That's Roy, Ned and me in the front row, and Ali, Alice and Gerri at the back. We were all given a bowler hat with a label on it. Here's Ned's:
Then, we ate as much carby food as we possibly could, and then we set off from the South Bank of the Thames, between Tower Bridge and City Hall, and we walked.
We walked a lot.
Every so often we stopped. We stopped at the London Eye, and had a ride. We stopped at the Channel 4 building, where we were quite impressed by the great big 4 made of umbrellas.
We stopped at the Royal Geographical Society, where there was a string quartet playing 'Money Money Money' by Abba. (It probably had a wider repertoire, but that was the bit I heard. It translates remarkably well to strings.) The stage from Channel 4 was a low point for Ned and I - I think we were both, separately, wondering whether we could do it. But shortly after leaving Ned transformed into some sort of phenomenal Ghurka/Sherpa walking machine, which he remained for the rest of the way.
The journey to Fulham seemed to have been designed to perk us up. First, I saw a Tellytubby getting on a bus. (If memory serves, it was Po. It was the red one, anyway. Mercifully, it's a long time since I've watched the Tellytubbies.) Then, Ned and I were stopped by an exceptionally drunk woman outside a bar, who wanted to know what we were doing, but had to have it all explained to her several times. (I don't think she'll remember a thing.) Then, we spotted some Night Hikers sloping into a pub. Then, Ned had to move Gerri, Alice and me on as were temporarily hypnotised by Monsoon's window. Then more drunk people cheered us on, and high-fived us on our way.
We stopped at Maggie's Centre at Charing Cross Hospital in Fulham, where we ate fabulous flapjacks, and I overheard a volunteer complaining about being chatted up by 'all of the ridiculously ugly guys'. You can't blame them for trying.
We stopped at Fulham Palace, the half way point, where my first blister manifested. (So much for 1000 Mile Socks.)
Then there was the 6th stage, from Fulham Palace to Battersea Power Station. This one was the best part of 5 miles, and it hurt. Ned and I walked it on our own - we had got a little ahead of the others - and by the time we got to the stop, I was feeling it. I don't know how much of it was the walking (and the walking on the blisters, multiplying rapidly now in the petri dish that was my trainers) and how much of it was thinking about how, this time last year, I hadn't even been diagnosed with cancer. I had a little cry. Ned gave me a hug and fed me chicken soup. And then the others caught up. Well, sort of.
We lost Alice at around 12 miles. The route more or less passed her front door and I think the thought of home and bed were just too much. Her muscles were really objecting. It was almost 5am. I would have struggled to pass my own house.
And then there was Ali, my brave and determined friend. She has a problem with her feet, which meant she was in agony from about 8 miles (or at least that's when she let on she was in agony) but battled on to Battersea, at 14.9 miles. We waited until her husband came to collect her, and we waved her off. Well, sobbed her off, really, or I did. Ali was the one who organised this, who trained more than any of us and put her heart and soul into doing 15 miles. Ali was the one who really deserved to finish and I'm so, so sorry that she didn't.
So, then there were 4, it was after 6am, and daylight had returned. Another murkily beautiful day of the sort London does so well.
We set off for Horse Guards Parade through the dawn, and we got there in good time, and then there were only 2 stages and 'only' 3 miles to go. At the IET in Savoy Place, stop 8, there were two lots of stairs to get to the loo, a cruel state of affairs indeed, and one that got me having another little cry. Not because of the pain that stairs inflict on tired legs and many blistered feet, but because 6 months ago I couldn't have got up that many stairs at all. Everyone told me I would recover from chemotherapy, and they were right. I sometimes doubted it myself, but I was wrong.
Gerri and I got through the last 2 miles by talking about knitting, a most absorbing topic for the initiated, but even so, those 2 miles were loooooong. And they had more steps. Lots of them. As we crossed Tower Bridge and headed down the stairs to the finish, I could feel my blisters going pop-pop-pop, which was both gruesome and quite amusing.
So, 11 hours and around 50,000 steps after starting, Gerri, Ned, Roy and I completed the London Night Hike.
We got medals. We got bacon sandwiches. We got to sit down.
We got a cab home.
Well done, my friends, my son. I'm proud to know you. I was proud to walk with you. I look forward to doing it again next year.
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