Reinventing myself

Giving up something that’s been the driving force in my life for the past 40 years has been a monumental move for me.
The writing has been on the wall for the past decade, but it was only after an expedition back in August that I faced up to the fact that it was time to hang up my climbing boots.
The expedition was successful- we climbed a 7000m peak to acclimatise, followed by a new route on a technical 6400m mountain. Most climbers would think this the reason NOT to give up climbing. But I came away from the trip feeling nothing but exhausted and despondent and very aware that my body was finally letting me down.
A right knee replacement in 2007; an osteotomy on my right ankle in 2013 followed by an ankle replacement the following year, and when this didn’t work, two attempts to fuse the ankle. The first attempt didn’t work because of my own stupidity and reluctance to allow the bone to knit. After my surgeon put the fear of god into me late in 2015, I gave fusion another go and this time it worked. But each op put me ten weeks in plaster (40 weeks over two years) had me in a lot of pain and eroded my fitness and drive to climb.
The expedition in August was the catalyst for my decision to call it a day.
Rob and I climbed a non-technical peak of just under 7000m first; five days up, two days down. Summit day we climbed from 5600m to 7000m, starting at 11pm, arriving back at the tent 33 hours later. In the past pushing my body to this extent has given me immense satisfaction, as has climbing a peak of this height.
But not this time. There was nothing but exhaustion and lots of pain and a query- why wasn’t I getting a buzz out of climbing a 7000m peak in such a remote corner of the world?
After a couple of days at basecamp we headed off for our second goal, a 6400m peak with a technical SE ridge of sections of steep snow and ice, granite corners and turrets. From what we could work out, this route hadn’t been climbed before.
We pitched the majority of the ridge over four days and this, being slower, suited my failing joints better. We summited on day five in thick cloud in a freezing, howling northerly. Getting off was dire- multiple rock abseils where visibility was none and the wind kept snarling our rope. Then a day descending a dangerous angled ramp, avalanche prone and threatened from above by seracs. We both hated this day.
The final section was a slog down the moraine accompanied by painkillers. All I could think was “thank god it’s over.” No high, no buzz, just “if I feel like this, then its time to give this game away.”
On the drive back to the town we were pulled up by the police, and to our dismay, told we didn’t have an XXX permit. There was the potential for deportation, we were told. Thankfully it didn’t come to that but we did spend a few hours at the police-headquarters whining to the commander who eventually let us go so long as we headed straight for the airport. More than a little unnerving and we have kept fairly quiet about the expedition since- we appreciate that we were let off lightly.
Needless to say, giving away a 40 year mountaineering career has left a big big gap. For the past (almost ) twenty years I have focused on expeditions to the Greater Ranges, in particular Central Asia. I’ve also had a couple of trips to Alaska, a couple to China, and three to India- but it’s the Ist-tans that have really grabbed me.
As soon as I’ve got home from one expedition I’ve started planning the next. Ive enjoyed the planning almost as much as the expeditions themselves and often wondered if there was a way I could use the skill to make a living.
So what to do instead?
Well, much to my friends hilarity I have become an “Adventure Motorcyclist.” I have a plan to ride from Istanbul to Magodan (eastern coast of Siberia) in 2018.
Turkey- Iran- Turkmenistan- Uzbekistan- Tajikistan- Kyrgyzstan- Kazakhstan- Siberia –Mongolia-Siberia.
This is 20,000km and will take three to four months.
In the meantime I need to become a proficient motorcyclist.
I started riding about six months ago after buying a little GTX250 road bike off my friend Tony. Then I decided (two weeks later) that I needed an adventure bike, so with the help of my brother, bought a SuzukiDR650.
I proceeded to fall off the DR multiple times over the next couple of months, putting myself in hospital twice. One fall I dislocated my knee replacement and had to have it put back together via surgery.
I was then persuaded to buy a lighter bike to learn on, so I picked up a YamahaWR250. Im finding it easier to manage than the DR, which I have parked up for the time being. I am still going to take the DR on my big overland trip, because it is sturdy and reliable. But Im finding the WR is better to learn on.
Im loving the challenge of learning a new skill, even if I am completely crap at it. I love being a beginner and not having to be good at something. I love being scared shit-less half the time. I love it that no one knows me by reputation. I think I am finally starting to get better, although it has been a slow process. I don’t think, at nearly 60, that I pick up things as easily as I used to. I also like that it is a very social sport (unlike mountaineering). It’s a bit like rock climbing in that respect.
I’m now at the point where I feel confident enough to head off by myself- and I really enjoy this part the sport- not having to have a “climbing partner.” I’ve been through the Molesworth from Hamner to Blenheim and back up the Wairau Valley and through the Rainbow back to Hamner by myself a couple of weekends ago.
The big plan for 2017 is to ride from Brisbane to Perth through the outback with Outback Adventure Treks. Ive never done a commercial trip like this but am looking forward to it immensely. Everything is provided, including bikes, all you have to do is ride for 20 days.
However you do have to be able to ride 500km off road in a day- something I am working up to. At the moment 350km is about as much as my skills and my bum can manage.
So its goodbye to mountaineering. For the meantime, anyway. Who knows if it’s for good.