Far from home (reader feature)

Moses Chege from Kenya reflects on his first visit to Scotland as he tackles this year’s Rob Roy Challenge in Highland Perthshire

Sightsaver team

Moses and the Sightsavers Team approach Callander

With memories of Braveheart and other epic Scottish films rolling through my mind, I landed at Glasgow Airport with an exciting weekend ahead of me. After several months of training back home in Nairobi, I had travelled over 4,000 miles to meet up with my fellow team mates from Sightsavers to take part in the 2010 Martin Currie Rob Roy Challenge.

As someone who enjoys exercising I felt compelled to say ‘yes’ when the Sightsavers team – made up of John Bines, head of funding & marketing, Mike Chilton, treasurer, and his wife Malki – were looking for a fourth teammate. I was to be in the UK at the time of the Challenge and was inspired by the idea of experiencing a new country whilst fundraising for the prevention of blindness in developing countries – a cause close to my heart through my work with Sightsavers.

The contrast with Kenya was immediately apparent – from the organised airport which had none of the hectic, over-crowded bustle of Nairobi’s, to the lush green scenery whizzing by as we drove to our accommodation close to Loch Lomond. One thing became clear: Scotland exceeded the pictures painted by the movies.

There was much chatter in the team van as we compared training regimes and discussed strategies for the next day! The challenge would see us tackle 55 miles of the Rob Roy Way – 16 miles on foot followed by a 39 mile cycle – and we were all determined to make it to the finish on the banks of Loch Tay.

When I awoke early on the Saturday it was already a beautiful day, the sun was shining and it was warming up nicely. Feeling prepared we headed off to the start line near Drymen. The view over the rolling hills was beautiful and the atmosphere was buzzing as we crossed the start at 8am, joining over 600 eager participants.

The first leg, a seven-mile walk, saw the team in good spirits and we adopted a steady pace, reaching the Aberfoyle checkpoint in one hour 46 minutes. It felt great to be cheered into the time-check tent by the enthusiastic volunteers who helped us refuel with bananas and water.

Old railway viaduct

The amazing old railway viaduct between Balquhidder and Killin

It was as we left the small town of Aberfoyle I discovered that Scotland really was hillier than I’d expected. My home in Kenya is very flat and the recent droughts have made trees and crops sparse, so it was a joy to see so much dense green forest. The walk took us through the Menteith Hills, and the terrain became less easy underfoot as we crossed dry streams and climbed over rocks.

I was intrigued by the unusual hairy cows drinking at Loch Venachar. John informed me they were Highland Cows, very common to Scotland. Seeing the cattle made me reflect on the Kenyan farmers who have to look so hard to find water for their cows.

Our legs were feeling very tired as we approached the end of the walking stage at Callander but we were spurred on by each other and I even broke into a short jog as I was thrilled to have made it this far! It took us just under two hours forty minutes to complete this nine-mile stretch.

After lunch provided by our support team, we were kitted out with our bikes. This bike was far superior to mine at home as it had many gears – I soon found these were needed as the first mile was up a steep hill, before we dropped down and whizzed along the tarmac track beside the River Teith. It was such lush green forest, and it was a very pleasant cycle for a few miles. The camaraderie amongst all the participants was incredible and there was plenty to keep us amused along the way. We all had a good laugh as participants dressed as Dangermouse and Wonderwoman sped past!

Cycling along Rob Roy Way

Moses cycling along the Rob Roy Way

The team admired the amazing views across Loch Lubnaig as we cycled the 11-mile route to the checkpoint at Balquhidder, resting place of notorious outlaw Rob Roy McGregor.

The second leg of the cycle was much tougher and the team really had to encourage each other through the relentless climb up through Glen Ogle to the old railway viaduct. This seemed so high up and the drop to the right was immense. It gave great views and it was nice to pause, catch my breath and take in the stunning scenery. By this point it was about 3pm and the start line seemed a long way back. The finish line seemed even further away!

Finally, after a less demanding ride through the forest, I made it to the Killin checkpoint, where I was cheered in by my support crew. After some much needed sustenance I was off on the final leg which ran the length of Loch Tay. At this point I had been cycling for just under five hours and it was also very hot – highly unexpected in Scotland I thought.

The final leg was definitely the hardest and, at almost 17 miles, the longest but the breathtaking scenery made it worthwhile. The smooth road surface made the undulating hills along the banks of Loch Tay slightly easier to navigate and the views across the smooth blue waters towards the mighty summit of Ben Lawers took my mind off heavy legs.

I was the least experienced cyclist on the team and at points I felt like giving up but my team mates were always there to cheer me on. I focused on the money being raised and the life-changing ways in which that would help people and it spurred me on.

I finally made it to Kenmore and as I approached the finish line I felt a surge of emotion and adrenalin. You could hear the crowd cheering before they even came into view. I arrived just before 8pm, with the whole Challenge completed in just under 12 hours – a time I was delighted with. I felt so proud and had barely caught my breath before being congratulated by volunteers giving out the medals. I then felt privileged when interviewed by the compere, who was wearing a kilt – something I had never seen in real life before!

Team at the finish line

The Sightsavers Team at the finishing podium at Kenmore

After a long but exciting day it felt good to have a shower before joining in with my team-mates, and new friends made along the way, to celebrate our achievement. The hog roast was a feast and I was amazed by the ceilidh band which had everyone up dancing. We were then treated to a spectacular fireworks display – I had never seen such a huge display and it was an unforgettable end to the Challenge.

I was left feeling very satisfied for achieving such a huge personal goal, whilst also being able to explore the amazing scenery of Scotland and make some new friends. I look forward to being invited back next year to try and beat my time!

About the author

Moses Chege works for international development charity Sightsavers as part of its Government Relations Team, based in Nairobi. Sightsavers works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent and cure blindness and to support those who are irreversibly blind through education, training and counselling. www.sightsavers.org

To donate to Moses and his fellow team mates for their efforts in the 2010 Challenge, visit www.sightsavers.org/moseschege

Rob Roy Challenge logoSightsavers is one of four beneficiary partners of the annual Martin Currie Rob Roy Challenge. Next year’s Challenge will take place on 18 June and teams can sign up at www.robroychallenge.com

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