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A G&T in hand and a click of a mouse

Like most of us, I lost fitness during the Covid lockdowns. My office is practically at the bottom of my bed, so the commute was short, and I rarely left the house. Previously, I had always been to be very fit and wanted that back.

In May 2021, I had just rejoined a company where I already knew lots of people. An email came round saying they were planning a Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge for charity, and even though I was feeling a bit rubbish after a sedentary lockdown, I thought. ’24 miles? How hard can it be?’

I trained for the big day by walking lots of miles around York. I’d never been to the area where the Yorkshire Peaks are, so I focused on the distance I had to walk, not the elevation. I booked somewhere to stay the night before and readied myself for a long day.

We met up in a field in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and I was feeling pleased with the amount of training I’d done, but a little concerned about the weight of the kit-filled rucksack I was carrying. We headed out of the field, and the path started going up a bit (we were doing Ingleborough first) and I began to think, ‘Crikey, this is a bit difficult, what have you let yourself in for?!’ and we weren’t even on Ingleborough yet.

I struggled really badly on the ascent but felt better on the descent so thought ‘It’ll be ok, you’ve got this’. I got to Philpin Farm at the bottom of Whernside and realised I had already gone through two litres of water. So, I filled it up and set off again. I was determined not to be beaten, but I was way behind everyone else from my group. As I arrived at the summit, it appeared like everyone had already eaten a three-course meal (they hadn’t of course) and they were ready to set off again. I barely had time for a snack!

The guide gave me the option to drop out at the bottom of Pen Y Ghent, but I didn’t want to let a piece of rock defeat me. It was hard, hard work and I was ranting a lot. The guide took my backpack off me leaving me with walking poles and my bladder pack.

It was a busy day on the hill, and it was hard having everyone, who looked super fresh coming past me in the opposite direction. It was so demoralising and frustrating but I was spurred on by some of my work colleagues who had waited at the top and were cheering me on.

I realised how flat where I live is and one of the guides said that you can always tell who the office workers are. Meaning me! I hadn’t eaten enough, so on the summit of Pen y Ghent I devoured a twirl and felt a new lease of life.

On the way down, I chatted with other members of our group as we supported each other through the final couple of miles back to Horton in Ribblesdale.

Near the bottom of Pen Y Ghent, I had a tumbling fall and landed face first with my backpack still on my back. I was laughing as I lay there even though I couldn’t get up and was caked in mud.

A couple of group members helped me up and we ploughed on to the finish line, completing in bang on 12 hours. I remember seeing the people who had got back first and saying, ‘That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I think I’d do it again!’

On my way back to where I was staying, I looked at the Lucozade I had with me. I had stuck to water on the walk as I read that it can be disastrous if you’re not used to isotonic drinks. I had one mouthful (as I wanted something other than water) and almost immediately felt sick, I then had to drive a tortuous 10 miles and threw up over a wall in the car park of my accommodation.

I remember Strictly was on the TV when I got to my room; and talking to my mum to let her know I was fine but no, I was definitely not going down to the bar for a glass of wine! It’s weird the stuff you remember!

I decided, as I’d not eaten a lot on the way round, to eat all my snacks while soaking in the bath. Next thing, I woke up in the bath with sandwiches and sausage rolls floating in the water around me and the remaining dance of the night on TV.

Expecting to have the best night’s sleep of my life I sank into bed, but I woke up at 2am with my whole body screaming at me and couldn’t drop off again. It took me five days to be able to move around normally.

The Yorkshire 3 Peaks clearly left an impression as I got involved with YTO after seeing a post on FB about Emma and how she had started her business and it resonated. It was New Year’s Eve 2021 and with G&T in hand I signed up.

To get involved, I understood that I’d have to be around people I don’t know. That was daunting. I’ve never been good with big groups of people I don’t know and making small talk. I was good at listening, but not talking. ‘I’ve changed a lot since then!

A great stepping stone was the virtual challenge in January, February and March of 2022. So I signed up for the 100 km a month. It seemed like a long way, but I thought I’d give it a go. I’m competitive, so being in the Strava group and connecting with Lorraine and John W helped to motivate me.

My son got involved too and it was fantastic to do something together. He loved working out the percentages of how far he had walked and cycled with me though to be clear he was heavily influenced by receiving the equivalent proportion of the challenge sweets as a reward! He also then went on to do his own 100 km, 200 km and 300 km challenges over the following 18 months.

I achieved the 100 km with ease and thought ‘that’s not that hard’, so I increased to 200 km in the month. Then in the third month, with Emma’s encouragement, I upped it to 300 km.

To reach my goal, I made more use of ‘dead’ time. Normally I would have just dropped my son off at school and gone home to start work but instead I would have a brisk 2.5 mile walk before I’d even started the day. I also dusted off my bicycle and built up some extra miles on lunchtimes and evenings.

Getting the steps in also helped me stay connected with one of my close friends that I would previously have seen every month or so. We started weekly virtual walks (during lockdown), me in York and her in Bingley and chatted on the phone and it is something we have carried on ever since.

Doing the challenge made me really proud of myself and I was feeling good. The exercise was making work easier too as I could concentrate better.

So, my start with YTO was virtual. I hadn’t had to meet anyone new yet. I will admit I was worried that it might be cliquey and I wouldn’t fit in.

Finally, I booked my first walk but then had to cancel due to getting Covid. The first YTO route I walked was with Lewis. It was in the countryside around the reservoirs near Harrogate. Driving over I was nervous and thought about turning round. But I had a word with myself, ‘It’s just a few hours, what’s the worst that can happen?!’.

I remember everyone was in a bunch in the car park and I parked up at the side of them and introduced myself.

I had a thoroughly lovely time on the walk, but I didn’t really talk to anybody. Lewis was asking, ‘Are you OK?’ and I just kept saying ‘Uhuh, Yep!’.

After enjoying myself, I started looking for others. Evening walks suited me best as I couldn’t really do many weekends due to having the kids. These midweek walks were perfect as I had something to look forward to and they broke up my schedule. The middle and end of my week were transformed, and I was much more focused at work. I’d look forward to getting my boots on from lunchtime on the Wednesday.

That was a beautiful summer, but I remember that one of the walks I did early on was quite dreary. It was somewhere near Sutton Bank. The route needed to be extended due to a farmer closing a path unexpectedly. I ended up with my head torch on and was thrilled to be using it. I ended up carrying someone else’s dog up a hill. I was chatting away to him but had to tell him he must walk for the last mile as I was tired.

Weariness aside, I was chuffed to have completed the walk. Even when plans had changed, I felt safe and looked after. Emma wasn’t the leader that evening, but she checked in afterwards. That walk really showed me what a lovely organisation YTO is. It made me want to keep having adventures with them.

One of the other things I love about YTO walks is that people bring their dogs. I’d love a rescue dog but, as I have house bunnies and cats, I can’t have one (just yet), so meeting dogs on walks is lovely.

I sometimes go for dog walks with a close friend and her spaniel and now, thanks to YTO I have met the lovely Jane, a friend i’ve met through YTO who lives in the same village and she is more than happy for me to join her and her fox red labradors on dog walks when I can.

Meeting people is one of the best things about YTO, even though it was one of my main reservations in the beginning. As soon as you go on that first walk you see that people there do know each other, but only through YTO, and you realise you’ll soon be like them, greeting friends in the car park and that’s a nice feeling.

It is often difficult to make friends as an adult. I have a few close friends who I have known for years, but making friends as a parent working full time can be tough. YTO makes it easy. I socialise with my YTO friends I’ve met outside of organised events too. A group of us did the Shine Walk in York together last year, it was great fun.

Walking is excellent for conversation. I find it much easier to be able to chit chat while walking alongside someone, the minimal eye contact is much less intimidating and talking feels more natural.

I would never walk as long or as far as I do with YTO if I was going out by myself. The maximum I have done on my own is six miles. I realise a lot of that is in my head, because I can walk a lot further.

When I used to run, I could do it, but I would get bored. I tried listening to music, but that didn’t work, so I listened to podcasts. Tuning in to conversations, to human voices, really helped. Talking and listening helps the time and the miles fly by. That’s one of the beauties of YTO.

I recently took part in a navigation course with YTO, and I aim to go out and about with friends to try out my new skills. Roseberry Topping and the Yorkshire Dales are in the planning.

My children are growing up. William is 11 and Amy is 16. It’s still lovely to do things together but my thoughts have turned to how to keep busy as they become increasingly independent.

My husband and I split up last year after 22 years together. Now the dust has settled I’m able to reclaim some me time. I must admit, if I do, the first thing I do is check the YTO calendar to see what events are on.

I used to look at all my YTO friends going on weekends away and having an amazing time and really wanted to join them. But I thought ‘I can’t!’ because of the kids. But I realise that actually I can, the kids’ dad is more than happy to look after them. So, the only thing that’s stopping me, is me.

So, I’ve booked to go to Northumberland in October, my first trip away with YTO and I can’t wait. I’m from Morpeth originally and as I never really walked when I lived there, I’d love to explore the area I’m from.

If I’m honest, if I could book onto everything in the YTO calendar, I would. I feel like I’ve found something I really love and wonder why I’ve not done it before. I want to make the most of feeling well and healthy and living in such a fantastic part of the country.

I go to the gym with my daughter and spend time with friends when they are free. But YTO is purely for me, and it has been life changing. It makes me emotional thinking about it.

There are all these other outdoor activity providers out there and, I can’t put my finger on it, but YTO has something special. A big part of that is Emma and the team, with all their different strengths. They really do bring out the best in you and are so supportive and extremely knowledgeable. You know that when you are on a YTO outing you are safe and you’ll have an amazing time whatever the weather.

The diversity of the people on YTO walks is great, I’ve spent quality time with people who I otherwise would never have had the opportunity to meet. There’s a huge range of ages and backgrounds.

I do love a good story, plus chatting through current events with someone who has a different perspective is fantastic. It’s mental as well as physical exercise and refreshes the body as well as the mind. The leaders aren’t therapists, but the whole event is therapeutic.

The Y3P still is an important walk for me. It has become my annual fitness test and since joining YTO it has become a much happier experience.

The second time I did the Y3P I’d been walking with YTO for a while and as soon as I took my first steps uphill I knew it was going to be different this time and I loved it. I took 90 minutes off my total time. I also had none of the previous year’s stiffness.

The third time I struggled again as I’d done the Ullswater Way with YTO the weekend before. I ended up walking with a group I’d never met as the official leader (NOT YTO) was very dismissive and I felt confident enough to find my own gang. I had a great time.

Car sharing also has been a brilliant part of my YTO experience. It’s helped me meet lots of people and really get to know them on the journey. It’s been a good way to build confidence and helps with route finding, locating the car park and sharing the cost of petrol.

Paddle boarding was added to the YTO calendar last year. It’s fab! There’s nothing like floating along on the river and enjoying the peace. You can be alone in your thoughts and it is a form of therapy. The moments of mindfulness over hot chocolate and biscuits are wonderful too.

My daughter has been on two paddle boarding sessions. It was a joy to share it with her. She took a bit of encouragement the first time, but once she was on the board she was flying. It’s reassuring that Emma and Lewis have a background in working with young people, as mentors, NCS leaders and as part of the scouting movement. You can tell they know how to get the best out of little ones and teenagers.

Deciding to get involved with YTO New Years Eve 2021 was one of the best resolutions I have ever made. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

So all I can say is if you are reading this and you haven’t yet plucked up the courage to join a walk. Just go for it. I promise you will not regret it.

Dawn Simpson YTO Client

Written by Gemma Lumley

Interviewed by Emma Shipley




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