STORY : THE JOURNEY TO TREK26
“If you can, you should.” Battling chronic illness to take on a charity challenge.
When I saw Now on Earth was looking for contributors, my initial reaction was one of ‘my story is not exciting enough’. Then I thought about it some more and wondered if perhaps, this is the sort of story that reaches into the minds of others who, like me, have often felt incapable or unable to climb a mountain. So here I am.
Rewind three years to August 2019, I am at my son’s birthday party (and unbeknown to anyone other than my husband and I, experiencing a miscarriage) when suddenly, I felt incredibly unwell. I cannot fully explain how I felt, but it was akin to an out-of-body experience that worsened significantly over the next couple of hours, resulting in an ambulance trip to the hospital, and hearing the words ‘Get the crash pack out!’ from the paramedic. Little did I know this was just the beginning.
Over the coming weeks and months, I went from working 50-hour weeks and raising three children, to frequent ‘episodes’ of confusion, losing control of my right leg, difficulty speaking, memory loss, and terrible fatigue, among other things. I was bed bound for periods of time, only getting out to do the bare minimum (if I could remember what that was), or to swap the bed for the sofa. All of a sudden I was a prisoner in my home. I couldn’t hold a conversation of any length. Some days I could just about walk to the end of my road and back, other days I could go further, but would need to ‘recharge’ part way through, and any activity would mean I would be back in bed for hours. After months of doctor’s visits, brain scans, and tests, I was finally diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) in January 2020. The consultant was wonderful and gave me advice on how to manage this illness, which basically meant I had to retrain my brain to react differently at the onset of an episode – not very easy when you’re feeling spaced out, I can tell you – and eventually I should be able to live normally again.
Fast forward to 2021, almost two years on, and I have had more rough days/weeks than I care to mention. I am utterly fed up with living a life that is less than I want and am constantly looking for ways to change it. I adore being outside, and with my darling Grandad diagnosed with Dementia, along comes a charity challenge; Trek26 – 26 miles over the Brecon Beacons to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Scoiety. ‘I can do that!’ I say to myself, on a day that must have been a particularly good day, one of those where you can take on the world. I dismissed any thought of how I would manage that with FND. And so I found myself signed up for a 26-mile hike. The furthest I’d probably managed in recent years was 5 miles, and then I had to sleep for a couple of weeks afterwards. (You think I’m joking?) ‘Are you mad?’ I wondered. Well, it may have been said, once or twice.
Suddenly, I felt incredibly unwell. I cannot fully explain how I felt, but it was akin to an out-of-body experience.
Training was hampered by illness, and fortunately for me, Covid restrictions meant that the trek in 2021 was postponed to a date in September, which we could not make. I secretly breathed a sigh of relief but was also aware that this was a charity hike that people had contributed to, and therefore I needed to fulfill my obligation. At one point I swapped Trek26 for my own monthly walking challenge, but quickly realised due to my unpredictable illness I was setting myself up for failure. I was stuck, I couldn’t make Trek26, I couldn’t keep up with my monthly challenge. People had donated to the cause, and I was doing nothing other than proving the naysayers right – I couldn’t do it! I was constantly frustrated at the situation; I would push myself on good days and then have multiple bad ones as a result. It was a recipe for disaster.
Fast forward again to sometime in 2022, and I am having noticeably more good days than bad days now. Retrospectively, I can see there has been an upward trajectory since 2019, but I hadn’t realised until now, when I sometimes have ‘normal’ days, quite how rough I had felt on a day-to-day level. I was aware Trek26 was coming up again. I had thought about taking on their September challenge in the Cotswolds, but quite frankly it felt like a cop-out. The whole point of signing up for this was to push myself out of my comfort zone. The Cotswolds would be long, but the terrain wasn’t challenging, and it didn’t make me feel excited like Brecon did.
Then I discovered my dear school friend Jenny was terminally ill. Jen was one of those people you’d never expect to be ill. She was fit and healthy; never drank or smoked and yet here she was with multiple brain tumours and lung cancer at 37 years old. Following her diagnosis, Jen did not let any of this stop her. She soon set about organising multiple challenges and fundraisers – check out Wellerfest on social media, they are doing great things! She even climbed Snowdon, as best as she could with an oxygen tank in tow. That was the catalyst for me, if Jen could do all these amazing things with barely any lung capacity, I could bloody well get off my backside and complete the trek that I signed up for last year. So I found myself signing my husband and I back up to trek 26 miles across the Brecon Beacons.
July 2nd 2022 came along; we’re leaving our accommodation at 5:20am to join the start line and embark on this walk. Not for the first time I think I have made a terrible mistake, but am eager to get going and climb this mountain. Annoyingly the route has changed this year, and our summit is now Fan Y Big, which is not quite high enough to be classed as a mountain, but I’ll take it anyway. During the two weeks prior to this event, I had my worst relapse in months. I was not as prepared as I would have liked, as I had not been able to do very much walking at all during that time, and the tiredness… I wasn’t ready, I still felt rotten, and I knew I was going to have to dig very deep to get to the finish line.
I wasn’t ready, I still felt rotten, and I knew I was going to have to dig very deep to get to the finish line.
I was not wrong! The first 4.5 miles were a steep uphill and we were overtaken by almost everybody, while I had multiple rest stops to slow the woozy feeling or catch my breath. My long-suffering uber-fit husband James was incredibly patient and kept me going the whole day, hats off to him. I experienced such a range of feelings that day, from anger and frustration right through to the elation when we hit the summit, and the hope that it was all downhill from there (it wasn’t). The beautiful scenery that surrounded us as we walked was something to behold, and I am so thankful that we got to witness it.
Once we reached the summit, things got a little bit easier. I had walked 16 miles during training so I knew I would be fine until at least that point. So long as my feet didn’t blister up and my legs could keep moving, all would be good. (Happy to report, I taped my toes and feet up and only got one blister, which I could have prevented. James on the other hand…) We enjoyed a more relaxed walk, taking in the scenery of the mountains and Talybont reservoir as we walked. There were mile markers along the route and those kept me going throughout! Needing a wee, we neared our first rest stop. However, as we rounded the corner, we spotted it was off the route. James and I looked at each other. ‘How desperately do you need a wee? Can you wait for the lunch stop?’ We (or more, I) were digging deep enough to get through this and did not want to walk a metre further than was necessary, so we carried on to the next stop a few miles further along. Here we stopped, grabbed some much-needed fuel and James taped up his feet. (I wasn’t the one to remind him that he should have done this before we started, honest.) There was a wonderful atmosphere among everyone, people in pain and suffering yet everyone still smiling, remembering why we were there. It was here that I overheard a fellow hiker saying there was a tough uphill at the end. Bugger…
After a quick stop we carried on again, and once we’d got passed 13 miles, I felt so much excitement knowing that with each mile we were getting closer to the end than the start! Fortunately, we were able to get a few flat miles in along the canal path, and then through Brecon itself, which gave us some time to recover our muscles a bit. However, I enjoyed this section the least, as it was not so pretty or awe-inspiring. As we came out of Brecon, we took a path that led us uphill, steep but not too long. ‘That wasn’t so bad’, I thought to myself, ‘we’re on the home stretch now’. By this point I was pretty done; I was knackered and feeling very dazed. And with that, we turned a corner to discover a steep, seemingly never-ending uphill path. I could have cried. The last 2 miles or thereabouts, were all uphill, and just as you thought you’d reached the top, you’d discover there was more. It was steep and uneven, and quite frankly, after 24 miles of walking, it felt like some sort of sadist joke! There was a medic on his motorbike patrolling up and down, checking no one needed assistance. I can see why, there was a point at which I genuinely thought I was going to collapse. That hill took me a long time to get up, and we had to stop frequently. I was frustrated because until that point we’d clawed back our walk after the dodgy start, and were making good time. James’ patience continued but I could tell he wanted to sprint to the end.
Eventually we made it to the top of the hill, and the last stretch was a country lane back to the field where we’d started. Further ahead we could see a chap on his own, hobbling slowly along. We had passed each other multiple times during the day, and knew that up until now he had been walking with a group of mates. James and I turned to each other ‘Lets walk with him until the end, we’re not leaving him to walk alone.’ And so we did. This chap had picked up an injury, was really suffering and thoroughly fed up. We walked and chatted with him that last section (probably a mile, the walk was longer than 26 miles, closer to 27), and got to the finish line together where his mates were waiting for him. Finally we had made it!
It was so much harder than it could have been, due to how ill I had felt in those two previous weeks, but we made it in one piece. We’d experienced wind, rain and blistering sun, felt a whole array of emotions, from despair to euphoria, but ultimately I put my mind to something and completed it, despite all that was thrown at me. As Jen would say ‘If you can, you should.’ I could, so I did! I enjoyed the experience so much (in a slightly sadistic sort of way), that I am looking for more challenges, and 2023 is set to be filled with a few more, slightly different challenges. Like I said at the beginning, this may not be an exciting, adrenalin-filled story, but maybe it will inspire somebody who feels like getting out there is impossible.
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I’m Becci Turle, mum to 3 children with neurodiversities, based on the UK’s south coast, living with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) and Lipoedema. Having been a mum my entire adult life, it is only recently I have truly harnessed my love of the outdoors and begun embarking on activities that refill my own cup. Hiking and Paddleboarding are particular passions, along with all things nature. I’m keen to move my career in a direction that aligns with these passions and am due to begin studying an Environmental Science degree later in 2023.