Just less than two years ago, on 6th June - 'D Day' - 2013, my brother David was wheeled into an operating theatre in Oxford to have a perfectly healthy kidney removed. As he was wheeled out I was wheeled in, and I have been carrying Dave's kidney ('Our Kid') ever since.
This man's generosity and courage saved my life. I now have three kidneys and Dave has just the one.
Three weeks before I set off for The Challenge this year, Dave received some dreadfully bad news. He was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy. He has the same chronic kidney disease I was diagnosed with some thirty years ago.
To say that we and our family are stunned by this news is an understatement.
Prior to this bombshell, Dave had planned to walk a couple of days with Phil and me from Ballater to Tarfside. We thought it would be fun for all four kidneys to make the trip ~ a celebration of life and a small 'thank you' from me. Well, I saw it that way, but I'm not so sure Dave did ~ he's still scarred from our walks together when we were lads.
I'm sure Dave won't mind me mentioning that he was completely knocked sideways by this appalling turn of events, but he was determined to walk with me. I promised his wife, Debbie, that I would look after him and make sure he wouldn't do anything to worsen his condition ~ He was feeling quite poorly.
So, it's Monday morning, and we wave goodbye to Debs and head off to our overnight stop below Mount Keen.
|PROUD BALLATER. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
|CLICK TO ENLARGE: PHIL BRAVELY SMILING FOR THE CAMERA IN THE COLD AND RAIN|
We have barely left Ballater when the rain showers start. Bugger. This is not what I had planned at all! We plug on stoically, now covered head to toe in waterproofs.
|PHIL'S PICTURE. ME AND DAVE|
|KEEPING OUR SPIRITS UP: IT'S NOT RAINING SOMEWHERE. C/O PHIL|
|STILL IN STEP. C/O PHIL|
As we approach the shack at the junction we come across this little fellow, as tame as tame things can be, who follows us for a hundred yards or so, before heading back to where he found us.
|GERTIE GROUSE. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
|A FEW STEPS AWAY WE FIND A GROUSE NEST|
Having promised faithfully to look after Dave, we drag him on a more unconventional route, trackless of course, through some quite tough bogs over the hills. Should the clouds lift, the views will be stunning.
However, they don't.
It's a long knee-wrenching descent directly down to our chosen camp spot, and just before we get there, the heavens open. Stair-rods. Oh Joy. Dave is sharing Trinnie Trailstar with me and I have her up in reasonable order and Dave sorts his gear out under shelter while I go for water and a chat, okay, whisky, with Phil.
It's cold outside, and the rain really is hammering down as I cook our dinners. I think to myself that this really is a very bad idea...
Then, miraculously, just as we finish, the sun comes out! It's great when a plan comes together!
|DAVID - A BRAVE SMILE|
We stroll over to another cluster of shelters to find a complete parcel of rogues:
|PHIL'S PICTURE: PETER, LOUISE, JAYME & LYNSEY. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
|CARL, COLIN & PHIL. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
And so Jayme has dreamed up 'Cocktails and Puddings' - a replacement for the Cheese & Wine Party next year. Quite wonderful!
|DAVE: RASPBERRY PAVLOVA! YES, HONESTLY! A PERFECT MERINGUE TOO! CLICK TO ENLARGE|
This isn't a big day, but it still needs to be walked. We're not the last away, which is a surprise, and we take our slow and steady plod up Mount Keen. This is not a difficult hill from whichever way you approach, but whenever I've been here it's always been incredibly cold and incredibly windy. Today is no exception. We're in all the clothes we can muster.
|MOUNT KEEN. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
|DAVID & PHIL. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Fierce showers are blowing through on heavy cold winds and so we're now in overtrousers as well. There's the occasional handful of hail thrown in for good measure to grit-blast pinched cheeks. And what's this? Ah. Snow. At a thousand miles an hour. Character forming stuff.
|PHIL. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
|PHIL HOLDING ON TO THE TRIG POINT FOR DEAR LIFE IN THE FIERCE WIND. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
|CLICK TO ENLARGE: ME, MOUNT KEEN TRIG POINT. C/O PHIL|
|CLICK TO ENLARGE: DAVE IN THE SHELTER AT THE TOP - HE'S BEEN HERE AGES!|
|CLICK TO ENLARGE: PHIL & DAVE HEADING DOWN|
|DAVE SNAPS A RARE PICTURE OF BOTH ME & PHIL|
I love this next picture of Phil & Dave leading the way down into the valley with the back end of a fierce stormlet racing away ahead of us.
|CLICK TO ENLARGE.|
At this point Dave is a man on a mission and is haring off ahead. He's seen someone in front that he's going to catch. I wonder if it's a genetic thing?
Phil and I arrive at the Queen's Well. We can see Dave about five hundred yards ahead. Phil breaks out his 'Thunderer' whistle to attract his attention. It is deafening. But nothing. no response. Dave disappears, stretching away into beyond.
Phil & I sit to have a relaxing lunch, using the crown as a backrest and wind break. Two minutes later and we notice huge black clouds and a wall of death sweeping down the glen - straight at us. We pack up in a dreadful rush, sandwiches and pies barely chewed! In a sweaty panic we have our rucsacks, waterproofs and boots all back on, only to see the wall of death pass by us, just yards away, and we are completely untouched. Quite extraordinary!
|THE QUEEN'S WELL C/O PHIL. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Just before the road we find Dave sat beneath the trees, seemingly none the worse for his abandonment. He had caught the hares and had walked with them until he thought he ought to wait for the old boys. It's now just a simple stroll down the road, and over the footpath to Tarfside, and we arrive more or less exactly when Debs expects us.
She takes our picture at St Drostans before we all pile in for a cup of tea.
|CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Dave & Deb leave us and drive off in their super-smart VW motorhome, to a more salubrious overnight spot, their mission accomplished.
Phil & I flip the tents up on the playing field and head out for a few beers at the Masons' Arms.
|I THINK I NICKED THIS PICTURE FROM ANDY WALKER.|
My brother David did incredibly well to manage this; Only a few weeks earlier he had been in a lot of pain and had been peeing blood. I really don't know how I can more grateful than I already am to this incredible man, but I am.
I owe him everything.