Five Shots of Vodka. Let’s go!

Five Shots of Vodka. Let’s go!

by Milos Stankovic MBE MCIArb

It’s amazing what five shots of vodka will do for you!

Exactly two weeks have passed since I returned from Russia and the amazing experience of the FIFA World Cup. Adjusting from that world to this has been more challenging than I thought. However, I have had to busy myself preparing for Tatiana’s Gambol, in two senses: physically getting the necessary gear sorted out and, more importantly, kick starting the fundraising for Children With Cancer UK.

I have been amazed how quickly and willingly people have responded and how much was raised simply by pestering Facebook friends and email contacts – over £4,500 including Gift Aid in about 10 days. So, thank you very much to all those generous people who have made a financial contribution. Both I and my sister Nada, in whose daughter’s name and memory this gambol is being undertaken, are extremely grateful to you all. Thank you!

Here’s one for all my American and Russian friends, and indeed friends from all over the world. Although Children With Cancer UK appears to be a UK-centric charity, its work in fact reaches out across the world, particularly into developing countries. So please don’t think that your money benefits only UK citizens. It doesn’t.

As this is a pre-deployment post (I drive up to Gatwick on Sunday and fly to Geneva to meet Richard early Monday morning), I had half a mind to make this a blog about kit and packing. But really, how boring for most of you! Suffice it to say that the name of the game is to go as light as possible without sacrificing safety and ensuring that enough is carried to last five weeks.

Fortunately, this is an accommodated hike – mountain refuges, modest hotels and B&Bs- all of which Richard and Godfrey McFall have kindly pre-booked. So no need for tents, sleeping bags or rations. Two extra pairs of socks is my sop to comfort. Everything else – waterproofs, crampons, poles, slings and carabinas, a Jetboil cooker, bivvy bag, a warm jacket, a solar panel and 16,000mAh of rechargeable batteries and other ‘bits and bobs’ have currently put me at 11kg (24.2lbs) dry. Throw in 2 litres of water (2kgs or 4.4lbs) and I am over what I would ideally liked to have been carrying.

The devices that need charging along the way are too many: Garmin watch, mobile phone, Bluetooth earphones, lightweight keyboard, GoPro camera, the battery packs themselves etc. The highly irritating thing is that there’s a unique connection for each, meaning I have to carry at least six different cables. Madness.

I ran into a spot of bother at Kaliningrad airport last year when an eagle-eyed baggage screening lady spotted a bag full of worms in my carry-on. Very suspicious – along with a battery the bag of worms looked like the ingredients for making a bomb. ‘For what reason do you need so many wires and cables?’ She demanded in Russian. Good bloody question, lady! But I simply didn’t have the time, energy or linguistic dexterity to explain what each one was for. A simpler answer was called for. ‘I like cables. I collect them!’ It did the trick. Doubt me on this? Ask Sergey Grabovets, he was there and was equally bemused by her interrogation of me. But, who of us has not asked ourselves the same question? So, I’m tramping about with all these cables. The booby prize for stupid connectors goes to Sony Walkman and Garmin Fenix 5 in equal measure. Come on, people! Really?

What of maps? Once upon a time I was a total traditionalist – Silva compass and Fabloned map. But, there are 21 map sheets that cover the GR5. Scratch that! Paddy Dillon’s ‘Hiking the GR5’ is a great little book by Cicerone, but it weighs 1lb. Scratch that! Instead, I’m taking a risk and going totally digital (I hear a sucking of teeth and collective tut-tutting from the Para Regt and SF community – get over yourselves!). Mapping up to 1:12,000 resolution by Gaia GPS (a rival to and better than ViewRanger) downloaded into an iPhone X, and Paddy Dillon’s GR5 e-book downloaded from iBooks. Yes, it’s a risk, but the trail is physically well marked and, according to Dillon, the French do it with out maps. Well then!

Fitness. Ahem. I think too many blinis and caviar have had an interesting yet predictable effect. The frenzied nature of the World Cup militated against any serious training. I did walk a lot in Moscow – up to 5 miles a day, and on one delirious occasion I clocked up 20 miles and some sunburn. But I am going into this eyes wide open and am aware that the first week will be a bit eye-watering. But, I have now got some courage beads (see below) to keep me motivated.

Also, I am not a novice at these things. In 2005 I raced across every mountain in the Lake District National Park (all 202 mountains) in less than 240 hours. Devised in 2000 and undertaken in 2002 by Lt Col Peter Jones OBE (and his adjutant) it’s the UK’s ultimate mountain marathon, and was at the time deemed impossible by the Cumbrian Mountain Rescue. We like missions impossible!They completed it in just over 9 days. In 2005 I did it solo in the same time carrying 20lbs – 315 miles and 100,000’ of ascent in 9 days, 13 hours and 45 minutes. The money I raised kickstarted the MCC’s build of the Centre of Academic and Sporting Excellence for children and young people in Sri Lanka, survivors of the 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean Tsunami in Seenegama on the Galle road. Apparently, the English department is named after me. The irony is delicious, don’t you think? The genius and inspiration behind the Lahiru Project, as it was known, is Kushil Gunasekera. He has also donated to Tatiana’s Gambol. A favour returned. Thanks Kushil!

Then, at 42, I had trained hard doing five back to back 30 milers over 5 days to satisfy myself that I was up to it. This time, at 55, five shots of vodka seems to have had the same effect!

But, Tatiana’s beads of courage, sent to me by her mother today, are now in my possession. Handmade by an artist of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers, they were awarded to her for her exceptional courage and fortitude in dealing with painful treatments and in meeting death so bravely whilst continuing to fundraise for the Lego charity Fairy Bricks. She was and still is the Lego Girl.

Which brings me onto our third travelling companion. Richard doesn’t know about her yet. So, I am going to have to introduce him to her at Geneva airport. Tatiana the Lego effigy was also sent to me by Nada. Lego Tatiana figuratively and spiritually represents Tatiana’s presence on our journey. She’ll see the same things we’ll see, and hopefully all her friends back in the UK can follow her adventures on Tatiana’s Gambol on Instagram at @tatianasgambol. No doubt she’ll have a few choice things to say about my performance, or lack of it. I’ll also be wearing a leather bracelet with Tatiana’s name on it. It was made for her. But she died before she could wear it.

When Godfrey McFall’s planning for Menton’s Gambol was extended into Tatiana’s Gambol (see my previous blog – A Fool in Moscow) in January this year, the project was about hiking with some fundraising tacked onto it. Now that it’s upon us, it has morphed into a full-blown memorial fundraising expedition that involves some hiking. To succeed in both it only requires two things:

Firmness and presence of mind, at all times…and five shots of vodka. На здоровье!

Thank you all for your support so far. Keep it coming!

On Monday morning we meet in Geneva and are driven round to St. Guingolph, the start of the legendary GR5 on the southern shore of Lake Leman. We have a short 3km walk to our first hut at Noval. The following morning, Tue 7th August, we strike south into the mountains.

Tally ho!