Into the Wild Camping

Day 17 of the blog post a day in May attempt and back to overlanding and an unexpected highlight.

THERE were several things which concerned me heading out on a 10-month overland adventure around Africa.

Most were personal concerns, largely revolving around my fitness and ability to cope with such a long time on the road away from home comforts.

But probably top of that list was dealing with camping for the majority of the trip. And bush camping at that.

Have written before about the ridiculous argument about whether people are really travellers or tourists (do it your way folks, it’s your trip), but must admit we had a running gag on the Trans Africa along similar lines.

We were bush camping overlanders on a truck, the people we met on more cossetted, shorter trips were – pardon the language – bus wankers. Not that we said that to their faces. Much.

Whatever those initial fears, bush camping became something to relish (most of the time) and given a choice for my next long trip, the extra bush camping helped sway me towards South America.

Was not always such a fan of camping, even the more conventional type with flushing toilets, shower blocks and some farmer coming round to collect your money.

Tolerated a few childhood camps and always returned to the more secure surroundings of the family caravan after moving out to a ropy old tent or the awning.

Even my first foray into overlanding travel failed to grab me. After hostels, trains, four to an indoor cabin on a cruise ship and even the odd hotel, sleeping on our crossing of North America from Alaska to New York was on a mixture of a converted bus or camping in National Parks.

Of which the first was Denali in Alaska.

Even in early summer, the temperature plunged as the sun disappeared around midnight and it was a couple of long, cold nights which made up my mind for the rest of the trip – the comfort of the bus was a much better option.

That was not an option in Africa (bar the nights when given refuge on the track due to illness).

And this came with the added challenge of absolutely no facilities. Bar a couple of shovels.

We had a crash course on the first couple of nights in Spain at a campsite – firm ground, toilets and shower facilities easing us in as we got used to putting the tents up and down while adjusting to sharing with our new roomies.

Which took a while, struggling to sleep for much of the first week or so as got accustomed to life under canvas – which at least spared me much of the blame having been exiled to the snorers’ tent.

But as we headed into Morocco, my airbed and sleeping bag were supplemented by a pillow (which only made it halfway round) and a rug, helping to complete a comfortable little nest on my side of the tent.

And that just left adjusting to camping away from any facilities not supplied by the truck itself.

Not completely, we did stop at campsites (or anywhere with a bit of room for us to throw up a few tents) when available, but there are precious few of those in West Africa and wandering off with a shovel was preferable to some of the facilities presented to us.

Get your head around what you are doing and why and bush camping becomes the obvious option – overlanding is all about the journey rather than the destination, partly because there often isn’t one for days on end.

So stop where you can and enjoy the freedom.

Bush camps developed their own rhythm, collect any firewood available, get the fires going and kitchen started, set up your tents and after completing any jobs that needed doing, pull up a camp stool round the fire, grab a drink and enjoy the surroundings and the company of your fellow travellers.

Occasionally somebody might break out a laptop and show a film or there would be a game of cards on the truck, but most often it would involve a lot of helping out in the kitchen and sitting around reliving the events of the last day or what was coming up.

Sometimes long into the night, many times not. Bush camping tends to fall into natural rhythms dictated by the sun – get up with the sun, go to bed when it vanishes (or when the beer runs outs). We even had an agreed bush camp bedtime when it was acceptable to head to your tent.

We camped in quarries, rainforests, on beaches,, just off (or sometimes on) tracks hidden by grass or trees, next to reservoirs, in olive groves, on clifftops (loo with a view), under rock formations, amid crops with fires raging just over the road, on the side of the road at a border, in the paddock of a police station, on dried up rivers or the only bit of rocky ground we could find. And in the shadow of a sand dune.

And by the time the occasional bed and overnight stop with showers, toilets and even, whisper it carefully, a bar and WiFi became more regular on the second half of the trip, the return of bush camping was met like an old friend. At least by most us.

It will be again in South America in a few months when the split is roughly even.

But there’s one nagging question, isn’t there? The one that everybody asks when you try to explain it.

How do you cope with no toilets and no showers, sometimes for days on end?

Put simply, you get on with it. If that’s the cost of seeing some amazing places then so be it.

Yes, you can start to smell but everybody on the truck is in the same boat – the one thing guaranteed to make it obvious is somebody trying to disguise it with smellies and it is amazing what you can do with a bit of water and a quick rub.

The truck also finds its own rules for how many days in a row it is acceptable to wear the same T-shirt (several, you wouldn’t want to sully a clean one if you haven’t showered for a few days).

As for the lack of toilets… you get used to it. It’s never totally comfortable, but you will discover the pitfalls and how to avoid them (balance and some spatial awareness are key or it can be a risky task).

And you will become to appreciate things to hide behind and soft ground.

Just don’t lose the shovel.


A Day In The Life On A Big Yellow Truck

Day seven of the attempt to write a blog post a day in May – time to take a break from coherent, organised paragraphs and revert to lots of bullet points. Sort of.

AT some point on a long overland journey you will need to fill in a form asking for your address, be it applying for a visa, booking a flight home or merely a feedback form.

The temptation is to put Back of a Big Yellow Truck (or whatever colour vehicle the company transporting you use) because, to all intents and purposes, that is your home.

Everything you own during this trip is stored there, all your food, all vital equipment. It will be your transport, your shelter, the heart of your world. Look after it and the truck will look after you.

And at some point or another, you will spend a long day eating up the miles on that truck so get used to life on board.

What follows is a rough guide (very rough on some roads) of what lies ahead on a day of travel, without hitting a major point of interest or destination. That will come as your reward but embrace truck life and it can be a reward in itself.

6.45am It is a standard day so you are not on cook group, make the most of a bit of extra half hour in bed. Pull yourself out of your tent and use the facilities. Such as they are.

7am Breakfast is served, grab what’s on offer and make yourself a hot drink from the kettle steaming on the fire. Catch up with your travelling companions and any news and gossip from the night before you may have missed.

7.15am Wash up and start packing your stuff up. Do your best to find something relatively clean to wear. Or decide that what you’ve got on is not too bad and will do another day.

7.30am You are packed up and breakfast is over, lend a hand finishing the washing up and packing things away on the truck. Fill up water bottles from the stocks on board.

7.55am Kitchen’s packed up, use the facilities (look, we’re being kind – this is bush camping, there aren’t any facilities) and hang around the truck waiting for the last people to be ready. Bar the changing cook group, they will be the same people every day. Some will have staked out their seats for a while.

8am Time to roll, last ones on board (further back you sit, higher you fly if the truck hits a bump – although you will obviously have your seatbelt on). Buzz the driver to let him know it is time to roll.

8.05am Unless there is some spectacular scenery grabbing everyone’s attention or the road (if there is one) is a bit too rough, much of the truck will be falling asleep or listening to music. Or both.

10am The driver gets buzzed again – one buzz for a comfort stop somewhere quiet on the side of the road. Someone will have been hanging on for ages waiting for an acceptable time to be the first one to ask.

10.03am The boys are all finished and hanging around the back of the truck, waiting for the girls to finish a rather more complicated procedure.

10.10am Everyone back on board. The options for passing time are slightly wider – some might even be taking notice of the scenery. Increasing amount of waving at the passing locals. Enviously keep an eye on the person reading the one decent novel on the truck you are yet to read, try to work out how much longer they have left.

11.30am Lunch is an hour or so away and someone couldn’t wait – second buzz for a stop and another pit stop along the road or, if you are lucky, at a garage with a toilet. Actually, that’s not always so lucky.

12.30pm Stop at some secluded spot for lunch. At least you think it is secluded – from nowhere someone will appear, usually to watch from a safe distance. Jump into action and get the kitchen set up so cook group can provide the third and final meal of their duty, usually prepared last night.

1pm Kitchen packed up and back on the truck ready to roll. Less sleeping, more noise. Conversation breaks out and the major daily debate – who wants music over the speakers and, if so, from which person’s iPod? Game of cards or general chatting breaks out. May be a film being watched somewhere.

2pm Truck rolls into a village or small town with a market. Cook groups for the next two or three days dispatched with their share of the kitty to buy enough for three meals. While they try to work out what to buy, the rest head round the market, stay on truck guard duty or get roped into the most important search of every stop – ice.

2.15pm While the food starts arriving back at the truck, the rest tuck into or unload whatever goodies they have found in the market into their lockers or the cool boxes (used equally as food rests and known by any number of names by your international travelling companions).

2.30pm Back on the road. The post-stop, afternoon lull sends a few more back to sleep. The rest watch the world go by. Or take pictures of their sleeping friends.

3.30pm Everyone’s fully awake and chances are the music is on. First look at the watch to work out when is acceptable to ask for another stop.

3.45pm Another comfort stop. If it is in civilisation, may be chance to fill up the water.

5pm The truck rolls off the road and heads into some secluded area – either one saved into the satnav or one the crew has stumbled upon. Everybody off into action for the first job, collecting firewood. Easy in some places than others, in the middle of a desert it is down to what you have collected along the way.

5.20pm Fire started, kettles on, kitchen set up. Cook group start work on the evening meal, previous cook group start their final duty – truck clean. Once they have stopped people climbing on and off the truck while they do it.

6pm Light has almost gone, time to set up camp. Handy tip: let the snorers pick their spot and go somewhere else. You all scatter, we are going to be near at least one of you.

6.30pm Tents are up, food prep done and things are cooking. Music choice in camp is the cook group’s, the beers coming out of the cool boxes, time to take advantage of not being on cook group (once you have made an offer to help) and chill out.

7.30pm (now the times really are getting guesswork, some cook groups are quicker than others) Food served – two simple rules, make sure it is edible and make sure there’s enough. Comes complete with what is coming up the next day, time to leave and any questions – all while the hungry are eyeing up second helpings.

8pm Food finished, wash up and pack the kitchen away.

8.15pm Bush camp bedtime – first people vanish to their tents. Others sit around talking and making the most of having some ice to keep those drinks cold. Chances are, a bottle of Captain Morgan will be around somewhere.

10pm Most people have turned in, few sat around what is left of the fire chilling and chatting. There’s worse ways to spend an evening.

All timings very rough and based on a day with bush camping at either end on the Oasis Overland Trans Africa 2014-15 – every trip differs around the edges.

This is a travelling day. They are days off to be savoured, rest days. You may get two or three together – particularly in West Africa – but it will get you somewhere worth visiting.

That’s the joy of overlanding.


The Packing List

Blog a day in May – Part five

DO any internet search on overland travel and you will not have to scroll down too far to find an article on packing.

How to pack light, what to pack, what to leave at home, how to fit everything you need in your shoe… everyone has got their view before coming to the same conclusion – you will not need as much as you initially thought.

And never being one to shy away from nicking other people’s ideas (especially with topics for 31 days worth of blogs to come up with), here’s another one for the list.

But instead of going through what you should be taking and how little you actually need (we will get to that one after trying to shove it all in my bags), this one is about what is on the list this far out and the decisions that need to be made on what – and how much – goes with me to South America.

It keeps changing, some of it needs buying, some of it will drop off the list, new stuff will be added and a fair amount of it is sat on some shelves in my front room waited to be sorted.

Assorted gear which is on the list (bar The West Wing and The Wire box sets which live there)

Electrical Stuff
Travelling light gets a bit more difficult once you have thrown in all the bits of electrical kit and all the cables, plugs and adaptors which are par for the course.

There are those who travel with very little technology but for anyone looking to blog on the road and feed that blog with pictures and videos, that gets difficult.

Laptop – Bought five years ago for my Trans Africa trip, my MacBook Air is still in good health. Like me, pretty sure it has one more big trip in it. Will have a full clean and back-up before departure. The iPad which went to Africa as well will not be coming on this one.
Hard Drive – Already holds an awful lot of pictures. A lot more to come.
Camera – Managed to break three cameras in Africa so on the lookout for a new one that might withstand seven months on the road. With added batteries and memory cards,
Go Pro – One of those broken cameras was my Go Pro which refused to accept a charge before really getting to grips with it. Appears have managed to get it going again, just need to find batteries, memory cards and any accessories for a five-year-old model. And work out how to use it properly.
Phone – Will be turned off the vast majority of the time, but a handy alarm clock and – with my track record – emergency camera. Or when you don’t take a proper camera out with you.
iPod – Just take a look around this website to realise how important my iPod is. Signs this trip may be a step too far for the current version, one of the big shopping decisions is whether to get a new one before the off. Almost certainly with a new pair of proper headphones and couple of spares from the ones have somehow amassed over the years.
Powerbank – There is the chance to charge stuff on the truck and should be more access to power than Africa but worth taking a bit of a back-up. If only to avoid the frantic race to the power outlets.
Clippers – Very much in the only if there’s room category, not likely to shave that often on the road.
Cables – Power and USB


Watch – Never wear a watch at home, don’t even own one that works. But without a phone on me at all time, on the airport shopping list.
Head Torch – A must. You might look like a burk and dazzle anyone you talk to, but vital when bush camping and you need your hands for cooking or putting your tent up. Often worn around my wrist or neck.
Torch – Another in the if there’s room category.
Batteries – For those items that don’t plug in to anything.
Books – One of two South American guide books and at least one other which will make its way into the trick library.

One of these items is definitely going. Airbed bottom right needs a clean. Actually, so does the sleeping bag and rucksack.

The bigger bits needed to make life more comfortable or to carry the stuff that will. Among the jobs for the to-do list in an upcoming week off is working out how much kit from Africa can be re-used.

Rucksack – It’s seen me through both my long overland trips and a few other shorter ones. But will my 70L bag see it through another trip? Yet to find anything better.
Day Bag – One of the great plusses of my rucksack is the detachable 20L bag which can carry the essentials for a day or slightly longer trip away from base. Ideal for the Inca Trail, but will need a bit of TLC to recover a bit of a rip down one seam. The search has yet to uncover as good a combination – don’t want to get two separates because…
Carry-On Bag – The job of the second bag will go to the one carrying my laptop and assorted other easily-accessible essentials, leaving just clothes in the rucksack once on the truck. That one is already sorted.
Lightweight Bedding Bag – Handy when camping, some smallish, easily foldable cheap bag to store and carry your bedding when camping. Bought one in a market for couple of quid in Africa.
Dry bag – Another one that’s sorted. Can be used to store wet stuff, dirty clothes and, when full, as a pillow.
Sleeping Mat – Decided ahead of Africa when camping made up the vast majority of accommodation that would spend a bit extra on being comfortable. The Thermarest air bed did the job (patched up a couple of times) but probably needs replacing. Will test it out to be sure – once it has been cleaned.
Sleeping Bag – Same goes to my sleeping bag which has been stored away for ages and definitely needs a clean. Need to check if it has kept its insulation and will be warm enough for some potentially cold nights. It has the advantage of packing down really small.
Liner – It has been around the world and Africa without being used. There if needed.
Pillow – Not a fan of travel pillows so the option may be to buy one on arrival, rather than fill a bag for flying. Lasted from Morocco until South Africa last time before being thrown away on health grounds.
Rug – Great purchase in Morocco added extra layer or warmth and comfort. Covering a chair in my front room and not coming, another to be picked up if needed en route.

In many ways the most important clothing decision before departure.

Walking Boots/Shoes – The decision to trek the Inca Trail made this a vital purchase and now top of the shopping list. Quite what will change what else comes with me.
Shoes/Trainers – If it is thick boots, then a pair of outdoor shoes will go with them. If the walking shoes are lightweight enough for everyday use, my running shoes will be the second pair.
Flip Flops – Was converted in Africa. Have one pair but given the propensity for blowouts, always worth having a spare. And as Havianas are South American, should be easy to pick some up.
Sandals – An option but unlikely.
Spare Laces

The (almost) final selection for the Trans Africa packing

One of my bags will rattle given the number of tablets inside. Once the issue of sorting them out is done.

Malaria Tablets – Not as essential as in Africa, but with my ability to get bitten by the only insect within miles, worth having some form of anti-malarial treatment.
Prescriptions – Like it or not (don’t particularly but have given in to it), am on daily tablets, plus back-up strong painkillers when needed. Fine when you can go online and get them sent to the supermarket round the corner. Not so easy when you need seven months’ supply. That’s a lengthy story for another time (and when it has a conclusion).
Medical Kit – Plasters, blister plasters (believe me, will need them), bandage… normal stuff. Must remember to remove scissors from kit if in carry-on luggage.
Antiseptic Cream – As good a relief for bites as anything else tried, although been suggested lavender oil, iodine or bite relief pen.

Amazing how quickly your bag can fill up – if it is not tablets, it is contact lenses. Have largely stopped wearing them at home (staring at a screen all day) but like wearing them when away. And easier with sunglasses.

Contact Lenses – New monthly disposables sorted and already arrived, the optician clearly not liking the idea of wearing lenses 24/7 for a week like in Africa. Some of the dailies which have been stacking up for a while will go as spares but 200+ pairs of lenses takes up a lot of room.
Glasses – The prescriptions fine, whether to change them or not before the off is another decision. Would at least give me a spare pair. Also need reading glasses for when wearing lenses (the perils of growing old.
Sunglasses – My ability to break cameras is nothing next to the same talent with sunglasses. Two or three cheap pairs likely with a more expensive answer.

Do you really need me to list this? Likely to take very little, pretty sure the shops of Quito will be able to stock me up before we head out on the road. Toilet rolls definitely on the Quito shopping list.

Misc Travel Stuff
Those small things you will need at some point and a lot of which have accumulated over the years – there is still a St Christopher’s bottle opener attached to my rucksack given to me by a friend a few years ago. No idea where my binoculars are.
Small travel towels are very much in fashion but can’t get on with them – too small, they get wet without seeming to dry you and find they get slimy. It’s against the pack light rule, but think it is worth taking one.

Mosquito Repellent
After Sun
Water Bottle
Washing Line
Bottle Opener
Document Wallet
Multi Tool
Gorilla Tape

How much exactly depends on how much room is left after all that stuff. Three T-shirts always seems the recommended number but will definitely go above that – for no other reason than it avoids having to do laundry for an extra couple of days.

Lightweight Fleece – Already brought. Advantage of living very close to two outdoor shops outlet branches.
Waterproof Jacket (Have a poncho which has never been
Merino Layers
Hoodie – Basically my standard travelling uniform
Warm Hat – Couple of Gloucester Rugby hats bought for the trip. No bobbles in The Shed but fine in the Andes.
Cap (Boston Red Sox)
Swimming Trunks
T-Shirts – Mixture of short sleeve and long sleeve
Socks – Walking, walking liner, gym socks, normal


What Is Overlanding?

Day four of the blog post a day in May and time to finally get round to writing some pieces on travel or, more specifically, overlanding.

HAVE spent more than a year of my life on overland group trips and spend more time explaining the manner of the trips than the places we have been.

That four days on a train, digging a truck out of mud or spending the nights wild camping in the wilds of Africa is as much a part of the trip as big cities, tourist trail trips or ticking off bucket list attractions.

Or that the strangers you met on the first day (almost certainly far too early) will become your family, your friends, your gang – the ones who are there to share the highs and carry you through the tough moments.

Over a few upcoming posts, hope to take you through the different aspects of overland travel and the preparations for my next bout of riding around in a big yellow truck in South America (this website was, after all, set up as a travel blog).

But let’s start with an overview – what exactly is overlanding?

Have travelled with, after a quick count, 40-odd people over the course of two long trips and pretty sure they would all give you a different answer. We all had slightly different trips, different highlights, different tales to tell, each of us playing a slightly different part to make up the (largely) harmonious whole.

The simple take is that the journey is as important as the destination.

Don’t get me wrong, have been to some amazing places, cities and sights which should be on anyone’s must-see list, but it is those things you only see and moments you only share with your fellow passengers by journeying through the places, hidden gems or, let’s be honest, problems that are far too easily overlooked or over flown.

Been to New York a fair few times but only one of the journeys there saw me walk across a frozen lake, sleep in a ger in the Mongolian wilderness, trek through US National Parks and, ahem, be sick on the Great Wall of China. Or wear a truly horrific shirt somewhere in the middle of the Pacific.

Rather more exciting than eight hours on a plane deciding between chicken and beef or which film to watch.

As great a place as it is, New York barely features in the memories of those 90 days travelling overland from London – it was journey’s end and dominated by goodbyes and nights out with the friends who had shared those experiences.

That trip involved a mix of coach travel, train and, as the only way to complete the journey without flying, cruise ship. Sleeping was in hostels, hotels, sharing cabins on the Trans-Siberian or the ship and a bus converted for travelling through the night with camping for those who chose to abandon the refuge of the bus.

But overlanding takes in a wide range of styles, different operators and the demands of where you are travelling shape much of that – there is no tourist infrastructure in West Africa while the safari hotspots of the east are much more set up to offer a few comforts.

So while you may find yourself with the option of a bed, power, WiFi, a bar and hot shower (the ultimate wishlist of the overlander) and even a proper road in the east, you can go days without any of those down the west coast.

And that’s without mentioning toilets (we’ll keep that for another post that comes complete with a warning for any nervous reader).

Those basic conditions – camping wild wherever we could find, bereft of facilities, at the mercy of the elements and days without showers – were approached with trepidation on the 10-month Trans Africa adventure with Oasis Overland.

People even had the prospect of surviving on my cooking. Over an open fire. From what could be found on a limited budget in the local markets.

But from nervous starts, we embraced the delights of bush camping and began to look forward to them between the more luxurious (and that’s all relative) surroundings of the east.

And hey, if none of you have showered for days, you soon stop noticing the smell.

Those hardships have their rewards. The people you travel with, the people you meet along the way, the experiences which pop out of nowhere – these are the things that will come back to you and crop up whenever you reminisce with your travelling buddies.

And you still get the tourist trail attractions and cities others have taken the far less rewarding direct route to.

In September, will hop back on a big yellow Oasis truck for seven months around South America and the trip will be slightly different again – the balance between camping and hostels more even as a fresh continent throws up fresh challengers from Africa.

Between now and departure, will dig into overlanding in more depth – what to pack (and what not to pack), life on a truck, wild camping, overland cooking and anything else that springs to mind.

But will leave you with one last thought from somebody else.

Oasis Overland posted their own blog recently about what to pack and asked for comments on what people should pack and what should be left at home.

The answer that stuck with me came from an overland driver on what you don’t bring that is more important:

  • Detailed itineraries;
  • Expectations that it will be a holiday;
  • A piece of clothing or equipment you are not prepared to lose;
  • Rolling suitcases;
  • Beliefs that your views are more important/correct than others;
  • Western views on how other people in other cultures “should” live.
  • Leave those at home and you will have a fantastic time!

Think that pretty much sums up overlanding.


Walking In The Air

The second day of my attempt to write a blog post a day through May. Time to harness this productivity for a piece on preparations for my overland trip to South America.

IT is, pretty much, the length of a marathon. No mention about any extra yards on the end of 26 miles. Sounds walkable.

Over four days you say? Yeah, no problem.

And then you look a little bit deeper. Those four days walking are not exactly flat. It tops out on the second day at around 4,200m – at the end of pretty constant climbing over several hours, taking you roughly 1,000m up and over what is commonly known as Dead Woman’s Pass.

Can’t pronounce it but prefer the locals’ name – WarmiwaƱusca.

Even the downhills are tough down uneven step dubbed Gringo Killers.

The reward for this, bar some seriously painful calf muscles (and already got one of those)? Watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu at the end of the Classic Inca Trail.

And I’ve signed up for it.

There is another option (once you have dismissed going to Peru on an overland adventure and not heading up to Machu Picchu), taking the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and pretty much grabbing a bus up.

And with concerns about my fitness and a past tendency to function pretty badly at altitude, it was a serious consideration, posing the first major decision in the build-up to September’s departure on my Trans South America adventure.

Permits to trek the trail are limited to 500 a day, including guides, porters and anybody else whose job will include dragging me over a few very large peaks. They go pretty quickly (the permits, not the guides, hopefully) and having delayed making a decision (while keeping half an eye on how many permits were left for our day), suddenly it had to be made – permits were all but gone.

With the gym regime paying dividends, a bit of research suggesting it was within my capabilities and a fear of forever being told the trek was something not to be missed (the lingering concern of many a traveller), the decision was made.

Just in time apparently as the final permits for our date were snapped up.

It sparked a huge bout of enthusiasm, reading about what to take, walking boots, the tough bits (not such enthusiasm), dealing with the altitude, the campsites, their facilities (likened to those at a festival) and any information out there.

And a string of lengthy, increasingly uphill walks were planned as a warm-up with friends roped in as company alongside an increase in the fitness regime.

Right up until my calf went pop.

We’ll get to that in the next post (let’s cash in on this bout of blogging) but the get fit and clock up the walking miles programme has got us as far as… a total ban on walking on the treadmill, let alone running, while the calf mends.

That and a few sessions with the osteopath moving down from my back to my right calf. Not sure quite what was being dug into the muscle but think he got the message that he had hit the troublesome spot.

So what exactly is that troublesome calf going to have to deal with once it has made its way to South America, spent nearly a month on the road through Ecuador and Peru, a few days in Cusco to get used to the altitude and an early morning start to drive to our starting point.

The opening day is around 6.8 miles to that night’s campsite on the lower slopes heading up to Dead Woman’s Pass before the day that really grabs the attention – that uphill slog before heading downhill for our overnight stop.

Day three is the longest in terms of distance but after one initial hefty climb, the major ascents are over and much of the latter half of the day is downhill.

And then the fourth day day, kicking off far too soon after the third for an early breakfast and trek for an hour or so to our ultimate aim – Machu Picchu in time for the sunrise which makes it all sound worth it.

Oh yeah, the altitude.

Cusco is at 3,310m and we will crest peaks of 4,198m and 3,950m before it sort of levels out (sort of being very relative) and descends to Machu Picchu itself at 2,430m.

No, doesn’t mean that much to me – right up to the memory that my legs pretty much gave way and did not cope that well at the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix at 3,852m, to say nothing of feeling pretty rubbish on arrival at a few of Europe’s higher ski resorts.

So why exactly?

Well apart from banking on a rather more gradual arrival at the altitude, whatever the challenge it does look incredible.

Various accounts online will disagree on how tough it is, from those seemingly intent on putting you off by outlining all the hardships to those dismissing it as a simple walk in a (rather hilly) park.

But they pretty much all agree on it being something you will remember for positive reasons.

And that’s something to hang on to next time my calf is having something pressed into it.

While I’m sat here stressing about walking about 26 miles over four days, a couple of hundred yards away Jamie McDonald is attempting to break the world record for the longest distance covered in a week on a treadmill.
Just weeks after finishing his coast to coast run across the USA, the latest in a long line of endurance adventures.
He is doing this for his Superhero Foundation to raise money for the hospitals which helped him as a child – check out his story, his progress or donate at