It's been emotional.........

.......in every sense, and I can honestly say, in the last few days, when it comes to emotions; I've been through them all. 


There are tough events, and then there's the Fan Dance!

Let me put it into context:



A simple explanation!
Saturday 20th July, I'm awake at 0440, the alarm is due to go off at 0515. The bed is unfamiliar and the room is like a frickin sauna! I lay there just waiting for the ducks to start quacking (if you have an iPhone, you'll understand) and listening to and watching my wife sleep. My admin is sorted, so I've got nothing to keep my mind occupied, well that I can get on with, without disturbing Caroline. When I return to the room from the shower, my beautiful wife as she always does, had placed a card where I had been laying, every event she has done this, and boy does it put a lump in the throat. I'm just waiting for breakfast to turn up and to get myself in my kit. Breakfast arrives and to be fair, I can't face it, the banana loaf that's on the tray looks decent so I stick it in the pack, and wolf the yoghurt down, hardly the breakfast I needed, but the nerves had kicked in and I just want to get loaded up and squared away at the Storey arms. 

Compared to a lot of the guys we'd spent Friday evening in comfort at Nant Ddu Lodge, Caroline is 7 months pregnant and therefore "she who bears, wins!" Pitching a tent or a basher was never an option! We were joined by great friends Kramar and Jenny D (who is also pregnant) and Tim, and had got to meet Darren Hutchings before settling in, so as a basis for the rest of the weekend it was a great way to begin it. After a lovely evening the night before at 0610 I'm waiting at my car, boot open, bergen loaded and waiting for Kramar and Tim to surface. Kramar arrives looking keen as mustard, and Tim arrives not so keen as mustard, and faffing, like a fart in a trance, although resplendent in his jungle hat! Loaded up we head out, I don't remember there being many words, but the sky was blue and the air was cool, or least cooler than it had been, here I was with two of my mucker's and we were about to embark on what would be the hardest test we've stared down to date.

There is no shame in admitting there were nerves aplenty, but the excitement was also plain to see, especially when we pulled up into the layby and saw some familiar faces that we were all yet to meet in person! If the pain of the last couple of years has given me anything, it's given me an opportunity to try and do something positive, but the biggest thing it's given me is much more precious, a group of people, that I'm now very fortunate to call friends, I'd like to think they'll be friends for life. It's quite weird, our little 'Twitter Family' is almost tantamount to internet dating, we all have so much in common or at the very least a desire to test ourselves  so by the time we can put faces to avi's and Twitter names, it feels like we've known each other for years. So as Tim, Kramar and I are getting out of the car, introductions are made, and as we cross the A470 to the Storey Arms, further greetings are afforded to friends we recognise, and above all that, is the buzz, this will be a truly special day, and that it obvious and it's all but 0630.

At the weigh station is Darren and Ken, we exchange some banter, Darren and I, and immediately I feel the nerves ebb away a bit, pack is weighed and it's a few pounds over, but as I walk away I give Ken the gift I promised him for the Winter Fan, and immediately I'm choking a little, the reality of what today means and the reason I'm here hits me like the wall, I'm sure I'll be hitting sometime later.

The next hour is spent literally with me now faffing, endless trips to and from the car, because I keep forgetting to pick up what I went to pick up on the previous visit each time. Eventually set, we collectively head to the toilets for a last nervous wee before the off, again a few more familiar faces are recognised on the way, one of which is Rob Paine, a lovely guy and it's so great to see him. We amble back still giggling about the HIV notice in Welsh in the toilet and the fact that Tim had actually sat down in the cubicles, he didn't see the notice, so again the banter begins to flow. We get back to the layby and get the 5 minute warning from Kramar, so hurriedly load ourselves up and stomp across the A470 for real, and realise this shit, just got exactly that, real!!


And so it begins.....
I'm stood on the start line, on the first ascent about 100yds from the red phone box, among friends, among people I've never met, awash with nerves, adrenalin, excitement and dare I say in some cases some brown stuff! All shapes, all sizes, the Fan Dance is, for all those that are brave enough to take it on, that doesn't mean 'balls' brave, its means, those that know what they're facing and have the strength of mind to get it done. That in essence does come in all shapes and sizes and not necessarily with bulging biceps and a six pack, which trust me I know doesn't define those I know that have taken on selection and become part of this countries elite. The Fan Dance doesn't mean you have to be the fittest man alive to take it on (although I guess that may help), the Fan Dance is about grit, heart and a determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that with each step, you are a step closer to conquering it. Simply, there are tough events, I've done 4 Paras'10's this year so I know, however, there's the Fan Dance and everyone who was part of this incredible event will tell you that there is no comparison. It's not just tough, it will break you before it even gets going, if you let it. If you're not mentally prepared or if your desire gives up and goes home, you might as well turnaround and go with it, because you have to use everything you've got to get round, and then some, but of course I don't know that yet, that's an assumption on my part, luckily for me that assumption has me prepared to some degree.

Fun?
What I'd failed to grasp in my assumptions was the sheer hideousness of those first couple of miles, they are brutal, and there isn't anything other than doing this route continuously, that can prepare you for it. The first climb hits you hard, and then as you  make the second climb towards Corn Du it knocks seven bails of shit out of you. I don't care how fit you are, when you're carrying 50lb+ in full kit it's gotta hurt. Forty minutes in and I stop to see Kramar making his way up and pass me, looking strong, and going for it, I hoped it would give me the spur I needed. However, I'm not ashamed to say that climb almost beat me, I took an absolute pounding, but what kept me going was knowing that the moment I made it on to Corn Du, for a while at least, things would be a little easier. I had to dig deep, deeper than I ever have. I had to keep looking at the Pathfinder Cap badge on Lloydys T-shirt I was wearing, and I had to keep reminding myself, that in my pack was my personal tribute to him, that I had to lay at the summit of Pen Y Fan, and that I would not, no matter what, be beaten. Me, turning around was not an option, and it never entered my head, I did however, until I had those words with myself, question why I was doing this - however the answer was simple. For Lloydy, I owed him the desire to get this done. The quads were in bits, constantly cramping, it took every bit of strength I had to get on top of Corn Du, and it was literally, one step at a time. The climb felt like it was never going to stop and as nice as the mist was around the peak, it wasn't helping because you couldn't gauge how far there was left to go. It was a slog, but as hard as my heart was working, I knew it was my heart that would get me to the top. 

On top of Corn Du the mist was thick, eerie and played havoc with the internal compass, especially when you've expended so much energy getting to the peak, but recovery was pretty quick. Laughter was carried through the air, but with no visible attachment in sight, "fuck me" I mutter to myself, "they sound like they're having too much fun"! I end up among a group of fellow tabbers, none of which I recognise, other than from the climb up and eventually we follow the laughter, it's slightly ominous but hey "who dares" and all that! We quickly realise we're heading in the right direction, and I break into a proper run for the first time between the peaks, but again just as I approach the Fan, the quads begin to cramp. I'm stood there shaking off the legs when one of the guys quips "nice Elvis impression", it gives me a giggle and the little lift I need and off we go, and before I know it I'm casually approaching RV1. I check in just behind Gerald 'Mad Nick' McCarthy, and as earlier in the day, we exchange warm greetings, little did I know at that point, that 'Mad Nick' and I would complete this arduous event together. I quietly made my way to the summit marker, took off my pack. In the lid pocket I had stowed my little tribute to Lloydy and I laid it by the marker, touched it with a kiss, put my pack back on, and walked off to tackle the descent of Jacobs Ladder. The calmness in me was restored. I'd made it to the top of the Fan and I knew other than having to face the climb on the return, I'd done it, so there was no way it could beat me on the way back. 

Tribute laid.......
As I make my way 'carefully' down Jacobs ladder, I notice how alone I am, it's still quite misty on the descent, and it's difficult to make people out, it's at that point the first major wave of emotion hits me and all I can think about is Lloydy, probably a ridiculous statement in the first place, considering why I was there, but getting up Corn Du I had used my thoughts of him to push me on, used his achievements to drive me forward. Now it was just me and him and everything I missed about him, luckily I was alone, because holding it together was proving harder than the climb just completed! Eventually as the descent begins to level out a bit, I catch up with the guys again that I'd joined on the ascent of Corn Du, and beyond that, I spot Gerald. He's joined company with a young lady who's tabbing, and judging by the yoke on her back with the two PLCE side pockets coupled together, she not out just for shits and giggles, this is serious, this is training for her. The guys she was with, had left her, but eventually one of them catches up and before we know it's just Gerald and I putting the world to rights. It's easy miles by his side and we talk and talk continuously, as we make our way along the Roman Road, friends come and go, the camaraderie out there is just immense and if for no other reason, I'm glad I'm taking part in today just for that! Every time we see a friend it's a great big warm smile or grin and a handshake, for morale that is enormous, and it lifts you beyond words. The trek along the Roman road is relatively uneventful and we're making decent time, little did we know what the second half of the dance had in store. As we are making are way to RV2 I notice Gerald is beginning to struggle a little his calves are giving him jip and he's not very comfortable, but RV2 is close and we know there he can rest up a little, make some adjustments and get set for the return. At RV2 we are greeted warmly as we arrive, additional fluid is waiting for us and we stock up, have a piss, and get some food inside us. It's quite noticeable at this point that my companion isn't comfortable but he's determined it's not going to beat him. We load back up and we try to sort Gerald's pack out a bit, one of the guys gives him a bungee so that he can pull the pack tighter back across his chest and take some load off his shoulders. As I'm putting mine back on, I get talking to the DS properly and am offered some wonderful words which again just reaffirms to me why I'm putting myself through this. Andy wants a pic of my Bergen with my poppy cross and I'm glad that he wants to take it, it's a lovely gesture and again a reminder. I know these guys feel the loss of a brother even if they never knew him and by now I'm pretty sure they all know about mine. 

Ready for the turnaround.....
Locked and loaded we head back out of the RV and back up the Roman Road, at the second gate we notice a fellow tabber struggling, we offer him help, he's in rag order, he refuses three times and at that point we just hope he has the good sense to retire at RV2, cos if he doesn't, we're pretty sure the DS aren't going to let him continue. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but the poor guy looked done. What's obvious though is the spirit and grit that my companion has, 'Mad Nick' was really struggling by now, back along the Roman Road it's arduous enough, the incline is draining, but he's struggling badly with his calve and it's time for the sticks to come out for additional support. We both wrestle with them for a little while, and get them locked out so they're not useless. He's also been having trouble drawing water from his Camelpak all the while I've been with him, so I dive into his pack to try and figure out what the problem is, quickly I notice my dear friend, as by now he'd become, had put his fricking Camelpak in upside down, so all he was sucking on was air!! All sorted, I make him promise me, that next time he does an event like this he gets a proper pack sorted, and he packs it properly. All the weight he had, was sunk and weighing off his lower back, the zip was next to useless and therefore the pack was gaping open and dragging the weight lower further still, no wonder he was struggling. That might not have stopped the problem with the calve from happening but it definitely must have compounded it. But despite that, battle on he does, he constantly apologies to me for slowing me down, I tell him I'm gonna beat him with his sticks if he doesn't stop apologising, he doesn't stop, and I don't beat him, but we've come this far together, and I figure carrying him will be far harder than letting him apologise. In truth, as far as I'm concerned there was nothing to apologise for, I was here to endure and for me getting this done together now was far more important. It's a long drag along the Roman Road, not 'the' Long Drag, but for Gerald the problem is worsening, I feed him some biltong to continue trying to get some salt and protein into him and eventually it does begin to have a little effect. We get to windy gap and he gets to take on some much needed water, the Camelpak although initial problem solved is still causing problems, and fatigue has really hit now. He picks up a bottle of water, and he wants to drain it, so that he doesn't have to carry it as additional weight up Jacobs. I get him to empty his Camelpak as it's not working and whack the bottle of water in his pack, he gives me a knowing smile as he drains the Camelpak away and at that point I see the determination return. I just look at him as he's making final adjustments and tell him "we're getting this done", his pack back on, we head out for the last bastard climb. I tell him "at RV3, we're home and dry" and again, he pushes on, the climb up to the shelf seems, as it did up to Corn Du, never ending, but as we approach the shelf, Gerald asks a favour of me "get yourself up to the top" he says, "if you're up there, I know I've got to get myself up there", almost reluctantly I do, but I understand why he asks that of me. So up I go, and as I'm standing there I bellow "Nick, get your arse up here", he duly obliges. Once I see him up, I check in at RV3 and once again lay a kiss on Lloydys portrait that I'd laid at the summit marker earlier. 

Jacob's Ladder - you wh*rebag!
The DS points in the direction of the path skirting Corn Du, with instructions not to climb, we don't, and as we make our way around to join the path we climbed earlier up to it, we notice a group of guys that had obviously either ignored or not heard the DS's instruction, and we're now ahead of them. Gerald sees this and there's a spring in his step and we're almost bounding down the path now, passing a group has given him another little push and he's determined to get this done as quickly as possible. But again as we hit the last rise, the calve strikes back, and he's in agony once more. I decide there's only one thing for it, and I make Gerald remove my phone from my front pouch. I find my 'Lloydy' playlist and I put on 'Don't Stop me Now', and whilst it gives Gerald the extra push he needs, it reduces me to shit state! I had expected that song would give me the last hurrah I needed, instead, I was just overcome with emotion. I will never know if it was the realisation that we were just about to finish and what we'd accomplished or it was grief rearing it's head, but thankfully 'Don't Stop me Now' was followed by 'Thunderstruck' and that managed to put the smile back on my face. What broadened that smile further still, was seeing my wife waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, and almost as soon as I realised it was her she'd spotted me and started waving like a lunatic. I'd said to Gerald before the last rise, the best thing about finishing was knowing that waiting for me would be my gorgeous wife and my baby boy bump, and there was nothing could have beaten that, well that's within my power to hope for anyway. For the last stretch Gerald lifted the sticks and bounded home, which for me epitomised his spirit and his grit, he'd got it done, against the odds if truth be told, and I know I was extremely proud and honoured to have got across that finish with him. Patches in hand we clamber through the gate, and receive greetings from my lovely wife and wonderful friends, and with some help the pack is finally removed for the last time that day. It was a relief so difficult to express!

Done my friend.........
Earnt........
Gerald 'Mad Nick' McCarthy - a great man and a friend for life.......
My muckers, proud and honoured to have shared such an experience with them.......
Our very own Band of Brothers and Sisters......
After 24km and the best part of nearly 7hrs, to be stood among dear friends and my wonderful wife, eating hog and sharing the experience was truly special. I'll be honest much of the time between finishing and getting back in the car to get back to Nant Ddu is a blur, the conversations, the presentations, Ken's words. I honestly believe that at the point, I was just awash with so much emotion I just wasn't functioning properly. So if anyone has a recollection of the presentations and what was said, and can refresh my memory that would be fantastic, all I remember is seeing Kate, and feeling so proud that once again, she had proved how incredibly awesome she is and Phil running to grab me from the finish, to say there was a presentation for me happening. I don't remember a lot else, apart from shaking Ken's hand and feeling again, very emotional and humbled by the whole experience.
Receiving a presentation from Ken, a true honour and a very emotional experience!
The Haul.....
After Saturday, if it's possible, the pride I have for my little brother and his achievements, has deepened still. Yes, I completed the Fan Dance, an achievement I am and will always be immensely proud of, but for my brother and other men like him, this isn't a challenge, it's a way of life, a way of living. The Fan Dance only makes up a small element of what they have to endure to earn the right to wear the beret and cap badge of the regiment and unit that they are volunteering for. I'm sure we as individuals recognise that, what taking part in the Fan Dance allows us to do is taste a little bit of that hardship, experience a little bit of their sacrifice in their pursuit 'to go, always a little further' or be 'first in', and that is an experience that we can treasure,  and take pride in, because we have earnt that, your sweat, injuries, blisters and your patch are proof of that. So to you all, that I was fortunate enough to share this experience with, I thank you, because in no small part, you all made this experience truly emotive and memorable. 

I made a statement earlier in the piece that "there are tough events, and then there's the Fan Dance", I'm not being flippant and to be fair, because outside of the Fan Dance, I've only done Paras'10, so I can't really form a basis of a judgement on that. However, what I will say is this, I don't believe that anywhere in any other events will you find a group of people so hell bent on enjoying themselves whilst inflicting physical hardship on themselves, where that same group of people, no matter what they are going through offer morale and comradeship to someone they've never met before. I'm sure it happens, but not to the level I've experienced previously at Paras'10 events and now on the Fan Dance. That's what sets them apart and that's what makes them special, it's not just the truly incredible test, but the great people that make them happen and the wonderful people taking part.

4 months after Lloydy was killed I began a journey, a journey that involved old friends, a journey which has since gained me new friends, and I will say with all the sincerity, love and respect I can muster, you're all amazing, and I hope that I'm able to share many more years and events with you all. These events have been in no small part, made easier by the friendships I enjoy, the friends I've made and the support I've received from you all. From the bottom of my heart - thank you. 

Sharing a Fan Dance Ale with Lloydy.......blue skies little brother xxx
"FOR LLOYDY"

A GIANT AMONG MEN, MY LITTLE BROTHER, MY BEST FRIEND, HUSBAND, FATHER, SON, BROTHER, BROTHER-IN-ARMS, FRIEND.

XXX

Comments

  1. Hi Karl,

    I've just been sent this blog post from Matt Walby as we connected on twitter and he introduced me to the idea of the Fan Dance. What a fantastic, emotional, impressive and inspiring read - thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear about your brother, what an honour you have made to him, it's really touching.

    Sophie

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  2. Sophie

    Thank you so much for your comment, really is truly appreciated, and thank you for taking the time to read it! Hopefully we'll see you on the Fan!?

    Karl

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  3. Respects to you Karl and to that of the memory of a man not, and never forgotten.



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  4. Great read and way of keeping your brothers memory alive! I did the Colchester Paras 10 on Sunday and now seriously considering this event as it was being discussed at the start line. Stand by ...

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Stuart.......it's the next logical step!

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  5. what a fantastic article, i am doing Paras 10 in Sept 2016 in memory of my best friend who was KIA in Afghan 2006 3Para. and boy did this read bring a lump to my throat. Well Done

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  6. what a fantastic article, i am doing Paras 10 in Sept 2016 in memory of my best friend who was KIA in Afghan 2006 3Para. and boy did this read bring a lump to my throat. Well Done

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  7. Great achievement and tribute to your brother.

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