Updated: Feb 4
I have always felt a bit of an outsider, in school I was desperately trying to fit the boxes and labels that were floating around but never really knowing my place. It created a lot of anxiety in school, feeling apart from others and even disconnected from myself.
This continued throughout life until in my mid 30s when everything broke down. Depression and anxiety were rife within me, and I found myself in some very dark places. My health, work and relationship all suffered. I had stopped any sort of hobbies and my social life was non existent.
Hitting rock bottom I saw my GP who put me on medication and enrolled me into group therapy. The GP told me the medication wouldn't make me happy but rather numb the feelings. Numbing feelings was definitely what I wanted at that time.
Months later I walked on the grass in the garden barefoot. Feeling the re-connection with nature was a light bulb moment for me. The answer for me wasn't numbing feelings, I didn't want to live a flatlined life, I wanted to regain the feeling of being connected. I stopped the medication and started walking barefoot more and then running barefoot. I ran everywhere barefoot, anywhere I could feel different textures and different terrains; the beach, fields, the road, the hills… hills! I started to wonder, what environment would give me all different types of terrain and really give me the experience I was seeking?
As John muir is famously quoted 'the mountains are calling, and I must go'. This is exactly how I felt.
My first experience of the mountains was during a residential camp at school. I was blown away by the vividness of the smooth blue blue sky contrasted against the rolling greens and rugged grays of the Welsh mountain ranges. I remember the feeling of awe seeing them for the first time. Awe and true happiness at being somewhere bigger and more beautiful than the town I had grown up in...
Years ago I had qualified as a mountain leader and knew I had the skills to navigate the mountains but I was unsure how people would respond when I told them of this crazy idea I had to do the 3 peaks challenge as natural as possible. January this year I started living barefoot and let it slip to people what my plans were. It was met with mixed emotions of course. Concerned friends thought I had finally lost it, but in truth I had found my answer.
My initial date was May, then lock down hit. Thats fine I thought, I will drop the date back to July, and still do them all completely barefoot, back to back.
I stuck to my goal of July when I thought lockdown would be over. I was training hard and completed a fitness test with shoes on, because I wanted to see how my cardio was. What a mistake. I ended that session with a broken foot which was only made worse by doing Skiddaw the next day barefoot.
A couple of physio appointments, lots of ice, I rearranged again to 8 weeks later and what I thought would be the last possible weather window to complete the challenge before having to put it back again, but this time to 2021
Saturday 26th September, 4pm, I started the ascent up Ben Nevis with a close friend. Passing streams of people coming down the mountain, I was filled with the excitement of seeing the sunset from the summit when a message came through from an old school friend who is completing 100 country high points. It was a picture of the summit from a few hours before… There had been a heavy dusting of snow from 1100m. At this moment I was glad I started running in January. 7pm and the sunset was amazing. Back down the zig zagged rocky path and we were on the way to Scafell.
There dark times on those 2 mountains, ones where my feet felt like red raw skin after a blister has been taken off. Other times I couldn't feel my feet at all, my toes were numb, I couldn't feel how hard I was pressing on poor footing on the scree up towards Mickledore
Dark times of wanting to stop, wanting to turn back, wanting to give up. Dark times like those in my past, but I also knew they wouldn't last. This was what walking barefoot had taught me. These times are hard, hard to see the way out or any kind of finish line. Sometimes the only thing to do is to put one foot in front of the other, adapt, and keep going.
Sunday the 27th at 7pm I was sat on top of Snowdon smiling, like the boy I was seeing the mountains for the first time. Rewarded, not by queues of people waiting to summit but surrounded by the mountains and my friends, watching the golden sunset and blessed with the warmth of hope for the future.
I thought those 27 hours taught me a lot about resilience, a lot about gratitude, about the importance of being adaptable, and the importance of self belief. I realise now it was the whole journey that gave me the lessons
Walking barefoot and setting this goal helped me reconnect with myself when I was completely lost and at my lowest.
This was an experience that only the outdoors and nature could give. It saved my life