So, that's it. Saturday night, the curtain came down on Rock of Ages. It was an electrifying night. We were joined in the audience by friends, family and fans of the show who have followed the tour around the country at various points on our seven-month journey. It was a fantastic experience and I've made some great friends but I am utterly exhausted (and grateful I won't be pinning and gluing a rather repulsive wig to my head anymore)
I've made my way back to Wales to see my folks before we fly to Tanzania on Sunday. I have the daunting prospect of unpacking my car which has turned into my overgrown suitcase over the past few months. I have to open the boot with extreme cautio,n as it threatens to spit out a ton of trekking gear, backpacks and clothes that have slowly been building up as the tour has progressed.
Dan, Lauren and I are ready for the Kilimanjaro challenge. I think. We have a WhatsApp group called 'The Mountaineers' which we use to chat to each other. It's great. We use it to check on each other's training progress, jabs, visas, donations, and sadly to tell each other where the best deals on kit are. We are all weirdly drawn to climbing and trekking shops like geeky moths to a flame. "Lillywhite's have a sale on anti-mosquito trekking shirts, only twenty five quid, they were fifty in that other place" Dan reliably informed me yesterday. We also use it for "your mum" Jokes.
With regards to our innoculations, they were many and varied. We've had more jabs than Lennox Lewis. Yellow fever, tetanus, Diptheria, pertussis (TDP) hepatitis A and B and rabies. The latter two needing doses at one, seven and 28 days. Ouch. But I suppose not as ouch as getting one of these dreafdul diseases. Oh, and the anti-malarials. I'll take them the day before departure, then every day of the trek and for seven days on return. Mosquitos are bastards.
We squeezed a last minute trek in last weekend. After finishing two shows at the Southend Cliffs Pavilion (which couldn't be further east) Lauren came to meet Dan and I and we hit the road at about 11.30pm. It's always a bit manic on a Saturday, as the whole show is packed into huge trucks and moved to the next venue. Anyway, I drove for four hours and we arrived at our glamorous overnight location - the Travelodge in Telford. We fell into bed, Dan took the main bed, with Lauren and I squeezed into put-you-ups either side. I say squeezed. I'm 6'1 and my legs were dangling off the bed from around the knee down. We managed to get four hours sleep and awoke at eight to a rather gloomy midlands day. We got back in the car and headed north west. Next stop, Snowdonia National Park. Even though I was blinded by tiredness, as the countryside opened up we were blown away by the scenery. Being a Welsh boy, I was bursting with pride as we drove through stunning valleys, passing grand lakes and picture postcard pubs.
Lauren had climbed Snowdon before as a kid but we researched the routes that would challenge us most. We settled on the Watkins path, a route which takes you up the southern side of the mountain. It was named after Sir Edward Watkins (not Ian 'H' Watkins from Steps), a Liberal MP who retired in the foothills of Snowdon. The path was opened in 1892 and is known as one of the tougher routes and we were soon shown why. We started the walk through the base of the Cwm Llan Valley, stunning hills draped in rusty fern and pristine water cascading over rocks and gathering in huge pools, we gathered that people must use them for a swim in the summer. Not today though.
About an hour in we passed the gladstone rock near an old slate quarry, Apparently William Gladstone addressed two thousand people from this point when opening the path. He was 83 at the time. Must have had hell of a set of pins on him. We carried on, and Lauren started using her walking poles for the first time. They can be a little tricky to get used to but soon you see them as an invaluable part of your kit. They distribute your weight, acting as personal bannister on your ascent and saving your knees and stumbles on descent. They also make you feel a bit like Frodo Baggins.
We continued up into the cloud line and visibility dropped to about ten meters with the path underfoot melting away into treacherous scree. We had to pass out of the way of quite a number of unprepared people who were literally tumbling down the path on their way down, feeling slightly smug that we were a little better prepared. Frost started to form on our eyelashes and hats so we knew we were heading in the right direction. When we finally reached the summit, we stopped to make a little video (we have a rock trek Facebook page where we post snippets and progress) and then stopped for a bit of lunch in the shelter of the closed, out of season cafe. We couldn't feel our hands so decided it was best to start down.
And then something magical happened. Lauren did a wee. It was something that had been bothering her. Being the only lady in the expedition and not well experienced in the art out of outdoor relief was a hurdle that needed to be overcome. I'm so proud of her. We defended carefully back through the scree fields and as we broke through the cloud line, the most magnificent view of the valley was laid out in front of us with the sun setting over the ridge it was a breathtaking sight. In fact that has been one of the best parts of this training process; seeing our beautiful country at it's biggest, brashest and blustery best. We used our head torches for the last hour or so tripping our way down through the foothills and back to the car. It took us six hours up and back and then I drove us another three hours to Birmingham where we stayed overnight before travelling back to London to open the show in Wimbledon.
I think this trip confirmed to me that we're ready to face Kilimanjaro. With regards to fitness, we are performers, we expel huge amounts of energy daily. That was never my concern with this training. It was the mental training that I have found useful. Having to keep going regardless. Having to make it to the next venue regardless, whether that be the Travelodge in Telford or the peak of Lochnagar. You just have to keep going.
I should be more excited but the tiredness is keeping my emotions at bay. It's probably a good thing. As Sunday draws closer and we buy final bits and pieces to add to the ever expanding kit the challenge we have set ourself is clear. We are about to embark on one of the toughest, most exhilarating moments of our lives.
Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. We have raised over twelve thousand pounds and want the total to keep rising. You can find all the info at our Virgin Money page and keep up to date and watch videos of our progress on the Rock Trek Facebook page.