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S1 E3: Finding My Inner Peak (Full Transcript)

INTRO: You’re listening to Seize Your Adventure, the podcast that shares stories of adventure and outdoor living, with epilepsy.

 [Acoustic guitar music – Folk Guitar Music Track by Dvideoguy]

JOE (over music): My trip started with a three hour train journey from Manchester to Glasgow central. Nineteen other participants joined me there and we were taken on the winding, three-hour bus journey up Fort William. 

[Music ends]

On the way, the group talked, finding out why we had chosen to sponsor our charities.

FRAN: Hello Adventurers welcome back. Today, the podcast will be taking you to one of the most remote parts of the UK, an area renowned as the last wilderness of Britain. Even the most touristic areas take some effort to get to. And I am of course speaking about the Scottish Highlands. 

The highlands are one of my favourite places in the world. I was up in Glen Nevis back in November for some much needed mountain time. It reminded me that mountains, and particularly Scottish mountains, are one of those places where you can really immerse yourself in nature. Hiking on the rugged path, you need to be really aware of your own body and the surroundings. And particularly the weather. Scotland is famous for being saturated with water: rain, cloud, mist and snow. Everything you can imagine. And when I was there, I was soaked to my skin on some days.

You’ll soon hear that today’s storyteller was slightly luckier. Joe Stevenson is going to tell us about a charity hike he did a couple of years ago. Charity events are a great way of becoming a little bit more adventurous. The challenges are organised so the logistics are all taken care of, the group leaders have plenty of experience with people of all fitnesses and of course, you can raise money for some good causes at the same time. 

The hike that Joe decided to was up Ben Nevis. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with British mountains, Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the UK. It stands at 1,345m which is about 4,411ft – which might not seem high to those of you listening in America or Europe. But I climbed Ben Nevis in 2008 and I can tell you it is famously harder than you’d imagine, partly because the path starts close to sea level, so nearly all that height is ascent. 

A lot of people work their way up to doing Ben Nevis. They start by hiking Snowdon in Wales, and Scafell Pike in England, then they do Ben Nevis to complete the Three Peaks. But not Joe. Joe hadn’t climbed a mountain before his trip to Scotland. He had done a lot of hiking in the hills of the Peak District near his home. But he wanted a bit more of a challenge. And like me, Joe has a bit of a soul for the mountains.

I’ll let Joe take it from here:

[Acoustic guitar – GuitarDandCWithLONGERFade.wav by Kevin Boucher]

JOE (over music): From what I remember, and sometimes the epilepsy doesn’t leave much,  2015 was an eventful year for me. I overcame a long run of depression that I had been stuck with since my late teens, and after two-and-a-half years of financial recession and epilepsy-related setbacks, I finally found a job that January.

I somehow felt more socially accepted when my payslips started to arrive. This blend of highs made me feel more positive in life. I was in a better state of mind, and found I wanted to prove it to those around me. 

[Music ends]

So I weighed up my options. I had done a lot of charity work in the past, and always enjoyed volunteering when I was unemployed. Epilepsy Action is the charity I know best, so I looked for ways to raise money for them. I was soon signing up for the Ben Nevis Challenge.

Through friendly advertising and frequent communication with family and friends, I told plenty of people about my mountain walk for charity. Sponsoring Epilepsy Action meant I was now talking about epilepsy with people more often. Social anxiety was no longer a major negative in my life.

But in spite of my decisiveness in taking on the challenge, I still wasn’t highly confident about it. Climbing the UK’s highest mountain? I would enjoy the sights but I knew fatigue wasn’t my best friend. Difficult walks leave me quite breathless when they come with plenty of ascents. I went to the gym two or three times a week to try to gather enough fitness; it was getting myself to walk down to the sports centre that I found most difficult .

Although I was soon healthy enough, I worried that I was still carrying a little weight when the walk was due. But I knew I needed to complete a tricky physical challenge and make it to the top of that mountain. On the second of October, I took the trip up north.

 [Acoustic guitar music – Folk Guitar Music Track by Dvideoguy]

JOE (over music): My trip started with a three hour train journey from Manchester to Glasgow central. Nineteen other participants joined me there and we were taken on the winding, three-hour bus journey up Fort William. 

[Music ends]

On the way, the group talked, finding out why we had chosen to sponsor our charities. As usual, I wasn’t the chattiest man in the group, but knowing that we all had a heart for society kept me feeling comfortable enough. I only hoped that everybody else felt the same.

Scotland’s standard cloudy sky greeted us at Achintee, and we got an evening meal and briefing. From what I remember, we weren’t in any luxury hotel, but I was no-doubt satisfied with everything that was available: I slept very well throughout the night.

A good full-on English breakfast set me up the next morning, but I knew full-well that elevation equals exhaustion, and this was no walk in my local park. A walking pole was strapped to my backpack and a little chocolate was pocketed to boost my energy if needed. I was wrapped up warm against the autumn chill.

And so we began. 

[Sound of hiker on path]

JOE (over): The walk was no race, but I can be a bit of a perfectionist; on average it takes six to seven hours to get up and down Ben Nevis, and I wanted to walk it within that time frame. We followed the main Mountain Track. Once known as the Tourist Path, it was only natural to find myself  looking up and out frequently: soaking up the sights; taking a few photos. At that time of the year, the mountain was still a little green, but there was starting to be a mix of shades with the brown and grey rock. I felt nice and fresh being out there in the country, although my determination to keep moving forward at a decent speed led me to lose a few layers along the way.

[Hiking sounds fade]

It was a rocky road all the way, but there was no rain so I was not endangered by slippery areas. But there were few flat places that allowed me to settle my breath and recover. And getting closer and closer to the peak, the more strenuous, rocky areas took over the track. I begged my body not to pull a muscle. By this point, the walking pole was truly being used with good purpose as I stretched my stamina much further than usual. 

[Music fades in  – Tick Tick Tick by k2tr]

JOE (over music): I asked myself “is this it?” a thousand times when looking upwards, just begging to reach the top of the mountain…

And I got there. 

The peak isn’t what you might expect: just a fair bit of flat, rocky land, and we were well within the clouds. Although temperatures were certainly below zero, an important thumbs-up photo was taken by the summit’s famous cairn.  After having something to eat the descent had to happen. 

[Music fades out]

The walk down was not easy – it never is on anything strenuous going up. The walking pole continued to keep me steady and I had to place my feet carefully throughout the reverse journey.

Around half way down, a blister was born. Joined by a group of other walkers on the mountain’s flatter land I plastered the pain up as well as I could. But to be honest, I didn’t care too much about it. I knew any physical problems occurring now were playing their part in my achievement. Another obstacle for me to overcome and look back on with a smile.

Hopping some stepping stones with the end quite clearly in sight, a feeling of full-coated achievement pumped up my veins. Incredible sights never cease to amaze me, but a sense of pride won’t do me any harm either. After going both up and back down, the walk had taken me about six hours and there was time to celebrate my success with a well-earned pint at the Ben Nevis Inn.

As a man still yearning to go travelling and reach some peaks abroad, it is great to know that I have now met my country’s highest point – and it was done and dusted without any problems. I had attempted to earn some money for charity before this, but because of my epilepsy and depression, it hadn’t gone to plan.

This time around, I completed the journey, and I felt like I had reached a personal peak.

FRAN (in studio): Finding My Inner Peak was written and read by Joe Stevenson. 

Now, I have a lot to thank Joe for. He doesn’t know it, but Joe was actually one of my main inspirations for Seize Your Adventure. Back in the Autumn of 2017, I had just finished the Camino and was back in the UK. And I wasn’t doing too good. I had big post-adventure blues and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in terms of a job, or my life to be honest.

And then I suddenly get Joe popping up in my inbox. I’d just like to read what he wrote:

“I know I’ve not met and had a decent conversation with enough people who have epilepsy either. My epilepsy is left frontal lobe. My seizure rate differs, but ATM it’s about one every two weeks. They’re either absence or tonic-clonic and often take place when I’m asleep. I was born with epilepsy, diagnosed when I was five, although it got a lot worse when I was about seventeen. I take plenty of AEDs that have plenty of side-effects, like memory loss and tiredness, and they’ve bothered me for years. I was depressed for 7-8 years, but overcame depression through mindfulness when I was about 25. I’m 28 years old now. 

Coming across your story online, I was surprised by how much we seem to have in common. I’m part of a Ramblers group in the UK, but can’t deny that if it were possible, trekking abroad would be my preference. Like you though, I’ve completed charity walks in the past, most recently one of Ben Nevis – I raised about £700.

Anyway, if you tell me a bit more about yourself, I’d appreciate it. You sound like an interesting person.”

Well from that email, I thought Joe was a pretty interesting person as well. It was after that email that I started researching and looking for other adventurers like us. So if anyone is enjoying the content, go and say thanks to Joe.

I spoke to Joe over the phone a couple of weeks ago, and here’s a little tease of the conversation that you’ll get to hear in the next episode:

JOE: MAD walkers, M-A-D, Manchester District Walkers, it’s pretty much the biggest Ramblers group in the Manchester area. People from all over Greater Manchester join it and there’s about 250-plus members. They just like going on walks in places all around the Peak District like I mentioned, but there’s other places not too far from Greater Manchester that they tend to stick to.

FRAN: So that one’s going to be out on the 21st of January.

Before I go, if you are affected by depression, or want some support with epilepsy, I want you to know that there is help out there. You can speak to Epilepsy Action and Mind. The links are in the show notes for you.

And if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please can you share it with someone you think would like it. Share it on social media, hit subscribe. And if you really want to support the work I do, you can now donate via the website, you’ll set there’s some goodies in the shop there as well if you want to treat yourself to something.

Thank you all for listening and until next time, safe adventures.


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