I wanted to write about my experience of the Camp 2 Camp physical challenge which I have just finished but also primarily to thank the awesome support and donations I have received throughout the whole event. For those into stats and graphs and stuff, here is the actual route upload from my bike computer giving you in depth details of the route, speed and altitude we endured!

Ian & Mike carbo-loading
Ian & Mike carbo-loading

The original plan was hatched over a beer and evolved a little to become the Camp 2 Camp Challenge – my basic thinking was that if you were going to ask people to donate money then what you do must be more of a sacrifice than what they were giving. It also morphed into “giving up a day” of my life for the cause, something I tried to spread amongst the company and which has now been adopted in the form of a charitable day each year for all employees of Camps International to focus on some fundraising efforts. 

You can read more about the actual challenge event and see the donations made (or even make a late donation!!) here on my Just Giving page. Basically the challenge was split into 3 phases, compromised of a journey from one of our camps to another, and was aimed to be an endurance event across 24 hours. After a very nervous few days and final few hours, along with some last minute scoffing of carb-heavy meals, we found ourselves in Camp Tinangol in the north of Sabah.

Nervous trepidation
Nervous trepidation just prior to departure from Tinangol

Cycle 140km from Tinangol to the Park HQ of Mt Kinabalu.

This was my biggest concern, not just because of the distance but predominantly due to the near constant climbing for the last 40km.  We originally set off as 3 of us ‰ÛÒ myself, Ian (a long time friend, fellow cyclist and chief architect and influence for many of our buildings and projects in Sabah) and Mike (an experienced mountain and jungle guide who has worked with us on and off for several years now).  We scrambled our way up the gravel track leading out of camp in the dark, chatting nervously, before reaching the main road, shaking hands and wishing each other luck, switching on lights and rolling down the hill.  It was 8pm.  The plan was to try and keep a good pace up for the first 4 hours or so, buying us time for the steep climbs later on.  Unfortunately it wasn‰Ûªt to be and literally 2km in and Mike had disappeared off the back of the group.  Myself and Ian stopped and waited.  And waited some more.  Finally Mike appeared, pushing his bike ‰ÛÒ he had had a failure of his freewheeel in his rear wheel and simply could not pedal.  Fortunately the support crew arrived quickly afterwards and we swapped the wheel for a spare ‰ÛÒ but it meant Mike‰Ûªs gears were badly aligned and once we set off again it became clear he was going to struggle to keep up with the bike in such a condition.  Without wanting to compromise the whole effort, Ian and I pushed on into the night, leaving Mike to battle valiantly for 80 km, by himself, on a mountain bike with thick off-road tyres and malfunctioning gears.  He got to Kota Belud at 80 kms and called it a day, much to his disappointment.

Elevation profileThe profile of the cycling phases of the journey

Ian and I powered on over some undulating terrain and down onto the flat road that leads for 30km into Kota Belud.  The road was lined by paddy fields, the occasional small village, and surprisingly little traffic ‰ÛÒ it was 11pm.  We joked at the loud karaoke music coming from each settlement ‰ÛÒ it appeared that every village had its own ‰ÛÏparty‰Û house where the Saturday evening entertainment was well under way.  Elsewhere it was quiet, very quiet, except for the dogs barking and chasing us along our way.  Once out of Kota Belud we were on an even quieter road which ran along side a river ‰ÛÒ it was generally flat and we took turns leading, with the other tucked behind in the slip stream, half a wheel length away, concentrating hard not to touch or crash.  We were truly alone with the support vehicle still a long way back following Mike.  But it was exhilarating ‰ÛÒ a combination of speed on short downhills hoping there were no hidden potholes to throw us off, sudden bursts of dogs chasing us, the occasional cow in the road, beautiful scenery shimmering in the full moon, idle chit chat between us, and constantly the mountain in the distance looking huge, ominous, distant and very, very high. 

Ian posing
Ian posing as we leave Kota Belud

The hours passed and as we approached the 100km mark the vehicle caught up with us and we rested in the road, scoffed the cold porridge and dried fruit concoction of Colin‰Ûªs (more on this later!), took on board more water and let our muscles rest for a few minutes.  After the 100km point things changed and it turned into almost constant climbing, sometimes shallow but generally steep.  Our conversation slowed, our breathing quickened, the sweat started to pour and we knew we were in the thick of it.  The moon was still bright so we turned off our lights since there was nothing on the road with us ‰ÛÒ it was just the sound of our breathing and occasional patches of insects and bugs singing their night time chorus. 

The dreaded porridge!
The dreaded porridge! 

We caught up with the support vehicle every hour and scoffed more of the porridge mix and more water.  At 120km we reached the main road which traverses Sabah and the traffic picked up ‰ÛÒ it was now about 3am and there were some big trucks lumbering up the winding road.  Conversation was now gone, it was just us and the road and the climb, wishing for it to come to an end, visualizing the road ahead of us and how much further it was ‰ÛÒ my mind was full of wishful thinking.  The wind picked up and it was cold, bashing us as we climbed, chilling our exposed flesh and willing us to stop.  The clouds were all around us as we entered the mountain area, blowing up the valley beside us, and then a sign ‰ÛÒ 7km to Mt Kinabalu.  I shouted back to Ian and we let out a half hearted ‰ÛÏwhoop‰Û ‰ÛÒ we are almost there.  And so we push on and finally just as its starting to get light it starts to level off and a sign saying Mt Kinabalu 500m ‰ÛÒ we‰Ûªve made it! 

There is the van waiting for us.  We shake hands and congratulate ourselves, phase one complete.  Its 0545 in the morning and it is now fully light.  Time to whip off the wet cycling gear, pull on dry trekking clothes and then we huddle down in the back of the van for 30 mins rest/sleep.  Ian is away and snoring deeply in seconds.  I try and catch up with a few tweets to update on our progress but my eyes close and I manage a quick 10 -15 mins doze.  Then its time to wake up and get ready to go.  The park opens at 7am and we need to be registering straight away, picking up our guides, and heading for the trail head.

Vaguely rested and fuzzy
Vaguely rested and fuzzy, ready to start the climb

Phase 2 ‰ÛÒ Mt Kinabalu climb

Mentally I was worried about the initial cycle ride and whilst I knew the mountain would be hard, I just said to myself it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of another and plodding up.  Unfortunately it didn‰Ûªt pan out like that.

At the park gate
At the park gate, the only way is up!

We set off from the gate at about 0740 with 2 guides, Mike had rejoined us and Al (Asia Operations Manager) had been roped in to provide moral and physical support.  The climb of Mt K is relentless and can be compared to going up 8.6km of steps, uneven and often very large steps.  At the 6km point you reach the lodges where people normally stay for a night before heading for the summit the next morning.  Our plan was to do it all in one day and that meant hitting this point at around 11am or so to afford enough time to summit then get back down.  The first few km went ok ‰ÛÒ myself and Ian were obviously tired but our legs seemed to be doing ok.  Then it started to all go wrong.  The porridge we had been consuming through the night (with Ian being prudent on his consumption compared to me who was literally shoveling it down and singing its praises) literally came back and bit me in the arse!  It started to cause me chronic ‰ÛÏwind‰Û which is obviously a nice way of saying I was farting like a trooper, non stop.  Anyone who has trekked in a small team before knows you have to walk right up close behind people ‰ÛÒ those poor guides earnt their money that day I can tell you!  As we climbed through the 3km point and about 2700m in altitude, the ‰ÛÏwind‰Û was joined by nausea ‰ÛÒ huge debilitating waves of it and my pace slowed to a crawl.  I know I suffer from nausea at altitude and have experienced it many times but usually my body can cope with it, which combined with slow ascents and acclimatization, its normally just a nagging unwell feeling.  But this was something completely different and I was struggling, big time.  My mind turned to negative thoughts, dwelling on the nausea, and I tried to snap myself out of it, forcing a positive mantra into my head that I could do it.  I wasn‰Ûªt convinced.  My first chunder happened somewhere around this stage ‰ÛÒ the guide kindly stepped away and left me in my moment of unpleasantness. 

Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu ready to punish us

I arrived at the small rest stop at 4km a mere shadow of the person who set off at the park gate a few hours earlier.  Al and Ian were already there and fortunately there was a toilet.  I dropped my gear and headed for the loo.  I wasn‰Ûªt sure what I needed to do more ‰ÛÒ fart, pooh or vomit ‰ÛÒ so I sat down and let nature take its course.  Of course since I was sat on the toilet I had to throw up all over the floor, deep retching vomit from the very core of my being.  Al and Ian heard the action from outside and I am not sure they will be able to look at me again in the same light ‰ÛÒ huge deep loud farts, sighs of relief, gut renching vomiting, gushing vomit splashing against the plastic toilet door, groans ‰ÛÒ and then the piece de resistance ‰ÛÒ my vomit flooding out from underneath the door.  Its moments like this, at the real depths of despair, that you have to joke and laugh about it which is why the graphic descriptions and asking Al to take a photo.  We joked at length about the composition of the vomit ‰ÛÒ of course there were carrots, there always are, but there were mushrooms in there too.  Had Colin put mushrooms in the porridge? Surely not? We giggled and it relieved my anguish, briefly.

Not well and yes that's vomit!
Not well and yes that’s vomit! 

I was close to calling it a day at that point but the joking helped lift me, laughing with some good mates, laughing at myself and knowing they understood how I felt.  And so we plodded on upwards ‰ÛÒ I felt better post vomit and seemed to make good headway to about 5km.  Al had pushed on ahead and Ian was going at his own pace behind me.  I was alone again with the patient and silent guide behind me.  And then it started to come over me again, like a huge heavy blanket, draining my energy, blurring my vision, pushing my thoughts to negativity.  At the 4km point we were sort of on target to get to the 6km point before the 1130 cut off, but now time was slipping away.  To make matters worse people were coming down from summitting that morning, jolly and encouraging and I could barely acknowledge them I was that wiped out.  The last 1,000m up to the lodges at 6km and 3300m up was a blur.  A few steps, rest, a few more steps, sit down, vomit, groan, a few more steps.  At one point my insides gave me about 20 secs warning I needed to get that porridge out, and quickly.  Luckily there was a small break in the bushes and I could squeeze myself in, about 3ft off the main track and let loose.  I remember leaning on my pole, shorts and pants round my ankles, squatting, still very nauseous, trying to engage my brain as to how I was going to clean myself up ‰ÛÒ I had no toilet paper or wipes.  I looked frantically for leaves but they were small and rotten.  I tried to get the hose from my water system to reach around the back but it wouldn’t.  So I used the water to simply assist my bare hand.  All the while the guide sat patiently, having moved a little upwind of course!!  I stood and thought I was finished only to be hit immediately by another bout of projectile porridge poohing.  More cleaning up to do ‰ÛÒ I was alone and struggling big time.  The clean up job was pretty effective so I clambered back onto the track, smiled weakly at the guide and pushed upwards, literally 10m at a time in between sitting on rocks or propping myself on my stick.  I was not having fun!

I arrived at Laban Rata which is the lodges at 6km at about midday.  Al was there of course and Ian trundled in almost immediately after me, obviously also not enjoying himself.  I collapsed on the floor and it was obvious to everyone, especially myself, I was going no further.  I was drained, white, exhausted and emotionally on the edge.  I was relieved when Ian said he was absolutely wiped out and couldn‰Ûªt go on either.  We had passed our deadline and there was no way either of use would have got very far ‰ÛÒ  it would have been foolish to try and as Ian later mentioned, all good mountaineers know when to turn around and call it a day.  We collapsed inside the cafÌ© in the warm, got a mug of hot tea, and laid our heads on the table.  I was still racked with nausea and literally could not move ‰ÛÒ I needed to go to the toilet and vomit and pooh again but could not get my head off the table.  We remained in that position for 30 minutes, Ian sleeping and me dozing, groaning and feeling sorry for myself.  We raised ourselves, I managed to make it to the toilet and did what I needed to do.  We knew we needed to get down and out of the thinner air where our bodies could recover.  So we rustled up our gear and at about 1pm we set off back down the mountain, having only conquered 6km of the 8.6km but having pushed ourselves to the absolute edge.

With each step down my condition improved and pretty soon the nausea lifted, and I felt almost joyous at the sensation.  I could string more than a few words together and we chatted about all sorts of stuff as we headed down.  Going down is never easy and Ian soldiered on despite a bad knee, and we made good time, reaching the gate at the bottom around 330pm.  It was a relief to get off the mountain and we both agreed that it had not been an enjoyable time ‰ÛÒ understatement of the century!!

At the park HQ we popped into the cafÌ© to fuel up with another hot drink before pulling on our damp cycling gear.  Our bodies were now back to normal if a little tired and stiff.  But we were excited about the final stage, the 40km downhill ride into Camp Bongkud.

Phase 3 ‰ÛÒ Cycle from Mt Kinabalu to Bongkud

It was raining a heavy drizzle when we set off at about 1630, lights flashing and into the traffic.  Most of the distance was downhill, winding and fun so we set off full throttle, refreshed by the thought of an exhilarating ride and the finish not far away.  At moments down the hill we clocked 60kph, concentrating hard on the corners due to the wet conditions but excited to be alive and away from the mountain.  Mike and Aida (Camp Manager from Mantanani) had kindly decided to accompany us on their bikes to give us moral support for this final leg.  

Aida slipstreaming on the stretch to Bongkud
Aida slipstreaming on the final stretch to Bongkud

We raced through Ranau and out the other side where it started to climb again ‰ÛÒ our last climb.  It was long and steep in places ‰ÛÒ we were tired but nothing was going to stop us and as the crest of the hill approached I smiled ‰ÛÒ I had been thinking how I would feel at this moment for several months ‰ÛÒ it wasn‰Ûªt a momentous feeling, just a warm glow of satisfaction.  At the summit we sat and waited for Aida and Mike before rolling down hill for the last few kilometres and into Camp Bongkud.  It was just getting dark as we rolled down the rocky track into camp at just before 6pm, 22 hours after setting off, with the camp staff waving and some flags draped across the finish.  We had done it.  Ian and I shook hands and looked each other in the eye, sharing the moment and trying to understand the enormity of what we had just done.  Yes we were disappointed we didn‰Ûªt reach the summit of the mountain but actually it had been the journey getting here ‰ÛÒ the shared experience with good friends, moments of loneliness and despair, having to draw from the very depths of your being to carry on, the peacefulness of travelling a dark road on a moonlit night, the shared companionship and the buzz of pushing yourself to the edges of possibility. 

FinishedI would like to personally thank everyone who donated, no matter how large or small, you all took the time to pass on your personal funds and best wishes – thank you.  I intend to write a separate note on the projects that these funds will support.  I also want to thank Colin for pulling together and planning all the logistical support (and of course his delicious porridge concoction), Fendy and Waily for driving and supporting through the night & day, Mike for giving it his best shot despite terrible luck on his bike,  Aida and the teams in both Bongkud and Tinangol for their support pre and post the event, Al for dragging us up the mountain and enduring the vomit, fart and pooh onslaught, and of course my companion throughout, Mr Ian Hall.  Thanks everyone for all your support.  Now that the aches and pains are starting to wane, and fond memories flood my brain as opposed to the nightmare hours on the mountain, i am starting to think to the next challenge.  It will certainly be a challenge but it may not involve a mountain and it certainly won’t involve cold porridge!