On the 2nd September 2017 I will be jetting off to Peru with 28 MND Scotland fundraisers to take on the hike to Machu Picchu. This is something I never saw myself doing - let's just say I was never Sporty Spice in school! I am known by friends and family for being particularly unfit and definitely not an outdoors gal; my mother was shocked when I started dating a PE teacher. "What could you possibly have in common?"
Nevertheless, when I took up my post as Communications Officer for MND Scotland in January 2016 (happy anniversary to me!) one of the first things I was asked was whether I'd be up for going to Machu Picchu to support our group of fundraisers on their epic journey. At first I panicked and wasn't sure what to say - could I do it? 6 days of hiking? Camping? With spiders and all other kinds of wildlife that I don't even know about yet… I politely said I'd think about it, not wanting to say no to something in my first week.
However, a few weeks into my new job I began to realise what a special organisation MND Scotland is. The people I started meeting who have MND or who knew someone who passed away from MND showed me that although Machu Picchu would be a personal challenge for me, it is nothing compared to what people affected by this devastating illness have to go through. If I could help support 28 amazing fundraisers, each with their own inspiring story, on their journey, there's no way I could say no.
Once I had made it official I started to get really excited about going, but didn't actually actively do any preparation. So, after two weeks at home over Christmas and New Year indulging on mountains of turkey, Terry's chocolate orange and prosecco, I decided it was time to get serious about training. I pledged to do ‘Dry January’ to start my health kick and get myself out of the door for my first walk.
Lots of the Machu Picchu team had been chatting about new walking boots they had purchased in the sales and their recommendations. I have my own a pair of walking boots - although they haven't seen too many mountains over the past few years - so I decided to take them out for test run, around a forest near Troon, to see how they fared.
It was a pretty miserable day and the ground was like visiting the course for Tough Mudder. But I set off, with one boyfriend and two borrowed collies - Lagavulin and Talisker - in tow. 5 minutes in and we arrived at our first hill. I struggled, but once I got into a rhythm I found that I really enjoy walking outdoors, and I ALMOST forgot about the mizzle and fog around me.
Along the way a couple of friendly horses came up to say hello, probably hoping I had some kind of treat to give them, and we found ourselves on a 'Fairy Trail'.
Around 4 miles in my boots started rubbing against my right inner ankle. Well, either I need thicker socks, I didn't tie them properly or they just aren't the boots I need for the Lost City. Luckily on the other side of the forest there was a shop where I was able to buy some plasters (and a snack) to help me continue on my route.
My first walk of 2017 finished at around 9 miles and I collapsed on the sofa (after I managed to move the pups!), thinking about a well-deserved glass of wine, until I remembered Dry January. It was no marathon and I did struggle to think about how I would walk longer than that for 6 days straight. But it's given me the kick I need. I know I am not the fittest person and that I need to do a lot more training to get myself ready for September, but they don't say 'one step at a time' for no reason.
Looking back I can't believe I even considered not going. This will be an experience of a lifetime and I am so excited and honoured to be sharing it with so many inspirational people. Now I am really looking forward to getting to know the whole team over the next 8 months.
*This week's task: I am going to go shopping to get myself some appropriate footwear!*
You can donate to Niamh's JustGiving page here.