Before I start …
I’d like to introduce you to the two charities I am raising money for. It’s difficult to ask for your hard earned money for each event that I/we do, so if you feel inspired by the story of the charities, hopefully that is motivation enough to make a donation and change a life.
The charity was founded in 2018 in memory of Mark Knapp, a much-loved husband and father of 2 young children, who died very suddenly and unexpectedly. Mark made such a positive impact on so many lives that we felt driven to set up this charity to honour his memory and to improve support for those so will follow in our footsteps. Made a Mark is registered with the Charity Commission in England and Wales and is a no-salary charity, run solely by volunteers for the public benefit.
If a child loses a parent or sibling, we want to help professionals offer opportunities to capture precious memories and initial support. We provide memory boxes and resources to many settings including acute hospitals, hospices and schools to help them better support children following the death of a close loved one. This box contains books, a journal and a pair of soft toys, as well as a kit to take a handprint and a lock of hair. This can be used to capture precious memories in the moment and added to in the difficult times ahead.
The Charlie Froud Foundation’ has been set up in memory of Charlie, a 14 year-old boy who died in October 2008 when the light aircraft he was travelling in, crashed in the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland. He was on his way to stay in the holiday home of his good friend Ayman and his parents, all of whom were with Charlie on the plane and died with him.
By Charlie’s mum, Heather:
When Charlie died David, Georgia and I were shocked and devastated. Completely unexpectedly our lives had been changed for ever and we had a gaping hole where Charlie used to be.
The Charlie Froud Foundation started from a need to say thank you to the people who searched tirelessly for, and discovered the plane. They then had the awful task of dealing both with the human tragedy they found, and the removal of the plane from the mountain. Our friendship with The Glen of Imaal Mountain rescue volunteers began!
Over the years since that fateful day, the Charlie Froud Foundation has grown to be a registered charity that supports a variety of good causes and has brought many people together through events and challenges. Many of Charlie’s friends are involved to this day and take a leading role in some of the adventures to raise funds.
For me, this was a step outside my comfort zone. Although I’ve done a few events before, I haven’t done many multi-day events and the challenge both intrigued and excited me. I signed up for the 2020 trip which was only cancelled in May 2020 due to the Covid situation. The event was delayed for 12 months but still wasn’t a certainty until about 3/4 weeks before departure. This made it difficult to train for but I felt amply prepared for the adventure.
It’s important to note that this was a “test pilot” trip and the plan is always likely to change. The plan was to attempt to traverse Dominica from the southernmost point to the northernmost along the Waitukubuli National Trail. The WNT is split into 14 segments and we would be attempting to complete the 100 miles (approx) in 6 days.
Our test pilot team comprised of myself and Ann (the two “participants”); then four members of the Rat Race Team. Allie (Chief Test Pilot), Abbi (Expedition Leader), Leo (Photograher) and Rachel (Graphic and Web Designer). I didn’t know anybody personally before meeting on this trip. I had only spoken over the phone and online to get everything organised in advance.
2.7.21 – Strava Stats Day 1
After having a few days to absorb the breath-taking landscape and scenery it was time to get started! Unfortunately I woke up with an upset stomach and at 4am had a tough episode! We had to get up for 5am to get ready, so felt pretty awful going into day one. We started at Scott’s head at the southernmost tip of the island. We took a few photos and drone shots of the descent off Scott’s Head. It was a beautiful start to the day and the weather seemed like it would be manageable. As we entered the first village we put our masks on to walk through and then picked up the Waitukubuli Trail. It was hard going, steep walking up and down for a few hours.
We had been warned about a potential tropical storm which was turning into hurricane Elsa. We had departed Barbados only two days earlier which had now been hit hard. It had made its way across the Caribbean and was now facing us as we were half way through our day. We got to the top of our first big climb and I got my phone out to take some pictures, put it back in my pocket and the heavens opened. We were soaked from head to toe and my trekking trousers started to chafe. We carried on and completed segment one and two of the Waitukubuli Trail. We covered over 12 miles and 8000ft of climbing. We then headed back to Jungle Bay to rest and recover.
The chaffing was a real problem, I had worn two big red holes in my inner thighs and the skin layers were peeling off – tough lesson to learn from especially with 5 more days of walking ahead of me. Luckily Abbi had some miracle cream and lube which I applied to my legs overnight in the hope the pain would ease off for day 2.
3.7.21 – Strava Stats Day 2
Another early start 5am. Legs were sore and in pieces but a combination of the creams and wearing legging style trousers under a pair of shorts eased the pain and made it more than manageable to walk and get going again. We headed back to Scott’s Head to reshoot the drone footage coming down from the start line, then we were back in the van and onto the start of segment three.
It became quite apparent that we wouldn’t complete what we attempted within the first two days. We climbed almost 5oooft and the paths were too overgrown and in places hard to pass, it really slowed us down. There were many trees that had come down in the previous two days in Hurricane Elsa. We still covered some good distance and elevation but it was another long, tough day. At the end of the day we were dropped at our new location for the next two days – Harmony Villa.
4.7.21 – Strava Stats Day 3
It was again an early start to give us a chance to make up some lost distance. The schedule for the day included much less elevation but it was hard to maintain a strong pace as we did a lot of river walking and it was tricky under foot. The hurricane has also passed and the full force of the sun was back in play and we needed to ensure we took on enough food and water as we navigated our way through.
The cumulative effect of two long days, new foods that I wasn’t very keen on were starting to take its toll for me personally. From before the event starting, I was interested to see where my breaking point might be. I found it at the lunch break of day 3 after 9 miles. I found it tough and I was struggling to eat any food during the first half of the day and when we got to lunch, I still didn’t feel like eating and I felt like I would become more of a problem to the rest of the team as the day went on if I continued to trek with them. It was suggested I stay with the van at the lunch break and be taken ahead to our rest point and miss the afternoon’s trek. This was the right decision for me and I was hoping the extra rest and chance to get some fluids and food on board would give me a good chance of starting day 4 strongly.
I settled into the shack at Hibiscus and got some sleep.
5.7.21 – Strava Stats Day 4
The excitement for most of the trail is that we didn’t know what to expect each day. Day four had been proposed as a relatively flat beach running day of around 9-10 miles. This sounded like welcome relief to trying to scale anymore of the island’s mountains. In reality this day was a coastal seaweed trudge! The whole coast was covered in sargassum seaweed which had been washed in from the tides. It was deep and thick and tough to walk on. We had a new local guide (Nigel) with us for the first time, he was an interesting character and introduced us to much of the island’s flora and fauna. Some sections became very technical and it did slow us down somewhat. But on the whole this was a fun and enjoyable day with lots of interesting view points.
We finished at Pointe Baptiste and stayed at the chocolate factory which has stayed in the same family for many years. It was a beautiful spot to finish the day and we had a few hours to enjoy the sun going down and to swim in the calm sea.
6.7.21 – Strava Stats Day 5
Our day five target was to get to the coast and our final hotel location of the beach at Portsmouth around 9 miles away. After an initial bit of climbing, much of the rest of the day was a technical descent down the mountain. We were again with Nigel who showed us how to open a coconut, almond and other fruits on the trees we passed. We knew day 6 was due to be a bit harder so to have a shorter day here was a welcome relief.
7.7.21 – Strava Stats Day 6
The last day. The target is to get to the northernmost point today at Cana Heritage Park. England also have their semi final of the Euros against Denmark at 3pm local time so I’m hoping we could get done in time to watch a bit of that!
Today, Leo and Allie were off around the island getting some more shots for camera that we hadn’t managed to get on the trail. It certainly made a difference to the feel of the day missing two of the members who had been there all the way through. We were planning to meet up with them again at the finish line so we could arrive at the tip of the island together.
The island still had a few more big climbs for us to navigate and difficult downhill sections which were again overgrown and it felt very much like day one and two again! Ann was unfortunately struggling with a shin issue which she finally succumbed to after marching on it bravely for a few days. She was missed on the last day and it didn’t feel the same.
We came out from the trail and joined a road which was also very undulating. The key difference being the road offered no shade and it was a hot stomp towards our lunch stop. We maintained a good pace and pushed on to get to the finish at 3.30pm as planned.
We reconvened with Allie, Leo and Ann at the finish point and got some shots of us reaching the finish together. It was a great relief and gave us time to absorb the distance we had covered and sights we had seen. We covered over 65 miles in the 6 days with over 22,000ft of climbing. A new milestone for myself personally.
Thank you to the team:
I was paired up with Ann for the shared accommodation and she was great fun from the start and little did I realise how much of a badass she is! She’s signed up for many of Rat Race’s big upcoming adventures and was a huge inspiration with her calm and friendly approach to everything. She was very organised and had every cream, spray and bit of kit you could possibly need on a trip like this, I learned a lot from her.
Allie is just incredible, she’s a real fighter and she pushed the team on every day. She’s a professional fitness maniac and I love her passion to explore. It was from reading one of her blogs two years ago that I was inspired to sign up for this event and I’ve never looked back or regretted the journey I’ve found myself on. Allie was my point of contact through the training and sign up process and was always available to talk to if I needed to ask anything about the trip. In real life, from the moment we met at Heathrow she made it all “real” and it didn’t feel like I was travelling with a business/corporation, it felt like traveling with real people. Thank you Allie.
Abbi had travelled to Dominica directly from Exuma (another Rat Race test pilot trip) so was already “warmed up!” She was again the model professional and had all the fixes to any issues we encountered. Thank you for saving my legs with your miracle creams Abbi! Her calm and measured approach to everything and attention to detail with all the admin and planning helped to make the trip run as smoothly as possible. There were all sorts of Covid restrictions imposed on our travelling to and from Dominica including PCR testing for the whole team. This was all dealt with to give us minimal disruption to our adventure.
Also joining us on the trip was Rachel, she works in the Rat Race office normally dealing with graphics and website related details, but she could easily pass as a trip leader too. She was so strong and completed every day with no fuss at all … apart from some of the things we tried to eat on the trail perhaps! Thanks for being there Rachel and being fun to talk to to keep our minds off the mountains ahead.
Finally thanks to Leo who was there to take all the shots. He basically had to do the trip whilst also carrying the heavy camera and drone equipment each day. I didn’t envy him with that task!
The whole journey was exciting and very much an unchartered adventure. The whole Rat Race team were great to travel with and I will definitely be signing up to something else on their calendar in the near future. They offer lots of UK based activities as well as an exploding worldwide list of adventures off the typical tourist trail.