Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Days 13-18 - Long Way Down and Kathmandu Tear-Ups

The trip down was a gruelling one. We decided to condense the planned 4 day trek into 3 days, meaning a combined walking time of 27 hours. Without the thought of making it to the top and playing the game to motivate our minds, the path on the way down seemed a long, slow, never-ending battle. The first day, after resisting the temptation to climb Kala Pattar before out 9am departure time, seemed to go quite well. Energised from the acclimatisation at 5165, we practically jogged the flat parts down to Pheriche, a 6 hour trek down to 4300 metres. Causing difficulty for myself was walking down steep rocks. The impact sending shockwaves through the joints. Minds began to turn to the mind-numbingness of day jobs, banking, and personally... having to move flat the moment I got back.

Pheriche was, relatively speaking, The Ritz of Sagamartha National Park. The hotel we stayed in had amazing facilities, including sinks and sit down toilets... although the ever present need to scoop water out of a barrel and pour it into the bowl to act as the flush mechanism remained. Generally all of Pheriche got to watch this happen too, as the toilets all faced out onto the main farming land were old ladies and their children worked with pickaxes or kicked balls.... seemingly oblivious to the sight of a Westerner wiping his pasty arse. I was also surprisingly reassured when I noticed that the walls in the room were still pieces of plywood with scrawlings on them.

Will Wintercross took the time to interview me in his role with The Press Association, and during it I mentioned the 'fighting back a couple of tears' line. He really quizzed me hard on that. Thankfully nobody was interested in publishing a story about the blubby blubbery Aussie. Although in saying that, I was already feeling a full stone lighter for my efforts, and I saw things on my stomach that haven't been visible in decades. On the topic of Will, I found myself standing up for him when he grabbed his camera at the sight of the stretcher that was being prepared for James Markby. Markby's health really deteriorated throughout the day, with gastric problems reducing him to a shell of a man. Unable to push on the final stretch down the hill, he was carried in. I argued that it was Will's job to document the trip, no matter what happened, although I could undertsand why people got upset. Alarmingly, Dave Kirtley, and Breck all went down with a horrible virus meaning nothing can be held down in their stomachs.

Due to the illnesses and organisation, we got off to a late start the next day. Compounding this was some further illnesses along the day, including Joe contracting the gastric virus, and Jules' back giving in. This seemed like the longest day of the trek and thinking back too it, I can scarcely believe I was in so many different situations throughout the day. From the dried up river bed of Pheriche, down below the tree line, and into lunch, I didn't think I had any more walking left in me. Following lunch, we had the massive upward hill back to Tengboche to encounter. This seemed to fly by though, as the guaranteed good chat of Hillsy made the walking fly by. After we crested Tengboche, I got an amusing retelling of how Kirt and Miles became friends and then a rundown of the proceeding 4 years. Some of the stories are book-worthy and perhaps it was this lack of concentration that lead me to going over on my ankle. I rolled my ankle back in Khumjung 10 days earlier, walking sideways down the narrow stairs. Briefly, as I laid strewn on the floor, I thought my trip was over. Fortunately it was nothing and I was able to walk ok after about 10 minutes of stretching it out. From that point on though, I kept on straining it (and rolled it again on the way back from our acclimatisation walk in Dingboche) and it got progressively weaker. As I stood back up after a moderately heavy fall, with backpack still firmly attached, I took one step and rolled it again... getting pretty unsteady before Miles grabbed me and pulled me away from the trail edge that I'd become perilously close too. The rest of the walk, a good 4 and a half hours, was spent ignoring the pain. I was simply too tired to bother with it, and just wanted to get to where I could lie down as soon as possible. I managed to limp into Namche just as the final light extinguished, but a fair group of us weren't so lucky, particularly the wounded of DK, Joe, Markby etc who had to walk for a good hour or more in the pitch black.

The teahouse that night resembled the battle of the bulge. People were sick and injured. Jules looked like he'd seen a ghost. Everybody, to a man and woman, had the Khumbu Cough. Another guy, not on our tour, threw up in the dining hall. Spirits were low in the morning, only enlivened by the fact that this was the last undercooked pancake and over-boiled egg I'd ever have to eat. I was finding it impossible the night before to walk down stairs, but luckily the pain in my ankle had subsided enough by the morning to be able to walk on it. Not so lucky was my room-mate Cuzzer, who I was woken by during the night by him frantically trying to get our door open. A couple of seconds later I heard him throw up. Somehow, I fell straight back asleep... something more indicative of how worn out I was, because I was genuinely concerned. But the next thing I knew it was 45 minutes later and Isla had been and gone after administering a medical procedure at the door of my room without me knowing.

With some heavy strapping on my ankle, I set out for the final push, another 10 hours walking to Lukla. Steep downhill, flat, then the final 45 minutes or so uphill. After an hour or so, I realised that 'warming up my ankle' wasn't going to make the pain subside, and asked Nick to hit me up with the strongest thing he had (cue Naked Gun style joke). The rest of the day was a case of mind over matter. And I was lucky I was one of the healthy ones. One of the ill guys (I'll withhold the name) practically begged Nick for something to sort his stomach out so he could eat for the first time in 2 days. He was so exasperated by this stage that he took the procedure (quite literally a jab up the arse), and even volunteered to get it over and done with (discreetly) in the dining hall of the teahouse that we stopped at. During the afternoon, I was that knackered that I barely even flinched when my £100 sunglasses went flying off my head and onto the paved floor. Even more tired later on, I repeated this process (I kept on forgetting my sunglasses were on my head.... I'd then rip my hat off and my sunnies would go flying into the floor) a further 3 times. Each time without flinching. I knew I was damaging them, but I just didn't care.

At one point, I was stopped by a completely batshit insane Belgian guy carrying 2 huge packs weighing a total of 35kg, one strapped to the other, on his back. Louis-Philippe was going by the name of the Chocolate Sherpa and his mission was to distribute 100kg of chocolate along the trek to the Sherpa people, and to also conduct the worlds highest chocolate tasting. This is the same man that crossed the Simpson Desert alone by foot - I repeat, completely batshit insane. I radioed this through to Kirt, who after meeting him agreed with my summation, which then extended to a little bit of 2-way banter. Interrupting this was Charlie Campbell coming online to tell us that he was in Lukla with his 2 mates, San and Miguel. Being 90 minutes away, this was the last thing I wanted to hear. The next 2 hours resembled one of those montages that they play at the end of The Olympics for the distraught athletes, those injured/upset/being helped over the line by officials during the marathon and generally to the tune of 'Don't Give Up'. I was down. I was out. And so much time had passed between the last time I was in Lukla and where I was at that time, that I didn't recognise the final walk up to the town. Stumbling uphill, Butler and I saw an arch. Neither of us wanted to dare say that it could be Lukla. We walked through, a quick look to my left said 'Lukla Travel Agent'. You. Fucking. Beauty. I raised my hands in my elation. I think Butler shed a tear. It was all over. We had covered 55km and descended 2320metres in 3 days of walking that left us drained physically and mentally. My ankles and knees were shot. But we'd made it. The first group to walk that morning were already lining the streets, beers in hands and gave us a heroes welcome. After dumping our kit, we all got smashed. It only took 4 small cans of San Miguel, but we were all leathered. Lots of man-hugs were exchanged. Kirt paid me a great compliment when he pulled me aside to congratulate on my attitude during the entire 15 days. He confessed that he thought I wouldn't be able to hack it, and that I'd be one of his main problems with constant complaints and issues, but was pleasantly surprised when I ended up being the complete opposite of his prediction. Of course, I responded by telling him that I hoped he died on the plane ride home and we returned to our normal OTT mudslinging.

Coming down in 3 days gave us an extra day in Kathmandu which was warmly accepted. The shower I had, my first in 13 days, ranks as one of the best experiences of my life. We had 2 long nights out in Kathmandu, but I must admit to feeling like I was running on empty on both occasions. Although I still managed to do a couple of shots from Dane's whiskey bottle at 4:30am on the 2nd night. The other 2 days are a blur of Nepali hats, cigars, Everest beer, Rickshaw Races (Breck rounding the corner on a rickshaw like a character from Around the world in 80 days is a particularly vivid memory), lying in the sun, watching IPL, beep-beeping, being offered tiger balm, Ghurkha knives and Hash (in that order), Ian Ditchburn's shadow puppetry, 4 meals a day, tedious bartering, shirt-signing, over-zealous jobsworth airport officials, Hulk Hogan Moustaches (Blinky) and Zangeef Beards (G-Man), shots, 2 Danish girls between 40 of us, being told we all had a 'cricketers swagger' by an American, and a last supper with the guides and porters. Unfortunately all these great moments were tempered by the news that my elderly Nan was gravely ill. Feigning illness, I took a couple of hours alone to sort my thoughts out. Funnily enough, this provided a welcome jolt and stopped me getting a bit too carried away with the goings on. Looking back, I was glad I kept that to myself as I doubt that once I started talking, I don't think I would've been able to stop describing what a truly remarkable woman Nan was.

The final dinner was punctuated with some presentations. Everybody had pitched in to buy Kirt and Wes memento's of the trip (for obvious reasons), aswell as gifts for their able assistants, Cuzza and Vicks. We presented a signed bat to Nir on behalf of Peace Nepal Treks for their simply amazing work. It's a cliché so often used by travellers, but without their help, from organising government bureaucracy through to organising the porters to carry huge loads such as the wicket and a diesel-powered generator, through to simple things like telling jokes and patting you on the back, we would've had no hope of pulling the event off. Honestly I could go on forever. Blinky also received a signed bat for his tireless efforts on the website. For 3 months, to the detriment of his social life, fitness, and chagrin of his girlfriend Indre, Blinks spent upwards of 3 hours a night (on top of his dayjob) working on our website. Zooby had a crack had reading a thank you in Nepali, and somehow Wes managed to sneak in a thanks to the Drovers CC aswell.

Upon return to the UK, we found out that we'd been in every major newspaper, with a picture of my first ball making The Times. A quick google search bought up 92 different articles on gameday itself. The pictures are absolutely stunning. It seemed like a flash the time in Nepal was over, and with it, an 18 day adventure and a 12 month period that will live long in the memory. The one image that I'll have with me though is walking back to my bowling mark, flustered after being hit for 6 by Kiwi over midwicket, looking up to take a deep breath, and focussing on the summit of Mt Everest before turning around to bowl again.

Monday, 18 May 2009



Woke up with the sunlight again and knew that I wasn't getting back to sleep. Desperately needing a leak, I tried to get out of my sleeping bag just as quietly as I could as not to disturb Blinky. Anybody who can disrobe from a wrapped up sleeping bag in silence needs to contact the relevant Intelligence Agencies for their country as not even the offspring of James Bond and Die Hard would be able to pull that off. I was up at the earliest sign that Blinky was awake and into my playing kit. I can't remember being this excited (or ready this early) for sport since playing for St Edwards RLFC under 7's.

The morning was a blur that offered up contrasting takes on the day. Whilst fairly nervous, I was pretty chipper on the outside, but resorted to reading a book to pass the time. Haydn had his serious face on. Dave Christie was giving weather reports (A thick morning fog had enveloped Gorak Shep), and Wes had his 'focussed' face on, only talking to us to tell us which psyche-up tune he'd just been listening too. Butler was later to provide an amusing sideshow by, instead of picking up Colgate, chose the relatively similar tube of Savlon. It wasn't until he tasted antiseptic cream that he realised the grave error.

Once the fog lifted, a glorious Himalayan day revealed that the pitch was looking fantastic. Despite predictions of weather as bad as a blizzard and temperatures down to -8, it turned out to be blazing blue sky, and around about 10 degrees. This immediately put me in a good mood. So much could've gone wrong, but the Gods were smiling on us.

Nobody was quite sure how to take the warm-ups for the match. Do we run? That question was answered when a jog around the field turned into a walk. How strictly will Haydn enforce his directives... we soon found that out when (some more pointedly than others) said hello to the opposition. He looked unimpressed. When Dave Christie and I mucked around with a local toddler who sidled up to us, mesmerised by the sight of 15 guys wearing bright pink throwing a ball around, we were told to focus on the day’s proceedings. The message was clear, Haydn wasn't taking this lightly.

Later on, just after the official team photo's, some excited locals wanted some pictures of us. The offer was refused with a promise to let it happen after the game. At the time I didn't think anything of it, but in retrospect I would've liked to have interacted a little bit more with those guys. This game was as much about the Sherpa people and their wonderful homeland as much as it was us grabbing bragging rights over our mates. Unfortunately the same guys weren't there at the end, and I can't help but feel that an opportunity to soak up the moment was lost.

Haydn called correctly and we stuck them in, hoping for a repeat of the last time we played at Sheen Park. This time around they had 3 much stronger players in their batting line-up (Dave Kirtley, Kiwi, and Simmo), and to be fair we knew we didn't quite have the bowling firepower to match those 3, but we thought if we could get the pitch to do tricks early-on, then we could perhaps get into their middle order again. Prior to the first ball, James Markby stood in front of the assembled players and read from 'The Man in The Arena', by Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

After this, following a Martin Johnson style stare-down-the-line from Haydn (honestly, I've never seen the man so serious), there was a heart-warming exchange of good-lucks with each member of Hillary. Then it was on to the pitch. I don't think I've ever been clapped on to any sporting arena before in my life. Now we had circa 200 people clapping us on to the pitch. Awesome.

Blinky was the man with the new ball in his hands. I was standing at gully unconvincingly saying to myself 'you've got to want the ball to come to you', which is generally what I do when I feel like I don't want the ball to come to me. I thought our big chance of getting DK, a completely different class of batsman, was early on. Perhaps to a nervous shot or one that keeps low on his pads. The first ball went screaming through cover-point for 4. Blinky recovered well from this and had a close LBW turned down, and then a tough chance dropped at deep square leg by Waters when Glen was facing. The way the ball travelled alarmed me. It didn't appear to look like going the distance, but the thin air meant it carried on - no higher than stomach height - all the way to the boundary and would've cleared it by some way had Waters' stomach not got in the way. And judging by the bruise on said gut, it was travelling at some pace. Next over and Glen was dropped again. This time a much easier chance at gully by G-Unit. Unfortunately it was an awkward-ish height and the nerves showed as he made a complete hash of it. He argued that he saved a couple of runs, which I suppose is technically true.

We were then on the backfoot for the next 8 overs. Mark Waters, our premier bowler, got hit for 16 off his first 3 deliveries. Even my encouragement was going wrong when, after a ball popped up into the chest of Dave Kirtley form Dave Christie, I said something along the lines of 'Hey Hey show him what you've got Curtly' - In reference to DC’s delivery resembling one of Curtly Ambrose’s thunderbolts. However the Kirtley/Curtly similarities was misconstrued as sledging Dave and I had to explain myself out loud. Which was pretty embarrassing and something I copped some barracking for from the sidelines, barracking of which I thought went a touch too far.

At the first drinks break they were 69/0 off 7 overs. Comments along the lines of 'we're going to ram 200 runs down your Tenzing throats' rung in my ears from the sidelines as Haydn told me I was coming on to bowl. With a hesitant gulp I agreed, despite it being the opposite end that I requested. And this was after seeing Kinsey (a fellow off-spinner) being taken apart as a rampant Dave Kirtley, seeing them like beachballs, made mincemeat of boundary-lengths more at home at under-12 level. Loosening up, I tried to calm myself with the fallacy of 'it's a win/win situation, everybody has been smashed'. I did breathe a sigh of relief when DK took a single off the last ball of the preceding over, meaning I had to bowl to Glen. First ball resulted in a big LBW appeal. To be honest I was more excited that I landed it where I wanted too than anything else. The next ball Glen hit a single. That didn't go to plan, now on to Dave, 45 off 33 balls. I was absolutely packing it. I was already a bit short of breath, my heart was pumping. Thankfully for me, Dave and Cuzza were both also short of breath, as Dave played a poor shot and Cuzza missed a no-ball as my 3rd delivery pitched, kept low, turned a little, Dave K played back to attempt a big swoosh to get to his 50 in style, but only saw the ball crash into his stumps. It's fair to say I was pretty happy with that and let out a mornings full of nerves in one roar. Immediately I was surrounded by a bunch of relieved Tenzingers with high fives and massive hugs. Somebody shouted 'First wicket on Everest', but again I was just happy not to make a fool of myself.

Glen was then out to one of G's 10-balls in the next over and we were back in the hunt. The runrate stopped as a clearly not 100% Simmo struggled with the pace and bounce of the wicket. Kiwi seemed a little spooked by DK's dismissal and, coupled with an obdurate desire not to be dismissed by me (of all people), treated me with probably a little bit too much respect than I deserved. Backed up by some great fielding (Blinky diving about comes to mind), we were back on top. Unfortunately this is when the sniping started again. As the boundary wasn't very far away I could clearly hear the conversations Hillary were having about smashing my face in and other OTT comments, of which I'd normally take as banter, but today (and maybe it was my fault) they seemed to have a toxic vibe. I reasoned that it was a good sign, they were resorting to that as I was bowling well. Halfway through the next over they complained loudly towards Cuzzer, the on-field umpire, that I was bowling no-balls. I suggested back to them that, perhaps, they should fuck off. To be fair to them, apparently the wicket was a no-ball. In addition to this, the rule has recently changed to state that your foot doesn't have to be grounded behind the line. But how they could question a 'line-ball' decision without full knowledge of the rules and from the sidelines really rankled me. With the tiredness and mild hypoxia creeping in, I didn't get really get over it and the next 3 balls went for 10.

It strikes me as odd that, at Amateur Sporting Events, it always seems to be the crowd that are pricklier than the players. We were threatened with expulsion from an inter-college tournament at university due to supporter behaviour, and my experience with local rugby league also supports this theory. It was true on the day too, as everybody on the pitch, particularly DK, Glen, Simmo, and Kiwi were great sports and seemed to be having fun. Although I would've preferred if Kiwi didn't start laughing at me during my equal parts ridiculous and hilarious stutter in my bowling approach.

After the drinks break I finished my 4th over, 1 of only 3 to do so during the day and the only one to complete them on-the-trot... something that I'm still pleasantly astonished by. My 4 overs returned 1/21 - I was pretty happy with this as I thought I'd helped turn the match. It wasn’t over for me though as I was asked to keep for the remaining 5 overs. 'And death it shall be...' I thought to myself, remembering how exhausting it was the day before. Keeping up to the stumps to Butler, I couldn't believe it when the first ball went straight into my gloves. I did, however, miss a tough chance off Kiwi on the 4th ball when he gloved a sweep. So nobody was more surprised than myself when, after taking the next ball cleanly, I managed to take the bails off (albeit in pretty ungamely fashion) with Simmo's foot dangling in the air. Big appeal, and the moment I saw Hillsy raising his finger in a theatrical method, I went spare. That was as probably as happy as I ever have been or ever will be. It was unbelievable, I can barely catch a cold, and on the 5th ever competitive ball that I'd kept too, I had a stumping to my name. I think I've seen a photo where I've jumped up with my legs around Butler's stomach... that's how happy I was.

That bought in the normally mild-mannered Charlie Campbell, who in between batting well took the time to have an unprovoked dig at both Butler and myself. Still ecstatic from the stumping, I simply smiled and carried on. 2 balls later, Charlie seemed unhappy that I'd made exactly the same comment about his fitness as what he'd said to me. I couldn't quite fathom what was going on. Tenzing were, probably quite rightly, copping flak for taking the game too seriously, yet Hillary (with some noted exceptions) seemed to be all over the gamesmanship side of things.

The next over Kiwi, their last star batsmen, top-edged Mark Waters. Dropping down from high in the sky, Haydn ran back, looking over his shoulders to position himself for a tough chance, one that I didn't expect him to take. A millisecond before the ball hit his hands, somebody from Hillary shouted 'DROP IT!' - just prior to Haydn completing an outstanding catch. A few words were said, and high on adrenaline from the surprise of the catch and now seriously outraged, I shouted - to nobody in particular - 'It's a charity game you bunch of c*nts' - I followed this up with a huge 'C'mon Tenzing' roar as a few more words were exchanged before calm was restored. Jules was the next man in and, to his eternal credit, made sure to apologise before taking guard.

What happened out there is hard to is hard to explain. Having to cope with much less oxygen obviously puts allot more stress on your thought process than what your used too. This inebriation makes thinking exceptionally difficult, and it really affects the decision making process, almost like being a little bit drunk. I've heard several people say since 'I just don't know what came over me' in response to a couple of things that went on. On the whole, it was still a very enjoyable day and I suppose these sorts of 'flashpoints' (if you will) were inevitable.

We restricted them to 152 in the end, quite a decent comeback when we were staring at 200+ and we were confident going into lunch. Prior to heading to our respective teahouses, I sought out a couple of Hillary guys to apologise for the outburst, and I was proud that I managed to admit fault long before an apology came our way. Despite all this, we formed a massively deserved guard of honour for Kirt as he ran onto the field on his own. An entire book can be written on the sacrifices made and effort put in and countless other thankless tasks that he undertook to get us to this point, and this was our small-way of thanking him for the experience.

Our pursuit of the target got off poorly, with Butler out for a duck in the first over. Blinky was out for 2 soon after and we had our backs against the wall. Further to this, a game of numberwang occurred in our batting line-up and Mark Water was promoted from 10 to 3. He batted stoically though and by 7 overs the game was delicately poised at 48/2. Mark was then out to a needless runout in the next over, with Simmo pulling off some amazing work behind the stumps. Wes, who looked our best batsman all day, responded by smashing an enormous 6, which would have carried on most grounds in the world, but was then out next over trying to repeat the dose. Kinsey was out caught off what was a borderline waist-high full-toss from Kiwi, the man who's wedding he'll be performing best-man duties at, and at the other end, Haydn was struggling with the pace and bounce. JC however, promoted from 9 to 7, was scoring some good runs. Haydn finally succumbed to Charlie Campbell, before the same bowler got Dave Christie, demoted from 3 to 8, out first ball with one that moved in a long way off the unpredictable surface. This bought myself to the crease (demoted form 7 to 9), with circa 70 needed off 7 overs, with 3 wickets in hand.

I walked out half-expecting to get some lip. But by this stage, the field was spread and with Simmo – not somebody who would bother with sledging a poor cricketer such as myself, let alone in a charity match- keeping and the game sprinting away from us, I didn't hear an ill word. Admiring my first shot, which I thought had gone for 4, I turned at the non-strikers end and stood and watched. The ball then pulled up inside the boundary... furious, I sprinted back for 2. The stinging in my lungs, the shortness of breath, the dizziness, and the pain in my muscles all combined to remind me why nobody else had a run a 2 all day.

With 68 needed off 30 balls, JC got out going for the much need big shot (Chris Martin's celebration in the style of Eric Cantona was a personal highlight of the day) and our last realistic hopes went. My comments to G-Man, the next man in, were that we needed 40 off the next 2 overs to stand a chance, so have a swing and enjoy it. With that he smeared a massive 6 and faint hope was restored. G was then bowled next over which sent Mike Preston in as our last salvation. I started throwing the bat at anything and lucked into a couple of boundaries, however I couldn't seem to get the strike. Mike smashed his way to 16. There were now 33 needed off 11 balls. A tall order but Mike was seeing them well so we retained very faint hope. Unfortunately he was bowled next ball going for another much needed 6 and it was all over.

By the time the bails hit the floor, I was over the fact we lost. The loss was practically inevitable form the time JC got out, and we never really looked like making the runs from the off. As I stripped off my gloves and helmet, the Hillary boys jumped for victory, and any lingering disappointment I felt was wiped away after seeing the delighted looks on both Glen and Kirt's faces. I was rapt for Glen as he was really enjoying the moment, and Kirt looked amazed that we had pulled it off. It was at this point that it dawned on me that we had the world record, and I thought back to everybody that had doubted us, and wished that they were there to see what had happened. A bunch of ordinary guys, nobody with any major qualifications or experience with this sort of thing, had pulled together, ably lead by Kirt and Wes, to achieve something pretty special, with a massive amount of money going to charity along the way. As the Hillary boys walked off the field, I must admit to having to hide a couple of tears. I'm not sure what to put it down too, partly elation that we'd finally done it, but probably more disappointment that it was now all over. 12 months of planning, muddy fitness sessions in -4 temperatures in Battersea Park, countless 3 hour long meetings at Lords, the freeze mobs, unsuccessful attempts at scaling various British mountains, country weekends, actually buying a pair of running trainers, net sessions at the oval, constantly telling people what I was up too, press launches, radio, tv, and press interviews, and investing all of my disposable income to get to this one-day, this one event, and now it had come to an end. It was fairly emotional and I finally have my answer as to why athletes cry when on the podium at the Olympics.

There were a few glum faces in Team Tenzing after the match, however I was nowhere near being one of them. I was happy with the way I'd played and delighted with the way the day turned out and the fact that we had the record in the bag. I was genuinely happy for Glen, who looked thoroughly pleased with himself and capped an excellent day for him by taking the final wicket. It was just his day. The presentations came and went, with Cuzza giving me a 'star performer' nod (but not before qualifying that with 'and it pains me to say this’) along with Mark Waters before awarding the Charlie Bathurst-Norman award (so named after the member of team Hillary who had to pull out with illness 3 weeks beforehand) to Charlie Campbell for his handy runs and 3 wickets. Dave Kirtley received the stickcricket award for most amount of sixes hit (4).

Following the formalities, most of us gathered in the teahouse that Hillary stayed in, to swig on some champagne and spend the rest of our adrenaline. After 3 sips of champagne and 3 small cans of beer, I was tripping all over the place like I was 16 years old again. And by the time Markby and I got around to singing American Pie, and mindful of an early start, I realised it was time for bed.

Stumbling back up to my sleeping quarters, I had a big satisfied smile on my face. A job well done, from everybody involved. The 30 players, the trektators, the medics, the photographers, the PR guys, the journalists, the guides, the porters, all of the Sherpa's we met along the way, our families and friends. Everybody.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Day 11 Gorak Shep - Preparations, Russell Brice and Team Announcement

5am and up with the sun again. The skylight in our roof providing an annoying alarm clock. Immediately my mind turned to whether I'd be picked. The tension of the unknown was killing me.

We were to have a practice session on the pitch starting at 11am, just after Hillary's slot. Within the space of an hour there were several pieces of good news. Simmo, Joe, and Zoobs walked into camp, all looking fit and well, and received a warm welcome. They then walked back out of camp and then back in again after Wes fetched his camera. This was the closest we got to sabotaging one of Wes' shots. A pact was made to not make a noise as they walked in, but realising we'd just have to do it a third time, we shelved that idea. Adding to this was my first sign of solidity around back. I was delighted. Absolutely delighted. And not a moment too soon either.

After shovelling away some Yak Dung off the pitch, we got to work in the middle. Just as we were about to start, we had a bunch of intruders. 30 guys, all wearing one of 2 matching shirts, walked down in a group shouting out Kirt's name. At first I dismissed them as group trekkers. They were a group alright, but from Himex, the most respected Everest guiding company in the world. Himex is run by climbing legend Russell Brice, an affable Kiwi who has built a reputation as the most respected climber in the world. In tow, were the Discovery Channel, filming the third series of 'Beyond Everest', which follows the Himex crew and the clients attempting a summit of Everest each year. Whilst other guides will take on just about anybody who can strap on a crampon, Russell restricts his clients to those who have experience of summiting above 8000metres. Russell had caught wind of our record attempt and had organised a friendly rumble. He came down with all his players (Westerners vs Sherpa's), and announced that his official sponsor - The Mountain Corrupt Corporation - was sponsoring an attempt on the record for a game of cricket at Camp 2 on the Western Cwm of Everest, a full 1235 metres higher than Gorak Shep. He issued as with a formal letter challenging us to a knockout tournament. It was all in good fun, jokes were shared along the lines of 'can you let us have the world record for more than 7 days please?' - Russell handed over a bottle of whiskey to Glen and Haydn for a post-match drink, and clearly revelling in it, gave an interview to Mark for ITV. I had a good chat with a client of his by the name of Valerio (whose blog on the day, and his summit attempt, is here). From the corner of my eye I noticed that one of the Sherpa's that was with them was the centre of attention to all the guys around him, almost sensing this, Valerio introduced him as Phurba Tashi, the Himex sirdar. Phurba seemed happy to sit back and watch the commotion from a distance. In actual fact (all going well), the man will soon enter legendary status by overtaking Apa Sherpa to claim the record for most amount of Summit's of Everest, which currently sits at 18.

All in all, it was an honour to meet Russell, Phurba, Valerio and their crew. They later hosted a couple of our guys in their stunning base camp hangout, and shared a beer and a story in confines that are normally off limits to non-Himex members.

After that, it was back to business. Joe Williams, who had earlier confessed to shedding a couple of tears after receiving some false information that the game was being played that day and that he would miss out, brushed aside any doubts about his health by banging balls out of the plateau like he was playing a real-life game of stickcricket. He made batting look easy on a pretty treacherous track that got worse the more it was used. The wicket was a synthetic rollout mesh, with small cubes of material laced together. If any of these cubes got slightly dislodged or raised, it would cause havoc with the bounce of the ball. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying that the definition of madness was trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This was madness, and something that Dave Christie was exploiting magnificently. Unlike anybody else, he wasn't trying to bowl too quickly; just hitting the same spot and letting the unpredictable pace and bounce do the rest. I'll be honest and say that I thought Dave would struggle to get into the team on ability, but he then batted even better than he bowled and on this training session alone, would've been the first on my team sheet. There were no airs nor graces about what he was doing, which I massively rated and thought would be worth its weight in gold the next day.

I, on the other hand, bowled particularly poorly. Struggling with the footing of the sandy runups and then the flimsy nature of the pitch, I shanked a couple in short and then even landed one off the wicket... something I haven't done since I was 15. I eventually settled into the bowling but it left me worried. I was happy with my batting in the tough conditions and hoped that would get me over the line in the selection meeting. All this to the backdrop of another massive avalanche, reminding us of exactly where we were.

All in all I felt ok with the breathing/fitness/energy side of things. Nothing was being done too strenuously which helped out, although I did practice wicket keeping for an over which was absolutely exhausting given the squatting and standing and moving about involved. Back for lunch and people tried to pass the time and get their mind off selection. All 15 of us were fit and healthy. 4 people were going to get a dreaded response. After seeing Haydn furrowing his brow over a piece of paper, scribbling down names, I knew decision time was imminent. A meeting was called for 4:30. After what seemed like the longest 90 minutes of my life, the meeting was canned until after dinner. I did feel for Haydn at this stage. He was about to put a line through 4 names, all with genuine claims to playing the match, but just by simple maths would not be able to play.

Word then got around that we weren't going to find out until the next morning. I, and everybody else, agreed that we wanted to find out that night, as it would give those who miss out an evening to sleep on their thoughts. In light of this, Haydn called a meeting. He started off by making a speech that traced back the events we had attended, where we had come from, how far we'd come, and went over some good memories.

The second part of the speech worried me. Flashing back to Mike Preston's house, during an open forum I expressed the opinion that I thought we were taking the match too seriously. I thought we needed to enjoy ourselves first and foremost as it was a one-off experience, and an offshoot of that enjoyment should be a good performances. This didn't go down as well as I would've liked and I must admit to feeling a little isolated as one after the other, everybody disagreed. I'm sure some people were only disagreeing as not to upset the majority, and this was confirmed later on when a couple of people said that they should've backed me up that afternoon. Haydn reeled off a list of things that he wanted from the day, most were fair enough and pretty standard sporting vernacular (play strong, have pride etc etc). What caught me was his directive not to talk to the opposition at all, and not to joke around with each other at any time. I'm sure this meant to come out as a 'stick together' vibe but it didn't really sit well with me. I pride myself in being friendly with the opposition (with the occasional exception....), and further to that, somebody who has become one of my close mates was captain of the opposing team. Now I wasn't allowed to say hello to him. In addition, I tend to find that when I take anything too seriously, particularly sport, I get too tense and inevitably freeze. Anybody who has known me for more than a couple of hours will attest that I don't take anything particularly seriously. It's just not in my nature.

In any case, I refrained from bringing up any of my objections. Remembering being pasted at Mike's, I thought that the entire team agreed with this course of action so I buttoned-up and toed the line, so to speak. And who was I to know that this wasn't the correct approach? It's all well and good with hindsight to suggest changes, and not for one minute do I think that Haydn wasn't trying his best to make this the most memorable day of 11 guys lives.

Following this, we were called one-by-one into G-Unit's room to find out whether we had made it in or not. Our worst fears were confirmed when we found out that the process was going to be filmed, which pissed me off immensely. In alphabetical order, we were called in. Having a surname starting with T, I was the 3rd last to go in. Blinky came back looking a shattered man. He was in the team, but the process of finding out really took it out of him. Butler came back in looking relieved. He was in. JC didn't come back, and G came in to grab his water bottle. It appeared as if we had our first victim. Then Dave Christie didn't come back in and we became genuinely confused. Everything was starting to take a long time, with the confusion and tension reaching fever pitch. Barely a word passed between any of us. Nobody was coming back into the dining hall anymore. Nobody knew what the hell was going on. Neil Sharland went in which meant I was next. I started shaking with anticipation and my stomach was in knots. Allot of thoughts passed through my mind. 12 months work. £4000. All the boasting to my mates. Donations. A genuine once-in-a-lifetime experience was in the hands of a couple of guys I'd met relatively recently. God what if they dropped me? I wouldn't be able to face it, the humiliation, the pain, walking back down knowing that all the effort had come to nothing. So near yet so far. WHY ARE THEY TAKING SO LONG.

Finally I was called in. In a cramped, dark room Haydn sat on one camp bed, G on the opposite bed with Wes next to him. We sat in awkward silence whilst Wes reloaded a new tape into his camera. I swear I would've killed him for the best part of £10 at that moment. Finally we got the camera's rolling. Haydn started 'So.... Tooves. You've come a long way. We've enjoyed having you on board (cut to the chase...), you've been a valuable member to the squad (where's the 'but' coming in), I mean getting stickcricket on board was a major coup (quit it with this x-factor shit IMMEDIATELY), and you really have made the effort (FUUUUUUCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK here comes the But) and you're also a handy cricketer, so I'm glad to say...... that you're in the team.

Paralysed by relief, I just sat there. Haydn gave me a hug but I'd switched off all emotion as a defence mechanism. G mentioned that people had questioned what I'd contributed to the team (although he had leapt to my defence) but that I wasn’t ever a definite starter. I wasn't sure what to make of that so just let it go, and really, I couldn't wait to get out of that fucking room, to get the camera out of my face and get to bed. I was spent. Haydn asked me to go back to my room as he didn't want me celebrating in front of anybody who was due to come in. I heard some boys gathered in one room and entered with Dave Christie, Kinsey, and Nick Mullineaux. For an awkward couple of minutes we exchanged chat… I was petrified of asking them whether they were in or not.

Back in the dining room, I was still none the wiser as to who was in the team, apart from Nick M who had quietly informed me of his demise. It turned out Nick, James Markby, Neil Sharland, and Joe Williams were the unlucky ones. Unfortunately Nick came in late in the game and didn't have much of a chance to impress. Markby was one who suffered from unfortunate timings, with family issues and long-planned holidays getting in the way of his attendance of many events, and whilst he put in great efforts where he could, others had more chances to contribute. Which was a shame as being one of the genuine characters, everybody on the trip loved Markby. Neil Sharland may have suffered from a strangely lax showing during the days practice session. Neil, along with brother Tom, led the trim trail sessions twice a week to whip us all into shape. With G residing in Oxford and Haydn choosing an individual route to fitness, unfortunately neither of them got to see Neil's work, which may have influenced the decision. I don't think I'd be wrong in stating that allot of us, including myself, owe allot to the Sharland Brothers for getting us into a decent enough state of health to tackle this challenge. In the corner of the dining hall, with eyes glazed over, I spotted a clearly shattered Joe Williams. Joe was one of the most popular members of the trek, brilliant company and a Middlesex colt. Unfortunately Joe was the recipient of a very tough call. Some people who had made a valid contribution had to miss out, and Joe was the unlucky man to get the tap on the shoulder. I really, really felt for the guy as I'd spent quite a bit of time with him in the leadup to the trek compared to the others. Mike Preston, in what would have to be considered the greatest gesture of any man, offered up his spot in the team to Joe. Joe politely refused and retired to bed.

What I've written above is not a case against Haydn or G-Man as to why they should've picked any of the four guys. Anybody who got dropped would've been able to make a pretty valid argument as to why it was unjust. Unfortunately, there was no right or wrong decisions... or more to the point, from Haydn's point of view, it just looked like there was wrong decisions. My thoughts turned to Glen, a nicer bloke you would struggle to find, having to tell 3 of his guys that they weren't playing and was thankful that it wasn't me having to deliver the news.

Blinky and I, absolutely ravaged after feeling like we'd been inside a spin cycle, had a quick celebratory hug before heading to bed. It hadn't sunk in yet, but I was in the team, and tomorrow - the day I'd imagined every single one of the previous 365 days of my life - was going to be a great day, win, lose, or draw.

Day 10 Laboje to Gorakshep - Don't Stop Now

For the first time that I could remember, I wasn't woken up by my normal alarm. It had seemed that the antibiotics had started working. Alternatively, I just had nothing left inside me. Nothing at all. Both options were equally feasible.

I said goodbye to Zoobs and then goodbye to Joe who were both staying back to ward off Altitude Sickness. I then said goodbye to Joe again, this time for the benefit of Wes' camera. Wes decided that he had liked our brief goodbye conversation, so asked us to do it again. Repeating an off-the-cuff conversation is nigh on impossible and I ended up staring at the floor and mumbling. The 'can you do that again' request became Wes' catchcry on the mountain, and by the end of the trek, usually elicited a roll of the eyes from everybody involved. It was hard not to agree to any requests though, as Wes was living a lifelong dream in filming a documentary and his boyish enthusiasm usually outweighed any resistance you felt. And we all want to see ourselves on film.

After our 180th boiled egg and undercooked pancake, we set off on the 4-hour mission away from the cesspit of Laboje towards the match venue. Setting off down the dry riverbed, carved out the mountain by an old raging glacier, we were instructed to take a very slow pace to ensure we got to Gorak Shep. The last song I heard before I left was 'Don't Stop Now' by Crowded House. The metaphor used in the song is of a couple in a petty argument over directions home after a long day. And this was fairly apt for our situation. Irritable, tired, starved of oxygen, and possibly even bored, the morale in the group was pretty low. Personally I was in a fairly decent mood, all things considered, and was fairly successfully compartmentalising my health problems and not letting them interfere with the way I dealt with other issues or my general enjoyment of the trip or the company I was in. Another factor that had crept in was the amount of people who quite liked the idea of being in charge. Every instruction was seconded, added too, slightly altered, and then sometimes contradicted by about 4 or 5 people. Making this more frustrating was, apart form Kirt and the guides, nobody had been through any of this before, essentially reducing everybody's advice to, at best, hearsay or at worst, guessing. With everybody possessing a pretty strong stubbornness gene, once something was said, it was very rarely retracted.

All this combined made for a pretty unhappy day's walking. Some people wanted to press on, others were sure we had to stop. Some people who wanted to stop thought we were stopping too much, others not enough. Mix in the confusion caused by mild hypoxia and it was a pretty lethal mix. It wasn't as if there were any major arguments or problems, but there was a definite toxic vibe in the air. An example of this was a team photo we organised on top of a large rock with a sheer-face with a drop of about 75 foot. I was one of the last to scale the rock and made my way to the front. I was still a safe distance from the edge when i lowered myself down to sit at the front. Unfortunately I put my hands between James Markby's legs. Markby, petrified of heights, got spooked by this and started to panic, something along the lines 'Toovey, Toovey, TOOVEY!'. Assuming something was wrong, this prompted Wes to shout 'What the fuck are you doing?' - A couple of more people than joined in before I shouted at everybody to stop fucking shouting at me. Whilst this was a complete non-event and nothing was thought of it afterwards, it illustrated the sort of mental strain that low-oxygen puts you under and how simple things can get out of control. Later on, after a comical mix-up with Haydn's trekking pole that delayed us 20 minutes, I tried to lighten the mood by making a joke about tying the Dick of the Day bell to his poll as both a punishment and so he knew whenever he dropped it. This fairly innocuous joke was snapped down in an instant and I thought it best that I just didn't talk for a while.

With the last hill finally cleared, we took the chance to catch a breather before the final push. Mark Jordan asked Butler and I to practice some shots in front of a mountain for the camera. We used this opportunity to brush up on our puerile humour, pretending to be talking about cricket when really we were describing exactly what we would like to do with the cricket bat. Turns out the audio on that section of the report wasn't completely muted.

Just prior to rounding the final bend and descending to Gorak Shep, we were struck with a pretty disturbing sight. An elderly Japanese man, whom I estimated at being between 65-70 years of age, looked in big trouble. He was stumbling like he was drunk beyond belief, and the telltale purple around his extremities spelt trouble. His friends strapped an oxygen mask to him and were about to start medical treatment, but we feared that it was probably too late. If he is still alive today, I'll be pleasantly surprised. Whilst the Japanese have a genetic susceptibility to Altitude related illness (particularly of that age), this was another wake-up call. Studying Japanese very briefly as a school student gave me an insight into the massive amounts of personal pride and silent suffering that makes up allot of the Japanese psyche. I have no doubt that these two factors contributed to this fellow's state of health, and perhaps it's easier said then done, but I vowed to myself that I wouldn't let it get anywhere near that state before I called for help. My mother would've loved to have witness this epiphany, as I caused her a few stressful evenings as a youngster with my habit of waiting until the last possible minute before telling her I was feeling a bit off, generally just before the onset of a massive attack.

Around another corner and we could spot some tents dotted against a glacier. It was our first view of Base Camp. We could almost smell it now. Over a couple of more mounds, around a few rocks and out of the blue, just how Kirt had explained it in several media interviews, the flat Plateau of Gorak Shep was right below us. Arms were raised in triumph, backs were slapped, and I shouted out 'Wally World!' in reference to National Lampoon's Vacation.

We dropped our bags off, and like kids on a beach holiday instantly went down onto the pitch. In total, the plateau was about the size of North Sydney Oval. Underfoot it resembled a sand dune on a headland at any beach in Australia. Fine dry sand, big mounds of dirt, and loads of rocks. Loads and loads of rocks. Big ones, small ones, and immovable ones.

Post-Lunch we embarked upon a huge rock-clearing effort, much to the chagrin of Breck, who would've much preferred us to take it easy. Helen even went as far as strapping a pack to her head to carry a whole bunch of rocks off. Breck was not amused. The porters and locals were amazing in their help. They attacked any mounds with pick-axes and were buzzing around moving rocks off the field of play. All this commotion attracted a horde of interested onlookers, including a guy in a Newcastle Knights jersey, who was actually from Newcastle in the UK, which confused me no-end.

Looking around I couldn't believe the setting we were in. To one side was the charcoal coloured mound of Kala Pattar, a 500 metre ascent that I planned to climb for the promised awesome views of Everest. Towering up behind that was Pumori, which then lead around to another massive mountain range that acted as the border to Tibet. Directly to the other side was the sheer face of Nuptse. The intense glare of the snow and ice demanding you wear sunglasses at all times. Slightly behind Nuptse, just a small indiscreet peak, was the familiar triangular peak of Everest. In full view was the Khumbu Glacier, curling around off Everest’s South West Face. This connected to the infamous Khumbu Icefall, the most treacherous section of an Everest ascent. Whilst we were preparing the field, we were stopped in our tracks by 2 massive rumblings. Noises like any thunderstorm in Queensland could produce sounded out as 2 big avalanches crashed down the mountain at alarming speed. Yaks were constantly walking past with their docile swagger. 'Holy Freakin Jesus' I thought just as the afternoon mist closed in, 'we're about to play cricket here'. In the middle, Butler, Kiwi, and myself all admitted to feeling a bit nervous about the game. Dave Kirtley shook his head when posed with the same question.

Tempering the enthusiasm somewhat was the collapse of a Norwegian trekker in our teahouse. He had strolled in, fresh from 2 massive walks that day, one up Kala Pattar followed immediately by walking to Base Camp (4 hour round trip), and the massively overweight Scandinavian’s body caved in. He would want to buy himself a lottery ticket, as he collapsed right in front of 2 of our medics. Within seconds they had him breathing again, administered some steroids to reduce the swelling on his brain, inserted a drip to combat the dehydration and put him on oxygen for the rest of the afternoon. In light of this, Breck and Nick highly advised against anybody who was planning to be fit for the game against climbing Kala Pattar or walking to Base Camp (a further 200 metres up). Haydn then made a point of asking me whether I planned to ascend. Was this a hint that I was in the team? I had no idea.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Day 9 Dingbouche to Laboje - Sense of Humour lost

With the negative thoughts occupying my mind, I didn't manage to get to sleep until well after midnight, so waking up just after 5am again to my usual alarm of 'panic, you've only got a matter of seconds before you soil yourself' really annoyed the hell out of me.

The morning was spent traversing a fairly flat piece of land. Making it easier was the fact that Breck's advice had been heeded and extra porters had been hired to carry some packs. This meant that we were now sharing 1 pack between 2, generally in half hour shifts. Walking with no pack at all was captain Haydn, who had managed to rise himself from his sickbed, unplug the IV, eat about 4 bowls of custard and get himself ready to walk. He later confessed that the previous day was one of the low-points of his life, lying helpless in bed as the entire trip flashed before his eyes. On the way Joe and Chris Martin started talking about a fantasy rugby team from within Tenzing. Wes, taking it a little seriously, was pretty unhappy with his position and had a couple of quiet words with Hillsy about what position he'd like to play in this non-existent team. I was placed at hooker. I protested that rugby hookers are generally massive and even still, they get pretty mashed up. The silence from the boys made me realise that this was probably the point.

The lunch break was a fantastic refresher. Noodle soup providing the best food of the trip, and with cheap chocolate and cold drinks for sale, none of us were particularly interested in the afternoon's climb. I was briefly in a good mood until, halfway through a conversation with Kirt, I felt my stomach all of a sudden detach from the rest of my body. Getting pretty sick of the same routine immediately after eating, I starting losing my sense of humour as I lathered myself in hand-sanitiser. A further 2 bush-poo's in the space of the next hour confirmed my mental state. I was in a terrible mood. Thankfully I was faring a little better than Simmo, who had been advised to stay back at our lunch stop (Dukla) to ward off the onset of Altitude Sickness.

The walk was punctuated by a stop at the Everest graveyard. Around an hours walk from Dukla stands several memorials to people who have lost their lives on Everest, including Scott Fischer who died in the 1996 disaster, and whom I was reading about in 'Into Thin Air' during the trek. Further down the track, I asked which was the big jagged mountain dominating the skyline. 'Pumori' was the response. Pumori, sounds familiar... and then it hit me. Pumori is the massive peak right in front of Gorakshep that I'd spent alot of time navigating on Google Earth. This got me excited, the venue was near, the match was near, 12 months of preparation were about to eventuate.

Energised by this, and with my sense of perception thrown out by the apparent closeness of the 7000m peak, I thought I could've walked the entire way to Gorakshep that day. But by the time we got to Laboje, I was ready to sit down. The constant diarrhoea had robbed me of any energy reserves, and despite drinking 8 litres of water throughout the day, I was feeling dehydrated. All this combined with tiredness made me very irritable, and the fact we were staying in, without a doubt, probably the worst settlement on the face of the earth made it a helluva lot worse.

Alot has been written about the hellishness of Laboje and it's lack of facilities. I don't think there is anything to add to any of that apart from 'I agree wholeheartedly'. The place is a godforsaken dump. We were advised the day before to double up on our water sterilisers and also our sanitation routines, particularly with washing our hands. The water again smelt of petrol and I took one look at the pillow before rendering it unusable for the evening. At one point, I tried to sit down and learn the increasinlgy popular and raucous 'dice game' that was catching like wildfire. Essentially it's a dice version of poker, with alot of bluffing and trumping. Trying my hardest to concentrate, the seemingly non-sensical rules actually made me feel a bit dizzy. Essentially being a numbers game, I thought I could cope, until the next lot of rules were wound out to me with their equally non-sensical names.... the moment Butler stated 'well here is where somebody could say Braxton to you, but then if you respond with a double calamari twist...' - 'I'll stop you right there mate, this is just way too much' - I had no energy and I think the boys sensed that I had nothing left in the tank, with Joe going as far as being briefly concerned that Altitude Sickness was setting in.

After 5 particularly horrible experience's using the toilet that evening, I practically begged the medics for the next step as Imodium just wasn't cutting it. I was put on a course of antibiotics, and after one final foray with the toilet, headed off to bed.

Day 8 Rest Day - MC Shark appears for Boom's Birthday, Steamy Mountains, Bocco, and Self-Doubt

Yet again I was awoken by the Hoover Dam being opened in my intestines and I scuttled off to the makeshift bog in the very early light. I did take a moment to think of Jules and Vics who were in the room next to the toilet, both of whom were probably awoken by what they thought was the sound of gunfire followed by a tap being opened up to maximum capacity, followed by some panting and maybe even the occasional swear.

After 2 hours of dozing I strolled back for one of several encores, and didn't think anything of the 20 or so people gathered outside looking in at me as I gave them an acknowledgement wave with the hand holding the bogroll, pausing only to mumble 'have a guess what I'm about to do', before swinging the door shut. Upon assuming the squat position, I heard a loud cheer from outside. Before I had the chance to think that this was all a bit odd, the crowd launched into a rendition of happy birthday and it clicked that Kinsey, everybody's favourite aggressive chicken farmer, was celebrating his birthday. To commemorate this, the guides had baked him a cake and presented it to him as breakfast.

This sugar hit helped on the long acclimatisation walk. We were going 600 metres straight up, with everybody under strict instructions to take it very slowly. I took the opportunity to have my first non-childish chat with Dave Kirtley, either side of descending 50 metres or so to find a nice covered area to deposit some of Kinsey's birthday cake. This prompted a couple of singalongs, one was the obvious 'Ring of Fire' followed by what i thought was a stroke of puerile genius, by rewording 'Six Months in a Leaky boat' to something along the lines of 'I've just spent six days with a leaky arse' - It had in fact only been 4 days, however I granted myself some poetic license. Later on, Paola would remark that I was 'steaming up the mountain' in reference to the brisk walking pace I was setting. The look on her face when I responded with 'Steamed up in the mountain in more ways than one' was that of a girl who looked disappointingly resigned to the fact that she had chosen to spend 14 days in close proximity to 40-odd males.

Once atop the cold and windy proximes of the 4900metre hill-summit, Butler and I grew more confident with asking DK about what his brother went through after being banned for throwing. For those unfamiliar with cricket, being called for throwing (instead of bowling) is one of the most controversial and soul-destroying things that can happen to any sportsman, particularly on the world stage. There's a cheating stigma attached that never disappears and many people never recover. We were stunned at the remedial action needed. Dave said muscle memory has been calculated at doing something 2500 times, hence James stood at the bowling crease with a big bag of balls and practiced a remodelled bowling action 3000 times. This then progressed to taking the final delivery stride and bowling a further 3000 times, and so on and so on. I've always been pretty quick to judge pro sportsmen, and this story has made me reassess my willingness to throw barbs at people from the outer of the SCG in future.

For approximately an hour we hung around at 4900metres, taking photos, chatting and making Vicks Nicholson promise favours in exchange for a mars bar. I felt alright at that altitude but was worried what running around on a cricket pitch would do to my lungs. Thankfully we had another 3 days to build-up the red blood cells before game-day.

On the walk down I got involved in some banter with Bil and Prem. They constantly referred to me as 'Bocco'. I've had a few definitions to this. At first, the boys embarrassingly said it meant 'strong' - finding this unlikely, I quizzed them further. The real meaning ended up being somewhere between unmarried and gay. They couldn't understand how a man of 28 was not married. Prem then seized on this and started quizzing me about London. He eventually asked me about the ladies in London. After my answer he then clarified his question. 'No, no, how about the red light ladies, y'know...' - He was then shocked to hear that I couldn't give him a rundown of the quality/availability/price lists of callgirls throughout London. I think this was the moment that 'Unmarried' turned into 'Gay'.

After the previous nights lack of appetite, I happily managed to scoff down lunch and also a whole clove of garlic. Nick Walker had suggested swallowing an entire clove like a pill, as apparently that binds your stomach. I had an interesting time talking pigeon English to the teahouse owner trying to describe what I wanted, and then trying to describe what it was for.

Later that night we gathered for one of the highlights of the tour. A comedy night had been arranged to commemorate Kimbo's birthday. Our resident stand-up comedian Chris Martin compared the evening and kicked-off proceedings - along with G-Man - with an ode Milky Tea, the beverage that we each consumed at least 6-10 cups of per day. The night required everybody to get up and tell a joke. The jokes told ranged from Riotous (Mark Waters), Hilarious (George Powell), Confused (James Markby), Ordinary (JC), and Tasteless (myself).

The highlights of the night include Chris' crack about 'wiping your arse' with the religious shroud placed around Kimbo's neck, The Sharland Brothers massively under-rated acappella rendition of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' with rewritten lyrics, but the highlight of the night and possibly the entire trip was the emergence of MC Shark and Base Camp 1 into the cut-throat world of hip-hop. Jules and Milo provided beats whilst Joe 'Mountain Jew' Williams spat out some sick rhymes. Check the video out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3aV2zaZI48 This was yet another night that I could've taken or left prior to the event, but turned out to be a storming evening.

Souring the day somewhat was the amount of downtime we had, or more to the point, what the downtime did to my mental state. It was the first time that our attentions really started turning towards the game. People started chatting about what it was going to be like and, more to the point, who was going to play. I began to think about the different characters within the 15 of us in Tenzing and who were the likely starters. Obviously captain, vice-captain, and Wes were certainties. Blinky, due to his tireless work on the website, was going to be another definite. That left 11 of us to go into 7 spots. I began agonising over whether I had contributed enough in the lead-up to the trip. Kinsey and Mike had hosted days at their houses, Dave Christie had organised and managed huge discounts and orders for kit, JC had nailed down the flights from Qatar. I had organised the stickcricket game, pulling in over 3million hits, but had worried whether this had been lost along the way or whether it would be considered as a nice extra, rather than an actual contribution. Adding into this mix is a torturous record as a youngster in just missing out on sports teams. I had to watch from the sidelines whilst my rugby league team played in 2 grand finals, one because the coach decided I wasn't good enough to ruin his and his son's chances of under 12 premiership glory, and another due to emergency surgery a fortnight beforehand. I was constantly missing out on school cricket teams, generally being told on the day that I wasn't required after travelling hundreds of miles, during a run into the semi-finals of a state-wide knockout comp. It's funny how memories as old and as seemingly irrelevant as those come back when you're grappling with self-doubt, twisting your mind into thinking that there's a curse and getting you into a bad frame of mind. This negative outlook, of course, was exacerbated by the stomach illness and the lack of sleep, but you don't realise that at the time whilst an overly-active imagination spirals out of control.