My journey to reach the roof of Africa

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Motivated by (raising) money – and your support.

200px-HP_logo_2012.svg This week I received an email from HP’s UK employee social club with an offer to fund match employee’s charitable fundraising up to £150 for any activities that promote the employees’ health and well being. Well dropping a few stones and improving my fitness to drag myself up and down Kilimanjaro qualifies me nicely. Anyway, one online form submitted at the start of the week and on Thursday I get the confirmation my application is accepted. That’s an extra £150 raised then – thanks HP.

In fact the last week or so has seen a number of donations made to PSC Support in sponsorship of the climb. I emailed my LinkedIn contacts over the Christmas break to tell them about the climb and why I’m doing it and the response has been both remarkable and heart-warming. Colleagues, professional acquaintances and friends have been remarkably kind in their comments of support and generous in their donations. I really have been taken aback. I’m going to take a list of everyone who sponsors up on the mountain with me – whenever I get tired or need a motivation kicker that list of amazing individuals will provide it. Thanks to each and every one of you, I’ll make sure I repay the faith in me you’ve shown by giving it my all!

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It’s not all about booze, blow outs and acting recklessness Sally

01-george-best-drinking-031810-lgThis month Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Office published her first annual report. In that report she highlighted the increase of Liver Disease in the UK and how this is linked to life style choices and behaviors such as alcohol, obesity and infection.  There was a lot of national media coverage generated.

Whilst people undoubtedly need to be educated  on the topic so they can make informed decisions Ms. Davies’ comments fail to include that some liver disease isn’t self-imposed – it just happens. My concern is that by framing liver disease in the media as “self-inflicted” that the public then reduces is sympathy for the cause both in terms of charitable support and of registering to be organ donators in the event of their death.

There’s a massive shortfall of livers for transplant in this country and many people die whilst on the waiting list. PSC, the disease my wife suffers with isn’t caught or incurred due to lifestyle choice – it just happens. They don’t know why and there’s little to no funding for research. There are plenty of other “non-lifestyle” liver diseases out there too.

There’s a stigma to Liver disease – I regularly hear people with PSC act as if they have to justify their illness “it’s not because of alcohol or drugs” etc.  I think that our Chief Medical Officer has just helped reinforce that stigma and ultimately risked damaging support for Liver disease sufferers and charities in the UK. Next time Sally please thinks about the broader context and communicate more effectively!

Apart from helping PSC Support, my chosen charity there’s something else you can do though – register to be an organ donor and discuss it with your next of kin so they don’t have the burden of a tough decision at a difficult time. Most of us would want an organ transplant if we needed it yet so very few us register to donate…


Getting High on Performance Pill Popping?

Whilst I’m doing some cycling to help get fit I’m clearly no Lance Armstrong. However the topic of performance enhancing drugs in cycling and Mr Armstrong is big news at present and it has got me thinking.

Acetazolamide (brand name Diamox) is a drug that can help  altitude acclimatisation  and so help reduce the severity of  Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which all Kilimanjaro climbers will be affected by to some degree.  It works by altering the kidney’s ability to reabsorb Bicarbonate and so increases the acidity in the blood. This re-acified blood chemistry acts a respiratory stimulant that can help the body accelerate acclimation.

It’s not a magic bullet though; there are no medicinal cures or prevention for AMS. Common side effects of Diamox include numbness, tingling, or vibrating sensations in hands, feet, and lips. Also, taste alterations, and ringing in the ears. It also acts as a diuretic so you’ll be urinating more and need to keep your fluid intake up (dehydration is a big problem at altitude and will contribute to AMS).

I’ve read accounts of very fit people failing to make it to top due to AMS. It is a serious set of conditions and if not acted upon can become life threatening in severe cases.  There seems to be a range of view high altitude trekking / mountaineering world about taking Diamox.

  • Don’t use it as it’s all about man vs. the mountain naturally
  • Use it only if you have significant AMS symptoms
  • Use it prophylactically to help your acclimatisation and reduce the change / severity of any AMS systems

My current mind set is focused on making the summit and meeting the commitments I’ve made to the task, my sponsors and myself that I don’t have a moral objection to using Diamox. In fact one of the biggest concerns (and so motivators) is not making it and letting people down.  I’m open to using all the resources and techniques I can to help me achieve my goal.  I’m even considering taking it as soon as I begin the climb – I might as well get all the help I can.

I don’t know if my GP will prescribe it though and even then it’s unlikely to be on a NHS prescription. This is probably something to broach when I book in for some pre-Tanzania inoculations. With so much counterfeit medication in the world I figure it’s better to try and source Diamox in the UK where I can be confident in its credentials and authenticity.

Guess I’m a pill popper looking for dealer then…

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Cryogenic Cycling

Brrrrrr, I’m just thawing my fingers out with a little typing.

A glorious clear sunny autumn morning welcomed me today as I took the bike out. I guess the frost on the car windscreen should have been a clue how cold it was going to be though. Frozen hands and face acerbated by biting wind chill had me slowing down and even considering turning back home to try and find some more suitable clothing. In the end I figured that I just needed to toughen up and put up with it. Kili’s going to be way colder and today’s little ride only reinforced the need to get the correct gear for the environment. I’ll now look for a cycling hat that will go under my helmet, something to cover my face / neck and a pair of full fingers riding gloves. It’s not even October yet – what’s January going to be like?

Off into Manchester today to meet up with some of my MBA alumni friends. I’m looking forward to catching up for lunch and a few drinks with the guys. Perhaps I can talk them into joining me up Kili next year – watch out Paddy!

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Just recovering from a stinking cold for the last week so have not been out on the bike until last night when I rode over to a new member’s night for my local rambling club. The best training for walking up Kili is unsurprisingly going to be going walking. I figure joining an organised group will help me get out and about without the hassle / risk of going it alone. I’m hoping that it’ll also provide a useful source of advice when it comes to selecting kit.

Talking of kit my new favourite topic is pouring over the various UK outdoor sport retailer’s web sites. Never adverse to a little bit of retail therapy I’m going to enjoy my research and purchasing. As those who know me will confirm I can be prone to being “all the gear, no idea” so I’ll be tempering my enthusiasm as much as possible to try and minimise unnecessary purchases. There’s so much stuff to get though – here’s an example Kilimanjaro kit list from a Kili Trip organiser I’m looking at.

Oh and I’ve a lost just over a stone so far with me currently tipping the scales at a 15st 12lb (101KG) . Still a fair chunk to lose but it feels nice to see some progress (and the slightest hint of cheek bones appearing back on my face!)

Right, time to buy some boots and a woolly bobble hat…

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Martine, my wife suffers from Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), something that she once likened to “living with a time bomb in your chest and not knowing if and when it’ll go off”.

PSC is a rare disease that has no known cause, cure or treatment. It causes the bile ducts both inside and outside the liver to become scarred, narrowed and eventually blocked. As more ducts become blocked, bile becomes trapped and damages the liver, leading to cirrhosis and liver failure.

PSC Symptoms often include:

•    Chronic, debilitating fatigue

•    Severe, uncontrollable itching

•    Dangerous infections of the bile ducts

•    Pain in the body’s Upper Right Quadrant

•   Jaundice

PSC sufferers frequently have associated autoimmune diseases, most commonly inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. As well as all that they also have a significant increase in the risks of bowel, liver and pancreatic cancers. Basically, you just don’t want to get PSC.

Martine was diagnosed in 2007 with PSC when our daughter, Sophie was 15 months old. We’d never heard of PSC and within Singapore (where we lived at the time) there were no other sufferers or meaningful medical experience of the disease.  Our family went through a very difficult period where our outlook was unsure and “Googling” PSC just delivered inconsistent, depressing information and a bleak prognosis. PSC Support gave us information and support to help us all come to terms with Martine’s illness.

PSC Support is a UK charity, totally run by volunteers, that helps people affected by PSC, including sufferers themselves, and their families. PSC Support makes a real difference by providing  information and support to those affected by PSC, promoting PSC and organ donation awareness, developing effective partnerships with those involved with medical treatment and help support vitally needed research into PSC.They’re a small organisation that totaly “punches above its weight”.

We know at first hand the how frightening and isolating a diagnosis of PSC is for both the sufferer, their family and friends and the difficulty associated with having an uncertain future. That’s why Martine and I both volunteer for PSC Support and why I’m going to use my Kilimanjaro climb to raise awareness and funds for PSC Support. As a cause it simply couldn’t get any more personal for my family and I.


42, 14, and 4 – I Have Numerous Goals

Hotel Spa
Today Martine, my wife is representing PSC Support at a British Liver Trust event in Northamptonshire. Whilst she’s “working” at the BLT event I’m in our hotel room watching the Spa Belgium F1 GP qualifying on my iPad (gotta love Sky’s F1 coverage and their Sky Go mobile viewing BTW) and been researching online to find somewhere to go for a ride. I’ve also been thinking about my goals and motivations to climb Kili.

Tick Tock…
I haven’t booked the climb yet but my current thinking is to go in Sept ’13 by which time I’ll be 42. September next year gives me 12 months to get fit, prepare and fundraise along with the fact that Sept is still in the more desirable “dry season” in Tanzania. One of my motivations for the climb is certainly a desire for a new “project” to aim at and focus on. I do sometimes miss some of the recreational activities I used to do like my flying or skydiving but I found they didn’t balance with family life or studying for my MBA. With my studies completed in ’11 I think there might be some space for a little adventurous project like this. I know I’m not getting any younger so why not just crack on and do it now? I joked to Martine that doing “Kili” would be cheaper than buying a Porsche or many other stereotypical “mid life crisis” acts!

Lightening The Load
To paraphrase a joke from the English comedian Roy “chubby” brown: “I’m not fat; I just have a problem with my feet. I can’t keep them out of the pie shop”. Starting from a weight of around 17 Stone (108 KG) I have begun watching what I eat / drink as well as getting into some regular exercises as I’m going to need to lose some weight . I’m targeting myself to get down to 14 Stone ( 89 KG) for the climb. It would be nice to look in a mirror and feel a bit more positive about my body shape. Even at 14 stone weight my body mass index would be “overweight” but considerably more favourable that my current “obese” 😦

Cashing in
So whilst I clearly have some personal reasons to attempt Kilimanjaro I also see it at a chance to draw awareness and raise fund in support of those, such as Martine who suffer from Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. PSC Support, the UK charity that helps anyone affected by PSC and raises money for research is a small, volunteer based organisation that has a big job to do. If I can help pull together £4K from my friends, colleagues, acquaintances, family or blog  vistitors then we can all make a tangible, positive difference to the work and research PSC Support does. There is a donate page on this site if you’d like to help, thanks.

Right, Jenson Button of McLaren has just got pole for tomorrow’s race so I’m happy chap and now off for a ride. Bye for now.