What's this all about?

A new adventure beckons, and this is once again about my personal journey to make it happen.

It might make you laugh; it might make you cry, but by 'eck lads and lasses, it will be worth a quick skeg every now and then, tha's for sure.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

'A Head for Heights' Goes Outdoors

1.   Introduction.

Let’s face it; at some time or other in your life you’ve found yourself in a psychologically uncomfortable situation and it only hit you when you realised you were ‘stuck’.

Of course that’s a little different than willingly putting yourself in a very uncomfortable situation, which is what this tale is about: feeling you’ll be … well, potentially scared stupid … but still proceeding with the plan. So let’s talk about heights.

I can confidently recall NEVER EVER climbing a tree, or even scaling a wall that was above waist-height during my younger years, whereas some of my friends would scale a 10ft tree without any apparent pause for thought … or any obvious studious reflection on the latest risk assessment article in ‘Junior Health & Safety Fanatics Monthly’.

I wonder if that was a fear that stopped me climbing, or that by not climbing I created the longer term fear? Anyway, whichever way round it was/is, I’ve somewhat foolishly thrown myself (Editor’s note – is that really the word you want to use?) into planning the 175m climb up the North Pinnacle Ridge of Tryfan, on June 21st 2017.

2.   Acrophobia; me?

It’s not so much that I hate heights; rather that I don’t like the idea of falling from them, even if I’m supposedly attached to a secure belay rope and (as my outdoor climbing instructor Tom Prestwich said) wouldn’t be going anywhere, even if I slipped. Well, maybe I’d fall a couple of feet until the safety line became taut and suspended my substantial frame in mid-air (or as my body swung into the rock face).

Easy for him to say, as he confidently leads our first outdoor climb on a 15 metre rock at Almscliffe; putting in safety clamps as he goes, but it begs the question: why would anyone put themselves into such a situation? More of that later, but here’s a photo of Tom starting to climb, to break up the monotony.

BREAKING NEWS (Editor’s note – Really; you want to use the term ‘breaking’ now?) Geoff Major, ageing Yorkshire acrophobic, completes his ‘climbing for beginners’ course at The Leeds Wall.

First step completed, insofar as I know how to tie a knot; how to belay and I can climb a Grade 4 and a Grade 4+ all the way up to 12 metres, without vomiting or uncontrollably relieving myself.

I prefer it when I know someone has the rope taut on belay (whereas on the auto-belay you have to make that leap of faith without any sense of the rope being secure. In fact it takes a couple of seconds for that comforting whirring sound of the brake to kick in). A couple of weeks ago I actually wrapped the auto-belay line around my lower forearm, to give myself the feeling of a tight rope … only to find that when it actually did tighten on the machine, it bruised my skin and hurt like crap for an hour.

Still, I’d passed the first step and soon it was time to consider climbing outdoors: something which, strangely, didn’t seem to faze me as much as the idea of my first climb indoors. It was at that point Tom P tried to explain just how different the experience was climbing outside, but that’s a bit like trying to explain to someone what coping with chickenpox is like if they’ve never had it. Before we move onto that though, here are some reflections on the whole climbing challenge.

So let’s return the theme of the video and this blog; the fear of heights versus the commitment to climb a small mountain.

3.   And so outdoors.

It’s late August and Tom P has plans for both Andy Smith and I (a new-to-rock-climbing buddy who has all the natural ability of a mountain goat and sinews like coils of steel). We agreed to meet at Almscliffe and, wanting to get a feel of the whole environment without looking scared, I arrived 30 minutes before they did.

At first sight it seemed quite moderate and not at all scary. I could see people (including children of perhaps 12 years of age) on top of the rock without any climbing gear and, apparently, enjoying the warm summer evening and the spectacular views.

My confidence didn’t exactly soar but I was pleased I’d gotten there early and was in fine fettle when Tom arrived with all his gear clanking over his shoulder. Tom is an excellent climbing coach and moderates well between enthusiastic confidence-building words of encouragement, with concerned and conscious awareness of my first-time flaws. 

Well, he does that MOST of the time but he did nickname me ‘death trap’ when I attached the carabiner incorrectly. Andy arrived a little later (albeit we knew he was coming as the manly growl of his car could be heard from several hundred yards away) and joined us at the foot of the first climb; thankfully telling Tom he thought that I had attached it as we’d been taught … but I think he was being supportive rather than totally truthful.

Tom asked me to 'tie-on' and belay him up, ensuring I was well positioned to catch his shoulders if he fell in the first 10ft of the climb (just his shoulders, rather than attempt to catch his whole 6ft 5ins frame). With his long legs he seemingly stretched up and over ridges and outcrops that I planned to use several ladders to circumnavigate.

Slowly he ascended; bending round corners and apparently grasping at hand-holds I’d need a microscope to see and a vice to hold on to. There were a couple of tricky points on the climb which, unsurprisingly, I failed to overcome when it was my turn to ascend. Andy managed to get up on his first attempt but I failed again at exactly the same point on my second attempt; so we turned our sights to a slightly easier climb.

The 'mountain goat' stretches to traverse the rock face

Tom told us the 2nd route was slightly easier than Tryfan (whereas the first route was slightly harder) … and then he struggled to get up the first few feet. Encouraging (not) but
I watched intently as firstly he and then Andy climbed the route. A few things to look out for but I was reasonably confident that I would get up this climb or die trying (Editor’s note – That’s it; I’m resigning).

As the sun started to descend on the horizon, I tied-on and began the climb. The first few feet were a bit tricky, but it was more about confidence in my leg power and hand-holds than it was about my actual ability.

A quarter of the way up; halfway up (this was going reasonably well); three-quarters of the way up and then … stuck. Not literally (despite the new and wholly inaccurate nickname I got of ‘ass wedge’ when I used my natural physical qualities to balance between two rocks) but psychologically. Not only couldn’t I see any obvious footholds or handholds within easy reach, but fear suddenly engulfed my brain and suffocated my desire (never mind my ability) to move. It felt totally unnatural!

I felt trapped: unable to ascend, but irrationally fearing I couldn’t descend and would be stuck there forever. Tom shouted down wise words of encouragement, telling me not to look for handholds or a way up, but just take a short break. Could he sense the panic inside me; could he see me freezing up … or was it the cursing and loud proclamations about being stuck that gave me away?

I took Tom’s advice and paused; not so much for thought but the very opposite: to empty my mind and forget I was apparently stuck. It was time to give myself a good talking to, as I was determined not to turn into a quivering wreck and die a painful death of exposure, humiliation and insect bites (Ex-Editor scoffs in derision).

I then re-gathered my thoughts and, rather than calmly composing myself and returning to the task in hand, I angrily shouted at myself “Come on you %&^ @£$”£$!!” (yeah, you’ve heard me mumble those words before, Becci Skelton). Much merriment from above and below me and a shout of “Steady on; that’s a bit harsh”, but (as it always does) it worked and I began to move; but with purpose and confidence this time.

Yes, it was starting to get that dark!

Within 30 seconds I was at the top and happy to belly-flop over the crest of the rock (I’m not convinced, but let’s assume that’s a technical term): happy to roll onto terra firma and even happier NOT to look back over the edge – that idea really did frighten me.

4.   So what did that teach me?

Number 1 – I can climb.

Number 2 – I can’t climb well and need to practise a lot.

Number 3 – Rubber underpants seem to be unnecessary (as vouched for by the people below me) but perhaps a technically easier but far higher climb is a logical next step.

So first step and second step completed: just another 175 000 steps to go. 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

A head for heights

"So, who has climbed before?" asked the instructor, at the start of the first of three weekly 2-hour sessions of A Basic Introduction to Climbing course.

Two of the five put their hands up straight away. "Anyone abseiled?" Another two hands went up, so that just left me.

"Err you must have climbed trees or over walls as a youth Geoff?" he asked with a mix of rhetorical hope and thoroughly misplaced confidence.

I glanced to each side; seeing the other 4 waiting expectantly. I thought, long and hard; then said ..... "Mm, nope. In fact I don't like heights" I replied.

Like a dancer momentarily put off their beat, the instructor paused for a second before continuing with a jaunty and jovial "Well you've certainly come to the right place".

As most of you know, I've decided to throw myself (perhaps the wrong term to use on reflection) into a final series of challenges. Two frighten the life out of me; the rest might just wear me down until I collapse into an ambulance ... but if this is going to be my last adventure, it might as well be one I'm glad to see the back of as well as burst with pride that I did it.

Moreover burst with pride that we (and yes, that probably means some of you too) will raise a big slug of money for some excellent charities.

In fact I'm getting so giddy I'm going to try to get 7 articles published; complete 7 podcasts; get an absolute minimum of 6 other people to join me EVERY day of the adventures AND release 7 micro video clips, to go with a serious one and this one (that's just been tweaked):

But I digress, so let's get back to Challenge #1: the climbing of Tryfan North Pinnacle Ridge. It's 175m high and if you Google it for images, you get stuff like the images below.

Whereas if you search for "Does my bum look big in this?" you get images like this!

Not sure whether I'd actually left the floor yet. I think I had and it was Jason's telephoto lens that captured this look.

I'm making some progress (and getting the motivational support from fellow climbing novice Andy 'look at me I'm really a mountain goat' Smith), but it's tough going ... and before the end of the month we'll be giving outdoor climbing a go, under the supervision of Mountain Man Tom Prestwich.

In the meantime I'll take my mind off that challenge and cheer myself up with the fact the I've already got 3 other climbers for Tryfan; with more wanting to join. Please also bear in mind that at the moment I'm:

  1. Struggling to climb 12 metres on an 'easy' level.
  2. Getting more lactic acid in my forearms than a de-hydrated Taiwanese wrestler hooked on triple-espressos.
  3. Starting to prep for a total of 7 very different challenges which, over the course of the 7 weeks in 2017, will each test different muscles, fears and general ability to recover between them.
  4. Looking to learn to swim further than 6 lengths of a 50m pool.
  5. Aware it's going to hurt like hell (and that's just the training). This week I've already hiked for 5.5 miles on Sunday; tried 6 climbs on Monday night; spent 35 minutes at the gym last night (mainly driving my legs into the ground on the cross-trainer); will be going swimming Friday evening; doing a long walk with Lucia on Saturday, after Debbie and I have gone to see an open water swim club in Wakefield ..... and I know I'm still only touching the surface. 
  6. Preparing for the Great Wall of China trek in later October.

But hey, I've put me in this position, so I'd better follow the advice I gave to Jenn Richards when she asked me if I thought she'd be able to row the English Channel with us (Challenge #3 btw): "Commit to it mentally and wholeheartedly", I said ... "And then learn how to do it". 

Enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Take a breath ... a long, deep breath

1. Introduction.

Jon Taylor is someone I've known since 2007, when he was the sponsor of my first piece of work for the Co-operative Bank. A three-phase £14m investment proposal to the Board for a replacement telephony infrastructure.

Since then Jon and I have had conversations about all sorts of things, including him playing 'Parkinson' as we co-presented to his Life & Pensions team in 2012 and, in 2015, he became the skipper of the competing boat in the Thames 100km Row.

Last week Jon sent me an email with a link to a blog, by Seth Godin. The message in the blog is simple: the distance from 'can' to 'will' keeps getting larger if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by all the things we could do, but can't find the courage or time to actually commit.

I'm hoping Jon was referring to my ability to commit, as opposed to the last 3 years of me trying to do too much. Well this blog entry is about committing to the final adventure.

2. Spinning Plates

It's 23:37hrs on Sunday and I'm just sitting down to write this entry. Why am I writing it at this time of night? Because I want to and because I have several things to get across before my brain will allow me to sleep. I also promised myself I'd stick to an ever decreasingly flexible schedule, because that's partially what will either make r break this challenge: meeting the deadlines I've set and achieving the goals I need to surpass.

I've agreed with Lucia that I'll commit 7 hours a week to planning and training, so there are a number of things I have to fit into that time, without compromising work or home life. Last week for example I spent some time working out what the challenges were and what my immediate priorities are, on top of having my first PT session and starting some exercise homework from Thor's and Wonder Woman's love-child (see previous blog entry if you're unsure who that is).

Just the very start of organising ... but I love it (luckily).

Reading through the list of things to organise, I realised that committing to The Magnificent 7 set of challenges both scares me and thrills me. It brings with it a sense of long term purpose as well as long term commitment, as new skills are required: skills such as the one that Bob 'the flying fish' Proctor tried to help me with over a year ago, but I couldn't achieve.

No, no, no ... it's not that I couldn't; it's that I didn't. Why? Because I hadn't committed to it with a specific end in sight. Well now I do need to commit to it and hopefully an introduction by Andy Smith (who has committed to take part in some of the Magnificent 7 events) means I have a great coaching opportunity, but I need the balls to see it through. This brings us to news of one of the proposed challenges for 2017: the open water swim.

Those who know me know that my challenges have had one or more of the following components: they probably require a lot of training, might be somewhat iconic, and certainly are not unique but are in no way 'mainstream'.

Well challenge #5 of The Magnificent 7 is all three of the above, as 6 others share responsibility to swim 23 miles in open water: welcome to the Loch Ness Relay Swim.

Great concept sketch work by the brilliant Howard Rushfirth.
Each of the 7 challenges will get a banner like this, with space for sponsors underneath.

My training programme for the swim will be designed this week, giving me just under 15 months to build up my swimming strength, improve (or rather get) the breathing technique right, and try an outdoor 'swimmette' in Salford Quays later in 2016.

There are already 5 people wanting to commit to this challenge, but I'm keen to find the 6th person to join me ASAP. Are you bonkers enough?

Of course this is just one of the 7 challenges I need to organise and train for, but luckily I can feed off the motivation and sheer stupidity that other folk have, who are just as bonkers as I am; willing to pledge their time and sanity (and money, as these aren't free to do) to take part.

One such crazy guy is Martin Ladbrooke, who has already completed a day on the 7-seat circular bike with me (2013) and was a crew member in the Thames 100km Row ... and got a special mention in my recent article in the Northern Life magazine.

Thank you Martin, and now to his sons Luke and Max too. Thanks also to Chris Greer and (hopefully) to Sam from Communisis. You'll be awesome and I'll just be glad of getting to the end of my proposed 5-mile stint.

I'm also thrilled to welcome Tina Boden onto one or more of the challenges. Tina is writing her own blog (Tina's blog can be found here) about her personal journey to be involved. It's going to be a great read!

3. The PR and sponsorship machine. A request from me.

The logo for The Magnificent 7 is now out in the public domain, but I expect only a handful of people will have seen it and even less than that will know what the full story is.

To get public interest and (crucially) the interest of potential sponsors, I need to get the message out there in a sustained and consistent programme. Whilst I can do some of the legwork, contacts and industry expertise are going to be essential.

Whilst the booking of the events has to take place first (with dates confirmed), I'm looking for people who have the expertise and track record in PR and sponsorship to help me ... big style! If you can offer help, support, advice, output, or warm intro's to your network of contacts I would be forever grateful.

As this blog develops, including photographic evidence of training starting for Challenge #1 in next month's first entry, the (hopefully) increasing number of readers will be able to spread the message, but if we're to raise the highest ever total for charity - and remember the 2015 Thames 100km Row raised over £29000 - then this needs exposure beyond anything I've ever done before.

You can help make that difference, through spreading news about this blog or helping create media interest; through to putting potential sponsors in touch with me to ask about the sponsors packages.

Even little things, like the briefest of mentions I had on the Chris Evans BBC2 Breakfast Show in Wednesday last week, creates awareness. Every little helps (I must stop using that tagline, in case Tesco decides to get shirty with me).

4. And finally: behind every man ....

This final set of challenges wouldn't be possible without the support of my wife. A woman who knew what she was getting herself into when we first started going out, just over 5 years ago ... and has said "Yes you crazy man" to my desire to finish my adventurous challenges with a bang.

Who knew, five years one month and 10 days ago, what we were letting ourselves in for. NOW who seems the crazy one ha ha.

And who knows what life will be like in another 5 years Mrs M, but for now (at 01:10hrs on Monday morning) I'll sign off from this blog and go upstairs to gently hug you as you sleep.  Goodnight folks.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

One. Final. Push.

 1. It feels like the right time ....

Sometimes there's a wonderful symmetry to life: you know, the old 'when one door closes, another one opens’. Well today is such a moment.

Image result for one door opens and another one closes

In 2009, when a relationship ended, I decided to look for something to do to fill the spare time in my life: something to focus my energy on. I was surfing the 'net when I came across the Charity Challenge website, and it was there that I saw the 'cycle across Cuba' adventure. 

At the time I'd not been on a bicycle for almost 35 years, so the idea of cycling 240+ miles in 5 days seemed achievable, yet slightly daunting; but it was a chance to create focus, get healthy and do something with purpose in a hot exotic location. So I signed up there and then and splashed out £120 on a hybrid. 

I met some wonderful people on that adventure, including Naomi Gollow, Hazel Clark, Valerie Andrews, and Tania Strom: all of whom I'm still in touch with and all of whom helped make it such a wonderful experience. My roomie for the trip (whose name I temporarily forget sadly) was also the best company and thankfully not a nightmare party-animal.

Now, 7 years later, I'm married to the most wonderful woman (Lucia). I can look back on some great adventure experiences (with the North Pole Trek forever the highlight), and I find myself looking forward to new life experiences with Lucia.

Having reached £100 000 raised for charities through challenges I've taken part in, I'm almost at peace with this phase of my life. I said almost!

Although I'm going to trek the Great Wall of China with a group of friends and acquaintances later this year (only 4 places left on the trek folks, so book early to avoid disappointment), I feel I need to do one last big adventure.

This is the beginning of the end so to speak: this is the story of my preparation for 2017. A fitting conclusion before the world opens its doors to two knowledge-hungry travelers: eager to see what India, Japan and a revitalised Cuba have to offer (to name but a few).

2. Not so much a challenge ....

Last week, sat by a pool in Marrakech, it was wonderful to succumb to the mysteries and seductive nature of foreign travel. A half-day in the souks and touring the city with a humble, wise and very knowledgeable guide; walking by people hammering wrought iron and crafting wood by hand (and foot); hearing about the peaceful values of Islam and the contentment it has brought the country (with its wise King), took me back to those early days of inner tranquility and clarity I had immediately after the Pole.

Similarly it's easy to succumb to the hazy memories of yesteryear and seductive promise of tomorrow's memories, yet to be hard-earned and lived. 

Hmm 'earned' - that's the key word that made previous adventures so memorable. Not just, for example, recalling rowing the final few metres on the 100km Thames Row, but recollecting the 8 months of sometimes back-breaking training, learning to row for 6 hours at a time. 

You know what, if I add in re-visiting some old skills and overcome a couple of long-time fears, I think I’ve got the perfect recipe for the finale.

Of course, being able to achieve all those desires in one activity seems highly improbable and doing just one thing simply wouldn't be climactic enough, so I've decided to aim for 7 challenges in 7 weeks. Each challenge will require six other people to join me but with me being the consistent participant, and I’ll return to my fundraising roots, raising money for:

- MDC, because it's a horrible disease that has touched my family.
- Heart Research UK, because their work helped my ex-father in law and will help my Mum.
- 7 'local' cancer charities, in memory of my Dad and to celebrate the continuing life of brave little Florence.
(As always, those taking part in the challenges can fund raise for whoever they want to: it's their time, network and their passion that will drive them forward).

Seven weeks of hell and fleeting success, with one final series of iconic memories.

3. Getting to the final list of 7 challenges .....

I've already decided that my 7 challenges are all going to be UK-based. There's so much on offer in Great Britain and whilst I'll now not complete (for example) the Everest Basecamp trek, I know that Nepal is just a short hop from Jaipur. I'll look at that magnificent mountain one day, with my wife by my side.

Recovery between challenges has to be a big factor in my planning too. No point doing 7 things if I'm beyond exhaustion after the first two but, similarly, no point taking on challenges that won't be physically and mentally demanding, so tonight I start the phase of my new training regime, with Thor's daughter (also known as the indestructible Becci Skelton).

And so it begins. Facebook page set up; Twitter name set up, and imagery work underway. Now it's the serious stuff of (for example) learning to open-water swim. And that's just one of the new things I need to master sufficiently.

The search has also begun for people to join me and, already, one friend (ex-7 seat bike and Thames Row team member Martin Ladbrooke) has committed to do 6 of the 7. He's as bloody daft as I am! 

Oh and I’ve decided I'm going to call the final challenge 'The Magnificent 7'.

Image result for the magnificent seven

I'll be a ginger Yul Byrnner: who will you be?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Late nights and favours (part 2)

Sometimes do you ever find yourself jut sat; taking in what happened during the day?

I'm sat up on my lovely little mezzanine, in our study: not thinking consciously about today and not really analysing it, but just sitting there and letting it wash over me; through me; as my fingers hover over the laptop keyboard; wondering where to start .... and stop.

Yes that's my hat from the Sahara Trek in 2013. A memento to go with my polar boots and a framed 'Undertow' photo.

 Today: how to describe it?  Well today was .... well ..... oh I'll just start at the beginning.

1. So what happened?

It's the morning of Friday July 31st. My alarm begins to play the intro to 'Hill Street Blues', in an attempt to rouse me gently from my slumber. It is 6:40am and, to be honest, I don't feel 'gently' anything.

When I'd finally climbed into bed at 3:30am earlier that morning, it had taken over 20 minutes to calm my brain down and fall asleep; and now my nerve ends feel as if they are on fire. I resist the urge to hit 'snooze' as I'm about to have three meetings which have the potential to either inspire me, or depress the heck out of me for the rest of the year.

The first meeting is with a potential host and equipment provider for the first Race 48 mini-trial. The email I received two weeks ago had seemed positive, but it had taken 6 weeks after my initial approach to finally get to a decision-maker.

The second meeting is with another 'city'; one where a University had shown great enthusiasm for the Race 48 concept, along with the potential for the host of the first meeting to join forces.

The third; a meeting with a charity, about my much-loved Capital Tour idea. I'd written to them and they'd said they were intrigued.

A near-900 mile bike ride; to raise £000's for charity

...and make many more headlines around the UK and Eire; like this.

I dress quickly; finding one of the Race 48 polo shirts I've had made, and slowly but surely start coming round. My nerve ends start to calm down and no longer feel like the chaffed nether-regions of a Le Tour cyclists lycra shorts in a sand storm; but my gut is in turmoil, so breakfast is out of the question.

I jump in the car and, before I set off, I pop 3-4 extra strong mints in my mouth; which will help ensure my stomach doesn't make any untoward noises (nerves-driven or otherwise) during the conversation. Hey, I did tell you this blog would share ALL the detail.

I arrive early at the location and try to sit patiently in the car for the next 10 minutes, but soon find myself pacing up and down the near-deserted car park, practising my intro lines and the key things I have to remember: you know, those dull but totally essential things like First Aid cover, insurance and waiver forms.

This meeting could end in a three-minute damp squib of a conversation or I could get so giddy I can see myself offering to donate all my vital internal organs as a dowry to the partnership. My stomach burbles to offer a pointless protest.

At exactly 8:02am, my host arrives and, with a hearty handshake, tells me he's very excited about getting involved and supporting the mini-trial. We sit in the middle of the venue and I summarise what we are hoping to do and how I think they might be able to help. "I can't decide whether 10 or 20 machines would be best?" I muse, with an attempt at a sagely worldly look in my eye when, in fact, I want 20 but dare not ask.

"Definitely 20" he says. "It will make more of an impact for the press; especially if we can get some TV interest. We have some really good contacts and I'm sure they'll see it as a great piece". Did he just mention the potential for TV interest? Only in my wildest dreams had I imagined that.

We discuss likely dates; participant recruitment; 24-hour non-stop access plus setting-up and dismantling time; security overnight in the car park, and the logistics of up to 480 people walking through their doors over the 24-hour period. Nothing seems to be too much; in fact he is going to pull another manager from a different location into the discussion; such is their corporate enthusiasm.

And so, after only 20 minutes, I walk out after a handshake of mutual commitment and the offer to me to communicate as often as required to make the first Race 48 mini-trial a huge success .... and open the door to UK-wide opportunities.

My Involve ethos had taken the first teeny tiny minuscule faltering step towards the vague possibility of it evolving into a part-time career; alongside my aspiration to develop BlueDucks into a part-time career as well.

The bright sunshine warms my face as I walk out into the car park and I feel this enormous rush of purpose and enthusiasm. Why couldn't every week consist of such rushes? Why couldn't every week be partially structured around this as a way of life?

It was agreed that we won't go public with the detail until September, by which time we have to have a number of key attributes and activities in place; not least translating enthusiasm into sign-ups and the emerging interest of a cancer charity turned into active involvement with clear commitments to make this happen.

I text the charity to say we are 'on' and that I'll call them during the week. They are not only very excited but already talking about the potential corporate involvement and that they too know TV people who might be sufficiently intrigued (oddly enough the same TV people my previous host was talking about).

July has come to a tumultuous conclusion. In the final two weeks my youngest had her 21st birthday; I married my wonderful fiancée Lucia (although the 'wedding dress' event is yet to come), and I had had my birthday .... and the potential that this meeting has; it feels like Christmas has arrived too.

Youth, beauty and an unbelievable depth of warmth and maturity - I am truly blessed to have such a wife.

I get ready to drive to Sheffield for my next meeting, knowing I can stop for a Starbucks and a light breakfast on the way. I send a message to the four Yorkshire business folk involved in Race 48, to let them know that meeting number one couldn't have gone better.

We have a meeting set-up for 7:30am next Friday, so I need to get us all thinking about the detail of how we get from the euphoria of today, through to the reality of late-October. 

Before I start the engine, I check my emails. One in particular catches my attention - it is from the General Legal Counsel of a very well-known dot.com, and they want to reach out by phone to discuss something.

What on earth can they want with little old me? I have an inkling and I need to find out. This could be a real distraction. I pick the phone up ......

2. An Update on Florence the 'warrior princess'.

As many of you know, my great friend Jay and his wife; Kerry, are going through the sort of life experience that no parent should face: that of childhood cancer in one of their beautiful daughters.

In what seems like an eternity ago, and yet only yesterday, I received a call from Jay at 1am one morning last year; devastated at the news they'd just been given. Only a 5% chance of survival.

As any regular reader also knows little Florence is a fighter: so much so she earned the nickname of 'The Warrior Princess'. Well I'm thrilled (but still cautious) to tell you that she has just passed her 6-month remission milestone. Still a LONG way to go but, as my way of celebrating, here are a number of photos that describe her journey; their journey ... and it's a journey I've committed Race 48 to help all those children and their parents with, that are still facing the prospect of this living hell.

I hope you'll help me and, if you're from Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester or Liverpool; keep watching this space.

March 2014
June 2014
October 2014
January 2015
March 2015
July 2015

These photos and memories fill my heart with joy; my gut with anger and my eyes with tears. No doubt there were days when a smile was impossible, but this little girl puts a whole lot of minor crap in this world into perspective.

3. What happens next?

Planning meeting and deadlines to agree for Race 48, and I need to follow up on the kind offer to talk to an educational advisor about a supporting educational pack for schools.

In the meantime, I'm sitting down to draft the critical activities and timeline between now and 1st September. What happens on the 1st September? Well I hope you're intrigued enough to read the next blog, to find out some more.

The Sheffield meeting took off at a tangent; but a good one hopefully (Marc). The Capital Tour meeting went extremely well, but I can't say anything else on that (primarily because I'm waiting for a formal response from the charity)

Great to see over 300 readers of the last blog entry, but I have a long way to go to get the level of interest in this up into the thousands (like my polar trek entry). Feel free to share this link, and thank you for taking the time to read this one.

Until next weekend, have a great one!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Late nights and favours (part 1)

It's currently 03:20am on Friday morning and I've just spent nearly 5 hours on a presentation pack for a meeting tomorrow at 10:30am in Sheffield (although I have a prior meeting in Leeds at 8am). I'm tired.

Thing is, with the hours I've been working (full-time as BlueDucks Limited), to do anything recently has felt almost impossible ... but then I guess that's me: wait until it feels almost impossible and find the motivation to do it.

You'd have thought that the last 20 years in change management would have led me to plan well ahead when it comes to adventures and Involve work; to ensure I was ready and completed the 5 hours of work a week ago.

But no. Instead there's that nagging (and totally unfounded) feeling that I don't have enough time to do everything I want to do. Then again, I've been there before and managed to be two things at the same time. I can damn well do it again!

1. The Tipping Point?

The car engine dies and I take a few seconds to let the silence wash through my mind and body, whilst still sat in the driveway. It's the end of another long day of work in Manchester and the M62 added to my general malaise.

The front door is opened by Lucia but my weary expression is hardly masked by my smile and the sheer mental relief to be home. I left the house at 5:45am this morning and, once again, it's after 7pm when I arrive home. Physically I'm fine but I head upstairs to change and take another few minutes to enjoy the simplicity of stillness. And there was still the whole working week ahead.

Apologies for those who dis-like 'that word' - but it perfectly reflected how I felt that day

A wonderful meal is ready and, after some time watching The Big Bang Theory with Lucia, my mind starts to wander onto the things that were fighting for space in my brain. Client work; the Great Wall of China Trek recruitment I need to re-start; the desire to come up with an exciting follow-up to the Thames 100km Row (quick review of that later) and ... the thing that got so many people excited earlier in the year: the Race 48 concept.

It was only a couple of months ago that a series of pretty senior and influential stakeholders in Leeds were keen to understand how they could help get the trial event up and running. At the same time the city of Sheffield were keen to get involved, but trying to get time to initially engage the right people across the Pennines in the city of Manchester was proving impossible.

That enthusiasm was a couple of months prior and don't misunderstand; I know everyone else has priorities and pressures, but I can't deny my disappointment when an email unexpectedly arrived saying (in effect) "Sorry, but we've now decided that we are too busy to consider this just now". Then again, sometimes that's just the jab in the ribs I need to force me into action.

After a discussion with a friend, mentor and Race 48 enthusiast; Gareth Boot, he introduced me to a new book which helped me prioritise that, other than my family (which includes my new wife of course) and paying the bills; Race 48 is THE next big thing for my Involve ethos and had to have my dedicated focus.

Shh, don't let Becci Skelton see this photo: she'll kill me for the Cadbury's Fingers.
Sat there, on the settee, I knew what I had to stop doing and what I needed to start doing.

2. How rowing delivered an appropriate pause.

The Thames 100km Row was a fantastic experience and, once we'd all got over the back pain and hamstring rigidity, something that did two things for me.

Firstly it once again demonstrated the unexpected capacity for physical and mental endurance we humans have when required, and it also gave me a huge psychological boost when the £29000 we raised for charity tipped my Involve activities up to the £100000 milestone (which I now proudly have on my 'Involve' header on Twitter .

I recently wrote a few words for the Candlelighters Trust, to describe the fun and the trauma of the row. Here's a summary and a few photos to help tell the story:

"Alarms were set for 4:30am as we had to eat lots of carbs before our 6am briefing. Ahead of us was day 1 of our row: 29 miles (and an estimated 6 hours) in a boat modelled on the 19th century Thames water taxis.

At times like this you think ‘Why did I decide to do this?’, but you also feel the adrenaline buzzing through your body. So there we were; two teams of 6 and none of us had rowed before we started training for this, 8 months ago.

At 6:45am we started rowing; from Greenwich towards the estuary. Two hours later we turned and headed back towards Tower Bridge, before a final turn to row against a fast-moving tide. Muscles began to burn; grown men began to shout and curse as they each strained to pull their 9ft oar through the choppy murky water. Inch by inch we edged closer to the finishing line, but that final 2 miles took nearly 90 minutes of pain.

Day 2 was longer but calmer; taking the boats through the heart of London before heading up-river through Chelsea and onto Richmond. Just two hours into the 33 miles the strains of the previous day began to show, with back cramp and blisters wreaking havoc. Another six hours of virtually non-stop rowing and the team finally pulled into Westminster Boating Club to celebratory hugs and handshakes.

Experienced coxswain Sarah Cairn summed up the challenge: “This was the first time anyone has ever undertaken this sort of distance over just two days; let alone non-rowers. We are so incredibly proud of what you’ve done”.

Our efforts raised £29 000 for a variety of charities and, despite the pain and promises never to do anything so bonkers again, some of the guys are already asking “So what’s next Geoff?”

A brilliant message from lovely little Florence

BEST TEXT EVER ... laughed so loud when I got this (sorry Zach).

The team effort, mixed with the singularity of my own personal challenge to participate successfully in this world first event, reminded me that I'd thought about evolving the Involve ethos from singular events into participative events on a much wider scale. The amount of money that can be raised for charity also makes my heart and soul soar.

The idea for The Longest Day; my first mass participation idea that still feels like a practical and worthwhile activity, popped back into my head. The time and effort both Michelle and I tried to put into it to get it off the ground was HEAVILY reliant on others to make it a success - that HAD to be a learning point, as it failed to take off because my stance was a facilitating one. Now I felt the surge of determination and ... in the nicest possible sense ... **ck 'em: this idea was not going to wither and die as a result of people who weren't interested.

The die was cast and all I needed now was the time and financial breathing space to drive this through. Oh; both of those were a problem, so I needed to think of another way forward.

3. The ownership conundrum.

Without time to spare and without the financial cushion to drop work for any period of time, my mind turned to those people I knew who might be able to help out. The challenge wasn't to find people I trusted to fill the gaps in both time and knowledge: no, the challenge was learning to let go and to stop trying to spin so any plates at the same time. At least I knew I was keeping good company.

I was lucky to find three people who not only offered some of their time and experience, but were (and remain) bossy enough to tell me that I couldn't do it all by myself ... and they weren't just there for the ride. They really want to get involved!

You see I've always believed that if I want to do something that delivers my standards and definition of 'good', I'll best do it myself. In corporate life I occasionally found people didn't have the same drive as I did (albeit I'm sure there were others who thought I didn't have the same drive as them).

With my BlueDucks hat on I've brought a few associates into clients, but one situation has stayed with me and influenced my behaviour for several years: a situation which could have ended with me being sued had it run its course. Thankfully it didn't, but I'm still learning to 'let go' of some things.

The other thing of course remained. Where would I find the time to do the things I wanted to do, because this is still an Involve initiative ... not something I want to let go off. It's still my ethos, still my 'baby'. So what's the right balance between lots of late nights and asking favours?

That conundrum rages on within me and that's probably why I'm now facing only 3.5 hours of sleep before Race 48 probably has its biggest day ever so far. Let's see what Friday 31st July brings.