14 May 2021

TGO Challenge 2021. A mapping experiment


As some may already know I've had a second kidney transplant - I'll write about this in a separate post.

Back at the beginning of January, Phil and I had a chat about the probability of us being fit enough for the Challenge this year. I was due a kidney transplant that, due to Covid had already been cancelled once and was likely to be cancelled again. Phil was also due an operation to keep his innards where they should be - inside, rather than making a bid for freedom. His operation was due in May, but again, with the Covid situation it was likely to be put back again.

We decided, rather glumly, to defer our entry to next year and so pulled out of the Challenge.

As it transpired, this was a very wise move for Phil, as at the moment the earliest date they are hoping for is September, so Lord only knows how he's keeping it all together. We went for a leak test the other week to the Bull, where we sat outside in the cold, under a plastic tent drinking lager as it poured down with rain. This is what passes for fun these days.

The very dapper Lord Elpus

Call that a smile? Look happy, you bastard!

After three cancellations I finally had my kidney transplant (donated by my littlest sister, Megan - more on her in another post) on 15th March, after my kidneys finally packed up and having to endure two months of dialysis three times a week.

A week or so ago I was well enough to resume working and had started to take walks of up to six or seven miles in reasonable comfort. That meant there was seven weeks to the TGO Challenge - now held at the back end of June rather than the customary first two weeks in May - and I realised that I had a really good chance of being well enough and fit enough for the Challenge. 

Ali and Sue - the Challenge Coordinators - are absolute darlings and allowed this Cinderella to go to the Ball! This entailed a new frock, obviously and some dainty glass slippers. I substituted a lightweight coat for the dress but I'm struggling to find *any* glass slippers suitable for the Monadh Liath and Cairngorms.

A quick check on the accommodation Phil had booked for us and subsequently cancelled when we withdrew from the event, found that quite a few establishments were now booked up. This meant that the first week's route wasn't feasible now as the available resupply points became too far apart for a comfortable carry. I went back to the drawing board and re-jigged the route for the first week, ensuring that I would never be carrying more than three days worth of food. This meant changing my start point from Dornie to Sheil Bridge.

Whilst re-jigging, I've been playing around with the gpx route files (for the oldies amongst the congregation, I have computer mapping) and realised that I can export them into Google Maps. This means that viewers can zoom in and out to their hearts' desire and take a look at where I'm going in some detail. I wonder how long it will be before Google mapping will become a serious contender to the monopolistic Ordnance Survey for walkers?

Anyway, for what it's worth here's the link that will take you to the Google Map that I've created with the route and all the FWA's plastered all over it. If you hover your mouse over each day's route, it is highlighted and shows the distance travelled that day. 

Click on the link below for hours of mindless fun.


And finally, in the spirit of Old Mortality:

07 November 2020

IgA Nephropathy revisited

As many readers of this blog will be aware, my wonderful brother Dave gave me one of his kidneys back in June 2013. He quite literally saved my life. Prior to my transplant I wrote a few posts about igA Nephropathy which can be found by clicking on the links below.

Since receiving Dave's kidney I've been on anti-rejection drugs - immunosuppressants - to ensure the kidney is not rejected. The dosage fluctuated a lot to start with to find the optimum level of medication. 
Things went along swimmingly well but in the last six months or so (coinciding roughly with my enforced four and a half month Covid-19 lock down as a person at severe risk) I realised that things were getting a little bumpy and I've had quite a few trips back and forth to the Oxford Churchill Renal Unit.

I've pasted a few of the key results below, alongside explanations of what the tests measure. There are loads more results, but they all confirm the same downward trend in performance. Simply put, I'm in need of another transplant.

Creatinine is the best routine blood test for measuring how well kidneys are working. It's produced by muscles and put out by the kidneys. The 'normal' range for Creatinine for healthy people is between 60-110. Immediately prior to my 2013 transplant mine reached 445. It's now 544.

Urea is a small molecule produced from protein and put out by the kidneys. The normal range for Urea for healthy people is between 2.5 and 7.0. Prior to my 2013 transplant mine reached 29.4. It's currently 31.6

eGFR (Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate) is a test of kidney function. It uses the result of the Creatinine test with age and sex to estimate an approximate percentage kidney function. The normal range is above 60%. Prior to my 2013 transplant mine sank to 12%. It's now a disappointing 9%. 

Haemoglobin is the red stuff in blood. It fills red blood cells and carries oxygen around the body Normal is slightly higher in men than women. Men's results should typically be in the range 130-180. The kidneys produce a substance called erythropoietin (EPO) which stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. Loss of EPO production is usual in patients with advanced kidney disease, and may be severe. Loss of EPO production is a major cause of anaemia in renal failure Treatment with artificial EPO has been a huge advance for patients with renal failure.

Prior to my transplant in 2013 my Hb had dropped to 87 but with EPO treatment it rose prior to transplant to the giddy height of 108. I've now been on EPO for a few months, but my latest result is 92. 

On each of the above charts you'll see an image of my sister Meg, as I took screen grabs of the results whilst on Messenger with her. Back in 2013 she had offered one of her kidneys for my transplant along with my brothers Dave and Gwyn. Quite amazingly she has stepped up again, and volunteered one of her kidneys. In the last few months she has been back and forth to Oxford to be tested to see if she's still a suitable donor.

You cannot begin to imagine how this makes me feel.


05 November 2020

Remembrance Sunday

Almost without fail, every year I watch Remembrance Day from London. Disappointingly, it looks like this has been scaled right back this year.

27 April 2020

TGO Challenge 2019: DAY 10: Braemar & the Fife Arms

The Fife Arms has been a traditional watering hole for the TGO Challenge for nigh on forty years. I can recall over twenty years of wild parties, late night sessions (we were all residents, of course...)  and meeting all the characters of the Challenge within those hallowed portals. We all held the old girl in our hearts as a place of warmth and good cheer.


However, over those years she had become more and more worn out, with ownership passing from one coach company to another, each trying to wring as much cash out of the business with as little investment as possible or none at all. In short, if the hotel had been a family pet, the kindest thing would have to put it of of its misery with one last trip to the Vets.

Miraculously for a knackered Highland hotel a shining white knight came over the horizon in the form of a wealthy owner of an art gallery who fell in love with Braemar and the Fife Arms in particular and so once again the Fife had new owners but this time ones who wanted to breathe life into the hotel and the village.

After years of ripping out rock, structural alterations and extensive refurbishment, the Fife Arms had reopened this year. This was our first look. She was mightily impressive. We had tried to book a table for dinner yesterday evening in the Clunie Dining Room but had failed as it was completely full, which was hardly surprising as it was Saturday evening. As luck would have it they did have a table spare for Sunday lunch.

Phil and I snapped it up.

We heard that the Architect and Project Manager - local brothers Ben and Tom Addy - would be giving a talk this evening at the Village Hall about the design, project management and reconstruction of the Fife. Both Phil & I had spent a major part of our working lives in civils, design, project management & construction and so we immediately signed up for it.

Of course, this did mean that we would have to miss the annual gathering at Lochcallater Lodge, which we had missed for a couple of years previously due to our routes not going through Braemar. We did feel incredibly guilty about this but as we tucked in to a fabulous lunch our guilt melted away. We have no shame.

For those not familiar with the Fife Arms I've included some photos I've lifted from the Fife's Facebook pages so that you can get a flavour of the place.






Lunch was bloody wonderful. We were on holiday and so went for it. The food was beautiful and the service friendly and efficient. The wines were perfect. So much so that we retired to Elsa's Bar for coffee and then decided to go for cocktails. I know, I know...


The standard of fit-out and craftsmanship throughout the hotel is superb. For art lovers there's work from Lucian Freud, Bruegel (the Younger), Picasso, Martin Creed, Man Ray and a host of others. You could quite happily spend a few days inside the hotel, before venturing outside to explore the wonders of Deeside. 



I've always believed that if you're having a bloody good time, there's absolutely no reason to stop. With this piece of life-guidance to the fore after several cocktails we decided to retire to the Drawing Room for Afternoon Tea. A cornucopia of cakey pleasures were presented, admired and accepted, with lashings of Earl Grey. The afternoon was an absolute delight, sat sitting, as were were, beautifully on our behinds, having our every need and foible attended to by wonderful staff.

I remember wondering if I could just manage one more wafer when Lord Elpus froze.

"Don't move, Al! He can't see us if we don't move."

He'd obviously been watching too much David Bloody Attenborough about lizards or some such nonsense because even though we had turned to stone, the apparition pressing its face to the outside of the window could definitely see us. He caught my eye.


I waved the Gent inside to join us for tea. It was great to see Martin, and we generously shared the remains of our cakes and sandwiches. In truth, I could not possibly have squeezed in another crumb. 

You see, all this walking is all very well but you have to learn to enjoy the stopping as well. That's pretty important on a long walk as it adds colour, contrast and recuperation, ingredients often forgotten by those rabidly intent on getting to the next destination. I can thoroughly recommend the Fife Arms Hotel for all three. So much so that we had booked half board for our TGO Challenge the next year - 2020 - until it was cancelled by the gaping maw of Covid-19.

These are desperate times.


At some point in the late afternoon we tumbled from the Fife to buy pies and whisky for the remainder of the walk. Phil was also desperate to visit the crackingly good Braemar Mountain Sports shop.

A quick shower and supper taken in the Flying Stag sent us on our way to the presentation in the Village Hall. It was well attended by seemingly the whole of the village. 


If you click on the link below you should be able to hear the two brothers describe how the project came about and what was entailed to turn an old lady on her last legs to a front line destination hotel. Well worth a listen!

I recall a few beers in the Fife on the way back to our B&B where Phil very proudly produced his latest purchase from the outdoor emporium. A new Afrika Korps cap.