Out of the Comfort Zone – Spine Challenger

11/01/2017

Within anything there can come a time when you wonder “what next”. That can apply to your job, your home, your relationships… we get comfortable where we are, we feel safe… the parameters are pretty much “known”. It can be good to stay here to absorb everything we’ve learnt in life, to enjoy, to rest… but what about if you want “more”… if you want to challenge what you’ve become accustomed to, want to grow… well beyond that “known”… that’s when you go out of your comfort zone.

Change … It’s scary

Out of the comfort zone is not supposed to feel warm and snuggly and known. It’s most likely going to feel uncomfortable, hard… awkward… it’s going to trigger a whole heap of negativity as well. It can trigger self-doubt, anxiety, fear (whether that be emotional, mental, physical)… it makes you question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it… and all of this can mean we can set ourselves up to “fail”… it’s too hard, too scary… the goal might not be achievable… it’s easier to stay where we are… it’s where we feel strong and not weak, safe and not vulnerable…

And so it was that I decided to sign up for another race which would be a challenge. After all, if that’s what clients can do as I sit alongside them as their counsellor on their personal journeys… how can I not challenge myself from time to time, albeit in my own way? Walk my talk as it were… and in this case, it’s going to be quite literally! I’ve run in a bit of heat, and I’ve run (ok there was a lot of walking 😀 ) some long distances over the past few years. It’s been quite a journey. To go out of my “known” zone now, I need to do something I’ve not done before, and aim for something that may not be possible. After all, you can’t know what you don’t know (thank you Tom Jones for that little gem!).

I now find myself facing the very daunting task of setting foot on the start line of The Spine Challenger this weekend – have a look at http://thespinerace.com/msc/.

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For those that haven’t heard of this, it’s the first 108 miles of the Pennine Way, in the UK. In winter. It’s the “smaller” aka baby version of the main “Spine Race” which is the full Pennine Way of 268 miles. Now that’s a crazy race!! This should be sane by comparison right? I don’t do cold. I don’t like being cold. I’m one of the first to get the scarf and gloves out and layer up for the commute to work and one of the last to let them go. To willingly go into a cold race where risks include hypothermia (very common), ice burns on skin and frozen corneas (yep one guy was medically removed from the race for this I believe), where the temperatures are going to drop below freezing, where you could be wading or falling waist deep in snow… and do all that over 108 miles… it sounds pretty terrifying. An attritional hike is how one friend described it. And that’s without the sleep deprivation! You get 60 hours to complete the race, and that sounds way more than enough. It’s not. People DNF on the cut-offs due to the terrain, and the risks already mentioned. I’ve heard for the main Spine Race, one winner didn’t sleep for 2-3 days. How is that even possible?

The stats for Spine Challenger are:

Distance: 172km
Ascent: 5637m
Descent: 5636m
Max elevation: 695m (Pen y Ghent)

There is one checkpoint at 73.9km in. You have to run with a pack with a lot of mandatory equipment, which is due to the safety requirements (I’m dreaming of around 6kg at the moment) – haven’t dared weigh my pack properly because I know it’s likely to be much heavier, and am just praying I can get everything in. I may have to sit on it as I did with my suitcase for the dropbag stuff. I’m not even sure if there are a couple of points for water… the streams are going to come in handy, as is the water filter I rapidly bought – there’s a lot of sheep out on those hills.

Did I mention the route marking? There is none. This is a national trail and you have to navigate, map and compass. Handheld GPS is also required, and often needed due to the fact you could be on a whiteout on some of the “hills” and can’t see the occasional flagstones or “trail path”… or pretty much anything to be honest!

Kinder Scout – Peak District South 2 North, Ranger Ultras
Photo credit: Peter Owen

A lot of runners who enter this race have either years of running experience or a background of being outdoors, hiking, mountaineering, love the cold etc… so how does a townie with only a few years of running prepare for something they know nothing about? I take you back to the post about accessing your tool box or “kit list” (which can be found here). So in this case it’s:

Physical:
Training – sessions with my coach and following my training schedule that he writes for me
Testing kit – there’s a lot of kit, and then there’s even more. You need to test what you’re going to be using in as similar conditions as possible
Recce – checking the route you will be running, although it could look a lot different depending on the weather conditions

Pyschological:
Goal – you have to know what you’re aiming for and set a realistic goal
Expectations – modifying these as you learn
Self-awareness – know your weaknesses and strengths and how to minimise/utilise to your best advantage

Knowledge:
Past experience – use what you already have as a foundation
Learn – get help where you feel you have weaknesses

Emotional:
Support – ensure you have the right support around you, from those you learn from to those in your inner circle as it were
Positivity – if you’re around people who bring you down, how will that help you? Be around those who encourage, want the best for you
Drive – call it what you will… the human spirit… a yearning… a chest-thumping feeling in the very heart of your self… that call to adventure… it’s what can carry you through some of the dark parts…

My coach has been fantastic with numerous pep talks and encouragement, and he (alongside others) have also reminded me about the positive skills I have from the past (basic navigation and first aid (should the worst happen) from the Army, albeit a few decades ago), just over 3.5 years of running, 3 stage races… numerous other ultras/challenges… I’ve also finished two Centurion Running 100 milers now so it’s only (ha!) another 6ish miles longer than my longest race. I’m also hoping to run this alongside one of my tentmates from the Marathon des Sables (he couldn’t get time off to do the full one, crazy man!). I have the experience of few severe “hills” from a recent race which I didn’t finish: the CCC (more on that in another post).

The Spine Race also hosts a training weekend so I trotted along to the Peak District for that, where I met some really great people for the first time and got the chance to catch up with another MdS tentmate who’s doing the full race. They had various speakers (Richard Lendon in particular stuck in my head – “it’s not a race” complete with pictures of several full Spine Race starts where he’s flying over the start line!) over the weekend, plus the chance to get out on a nearby training loop, and where they test you on a variety of skills (such as bivvying out, distance & timing, the use of your stove – I think I nearly blew mine up – first time I’d used it *oops*). The coordinator for the Spine safety team (Stu Westfield) also hosts races, training, and guides expeditions, see here for his website. His courses includes Spine specific ones. Due to my nervousness and lack of experience especially around navigation, I wanted to attend these, but unfortunately time and travel didn’t allow. However there’s usually a second option, and in this case I booked Stu for a 1-2-1 over two days up in the Peak District. This was very good and I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone considering doing the same. Usually you’d go away after a day of full on navigation and absorb before going back and putting into practice, but I didn’t have that option. So the second day out, the aim was to move and navigate a lot faster. Which it was. Although compared to most, I’m probably still extremely snail-like 😀 But that, combined with Stu’s everlasting patience, meant that I got the train home feeling more confident, and meant some of the more “negative voices” were being drowned out. Every little helps!

Fast forward two weeks, and there was a race to be used as a “training run” – the Peak District South 2 North, which is a 100k self-navigational race over two days. A local running friend who has also signed up for Challenger had highlighted this to me a while back, so I agreed to run the second day (Dark Peak Challenge) with him as it was on most of the route for Challenger. However two days before the race, he had to pull out due to injury, so I trotted off on my own. Daunting was an understatement. It was an utter and complete wake-up call, plus the weather was so bad that they had to abandon the wilderness sections and we followed just the Pennine Way. Over 13 hours to get through less than 29 miles, lack of visibility, waist deep snow in parts, icy rocks, windy, not much to run on and no lovely flagstones in sight. See the picture above for the beginning up on Kinder! There was also lots of falling over, breaking new trail, sliding down parts on my backside for safety and at one point in the dark we got lost and ended up on the edge of what appeared an abyss… looking down into a sheer drop of blackness. I refused to go down for fear of injury and never getting back up! Thanks to the navigation skills of the guys I was with, we ended up contouring round and got to where we needed to be. When I say huge wake-up call, what I really mean is had I done this before signing up to Challenger… I wouldn’t be hitting the start line on Saturday because I would never have signed up for it! So for anyone who wants a “taster” be sure to try Stu’s race first!

Another tool that was due to be added into my “toolbox” was a recce on course, however the person I was meant to be going with, and who would be driving, dropped out. Extortionate train fares (everyone in the UK would probably nod their heads in agreement at that description)… meant I then had to forgo this, so instead I figured some more nav awareness would be key. Luckily the director of a race I did only a month earlier, and who coincidentally is also on the Spine safety team, lives not too far a distance from me. If you’re in the Essex area you have probably already come across, or heard of, Lindley Chambers of Challenge Running. Lindley came down and helped me to work out how to use my handheld GPS, how to load up the gpx files, and how to plot some of my own basic courses. Highly recommend his tuition, which can be booked via his website. Unfortunately I’ve not had much time to practice with it, but again… every little helps and you have to start somewhere!

And then there’s support: well as I mentioned earlier, I’m planning on doing this challenge with my tentmate from MdS, James (front of picture)… and there will also be two others doing the full Spine (Lee (behind me) and Gwynn (number 501)) so hopefully we will get the chance to catch up pre-race…

329Half of Tent 117, Start Line
Charity stage – 30th Marathon Des Sables 2015
Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

… and The Spine is up North… not too far from where a certain incorrigible person lives, who helped to start me on this whole ultra running lark. Had I not had Helen’s support in Sierra Leone (and encouragement to switch races), who knows whether I’d have moved up to ultras at all! She and her other half are coming down to see us off the start line, and (hopefully) over the finish line. Then there’s all the others who have helped and encouraged along the way, fellow competitors who have emailed and offered advice and help… this race creates a family where everyone wants everyone else to do their best, and do not hesitate to look after each other (and rescue them *eek*) when things get bad!

So now race day approaches rapidly. Reality is kicking in especially when it comes to expectations. Doing the PS2N means I am being very realistic about chasing cut-offs yet again, the wake-up call regarding terrain was much needed however as we are now only days away, there isn’t much more that can be added into the toolbox. The weather is predicted to be snowy, wet, gale force winds, black ice, gnarly, boggy and with plummeting temperatures… aka a nasty start. Winter on the Pennines… why would you expect anything else 😉

For anyone that wants to track some sane (Challenger) and crazy (Full Spine) racers, check out http://spine.opentracking.co.uk/race/ – it starts with the Challenger on Saturday at 0800 hours, and the full Spine on Sunday! I’ve already started carb-loading… or as one friend literally said to me this afternoon when she read my draft post… “Have you ever stopped!”… how rude 😀

When it comes to goals… to challenges…

Dare to dream it, plan it… learn, grow… you never know where one decision may take you… just who you might inspire… who might think that “because she or he can “do it”, so could I”.

Challenger start line… here I come! Please don’t be too cold…

Wishing you a great week ahead 🙂
Michelle

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Song of the Week

15/11/2015

Seal – Life On the Dancefloor


You

26/08/2015

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You

You are…

who
what
how you choose

to be
to see
to feel
to believe.

What others think
or want to see
or you to be
is irrelevant.

They don’t wipe your kids tears from their eyes
they don’t look after your parents when they’re sick
they don’t cuddle your pets

they’re not the ones who…
live in your body
feel your emotions
think your thoughts.

It’s not their face looking back in the mirror
it’s not their life you are living
so why should you adopt
their hopes
their dreams
their wishes
their demands
their fears
their beliefs?

You are
wholly
totally
unique
in this world.

How wonderful that is!

Your Heart
Your Hopes
Your Dreams
Your Abilities
Your Possibilities

Your Amazing Potential.

You are your own home.

Make your home loveable
liveable
comfortable
warm
accepting.

After all
it’s where you will be
for life.

Words: © August 2015 Michelle Payne
Photo: 123rf.com


What is Hell

25/03/2015

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What is Hell?

The word
it conjures
red flames and heat
where fears abounds
and Pain is all.

There a devil sits
upon his throne
wielding a mighty club
denouncing sinners
as they run amok
and have a ball.

But this is just imagery
unknown
no science
almost a cartoon
a visual…
held in minds
pinned by Fear
a place to visit
or be cast
for when we think
our last breath will have eventually passed.

But what if it is real?
What if it isn’t a dim and distant land?
Swathed in mist
obscure and hidden
a place, if we’re honest
most don’t think we will ever see or visit
let alone dwell in its’ darkened depths!

What would it look like
… if it were real?
What would it contain?
Would it have colour
or be black, white, even grey?
Be a cacophony of noise
movement and pain
drudgery with no play?

What if it were pure emptiness
silence
a hole in time
suspended
amid absolute nothingness
a total absence?

No feeling
no breathing
no warmth
no hope
no life giving spark.
Just…
a total and utter void?

What if those we know
our friends
our loved ones
in their minds
were in this place?
Stuck
alone
no light
no happiness
no inner glow.

Would you then think
maybe even consider…
what strength
what courage
what amazing skill
it takes to live?
To breathe
to choose to enter each day
each affray?
Pushing through
existing
trying
looking for a ladder to climb…

Out from a pit
a hole
a cavern
a place so deep
just imagining it
could make you want to weep?

Would you listen?
Would you hold?
Would you dare to be bold?
Would you open your heart
open your mind
offer your soul?
Give those who suffer
a brief respite
by acting as a buffer?

What if Hell indeed is a place on Earth?

Words © March 2015 Michelle Payne
Picture: 123rf.com


Challenge 3 of 3 – Grand2Grand Ultra – Arrival

22/03/2015

Life has been so hectic that I’ve not really had enough spare time to just sit down and post about the last part of my Triple Continent Challenge.

Last, but by no means least!

GRAND TO GRAND ULTRA
http://www.g2gultra.com

Mostly this was due to the fact that after Madagascar, I had such little time between the two events… 15 days from finish line in Madagascar to start line at the edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and that was to include work, flying time as well as a couple of days acclimatisation in Kanab, Utah. So, how to sum up such an Adventure?

Some words and phrases I associate with Grand2Grand or g2g as it’s more commonly known:

amazing
inspiring
iconic
bloody hard
a once in a lifetime experience
growth
change
camaraderie
pain
fun
adventure
challenging
sand
sand
more sand
how far to the next checkpoint
are we there yet
more sand
HEART
SOUL
LOVE
FRIENDSHIP

The premise, 273km from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase, carrying everything you need for the week in a pack on your back. When I signed up I didn’t have much knowledge as to what ultrarunners did… I thought they all did these stage races, so why not do two. How hard could it be? I really must learn not to ask that question in future! The answer is usually: A LOT!

A group of us who had met up previously, gathered at the Airport and celebrated the start of this journey with a few glasses of champagne: not your usual liquid of choice for hydration but it worked just fine at that point 🙂

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Of course, runners adapt when a sudden dash onto the plane is needed and the bottle isn’t empty… (disclaimer: not naming and shaming, but this isn’t my bottle!)…

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On arrival in Kanab, the residents were fantastic: we were not only warmly welcomed but very kindly looked after during the few days we spent there pre-race: a flight over the town (thanks Dave), sports massage (thanks Marilyn) and a visit to a local animal sanctuary – the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Now I missed the animal sanctuary visit and really wish I had been able to get there, probably one of only two regrets I have from the trip but I will definitely be visiting the next time I’m in Kanab because the work they do is absolutely amazing. Check out: http://bestfriends.org/ – they are a leader in the no-kill movement and their sanctuary is one of the USA’s largest animal rescue organisations!!

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Kit and paperwork checks were completed in Kanab with a fab final meal catered and then the next day it was out to the first camp at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Words do not do the land justice. Pictures do not do it justice. The photos I have from that day show me stood at the edge but they just cannot convey the sheer scale, size and feeling of actually being there. The only way to feel it is to go there!

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The feeling of excitement was palpable throughout the camp, from the moment we all arrived in jeeps, to getting our kit organised and space chosen in our tents on that first night, to having a catered last supper right there in the middle of nowhere… absolutely superb!

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What a view!

And then storm clouds appeared… cue a sudden dash for tents!  Luckily it passed as quickly as it arrived but I did wonder if that was a portent of things to come.  Event, course, safety and medical talks were given and then as it darkened it was time to get some sleep.  Until I realised a group of people had converged amid some squeaks… now I had heard there were creepy crawlies… what I hadn’t expected was a huge furry tarantula!  Actually I felt sorry for the poor thing… there it sat on the sandy ground encircled by huge humans shining their headtorches onto it… until it moved and then I scampered back to my tent promptly… double-checking the base of the tent was secured against entry should it, or its’ friends, decide to invade!

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Finally Stateside… and the adventure was about to begin…

Check back to hear how it went!
Michelle

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


If You Want to Change the World, Love a Man

24/09/2014

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If You Want to Change the World, Love a Man

If you want to change the world, love a man, really love him.
Find the one whose eyes are like blazing suns,
that make you look away the first time,
that pierce right through you,
blinding you to everything but the moment,
melting you into a puddle of soft pastel light,
even though you cringe at the color, pink.

The one who stops your thinking,
who sends your lashes fluttering
and all the blood rushing to your cheeks.
The slow-to-speak-one,
whose smile is like a flute,
who summons honey bee songs,
blossom songs and morning bird songs
with his listening.

The fallen-sky-one with the mark on his back,
where he lost his feathers from flying too close to a star.

The broken one in search of his wings,
who tells you the story of how to make fire.

If you want to change the world, love a man
beyond your fear of being burned.

Beyond unforgiveness and the walls you’ve built
to protect your sovereignity and anonymity.

Love him beyond old wounds and lies
you believed to be truth,
the hole in your heart from an absent father,
the scar on your sacred flower left by thieves.

Beyond past lives and the memory
you keep like a shrine to betrayal
when you fell to your knees in the ashes of your village,
and love became a field of bones.

Lift your darkened face to him who stands before you.
Take his hand and let him raise you to your feet.

Trust him to hold you as you tremble and weep in his arms for all that has been lost and found in this holy instant.

If you want to change the world, love a man
Beyond your faithlessness
and your secret hatred of humanity
Beyond all your judgment and self righteous projection.

The stone on your heart is as ancient
as the thought that you had to deny His existence
to know your power.

You are no less God than you ever were.
Man is no more guilty than Woman is innocent.

Love him for bearing the burden of desire in his sex
so your temple could remain whole unto itself-
for taking on the split aspect of mind
that seemed to abandon the oneness of heaven
so that you might know the joy of Its extension.

Love the ecstatic, primal root
castrated by religion as the root of all evil-
the channel of divine creative impulse-
that sparks the seeds of life, death and birth
from the womb of space and time.

Love the humble guardian and warrior
Man has been to Woman
even as he hunts her,
even in his drive towards self gratification,
which ultimately is the portal to soul union.

Love the violator who holds the mirror
to everything you have disowned within yourself-
so that all your desire, your creative impulse
may be freed
from the chains of separation, lack and guilt
and you can finally trust your Self.

If you want to change the world, love a man
in all his instinctual animal nature,
in all his hunger and devotion to beauty.

Love him beyond your vanity and pridefulness,
your gilded possessiveness and need to special-
beyond your well thought out conditions for safety
and all your concepts of how a man
should be in relationship.

Love him beyond your anger at not getting your way,
beyond your terror of not knowing or being in control.

Love him in his relentless pursuit
to penetrate the deepest sanctuaries within you,
that hold the chaos of your strongest emotions,
your carefully guarded secrets of separation
between light and dark, virgin and whore,
man and woman, spirit and form.

Love him for opening the door to sensuality,
to your primordial self that is beyond duality,
for binding you to pleasure
even as the air closes in around you,
even as you writhe with madness,
cursing your incarnation as the enemy-
even as you contract and claw,
crying out in despair, such joy it brings.

Love him for not yielding
to your resistance to surrender-
for standing in his masculine power
even as you threaten to destroy him.

If you want to change the world, love your man
for leaving you to live his purpose,
whether it’s for a day, a week, months or years.

Love him for breaking his own heart over and over-
for holding the tension and balance
of polarity and intimacy,
of distance and closeness.

Love his need for silence and solace-
for keeping some of his mystery to himself-
not that he has anything to hide,
but so you will always have surprises!

Love his evolutionary nature
that seeks new experiences,
that can never be satisfied-
for his boundless curiosity,
that if allowed to be free
might be your own liberation
from complacency.

Love him for shining independently
from the seat of his own majesty-
for not needing, yet choosing you
from a place of knowing his magnificence.

Love him for being your patient direction and destiny-
for returning to you
your own brightness through the dark night-
for helping you to remember
the one and only relationship you’ve ever had
and tried to forget-
for bringing you to that vulnerable, powerless
abiding place of surrender
you’ve been afraid of and waiting for all your life-
where you can finally be consumed by Love-
where you can finally be claimed by God.

by Lisa Citore
Picture found circulating freely online


Challenge 2 of 3 – Done!

18/09/2014

I don’t have a lot of time tonight as at the time of drafting this, it’s only a matter of hours before I’m off to the airport… time to get to the States for the next part of my challenge, so a brief update really.

Racing the Planet / 4 Deserts – Roving Race – 250 km across Madagascar

WOW!

If you had to sum up a whole experience into one word, that is what springs to mind when I think of what I’ve just done.  Followed by silence as I think of how to adequately describe what has been just an absolutely amazing time in my life.

It was not easy and I think that overall, it was a good job I had no experience to base my expectations on, because if I’d known quite how tough it would be, how ill I would feel in parts, and some of the mental challenges, then I may not have been so quick to sign up.  That being said, I think it went really well for my first stage run… and yes, I finished it.

One thing I really liked was the comms/cyber tent package… it meant that not only could you read emails from people who wanted to send you support and to let you know they were thinking about you, but I also had a blog, so folks back home could not only see updates from Racing the Planet/4deserts, but also get to have a brief snapshot of what you were experiencing.  We didn’t have access to it after the end of Stage 5, so if anyone has sent emails that I haven’t acknowledged, my apologies.  They will be sent to us once the admin staff get a moment to catch their breath.  If anyone hasn’t read them, wants to, or wants to read my thoughts during the stages, as well as an extra one I added last week once I was back in the country, please go visit this page, and click on my surname:

http://www.4deserts.com/beyond/madagascar/blogs

It wasn’t all running… on some of the terrain that was not possible… there was walking, a bit of climbing, wading through rivers, trying not to get stuck in mud and rice fields, fall off log bridges, and hopping around on the spot when stung by some kind of buzzy thing… there were tears, laughter, a lot of smiling… there were falls, injuries, sickness… there was walking and star gazing through the night, fantastic awesome scenery, there were blisters… my god how many blisters… nearly everyone I think had some and by the end of the week as everyone went to get hot water for drinks and dinner, it seemed as if everyone was hobbling.

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But over and above that, I believe there are two things which make these events what they are… one being the individual’s drive to challenge themselves, to not give up, to achieve… to battle whatever dark moments they have, to enjoy the lighter ones and then often reaching out to others to help them do the same… and the main one, quite simply, the people.  Because it’s the people you meet, how you get on, that create the whole experience: both the individual aspects and the collective: your tent mates, the people you talk to a little bit, the people you talk to a lot, those you help and those who help you… an experience like this, it seems to strip everything away… all the materiality, the day to day aspects of life that often we allow to pile on top of us until what we truly want, who we truly want or crave to be, gets swallowed whole by responsibility, belief patterns, expectations of the self and others, by the necessities of the life that we have created. On an experience like this, we can strip that away and see who we truly are… it allows us time to be reflective and face our fears, our worries, our demons… it gives us space to think, to feel… to just be.  Is it like that for others? I don’t know… these are just my thoughts as I type… I’m sure there will be many more once I actually take time to “stop”, let everything assimilate and review the whole journey I’ve been on.

I am extremely glad I jumped into this, and that Madagascar was a starting point for me… what a wonderful adventure to start with! The memories it has given me, the experience for what I am thinking of potentially doing in the future… but mainly, the amazing people I’ve met and become friends with and who I hope will be in my life for a long time to come, and not forgetting the overall memories that I am left with. If anyone is considering doing something like this, then I would say absolutely, go for it, without a shadow of a doubt.

Now, it’s time to get psyched up and ready for Grand to Grand! 273km from the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase. The feet are still somewhat painful… the shoulders are still bruised, and the pack this time seems even heavier… I blame the increase in my blister kit rather than sweets in my daily rations 😉

And once again a reminder… that I am also trying to raise funds and awareness for the UK charity Refuge… who help people get out of domestic abusive / violence relationships and to safety. If you would like to share on social media, with friends, with family… my charity page link is: http://www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne4.

Wishing you all a great week ahead.
Michelle

© September 2014 Michelle Payne


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