Endurance running

The Namibia/Panama Crossings - Panama Coast to Coast, Days 16-17 - Extraction from the Jungle 

The Jungle - Day 16 

Amazingly (or not) I slept the whole way through the night. When I woke up at 5am, the butterfly was still hanging onto my tarp. I could go into a beautiful paragraph about how I felt the butterfly had protected me through the night, but in all honesty, I was just a bit surprised it was still there. I got up, checked my boots, put them on and started the routine of taking down the tarps and hammock in the pitch black. James had gone - his hammock and tarps were packed away and his bag hidden in a bush. He had gone back up the mountain at 4am. He had gone to get his drone. 

The mood in camp was still by no means rosy. For some reason I had hung up my wet muddy kit overnight in the hope it would dry (???) Things don’t dry in 90% humidity. They just don’t. And when it rains, they get even wetter and colder. And it had definitely rained. Pulling on wet compression tights is an endurance challenge in itself. The only warm, dry kit I had were the leggings I was sleeping in. I was guarding them with my life. I now hadn’t changed my underwear or tops for around 4 days. I was washing in rivers and streams, but there was literally no point in the faff of attempting to get changed. As much as I hated myself, I also didn’t care how disgusting I was. I tried to brush my hair with my fingers and three small spiders fell out. Oh well. 

That zip line. Seems legit……

That zip line. Seems legit……

I sat and ate my breakfast and jungle coffee on Ant Rock, staring at the rickety zipline. Whilst the sensible part of me knew it had been there for years, trusted by locals and used time and time again without issue, the catastrophising side of me would not let up. I wondered if Panamanian health and safety ever checked it. Possibly not. Would I want Panamanian Health and Safety checking it? Possibly not. I didn’t want to go over on it, but the river was very deep and fast flowing so there was no choice. I had a little quiet cry. The boys were, of course, loving it. I’m not sure that they understood how scared I was - I actually think they may have found it quite funny, and in a way I was ashamed and embarrassed of the fear of something so basic. Darren goes over taking selfies and having the best time, I go over head down gripping onto the rope like a child with my eyes shut. When I get off on the other side I feel like I might be sick and have to sit down. What a fucking hero. 

Moises preps the line - note the wellies - they wore wellies for the whole trip. Photo: James Appleton

Moises preps the line - note the wellies - they wore wellies for the whole trip. Photo: James Appleton

The plan for today is to try and get the hell out of the jungle. Again there is a plan A and a plan B.  Plan A is to smash out a 20km march - apparently it’s ‘not as hilly today’ and it COULD be possible to make it to the extraction point. plan B is go as far as we can today, camp and then get to extraction at lunchtime the following day. We are all hopeful of plan A. However, there’s something about the word ‘elevation’ that is lost in translation with Moises and Elvin. Their idea of hills and our idea of hills are VERY different. They have lived here their whole lives. They run up and down these ascents in wellies. They are tiny monsters. Possibly the fittest men I have ever seen. Later, James and I decide to take them back to the UK and manage them as trail runners. We’d make a fucking KILLING. The thought of them whizzing round the Bob Graham Round in record time in wellies was almost too amazing. Anyway, the point is that the trails that day were not flat. They were steep as fuck. Again. 

Once everyone is over on the zipline, we set off. We have agreed to leave James to follow on - he's fast and fit, and he is with Elvin. We have no idea if or when he will come back, but Elvin knows the route, so on we go. There is talk of another village on the way up the valley. Rick thinks that there is a possibility we can ask some of the villagers to help us with the packs in exchange for some money. 

The village. The only photo I took.

The village. The only photo I took.

We are all bang up for this - even an hour is some relief. Just a few kilos out of the pack helps. On the crest of a hill, we find ourselves in the middle of the tiniest village - it literally has 2 small mud shacks. The shacks have no walls, and browning dry palm leaves for roofs. In the shacks live families of 16-20 people. Around them are pigs, dogs and chickens, all thin and munching on anything they can find on the floor. One girl even has the smallest kitten I have ever seen in her hands. I want to take pictures of everything, but it’s disrespectful and the whole village was looking at us like we had just come down from space.

After a few minutes negotiation, we are instructed to thrown the heavy parts of our kit in a pile on the floor - some of the villagers would hoof it up the next hill with our bags. This was AMAZING news. I took out my hammock and my wet kit , kept my bladder and pretty much everything else - my bag was so much lighter - this was dreamy. My mood was immediately lifted.  We pretty much emptied Robs pack on the floor - he still wasn’t right. Throughout the trip I had been feeding him salt tabs and making him drink, but he would go through these really low patches where he had no energy at all. I think he was constantly leaving it too late to do anything about being hungry and thirsty - the rule in these environments is, if you have a hotspot or a twinge deal with it immediately - same with eating and drinking. If you even feel a tiny bit low, deal with it immediately or it will come back and bite you on the arse. 

I was almost totally out of snacks now - I know right? Me. Out. Of. Snacks. All I had was a bag of fruit pastilles. I was being so careful with them. I had said to everyone that the opening of the fruit pastilles would mark the beginning of the end. They were for emergencies and sad times. I could see that the team, although overjoyed about the fact our bags were lighter, were hungry and tired. So I opened the fruit pastilles and gave one to everyone. They were the best thing I had ever tasted. I tucked them away for later. 

Darren takes five. Photo: James Appleton

Darren takes five. Photo: James Appleton

We left the village and started off up yet another hill. The mud and elevation were similar to before, but the jungle was different. There were more tiny farms and even some “fields”.  The vegetation started to change. It became greener and more cartoon like. It was getting to be quite pleasent. Maybe it was the fact that we knew we only had one more day maximum in here, maybe it was the different setting, with lighter bags, or maybe it was the one fruit pastille. Whatever it was, we had all perked up. Rob was still at the back, but we were trying our best to push him on without annoying him. There is a fine line between encouragement and pissing someone off in these environments. A very fine line. 

Merlin and Darren taking it all on on one of the final days. Photo: James Appleton

Merlin and Darren taking it all on on one of the final days. Photo: James Appleton

After an hour or two we started to hear voices behind us. It was the guys from the village, carrying our stuff up the hill. Now, I expected the guys doing this to be a bunch of 18 year old badass farmers, but as they came into view, I realised this was not the case at all. The group was made up of 5 or 6 children, boys and girls. I say children - none of them were more than 15 years old. The youngest was maybe 8. All of them had our shit strapped to their backs with shawls and makeshift bags. All of them had wellies on. None of them broke a sweat. They swaggered past us, silently. I couldn’t even hear their breath. We were huffing and puffing and these kids seemed to glide up the hill with most of our gear. Mental. I felt terrible. I felt like we were in some way taking huge advantage of these people. I didn't expect to see young girls carrying my stuff! They kids stormed up the hill and disappeared from sight. It started to rain. It started to rain a lot - proper jungle shower time. I put my jacket on and put my head down. Onwards. We walked on for another 2 or 3 hours. I was getting really hungry, and was so sad about the lack of snacks. The environment really felt different now - less threatening. There were occasional hard packed trails with beautiful views, and fields of long, green grass. The mud was still there but it was manageable now, the ascents easier with less on our backs. The views took my breath away. The rain was on and off and the end was in sight. We rounded a corner and saw the kids from the village sitting on a grassy mound with our stuff all around them. Time to put it back in our packs again then…

The constant march continues. Hopefully this shot shows the scale. Photo: James Appleton

The constant march continues. Hopefully this shot shows the scale. Photo: James Appleton

Jim and Rick were about five minutes behind us, but we had lost Rob - he was still behind us but the gap between us was getting bigger. We sat down on the grass and started sorting our stuff. Jim and Rick caught up, so we were just waiting for Rob and Moises now. The kids looked at us with silent, stony stares. I decided I was going to have a precious pastille, so got them out. I gave one each to Rick, Jim, Merlin and Darren and then offered them to the villagers. They took them with trepidation, and I watched as they put them in their mouths. Their eyes lit up as they chewed them. I realised they had probably never had anything like this to eat before. I felt both massive love and gratitude for them, what they had done for us and their badassery getting up those hills, and then massive guilt that I had just introduced them to the world of sugar and E numbers. After about 25 mins, Rob and Moises appeared. All of us stood up and cheered. Rob seemed in good spirits and waved at us. He sat down on the grass for a little rest. We still didn’t have James with us. We were all slightly nervous about where he was. It was now about 2pm and we had been on the move since 7am. We started trying to do ultra maths in our head - trying to work out how long it would have taken him to run up that hill, get back down, get his pack and catch us up. It was futile though - we had no idea. For all we knew he may be lost to the jungle forever.

Rob digs deep. Photo: James Appleton

Rob digs deep. Photo: James Appleton

We decided, once again, to split Robs stuff up between us so he could go on with a lighter load. He seemed totally cool with this, so we set about repacking, with each person taking a few kilos extra. I still had the stinking bin bag, and now it was starting to rip. I attached it to the back of my pack with bungy chords and hoped for the best. Then I heard a shout. James was back, We could see him and Elvin bouncing towards us, sweaty and soaking wet. I didn’t want to ask the question. Nobody did. We were so over the moon to see him. 

He didn’t find it. They had left at 4am and RUN (YES RUN) up that hill to the spot where they lost the drone. They used head torches until first light, when they continued the search, deciding to call it off at 8am and head back down to the river crossing. James was gutted, really gutted. Alvin on the other hand, swore that he would return and find the drone at a later date. I for one 100% believe he will do that. James and Moises had managed to catch us up, even though we’d had at least a 2 hour head start and they’d been carrying their full packs. They were monsters. So, so fit. I had so much respect for them. Total legends. I gave them both a precious pastille. In fact I think I gave them two each because they were special.

So the band was back together. We looked at the GPS, and Rick and Jim had a chat. We wouldn’t make it out today. We would have to spend one more night in the jungle, and get out the following day. Although this news made my heart sink slightly, I knew that tonight was finally the last night in the jungle.  Any longer and we would miss our flight home. If we could keep going for another 3 or so hours, we could set up camp and then have about 10km the following day to the extraction point. And that would be it. 

A familiar sight. Packs back on - painfest. Photo: James Appleton

A familiar sight. Packs back on - painfest. Photo: James Appleton

We hurriedly ate lunch and said goodbye to the villagers. Packs back on and we were marching again - happy to be together, Moises and Elvin had promised that there would be no more steep ascents. Why the fuck do I trust these guys? 

This section was undulating, up and down and up up up, then down. It was a bit like being in a REALLY hilly New Forest. The trails were easier to follow - they were trails the locals used to get to and from market. They weren’t as boggy, and the trees became more spread out. I would describe the flora and fauna as like being shrunk and put into a forest in the UK. Things looked familiar - ferns and trees and flowers but everything was a thousand times bigger. We were like tiny borrower people. 

Jungle vegetation dwarfing Rob in front of me.

Jungle vegetation dwarfing Rob in front of me.

I was mega hungry now. Like proper hungry for sweets. I had given out the last of the pastilles to Elvin and Moises, and was desperate for something sugary. I went a bit quiet. Surely we had to be stopping to camp soon. I climbed yet another hill and saw James standing at the top taking pictures. He asked me if I was OK. He was always checking other people were OK. I whinged about how hungry I was and the lack of snacks. He then opened his bag and produced half a snickers. He may as well have got out a million quid. He gave me the squashed chocolate and I starred at him. He told me to enjoy it, so I nibbled tiny bits off it, sharing it with Merlin. It was totally delicious. One of the best things I had ever tasted. He reminded me I had carried his red bull for him and he hadn’t forgotten. This is human kindness. It’s something I will always treasure. I was so grateful, and that tiny bit of chocolate kept me going for another half an hour until we stopped to set up camp. 

Rules of a good campsite generally include having a running water source. We were at the top of a hill and there was no water to be seen or heard. Never the less, Moises and Elvin pick up the water filter and dart off to find some. They said they thought there was a well near by. We all set about hacking away and putting up hammocks and tarps. This spot was so much better than yesterdays - it’s more forest than Jungle. The mood was uplifted and bright. This was it - the final time we would have to do this. We were all feeling really positive - tomorrow we just had 10km and then we would be out, on a boat, on our way to Boco Del Torres - we would get there in the dark and leave there in the dark, but we WOULD be able to have a shower and proper food and a fucking beer. And we would be on our way home. The thought of all of this was just the best thing ever. 

Setting up camp for the final time. Photo: James Appleton

Setting up camp for the final time. Photo: James Appleton

I had, by this point, become a bit of a pro at putting my hammock up. Or so I thought. I spent an hour or so sorting my stuff out, helped the boys with their feet and ate my dinner. Darren came over to my hammock with a travel size Jack Daniels he had been saving and let me have a cheeky sip. It was delicious. For the first time I noticed that Moises and Elvin don't sleep in hammocks - they sleep on the floor under a tarp. They were laying there, laughing and joking on the floor of the jungle. What a couple of fucking badasses. 

I got my warm leggings on, hung my stuff up and got in my hammock. And then it started to rain. It was such a lovely sound, and I was soon asleep. 

That night I wake up at about 2am. It’s pitch black. I am on the floor. Turns out, I’m not yet a pro when it come to putting a hammock up. The rain has made the trees wet, and it’s slipped down onto the floor. I can hear something walking around - not a human, something with 4 legs. It shuffles past me. I don't feel scared. I just lay there. I wriggle a bit. Yes, I am definitely on the floor. I think of Moises and Elvin on the floor too. I turn my face a bit and feel something on it, poking its legs through the mosquito net, and crawling towards the top of my head. I keep my eyes shut and breathe. To this day I don't know if it was a spider or a stick insect or a massive fucking ant. All I know is that I was too tired to be scared or to panic. I went back to sleep on the floor. 

The Jungle - Day 17 - Extraction 

5am alarm. My first thoughts are “this is it - this is the end.” I am both excited and kind of sad. The sort of sadness you have as a kid on Christmas morning when you realise you have waited all year for this day to come, and waking up means ultimately it will end. It felt like I wanted the day to last forever, because it ending would mean the whole adventure was over. 

Jungle mornings. Photo: James Appleton

Jungle mornings. Photo: James Appleton

I had got used to the early mornings, the routines and the lack of food. I liked knowing all I had to do was run/walk/trek. I loved not having distractions. I loved my team mates. I loved the silence and the noises. I loved the rain. I loved feeling like the only people on earth. Of course, there were things I HATED. Wet feet all the time, being disgusting, not being able to get clean. Having hair that was now one massive dreadlock. I missed my boyfriend, family and my dogs (mostly my dogs). I did not miss any other part of my life back home at all. 

After packing away my hammock for the final time, I helped Merlin and Darren with their feet (I am now out for hire as a chiropodist). I was sat on a street stump rubbing lube all over my trotters, when Rick came over. His feet were killing him - they were sore, blistered and were starting to rot. He asked me what I was doing to mine. I had made sure, without fail, that every single night I took my socks off and poured rubbing alcohol on my feet. I had then let them dry out all night in the open and, in the morning, I would cover them with lube and fresh socks. Not any old lube. Ann Summers Silicon Lube, as recommended by my friend Lee. Sexy lube. It’s better than the water based stuff, because it forms a waterproof barrier between your feet and your wet socks and boots. It’s like another skin. My feet were battered and bruised, but they were not blistered and were not rotting. Rick looked at me like I was mental, then grabbed the lube and rubbed it all over his feet. I had a feeling it may already be too late…..

Welcome to Bailey’s foot spa. Photo: James Appleton

Welcome to Bailey’s foot spa. Photo: James Appleton

Everyone was pretty chirpy that morning. Rob especially. He had suffered the most during this trip, and I knew he was desperate to get out and go home. He had suffered but fuck me, does that man have grit. He had pushed and pushed himself to his very limits and not given in. I’d seen him laughing and I’d seen him crying. Probably crying more than laughing (jokes Rob). He had a steely determination to get this done, even when I could see he was in real mental and physical pain. Of everyone we had with us, it was Rob I admired most. Darren, Merlin and James are famously fit, agile, young men. Jim is a bulldozer. He shuts down and gets on with it. This was Robs first attempt at something of this level, and he was giving it everything he had. I’m not saying that anyone had it easier than anyone else. I’m saying this was a group of mixed ability - as it should be - and to me, Robs effort and stubbornness stood out as something to be admired. 

Rob has a funny way of doing stuff. He's VERY methodical, and every night, when we set up camp, I would watch him getting jobs done in a very rigid way - he had his routine, his way of laying his kit out and putting his tarp and hammock up. He would get well and truly in the zone, and wouldn’t stop until everything was in it’s right place and sorted. He was like king boy scout. I think this was his way of regaining some kind of control in an environment where he felt he had none. Merlin and Darren were the same. Military precision with stuff. I felt like although I had the admin down, I would kind of float about doing this and that. Have a fag, put a hammock up, sit down, look at an ant, get a sleeping bag out, sing a song to a stick insect, stare at nothing. That sort of thing. I had my things that I did EVERY day and night - feet, contact lenses etc. but those boys could faff for hours with ropes and tarps and hanging stuff. Granted my camp looked like shit. The boys had made shelves out of machetes and bits of bamboo. Merlin had a machete shelf for his jungle formula. He later fashioned it into a bog roll holder. I always found it interesting to watch them.

The new jungle range from IKEA.

The new jungle range from IKEA.

After our final jungle coffee, it was packs on our backs and onwards to extraction. No more big climbs, just down, down, down towards some unnamed village where we would have a taxi boat to take us off to the mainland. The plan was get there by 1 or 2 ish, get out and get the boat taxi to Bocas Del Torres in time for cocktails and sunset. There was some talk of us going to film the pack raft segment, but I kind of ignored that. Having never pack rafted before, I wasn't planning to start now. TODAY I WAS GOING TO GET A COLD BEER AND A SHOWER. That, my friend, is motivation. 

The slow downhill soon turned back into a steep uphill. The views were frankly astonishing. I felt like I was in a holiday brochure. Even the photos I took on my phone were out of this world amazing. We didn’t really know how far we had to too go - again it was all estimates and guess work, but we knew that every step we took was a step closer to home. The sun came out and we stopped at the top of a hill for a rest. It was fucking BOILING, the hottest it had been and there was no real shade that wasn't in knee deep cow shit. We realised we had all run out of water - we had been up high all day, with only a slight downhill and so hadn't seen any rivers to get water filtered. James took the opportunity to do some filming and I chatted with Merlin and Darren. Rob was behind us. Rick pointed to a lake in the distance. That lake was the extraction point. Beyond the lake was the sea and the island. We were almost there. 

From this hill we could see the sea and there lake. We were nearly home. Photo: James Appleton

From this hill we could see the sea and there lake. We were nearly home. Photo: James Appleton

When Rob got to the stop, he was very red and very hot. He wasn’t talking much - but that wasn’t unusual - Rob always went quiet when he was hurting. He stood to the side of the group, leaning on his poles to recover, and then he took his shirt off. I kind of thought this was weird behaviour and I should have questioned it at the time. Looking back on it, this was a very clear sign that all was not well with him. Darren and James often had their shirts off (obvs, they're the posterboys) but Rob not so much. Merlin never did - he was, as I said, cursed with being ginger. It would have been suicide for Merlin to even thing of such a thing. 

Rob didn’t look great, no not because he had his shirt off, but because his face was almost totally drained of colour. We pooled together some old bits of pit stop bar, a few skittles and the last of our water for him . He’ll be OK I thought - he just needs ten minutes. Ten minutes came and went, and we pressed on, down a hill towards a water source. We got to the bottom after about an hour and found a small, dirty stream. We sat there and got our lunch out, while Rick filtered water and we all topped up.

We sat and ate our lunch in silence. Rob still didn’t look great, but we were so close to the end now. I was sure he could get through the next hour or so. We all grabbed some water and picked up our packs. Rob was carrying his full pack again, he’d insisted on doing so that morning. This was it - the final stretch. 

Splashy. Photo: James Appleton

Splashy. Photo: James Appleton

As we were at the base of a valley, we decided to follow the river bed - this meant slogging it through some pretty deep water for about a mile before we started the climb back up. Once up we were headed across farmland - long grasses and easy to walk trails - we were only a couple of miles from the extraction point. The thought of this gave me a huge boost. Darren, Merlin and I got a march on - Jim and Rob weren’t far behind. James was between us taking photos, going back and forth. Every corner that we turned I willed to be the last one, every field that we crossed I hoped to see the lake that marked the extraction point. My mind started playing tricks on me - tricks like thinking I could hear running water, thinking I could see the lake. I was at the front now, I could hear Darren and Merlin close behind. We came to the top of a ridge and below us was a small stream. We were about 800m from the end now. We decided to wait for the rest of the crew. I sat down, washed my gators and filled my water bottle. We chatted and chilled, talked about what beer we were going to have when we got out. Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty.  Jim and Rick appeared over the top of the ridge and sat down. There was no sign of Rob and Moises. Forty minutes passed and no sign of Rob and Moises. Alvin started shouting up the ridge, something he often did to try and work out where Moises was. Nothing. Forty five minutes passed and nothing. We were really starting to worry. Then we heard Moises shouting. He was saying he needed help. James jumped up and sprinted up the ridge to try and find him. We were all silent. I felt sick with worry. I think we all did. British awkwardness set in. Keep calm and carry on mentality - something that should actually be chucked in the bin. 

Selfie in the river bed before disaster struck. I find this picture physically painful to look at. I was so, so tired.

Selfie in the river bed before disaster struck. I find this picture physically painful to look at. I was so, so tired.

After another ten minutes, we start to hear voices. It was James shouting that he needs water. We look up and see James holding Rob. Rob is grey. His eyes are sunken and rolling in his head.  James is holding him up as he stumbles and slips down the mud towards us. His feet aren’t moving properly. His lips are almost blue. He is sweating, swaying and shaking, leaning all his bodyweight on James. He looks like he’s crying, but no tears are coming out. He is mumbling and making no sense. Moises is carrying Robs pack on top of his own. He has been carrying both for at least a mile. 

I don’t know what to do. I stand there, horrified. The boys sprint into action with Jim and Merlin grabbing him and trying to make him sit down. Rob is saying he can’t feel his legs. He’s moaning and it looks like he’s hyperventilating. He keeps saying he’s cold but he’s obviously very hot. Jim is very calm and is trying to lean him against a tree. Merlin is talking to him, telling him to breathe. Darren is helping Jim support him. We eventually get him on his knees and start taking his top off. We need to cool him down, but he doesn’t want to lay down in the stream, and is fighting against Jim and Darren. James is holding his shoulders and telling him to keep calm. I stand there like a useless sack of shit, unable to work out what to do. My instinct is to run away. I feel like a terrible person. I busy myself filtering water and trying to get Rob to drink it. I search bags for bits of food. And I watch as the rest of the crew battle to get Rob to come round. 

Robs body has given up. It becomes apparent that he is severely dehydrated. Dangerously dehydrated. He isn’t making sense. Between moments of hyperventilating silence, he yells and shouts that he is hot or cold, and that he cant feel his legs. He’s crying. Sometimes he apologises. Sometimes he just cries out. Eventually the team get him to lay down in the water. He doesn’t want to put his head in it. James calms him down and coaxes him into the water by cupping his head and holding it. All the boys are working as a team and I am just stood there staring at them. It’s fucking horrible. 

This goes on for a while, and eventually Rob starts to calm down. We give him the bits of food we have found and make him drink water. I think we get some more salt tabs down him. After another half an hour, he starts to come round, and we can understand what he is saying. I don't remember much about what happened at this point. I know Merlin distracted me by finding a tiny crab to play with. 

Merlin makes a friend.

Merlin makes a friend.

This was one of the defining moments of the trip. We had all pushed ourselves so hard, and we were so near the end. Maybe we had been too distracted by finishing to notice Rob deteriorating. We should have picked up on his behaviour when we stopped earlier. But what matters, is at the point where disaster struck, everyone pulled together. Without a plan in place, the crew just got on with it and managed to turn around a situation that could have been so much worse. I will never forget what happened that day. It was a real fucking wake up call. I felt useless, and since that day, I have read up on pretty much everything to do with dehydration and what to do about it. I wish I could have been more helpful. I am only grateful for the expertise and precise care that Jim, James, Merlin and Darren were able to provide. There is a breaking point, and Rob had reached it. We were all immensely lucky that it happened this way. If Rob had been alone without Moises, it could have had a far more tragic outcome. 

After another twenty minutes, we decide to press on. We distribute Robs stuff between us, and get him some new poles - his are totally bent. We attempt some lame humour on the hike up, and tell Rob we love him. We are now keeping a close eye on him. When we get to the top of the ridge, we see the village. We’ve done it. We have reached the extraction point. 

Puppies!

Puppies!

We are overjoyed. We stumble down into the village where the taxi boat will pick us up. There is a tiny school, houses, loads of animals and a shop. We slump outside the shop. It’s over. There are baby chickens and tiny puppies and even kittens. No really, there were! And in the shop there is ice cold fizzy orange and crisps. Jim buys us all a bottle and it tastes like rainbows. 

I feel weird. Elated, exhausted and empty. The whole village stares at us. The tiny puppies nibble my fingers and try and eat the bin bag (I still have the fucking bin bag - now it has maggots in it). 

We are escorted down to the lakes edge and put in a dodgy looking boat. It’s over. Jim wants to head out to the pack rafts to do some filming this afternoon - just so we have that in the bag for the promo video. We all agree to go. Merlin and Jim will pack raft and Darren and I will sit in the dugout. Like I said before - I have never pack rafted before, and I wasn’t about to start now. 

The taxi boat arrives. It’s over. Photo: James Appleton

The taxi boat arrives. It’s over. Photo: James Appleton

When we get off the taxi boat we sit and wait for our lift at a bus stop. Rob is still not well. I try and make him eat some pudding I’ve found in a bag. He’s like a petulant child, and keeps refusing, but I eventually get it down him.  We have to wait and hour and a half to be picked up. Darren falls asleep on a bench. Jim phones home and talks to Dani - he comes back to tell me my boyfriend has been freaking out because our trackers stopped working in the jungle and he thinks that we are all dead. It seems like he's about 3 hours away from calling in a full search party. I text him to let him know we are OK. I feel empty. 

Darren personifies how we all feel.

Darren personifies how we all feel.

Looking back on this time, at the end of the crossing, is weird. We behaved like we had just finished a normal, slightly tiring day. In reality, we had just crossed a country for the second time in a week. We had faced some of the most hostile conditions on earth. We had cried, ached, screamed, slogged, and dug down to the last of our energy supplies. We had snipped at each other, cuddled each other, supported and at times and for brief moments, hated each other. We had helped each other, shared food, jokes, snacks and vital medical supplies. We had slept in the jungle for 4 nights with only each other for protection and company. We had seen the darkest sides of each other. We had seen the kindness in each other. We had, each of us, given our everything to the team, the terrain and the adventure. We’d had only had each other. And now it was over. It felt impossible that it was over. But it was. None of us would be able to process our true feelings until many weeks after we had got home. So for now, we pretended everything was OK. 

Eventually our lift arrived to take us to where we would film the pack raft scenes for the video. We were all exhausted. We arrived at the gate of a huge hydroelectric power station. We left Rob in the car to sleep, and made our way down to the enormous and raging river. When the event is done with the public, this will be the final stretch - you will pack raft your way down to the coast and be taken to the island. I kind of wish I’d given it a go now, but to be quite honest I was physically done, and as much as I love doing new stuff, I didn’t think this was the time or the place for me to be learning how not to drown.

Now THAT is a boat……the dugout.

Now THAT is a boat……the dugout.

Darren and I sat in the dugout looking after the equipment while James, Jim and Merlin negotiated the rapids in what were basically blow up rubber dingies. All was going pretty well until James went over on a particularly ferocious corner, tipping him and his five grand camera into the water. We managed to get the camera back, but it was “quite wet”. Once again James was devastated. These things happen but twice in a week?! James spent the next two hours beating himself up about it and I didn’t blame him. 

Scenes filmed, we made our way back up to the car. Rob had slept and felt a little better. That was it. It was time to go to the island. On the way we stop in a town, and all rush to the corner shop to buy beer and crisps. The beer was magnificent. We sat outside the car and drank and laughed and ate crisps. I felt like we were pretending it wasn’t over.

The first beer…….

The first beer…….

We got to the water ferry terminal and said our goodbyes to Moises and Elvin. Those two, as much as I hated them for taking us the wrong way and telling out-right lies about how there were “no more hills” had been such legends. Some days, I wonder what they are up to. We get onto a small boat and speed off towards the island. It was dark at this point, and as we flew across the waves, the ocean lit up with bioluminescence in the most beautiful and magical way. It was over, and tomorrow we would be going home.

Here is where our story ends for now. I could go into how I had a meltdown on the island because I couldn’t have a shower before dinner, and how the boys calmed me down. I could go into how we had to get up at 5am to film James’ final beach scenes, clinking glasses of fake wine. I could go into how that night I cried myself to sleep, wondering what the point of it all was. But I won’t. 

If I am completely honest with myself, I still haven’t processed those last few days or where they have left me mentally. Am I scarred or reborn? I don’t know. Have I lost my purpose? Definitely. Did that trip make me or break me? I honestly can’t say. Would I do it all again? FUCK YES. 

I hope that this blog has given you some insight into what it’s  REALLY like to take on a challenge like this. It’s been an endurance challenge in itself writing it - so I imagine reading it has been the same. I hope it inspires you to want to see the world, to want to travel, achieve insane world firsts and visit places that are totally off the grid. I hope it fills you with hope, and the knowledge that humans can be the most wonderful of creatures when all they have is each other.  There will be a final word on all this, a kind of epilogue I guess, when I can pick myself up enough to write it, and when I have worked out the real effect this journey had, and continues to have on me. For now, I want to say thank you to my team mates - James Appleton, Darren Grigas, Merlin Duff, Jim Mee and Rob Atkin. Without any one of those people, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we did.  A huge thanks to our guide Rick Moreno and to Moises and Elvin the superhuman Panamanians. And a thank you to every person that reads this blog. I am not the best writer but I am trying. I am not the best runner, but I am trying and I am not the best person, but experiences like this will force me to keep on trying.

I don’t know what the next adventure will be. My life is changing in every way at the moment. I am moving out of London to the countryside, and taking stock of the world and where my place is in it. This trip has given me that. It has forced me to take stock. I am just grateful that I got the opportunity to share it with so many brilliant people. 

Early morning on Bocas Del Torro. This is what you could have won…….

Early morning on Bocas Del Torro. This is what you could have won…….