Guided by an Old Friend
by Adeline Goss
Before the post-race meeting, I sat down with Jon Cook, who is an old friend and was the sight guide for blind runner Miles Hilton-Barber (#56) until the two dropped out around mile 60. We talked less about Miles’ experience at Badwater than about what drives a disabled person to shoot as high as Miles and Geoff have done for the past decade.
I’ll let Jon speak in his own words, or at least in his words as I transcribed them. He does a beautiful job.
Miles and Geoff lost their sight in their 20’s. Both had been adventurous before that, growing up in Africa. Geoff was always active and fit.
Once they lost their sight, Geoff stayed with athletics. He was doing lots of marathons, the New York Marathon, things like that. I mean, a few years ago [1997-98], Geoff sailed solo to Australia from Durban [South Africa]. It took him something like 50 days to get there. He missed Australia twice, but no matter.
But before that, around 1998, Geoff came out to England for a visit and I think he inspired Miles. Geoff had done the Marathon de Sables [a 150-mile ultra-marathon through the 120 degree heat of the Sahara Desert], and I think because Geoff had done that race, Miles thought they could do it together, that he could do it. Geoff was more of the natural athlete, really. Miles was more involved in the UK doing speaking and other work with the National Institute of the Blind. But Miles and I decided that I would help him do the Marathon de Sables. The plan was that I’d help Miles train. Then, without my knowing, Miles entered me into the Marathon de Sables. I’d never even done any running!
But it was a fantastic timeI loved it. It just suited me so much. Miles started with bad feeta “friend” had given him some acetone a few weeks ago, and he had soaked his feet in it, so all the skin had burned offand he also had a stress fracture, but I’d gotten quite fit by training with him. This was about 1998/99, and we finished the race. We were at the finish line, at the drunken post-race party, and someone said, ‘I’m going to Everest. Anyone want to go with me?’ So that year we went to Everest.
Once we reached about 20,000' in the Himalayas, Miles had a bit of an altitude problemwe thought he’d had a small stroke. We didn’t make it to the top. We summitted Kilimanjaro instead, then went to the South Pole, in October 2000, went to walk to the South Pole from the coast of Antarctica.
That would have been a total of about 700 miles, but after about 62 days, Miles had trouble with his hands, and had to be airlifted. Then we did sort of a crazy thingMiles, a blind girl, a paralyzed guy and I went around the world using 80 different forms of transportation. We met the Pope, went to 15 countries, that sort of thing.
So why do we do it?
There are the obvious thingsthe challenge, that type of thingbut most people miss what’s underneath that. The subtle thing here is the relationship. Like todayMiles didn’t make it, but so what? You’ve already won if you’re into something. I’ve fallen down, he’s fallen downit’s those nights when I’m tired, and he’s tired, and we’re in the tent or in the hotel and we can’t find something... that’s when our relationship keeps us there.
I also love to serve someonebefore this, most of my life was about ego.
And one of the things we like is that we’re always under-qualified for these things. I hadn’t done any training for this event at all. Miles had an injury a few weeks before we came. At best we went only 60 milesbut my definition of an adventure is doing something unknown. We’ve traveled around the world finding that type of adventure.