By Oxfam Trailwalker

Many Challenges - No Stopping

Manoj Garg for MRC Dreamers | Winners - State Street Overcoming the Odds Award Bengaluru 2018

This was in the early second half of 2017 that I came across Oxfam Trailwalker – 100k Walkathon and learned much about Oxfam as an organization. I had started running and had done my first half marathon on July of 2017 and had become an active runner alongside 30 member running team of my neighbourhood.

While taking up challenges of endurance had become a matter of thrill and a mental goal to push yourself for such enduring feat, the thought came with a bit of scare as well. 100k was an unimaginable distance however walking sounded much comfortable than running. Nevertheless the thought never translated into action of registering for it as the registration came with certain riders.

I am an individual consultant and did not represent any corporate. A participant was required to get additional 3 members and form a team plus collect a donation of 20,000 each along with your own contribution of 5000. The thought of 100k was exciting and I didn’t know anybody else who would make a team. However I started speaking to a bunch of friends about the donation before registering for the walk. It wasn’t just a walk!

My friend groups have never disappointed me when it comes to donations as I have taken certain initiatives of fund raising in the past and to my surprise my friends (Old and New) and family was more than generous. I didn’t have to go to many people to achieve the target. I registered for the walk when I had achieved 50% donation target and balance promises. All came through.

When it came to mobilizing a team of 4 to do the same and form a collective team for the walk, I got stuck. As I understood, that Oxfam India opened the individual participant category for the first time which made it possible to take part in it and do it all in our individual capacity unlike the employees from the corporate giants like HSBC where the corporate contributed half the donation, the task of collecting the donations in our individual capacity was tougher. Oxfam came to rescue in terms of forming a 4 member team as there were other individuals like me who registered and we got connected. To my delight, I was the only male member in the team and it made me think about the grit of these women to do this walk which was inspiring. Of course we all were on a different fitness levels and we were strangers from different cities not knowing each other and were connecting through whatsapp group and have had brief communication with common agenda of collecting donations and then coming together for this walk. And when we met each other an evening before the event start, we struck a chord instantly. Party had begun and we decided to take things as they came and not stress out. We were not in a race. I was clear that I wanted to do the walk as comfortable as possible and ‘Complete it first’, ‘complete it without injury’ and ‘be together at all times’.

We woke up the morning of the event and moved towards the starting point. Our challenges started from the time we woke up. We got late in leaving from the estimated time of departure from where we were staying (about 25-30km from the start line). We got lost on the way, twice, which consumed much of the time and we reached the start line after the flag off of the event. So we were one of the last team that checked in at the start point. As we were driving in towards the start line, we could see the participant teams had reached the 3-4 km mark and when we started, we owned the trail.

LONE TRAILWALKERS

The anxiety of being late (all thanks to Google Maps) which had set in, got settled as we walked and started our historic journey. I think none of us had a concern about being the last one of the group as we had our own time. Some of us did the time calculations of how much we should cover a certain distance and reach which check point.

We had fun all through the way. The days were hot and the sun was unsparing. Most of the trail as beautiful as it was, had little shaded patches to rest until you reached a check point. We had a support crew who were most prompt and resourceful to bring food and hydration at requirement. I couldn’t be more thankful for their presence and support. They shadowed us through 2 days and 2 nights. So I would actually call them as part of our team which would make us six member instead of four.

The first day wet well and we had covered about 40km distance by the evening. The tiredness coupled with stiffness of muscles made me remember my thought of walking being comfortable than running the same distance. Like I say, in the long walk and long run, the lines of physical strength and endurance gets blurred and it’s only your mental endurance that can carry you.

The physio and the nursing teams need a special mention here at each and every check point. Had it not for them and their comforting hands and care, the walk would have been five times more challenging and I doubt if we could have completed it without them.

THE PHYSIO AND NURSING CREW

We made our halt for the first night at the check point around the 48th Km mark. Thankfully we carried our own tents as there were none available by the time we hit the resting check point. We pitched our tent. The challenges weren’t willing to leave us. Trying to sleep with the most tired bodies which itself was a challenge and then to top it off, the loud music kept us awake. Cold came to join hands to make us even more uncomfortable. We had decided to sleep for 4 hours and leave the check point at 5am the next morning. We barely stayed horizontal for 3 hours, sleep stayed at bay and then we gave up the idea of resting as it was a nonstop effort to put ourselves to sleep. Also there was a scare of not being able to wake up to have an early start. If you think this was tough, one of our walking member called in sick with running temperature. All these were good enough to throw us of gear in our heads as a team. We started contemplating our options with continuing with three members as the fourth member was in no shape to carry on with the walk. She would have to sign out of the walk and would be disqualified. Irrespective, we tucked her in with a fever pill and made her rest in the back seat of the car in which the support crew was shadowing us.

By 4 am we gave up the idea of trying to sleep, we got up, packed our tents, warmed up with coffee. Checked on our retired member on her situation, to our surprise, she sprang up and gave us the thumbs up to start our walk for the next check point. After then the target was the reach the next check point. Her confidence gave us further boost however measured. We were concerned about her. Fever had come down. Each one of us was thoroughly tired without complaining to each other. We started again a little over 5 am. Saw the most beautiful sunrise, the twilight of the dawn, the fresh morning breeze and we were walking. We stayed together.

ABANDONED AFTERNOONS

I said earlier that I was the only male member in the team. The previous day, in the afternoon, as we were walking in pairs at a distance of about 200-300 meters, two of us were ahead including me and the other two female members were behind us at a distance. And then we heard that these two members who were behind us had a village boy misbehave with them. This happened at a short distance just before check point no. 3 and the walking path was abandoned in the middle of the afternoon. We raised an alarm and the rescue team did a scan of the route but found nothing. Nevertheless, this was a trigger for us to stay together all the more. There were two other walkers from another team who were also walking at a distance from each other. On seeing them and one of them being a woman, I suggested them to stay with us a bigger group. We were slow walkers but fun walkers. We would stop where ever we saw something that looked appealing just to absorb as much nature as possible. We even had the luck of the village hospitality where we were served with tea in their fields overlooking the sunset. A behavior, which is seen rarely in cities nowadays.

The Rescue Team - VILLAGE HOSPITALITY

When the day light broke out as we were walking, we saw a good number of participant crossing us running. We figured that the 50Km participant race has started. I got excited and took off running thinking of trying the run the muddy trail path. I was mistaken as I would have barely jogged 500 meters; I developed acute pain in my right leg knee. Like I said, challenges would not leave us. Call it a mistake or an excitement to see runners by a runner, I hurt myself for the rest of the distance and almost 40% of the distance was still to be covered through the day and the following night. This time around for the first time, we were walking in company of many. We reached the next check point and got ourselves the much needed physio and nutrition. This was our first stop on the second day but we were dead tired already. I think it was check point no. 5.

By now, we have had the taste of what we had signed up for. It was only a matter of keep going. Blisters, swollen feet, bruised knee, dehydration, fever, sleeplessness, smiles, etc had all visited our team one by one.

There were moments when the crew car looked like a mirage in the desert but all of us were determined to walk. That’s what we had come for. So we walked in whatever the hell situation we were in.

COMFORTING HUGS AND SMILES

I would particularly mention the power and determination that all of my women friends (by now they were not just team members) displayed and kept me going. While the world may keep fighting over gender biases and power equations amongst the men and women, I say it’s the power of the women in our team, which made us complete the trail. We had the lead walker as a woman, we had a woman walker who walked while being sick, we had a woman walker who had difficulty walking but would refuse to give in.

THE TEAM THAT STAYED TOGETHER AND FINISHED TOGETHER!

It was getting difficult by the check point. From CP6 to CP7, the trail was hard and had a rocky climb. The sun was seemingly harsh even at 4pm. By now it was not a question but something that had to be done and be over with. We walked and we walked. The sun went down and we had covered some more distance. Keeping a tab of the distance was futile as the walk rate didn’t matter. Whatever was the balance distance, it had to be done by 6am of the following morning. We didn’t stop much at CP7 and continued walking. Night fell soon after the sun and we found ourselves walking in dark with only the company of us four and two of our support staff.

At this point we were walking through villages and the neighboring fields when we realized that we were followed by some drunken men. It occurred to us only after a while as the person following us wouldn’t cross us further and would stop if we stopped. Looking at the scene of abandoned, dark trails, we raised an alarm and reported the matter. Soon the rescue crew came and we requested them to walk with us right through the remaining trail walk. However, I cannot explain the thoughts and feelings in a strange new place and you are being followed. I would say that the rescue team was prompt and courteous to keep us company for the next 15 remaining kilometres. We dreaded that part of the trail however we kept ourselves strong and kept walking.

One of the patch in the last leg of the trail was laid with stone aggregate and I distinctly remember the excruciating pain with every step of the way. And on the final leg we encountered a pack of dogs blocking our way. We crossed it and then it was just the sight of the finish line that we all were eagerly waiting for. And then, we reached 2 hours before time.

We finished our walk in 46 hour. We all finished and crossed the finish line together.

In the end, I would like to sum up our experience. The challenges were many, some known, a lot unknown. However, when the weight of learnings and fun is heavier, the challenges look small and lighter and provides us with the opportunity to put our instinct to fight through to good use. We only finished stronger and had smiles to take back home.