As a white Muslim, the “what’s your story?” question comes up a fair bit. Partly out of boredom from re-telling it to death, but also partly due to it not actually being all that exciting (no, it wasn’t in prison, as a guy on the C11 once asked me), I usually refrain from telling it. However, if you do see me from this day forward, feel free to ask me about my other conversion story: how I learnt to love trekking.
Climbing a mountain is not a thought that had ever passed through my mind before 2014. As the great philosopher of our time, Wiley, said “I’m a city boy, I’m not a townie,” (this was followed by, “I’m a bad boy like Mike Lowery,” which while true, holds no relevance to this article). Born and raised in London, going past the M25 was pretty rare, let alone venturing as far as Wales or Scotland. In fact, in University, there was one shopping centre between the two campuses, and I’d often wonder “why are there three mountain climbing shops in this centre? How many people need to go up a mountain?”
All that changed when I joined HHUGS.
Joining in September 2014 first as an intern, HHUGS has put me through the ropes, doing things I never imagined I’d do, from calling strangers, to standing in front of a mosque congregation to make an announcement, to going on TV! However one thing I still hadn’t done, despite having organised four treks myself, was to climb a mountain. Through a mixture of legitimate and lazy excuses, my feet always stayed firmly on the ground, making sure the hostel arrangements were sorted or keeping the driver company.
However this past weekend, I had determined in my mind: I’m going up this mountain.
Of course, being the last minute person I am, I headed to Sports Direct on Friday evening, amidst two panicked phone calls – one to my wife, about how much all this stuff was going to total to, and the other to a colleague to check what I should buy. You see the forecasts for the weekend: cold and wet! I was dreading it, and resolved to stay dry at any cost.
So I woke bright and early at 4am Saturday morning, sat on the edge of my bed, questioning what I was doing with my life. However, dismissing any last minute fears, I psyched myself up, got ready, and headed off to Brixton to meet the participants. As per usual, meeting them was a lovely inspiring experience. And while the Brixton team this year was all new faces, our participants from Birmingham and Dudley were regulars. Seeing people keep coming back again and again, for the same cause, is something that consistently motivates me to organise these challenge events.
After hours of driving, we finally reached the majestic Brecon Beacons, and suddenly it became all too real. We waited for the rest of the delegates from around the country, and then we were off.
Oh man! That first 10 minutes!
The shock to the system, the steepness, thoughts raced through my mind like “why am I doing this?” and “what am I doing here?” However once I got past the initial shock, I began to actually find it quite enjoyable. Through the mixture of good company and breathtaking views, the ascent to that first summit, Corn Du, was really fun.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice was how friendly people on the mountain were – everyone stopping to have a chat, asking how it was going, or where we had come from. Interaction with complete strangers isn’t something you’re used to when you live in London, so to see it miles away from home, from people who you might sit next to on the tube and they wouldn’t normally even raise their hand, was a real eye opener.
With Welsh hospitality having left its mark on me, next we made our way to Pen Y Fan, the highest summit in South Wales. Getting up wasn’t much of a problem, but getting down was a little more challenging; the steps were disturbingly close to the edge, and as a result, I took the inside route urged by the thought, “one trip, is sending me down.”
Then it was onto the last summit, Cribyn. This was the most physically challenging as it was incredibly steep, but once again, great conversation and the promise of amazing views spurred me on. As we reached the top, everyone I spoke to chimed in agreement – “I get it now, I understand why people love trekking.”
As we headed back, with one last section of incline to really kill off what remained of my legs, I resolved that my first experience would not be my last: I would definitely do this again. Reconnecting with nature, the camaraderie, not only the people you travel there with, but with the welcoming strangers you encounter on the mountain. And of course, most importantly, the cause that you are doing it for, families who have been abandoned by their community, struggling to get by and dealing with the arrest of their loved one.. The concept around this trek was unity, uniting with brothers from all over the country, uniting for HHUGS families who might not necessarily feel that unity in Ramadhan. And I hope we were able to accomplish that.
Next challenge for me?