So, I promised a blog a day for this week as a thank you for sponsoring me... Here goes!
If you'll just indulge me for a moment... The first one will have to be on the 60km (37.3 miles) walk itself. Not being renowned for my physical prowess, I signed up to do it because my mate Liam was doing it. And he won't mind me telling you that he's no athlete either. Plus he's got ten years on me. I just thought if Liam can do it, anyone can...
Proceedings nearly came to an end before the event even started when we arrived at the Travelodge in Chichester on Friday evening to discover the 'family room' we'd booked was instead 'a very cosy, intimate double bed'. I assured Liam that as attractive a man as he is, if I was going to make my move on him I think I'd have done it by now. He said he was fine with it, and then spent 40 minutes trying to get a phone signal to call one of the others to see if they had a spare bed. They didn't. In the end we went for a couple of pints in the Wetherspoons next door like all the top athletes do before a big event. And to try to make the thought of sleeping next to each other slightly more palatable. Then we went back to our room and Liam built a dividing wall down the centre of the bed with the duvet and clung to the very edge of the mattress like his life depended on it.
Walk day. After waiting five minutes at the registration desk for Liam to list all his medical conditions, we got to the start line with the rest of our team - some parents of children with Rett Syndrome (like Liam), some with nieces, others simply friends. Then came the event warm-up... a ridiculously cheerful girl doing squats and knee lifting and lots of other things that I'm sure some people might be able to do. I half-heartedly joined in, hoping she'd realise I only signed up to do the walk because it involved putting one leg in front of the other, and that was the full extent of my physical ability. Eventually she finished and we prepared to go. The excitement began to build. Anticipation filled the air. The countdown started. FIVE - FOUR - THREE - TWO - O...
"I need a dump".
So, as the rest of the participants filed past us, Team Rett stood on the start line as Liam went off in the opposite direction. Ten minutes later he returned. "False alarm", he declared to us all, like we were waiting for the news. Finally, we were off.
I can't go into all the details about the rest of that day. I've blocked most of them from my mind. All I can tell you is it was the hardest thing I've ever done. I thought a walk was just that. A stroll. This was walking across wet sand, bogs, hills, pitch black woodland with thick, thick mud. It was gruelling. I had blood blisters drained by a medic at 38km. Torrential rain, hailstorms, fierce winds. It was tough.
But at around 1am me and Liam were approaching the finish line. After walking for seventeen hours we were going to make it. The rest of the team had finished just ahead (I say just ahead, 1-2 hours means 'just'). And at the finish line was Liam's daughter Louise, with her mum. The very girl who'd inspired us to do this ridiculous walk in the first place. The finest present of all. Liam opened the car door to say hello to her. Louise's vocabulary is limited to around five words.
"Bugger", she said. Her brilliant dad had done it.
It was an incredible journey with a group of incredible people. Made all the more amazing by the readers of this blog who donated and supported me, and who helped spread the word about Rett Syndrome that little bit further. Thank you so, so much.
As for The Boy? Well, I phoned him at 52km. I needed to hear his voice. He refused to come to the phone. It turns out that whatever trauma I faced on the South Downs that day, it was nothing to what he was battling with. The internet connection wasn't working at his mum's house...
This blog is about bringing up The Boy. He's 12 years old and autistic. It's written by The Dad. It's my words, my view. Other people will think differently and have different opinions. Good.