ITERA 2019 - Part Two
|Group Bothy inside the barn|
Scenes From a Night's Dream
Turning left onto the main A87 road, we had a handful of deserted undulating miles. I think we were all going OK, and I took long turns on the front of the group to repay their kindness. Later they said they were struggling to hold my wheel on the hills, such is the benefit of a power snooze, but I also took a tumble as I avoided the unmade kerb and choose to go Superman style into the centre of the road rather than bring my team mates down, too. No real damage done, a hole in the knee of my windproof over-trousers and nothing more than skin deep.
We arrived at the much photographed Eilean Donan Castle, unlit at this time of night, and the CP 'Dibbing Box'. After a few more main A87 miles we turned left onto minor roads for Morvich and Transition.
|Eilean Donan Castle - take in Feb 2020 - Winter Munro Trip|
I find coming into any transition, especially later in the race, an odd experience. I'm very aware of the dynamic between teams and event staff, and what is going on within our own team and the event in its widest context. Some of this is due to my role as an event planner and being aware that the logistics behind the scenes is crucial, complex and usually involves moving bags and bike boxes by truck around several miles by remote road. Dry clothes and food were a priority, but first we need to concentrate on the verbal briefing that we are given on arrival. Simply things like, 'Bikes over there, please. Sign-in here. Your bags are over there. No shoes in the inner rooms'.
The MTB Stage had taken us longer than we had planned (bit of a theme, really) and we needed to sleep and prep properly for the next stage, and then penultimate stage, a multi-discipline paddle stage. We brewed, cooked and change clothing, and then put the tent up. NB: it's quite usual not to be able to sleep indoors in transitions. No village or community hall is big enough to accommodate several or all teams at once, so any indoor space is efficiently managed and policed for 'admin' only.
(Other events could learn from this!)
|Morvich Outdoor Centre - Transition - Feb 2020.|
It was wet and midge-y putting the tent up, and it's annoyingly fiddly, but well worthwhile. For reference, it's a three person Terra Nova Hyperspace, so palatial for four 'racers' and properly storm proof. It's got our NAV4 teams through many rough times, going right back to 2007.
A few hours later, I emerged and walked into the hall. Matt and Ellie (Summit Fever Media) were there and whilst supping my first mug of tea, Ellie asked me a question about how our race was going. 'Give me five minutes, Ellie'
Eddie's finger was our immediate concern. His second finger on his left hand was swollen, stiff and purple. It didn't look good and the Transition medic, Eddie and us, wanted him to see the Event Doctor, Charlotte. Dr Charlotte was up at the Cluanie Inn, the mid-way road crossing point on the next Trekking stage.
Taking the tent down, which was incredibly midge-ful, Ellie came out with her video camera and by now, two brews in, I could string a few sentences together. There are a few minutes of me and team, including Eddie's swollen digit, team member five, on Summit Fevers daily video. Check it out if you can find a (link?)
Time for Plan B. Or is it Plan C?
All things considered, it was decided that we would be bussed up to The Cluanie Inn, where Dr Charlotte would see us. This was a thirty-minute trip, and we weren't sure what would happen after that. It was going to be hard for Eddie to grip any sort of paddle shaft and the Paddle Stage involved Grade 2 moving water kayaking and a white water rafting section inset into it. Hence, evacuation by road would be far from easy.
Luxury tea and coffee, and toilets befitting The Cluanie Inn preceded the appointment with Dr Charlotte. Charlotte is a regular staff team member for Open Adventure and so I work with her often. In she walked; looked at the finger, promptly does a primary survey, looks at me, I look at her, just as the tea and coffee arrive.
'I think you need one of these, Doctor?' I said, pouring her a brew. 'Hmm...actually been asleep for x-hours....I'll be back in a minute!' Charlotte drinks even more tea than I do.
Breakfast was ordered, and the finger diagnosis was that we would not be paddling. And so for a second time we were stepping out of the competitive race. Sad times, but inevitable. Incidentally, I had a very minor aliment similar to Eddie's same finger, and I think it was ligament damage due to hauling on web straps rather than an actual paddling injury.
Logistically this presented us and the event team with a problem. There was no point trekking on to the start of the Paddle stage, which as in a remote location, that we couldn't easily be bussed out of.
The long and short of it was we would be bussed on again by MPV (by driver Kate?) to Fort Augustus transition, the last one before a 70km Bike stage along the Great Glen Way. That in itself was not without a comedic navigation error as at the one and only main road T-junction, visiting Aussie Kate turned left not right, as we dozed in the back. It took me several minutes to suss this out upon waking up. Poor tired Kate, not her fault at all.
And so we spent much of the day ahead of the race, keeping out of the way at Fort Augustus. The transition was on the edge of the village, in a medium sized village hall, but was stacked half full of bikes in their boxes and kit bags, waiting to be sorted and laid out in approaching team order.
|Bongo bike clean at Fort Augustus|
We help out as best we can, lightening the load of the transition team and try to sleep, eat and rest. We only had our day sacs and were dressed for the trekking stage; waterproofs, spare fleece, leg wear, emergency bivi bag each, group shelter, but each of us did have a small sleeping mat, commonly a bit of foam mat that we carry at all times. Our personal gear bags had yet to be moved forward by the logistics team, but would arrive later. These had all our other spare gear, including bike clothing, more food, bike lights, sleeping bags and all manner of cuddly stuff.
The last stage would 'open' as soon as a leading competitive team went through, or I think 7pm, which ever was soonest. This was to manage overall event logistics and teams' arrival at the finish, in the centre of Inverness on Friday morning.
|Eddie insisted we had this taken.|
The Paddle stage had been long, with higher water volumes than expected and some difficulties for the event team to manage. Our sabbatical gave us plenty of time to rest and prepare for what should have been a 'nice ride' to the finish. Although our route was designated as a Cycle Route and signed as the Great Glen Way, we knew it wouldn't be flat, would have some killer climbs and need a bit of navigation. It was also going to be dark. We had a similar experience on the Taff Trail in 2014, including twenty metre visibility due to fog. It's not over yet.
|Paul and myself digest route choices to come|
We were still waiting for our own Personal Bags, and I was looking forward to a clean pair of nearly new cycle shorts and my big MTB lights, plus a few other bits of gear. I remember voicing this to Paul, who was equally ill equipped in terms of bike lighting.
|Bike Boxes - but no Personal Bags|
These re-starts create bit of a strange atmosphere. Some teams are totally in the race zone, competing fiercely against a rival team, still competitive on the 'Short Course', some ranked 'Non-competitive' like ourselves and we all have differing combinations of time penalties.
Ultimately we all want to ride strongly to the end and we settled into a rhythm finding our rightful position in a slowly dispersing peleton. Eddie and Alli had good high powered Exposure Lights, whilst Paul and myself were just using our Petzl (trekking) head torches, and typically 300 lumens, not 1000. Riding as a disciplined group sharing beams, two by two on wide forest tracks was OK, especially up hill, but on faster downhills it proved difficult to follow a fully lit up team mate once you drop off their wheel.
We managed OK. I remember Phil Scarf and Jeff PD's 'development team' riding nearby and we tried to ride collaboratively with them, but I was conscious of abusing their efforts. Their team included young Bess 'Robbo' Robson, who is the daughter of a friend of mine who I hadn't seen since she was a teenager, riding to Jura Fell Race with her mum, dad and brother Sam. Bess is now a really gnarly ultra distance rider, but was just too tired to speak. She apologised by messenger after the race.
We excelled ourselves with a numpty navigation error. In low beam mode, we missed a deft little single track dropping off the forest road and climbed slowly for a couple of km eventually trending South West, rather than the required North East. Alli and Eddie's navigation got us back on track, and I think Phil's team did something similar but not so bad.
Overall we were riding OK; we should have been after much of a day's rest, but battery power was an issue and I feared I would run out of light. Like when you have low fuel in your car you eek it out and want to go faster to get there, but slow to save juice! Worst case would be flat batteries for several of us, but say, 90 mins enforced sleep before dawn might actually be to our advantage.
Follow You Follow Me
A 'pit stop' at the Drumnaddrohit public toilets was a significant point, and a relief in more ways than one. It marked the start of the final bike section with a long climb up single track around Meall na h-Eiling hill and forest. There was a team catching us fast, a foreign team still racing hard, with two out front and two really suffering behind. They were shouting at each other, like some ragged teams do. We let them pass and rode steadily on, pushing some ups and riding slowly on some normally-nice swoopy single track. Dawn was not far away. The thick forest would thin out and we'd be on wide open tracks, leafy woodland and minor roads. I felt we'd cracked it, with 20 or so km to go to the finish. We had climbed steadily for about an hour and with the finish being at sea level in Inverness a downhill ride must be our reward.
Suddenly, at the bottom of a small innocuous single track dip, Paul hit the ground hard. There was no skid, just Paul hitting the floor and his rucsac coming up over his shoulders to rest on the back of his neck and helmet.
He lay face down, didn't move, and I stopped close behind him. I shouted to the others, and got along side him. He still hadn't moved much, just said, 'Urg...Shit'
'No, this is bad.'
Alli and Eddie came straight back. We are all First Aid qualified, Alli to a very high level. It took a few minutes before we could get Paul sat upright and to assist him to remove his own rucsac. He was isolating his left shoulder and arm and the deformity was clear to see. This was broken or dislocated. Paul had been very unlucky to catch a small semi-natural 'kerb stone' in a cross-drain obscured by leaf matter in the half-light. I went to stop other sleepy teams ploughing into us and later inspected the 'kerb stone' that had a nasty right-angled corner, which I rounded off with a bigger rock.
Down And Out
So, let's do this calmly.
No point in pressing the SOS button, Paul is walking wounded, and we don't know exactly where we are. A quick assessment of the situation and Alli had Paul splinted up with his helmet under his arm and a dry bag padding the injury. Alli is Chief Medic, Eddie pushes two bikes and I went ahead to find a fixed location we can get a vehicle to and stronger phone signal. I'd already sent a text to Event Control with outline details.
I was riding through patchy forest on double forestry track and soon got to a tarmac road at a Visitor Centre. I phone the incident in, happening to speak to Dr. Charlotte, who wasn't too far away. The plan was to meet at this Grid Reference.
What happened next? I felt really sleepy! Whether is was an adrenaline lull, or food or just tiredness, I don't know. I had a map and the phone, and the group shelter. Do I cycle back or stay put?
Another team passed me and gave good news that Paul was moving steadily. I decided to wait were I was, confident the other three would get here soon, and if not I could drive back in with Dr. Charlotte towards them along the forest roads.
Feeling really sleepy in the cold light of dawn, I wrapped myself in the Group Bothy Bag (a nice pink and purple combo) and lay partially across the road. I wanted people to see me, especially Dr. Charlotte! Another team cycled passed and woke me from my dozing, just stopped short of starting CPR. Soon, I heard an engine and Charlotte's van approaching. Jumping in, we drove back towards my team mates. I told Charlotte our first aid assessment (dislocation) and rounding a corner we saw Paul half walking, half jogging towards us, along with Alli riding slowly alongside and Eddie riding two bikes at once. (Probably against the race rules, but Hey-ho.)
'That can't be dislocated' said Charlotte 'Not if he can move like that'. Closer inspection decreed that he goes straight to hospital for an X-Ray, evacuated by Dr. C. Throughout the incident, Paul remained calm and quiet and demonstrated a might high pain threshold.
And Then There Were Three
So, what now? About fifteen kms to go and we are a trio. Mainly easy tarmac with a bit of trail, easy navigation and all is good. Well OK, as it feels all so wrong. Team Phil Scarf come past us (must have stopped for a sleep, maybe) and look really tired, stretched and drawn. I've a huge amount of respect for Phil and Jeff and for Bess and her other team mate, as I know they will have raced hard and given all they can. They are a bit stressed and want it over with. We'd like to have helped them in anyway we could, ridden as a group of seven, maybe let them draft our wheels but their dynamic is stretched to braking and our situations were so different. l think we offered them some food and found us all outside tap on a remote house, but I maybe wrong.
It just felt wrong riding as a trio. I kept looking round for Paul, and we'd been through so much together that this finish was unreal.
So unreal, and perhaps bit de-mob happy, we pushed on riding hard, if only to distance ourselves from Team Phil. Hopefully they would glean some benefit from our navigation (not that I could teach Phil or Jeff anything navigation related!) Riding fast and strong on smooth flowing roads we played this ridiculous game of 'Let's Break Bongo'. Alli (aka Bongo) had navigated well all week (young person's eyes) and is also an excellent bike rider, by far the strongest in our team. Here was I being stupid and so when I said 'Don't we turn left soon?' and turned to see Alli hanging off the back of the trio, and saying, 'I need to turn the map over'. We'd ridden off the map by a few hundred metres. Another basic error! Backtrack again and play a humble game of cat and mouse with 'Team Phil'.
As we dropped into the outskirts of Inverness, the riding was easy, interesting and we make no more mistakes. A mellow riverside cycle path ride pops us up into the city centre and we are back in the quiet urban environment and under the finish gantry.
|Yep, that;s the finish gantry, Perfect composition. Not ruined by us.|
Event Director James Thurlow is there and presents us with our wee bottles of Malt. We explained to James as to why are are three, and how we also we tried to 'Break Bongo', too.
A cup of tea in the adjacent Costa station cafe, then Eddie says, 'Shall we find a Jet wash for the bikes on the ride back to the hostel?' More of an instruction than a question.
Paul had dislocated his shoulder, and it was pretty bad. He received great care. Having arrived just before 8am, they had waited for the day shift to come on duty so that there were two doctors to inflict the inevitable pain not just one. The X-Ray says it all, and Dr, Charlotte is amazed at Paul's pain threshold.
|Back at YHA after hospital|
Say It's Alright Joe
|Beer or tea for breakfast?|
Fortunately, Paul's son Richard had been working as a volunteer on the event, and they had travelled up together in Richard's car. With Paul unable to drive, Richard did well to squeeze everything, including a bike box into his hatchback, and drove home to Nottingham with his knees around his chin as the driver's seat was way forward.
'Don't come home if your tired' said Diane, wife and mother to two bemused family members, which made me laugh as well.
|All back together and ready to drive South|
Thanks everybody, Roll on ITERA 21 Take a look at the website if you want to find more, and there are more photos, thanks to Eddie's brilliant photography skills, on the NAV4 Adventure Racing facebook page.
And 'Yep', Team NAV4 Adventure will be racing at Oban in August 2021, and there it's never too early to start your prep. Watch out for training opportunities in the Autumn and over the Winter.