Behind every balloon lies a sad, sad story

Guscott's long march: The walk will be fun for at least one, but the 10 weeks will bring new suffering to many
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The Independent Online

One thousand seven hundred and ten. That is the number of balloons I released before my charity walk started on Friday. One thousand seven hundred and ten. That is also the number of people who will be diagnosed with leukaemia between now and the end of my 10-week trek.

One thousand seven hundred and ten. That is the number of balloons I released before my charity walk started on Friday. One thousand seven hundred and ten. That is also the number of people who will be diagnosed with leukaemia between now and the end of my 10-week trek.

I mention this staggering figure because I am sure it will serve as a helpful reminder to why I accepted taking on this marathon challenge. In fact, it already has. Even before the end of the first day of walking, I was feeling the heat. On Friday night, my legs were aching like they hadn't done in a long while. In many ways, it felt like my good old amateur rugby days, when I would come back for my first day of training after having had two months off during the summer. In other words, it was tough.

We had covered about 20 miles when the legs got a bit heavy. I remember turning to Chalky, one of my great friends who has accepted to do the entire walk by my side, and asking him what the hell we had taken on here. At least I don't have any blisters and, although it was a difficult start, I'm actually coping OK. Tired, but excited; sore, but determined. Truth be told, I feel like a million-dollar man from the waist up and an old man from the waist down.

The nice thing about this walk is that just when you are feeling down, there's usually someone to cheer you up. On Friday, we were greeted by the kids from a couple of primary schools. Many people tooted their horns and a friend of mine even joined a section of the walk and gave me a tiny St Christopher pendant on a chain, which I will wear for good luck from now on.

Not that it did me much good during a Radio Five Live interview, which I agreed to do because we need to give the project as much publicity as possible. Just as I started talking to Brian Alexander, we approached a hill. Needless to say the conversation did not last as long as expected. But it's fun and that's all that matters.

The highlight on Friday was being joined by my old Bath and England coach, Jack Rowell. Jack said he would tag along for a couple of miles in Bristol and it is to his great credit that he completed the section he had earmarked. He didn't quite keep up with us, but that was because we walked at an average speed of five miles per hour, which was a lot quicker than anticipated.

Yesterday, I made my first appearance on this walk at a live Premiership match. Gloucester were playing Harlequins and I walked on at half-time. Being a former Bath player, I always expected to get a certain amount of stick from the Kingsholm crowd, but I was really pleased with the overall reception. I think most people realise this walk is for the right reasons and it bodes well for the rest of the tour.

Talking of tours, I can perfectly understand the fears of some of the Australian rugby players, league or union, at the moment. Leaving your loved ones for a long amount of time is never easy at the best of times, so this must be a particularly tricky decision to take. I happen to think that there will be an Australian tour, although I am less sure what form it will take. I am also unclear about the quality of the party the Wallabies will eventually bring as many of their key players might decide to stay at home.

Either way, it is good news for England. After the disappointment of the Lions' defeat in the summer, many of the lads will want to set the record straight. And if the Aussies are under strength, then we'll have an even better chance of beating them. We need a good win so that we're properly set up for next season's Six Nations. I'm not too worried, though, and I reckon that by the South Africa game at the end of November, the team will be tickety-boo and ready for the challenges of 2002.

Clive Woodward and his team are very accomplished. They know exactly what they're doing and I'm sure they've been focusing their minds on the Ireland match at Lansdowne Road next weekend. To be honest, were it not for foot and mouth, I think we would already be home and dry with the Grand Slam tucked under our belts. But the long break has undoubtedly disrupted our flow and I know the players have been meeting up on consecutive Mondays to get back in the groove. Playing the Irish is never easy, but the trip is extra difficult because the first team have not played a competitive match for so long.

I still expect England to win and they deserve to take the tournament. They have been playing well and, even without the hugely influential Lawrence Dallaglio in the back row, I feel England should be too strong for the Irish. At least Woodward has options. Martin Corry, who had an exceptional tour as a late replacement with the Lions, has matured well and can happily slip in to the No 8 slot. That would leave Richard Hill at blind-side, and Neil Back or the promising Joe Worsley as open-side flanker.

The team are largely settled, and the only serious question is whether or not Jason Robinson will start. Woodward may be tempted to throw him in right from the off, but my feeling is that Jason should be on the bench because he is at his most devastating when he comes on in the last 20 minutes or so. In fact, I might wish Jason luck in person when I reach Sale on Friday. If I get there, that is.

Jeremy Guscott was talking to Alex Hayes

The Tetley's Trek

Jeremy Guscott's epic walk in aid of leukaemia began yesterday. Don't miss, exclusively in "The Independent On Sunday", his weekly diary from a journey through the heartlands of rugby. Sponsored by Tetley's, the walk will help a good cause. More details on www.tetleystrek.co.uk

The itinerary: Today: Gloucester to Worcester. Tomorrow: Worcester to Quatt. 16 Oct: Quatt to Shrewsbury. 17: Shrewsbury to Whitchurch. 18: Whitchurch to Northwich. 19: Northwich to Prestwich. 20: Prestwich to Burnley. 21: Burnley to Threshfield. 22: Threshfield to Leyburn. 23: Leyburn to Staindrop. 24: Staindrop to Consett. 25: Consett to Newcastle. 26: Newcastle to Ferryhill. 27: Ferryhill to Northallerton. 28: Northallerton to Harrogate. 29: Harrogate to Leeds. 30: Leeds to Barnsley. 31: Barnsley to Clowne. 1 Nov: Clowne to Nottingham. 2: Nottingham to Leicester. 3: Leicester to Northampton. 4: Northampton to Buckingham. 5: Buckingham to Thame. 6: Thame to Reading. 7: Reading to Slough. 8: Slough to Harrow. 9: Harrow to Twickenham. 10: On pitch at half-time England v Australia.

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