Friday, 30 January 2015

Exo skeleton

In the 6 months since I left Singapore, my levels of neuropathic pain and spasticity have increased substantially. The main causes, I'm told, are the colder weather here in the UK and the constant stair climbing in the house we chose for our first year in Bath. These issues have worsened my gait - less knee lift, more toe drop, less stability, greater trip risk, and now I walk with a stick, having gone more than two years without any walking aids. I think this is temporary, and I'm working with my physio on a program that is helping, but I need to find a way through this as soon as I can, and to get back on track.

Today I start a 10 session program with an exo skeleton. The exo is a wearable, bionic suit originally deigned for military applications but now also used to help people with paralysis stand, walk and retrain step patterns. Here's a link to the developer's web site.

There are several reports that users are experiencing other improvements with SCI issues - bowel and bladder control, pain and spasticity. Its very early days for the technology and there are no clinical studies and no guarantees, but there is hope that it will help me.

I'll post videos and updates as I go. Wish me luck!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Pangong Lake

The last three of Scott's photo's, taken by the side of Pangong Lake. Pangong is probably the most remote and achingly beautiful place I've ever had the privilege to visit, and a fitting place to end the trek. I've uploaded photos of the lake previously, so check out prior posts for those images. 

These photos mean just as much, if not more, as they show the celebrations of a group of people who came together as friends or acquaintances on a project, and left after an amazing experience with bonds that run deep.

Scott Woodward, thank you for making these fantastic images. I know that the people who have seen them so far have enjoyed them very much. Hopefully they will get the bigger platform they deserve.

So now we wait for the release of the films. The Johnnie Walker team tell me they will go live some time in March. Its been a long time coming and frustrating wait. You'll soon get to see the incredible work of Mike Rogers, Meghan Shea, Deepak Chaturvedi and team. Its worth the wait. I promise!

Day 6 - the last day of the trek

A short, easy trek out of the valley to join the vehicles waiting to take us on the 8 hour journey to our post trek R&R by Pangong Lake on the border with Tibet. 

Alan and Rigzin went ahead and suspended prayer flags over the road to form our surprise finish line, and the start of our celebrations. 

I held it together for a little while, even as Greg and I thanked Alan, with his great big heart, for all he'd done. 

And then, as I walked away towards the cars, I was hit by a train of 3 years of accumulated emotion, by the realisation of how hard I'd worked and who I'd become, and by a sense of enormous gratitude for my good fortune. 

It was a huge moment for me, and it was great to be surrounded by those who had made it all happen. Greg, Angie, Viv, Alan, Rigzin, Mike, Scott, Deepak, Priyanka - thanks guys!

Day 5: Hemis Shukpachan to Ang

The most challenging day of the trek. 9.6km, over two high passes. Greg was recovered and the group was well rested and recharged after our scheduled two night stay at Hemis Shukpachan, where we were blessed by the warm hospitality, great food and colourful entertainment from Stanzin Noryang and her family.  

We moved on through ever more spectacular scenery, reaching the start of the ascent to Mebtak La, at 3,900m the high point of the trek, a long, lung-busting slog up steep, switchback paths that were covered in the finest scree, and in parts no wider than our boots. 

This was a mighty climb. It called on every ounce of our physical strength, and all the determination, resilience and courage that Greg and I had accumulated over the years. Greg had to climb this whole route sideways, and he will always be thankful to Rigzin who scrambled alongside but downhill of him in the sand, using his boot to re-inforce every sideways step of Greg’s crutches. 

Up ahead, Alan kept me moving safely and steadily, gasping for thin air whilst appreciating how resolute my injury has made me and experiencing deep gratitude and true elation. The trek down to our campsite at Ang was a celebration, and dinner that evening was topped off by a chocolate cake make by our cook Gelle Sherpa!  

Day 3: Yangthang to Hemis Shukpachan

A big day. A long, demanding climb up to the highest point of the trek - the Tsamarang Chan La pass at 3,900m - followed by a long walk down to the next camp at Hemis Shukpachan. 8.5km in total. This was a day for which we needed all our energies – but early in the morning Greg was struck by illness. 

As we climbed steep, narrow, sandy paths, Greg became ever more dehydrated and fatigued. He had to dig very deep within, I found myself acutely focused on helping him pull through, and we learned a great deal more about each other. It was a day of soul searching, intense reflection and great triumph. A few tears were shed on Day 3!

Day 2: Sumdo to Yangthang

Early wake up, cardamom tea and washing water brought to our tents, morning stretch, big breakfast whilst the crew packed up the campsite…..that became our routine, and a great way to start each day of the trek. Alan planned for us to start off by 8am at the very latest… we left Sumdo around 8.45 (by the end of the trek Alan gave in to our tardiness!).

We reached Chagatse La at 3,800m - our second high pass and the half way point of the day's 5.5km trek. 

I've added a couple of Alan's photos to show our campsite at Yangthang. How privileged we were! 

My memories have faded a bit now. What I do I remember is ……..feeling ever stronger on the trek, despite the more challenging terrain; Greg setting up his canvases for the afternoon - the rest of us were mesmerised as two of his four paintings emerged; a stretching session with Viv in what must be the world's best therapy site; Angie, Priyanka, Viv and me soaking our feet in a bowl of the most refreshing water from the camp's mountain stream; a fun filled ride on the back of a truck to a very warm welcome and mint tea in the local village; and Alan delighting the locals - he and Rigzin had stayed here in February, and Alan gave them photos of their families and friends, as he'd promised them he would.

Day 1 - Liker to Sumdo

After a 2 hour drive from Leh, the capital of Ladakh, we reached Liker - and the start of an adventure that had taken many months to plan, nearly come unstuck several times and required huge amounts of physical and mental preparation. Throughout the trek Ladakh blessed us with astonishing blue skies and a backdrop that took our altitude-thinned breath away, every day. A fairly gentle start through apricot orchards towards the high pass at Phoebe La (3,600m) and our first camp at Sumdo - 7km away, we were told. Remember that number!

Led by our guides Alan and Rigzin, we moved on to remote, higher and more challenging terrain. I'd never before seen a landscape this dramatic - wrought by the ferocity of nature into captivatingly beautiful patterns, and with hues of orange, yellow, rust, purple, green and blue. We'd all seen many places on our travels, but everyone was starting to understand that there is something very special here. We were loving this - and the conversation and the laughter was flowing!

Alan and Rigzin had come to Ladakh on a recce last February, but this part of the trail was inaccessible due to snow, so they had tried to estimate the distance, based roughly on the time it had taken previous groups to walk. They estimated 7.5km and we expected to arrive at the campsite at Sumdo by mid afternoon. We climbed ever higher, over the first of the high passes (Phoebe La at 3,600m). The camp came into view early to mid afternoon - but the route towards it was a series of switchback paths, that seemed to take us closer, and then further away, closer then further away……every time that happened, it sapped our energy; for me, the neuropathic pain kicked in and grew ever stronger; Greg's arms and shoulders were feeling the strain; and the group around us started to feel it emotionally as they witnessed Greg and me push on through what became a very gruelling first day. We eventually reached camp early evening, and Alan's GPS told us we had walked 9.5km: two more than expected, a lot at this very high altitude. Greg and I were drained and fatigued, but exhilarated - and buoyed by the energy of the very special friendships that had started to form.

I crashed on the ground sheet for Viv to start to work her therapy magic, and Greg dropped next to me for Ang to help stretch him out. That evening, I knew inside, for the first time, that I could do what we came here to do, that I could complete the trek.

Scott Woodward's photos of the trek

Posting the photos of the trek taken by Scott Woodward for Johnnie Walker. Cheers to Scott

Starting with the shots from the pre trek studio shoot back in May. 

Which one of us was most relaxed at this point, do you think?! We both really enjoyed the studio shoot (thanks to Mike, Meghan Scott for making it such relaxed, easy fun), but the emotions came through for both of us as we recounted our journeys and looked ahead to the trek.

Two real favourites. 

Ready to head to the mountains!