Hiking 106 km for Refugee Action: Aches, Pains and Successes – by Jessie Bryant

Since I last wrote a post for this blog – a reflection piece on my experience volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece – two friends and I have been hard at work on another, related project. We registered to participate in an ultra event to raise funds for Refugee Action, a charity that has been helping refugees live better lives in the UK for over 30 years.

J1The event is called the Isle of Wight Challenge and the goal is to hike around the island’s coastal periphery. The distance of 106 km, which we would be attempting to complete without sleep, requires three to four months of progressive training. We began training in the crisp, short days of January and February with distances of up to 20 kilometres. By March, we began training at night to prepare for the conditions of the event, reaching distances of 40 kilometres, or about ten hours of hiking. Training gave us the excuse on weekends to hike along the rolling paths of the Cotswolds Way, take a three-day excursion to the Lake District, and tackle a blustery ramble in the Brecon Beacons. So much time among crags, fells and moorlands exposed us to some breath taking events: howling wind and rain at the top of Glastonbury Tor, purple sunrises, and a sheep giving birth to two lively lambs.

On our longest training hike, we reached a distance of 60 kilometres along the wind-swept shores from Bristol to Weston-Super-Mare and back. We dealt with blisters, began to treat our gear as extensions of ourselves, and celebrated each time we reached a new time or distance milestone.

J2Alongside training, we worked on our fundraising efforts, highlights of which include a bake sale (where we raised £500 with support from the Bank of Ireland) and a casual pub night with friends. To date we are grateful to have raised £1,660 for Refugee Action initiatives.

Refugee Action undertakes projects that include one to one advice sessions and support for asylum seekers needing quality legal support. In Bristol, a key volunteer project is to ensure that single fathers have support to make asylum claims, avoid destitution, and have someone to talk to. Learn more about Refugee Action here.

The Isle of Wight Challenge took place this past weekend, and I am happy to say my teammates and I successfully crossed the finish line in 34 hours, 39 minutes. The event started at 9am on Saturday, 30 April, and we returned to our departure point – having done a full round of the island – after 7:30pm on Sunday, as the sun began to set on the second night of the event.

J3J4J5Completing an ultra event comes with its challenges. After about fifteen hours of hiking, once the sun is down and headlamps are on, the body begins developing some aches and pains, and the mind work begins.

When the sun rises on the second day, the chirping birds offer some relief while the pain sits a little deeper. About five years ago, I participated in two similar events, but five years is long enough to forget what this kind of mental work entails. Training and practice have helped me develop some coping strategies (bites of chocolate, anyone?), but in the end it comes down to my mental choices when faced with pain. During the event, I recalled a quote by Haruki Murakami that a friend had posted on our fundraising page: “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

J6J7The event is an opportunity for us to strengthen our minds. Somewhere along the 106 km coastal circuit, as the sun beats down, we begin to ask, in line with Dostoevsky, if perhaps suffering is just as great a benefit to us as wellbeing? In these acts of voluntary hardship, we discover about ourselves. We are fortunate to be in the position to choose some temporary suffering (and receive a medal in the end!).

It is why we believe our fundraising project is so important: Refugee Action offers relief, support and hope to thousands of individuals for whom a long journey is just the start of an arduous fight for recognition, security and reunion with family. The stories of refugees and asylum seekers are diverse but their needs are fundamental, and with urgent action we can help make a palpable difference to their lives.

Our fundraiser continues until 30 May, 2016. If you would like to donate to this worthwhile cause, please visit our fundraising page. 100% of funds go directly to Refugee Action. Thank you sincerely.

Editor’s Note: Jessie Bryant recently graduated with distinction from the Graduate School of Education’s MEd programme where her programme focused on policy and international development. She has been  an active member of  GESF’s Reading Group and the GESF Centre, and recently presented a seminar in GESF’s series on conflict, security and borders. For further information please contact j.bryant.2014@my.bristol.ac.uk or s.l.robertson@bristol.ac.uk