A frank account of Silver DoE – by Helen Whitehouse


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The general reason people actually continue Duke of Edinburgh goes like this. You do it, you go through immense amounts of pain, you decide you never ever want to see a tent, a sheep or a walking boot again, you go home, two weeks later you think it was the best thing you have ever done. You do it again, and so the pattern continues…

It was Friday morning, 5am but I was up obsessively checking my giant rucksack for enough clothes, enough food neatly tucked into plastic boxes, my phone fully charged, make-up (clearly only tinted moisturiser, mascara, eyeliner, lip balm and a touch of highlighter…) and of course, most importantly my insulin. I have a small pencil case which I keep my pens, a spare insulin cartridge, plenty of needles, blood testing kit, jellybeans, glucogel and then I give my orange pen to someone else who I share a tent with. Just in case.

So anyway, I pick up my massive massive bag before making my way to the bus stop. I had planned my route to school, two miles away. Number seven bus straight from the bottom of my street, straight to school. Perfect. Only to my dismay, after boarding the bus and settling down in the seat, I remembered that it went a different way on non school hours. I was on it alone, at quarter past seven. This resulted in me walking up a rather large hill before even setting off.

We all piled into the tiny burgundy diploma bus – five girls, five boys out of the whole of year 11. It makes me proud to say that. But yeah, sat there eating energising Jaffa cakes and toast, I felt immensely happy to be going. Yeah. The sun was shining, I was happy, I was the first person to be doing Duke of Edinburgh with blue hair (ACCIDENTAL blue hair), I had my best t-shirt on. It was good. After the 2 hour journey to the peak district we were all ready to go. They set us off staggered, girls then boys. Off we went, the first expedition of the year…

For those of you who are not familiar with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, it goes like this – you can choose to do it, and you start at the bronze level. For 8 months you stay behind after school learning basic first aid and planning routes before you go on your practice hike – two days, one night, around 17 miles with all your kit and tent on your back. It’s pretty hard. Then you do your qualifying hike, but on top of that you have to have completed 3 months of sport, 3 months of a skill and 6 months of volunteer work to pass. Once these are signed off, you officially get your award. Silver is pretty much the same, apart from its harder – 3 days, 2 nights, 25 miles, more stuff and longer times doing the skills ect. But it’s worth it in the end.

After a day of walking, we arrived at the campsite first – tired, but alright. All day had literally been following a valley flat, so I had managed to keep my sugars under control. I had wholewheat pasta for tea, followed by granola bars. We all sat in the spring evening warmth and played cards. We watched lightening fork down over the dramatic countryside before retreating to nice warm tents to sleep. Little did we know that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

The second day is always going to be the hardest- waking up on a campsite, then going to sleep on a campsite. It was clearly the hardest one from the distance and the height gain we had planned on the route card. Rain was tormenting down as we trekked off up the muddy road, over infinite styles and fields of cows, dragging our laboured lungs up steep grassy inclines.

Exhausted, we trekked onwards. The last checkpoint before the campsite was a definite low point. A massive hill loomed ahead of us, sheep perilously clinging on to its craggy face. I wanted to cry. One of the others did cry. At this point someone from our team dropped out, had to be taken home. Traumatising, yes? So we get up this hill and see the most stunning quarry I can say I have ever seen. Possibly slightly biased towards this majestic quarry as it indicated our campsite was nearing. In fact I could see it – dotted tents smattering across rolling hillsides. Well, we all thought that the hardest part was definitely over now. We practically rejoiced, crying with relief into our watery pot noodles.

Again, although I had managed to control my blood sugars reasonably well, I had a few low hypos so decided to knock 2 and a half units off my teatime dose. I later regretted this decision after going to bed with a nighttime reading of 17.8, but I decided to leave it. I was glad because after 2 hours of sleep entombed in my mummy sleeping bag, I woke up with a reading of 4.0 and had to eat some breakfast biscuits. It really proves how much exercise effects you even after you have stopped.

Again, we woke up in the morning feeling positive. Last day, shortest day. Skipped down the hill back into the valley which would take us onto monsal trail, which would take us onto monsal head, our finishing point. Ahh yes, a footpath. I was glad, I looked like a panda and smelt rather horrible, I was running out of food and had resorted to eating uncooked supanoodle for dinner. Its not that bad, actually. One woman down, but soldiering onwards. It was empowering, until we reached the tunnel…

Monsal trail used to be a railway line, to it has lots of long tunnels cutting through the hills. We saw the lads group hanging round. We saw the big red sign, the tunnel was shut. Feeling more than a little bit exhausted, we carried on. Down a treacherous hill, then onto some tricky rocky terrain which added loads onto our journey. Over 30 stepping stones, which in a breeze with a massive bag is not easy. But eventually back onto the trail. Ahh.

We caught back up with the lads and ended up walking with them. Mentally exhausted by now, I thought I was going to be sick. I wanted my bed. My beautiful, beautiful bed. I wanted coffee. I wanted my cats. I wanted tame hair and groomed eyebrows again. We approached the last tunnel. Again, the telltale red sign shone ahead of us. Closed. The only way around was a spindly path over a mountain. And I am terrified of heights. I climbed up and took in what we had to do, and I am not exaggerating when I say you couldn’t have stood with one foot next to the other the path was so narrow. Then there was a drop.

It was breezy and we were unbalanced. I began to think that this was just bad luck… Two tunnels closed! I breathed deeply and carried on round this cliff face, convinced I was going to plunge to my death. We went on like this for an hour before seeing monsal head in the distance. We got back onto the thick path, I fell over out of happyness. I skipped across the viaduct. The 200m climb was no longer an issue, the diploma van was in sight. I didn’t care about the embarrassing photo of me sweating with my hair pushed back which will no doubt resurface on some assembly in the future. We had done it. And it was horrible.

Oh well, only another Silver one and two Golds to do before we get to meet the Duke himself…

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Helen, it’s great to read how you contiue to live your life. Your post reflects a similar attitude as some research I read about with people being diagnosed with diabetes over 50 years ago (http://articles.boston.com/2011-05-30/lifestyle/29600232_1_pancreatic-cells-juvenile-diabetes-diabetes-patients).

For example, when describing a lady of 55 who has had diabetes since she was 5, the article explains: “Schneider said her mother also taught her to view diabetes as a fact of life, rather than an impediment.
“I had a family dynamic of ‘It happens, get through it,’ ’’ she said.”