Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Everest Test in the Caribbean!

When my folks told me of their cruise to the Caribbean to watch some of the test series, I didn't think too much of it in terms of The Everest Test. It was only after they let on that Ian Botham, David Gower, Alan Lamb and Darren Gough were going to be on the boat with them in the evenings and between the Test matches that I thought we could benefit from their trip. So I took advantage of their 40kilo/person luggage limit (that's a whole extra old person!!) and bundled them off with as much branded Everest stash as I could get my hands on and asked them to get the doubtless inebriated ex-internationals to sign everything.
The trip didn't start well with their flight getting cancelled by the snow, you may have noticed Gower missed a day's commentary as well. Cricketwise, the tour got much worse too as England were skittled out for 51 in the second innings meaning the Test ended a day and a half early. Pistol Pete was not impressed. Then he was absolutely pissed when the next Test was cancelled altogether because of a sandpit of a pitch. 
These two mishaps did, in an unexpected way, mean good news for my Everest stash signing. The days off for the players allowed them to wander round looking for entertainment and booze. Some of them, not surprising for Freddie Flintoff in the West Indies, ended up on a boat...my folk's cruise ship! Annie Get-Your-Gun pounced on the chunky fast bowler immediately and explained all about her son and his crazy friends climbing up Everest to play cricket, shoving the stash into his hands. Fred, being a good lad, agreed to take our branded kit into the England changing room and see what he could do. 
So hopefully, as my rents sip their rum in the sunshine and fail to update me as they can't work emails, and I sit watching the match on Sky wishing I was sweating away out there, 3 shirts and a number of ties sit in the England changing room waiting to become the jewels in our fundraising and raffling crown. I'll let you know when they sober up and come home!

Chinese New Year

So me and the General eat at this noodle bar in Cheltenham, called Bar & Wok, about twice a week. We've done this pretty consistently for over two years, so much so that we don't get given menus any more and we have "the usual, please". Always wanted that!
Anyway, Pak, the owner, celebrates Chinese New Year each year and this year, of the Ox, he celebrated on 30th January in the restaurant. He introduces a couple of charities each year and runs a raffle to raise money. This year I was repayed for my very long service to 'spicey beef nooodal' and he agreed that, through The Everest Test, he'd give the money raised to The Himalayan Trust.
I was asked to give a brief talk on the charity and our effort and was rewarded with some overenthusiastic laughs and a great deal of interest in our crazy adventure throughout the 12 food courses of the night. Once again I was amazed by the excitement it automatically brings out in complete strangers - I guess one reason behind our success.
The raffle went well and I had a few Everest branded items to add which were well received. So much so that, after mentioning Strauss and Cook's involvement as our team captains, the man that won our branded tie said, "I was a bit asleep so only caught a little of what you said about Strauss and Cook, but if you get them to sign this, there's another £100 to your cause". 
This also happened with a couple of our demo shirts so added to the raffle's total of just under £200, the night was a real success. Pak thought so to and has offered to open up his restaurant for our use to help raise further funds for our good causes. Generous and impressive!

Everest Press Launch

Getting up at 6am has never been high on my agenda, especially to go to London, but I had no trouble on 27th January. I was driving down for our Everest official press launch being held that morning in Trafalgar Square. I'd definitely beat the traffic at this time of the morning I thought. . .but oh no! Not a chance. It took me 4 hours to park up in Wimbledon and tube it to Trafalgar Sq by which time I was £40 down in fuel, parking and train tickets and in the usual foul mood that only London can put me in. To add to that, I had missed most of the press launch I'd come to be a part of. I remembered why I only attempt this nightmare every few months. 
This isn't all negative though. When I did finally arrive, I descended into a square full of 40+ people in whites and all kinds of polar clothing milling around. Some giving interviews to an impressive collection of the world's media, from BBC to ITV to Cricket World magazine and everything in between; others throwing balls around and staging mini games on samples of the pitch kit we'll take up the mountain. Remembering that this is one of London's top tourist spots and busiest squares, the tour organisers and PR team had done a fantastic job, and for the second time in 2 months The Everest Test had taken over Nelson's patch. With Mark Butcher and Chris Adams getting involved too, it was evident how much The Lord's Taverners were really putting in and re-enforced that we'd made the right choice in them as our charity.
As the circus dissipated, I was left with an afternoon to have a few beers with some other Everest goers before a net session at The Oval in the evening. Once again, the whole day invigorated more excitement in me that we really are doing something special and being inspired and impressed by my mates who've put this all together.
I drove home feeling that the whole trip had been very worthwhile in the end. The trip back to Cheltenham took the standard hour and a half!!!

Farm Fitness in Herefordshire

If you knew Kingsley O'Hearn even a little bit then none of what happened over the weekend of 23rd January would be a surprise to you.
It began on the Friday night with a late night car journey into the middle of the near-Welsh bundu. Conveniently, it was the beginning of a fortnight's worth of snow so mud, ice and cold was all that could be looked forward to as 25 people headed west. In true farmhouse style, there was a good beef stew on the hob on arrival to warm everyone as we all had a quick catch up. Warmth and comfort didn't last long though as we were all shepherded into Lyonshall village hall to set up beds on the floor. Bedding varied from full-blown raised double inflatable beds (the quick release valve of which was not missed by me at 5am!) to my pitiful 1mm thick roll mat and threadbare sleeping bag. In panic, a whip round was taken to keep the metred heating on for the night - ironically, my crap old and cold sleeping bag was perfect as the heating blared all night and roasted everyone testing out their newly bought -10 degree arctic sleepwear. Well done Brooksy!
So, with a good 2 hours of sleep under our belts, we rose at sparrow fart to a vat of porridge and headed to the farmhouse for briefing and the start of a very different day. First up was a jog round our 5 mile run at the end of the day. With a man as random as Kinsey, this was never going to be a winner. Despite everyone's best efforts, all but the most avid runner stopped listening after a quarter of a mile.
Let the games begin! Running a 'bleep test' at 8am is not high on many people's to-do list but 25 running it in a warehouse designed to hold 80,000 chickens is bizarre to say the least. Second task was to throw a 10k rock over your head in an odd version of the shot put. Needless to say, some 8ft tall guy with very long levers won this won. Honourable mention should go to Hillsy for nearly landing it on his own head. Tire-rolling was next and more strange sites as some of the girls tried to heave these huge wheels 100m that were far taller than them. An unusual way to get out of breathe but very effective. Next was an obvious display of exploitation - getting people to pay to come to your farm for once and shift tonnes of rocks that have lain there for decades is a funny way to make friends. Nevertheless another innovative way to work out and work as teams. Best to listen to the rules before you start whinging - G-man!
Another jog, then a well needed lunch and back up to the chicken sheds to roll huge round hay bails down a slalom course. Once again height helped and at some points the bails seemed to be moving themselves as the girls puffed away behind them. A simple tug-o-war competition where technique and the slippery ground won over size and weight was next before the not at all anticipated 6 mile (yes it grew!) run.
The trick to getting a good time was to stick with Kinsey as the only man alive who new the complicated course. This was tough apart from the fittest of us and the leading bunch came in under an hour. The rest lost sight of the human map and got lost. So not only were we behind on the time anyway, this was made worse by running up to an extra kilometre. Fun!
Morale was restored after a shower, a few beers and a hot meal in the local pub. Back to sleep in the comfy village hall floor and the crew departed back to civilisation - a little bit sore - the next morning.
It was a fantastic day and a very clever way to form some strong bonds to take up Everest. The day was physically demanding for all and proved an all over workout for the body. Thanks must go to Kinsey and his family for organising and hosting the whole event.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

'Freeze Mobbing' & Just Freezing

Having boarded a plane in 30 degree heat in Johannesburg, it only dawned on me that I'd made a mistake when Kimbo and I landed in Amsterdam in -3 degrees. The mistake was to have had a fair few beers before boarding the plane in t-shirt, shorts and flips and packing everything else in the hold untill Heathrow. A serious oversight but it did prepare me a little bit for the next day's 'freeze mobbing' promotion around London.
Having not been able to get involved as much with Everest over the summer, I was really looking forward to finally meeting all the people that had been clogging up my inbox all year. I wasn't surprised to meet some brilliant people during what was a fantastic day confusing crowds of tourists and policemen in Parliament Square, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. Playing out a dummy dismissal, dressed up to the nines in cricket whites and polar gear then holding that pose for 3 minutes (not that easy - especially if you overcommit to an enthusiastic appeal!) I was seriously impressed by the level of dedication and enjoyment shown by all and the interest it stirred in the large crowds that treated us as some kind of artwork.
A trip across town found us at Lord's for a tour update where I was blown away by the scale of the expedition and by the amount of work everyone had done just to get this far. Kirt and Wes led the meeting excellently but what amazed me most were the looks on everyone's faces. Anticipation and genuine excitement were etched across all and its certainly something that hadn't quite been conveyed this much over tinterweb.
It was these looks that have really brought home what a special thing we are all a part of and has inspired me to double my involvement efforts and aim to be the highest individual fundraiser. There's a long way to go but considering everybody's contributions so far I've got to be ambitious to feel an equal part of the attempt. Can't wait!

Monday, 12 January 2009

The Big Five

After the wedding, the Big Five flew to Jo'burg and picked up a safari tour heading into Botswana.

Little did we know how much driving there would be - just the near on 8,000 miles - but with only two other travellers in a minibus, each person had a couple of seats and with the windows open it was pretty comfortable despite 40 degree heat.

The roads are horrendous there for hundreds of miles but our guide, Coenie, did an amazing job and with some local wildlife trundling across our path the first 1000 miles went by and gave everyone a chance to recover from Cape Town.

First stop, the appropriately named Elephant Sands campsite in the middle of the enormous Botswanan salt flats. With elephants and other big game roaming free around us we had our first taste of camping totally unguarded. The sights and sounds during the night were phenomenal. I'd managed to get myself a tent on my own after the horrors of sharing beds and floor space with the others in Cape Town, and with everyone on a mix of hallucinogenic malaria pills sinking in, this worked out well for me later on.

The rest of the trip included a lot of activities amongst the quiet hours dozing, reading and daydreaming in the minibus watching endless miles of savannah blur past. We headed straight up to Victoria Falls and crossed a wreck of a Zambese river ferry into Zambia. This was a brilliant glimpse into Africa; loads of people, mini markets sprung up from nowhere, colour everywhere and nothing working or running to a system - just what I'd come to see. I loved it!

Vic Falls was very touristy eventhough we were still camping but we'd earned a few beers from all the driving so we settled into a cruise on the gigantic river and accepting a challenge to try and drink the booze cruise dry. The swede-ache didn't last long the next day as we plunged into a morning of white water rafting down the Zambezi. With a low river flow, the rapids were giant and managed to tip out Curry and G-man. It was 40 degrees again so ending up in the drink was welcomed at every opportunity.

A quick lunch then we crossed onto Victoria bridge which makes the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe so that most of the group could bungee jump and flying fox across the gorge. Admittedly, this is a fantastic spot to do crazy things like that but I was very happy to curiously watch the steady flow of people crossing to a from Zimbabwe to buy food and materials. Staring at the border patrol I did wonder what the hell was happening in the country that everyone says is the most beautiful in southern Africa.

The next step of our safari was the Okovango Delta, a massive delta system that is as big as Wales. We travelled to our campsite in skinny dug-out canoes, called mokoros, powered by an equally skinny local tribesman with a 12ft pole. They look so precarious but once you relax they are an incredibly peaceful way to get about in the crystal clear and clean water. I took the opportunity to 'pole' one when the others sweated through another walk and alhtough I didn't fall in the locals make it look immensely easy - it isn't!

Walking safaris were the activity for evening and early morning, again led by our amazing local guides, and we got very lucky with what we saw due to their incredible eyesight and talent for spotting movement. The longest walk was 5 hours and the Everestians took the chance to test themselves and settle into a demanding marching pace. I guess it was decent practice fitness wise but a difference of 50 degrees couldn't have been much further away from what we'll experience in April!

Afternoons in the sweltering heat were left to read, sleep or swim in our little watering hole - despite the very real hippos! And they were there as we went to watch them from our mokoros one amazing evening as they settle in for the night. Nights in the delta were an awesome mix of clear huge starry skies, one ferocious lightening storm and distant roars from hunting lions. The only unnatural sounds were Curry getting molested by G-man in the wee hours one night (Iwas safe in my single tent). The team took the chance to fly over the delta, after reemerging, which was a great decision to gain some perspective and a scale of the place we'd been wandering around in. It truly is a spectacular place and the people are so smiley and incredible.

With a quick night's stop in a rhino sanctuary, it was a long drive back to Jo'burg before the team caught their flights and went their separate ways. Here was a chance to buy souvenirs and presents for paople back home but, true to form, the time was spent drinking and reminiscing before heading off round the world.

Africa is an amazing place and I was really pleased to have sampled a range of what the area has to offer from living it up in the bars and restaurants of Cape Town, to the wine growing region and a brilliant wedding, to the wildlife and activities in Botswana and Zambia, some true chaos and a glimpse of 'real Africa'.

Since way back when...

...the 11th November to be exact. Anyway, a long time ago and a lot has happened. Where to start? Well the last time we spoke I was just about to jet off to South Africa with some other Everestians so I'll begin there.

Africa is a continent that I'd always wanted to visit and the three weeks didn't disappoint. It all started with a lengthy flight with Kimbo to Cape Town. Being a quiet bloke, I was apprehensive of spending 14 hours cooped up with the inane-random-chattiest-man-in-the-world but he was good enough to be suffering from a cold and the flight passed strangely booze-free and peaceful.

Arriving in the city at night didn't give much of a glimpse of how stunning the place really is so, having checked in and enjoyed the luxury of a bed for what would be the last time in 10 days, we woke the next day to find Table Mountain and its smaller counterparts staring down at us from a surprising height. I'd seen the postcards but they were all at least three times the size I was expecting.

Curry had done amazingly in setting us all up in an apartment at the Waterfront and the first day was spent looking round the Volvo round the world race yachts and taking in the sun and a few beers. Over the weekend we were lucky enough to get shown round by the bride and her father and spend some quality time with our good mate, the groom. After having the pick of Cape Town's best bars things started to get predictably hectic as the rest of the wedding party arrived.

In amongst the dinners, catch up sessions and the stag do I did manage to visit Robben Island, swim in the deceptively cold South Atlantic, fly in a Hughey helicopter and abseil off Table Mountain. Not bad despite sleeping on our apartment floor all week (9 people in a 3 bed apartment - you do the math!) and being molested by our fellow wedding-goers (Curry found out how this feels later in the tour so ask him. Thanks Twomit!).

Cape Town having been a success, the slightly hungover wedding party travelled 45 minutes north to the wine growing area around Stellenbosch. This is an amazingly beautiful area and the wedding was stunning. I'm not sure how to convey to you how good the wedding was but I really cannot think of a single thing that could have been better during the whole day and it was a fantastic party that night. It was an amazing effort for all to travel so far to get there but it was well worth it as spending the whole week with the wedding party, family members and other friends really added to the atmosphere over the day...

...despite England losing to SA in the rugby that afternoon!