12 July 2011 – Yorkshire
The annual two weeks where I say “I am not taking a phone and my laptop stays at home” is approaching. This year, as in previous years, I will get into the taxi, break out in a cold sweat, and nip back into the house to collect the bag containing my electronic world, which I had packed just in case I changed my mind.
I remember at antenatal classes, before Ella was born, being advised to have a bag packed ready to go to the hospital. When we got home I said “I shall go and pack the bag”. Victoria looked at me aghast but, giving me my role as a supportive husband and father to be, let me plough on with packing the essentials to get her through labour.
As ever, her faith was misplaced. As ever, I haven’t been listening. I thought the bag was for me, not for Vicky. I had heard horror stories of 60 hour labour and the bag became my lifeline. A few changes of clothes, plenty of chocolate, some books, swimming trunks in case the hospital had a leisure complex (I didn’t know, I had never been to hospital before).
She took the news that there wasn’t a spare nightie in the bag in good spirits. Her faith in me was damaged and she took over the packing for future events. All I get pack is my bag of electronic wizardry which allows me to keep in touch with the world when I shouldn’t.
In my last blog I said I was going to devote more time to Wobbly Williams. This clearly does not involve writing blogs! It is nearly a month since I put dictation software to word processor and much has happened. The men’s 10k was brilliant, and shortly after it we increased our target for the Great Scottish Run from 150 to 301 runners. This was in response to a telephone call with the press officer at the Great Scottish Run who told me that with 150 runners we would be the second biggest team. The Bank of Scotland field 300. We are having none of that! As of today we stand at 152.
I am still not back exercising and it is wearing me down. I have my neurologist appointment today in probably the worst shape I have been since I first walked into his office. I think the transfer to levodopa is imminent. I haven’t really been affected by the addictions which affect many people on ropinirole and there is an outside chance we will go past the maximum dose to delay going on to levodopa.
Victoria and the girls are having a week in Spain at a friend’s house so, for the second time this year, I will play darts with gay abandon, leave the toilet seat up and eat liver. It won’t be a complete week of slobbery, I will be heading up to Fort William for the weekend to climb Ben Nevis. This is in preparation for the Hadrian’s wall walk in September and an effort to get me back exercising again.
Last weekend, Vicky and I went to Yorkshire for Liz Ryan’s 60th birthday. Liz has been a great supporter since she found the website a few years ago and is organising the Wobbly walk this year (the aforementioned Hadrian’s wall walk). It was a great party involving traditional Yorkshire fare like pie and peas, slop supper and Pimm’s and lemonade. Yorkshire folk can be right posh when they want to.
27 July 2011 – What Has Parkinson’s Ever Done For Me???
Saturday brought into sharp focus the difference Parkinson’s has made in my life. If I go back, maybe, eight years, I did some hill walking. To be precise, I tackled a couple of Munro’s (mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet.) on two consecutive weekends with my friend, Colin Urquhart. The first weekend we went up Ben Lomond. It is an easy walk up the South Ridge and more difficult descent over the Ptarmigan on the north side. But nothing that would ever put you off.
The following weekend we attempted Ben Vorlich (the one near Loch Lomond not the one in Perthshire). On this mountain, I truly flipped. The problem was a fear of falling. We drove up to the dam, at the end of Loch Sloy and started to climb the side of the mountain up to the ridge which would lead to the summit. The slope was at an angle of less than 40°. The weather wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either and I just did not like it. One little bit. All I could think about was how I would get down. I told Colin it wasn’t for me and about a third of the way up we came back down again. He was fine about it but we never went out climbing again.
Two weeks ago I mentioned to my colleague, Douglas, that I was going up to Fort William to climb Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is a well trodden path (known as the “tourist route”) and poses no particular threat to anyone. It is just high. He said, “I hope you aren’t going up the tourist route”. To which I replied “there is another?”. And there begins a tale.
On the northside of Ben Nevis is Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) a Munro, which is attached to Ben Nevis by the CMD Arete (Ridge). Quite possibly the most terrifying thing I have ever seen in a photograph. I laughed and said not a chance. He convinced me otherwise. He said, at points, it was even wide enough to let somebody go past. That’s okay then.
On Saturday, we left the car park at the South West side of Ben Nevis and followed the tourist route to around 600 m.
Then we left civilisation behind and branched off in a clockwise direction around the west side of Ben Nevis to the valley between Nevis and CMD. As you enter the Valley you have CMD on your left, Ben Nevis on your right and the arete straight in front. I nearly pooed my pants.We walked up the valley, following the river to the mountain hut where the true nutcases who scale Ben Nevis in a vertical direction, up the North face gather. We, on the other hand, were going up the left side of the valley to the summit of CMD and around the arete. I have to say, with my hand on my heart, I had no intention of crossing the arete at this point. I would have been happy to get to the summit of CMD and come back down again.
CMD is a 45° slope. A 600 m climb over a 600 m horizontal distance. It was bloody awful, clambering over rocks, finding footholds loose scree. The views were spectacular but I was busy quelling fear of toppling over with every step. If you’ve never gone up 45° slope try it. It is not funny.
No matter how hard my negative thoughts tried to talk me down, one thing kept me going. The knowledge I was only on this mountain because I had Parkinson’s. Without Parkinson’s I would have been playing golf. More precisely, as it was approaching lunchtime, I would have finished playing golf and would be sitting in the clubhouse having lunch and discussing the one good shot I played amongst the one hundred utterly crap ones. I would probably have spent the afternoon cutting the grass, thinning out the plums or washing the car.
Reaching the top of CMD was exhilarating. The panorama is magnificent.
The exhilaration is soon quashed by the view of the arete, which is even more frightening than it is at ground level.
Six hours had passed since we left the car. I estimated it would take one hour to cross the arete and a further two hours to get down the tourist route. Given I haven’t enjoyed the climb up CMD, the alternative, going back the way we came, was not a pleasant one. I thought I would at least go and look at the arete.
At 1:30 we descended onto the arete. What an amazing feeling to walk (okay scramble and shuffle along on my bum) this magnificent ridge . We stopped for photographs and just to take in the view. At points it was very scary but, as Parkinson’s has taught me, live for the moment and every scary bit was followed by somewhere to sit and reflect. Walking off the arete will live with me forever. It took three hours to cross but so what. I jumped up and down and nearly fell backwards.
We were 200 m below the summit of the highest mountain in Britain and all that lay in the way was a sea of boulders. We scrambled up and then we were on the summit. Surrounded by people in jeans and trainers who had come up the tourist route and were looking at us as if we were slightly mad and considerably overdressed.
My feet hurt but the moment was sweet. The descent was painful but the memories are plentiful. Saturday was no ordinary day. The grass is still long, the plums are abundant and the car is dirty. But I conquered fears on Saturday. Fears that had lived with me all my life and had humiliated me a few years ago on Ben Vorlich. My fight against Parkinson’s, my life with Parkinson’s, put them to bed.