It’s midnight last Thursday into Friday. I’m lying in my Airbnb, pulse racing from the adrenaline supercharged from the events of the last 24 hours, and the unknown that lied ahead.
The day of travel to the Isle of Skye, Scotland, had finally arrived. With months of training, planning, speculating and connecting with my fellow participants behind me, I set out to Luton airport unsure of what lied ahead.
Tension built throughout the journey. Taxi delays for my travelling companion Marc T, flight delays for unknown reasons from Easyjet and sheep in the road meaning, Mari and Martin W, Marc and I were feeling the pressure to get to the 1700 briefing on time. No show at the briefing meant no participation in the event after all.
#43 was my number perscribed to me on the way into the briefing, where we learnt about the requirements for survival on Skye, were given 10 tartans to remember, and finally, the first pressure point of the whole event – you have 30 minutes to finalise preparation for the test of key skills we had been asked to come ready with; navigate using map and compass, ensure your kit is fully waterproof, tie 4 knots. One chance at each test. Fail and you cannot start the event. No exceptions.
In between a set of 300 burpees, where the dynamics of this group of 81 started to come to the fore, we were called up one by one to navigate.
I passed by the skin of my teeth (read my compass bearing upside down at first).
67…159…284…the burpee count kept on rising.
Next up, the water test. 10 minutes, bags fully submerged in a noticeably cold estuary, no talking. Kit comes out wet, game over. Fortunately, my essential kit stayed dry (we shalln’t mention my spare glasses case or zip lock with first aid kit in).
Finally, with my heart pounding, the knot test. Alpine butterfly…passed. Clove hitch…clove hitch…clove hitch!!! A knot I’ve practiced for 2 months every day…and my mind goes blank when asked to tie a clove hitch onto a caribiner. As Krypteia pulls the rope, I can see the ‘knot’ untangling uncomfortably, and in the 2 seconds that felt like a lifetime, my Agoge dream was apparently over.
Months of planning, a high level of investment in time and money, and in that moment all of it had seemingly gone.
Emotions across the group were riding high. Now-lifelong friends who’ve passed are rocked, those friends who haven’t clueless as to what lies ahead.
Then, Joe De Sena, Spartan CEO, offers us something. Having accepted our fate, the fate that we would not be part of the Agoge, would we step out at 4.00am on an unknown journey with the legendary Johnny Waite, and see what the future holds?
So I’m lying in my bed, I’ve spoken to my wife (who’s words and encouragement drove me on) and my mum (men still need a virtual hug sometimes) faced with a 3.15am alarm call and the unknown that lies ahead.
The next two-and-a-half days were incredible, and I can only try to put into words an experience I could never have invested enough in to get so much out of.
One goal – arrive at the Talisker distillery to see the Agoge’s finish. One direction from Johnny – you guys and girls are in charge. You set our destiny.
21 started this unknown path, in the pouring rain, equipped only with the packs and the equipment we had on us. After the first hike along part of the Skye trail, we were 8…the 8 who for their own reasons, became fixed on getting to that finish line.
What followed were adventures across the island, into ourselves and our dynamic as a team.
Day 1 included a 2.5 hour hike down what we thought was the right path. Upon reaching fast-flowing rivers and no clear trail, we turned around, unflustered and set on a hearty meal at a local pub. A night on the side of river, wrapped in sleeping bags, bivvys and a tarpaulin between two bridges and cascading waterfalls was never on the cards at 4.00am that day.
Day 2 and we set our sights on the Faery Pools. 1.5 hours up the ‘right’ path, only to find we 2km off course. The choice to disconnect or connect was an easy one for Team Anoge, we pulled together, assessed the options, and using our collective skills plotted a course safely to the path we needed to be on.
A dunk in the Faery Pools, more belly laughs than is humanly possible in a weekend, a collective underwear-drying session on the side of busy Skye road later, and we set out to find camp for a night, just outside of the distillery.
Target one, a forest. Arrive. No-go. A bog. Midges. Onto plan B. Alex scales a peak…”awesome guys…get up here”. A flat, round, dry base that was once the lookout tower for the estuary was the perfect home to build fire, set shelter, and continue the bonding that had taken place over the last 2 days.
Upon arriving at the finish line to see those that had survived the grueling Agoge itself, we were seen as epitomising the values the Agoge looks to instill as much as them.
The Agoge is one of the toughest challenges on this planet. You are broken down, you are faced with adversity, you are faced with the goal posts constantly being moved, and somehow, you have to find a way to stay focused on your goal.
My goal for the whole event had been to test myself under the most extreme of challenges. To open me up to what I fear, and to see if I could remain strong, remain focused, and crucially learn.
I had focused my whole year on this event, and with my apparent failure I was faced with the choice of stepping into the unknown.
Without that moment, I would not have been placed into a situation where I and others would have to work with what we had in the moment. I would not have been given time to learn about others, to learn to trust others with who I am, and to build bonds that will last a lifetime.
For this, I will always be grateful.