We sat around the table in our best duds sipping champagne and eating some of the finest food in Orlando. Our gathering was joyous, as we laughed and recounted stories about our adventure. We laughed as though time had not kept us apart. We were at the Iris Awards and our hike for Camp Kesem was up for an award in the Philanthropy category.

(Read about why we walked)

My plane landed late in London as most of the guys were finishing their beers in a pub. Many of the guys had already spent the day together walking around London and visiting Oren’s family. (We raised money for Camp Kesem in honor of our friend Oren. He has family in London.) I wanted to hurry and get to the bar, not just to see the guys, but to get any last-minute information. And I was super hungry, because I did not eat on the plane.

I arrived at the pub for one last-call beer only to find that food was not being served. I greeted the guys with big hugs and was ecstatic to see them. They told me about their day and I was jealous I did not make trip sooner. But I was there… With my dad blogging friends… In London!

Let me talk about that friendship. It started with Oren. Oren Miller was a dad blogger and he started a closed Facebook group for dad bloggers. I met most of the guys at Dad 2.0, a blogging conference for dad influencers, and became good friends through the Facebook group. The group is a place where we share stories, tips, or vent. A lot of advice and encouragement is shared in that group daily. And we became close because of it. I can honestly say some of my best friends are in that group, even though I only seem them a couple times a year. And here’s something else amazing about our friendship, we’re all different. Yet, we have a bond that unites us.

The pub closed shortly after my arrival and I needed to find something to eat. I wondered the streets of London alone before I found an odd little restaurant. What made it odd was the presence of a bouncer who forced people to line up behind a rope. I stood behind a red rope and watched with saliva overflowing in my mouth, while people ate next to empty tables. Finally, the man dropped the rope and I walked to my table. I quickly ate my meal and then I walked to my hotel where I was staying with Jeff Bogle. It wasn’t long before we both were asleep.

The next morning, we boarded a train to Carlisle and we took over a portion of the car. I sat next to Brent Almond, who I knew from conferences and the Dad blogging group, but didn’t know well. I was nervous about the hike and the week ahead, but sitting next to Brent, I realized whatever we would encounter, we would get through it together.

No shock to anyone, it was dreary in Carlisle. We stayed at what I can best describe as a YMCA type building, complete with a gymnasium. And if we weren’t all so tired, odd shenanigans probably would have taken place while staying there. Before we went to bed, we ate at a little pub and I had my first of many shepherd’s pies. When we arrived back to our lodging, we had a meeting about the week, led by Jim Higley. As Jim was talking, my mind wandered to, “what was I thinking! I am about to hike 100 miles!” And all the reasons I shouldn’t be there ran through my head. “What about my dietary restrictions? What if I get hurt? I have to eat a lot because of my metabolism. What if I don’t get enough to eat? What if they get to know me better and realize they can’t stand me?” I didn’t sleep well that first night, as my worries got the best of me.

In the morning we ventured out and began our walk. I won’t get into each place we stayed, what we ate, or drank (a lot of Scotch and Guinness). I think the pictures tell the story best. But I will say the friendships begun before the hike, grew tenfold by the end. Along the wall, we shared stories about life, talked about being a dad, told jokes, avoided a lot of sheep poop, gave blogging tips, and at times, walked together in silence. Our meals were always joyous celebrations with laughter, stories, and heartfelt moments.

Our dinner had come to an end and our glasses were empty. The Iris Award ceremony began and we cheered for all the nominees and winners. And then our category came up. Our eyes drifted around the table as the nominees in our category were read. When the winner was announced, we weren’t sure we heard correctly. I heard “Kesem” but I didn’t hear the “dads” part. I, like others questioned if we were announced or not. Then, the realization clicked and we stood up and made our way to the stage. I gripped Jim Higley’s shoulder while standing on the stage and Brent discussed why we walked and what we did. I was humbled at that moment, that we were recognized for what we accomplished. When we left the stage, we celebrated with hugs and tears. I literally jumped into Jeff Bogle’s arms.

With the help of many people, we raised over $42,000 to start a Camp Kesem chapter at the University of Maryland campus, close to where Oren was raising his children. There is a line in a Kesem video where a young girl says, Camp Kesem helps her feel normal. To think that kids in Maryland will get to feel normal brings me a lot of joy.

What also brings me joy is the friendships that were strengthened into a brotherhood along the wall.

Now, where to next? I think there are a lot more cities that need camps.

These are the dads that I had the pleasure of hiking with:

Here are some other #Dads4Kesem posts:

The Hadrian’s Wall Walk, by Dadcation

An Announcement, A Toast, Preparing to Walk, by Designer Daddy

Thank You for the Kesem Love, by me.

 

I think Doug French(Dad 2.0) took this photo at the tallest point.

 

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