Day 96 has seen 17 miles walked, questions answered and a song sung.

I had thought little of challenge activities over the last five days of choral performances, rivers canoed and hospital appointments. It has been a busy but wholly rewarding week but left me with no plan whatsoever for today. The children were back to school today and I was at a loss and felt completely overwhelmed by the administrative burden involved in nothing more than getting the children fed and off to school on time, while walking and feeding the dog before then making a quick plan and doing some kind of challenge activity. I had completely lost my rhythm of a very simple routine that we had developed and had forgotten what went when went where. It was daft, but unnerving that it should happen so quickly. The good news was though that I wasn’t rushing for a bus in having nothing planned and had to wait for Laura and Siobhan who were coming to help with the house this morning.

Calzibohalzie Windfarm walk stream
Calzibohalzie Windfarm walk stream

I was feeling fuzzy and completely behind the power curve for any activity in the day when they turned up. They rang the bell then burst in through the door with such drama and love of life that one could literally see the sun beams coupled with a rainbow, tweeting birds and fluttering butterflies pour in through the door with them. Their faces were just one big smile as they congratulated me on yesterday’s results. We settled down for a natter and a catch up and then some really searching and interesting questions were asked. The one that really made me think for the rest of the day is ‘You have written so positively about your complete belief in the fact that God wants you well and that you are going to Beat this Beast, yet how come, despite all that belief in God’s ability and willingness to heal you and despite giving yourself over entirely to God’s will, do I hear in your posts a little uncertainty about being healed. You were very nervous about going to get your results I think. Why?’

Wow that was quite a question and the honest answer at the time was that I couldn’t really answer it other than to say that Laura was absolutely right in identifying the reticence, but I wasn’t really sure why it was there, because I am going to beat this beast. It was a feeble attempt at an answer but as I struggled with the answer and the realisation of what Laura had just pointed out to me another idea came straight in to my head. A while ago an old friend, who used to live locally, had sent me a walk he used to love doing up on the Braes of Doune. It was pretty miserable outside but I had waterproofs and now had a plan.

As the girls got on with cleaning the house I got my walking kit ready. Again I was struggling to remember what to take but sat down and thought about it for a while and low and behold it all came back to me. Kit packed. Found the map I needed and sat and did a route plan. I was going to go and do a big loop around a Lochan and pay a visit to some old farmsteads using, where I could, existing tracks. Map folded and in to map case. Phone packed I was ready to go. Then I remembered my water so filled the water bladder and packed that too. Then I remembered a packed lunch so set about making it. Laura and Siobhan laughed as they saw me run around the kitchen making it. They knew exactly what I was having. Tuna Mayonnaise sandwich and a flapjack with Tenderstem broccoli, carrots, tomato and red grapes all mixed up into my vegetable pick and mix bag. I am very predictable right now!! More importantly I was now ready to go so put on my boots, gaitors and waterproofs said farewell and went. As I did so the girls left too and thankfully had gone before seeing me having to turn around to go back to the house. I had forgotten my walking poles. Walking poles fetched I was now ready and set off.

In to the wood of Doune I went, down to and then along the river up to the Old Kilmadock Cemetry and ruined St Aedb’s church. The rain was falling lightly on my waterproofs and all was silent. Not another sole to be seen or sound to be heard, the Goosander swimming away across the small pond in disgust as I sploshed past, the Buzzard taking flight after being startled by me but forwent the plaintive alarm calls. Just flew up and away with each powerful beat of his wings. Powerfully but silently. The only noise at all was the angry roar of the River Teith flowing larger than earlier in the week. I was in perfect peace but then I found myself doing exactly as Laura had identified in my writing. Making plans based on negative outcomes. It probably wasn’t possible and certainly wasn’t going to be needed but I had decided that I would like to be buried in the Old Kilmadock Cemetry right here next to the river. I thought that it would be fun to have all those attending the burial walk from St Modoc’s (my church in Doune) down to the graveside in their wellies with their dogs after the funeral and then for me to arrive in my coffin sticking out the back of an old LandRover 110, my favourite type of car, and probably the only sensible method to get down to the graveyard! I shook my head and tried so hard to get such thoughts out of my mind. I took a picture of the graveyard and kicked myself on up the hill to get on with the walk.

All was going really well and I was enjoying the peace with no movement other than a shepherd, I know purely from seeing him so frequently while out and about, passing me several times and waving with a smile as he took feed to his various flocks. As I walked higher and deeper into the Braes so the cottages started to become nothing more than a stark reminder of what went before. Handsome little cottages squat and square against the elements abandoned, roofs failing, windows failing, outbuildings crumbling. Each time I stumbled across one I would stop and stare imagining the family that would have lived here once before. At one particular cottage I saw on old ‘slow children’ sign so could then almost hear the children running around laughing as they chased each other with the sheep dogs yelping with excitement about this new game. As the rain fell soft against my face and the wind ruffled my hair I felt almost as if I had been here before. I felt a warm welcome, a pull to come closer. The fence was down so I walked through the gap and peered through the windows. An old painting on one wall. Some old tiles left on another wall. An old fireplace with an iron in it. I wasn’t sure what I was sensing or feeling but certainly felt that I was welcome here so should take lunch. I sat on my sitmat to protect my bum from a cold concrete surface as I sat on the front step of the front door. I had a wonderful view out over the rolling moors of the Braes as I ate my lunch laughing at the children playing in the garden in front of me. I had to push on but felt sad to leave the family in the cottage behind. It was understandable why these cottages were abandoned. They were a long way in to the Braes. Didn’t appear to have access to mains electricity or telephone and certainly any council services would struggle to get to these cottages. It was a hard existence for any family living there but I sensed that the family I met were very happy there.

Very soon though it was time for some map reading. I was nervous about this element, so had planned a run out route should I get it wrong and have to make for a road before darkness fell, but went for the tricky bit. I had to find a fence junction that no longer existed but got to the rough spot based on the relationship in space to the river and the re-entrants around me. Checked my satnav for a confirmatory Grid. Bang on. Next a bearing to a fork in a track. Picked a reference point and went for it. But I remembered my experience in the snow on the Pentlands where I got pulled too far East on a bearing as my reference point turned out to be a fence post that disappeared in to a fold in the ground while a new one further East popped up each time I looked up again. As a result I had to cut out one of the three peaks I had intended to climb before darkness fell. So this time I kept checking with my compass. Bang on and straight onto the fork. I was really pleased as I started down the track so started singing. But it was the song choice that startled me:

I’m going on up to the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best
Prepare yourself you know it’s a must
Gotta have a friend in Jesus

By Norman Greenbaum

An abandoned cottage near the Calzibohalzie Windfarm
An abandoned cottage near the Calzibohalzie Windfarm

I used to love this song as a child but couldn’t fathom why it had popped in to my head right now. I have to admit though it was quite catchy, I could remember lots of the words, was good to walk to and there was nobody else around. Nobody – so I let rip!! I think I might have scared a few sheep but all was going well as I walked, sang and navigated my way down past some more cottages, stopping to pay my respects to the families where I sensed them and then finally zigzagging down some more tracks to a fence to cross. It was a deer fence with a climbing post to cross over the fence. Like the cottages it looked a little in need for some attention so I took it very gently. Rucksack off to lighten the load and tossed over with my poles I started my ascent with a firm grip of the two standing cross pieces up above of me and thank goodness I did because sure enough, half way up, the rung I was on gave way and I rattled down through the remaining rungs to the last stopping at the extent of my arms. I was absolutely fine and unhurt but all my kit was over so I had to get over. I had to use an element of the fence itself to get up to the platform on the top. Crossed over and descended. Made it but have a damage report to give to the estate office tomorrow morning. The fence is fine. Just the steps over the fence are no more.

I was now on the final leg which was the track that took me down to Doune Ponds and then for home. 16 miles walked but too far for Georgie so grabbed her as soon as I got home and took her for a further 1 miles walk. As I walked with her in the deep dark of the evening my mind drifted back to the deep question from Laura this morning that I couldn’t answer. And indeed have found myself doing it again today but after all that time to ponder it I think that the answer is actually remarkably simple. As Laura herself said any of us could get killed in an accident tomorrow but that is a ‘known unknown’ that we all live with every day. It is entirely different when someone sits down and looks you in the eye to tell you that you only have this amount of time. The only way to imagine it is as if someone was to sit down and look you in the eye and say that in April this year you are going to die in a tragic accident. Suddenly you are dealing with a medical certainty. A medical fact. You will of course do everything in your power to ensure that such an event doesn’t happen and beat the prognosis and of course stand every chance of being successful but there will always be that nagging doubt that seeps in to the subconscious only surfacing through unguarded thoughts, comments or quiet moments. That nagging doubt is human. Very human. Simply a manifestation of fear. So I am pretty certain when I say that God understands entirely when such doubts pop in to my mind even if only subliminally through thought, or even word, or even perhaps deed like putting a funeral plan in my Will. Such an act doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that I can’t beat this with God’s Help because I know I can. Such an act is more an attempt to relieve the burden on others should the worst happen and I fail to beat the beast or is perhaps a manifestation of my fear. I will never forget a friend I had made quite recently and just prior to my diagnosis who was then diagnosed with his own Brain Tumour that put him in a wheel chair. David was always so very cheerful and I could even hear him coming up the corridor in the hospital saying hello to everyone on his way to join us for some Radiotherapy. He was a joy to be on the treatment journey with. I finished Radiotherapy and was on Chemotherapy so hadn’t seen him for a while and One day, quite a bit through his treatment, I called him to see how he was. He was really excited as he had just managed to get out of his chair. He was winning!! Could I go and see him. I couldn’t as I was away but would go and see him next week. Next week he had died.

This was devastating news when I found out and grounded me entirely in the enormity of the challenge that I faced. I could have sunk further but instead knew that to sit there feeling sorry for myself because I felt that I had let him down by not going to see him when I called was the last thing that he would have wanted me to do. I could hear him saying, ‘C’mon Archie keep the chin up!’ David became a source of inspiration and encouragement for me as I sought a way to lead my life. He, amongst others, has inspired me to make sure that I make the most of everyday God gives me rather than waste it worrying about the days I have lost.

So I am human. I will at times let fear and the nagging doubt sift through in to my thoughts, words and deeds and as I write my story to you every day in as honest and full a form as I can, because I think it is the warts and all approach that helps people most, some of those niggling doubts will emerge. It does not mean that I do not believe for a second that I can’t mount up with wings as Eagles; run like a deer and not be weary; walk the long path and not faint. So I shall believe in the Lord to renew my strength and beat the beast!!

Father remind me to discern your hand in all your works and to recognise your help and guidance throughout the challenge and to serve you quietly, humbly and with a confident discipline in belief that you want me/us all well. Teach me to be happy when solely in your company and to enjoy your wondrous creation wherever that might be knowing that I am being healed. Amen

The challenge in numbers in total since the start:
Days completed: 96
Total Miles Cycled: 511
Total Miles Walked: 493.0
Total Miles Run: 25.6
Total Miles Paddled: 7
Total Distance Cycled, Skied, Ran and Rowed in the gym: 8.4
Total Distance Swum: 300 metres
Total Miles covered under own steam.1045.3
Total Height Gained under own steam: 31,645 feet
Mountains Climbed: 5
Hills Climbed: 17
Days of Voluntary Activity: 5.5
Organ tunes learnt and performed: 5
Salmon Caught: 0!
Curling Matches played in: 4
Curling stones placed on the button (the centre of the target): 1
Weight Training Sessions: 8
Aerobic Circuit Sessions: 4
Press Ups: 188
Pull Ups: 48
Sit Ups: 188
People Met and Hands Shaken: 335
Pots of tea shared: 21
Prayers joined on the top of a hill: 2
Prayers joined in the street!: 3
Prayers joined in a Train Station: 1
Pills popped: 424
And most important of all – Money Raised as at Day 96 – £5,802.77.

Considering I started this challenge 20 weeks ago very quietly with no target beyond a fiver, thanks to the brilliant advice from a friend of mine, I am absolutely thrilled and again thank you all. So far that is £60.44 for each and every day that I have managed to find the will and energy to do something worthwhile and my goodness it has been worth it for my peace of mind, for my healing and for the five wonderful charities you are supporting through your generosity. Long may it continue. May I also ask however that if you are not sponsoring me to please consider it for as much or as little as you can afford. My rate of revenue raising has slowed from £70.00 a day to £60.00 a day so please sponsor me and encourage your friends to as well.

Thank you

Yours aye