above the Pacamayo river.  Joe had slept the night through, and the cheerful porters were greeting us all with bowls of hot water for washing in, and mugs of Coca tea.

But it was mornings like this that brought home where we were, and why we were doing it.  Sometimes at the end of the day when your knees were screaming and you were hiking the last few miles to camp in rapidly fading light, it was easy to forget.  Then you wake up the next morning with views of cloud-filled valleys, and you wonder why you don’t do this kind of thing more often.  Day three of proper hiking along the Inca trail promised lots more ruins, more altitude, and more cloud forest.

About a kilometre along the trail from the campsite, and a climb of about 150m we came to the first set of ruins of the day, the remains of Runkuraqay — at an altitude of approximately 3750m.

Discovered by the explorer Hiram Bingham, who was searching for Machu Picchu, like much of the Incan architecture the purpose of the tambo aren’t entirely clear.  While some historians claim it was a lookout post for the trail, others have said it was a guard house, a grain store or even a llama corral.

From here the hike just kep going up — and like the previous day, the air was thin, the trail was steep and the going was slow.  While we knew we were going up to 4,000m again, we’d spent the night at altitude and so hadn’t nearly as far to go this time — instead we had almost all of the rest of the day downhill.

And so from the highest point of the day, it was another 400m descent down to the town of Sayaqmarka.  Reached only by a steep, narrow staircase Sayaqmarka can be translated as “inaccesible town”.

Having spent the best part of the day so far not actually at the back of the group, I decided to forego a brief side trip up to the ruins of Sayaqmarka and instead press on ahead.  There was still a lot of hiking to be done, and I had some foolish notion that I might possibly be able to get back before nightfall without being eaten by a puma.  Though I expect for many it would be an honour to be eaten by such a revered animal, I figured that could at least wait until after Machu Picchu.

Speaking of Machu Picchu, I had come this far now and was now reassured in myself that I wouldn’t have to abandon the trail with one of the group leaders and instead take the train to the lost city.  In some of my darker moments the day before I had reassured myself that it would still be an adventure, even if that was the worst case scenario.  But it wasn’t me being carried up to Dead Woman’s Pass in a papoose, or giving the porters a fright by keeling over at the top.  So, surely, if I had come this far then I would just keep going?  The worst of the uphill was behind me, and we were at such a point that returning were as tedious as to go o’er.

As the day wore on, the trail levelled out and widened — giving us fine views and occasional patches of cloud forest.  The third pass was reached easily after passing through an Inca tunnel in the rock.  I can’t be sure exactly when it was in the day, but it must have been about around this time that one of my fellow trekkers had a small mishap with some strong pharmaceutical painkillers.

For reasons of her own, one of the trek doctors had given her two of these tablets, and she’d been instructed to take them something like four hours apart.  I can be fairly clear about these instructions, since I’d been given some myself — but never felt the need to resort to those on top of what I was already taking.  Many of you can probably guess what happened next — it got to halfway through the day, and Yvonne realised she had forgotten to take one of the tablets earlier.  Maybe she was feeling particularly sore, and that was what reminded her, but she obviously figured that she would need to “catch up” on what she had missed, and took them both at once.

Yvonne later told us that she didn’t realise this was a mistake until some time later.  We were at the top of a particularly steep climb, everyone was getting their breath back, and Yvonne noticed how the colours on all the plants seemed so unusually vivid, and thought to herself that she hadn’t known that was a symptom of altitude sickness.  Then she remembered the tablets she had taken, and realised all was not well.  Before long, she was giggling like an addict in the depths of an ether binge, and was unable to walk any distance completely unaided.

Luckily for everyone involved, Yvonne needed nothing more than one of the group leaders to support her as she walked and to keep an eye on her — no permanent damage was going to have been done, she just needed supervision and assistance.

On route to the last night’s camp we passed above the ruins of Phuyupatmarka (meaning Cloud-Level Town), a complex structure of protection walls and paths built on the uppermost side of a high hill.  It’s a sad state of affairs when by this point it is almost getting to a point where this elaborate Inca architecture is starting to seem normal.  It never becomes boring or uninteresting, but after a while you start to expect it — and know you are getting closer to the final day.

Before you can get to the final day, though, if you are like me you will spend most of the last hour of walking actually hiking in complete darkness with only a headtorch for light. While I wasn’t alone and the camp wasn’t far away, it was still not advisable to be walking the trails in the dark.  For me, it just added to the adventure — but I still didn’t want to get eaten by any wild animals.

The campsite of Winay Wayna was completely different to the previous two nights.  For a start it had toilets and showers — real toilets and real showers, that weren’t in tents.  It also had a dining hall, a kind of off-licence and a small shop that sold the tokens you needed to buy beer.  Most of the others had already been back at the camp for an hour or two already by this point, and had got on the beers without delay. Even Joe, who had made a lazarus-like recovery.

To celebrate the end of the camping, that evening there was a formal meal at real tables and everything — but for many of us, that was where the celebrations would stay, because the next day was the final hike to the lost city of Machu Picchu.