Cien Dias

FIVE years ago, wrote a post 100 days from heading out to Gibraltar for the Trans Africa journey.

And having decided to do the same before heading to South America, first decision was when to actually write it – 100 days from flying out to Quito or from the start of the trip itself?

The decision to go with the latter was partly down to it being a bit neater, a landmark shared by the entire group who will make their own way out to the Ecuadorian capital, and partly due to the 100 days falling on a Sunday.

Bit easier to find the time to write on a Sunday afternoon than a Wednesday night after the delights of getting a paper out and hitting the gym (the ideal post-deadline release of stress). At least that’s the theory.

So where are the preparations as the countdown hits the landmark?

Five years ago, the 100 Days post (spent ages delaying writing by coming up with a different title to distinguish them – while sat watching sport, that may have been a bigger delay) mentioned a feeling of being in limbo.

Not only is the long list of things to do still expanding before real dents are made in it…. but normal life has been skewed slightly.

100 Days, July 2014

There are shades of that this time round again. It’s just been flipped slightly.

Yes, there is slightly a sense of limbo, of life being skewed, waiting for and dominated by what lies ahead. But there’s not the feeling of the unknown this time around.

Not that South America is in any way familiar. Overlanding is, but journeying around this part of the world poses a lot of different challenges to what awaited us in Africa.

But there are two major differences this time round.

First, have a lot of the kit or at least a pretty good idea of what is needed and, secondly, planning is a lot easier with a bit of experience.

Especially if drawing up lengthy (frequently updated) to-do lists is pretty much the first thing you did after booking.

Which is pretty much the state of where we are at this landmark in preparations – the lists are drawn, plans are made and… well, sort of waiting to crack on with it.

Much of the preparations have been split into four distinct sections – three of them weeks off spaced out before leaving work at the end of August, followed by the two weeks between then and heading out of the country, the second half of which will be largely given over to moving out of my flat and putting stuff into storage.

There’s a few things to do and arrangements to be made in between those chunks of time, but at the moment it is all a bit quiet. All on schedule.

Which is all a bit worrying.

The growing pile of kit

Much of the major kit is bought or surviving from Africa, a new camera the largest new addition and – having taken a step up from the simple options which have served me well (at least before breaking) in the past – really need to work out how it works. At least the simple bits.

There is a load of kit sat on the old TV unit in the corner of my front room (makes a difference from dust) which is having the odd bits added every time it catches my eye. More will be added as the battle between want and need plays out.

And then there’s the clothes list.

There is a danger working and living so close to a couple of outdoor clothing and activity shops which have developed a magnetic draw.

Been trying to put off going too deep into the clothes buying preparations which are largely pencilled in for a week off next month, but did weaken with a few bargains online which have shown up one major issue.

Am getting smaller.

Travelling down the west coast of Africa, managed to lose four inches off my waist, forcing a hasty shopping trip in Cape Town to find trousers that stayed up.

Having shed seven stone – with a more conscious effort this time round, having put it all and more back on since the African overlanding weight loss programme – and can fit comfortably into those Cape Town trousers.

With the plan to keep the weight loss and fitness regime going – right calf, hopefully, allowing – until the off, there needs to be a certain touch of the last minute about clothes shopping so that it actually fits.

There are also two big differences to Africa which need to be taken into account ahead of finalising the kit and packing – climate and the fact it has to all come on a flight with me.

There was wet weather (Morocco, talking about you) and cold spells in Africa, but not some of the extremes which need to be considered in South America – the word minus does crop up at times.

So that adds a few layers to my clothing choices which all have to come with me.

Hitching a ride – no cheating with kit on the truck this time around

Five years ago, was able to drop off a few of the larger items – sleeping bag, airbed and mosquito tent mainly – with Oasis and they headed out on the truck before making the return journey with assorted other items picked up along the way.

That is not an option this time around. The mosquito tent is a non starter, but the sleeping bag, airbed and everything else has to squeeze into my rucksack and shoulder bag. Already working out what will be worn on the flight to save room (new walking boots which need breaking in for starters).

It also means a new section on the to-buy list – Quito.

One of the great realisations from Africa – which should not really come as any surprise if you think about it – is you can buy most of this stuff on the road. So a weekend in Quito has a few items inked on to the shopping list, most notably a rug. And toilet rolls.

There’s plenty of time before then – nearly 100 days, if anyone has not been paying attention – and preparations will gradually ramp up, especially come that July week off.

Until then, there’s Inca Trail videos to be watched (with equal parts excitement and dread), walking boots to be broken in (once clearance has been given to push that pesky calf muscle ) and outdoor travel shops to be avoided.

And more lists to be updated.

  • Before my fellow pedants point out what is missing from the title of this entry, it is 100 days to Spanish. Bit longer than that to Portuguese (Cem Dias), Dutch (Honderd Dagan) and a bit of French (Cent Jours). Worryingly, had to look up all but one of them – going to be a long seven months.
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Overlanding: Frequently Asked Questions

Day 19 of the blog post a day in May and time to let somebody else do the heavy lifting

HAVE spent a lot of time over the last nine years or so writing or talking about travel, overlanding in particular (apologies about that).

A lot of this site has tried to explain aspects of the trips which are difficult to understand without actually being a passenger, but still get asked a lot of the same questions.

So time to answer a few of them, both from people have chatted to about them and people enquiring about trips during my time working for a travel company.

What are you doing?
The most common question when people first hear about a trip. Put simply, jacking my job in (again) and, this time around, heading off to South America for 31 weeks on a big yellow truck.

No, seriously, what are you doing?
The follow-up is usually a variation of this which leads to some sort of explanation of overlanding. Or ‘which part of South America?’ to which the answer is pretty much all of it.

How many other people are there on the trip?
No idea, will find that out in Quito in September. The truck holds up to 24 and people may come and go – the Oasis trip to Africa varied between 14 and 20-odd (plus a couple of crew) as people came and went.

Who are the other people?
Again, will find that out come September and spend the next seven months learning it in more detail. Over two overland trips have travelled with people aged 18 to 81, from more than a dozen countries and a pretty much even split between men and women. And out of about 40 people, probably only one, two at most, just could not get on with.

Can you get some time to yourself?
It is not always easy – hard to escape people during a long day on the back of the truck – and you can be reliant on each other when out in the wilds, but reach some form of civilisation and you get some breathing space. However well the group gets on, it is advisable.

Can you leave the trip and come back?
Yes, it’s your trip. There may be an optional side trip you may want to do or you need to head home for some reason or head off for a day or two. If you know beforehand, you can work it out with the tour operator – who can advise what alternative start and finish points are available – and on the trip you just need to be at an agreed meeting time and place. The trip will not wait for you.

Have you got to follow the itinerary all day, every day?
If you are travelling then yes – you are on the truck – and certain things (National Parks or attractions) are included. But nobody is going to make you do anything and it is up to you what you do and where you go when you reach a destination.

How long do you spend travelling each day?
There can be long days – there are a lot of miles to cover and there may not be many places to stop for a day or two. Other days may be shorter with a stop somewhere along the way while you may not travel for a day, two or longer.

What’s included in the price?
It depends on your tour operator, but the standard cost is accommodation, transport on the truck, crew and included attractions. A local payment in cash as part of the cost will cover food when not eating out (and maybe the odd restaurant meal).

Will there be WiFi?
One of the first questions at any stop is “what’s the WiFi code?”. One of the delights of bush camping is you are off the grid.

What is the food like?
The group will be cooking when out in the wild, so it is up to you – if you can find it in a market. And most major stops will have a wide range of options – street food always a good, cheap option. Vegetarians or food intolerances can usually be catered for, fussy eaters may find things a bit more difficult.

I don’t like Chinese food, will I be able to find food I like in China?
Seriously, got asked that one. Not sure he quite got the gag that Chinese food is just called food in China (original joke courtesy of Friends). Simple answer is yes, in the cities, but it would be a crying shame to limit yourself.

Will I be able to find a KFC?
Same person. Was able to assure him that you can give directions around Tiananmen Square using fast food joints. Service is better than back home as well.

What’s the weather like?
You are away for months, travelling through thousands of miles and entire seasons. Work it out.

Do I need to be fit?
If your idea of activity is picking up the phone to order a takeaway, you may need to put in a bit of work. A certain level of fitness is not a bad idea, but how fit you need to be depends on what you plan to do. Was not as fit as planned for Africa but was rarely too much of an issue, will be fitter for South America.

Can I arrange this trip myself?
Yes, probably. If you are really, really organised and have the time, cash and energy to throw at it. These guys know what they are doing so unless you have a distinct urge to go it alone, this is the easier way. Although it may not seem like it working through the to-do list.

Is it safe?
Any travel comes with a touch of risk and, yes, you can hit some places that may seem bordering on the dangerous, while some spots may be lacking in the sort of infrastructure we take for granted. You can never remove the risk but take the usual precautions and there is not too much to worry about.

Did you ever feel in danger?
Ten months in Africa and only a couple of times – mainly when debating which would get me shot quicker, being sick over the man who had just come on the truck with a gun or jumping off and giving him a nice easy target. Scariest moment (not including lying in a tent in the Serengeti listening to lions roar) was a late-night car ride through Bulawayo. Largely on the wrong side of the road.

Did you get ebola?
No, it was possible to journey through Africa without contracting ebola, whatever people had decided before the off (and while there). And no, we were in absolutely no danger of catching it in Papua New Guinea, what with it being nowhere near Africa. That was a serious question.

You won’t be going to Venezuela, will you?
That’s the current favourite. Simple answer, don’t know. It’s on the route but not until next spring so we’ll worry about that one nearer the time.

Will I get voted off the bus like on Coach Trip?
Seriously, got asked this by a prospective customer. Not sure whether she wanted it to be an option or not.

What are you going to do when you get back?
No idea. Last time pretty much replaced myself in my old job. As for this time, who knows?

But if anybody’s got any writing, subbing or travel jobs starting around next May…

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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.
Adaptors
Chargers
Cables – Power and USB

Misc

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.

Kit
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.

Footwear
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

Health
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).
Antihistamine
Ibuprofen
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.

Eyes
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.

Toiletries
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
Suncream
After Sun
Towel
Water Bottle
Bandana
Washing Line
Bottle Opener
Locks/Cables
Earplugs
Document Wallet
Multi Tool
Notebooks
Pens
Binoculars
Lighters
Gorilla Tape

Clothes
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)
Shorts
Swimming Trunks
Trousers
T-Shirts – Mixture of short sleeve and long sleeve
Socks – Walking, walking liner, gym socks, normal
Underwear

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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.

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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
adventureman.org.

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