Far too often sponsored charity challenges are elaborate reasons for students to stroll up a mountain in the sunshine and feel empowered about it. Whilst it is brilliant that they have the forethought to raise money for charity I’m not sure if going on holiday is the right way to go about it …
However there are a few challenges out there that are absolute 'suffer fests'. Where human endurance, will power and sheer tenacity is stretched to the limit in the name of others, so much so that even my penny pinching self felt obliged to cough up some cash. With this in mind there was one charity challenge that piqued my interest – Man vs Hell.
Man vs Hell centres around one man, Richard Brookes and his desire to push himself to the limit in the name of charity. The challenge has in the past been twenty-four hours of non stop kayaking on the Upper Dart river in Devon, quite an achievement in itself. However this year Rich would be taking it to the next level by immediately getting on his road bike and cycling a distance of 300 miles for a further twenty four hours. My first thoughts when I heard that Rich was going to attempt this ambitious feat were; “Not an ‘effing chance mate!’
Rich got some training under his belt, the months flew by and soon the challenge was upon him. I was lucky enough to join Rich for the twenty four hours of kayaking on the Dart. We started at 12:00 am on Friday morning, the levels where low but not terrible and the first couple of laps flew by. Just another day on the Dart.
Things quickly changed once the sun went down though and we began getting into double figures in our total amount of laps. Visibility was a major issue despite various and elaborate lighting systems, we could only see at most, two foot in front of ourselves. It had been raining steadily though the day and the river began to rise in the early hours of the evening. Not enough to be dangerous, but just enough to change the lines on a few of the rapids. This led to several moments of carnage as we adjusted to the different levels, notably Rob Harris at Pandoras Box. A tricky little slot with a tight lead in that is near impossible to see in the dark. Rob had a few crashes on this drop but came up smiling every time. At least, I think he was smiling … he could have been grimacing. It was rather dark at the time.
The hardest aspect of the night for me was adjusting to the different temperatures. We would be sweating as we cranked out laps on the river only to become freezing cold as we stopped moving during the shuttle back to the top. I think it was these temperature changes that sapped me of my energy the most; but it could also been the multitude of laps we had completed and the lack of sleep. Around 5:30 am the urge to just go to sleep was almost over powering but we pushed on for another run of the river and where rewarded on the following lap with a glimpse of the sun rising over the moors in the distance. The sun came up, the air temperature became bearable and several fresh faced friends joined us for some early morning laps. Providing us with a much needed boost.
The following few hours flew by, but with just two hours to go I was starting to really feel it. The last two laps where a genuine struggle but we finished strong. Delighted, elated and broken; we took off our gear for the first time in twenty four hours, refuelled and celebrated briefly. A sobering thought crept into my head; “Holy $#@! – Rich still has another twenty four hour challenge to get through”. We said our goodbyes shortly after this, I would not be joining Rich on the second challenge, for I am a simply not man enough.
I climbed/crawled into the van and with Rob Harris, began a three hour drive back to London.
Rich fuelled up on another cup of tea, donned his cycling equipment and took of into the hills to begin his second consecutive twenty four hour challenge. I would truly love to tell you that I spent the next several hours deeply worried as to whether or not Rich could pull it off, but that would be a lie. I was too busy sleeping! I awoke on Sunday morning expecting to hear the worst; Rich couldn’t do it, it was just too much; Rich fell asleep on the bike and crashed into a ditch; Rich was hit by a dunk driver outside of Cambridge in the middle of the night; We ran out of tea bags and he couldn’t continue. You know how much he likes his tea.
Thankfully none of these serious problems had arisen through the night. Rich was alive and somehow, pulling off the impossible. He had battled through atrocious weather in Dartmoor, summited some long hills in Bath, avoided being run over and was well on his way to completing his challenge. I could only smile in disbelief, my body ached from the twenty four hours of kayaking alone. I cannot begin to imagine the pain that Rich must have been in during the night on his second challenge.
I watched online as Rich's tracking dot crossed the finish line of his journey, 53 hours 20 minutes after he began his epic challenge. I was impressed, I was astounded, I was inspired … I was … feeling thoroughly emasculated.
Rich Brookes is just an ordinary man who dreamt up an extraordinary challenge and went through hell and back to finish it. Rich is quick to shake off any praise or glory and point out that the suffering he went through during this challenge does not come close in comparison to the suffering that cancer patients, their families and the families that have lost young children go through everyday.
In the face of Richard Brookes amazing achievement there is one lasting impression. If an ordinary man is willing to go to such lengths to raise awareness for others. Surely then an ordinary bloke such as myself should be willing to donate a few quid to help them out as well …
Thanks for reading. And thanks to everyone that has donated and helped to support this challenge. Richard Brooks at Sue's Canoes and his support team for genuinely being awesome people. Rob Harris for rigging up the light systems and joining us on the night runs of the Upper Dart. White Water the Canoe centre for lending me a kayak to do the challenge in.
See you on the water, Bren
All photos provided Man vs Hell.