2020 and the Grand Plan

By Johnny Parsons

PART III

A seed had been planted and it did start to grow, but sadly never flowered!

The weather goes skitzo in December in Arequipa. After 9 months of blue skies and sunshine, one day it dramatically clouds over then pours down in biblical fashion for 3 months, so I had switched my focus to the roads, after failing to find any kind of trail running scene/partners. I do 99.9% of my training on my own but that is just down to my shifts/work, I enjoy company when training and with some of the trails very, very remote, it made doing the big routes solo a bit foolhardy and logistics very tricky indeed.

Anyway, I had been training my backside off, altitude training (with a specific  training plan, instead of my usual bumbling about) for a sea level race, hoping for a decent time in the Lima half marathon with firm plans to get straight back into the hills,  the moment I crossed the line in May. I cooked up an idea!

The Grand Plan was an ambitious link-up of all three local volcanoes, Picchu Picchu to El Misti to Chachani. As far as I could glean, it had never been done nor attempted. When I asked around, people looked at me as if I had banged my head.

“Why?” was the only response I got, even off some pretty hardy local mountain guides.

“Just look at that line!” I retorted, to dismissive replies of “Impossible”.

How could anybody with a pulse not be inspired by that line?

The skyline (right to left) starts with the stretching 12 mile long, 7 summit ridge of Pichu Pichu (18,582ft), centre stage is the perfect cone of El Misti (19,110ft) and last is the huge complex mass of Chachani (19,872ft, over 6000m!)

When I first moved to Arequipa I couldn’t stop myself staring and taking photos of the peaks at different times of day. I had a perfect view of Chachani at sunset from one of my classrooms. Potential off the scale!

Getting hold of any beta was tricky. No maps were printed (how I missed the Ordnance Survey). All I could get were a handful of routes for the individual peaks and apart from visiting climbers, they weren’t exactly busy summits.

Logistics looked a headache too. No civilisation was really passed at any point of a potential traverse route. No water at all en-route. A west-to east route looked marginally more aesthetically pleasing/possible, mainly for the route up Misti, but it was all completely into the dark. Never mind onsight, this was more like blindfolded!

With a midnight start on Picchu Picchu was it a possible sub-24 hour route/rout?

From May to August I had planned to recce each section to death and build up fitness for a crack at the Grand Plan in September, leaving me time to rest a while then whizz round the Misti race in November. Dream big!

Then 2020 happened…

My little daydream bubble was popped like the blisters on my battered feet last time I tried to run up just ONE of these peaks!

On March 16th 2020, Peru went into complete lockdown. Facemasks became compulsory at all times outside the house. One family member was allowed out to go to the shops, Chemist or Doctors. No exercise. No excuses!

There was no real idea of where the whole situation was heading, although it seemed that we were about 6 weeks behind Europe, and things weren’t looking too great there back then.

Everybody has their own lockdown story to tell. Strange times.

We had recently moved to Arequipa, with our big ideas, plans and dreams which now looked unlikely and life suddenly shrunk and slowed down to a very simplistic daily existence. Working from home, shopping every 10 days and not really seeing anybody or anything.

Running did seem a bit petty and pointless in the grand scale of things but there were 2 choices:

  • Take it as a rest, not knowing how long that rest would be for.
  • Do something, anything, make the most of anything available.

I chose the latter.

Running on my rooftop!

However, this wasn’t really training for anything and as the days passed into weeks which inexorably passed into months, I realised my dream was crumbling, things started falling to pieces and we decided to beat a hasty retreat, back to Blighty…

This was not in itself a Daring Deed, it just became our latest challenge. We sold/gave away all our things that we couldn’t shoehorn into a duffel bag, I gave up a brilliant job and we began the red-tape-a-thon to get home, involving an 18hr taxi ride up to Lima, booking humanitarian flight tickets (and chasing refunds on 4 lots of cancelled flights).

After a shedload of stress, worry, cul-de-sacs, near misses and wondering if we were doing the right thing, or if we would actually make it, we finally got touched down at Leeds Bradford and started to rebuild our lives again. It had been a big old adventure.

(My 6 year old daughter will have some great tales when she is older!)

Thanks to all who helped and supported us. Starting from scratch is never easy, currently unemployed and living in a caravan, but it is a cool caravan with unlimited fresh air, greenery and unrationed Yorkshire Tea makes up for everything! 2020 taught me to never take anything for granted and to be grateful for small things and simple pleasures. Learning to adapt and not fret too much about the things way outside of my control.

It is genuinely great to be home. More Daring Deeds to follow.

Just not up a 20,000ft volcano…

Stay safe, stay strong, stay sane folks!

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