Ice Station Yompa

I wanna turn the clock back ten years for this story. I can’t believe it’s been ten years!!! 2006 was a World Cup year and the SPL season finished with a midweek fixture sandwiched between the last two weekends. It always happens in Euro and World Cup years to allow the players who are actually going to the championships more time to prepare. It also screws up the Caley Thistle Highland March…

Y’see the Highland Marchers traditionally walk from the penultimate game of the season to the last game, wherever those two games happen to be. In 2006, the last three games were Livvy (a), Falkirk [managed by Yogi back in those days] (h) then finally Dunfermline (a). The collective view amongst the Marchers was that Inverness to Dunfermline on foot between 10pm on Wednesday night and 3pm on Saturday was barking, and therefore the March should leave Caley Stadium on the Sunday morning after the Livvy game, and allow for the full week as per usual.

Aye right.

That just wasn’t a Highland March in my eyes. That was a walk between two other fixtures. So I got myself a support driver and some motivation, and set off, solo, to do the impossible. Before that expedition, my football internet handle had been Interthenet, a name I’d always been proud of as it brought football and the internet together in a moniker. Highland March 4 to Dunfermline changed all of that. Back in the Falklands War, when the Atlantic Conveyor was sunk, with it’s cargo of helicopters, the ground troops had no way of hitching a lift to Port Stanley to take on the Argentinian forces: other than to walk it, with full gear, in winter conditions. Yomping was born. The route was “60 miles, over that hill”….

So back to May 2006: The direct route from Inverness to Dunfermline took pretty much a straight line from Inverness to Pitlochry on day one (check Google Maps and see how the A9 meanders all over the place). When I say day, I really mean the first 24 hours because that’s what it was. A solo route march over the Monadhliath mountains in the dark was followed by a breakfast time rendezvous with the support vehicle at Kincraig before a second, much longer, all day off roader got me to the Atholl Arms in Blair Atholl in time for tea. I was in Pitlochry, 70 miles down the road, before nightfall. After that adventure, day 2 was a bit of a skoosh, coming in at only 57 miles and I met up with the rest of the guys in Falkland the night before the game. 125 miles on foot, over hill and down dale, through mud and river crossings. All to prove to myself that nothing is impossible when you put your mind to it.

Yompa was born.

Three months later, I decided it would be a nice idea to walk the West Highland Way. It took me 31 hours, and that was the time I really understood that water is heavy, especially when you’re carrying all that you need for a solo 95 mile adventure against the clock and yourself.

The reason I mention this is because I don’t do giving up very easily. Indeed, I will only do it when it’s the safe option and all other avenues of opportunity are closed off. And that’s why, if you are coming to LCFN without prior exposure to some of my previous escapades, it might all seem a little bit extreme. I prefer to call it pushing the boundaries.

With that story as a foundation, consider this week’s life on the road: ten trips, nine of them significantly below freezing and most of the trips into work running between -3C and -4C with a crusted white road surface to be avoided if at all possible. I found myself having to make up routes on the hoof to avoid the most dangerous surfaces, which merely brings other issues to the fore because unlit country roads around at this time of the year bring carry with them another deadly menace: potholes. To the locals of Stewarton who know the area, I’ve cycled Old Glasgow Road, the Clunch Road, the Fenwick road, the A77, the Little Loch Fisheries road and the Malletsheugh road. I’ve done the full gamut of routes north out of town in search of a safe passage.

And bagged 251 miles in the process.

Let me put this into some kind of perspective. I only lost one day to the weather in the whole of winter 13/14 so the spirit was clearly strong, even back then. But that January only splashed out 648 miles (I was on a mountain bike, right enough). I say only, but that was still a long way. Last January didn’t contribute much at all as I had my hernia op on the 14th and lost the rest of it (and February and most of March). Before this year, the most miles in a January week was 180, both in 2014. But LCFN is stronger now, having been on a spree of 200 mile weeks since the start of May 2015. That run is still going to this day and despite the desperately cold temperatures and treacherous roads this week, 251 miles, on top of five working days, is further confirmation that this juggernaut is just gonna keep on rolling all the way to the finish.

But there’s been another reason for taking it right to the edge this week: wee Kian.

Let me outline the spookiness of this story…

I started LCFN because of Oscar Knox, Vanessa Riddle and Mackenzie Furniss. Oscar passed away in May 2014 on the same day that I was on a 190 mile LCFN fundraiser from Motherwell to Inverness. What I didn’t know until months later, Eileidh Paterson, aka Princess Puddles, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma the day after Oscar died. Eileidh stays in Forres, which is roughly the same distance from Inverness as I am from Glasgow. In May of 2015, four of us cycled from Forres to Celtic Park to raise money for her DFMO treatment in the USA. One of the cyclists was my mate Kev. He and I go back 30 years to a time when we were both runners at Cumbernauld Athletics Club. Two weeks ago, Kev messaged me to say that there was a big story in the Daily Record about neuroblastoma, and that story was about Kian. His journey was the feature of last week’s LCFN blog and his mum Lisa has been keeping me up to date with his progress, specifically the fact that he was to undergo major surgery yesterday. And this is where the story starts to get a wee bit surreal…

Yesterday was the anniversary, to the day, of my hernia op last year: and we both came out of theatre at three o’clock in the afternoon.

If Lisa hadn’t taken her story to the newspaper, I wouldn’t be sat here writing this piece just now. But if Eileidh hadn’t got ill with neuroblastoma in May 2014, there wouldn’t have been a bike ride last May and Kev and I would probably still have been 30 years apart. And then there’s the Oscar connection with the dates. There’s a girl at my work who keeps telling me about the law of attraction, and how people and events happen… because they’re supposed to.

The law of attraction states that every positive or negative event that happened with you was attracted by you.

So I say to Lisa, Kian’s mum, that when you went to the Daily Record with Kian’s story, you set in motion a chain of events that brought LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma not just into your life but also into Kian’s life. It happened because according to the law of attraction, you made it so. When you went to the newspaper, it was in the hope of raising the money to get Kian to America for treatment. But we both know that there was another battle to be won before that could happen and the wee man took a major step towards winning that battle yesterday. I am thrilled for the whole of your family, and I will ask myself for evermore if the positivity of the last two weeks somehow contributed to the outcome. As bonkers as it sounds, something keeps telling me that wee Oscar passed a positive vibe through wee Eileidh and that that vibe is now with Kian. It’s as implausible as it is unlikely: yet the coincidences are totally unexplained by any other rational explanation.

And so to the coming weeks…

The plan is still to finish LCFN (in it’s current form) in Forres on May 8th. For that to happen, I need to be roughly 250 miles short of the 25,000 mile target by the time I leave Belfast on the 6th May. That’s only 3,080 miles away, at a daily asking rate of 43.6. The only thing, weatherwise, that’s going to mess with the schedule is snow and ice. For every day that I lose to the weather, you can add 0.7 of a mile onto each of the remaining days. A week of snow and ice would turn 43.6 into 47 a day in the blink of an eye. The schedule’s on a knife edge and I know it. It’s been one of the main drivers these past four or five months to turn May 8th from a remote possibility into an odds on probability. Right now, I’d say we’re winning.

And that is why, against all the odds, and the conditions, this week has effectively been Ice Station Yompa.