ARE YOU TOUGH ENOUGH??

Easter Bank Holiday Weekend brought us the latest instalment of “Are You Tough Enough” – not the SAS version (although that looks pretty challenging) – but the “Are You Tough Enough to be John Withinshaws’ girlfriend” version. Blistering heat, gruelling conditions and a true test of grit and determination.

OK, so I can be a little dramatic at times…

I’m not sure if it’s as we grow into ourselves as adults, or as we grow into ourselves as athletes (or both) but the challenges we present ourselves with are getting more and more extreme. The purpose of our trip to the Lakes over the Bank Holiday weekend was to start the arduous and lengthy task of recceing (knowledge = power, confidence and foresight) John’s biggest target to date – the Northern Traverse – 190 miles self-supported Ultra, following Wainwrights Coast to Coast from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay, April 2020, with 5 days to complete (on foot).

Picture of a map and Wainwrights Coast to Coast book
We had discussed various options of how we were to go about this, John coming up with the idea of carrying a temporary home on our backs for a couple of days and doing a bit of wild camping. We decided (I persuaded) that as novice wild campers and carriers of really, really heavy backpacks and that one of us deals really badly with the cold, that perhaps we should ease ourselves into the dirt-bag lifestyle and do an out and back of the first leg of the journey, then move along the route in the car and do the same from point 2. We decided to leave out the first section for now (St Bees to Ennerdale – approx 14 miles) on the basis this should be relatively easy to navigate – fresh, daylight and among other people. So – park up at Ennerdale, walk from Ennerdale for as far as we could manage, put up tent for the night, wild camp and then head back the following day. Sounds straight forward enough.
Hiking items laid out ready for packing for a recce of the Northern Traverse

Of course we had to buy a tent, a rucksack for me, a tiny stove, a new coat, freeze dried expedition rations and a poo trowel before we were set to go. I researched and studied maps like my life depended on it (I take my role as 2IC very seriously), made notes, and a book of Wainwrights route that a friend had lent us became bedtime reading. Be prepared. This is a good time to practice my own navigation too. I got out all the warmest layers I could find that wouldn’t weigh me down too much – never has my packing been so minimal and organised… and then….

Cue the hottest weekend of the year so far.

Ennerdale Water in the morning sun

DAY 1

My anxiety was a little through the roof as we set off on the Friday morning – I can catastrophize better than anyone I know and if anything could go wrong on this kind of trip, I will have dreamt it up as the worst case scenario. I put my heavy rucksack on, breathed deep, pretended all was going to be OK and trundled along behind John, who was full of his usual enthusiasm and already 10 spaces in front, even though we’d only been going 5-10 minutes. We set off up Angler’s Crag (on Wainwrights advice, rather than trying to shimmy round the very dangerous shale at the bottom) and I instantly realise that I’m in a bit of trouble. I can’t breathe going up the hill, I feel slow and sluggish, but more than that – I’m in excruciating pain in my shoulders (and neck) with the rucksack. I don’t think I can walk 20 minutes, never mind 20 miles. John recognises I’m struggling and insinuates I may need to adjust the pack.

“I can’t do anything with the pack – it’s just really heavy.” I think I’m going to cry.

He finds a couple of straps at the top that I didn’t know existed, pulls them tight, which brings the top of the pack into my shoulders rather than dangling/dragging 3 inches away.

“Oh…” that’s a little better. FFS Jenkins.

The journey becomes a little easier after that, although we are picking our way through stony ground initially, so it’s not fast going, and of course it gets hotter and hotter as the day goes on. As we hit the forest path on a steady uphill, I start to become a little conscious of how much water we are (or aren’t) carrying and hope to god we find somewhere to fill up.

Black Sail YHA hut in the Lake District, Cumbria
We reached the Black Sail Hut YHA after about 3 hours or so of walking non stop in the heat. Wainwright describes it as the loneliest of all Youth Hostels in Lakeland. Not on this day. It was like heaven on a hill, and there were loads of other people who clearly felt the same. Not only could we fill up our water bottles, there is also an honesty shop where you can make your own cups of tea, coffee, etc. and buy flapjacks and crisps.

We had a rest, a cuppa and a bite to eat (crisps to get the salts back in and some delicious flapjack). This set us up in fine form for the climb up Seavy Knott, which is a very steep, stepped hill and a challenge with a heavy pack on your back (weight distribution – lean in). Steady away, take your time, rest when you have to.

Over the top we were treated to some magnificent views. The bonus of the hot weather was that we could see for miles and as John says, “your eyeballs just aren’t big enough to take it all in”. As we headed down to Honister I knew we had done the worst of the work for the day and started to relax a little bit. John bought me an ice cream at the Honister cafe – bliss.

View from the top of Seavy Knott in the Lake District

Seatoller was the next marked stop point in the notes, but there’s not an awful lot there so we headed straight to Rosthwaite, at which point we had covered about 14.5 miles, and walked for 7 hours or so. We stocked up with more water for camping and treated ourselves to a well earned pint.

Enjoying a pint of cider after a hot days walking in the Lakes

 

I have to admit it was tough to leave the pub. Feet were sore and hot and we still had a little way to go. John had earmarked a spot on the map a couple of miles away in Stonethwaite, but we had to walk past a campsite to get there – fields and fields (literally HUGE campsite) full of Bank Holiday revellers, relaxing, enjoying the sunshine, drinking beer, eating barbecues, children playing in the river…tempting.We found a lovely quiet spot, and then the next challenge – putting up the tent together – the maker and breaker of relationships. We make a pretty good team – John tells me how he would like me to help, and I do as I’m told. Saves millions of arguments.

It went up quick and easy and once happy with the tent we cooked our freeze dried expedition rations, drank a little Benedictine from the hip flask, had a baby wipe wash and settled into our sleeping bags before nightfall had even arrived.

DAY 1 – A HOT BUT TIRING SUCCESS

NAILED IT!! – SOBER EIGHTY (SOBRIETY) CHALLENGE – “JUST THE TONIC” – Complete

Could you stay sober for 80 days???

3 months ago on a holiday in Northumberland, after a few weeks of contemplation and some serious insight into what alcohol was doing to me, I came up with the idea of going sober for 80 days.

When I say “what alcohol was doing to me”, there was no major situation, no collapsing in a heap, no mad night out with an alcohol induced coma, no waking up with a million regrets.. it just hit me steady – like, my casual weekend drinking is making me feel like shit about myself and doing bad things to my body and I am relying on alcohol for far too many things.

Today marks the end of that challenge and I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned and also the changes that have occurred. It’s pretty weird to sit the other side of the fence after spending years and years with an alcoholic beverage in hand.

So here we go;

1. Alcohol is ethanol. Ethanol is poison. Alcohol is therefore a toxic, poisonous substance. Like really, not being dramatic with words, this is actual scientific truth. Actual poison. Worse than that, we drink poison to have a ‘good time’. This irony is totally mind blowing to me.

2. Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking, and the only drug people will try to persuade you to continue to take. No-one would dispute it if you said you were giving up cigarettes, cocaine or heroin.

3. Alcohol is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. Truth bomb.

4. If you go Sober people automatically suspect you may be an alcoholic. Grey area for me. I’ve never been physically dependent, but pyschologically?? – for sure. It’s just a sliding scale from tee total downwards and where you sit on that scale is most often not where you’d like to be. No-one wants to admit they have a problem though.

5. Most people who drink alcohol are dependent on it to some degree. And if you think you’re not, you are probably kidding yourself. See point no.4.

6. Alcohol is that cleverly packaged and marketed and such an intrinsic part of society that we have all been brainwashed to believe;
a. It is necessary to have a good time – life must be so boring sober.. right?
b. It is a reward, hard earned and deserved (who treats themselves with poison? – “mummy needs wine”)

7. We are therefore all sheeples – everyone else does it so it must be ok. I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by people who drink – a lot. I think there is an underlying reason for that.

8. In becoming sober I have found clarity of thought, I have managed to stick to a fitness program. I have more energy, more motivation and I have found my waistline again. My eyes are brighter, my skin is smoother and I genuinely feel a lot happier. I eat better and I could win competitions for sleeping.

9. There is a sober movement out there which I never knew existed. Sober parties and festivals. People enjoying themselves without drink. It is an evolution that is finding a voice, collecting supporters, and steadily growing.

10. I have missed so many things throughout life by being too pissed to be present, too wasted to appreciate the moments. I have spent lots of money, and hidden myself behind alcohol. Days wasted hungover. This makes me sad.

I have gained so much from being sober and lost nothing, apart from that which is better to lose.

So, challenge complete and I am super proud of what I’ve achieved (along with my partner in crime who’s had his own tests over the last 80 days and been awesome support).

What happens now there are no self imposed restrictions? Are we drinkers or are we non-drinkers?

For now, I’m not quite ready to give up on all I’ve attained, not willing to return to old habits. I have life goals, fitness targets, focus – and alcohol will not help me achieve any of these.

It has been a life changing experience.

Could you stay sober for 80 days???

Well done to all the others who joined in our challenge too!! 20180919_081450hangover-photo

SOBER EIGHTY (SOBRIETY) CHALLENGE – “JUST THE TONIC”

Could you stay sober for 80 days?

Most people [I know] will answer this question with a “NO”. I mean, why would you want to? Alcohol is part of life, right?

I wonder if it’s to do with the circles I mix in, or that British social culture seems to revolve around alcohol – beer gardens, cocktail bars, clubs and pubs? We are a nation of Sober Shamers and Alcohol Pushers (myself known to be one of them) and I know very few people who don’t drink at all.

Unless you’re pregnant (“you can still have the odd one, surely…?”) or driving… or maybe allergic or something… then why on Earth would you decide to stay sober?

You’re going to have to have a really, really, good reason. 

So, why am I going Sober for 80 days?

I was going to try and hide behind the whole fitness thing – like, I’m in serious training for an off-road marathon and I want to lose weight, so I can run faster, especially up hills. Whilst this is true, and I think that drinking alcohol does not allow me to reach my full fitness potential, and I am training for a marathon (and curious to see if sobriety makes any difference to my performance), this is not the main reason I am doing this.

Then, I thought I could say I want to abstain for a while because of mental health issues – it exacerbates my anxiety and can make me feel a bit down for a few days after a big session. This is all also true, however not the main reason.

OR, maybe I could drop the truth bomb and say that I have started to feel uncomfortable with my dependency on alcohol.

Am I an alcoholic? No.

Do I feel the need to drink more nights of the week than I don’t? Yes.

Do I struggle with moderation? Yes. I am an “all or nothing” girl. I try to be moderate. Sometimes it works, sometimes I’m drunk.

Can I go long spells without alcohol? Only if it’s dry January, everyone else is doing it, no-one goes out anyway and there is no fear of missing out. Fake sober = no problem.

Have I had a recent, horrendous experience with alcohol creating a knee jerk, “I’m never drinking again” reaction? No….

But… over the years there is an accumulation of secret drinking, pre-drinking, binge drinking, drinking left over wine from the night before whilst cooking breakfast (OK, only on very rare occasions, but still..). There is the obsession with how much I’m drinking, or not drinking, if I’m drinking too fast, can I get to the wine first before someone else finishes the bottle. Quick, fill your glass up. Don’t get too drunk tonight.. OOPS *falls over *falls asleep *falls out of love with self ~ drinks more to get through the guilt. Shopping…when can we get to the pub? Sight-seeing.. when can we get to the pub?  Where is all the alcohol at this party? Then, there’s the blackouts, doing stupid things, saying stupid things, falling over, UDI’s, arguments, deep depression, a rocking sadness. Despair. Shame.

These have all made me question my relationship with alcohol.

OK, so most of these things don’t happen on a regular basis and many of them not for a long time now. I would even go so far to say my current alcohol consumption is pretty average, and with some of the people I know, it’s actually way below par.

Just, for some reason, I’m not comfortable with it being “the norm” anymore.

Maybe, I just got sober curious.

Maybe, I just want to fly without being “high”

Maybe, I want to view the world with a little clarity for a while.

Maybe, I feel the need to rebel against the societal norms.Blog pic

Maybe, (a little bit deep this one) I want to rediscover the person I was before I started to hide behind alcohol, but the grown-up version.

At the end of the day there is a bigger question here, which is why do I feel the need to explain myself? Can I not just be sober and that be an OK thing to do?

Will my sobriety offend you? And if so, why?

Food for thought.

So, the challenge starts on Monday 2nd July – DAY ONE, which takes us to 19th September as DAY EIGHTY.

My average weekly consumption when staying in = around 6 bottles cider and 2-3 bottles of wine over the course of Thurs – Sunday.

PER WEEK that’s going to be a saving of;

£30-£40

50 UNITS (that is the part that shocked me the most – strong cider!)

and about 3,500 calories. 

I will be documenting the highs and lows of being SOBERCHIC here on the Brightside blog and will be setting up a private Facebook group – if required – for a bit of moral support, so let me know if you care to join me on my mission to becoming SOBER AF.

#soberisthenewblack #sobriety #soberchic #justthetonic #eightydayathlete #sobereightychallenge