To successfully attempt most tasks in life an individual needs his wits about him and all his senses in good order, and any degree of inhibition can become a burden. But the Black Country's living legend Blind Dave doesn't recognise adversity and continues to capture our imagination with his incredible feats of endurance, along with our admiration for the courage he shows when he faces life head on.
It is therefore a privilege to be able to tell Dave's own personal story of running and cycling the thousand miles from John O'Groats to Lands End in the Top to Toe Challenge that took place during August 2011, and this week we join him as he heads off towards Drumnadrochit on the banks of Loch Ness ...
"The ride to Drumnadrochit was horrendous, taking us up hill and down dale, and to say it was an undulating journey would be an understatement.
We experienced the worst rainfall in Scotland since records began, and even though it was August, the temperature plummeted.
We'd all come prepared for summer, but we couldn't get enough clothes on. At one point I was wearing two jackets, two pairs of gloves with rubber gloves inside them.
My feet and hands were soaking and bitterly cold and I can honestly say I've never experienced weather like it, not for a so called summer month any road! “During the ride one of the media team, Sean, a reasonable cyclist I am told, decided to get on his bike and try and ride the first leg, but at the first 30 miles stop he was shivering that much he simply had to give it up. This journey was definitely not for the feint hearted.
“To add to the mayhem the lads expressed a worry that at times they struggled to see much more than me. But even though the rain was making visibility dangerous we had no alternative but to crack on. The caravan was always a welcome sight, or in my case music to my ears. With the lashing rain and aching muscles, it was simply heaven to get off the bike for a spell, grab some food and warm yourself up.
“But the words ‘Let's go’ within a few minutes never let you get too comfortable. On leaving the Hill O' Many Stanes we passed through lots of places, some of which I can remember. Firstly there was one mother of a hill called Berrie Dale, where I discovered later young Ray from Jog had been perched on the hillside taking photos of our progress in the rain. We then moved onto Helmsdale, past Dunrobin Castle, through Golspie, and over Dornoch Firth. We had reached over half way, but it was still raining torrents. We were soaked through, muscles at breaking point but still just about flexing.
The weather was really taking us to the brink. To make matters worse Andy, driving our caravan of sanctuary, had to travel an extra 5 miles to park safely. You can imagine what psychological effect that had on us.
“But to finally hear the words ‘caravan in sight’ was absolute heaven, and to rest your bike's handlebars against its side, to put your bottom on a soft seat out of the rain, and wrap your hands round a hot cuppa, magic! “We rode on, through Inver Gordon, Dingwall and Beauly. Coming out of Beauly I remembered the recce I did with Debbie and the kids, when she remarked how steep the hill was with an extremely sharp left hand bend at the bottom. ‘One to watch out for!’ she said, ‘Coming down that hill at speed, the turn could have serious consequences.’ “I mentioned this to the lads and they were grateful I'd remembered because it turned out to be one hell of a turn, even for a bike. Finally we reached Drumnadrochit, our port of call for the night.
What a relief! It was 8.30pm and we were staying at the Loch Ness Back Packer's Hostel. There were a few moans from the team about the outside showers and basic amenities, but come on, what did they expect? We reflected on what we'd just achieved.
Starting at 4am we had run 26.2 miles and cycled 110 miles (over 16 hours on foot and in saddle) riding through driving rain and intense cold.
I had been on the back seat of the tandem, not able to lift myself out of the saddle, leg muscles screaming for rest, arms, back and shoulders stiff, my bum red raw, the last few miles was like sitting on a bag full of razor blades, soaked to the bone, tired and hungry.
All I wanted was food, a clean bed and a pillow for my weary head.
“Wendy from the hostel was yet another great host. She put food on for us and, bless her, she had even prepared a fund raising evening. But we were so done in we had to offer our apologies. All we wanted to do was sleep. Five of us bunked together, Duggie, Rosemary, Garry, Longy and myself, but then the fun started. I was told a sign read, ‘Keep the heater clear’, but there were more clothes on that little heater than you would find in a Chinese laundry, in fact an overspill went into Steve and Dave's room.
Rosemary sorted out the aches and pains and she was always the last to hit the sack.
That was it, the first day over, only 9 to go! It was now well after midnight, lights out and sleep at last.
“I don't think I even had time to dream. The alarm was going off and all five of us slowly roused ourselves. Then one timid voice amongst us said, ‘Sorry chaps’, Duggie had only gone and left his alarm on 3am from the previous day. He was no doubt expecting a barrage of insults, but instead we all groaned with relief, ‘Oh yes, two hours left’.
“It was like winning the lottery, but eventually 5 o'clock did arrive. Longy thrust a breakfast bar in my one hand and a drink in the other, then Garry was announcing, ‘Ten minutes to the off.’ He gathered us all together and reiterated something he'd told me about the night before.
Coming up the mother of all hills, Berrie Dale, he'd had an incident with an HGV which could have had a tragic ending, but could have been avoided had we all listened to him. I think we all got the message and from then on things went a lot smoother, after all, too many cooks do spoil the broth! “It was smack on 6am when Garry opened up the throttle on his bike. As the Challenge tune blared out, Longy and I were off, on our way to Loch Lomond. It was a fresh morning and I could feel the mist in the air, but fingers crossed no rain as yet.
“We passed Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness and followed the A82, which, although a Scottish trunk road was as narrow as a Black Country lane. Thankfully there wasn't a lot of traffic about that early in the morning.
Garry was out in front checking for any hazards, Duggie, Mike and Dave Sinar were once again cycling alongside, offering us any support we might need, and Steve, Dave Dourass and Rosemary were bringing up the rear in the support vehicle, advising the traffic behind what we were all about.
“I was feeling pretty good considering the exploits of Day 1, my legs were quite fresh but the under carriage was a bit sore. The road that ran along the loch, which I assumed would be flat, was in fact very hilly and this particular section turned out to be one of the toughest I've ever run. I'm surprised we never came across any mountain goats. I also found myself running along a camber in the road for long stretches, with my left foot seemingly three or four inches higher than my right, but we kept going regardless.
“I listened intently as Longy gave me a running commentary, but I was somewhat disappointed.
He couldn't see the loch because it was shrouded in mist, no chance of catching a glimpse of Nessie then, and there were plenty of trees, that was about it, ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘I forgot to add, plus twenty odd miles in front of us.’ Occasionally he would tell me to smile as the lads from the college were either passing us in their van, or had gone ahead and were taking photos and videos from the roadside. The chaps were students from South Birmingham College who Mike had sponsored for the challenge.
“We were now at the bottom of Loch Ness, and no, we hadn't seen as much as a ripple on the water created by Nessie. Next up was Fort Augustus, which at around 18 miles meant we had broken the back of Marathon No. 2.
But once again we got into a tangle with a rather large lorry. We had come upon a narrow bridge with a very tight turn after it, and perched on the bridge trying to manoeuvre was this HGV.
There were a few cars waiting to cross the bridge, so Longy decided it was much safer for us to stay in the queue than risk ourselves squeezing passed the manoeuvring lorry. We were caught up in a traffic jam on foot, but how the legs welcomed this brief respite.
“After the weather horrors of the first day the second day began to warm up, but with the legs once again starting to hurt it was one last push to Invergarry. From the recce I'd done with Debbie and the kids I remember her telling me about the petrol station with a bus stop right outside, and a cafe slightly further on.
It's strange what you remember, and when Longy told me he could see the petrol station, it was once again music to my ears. We ran into the cafe car park, the finish line waiting, our music playing and lots of people shouting their support. My arms were aloft, my legs relieved, we'd completed Marathon No. 2 in 4 hours and 27 minutes.
“It's strange how that petrol station turned out to be a land mark to find me.
Michelle Malone, a young lady and native of the Black Country who had recently moved to Inverness, had been trying to locate our whereabouts all morning. With both herself and her two young sons Joseph and Zac completely lost, and with the thought of missing me altogether, in desperation she gave me a call on my mobile. I had met Michelle some years ago when she attended a talk I was doing. Her eldest lad Joseph, only 7 at the time, had been diagnosed with the same eye complaint, Retinitis Pigmentosa, that I suffered from, and she was so upset thinking the young man's life was over before it had started. But after we'd had a chat she listened to my talk and soon began to realise there were so many crazy things that this blind man could do. I truly felt for Michelle and what she said to me afterwards had a tremendous effect on me.
‘Dave, I'll never cry again.
After listening to you there is a life for Joseph,’ “I was pleased I had been able to help someone combat their fears. Sadly, two weeks later Michelle was again in touch to tell me her youngest son Zac had also been diagnosed with RP, but to this day she has stayed positive in her outlook and we have remained good friends. Any road up she rang and I explained, ‘Invergarry, petrol station, bus stop, cafe car park’, and within 30 minutes she was giving me a big hug.
“Why is it that the last mile you run in a Marathon always takes forever, and yet the time spent immediately afterwards for rest and recuperation goes in a flash? Rosemary and Longy are on my back again — ‘Running kit off, cycling kit on’. Ouch! suddenly that bag of razor blades is back! Continues next week.