Essential Trail Blazers

18th September 2018

At 4am on Saturday 15th September wake up alarms were ringing out across Cheshire, as Team Essential embarked on their annual challenge to raise funds for St Luke’s Hospice in Winsford.  The team had decided that this year we would test our stamina and determination and tackle the 34 mile Sandstone Trail in a day.

There were plenty of tears, laughter, bumps, twists and turns, but finally the mini bus journey to the start was over! The team set off in the dark for what was to be a fantastic adventure.

Walking in solidarity with a fantastic group of people, for a great cause, whilst watching the sun rise over the stunning Cheshire countryside is quite a humbling experience. The first 3.5 miles flew by as the team bonded and settled into a good walking rhythm.  Before we knew it, we had reached the first checkpoint and decided to plough on into the next 6 mile section.

Taking it in turns to lead the way, all was going well and we were making good time ………… but then we faced what can only be described as “the corn field challenge”! A challenge within a challenge.  There was a brief (and in hindsight way too brief) discussion on whether the route would actually go through 7ft high corn plants. We all decided that of course it would.  Halfway through the field, smaller members of the team were going missing and it was a worrying time; would we all make it out of there alive, would we ever see them again, was this really the right direction after all. With the morning dew glistening on the corn plants, it was like walking through a human car wash. Dripping and laughing we fell out of the other end of the field and quickly found the actual path we should have walked along.

A quick headcount revealed that we had in fact all survived the detour, and we again strode of confidently …………………….. in the wrong direction!  That extra mile eh, how we laughed.

With almost a third of the trail behind us we approached the next check point and said our goodbyes to some of the team, as the rest pushed on into the first category red section of the walk.

This section started with a buzz, quite literally as our oldest member was mistakenly advised that the electric fence wasn’t working, upon touching the fence it became apparent that it was at its cattle shocking best, oops! As the team approached Bickerton Hill it was clear that this section warranted its “red” warning. The climb was tough but the scenery distracted us nicely from the muscle aches and after shepherding a wild bull off the track we reached the summit. Picture time quickly turned into a “dab off” of which nobody was the winner!

The downhill provided our first proper tumble as our Factory representative slipped on a rock… a smile on his face suggested all was OK, the blood pouring from his hand suggested otherwise! Patched up we continued on to Burwardsley slightly behind schedule but it was time for some much needed lunch.

Leftover Chinese takeaway and a Waitrose quiche were the highlights on offer. Minibus Man (my new favourite superhero) managed to make it down a cobbled lane bringing with him a former director to join the team.

Talcum powder was quickly becoming everyone’s best friend as numerous members covered themselves (and the minibus) in the magical white stuff. Spirits were still high although 19 miles to go wasn’t a stat the walkers were wanting to hear. Halfway meant an ice cream stop at the foot of Beeston castle, an indulgence that a tired team needed!

There was no more taking turns to lead the way, our sassy sales order processor was comfortably striding on whilst others were waning in the distance. Our pace setter, sporting a pink light up crown was incredible, if it wasn’t for her 10 toilet stops she could potentially set a course record! Another section down as we decided to not stop in Tarporley for fear of our legs seizing. Onto to Gresty’s waste we went, conversation was fading, sweat was pouring and tears started falling. This was becoming a battle, two soldiers left us at Gresty’s waste and although there were only 9 miles left many of the remaining six were contemplating throwing in the towel.

A wave of support flowed in from friends/family/colleagues and random passers-by, it can’t be underestimated the boost that gave the team. Our former director offered out chocolate eclairs accompanied by “80s classics”, a combination wasted on me but one that the team were very grateful for! Delamere Forest is so beautiful but that beauty was unknown to us as we continued to just look at the ground and place one foot in front of the other, blisters upon blisters were just one of many body malfunctions.

The last section. We’d come so far, surely we could just do a little bit further. I can’t express the feelings the group went through in the final 5 miles. We were wilting, light was fading fast and I’m confident I saw a slug overtake us. “Oo ah oo” a monkey in the trees or our Head of Marketing taking another step forward? His body failing, his mind still determined.

There was no longer communication, just the odd mumble of pain. Torches were on and we hobbled forward and up Frodsham hill. “It’s just round the corner” was a lie, this hill was never-ending. The team had left every ounce of effort on that peak, finally we were at the top. It was just a downhill effort now to complete the 34 mile beast. Complete darkness made for a spectacle of a view as the lights lit up Liverpool in the distance, 10 seconds was enough to take it in, we wanted this over as quick as possible!

Rolling into Frodsham to see drunkards unknowing of what we’d gone through was underwhelming, but to see Minibus Man and the finish line in sight was a sweet sweet feeling. Even a non-hugger enjoyed the embraces, we’d done it! But wait, we were two members short? In the distance, with a staff that Gandalf would have been proud of our Head or Marketing was still battling on through the high street. When the two had made it, emotion poured out. 34 miles, 16 hours, countless amounts of support and a Just Giving page approaching £3000. The pain is temporary but the sense of achievement will last a lifetime.

Inspiration was all around, from the 70 year old warehouse operative who didn’t grumble once throughout to the marketer who only ever wears heels completing 5 times more than anyone expected of her. Team Essential showed so many of its wonderful qualities to complete such a tough challenge and raise substantial funds for a great cause.