June’s Journey – By Sarah-Jane Johnson
A personal reflection from one of our counsellors who recently completed a gruelling overnight hike to raise funds for MIND in memory of a dear friend and colleague, Alex Cook, who sadly died earlier this year.
Life is an ongoing journey with setbacks and pitfalls along the way that, if successfully negotiated, bring us to that better place, strengthened and somehow changed. I recently undertook a personal journey that tested my endurance to push through adverse terrain to experience some magical, life affirming moments that left me feeling uplifted, liberated and empowered.
My personal journey was an overnight walk around the timeless and mystical raw beauty of Kinder in the Peak District. I chose to undertake this walk under the expert guidance of my friend Stu Westfield of Ranger Expeditions and his trusty right-hand man, Al Pepper, to raise funds for MIND in memory of a dear friend and colleague, Alex Cook, who sadly died earlier this year.
It was not the balmy, summer night we had hoped for, having had a lot of rainfall in recent days and the ground wet, muddy and slippery under foot. We started with the ascent at 9 pm in the evening and it quickly became apparent that the other walkers were far more experienced than me as they strode ahead with their walking poles and I struggled behind, feeling somewhat vertiginous at points, doubting my abilities and wondering how people can possibly talk and not get out of breath when they are walking up a hill. And then we reached the top, me bringing up the rear as I often do. As I paused for breath, I looked behind to see a beautiful red, orange and gold sunset and the lights of Manchester glowing on the horizon. That was the first leg of my journey successfully negotiated and the beautiful reward.
A few swigs of water and on we went, negotiating steep inclines, clambering over gritstone rocks, wading through babbling brooks, finding the least slippery route through and trudging through muddy, boggy ground. I had started the journey feeling smug about my sturdy, somewhat old walking books and new toasty hiking socks; after a while I became aware of dampness starting to seep through and the hem of my jeans muddy and waterlogged. I hopped madly from one foot to the other to put my waterproof trousers on, wishing I had done this at the start! As we continued on, the other walkers ahead of me, I tried to ignore the discomfort of soggy feet and reflected that does it matter if I am often the last? Is it not more important that we undertake the journey at our own pace and reflect on the journey as we go? It’s personal to each one of us. And I was not alone on this journey, patiently guided first by Al and then by Stu, the lights of their head torches a beacon lighting the way forward.
Whilst plodding along through springy, grassy terrain, a grouse flew past me chattering wildly and I jumped, feeling spooked as it sounded like crazy laughter in my ear, until Al told me it was a grouse who’s nest I most likely disturbed. A little further along, I was walking with Stu, having parted company with the other walkers to take a slightly shorter walk (15-16 miles rather than 18!). Stu walked a little ahead marking the path, his head torch the light guiding me on. Suddenly my left leg disappeared into an unseen hole in the grass. I let out a shriek of shock and Stu came running back. I was wedged in up to my knee and he had to pull me out. My legs were starting to stiffen up at this point from the cold and damp and we were only halfway through our journey, if that. Luckily nothing was broken and on we went through the dark night, negotiating inclines, clinging to gritstone rocks and breaking my nails having long discarded my soggy impractical gloves that I didn’t think I would really need in June, the cold night wind chilling me to the bone on the high points, I questioned my sanity and judgment of my capabilities and at some points felt downright miserable.
As dawn started to break, it became lighter and we reached Trig, the high point of Kinder. Not being an early morning person, I do not see daybreak very often and this was another beautiful reward. In the early morning mist, Stu stilled ahead of me and rose a hand. I paused and saw a cluster of hares, a heartwarming and rare sight, bounding and playing. A little beyond this, we reached the surreal and ancient rock formations with a mystic and magic all of their own – a privilege to see and a sense of being in another world and all that has gone past as we walked through them. And then came the descent down the longest stone staircase I have ever seen, but with Stu in front of me to guide and help me negotiate my safe transit down. The journey ended walking through fields of cattle and back to base, my legs aching with every step but pushing forward. The most welcome respite at base of Stu’s dad Peter cooking up bacon and egg baps and hot cups of coffee as I collapsed in a heap in Stu’s truck and was fed and watered.
So many more special moments formed part of my personal journey, much like our journey through life, we struggle through adversity but somehow we endure, we find the inner strength to keep going and experience those beautiful moments. And we do not have to do this alone. Stu’s head torch was the light guiding me home, the therapist became the client placing her vulnerability and trust in her guide, trusting him to lead me to that better place. This caused me to reflect that if we need that support, all we have to do is seek it out and it is there for us to guide us over that rocky, uncertain terrain to experience those beautiful moments. My personal journey has changed me and it is so worth it. If you need someone by your side to guide you through, I would love to hear from you.