Andy’s Walk

Andy Wadsworth is raising money for Rett Syndrome Research UK by walking the Ridgeway, an ancient pilgrimage site. He’ll be walking 86 miles alone, camping with a bivvy bag and cooking one meal a day.

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Rett Syndrome effects young female children.  Imagine the symptoms of autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and severe anxiety disorders all developing inexorably in one little girl…

Rett Syndrome is the most physically disabling of the autism spectrum disorders. It strikes at random in early childhood, and parents watch their daughters lose their developmental milestones and slide into a life of helplessness and pain.

There is no treatment beyond supportive, and often ineffective, measures such as feeding tubes, bracing, orthopedic and GI surgeries, and medications for anxiety and seizures. First recognized only 25 years ago, the prevalence of Rett Syndrome equals that of Cystic Fibrosis, Huntingtons and Motor Neurone Disease but is vastly underfunded in comparison to those disorders.

Many girls live into adulthood, requiring total, 24-hour-a-day care.

The Rett Syndrome Research UK Trust is funding very promising research that may soon provide a cure for this distressing and diminishing syndrome.

If you have loved a little girl in your life, please support Andy by giving to the trust.

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And what was so difficult then…

smeathe's ridge

It’s 8:30 on Sunday morning, and Andy is already halfway through today’s walk. We’ve said we’ll pick him up at Avebury at 3:30. It might even be earlier.

It’s gone so easily.

Last year, it was a strain. He pushed himself very hard, told us that he’d do it all in four days. He wore himself out, walking and didn’t take care of his feet when they started to blister.

This year, he’s cruised it, doing over the recommended mileage every day without strain.

What’s changed?

He’s not any more fit…if anything he’s less. He’s still using the same equipment (but with better socks). Physically, nothing has changed.

Mentally, however, everything has. Last year, Andy was using the walk to test himself…he wasn’t entirely sure of himself, this new, mature self who had just reached the age of 50. We, like most of our generation, had rather assumed we’d die young, of rock and roll related causes, nuclear disaster or by other means. Listen to the music of the 80s. We were all about despair. We had no intention of becoming middle-aged and no way (except by denial – 50 is the new 30) of coping with the concept.

But this year, he’s got no need to test himself. He’s coped with some of the toughest challenges a man has to face…the illness and death of a loved one who depends on your care. He’s written and read beautiful eulogies at his parents’ funerals. He’s kept his work life and his life here at home going through it all.

Last year, Andy raised nearly £600. This year, he’s only raised about £30.

But this year, it’s just a walk. He’s got nothing to prove.

 

 

 

 

stones

…and then, nothing…

 

sunset

When a loved one is away, you go about as normal, don’t you? We’ve had one of Libs’ mates to stay and I was making pizza (not as good as Andy’s) and pootling about, baking cookies, doing laundry, hoping the recovered arms of the sofa really do match the rest of it, etc.

And then it got dark and my phone still hadn’t rung with a text.

You know how it goes. At first you think, ‘Maybe it’s not dark yet, up on the Ridgeway.’ And then, about half an hour later, you think, ‘Maybe he ran into a flesh-eating psychopath,’ having already gone through, ‘leg broken in rabbit hole incident’ and ‘lost solar charger’. My phone gets only intermittent reception  and it’s worse downstairs (old house, thick walls, O2), so I also thought, ‘perhaps when we go upstairs it will come.’

It didn’t. It didn’t come at 10:00, 12:00, 2:00, or 4:00. But at 6:15, when I’d given up on sleeping, I heard the familiar ting-ting.

Two texts at once. One saying goodnight and can I pick him up at Avebury tomorrow (today) and one saying, ‘Why didn’t you respond to my text?’ How blessedly irritating…still married, then…

 
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Punchbowl for Breakfast

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This is the Devil’s Punchbowl, by Sparsholt Firs on the 2nd leg of The Ridgeway National Trail. Andy’s doing The Ridgeway backwards, walking towards home…

He didn’t really have a punchbowl for breakfast. He didn’t have any breakfast at all. He made a quick cup of tea and got walking.

He walked 15 miles yesterday and climbed 1000 feet. This leg is 16 miles, but it’s all downhill. I know he’ll try and push past the beginning of the last leg. It’s a great day for walking, crisp and cool this morning with a shower predicted for the hottest part of the day. Andy said in his text that he was, ‘fairly comfortable’ last night (which means that he was terribly uncomfortable) and that the socks are ‘holding up brilliantly’ which means he doesn’t have any blisters.

Today, he’ll pass the White Horse of Uffington…

uffair

…familiar to all readers of Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series. It doesn’t look like a horse, he says, it looks like what a horse is. He’ll also pass many, many barrows.

Andy’s walking to raise money for Rett Syndrome Research. Rett syndrome traps girls into their own worlds. They can’t communicate with their loved ones as well as they could when they were babies. They are often hungry, with huge digestive problems. With his solo walk, sleeping alone and bound in his bivvy and with eating very little, Andy is both walking 19 miles today and trying to imagine a life with this terrible illness.

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A Bed With A View

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It’s the coldest night for a long time and Andy is somewhere in these woods, laying in his bivvy bag. If it’s not raining (it is here, and we’re only about sixty miles away), he can open the hood and look at the stars. I even found him a little mosquito net bag he can stick over his head, in case the midges attack.

It’s nine o’clock and he’s been asleep for at least an hour. He sent me the picture around 7 o’clock. He will have boiled his rice pack and snuggled down with a few custard creams. He doesn’t have a book to read and he shuts off his phone.  He just walks and eats and then sleeps. If he’s not sleepy, he hasn’t walked far enough, he says.

He walked far enough today. He did the whole third section of the trail, from Streatley to Wantage. He’s on the Ridgeway proper, now, the Neolithic pathway that was so important that walking it became a religious act. Great monuments were carved and heaped out of the earth along it. Kings and heroes were given barrow burials along it.

I’m warm in bed and reading a good book. And it is a bit cold and rather rainy outside. But I’m a little jealous of Andy’s bed with a view…

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bedroom

Back On The Trail

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Last October, Andy Wadsworth had to come off the 86 mile Ridgeway Trail. He’d been walking it in a week to raise money for Rhett Syndrome Trust, walking it alone, sleeping in a bivvy bag and boiling up rice for meals from his tiny stove. It was his 50th birthday celebration…something he felt like he needed to do.

He came off the trail unwillingly because his feet hadn’t held up. He had worn fist-sized holes in the skin over both Achilles tendons. He’d raised nearly £500 of his £1000 pound goal and used 3 of his 7 days.

Now, he’s going back to the place he stopped and continuing on.

A great deal has happened to Andy in the intervening time. He lost both his parents unexpectedly and very rapidly. His mother died just after Christmas. His father joined her just before Easter. Andy was their only child. Over this year, he’s carried quite a burden.

Now, he’s just carrying his pack. It’s meant to rain today and the summer, they say, is over. But Andy’s getting back on the Ridgeway trail where he got off…at Goring Station. He’s doing what we all have to do…he’s going on.

With better socks.

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The above image is a painting by the amazing Anna Dillion.

Pain Halts Play

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It was his feet.

The blister wasn’t on his ankle, it was on his heel. And it wasn’t little.

(Those with a nervous disposition might want to look away now.)

Image This was the ‘little blister on my right ankle’ that we heard of earlier in the week. Evidently, he liked it so much, he got the pair. The one on his left heel is just as bad.

When he got to Goring (of course he walked 17 miles with his feet in this condition), he rang me back. ‘Um,’ he said. ‘I’m hurting pretty bad. I don’t think I can do 55 miles over the next two days.’

‘Take a break,’ I suggested. ‘Do the rest later.’

‘But I’ve taken the time off work…and it’s about to be the Christmas rush.’

‘Finish it on weekends.’ I wonder if he can tell when I’m praying on the other side of the phone.

Long silence.

‘I could do that.’

And he will. Andy won’t let his sponsors or the Rett families down. Sometimes, though, you have to succeed in different ways than the way you planned.

Andy’s used three days of his week and has walked nearly halfway. He’s got four days more to do. Keep following the blog to find out how and when he finishes his challenge.

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Got to Get to Goring 51.530120214547 and -1.0772539764009.

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The text came around noon. ‘I’m at Nuffield,’ it started…

Nuffield meant Andy’d already walked 10 miles.

‘I’m going to try and get to Goring.’

That was another five miles.

‘I’m hurting a bit.’

Worrying. Andy never mentions his injuries or illnesses. I’ve had to hone my detective skills as Andy’s wife. I’ve asked why he’s holding his arm funny (second degree burn), demanded to see what came out of his mouth (half a tooth…he didn’t want to be bothered with the dentist) and tracked the smell of TCP to a grisly cut. If he’s actually written about hurting, he must be in agony.

I stifle the urge to rope in friends for child and dog care so that I can immediately drive to Goring.

Doing the afternoon’s emails, running Olivia to her ballet class and walking the dog, I am thinking about Andy. He so doesn’t want to fail in his challenge. But he is fifty years old. I’ve tried his phone about five hundred times.
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Shirburn Hill – 51° 39′ 11.9988 and 0° 58′ 0.0012

11 miles yesterday. The terrain was rough and it was the hilliest part of the trail. It rained heavily and there was a biting northerly wind. Andy lost his way  and says, that the mistake ‘cost me an hour and tons of energy.’ It must have done. It was 10 minutes to six pm when he sent his goodnight text and I could feel how tired he was by reading the message. By seven this morning, he was back on the trail.

If you look at the overall map of the trail..

…Andy’s now starting section four, the dark blue bit.

He’ll send us a photo later today. He’ll be walking through a woody bit, and he’ll like that. Not only will the trees provide some shelter, Andy has a natural affinity for woodland; it’s where he feels safest and happiest.

Andy knows that the pressure is now on. He says he’s planning to ‘make good progress’ today. Physically, he’s doing very well (especially considering he’s just turned 50 and hasn’t done a lick of training). The test now is more about Andy’s mental endurance. It’s not easy to keep believing that what you are doing is possible or desirable when you are walking (and sleeping, and eating) in the rain and cold. Andy knew that the first few legs would be the toughest and that the walking would be easier once he got to Oxfordshire. However, when you’re in the middle of a challenge, you can forget that kind of information and feel as though you aren’t doing well enough. Andy will need to keep his energy up; both his physical energy (his huge packet of custard creams that he snuck into his pack will help with that) and his mental energy.

Before the walk, we talked about him taking a break today for a cooked lunch at a pub; it’d be good for him to boost his calories right now. But he’s taken the money his daughter and I raised at a car boot sale for his spending money, and I know he wants to give most of that to Rett Research Trust UK. I’ll bet he makes due with his packet soups and biscuits…

Andy needs four hundred more pounds to make his goal.

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Coombe Hill 51°45′09″N 0°46′17″W

This was Andy’s bedroom last night – Coombe Hill, just West of Wendover – and Andy sent me the photo this morning. Coombe Hill is the highest point in the Chilterns and about 11 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon, where Andy started.  The hill has a very well-known Boer War monument on the top and, on a clear day, terrific views.

It’s on the outskirts of the Chequers Estate, the official country residence of Britain’s Prime Ministers.

Andy texts that the bivvy worked beautifully, but that a cow nibbled a bit on one of his feet. It didn’t hurt (him or the bivvy) and his feet are holding up well. His legs ache and he’s got a slight blister on his ankle (glad I made him take the blister plasters and paracetamol … wish I was there to make sure he uses them), but it seems to be going well.

Andy will need to pick up the pace if he is to accomplish what he’s asked of himself. He said Sunday that he’s not concerned with measuring how far he’s come. He’s using his Zen training: ‘No hindrance’ and ‘no making good or bad.’ ‘Just walk,’ he said, putting his hand between his eyes, and shooting it out in a decisive gesture. ‘I’ll just walk from early morning until it gets dark.’ But in his text message, he quoted the page of the trailbook he’s using to tell me where he was – and I know he’ll know exactly what he’s got to do to reach his goal. Today’s the toughest leg of the trail, with the largest ups and downs. It’s also due to rain heavily tonight. But nobody can help Andy get to his destination. It’s just his body and his mind that will get him there.

You can, however, help Andy with his main goal – raising £1000 for Rett Syndrome UK Trust. He’s got £622, including Gift Aid, so far.

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He’s Off…

Well, he didn’t start last night. You see Sunday morning, about nine o’clock, he decided he’d see if the old MSR Whisperlite was working. It wasn’t. So, he had to run into Bristol, after his duties at 10:30 Mass, to buy a stove.  (There was no time to service the MSR…they’re brilliant things, but temperamental…I think I’ve managed to light it without either swearing or burning myself twice in about 120,000 miles and twelve years).
After he finished packing, he lifted the pack. I looked at his face, and lifted it myself. ‘Hell!’ I said and looked at him carefully. ‘Have you got books in here?’ (Andy once hiked the Chiapas with a huge text on semiotics in his backpack. He never read it, but assured me he needed it.)
‘No!’ he said.
He went through the pack and discarded several tons of unnecessary weight. This took time.
Then he thought he might take his car to the end of the trail. This involved negotiations with the pub landlord and a pint. We got back into the car as large grey clouds moved in, and motored up the M4 towards Heathrow.
‘We’re not going to get there much before six,’ I observed.
Andy grunted.
‘It gets dark early when it’s this overcast.’
Sigh.
I drove for another five miles. ‘We could call the hotel and see if you could stay with us tonight…if they can move us from a twin to a triple.’
Silence.
‘There’s a steam room.’
Silence.
‘And I’ve already paid for two breakfasts and kids eat free.’
So Andy started off this morning about 10am with a tummy full of coffee, cooked breakfast and croissant. Libs and I got him to Ivinghoe Beacon, where he posed for this photo,
shouting, ‘This is for you, Rett Research!!!’
We were going to walk with him the first half mile or so. But the dog was being silly, and it was clear we were holding him back. So we hugged and said good luck and…
… he was gone.
The dog whimpered and fretted on the lead, barking after his Alpha. A half an hour later, Libs, Andy’s daughter, also started to cry.
‘Don’t be silly,’ I said to them both. ‘He’ll be fine.’
And I’m sure he will. I can still see the semiotics text in our bookshelves as I write. It went 45K miles that year; by plane, foot, bus, and Mexican second-class train. It survived a downpour in a rainforest, a curious pair of black bears and a memorable encounter with armed insurgents. But it made it here, to our home. And it still has its dust jacket.

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51.8420° N, 0.6058° W
Ivinghoe Beacon (Map below)

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