Wednesday, 7 April 2021

The State of the NAV4 Nation

A strange year for all, each of us having similar but vastly different experiences.  Looking back on 2020, Mel Steventon's Wainwright Record in September remains the high light and vastly impressive.  My own 'Parr61' version of the Steve Parr round a month later, the result of long days out supporting Mel as training, seems a lifetime ago.

I intended making a second, sub 61hour,  Parr61 attempt as I wasn't happy with the first.  I also wanted to do it before the end of March, as a nod to Steve Parr's Winter running exploits, but like many, I've suffered from Mojo, or lack of it.  Plus, of course, lockdown restrictions prevent such expeditions.

Sanity has come in the form of Sainsbury's delivery driving: a type of motorised orienteering, competing against the SatNav for optimum route choice.  Around twenty-five hours a week on the road, driving the wonderful countryside of Cumbria, (and occasionally Northumberland!) balances out the hours of tedious and demoralising 'event admin'.  There's too flavours to that: a treadmill of postponement and stress, of trying to pacify companies and third parties of their demands for clarity and permissions, and the hollowness of social media promotion.

The Pause Button Comes Off Soon

This weekend would have been our Spring flagship event - Lakes Mountain 42.  It's no surprise that this isn't going to happen on that date, and it is postponed until April 9th 2022.  However, as a one-off extra special event I'm hosting a 'Lakes Mountain Limited Edition' on Saturday 12th June.  The objective is to fill the void of big chunky events that have all been up lifted to next year or shoehorned into the latter half of 2021.  Think, Cape Wrath Ultra, Fellsman, Three Peaks, Great Lakeland 3 Day, etc

'LM40 Limited Edition' is just that.  Maximum 60 people, 40 'lumpy runnable' mountain miles, starts from 6-7am, finish by last orders.  Top-notch event support, a top day out.  If you haven't done a NAV4 event before you will be "amazed at the simple beauty of our delivery and quality production", as stated by one first timer last year.  

Based on the LM42 route, the LM40 route misses out the descent into Thirlmere and goes direct from Grisedale Tarn to Helvellyn summit.  It is the same as last year's August event.  And Yes, I mean just 60 people.

Pennine 39 

Looking further ahead, Saturday 3rd July will see our fifth Pennine 39. Underhyped and solely aimed at those who enjoy 'Wild Trails to Far Horizons', the route is a linear one from  Bowlees to Alston, taking in the very best part of the Pennine Way. Cauldron Snout, High Cup Nick, and Crossfell (the highest point of the Pennines) and the iconic Greg's Hut.

We have Alston YHA as our event centre, with optional accommodation available on Friday and or Saturday nights.  Bus transfers, food and drink, banter and even a 'beer' or two. There's no obligation to stay, in fact the hostel is nearly full, but there are spaces on the event.

Zooming Ahead?

It's been a saviour but tiresome. Some teaching has been delivered over Zoom, but it simply isn't the same as face-face, wind in the ears, real life learning.  Years ago most of us were 'instructors.'  Then we became 'tutors' and now the world is populated by 'coaches'.  Learning styles differ from person to person and have always fascinated me: we all learning differently and a skill-full teacher is crucial.

2021 dates have been scheduled for 'NAV4: Navigation for Runners' one day courses, every two or three weeks from April 18th onwards.  Top draw tuition, fun and very informative, on a 4:1 ratio. 

One-to-One and Small Groups

Whilst I've done a few One-to-One's over the past year, and only within strict travel restrictions and guidelines, bookings are increasing for several more in April, May and June.  I cover a range of skills, from intro through to advanced navigation, hill-skills, scrambling and event route recces.  Often the focus is on Northern Traverse, Lakes in a Day, or Dragon's Back.  And with the ITERA Expedition Race in August, I'm helping teams prep with paddle and bike skills, as well as 'trekking' and general expedition knowledge.

XL 'Wet Bag' to order for ITERA

Exped AR Bike Boxes under construction

Now is the time to book your date for the coming few months, and it's never to early to prepare. Take a look at the Personal Coaching page on the website for ideas of how it works.  Most things are possible, either via myself or one of the NAV4 team. 

One-to-One tuition - #ContoursCrucial

Back to Normal?

The next few months, maybe a year, are going to be very interesting.  

Pop-Up roadside checkpoint
The outdoor world of events and training won't just back to normal on June 21st or sooner.  Many events are concertinaed into a busy late Summer and Autumn.  Cape Wrath and Dragon's back, plus the brilliant GL3D will be a busy time for all of us at NAV4.  We've a tradition of working on event support on mny events, not least those.

Remote Event Safety Checkpoint


The Great Outdoors will be soon be open - Cumbria Police are currently targeting campers - and many worry that it is going to get hammered, again.  

My #LakesLitterInitiative has continued over the Winter, unspoken and without a great social media presence. Often it is better to do, than say.  Not just me, but many of us just do it. Yep, stop, bend down and pick it up.  I find it fascinating how 'Wombles' are hitting the news in many ways, and it pleases me greatly to see more ordinary people just picking stuff up.

'Trash Camping'  - cleared, reused, recycled

Comic Relief raised 'x' million pounds. What if we, the conscientious majority, went out and picked up 'x' million bags of litter? Better than a virtual race, in my opinion.

The LDNP are leading on the multiagency Visitor Management Plans; lots of good intent and impressive words of engagement and education.  What is certain is it will also need many of us to just carry on doing what we always have done and clear up after others.

It's not the dropping of litter which is the problem.  It's the walking past fresh litter and not doing anything about it.  Whilst I've stopped short of doing so in my Sainsburys van (food and hygiene issues) I frequently go back and clear laybys and verges that I have seen from my van. I had a very interesting conversation with a policeman recently!

So.... Be positive, have fun and adventures, I hope to see you out there soon


Monday, 1 February 2021

Ullswater D2D20

The Ullswater Watershed - Moonlight Winter Round 

30th December 2020

The Ullswater Watershed is not new.  It was formed after the last Ice Age when a glacier scooped out the valley producing a ten mile long lake. It's a formidable route, and whilst Lakeland Horseshoes are plentiful, this one is very special to me.

More recently, in the last century at least, it was popular with Outward Bound staff as they explored the outer edges of their horizons.  Various options exist; the upper valley skyline direct from Halsteads onto Gowbarrow and Helvellyn and around to High Street before descending to Howtown for a lift back across the Lake, or vice versa.

A full moon, post Christmas restlessness, a good snow covering and a good weather forecast are key ingredients a mini adventure. How about the complete watershed starting and finishing at Pooley Bridge, replete with shiny new bridge?  Dusk to Dawn would be a worthy challenge for a route defined by twenty principle peaks, starting with Gowbarrow Fell and ending on Arthurs Pike. The remainder are fairly obvious, but it is only right and proper to include Great Dodd, surely the greatest Dodd of all time.

One day to prepare and shared the idea with Mel. Mel is still a bit broken and recovering from her Wainwright Round, but seems addicted to sunsets and the view down the Lake.  Sensibly she chose not to attempt the whole thing, but set off with me at 3:37pm, officially sunset at Pooley Bridge. The sun was sinking and the moon threatening, and Mel very keen to get some photos on the first few miles.

So, out and up along the Ullswater Way past Maiden Castle and the first summit of Gowbarrow.  All is now properly dark and the sunset had been good.  The lights of Penrith twinkle behind us and the moon was looking promising.  Icy and frozen down off Gowbarrow through Dockray and start up the road to High Row.  Mel, and Billy Dog have done enough for now, Mel had got her sunset fix, and head off home for some dinner and a snooze.  Mel might meet me at Kirsktone, with a brew hopefully, and maybe do the last third of the route if her ankle and legs generally agree.

Gowbarrow summit with the lights of Penrith 

Dockray and it's associated fell races are dear to my heart.  I lived her for a couple of years in my post-OB days and kept the fell races going as long as I could.  I never did like the tarmac mile at the start but tonight is different. The weather good, cold and dry and the moon getting brighter as it climbed higher in the sky.

From High Row, half a mile of the Old Coach Road take me to Groove Beck and it's renown ford, partially frozen and just a trickle so safer than the icy footbridge.  I was keen to keep my feet dry and thankfully the boggy ground rising to Rannerside was white and firm.  I was moving steadily, conscious of not pushing too hard, of building up a sweat and very aware of a stiff Northerly breeze from my right.  

The snow cover was near perfect and moon continuing to bloom.  Topping out I was keen to keep moving as I was just on the right side of being warm and comfortable in windproof, mid-fleece and one and three quarter pairs of running leggings. Thin gloves inside shell mitts are Ok, as long as keep moving, and I was now heading generally South with the wind behind me. It's surprising how a small rucsac keeps you just that crucial bit warmer.

Great Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd passed easily and I was soon shuffling down to a glowing light near Sticks Pass. As I got nearer, it became a small mountain tent, with the occupant busy preparing for a nights sleep thirty metres off the path, pitched up looking East.  Would they get a sunrise?

Raise, Whiteside and Lower Man next.  Higher cloud started to roll in, but I was still #Wabjabbing along feeling good but cool.  Helvellyn was thick with cloud and I stopped at the trig point to turn my phone on, send a quick text and take a photo.  Just in that instance, I could feel my little fingers and thumbs going numb, and my core temperature plummeting, so I scuttled over to the summit shelter to throw on a big Primaloft jacket and extreme mitts. A cube of cheese, a tomato, and stash the olives in a pocket and off I go; let's get warm.

Helvellyn Trig Point - Penrith lights behind

Nethermost, ticked (all three cairns) then Dollywagen and the down the old wall line from the iron gate post to go West side of Grisedale Tarn, where they could be a trickle of running water to fill my bottle.  The snow of the descent was quite deep and a little unpredictable, mainly hard but a bit crusty and awkward.

No running water to be found, other than minor seepage from muddy 'under cloughs' so it was a dry mouthed stomp up Fairfield.  The cloud had continued to build partially obscuring the moon at times, and needing my head torch to be switch on, and a eye on navigation.  The summit of Fairfield is wide and flat and an easy place to mess up.  On over Hart Crag and Dove Crag in good snow cover, but tedious on the bouldering summits and then a slow meandering descent down to Scandale Pass once again in deep inconsistent snow, and paying attention to avoid any soft boggy sections.

The cloud banked in fully on the climb to Red Screes, so out came the map and compass, just to be sure.  I'd guessed that I'd be at Kirkstone around midnight, possibly 1:00am and it was great to be on the summit at 11:50pm.  Normally 15-20 mins would suffice for this descent but in murky conditions, and with the cairn being set back from the edge of the fell, I lost my sense of direction, zig zagging gently downwards to seek out the steeper ground looking for Kirkstone Pass.  Several more minutes were lost in the murk and flat light with nothing making sense and a rough compass bearing needed to provide impetus.

I found the top of the rocky entrenched path but as it steepened it was hard pack ice and required Microspikes. Just another couple of minutes, but worth putting them on, and learning that it is possible put them on inside out. But I then caught sight of a van lit up, and hoped it's Mel's with steam coming from the kettle.

Icy and hard all the way down and consequently slow. arriving a good 40 minutes after leaving the summit.  A better line would give less resistance, but Mel had a brew on, plus a flask of her 'special soup' so all was good with the World.  I added some cold water to the soup so as to get it down quicker and to up my fluid intake.  Mel was up for coming along, as well as Billy, resplendent in his reflective doggy-gilet.  

Billy did 5x the distance that we did

The rocky stepped path up to St. Raven's Edge was hard packed snow and icy, and the steady ascent to Caudale Moor and Stony Cove Pike went OK.  Mel and Billy were enjoying themselves, me not so much on the descent into Threshwaite Mouth as once again it was icy, but we seemed to get a good line.

Mel led up the climb to Thornthwaite Beacon, and I was feeling strong and enjoying big slow deep breaths, which were such a contrast to my Parr61 trip, when I was struggling with breathing difficulties.

There's a great sign by the Beacon:  somewhat incongruent but entertaining none the less.  

'Unstable Structure' 

From here you get a sense that you are on the homeward leg. All the steep climbs are behind you and with High Street the whale back our next summit it would be a long and generally downhill route from there all the way to Pooley Bridge. Mel and Billy were committed to finishing the trip with me, the weather was OK, and the only unknown was how the snow would be along the ridge. Would it be frozen, deep or soft?  Plenty of time for an epic, yet.

The cloud closed in firmly around us near Rampsgill Head just as the snow became shin deep and soft.  I tried to follow a slight trod of firmer snow, but it was trending right wards towards Kidsty Pike, so we cut left through a few hundred metres of deep slow going. High Raise seemed bigger and more pronounced then is deserves to be from the map, but again from there on the ridgeline steady descends over Raven Howe, Red Crag to Whether Hill, before the final pull up to Loadpot Hill.

I'd asked Mel on High Street how long did she think it would take to get to Loadpot. 'Two hours?' and despite a few sections of trail breaking snow we did it bang on, although it had been tougher conditions underfoot then along the Helvellyn range. I guess we'd expected to see at least the flickerings of sunrise, but cloud and the clock weren't playing ball.

Loadpot Hill

Arthur's Pike would be the final summit. To be precise, if you were sticking to the true watershed it ought to be Heughscar Hill, which is an outlying Wainwright but we'd done enough to satisfy a 'watershed', especially if you dance around The Cockpit, and a Dusk to Dawn challenge.  

We finished comfortably before dawn, and it crept over us as I drove us up to Kirkstone to retrieve Mel's van.  Mel just snored gently most of the way.

Ullswater Dusk-to-Dawn 20

So, twenty principle peaks around Ullswater, nineteen of which are Wainwrights, starting and finishing at Pooley Bridge. Use the Ullswater Way to Gowbarrow and the obvious lines to Gt. Dodd and onwards. Best enjoyed solo or with minimal interference.  Pacers unnecessary, one, well two road crossings and adequate water supplies normally.

1 Gowbarrow
2 Gt Dodd
3 Stybarrow Dodd
4 Raise
5 Whiteside
6 Lower Man ( not a Wainwright!)
7 Helvellyn
8 Nethermost
9 Dollywagen
10 Fairfield
11 Hart Crag
12 Dove Crag
13 Red Screes
14 Caudale Moor / Stony Cove Pike
15 Thornthwaite Beacon
16 High Street
17 High Raise
18 Whether Hill
19 Loadpot Hill
20 Arthur's Pike

It's a brilliantly simple and pure route.  Ok, it could be done much faster in daylight, but Dusk-to-Dawn suits it perfectly, giving you a night time traverse of Helvellyn perfect on a good moon.  The later you leave it in the Spring, the faster you'll need to go. 

What would be your optimal month? June?

Have fun, have and adventure .... but be safe.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Parr 61 - Done

Parr 61 is Done. 

It may have been a bit short in the planning but a bit long in the final hours.

It was always an ambitious schedule, bearing in mind Steve's sub 43 hours was achieved in July 1984 assumedly in good weather, fully paced and he was in his prime recording a 17hour BG.  My 61 hours was purely a personal target, one suitable for a rapidly aging 'has been'.

With a three day window in my diary, and with Mel being available with her van 'Gwen' it was game on.  No time to recce any sections, except the descent off Carl Side down to the A591 near Lizzick Hall Hotel.

A 7am start fitted reasonably allowing late breakfast in Braithwaite, high tea in Buttermere and a midnight finish in Wasdale.  I was geared up to run solo, although 'Flip-Flop Aleks' was booked as local route guru for Lingmell, Scafell and The Pike at 4am, then I'd trundle onto Langstrath, hoping for 'pop-up support' in the valley bottom between Glaramara and High Raise.

My next road crossing would be Three Shires Stone, then a lap of the Coniston Fells down to Little Langdale. Cumbria Way and minor roads to Ambleside, onto Troutbeck, over to Kentmere Church and then Harter Fell and the High Street peaks and back to Kirkstone.  The final leg was just the length of Fairfield, 'Helvellyn and The Dodds' (named after a popular local beat combo in the '50's, apparently) finishing at Threlkeld.

No Moot Hall

Steve had started and finished at the Moot Hall, but it held no attraction for me. Those steps may be hallowed stones for many, and very relevant to a Bob Graham but I had license to do my own thing.  I didn't fancy the descent off Skiddaw as a finale, nor Blencathra as the final big climb.   Neither did I want to run tarmac from Keswick to Braithwaite, so in Lakes Fell Record style I came direct off Carlside, a little used but delightful route and tarmac free.  Great Dodd has always been important and local to me, so a start and finish at Threlkeld was obvious.

Threlkeld has all you need. Easy parking, just off the A66, on a main bus route from Penrith mainline station, and it's the closest point to home. Also, the bus stop is right next to a post box, which is very convenient for posting your tracker back to Open Tracking afterwards. Furthermore, the building on the corner used to be a shop when I did my first BG back in 1983.


Mel picked me up from home, drove me and Billy Dog to Threlkeld and they came part way up Hallsfell before turning back as the scrambling started, although Billy Dog wanted to come too.  

Solo over Blencathra and Skiddaw Lower Man and Skiddaw itself. 

Down the Carlside descent and across the A591 where I found Paul Wilson sat waiting for me.  It was good to talk to Paul about his Steve Parr Round and all things connected with BG rounds, ethos and ethics. 

We had a quick brew with Mel at Braithwaite, then Paul continued with me up Grisedale Pike and over the peaks to Grasmoor before heading off to the school run. Wandhope, Crag Hill and Sail lead to an easy long descent to Buttermere and a proper feed ready for the long evening leg to Wasdale.  

Easy up High Stile, then a tedious leg around Haystacks chasing daylight over dead ground aiming to get to Green Gable before dark.  

A head torch loomed out of the gloom and increasing mist which introduced itself as John Fletcher. 'You don't know me, but I know Rich and Carol. It took me a while to realise you were out today, but I have a flask of tea, and cheese and tomato sandwich and some Jelly Babies'. 

John's Tea was just as welcome as his company finding Green Gable over confusing ground in murky conditions. So murky, I did a double take at the cairn and John looked worried as he had to leave me at Windy Gap. Gable summit was found with only minor incident, but the descent to Beck Head was simply awful.  Thick mist, wet rock and gusty winds.  Cautious and slow navigation secured the route up Kirkfell, and off via the old metal fence posts.  Climbing Pillar the visibility improved quite dramatically, clearing to reveal twinkling stars and a small crescent moon.

The Bob Graham peaks, plus Haycock as an out and back were nice, then the mist rolled in again on the sneaky traverse out to Red Pike. It was getting late now, and having not looked at the new high tech Casio watch, it beeped midnight, meaning, 'Oh shit!'  I was aware I'd been losing time in the dark and murk despite feeling strong, and I was only to lose more on an awful scree descent of Dore Head, taking a tumble and having to climb back up to retrieve a pole. 

I reached Wasdale Head around 1:20am, where Mel had the van ready, quickly ate what I could and put the alarm on for 3:30am.  Aleks would be here for a 4am depart.

Brew on at 3:30am, Aleks is there, then a third 'random' guy, Joe Parsons who'd seen what I was doing and had a few hours to spare before work out on the West Coast.  Off at 4:15am, steady away, steep climb up Lingmell Nose and then traverse across to Scafell, up and down West Wall Traverse in thick murk, wet loose scree, but excellent work from Alek and Joe. Many stories, many laughs.

Dawn on Scafell means I have lost time, so we find a cold shivery Angela White at Esk Hause, armed with tea and porridge. I took a quick drink, then headed for Esk Pike solo as Joe and Aleks raced back to Wasdale and their respective work. I doubled back down to Esk Hause Shelter for more tea and the porridge with Angela who was less shivery as the sun started to warm the day.

Solo over Allen Crags and a surprisingly easy run to Glaramara feeling good, not stressing about time. 

Gaynor and Dave Prior, plus Stuart Smith had volunteered to walk into the support point in Langstrath and a massive moveable fun feast of more tea, porridge, Spanish Omelette, orange juice and even a Danish pastry were consumed, as well as more time lost but laughs gained.

I'd had a poor descent of Glaramara, seemingly hitting every boulder field and craglet I could, conscious that Gaynor, Dave and Stuart were watching a decrepit ex-fellrunner descend like a lame donkey.  But, it had given me a chance to look at the ascent of High Raise, which is stuck plum in the centre of the Lakes at a meaningful 2500'.  Rather than the direct 'route one', the easy angled zigzags up towards Stake Pass provided a better option before turning left for High Raise.  Stuart and Keela dog did the zig-zags with me before heading back to the valley and left me to a steady climb, warm in the mid-day sun, and a  surprising sight of a mighty stag on a rocky outcrop.

A quick lap of the trig (an alternative to touching it) and off I went jogging down the long descent to traverse around to Rossett Gill.  Jim Tinnion came towards me, having back tracked from Three Shires.  Bowfell went Ok, with Jim providing a 'Jetboil brew' just off the summit.   

Mick Cooper joined us for Crinkle Crags and on to Long Top we were joined by Debs White, as a final summit before Three Shires.  I'd forgotten who far it was down to the Pass. My days of hammering down here in the Langdale fell race are long gone and I was now very conscious of the time slipping away.  I'd hoped to get over the Coniston Fells and down off Weatherlam in daylight but that was going to be very ambitious. Onsight rough descents in the dark are a recipe for time loss and so it was to be.

As quick as we could at the road crossing, where Mel was going to join me for some Wainwright reminiscing but Mick and Jetboil Jim continued with me. Mick did leave behind the bottle of beer he'd carried out to give me, in the van for my finish. (Monumental from Saltaire Brewery) 

It was a lovely evening, and a stunning sunset but a wheezy chest was giving me some concerns. A final fell brew via Jim at Levers Hawse before he headed back to Three Shires and Mick and myself to Weatherlam. Properly dark now, we saw a headtorch above us, and discover Tory has come up from Tilberthwaite to find us.  I was particularly worried about this descent and the three of us, especially Mick and Tory did a fine job of getting me down to Greenburn.  I don't think we found the right path to start with but soon found ourselves bashing through small yew trees, and gorse, overgrown on boulders and tussocks.  Not my finest hour, but no point stressing.  Tory did ace with her navigation, and we re-located onto good ground and back to normality, Tory heading right to Tilberthwaite and Mick and myself to Colwith Bridge, where Mel and Angela were ready with their vans, about 10:30pm.


I needed to sleep.  

Gone were any plans to get beyond Ambleside and ideally Troutbeck, I just needed sleep, now.  Into the van for food and sleep, Angela headed off with Mick.  A quick meal, then I tried to sleep. 'Three hours' I suggested, to the relief of Angela and Mel, setting the alarm for 2:30am, hence 3:20 to allow twenty minutes to relax and get to sleep.

The wheezing got worse as I laid down. I felt quite panicky and struggled to breath without coughing deeply. 'Is this Covid, Asthma, the remnants of that heavy cold? For ten minutes or so I struggled to settle having to sit up. Mel had settled down to try and sleep across the front seats of her van (transit custom FYI) but came to look at me, and was worried. She calmed me down, gave me some paracetamol and I thought of all that first aid training for asthma and heart attack symptoms.  Settling back down in the 'Z' position, and with great breath control Mel suggested some classical piano music and back in our respective cosy cramped positions I eventually went to sleep, but it had all taken a long time and eaten into my three hour sleep allowance, greatly.

Parking where we did, beside the river was probably one of the coldest spots in the Lakes. Mel hadn't slept at all, due to the cold and lay there just willing the alarm to go off and fire up the MSR Windburner.  I must have had an hour or so of sleep, as I did feel better and my breathing was OK. The cold hit me as Mel opened the side door and I got dressed in the big roomy fleece bag as I drank the first tea of the day.  There was very little kit faff and a second brew drunk as I initiated a rolling plan for me to get moving and Mel to provide breakfast in Skelwith Bridge or Ambleside.

I moved well along the Cumbrian Way, a route I walk a few times a year leading a walking group with Jilly-Milly, so a few more memories enjoyed, too. It was much nicer than the pure tarmac of the main road, that I assume Steve had used, but probably slower.

Breakfast in Ambleside was fit for a King. Scrambled egg and beans and two slices of Granary. I was back on a mission and still hopeful to get back towards scheduled times.   I enjoyed further solo miles around Jenkin Wood towards Troutbeck and then Jo Spivey and Richard had run out from the home to meet me.  More tea and cake offered; Richards is a star baker, although my appetite for sweet stuff was waning even for his excellent juice plum flan. Down across Troutbeck and the A592 and start to climb up Garburn Pass. Tory Miller appeared again having run up from Dubbs before work, and apologised for not having brought tea and the four of us made steady progress on the rocky bouldery track. It's great being able to introduce new friends to each other. Dawn broke as we descended to Kentmere Church were Ed-(Jack-in-the-Box)-Key jumped out from behind a gate, Yep, clutching more tea!

Chris and Jan Little had driven to Kentmere fearful that they would miss me anywhere else, and so Chris and Ed climbed up Kentmere Pike with me as the others headed home or to work. High up Kentmere Pike, Paul and Marcia Aitken caught us up just to say hello and then I was alone over to Harter Fell in a glorious sunny morning.

More Tea!

I tend to keep off my phone on these trips, so I might see a message but not open or read it. I did see one from Justine Carruthers, 'A flask of tea on Harter Fell for you, I will collect the bag tomorrow so just leave it by the cairn.'  Not just a flask of black tea, but a small bottle of fresh milk, too! Nectar.

I was moving well again, and passed an ML training group out early descending to Nan Bield Pass. Climbing again, I'd go past Mardale Ill Bell, which was the fell that Steve Parr didn't class as 2500' foot high but Martin Stone did but as the route goes within a few metres of the summit it was bagged as well. John Parkin, (aka Arctic John) had found me here, looking out of character dressed in shorts.  John had come up to support Gwynn Stokes on a BG adventure but that had been aborted so John had time to kill.


Angela was waiting for us on High Street (most Running Grannies are found on the high street?) with tea and more porridge. Now Angela, having run JoGLE last year does know a thing or two about nutrition but I wasn't for stopping just there and keen to get her moving to get her warm.  We marched and shuffled over to Kidsty Pike, High Raise and Rampsgill Head all in patchy mist, breezy but generally a nice morning.

Skirting back over High Street, we passed a few folk at Thornthwaite Beacon, where there is an intriguing sign, 'Unstable Structure',

The descent, then re-ascent to Stony Cove Pike / Caudale Moor, is just like that steep little step on Seat Sandal, and always hits me between the eyes. Your quads are pumped and lungs not ready for a steep climb.  By now, I was taking each steep climb in 'low gear' determined to keep my breathing steady and not risk the coughing fits that were quite debilitating.   

Jim joined us again around here and we drifted and faffed a bit whilst chatting unfocused on nailing the summit then down to Kirkstone Pass.  It was really good to meet Liz Wakelin, Steve Parr's ex-wife on the descent as well as Paul Aitken again.  My legs were feeling fine, as well as my back, but I just couldn't get into any running, despite plenty of eagerness as the breathing just went off the scale.

Kirkstone Pass

Beware The Chair.  Often said, so why did I sit down?  There was this chair ominously positioned in lee of the car tailgate, next to the slow cooking eggs.  I knew if I sat, then the pace and momentum would take a dive, but it seemed the right and polite thing to do.  Damn.

Quite a crowd had gathered; James Thurlow to charge my battery, (tracker change - going so slowly) John Bamber with his big camera (re-deployed from Gwynn Stokes Montane mis-Adventure) 

Red Screes is the last big climb, and so it was steady away in extra low gear, getting the lungs into maximum efficiency. Last time I was near here, I was with Mel on her Wainwrights and we had to go out to Middle Dodd and High Hartsop Dodd, but the direct line to Dove Crag is all for us, me Liz and Jim.  Liz turned South back to Ambleside leaving Jim and myself to traverse, Hart Crag, Greatrigg Man, Fairfield and over to St. Sunday. The afternoon was starting to darken, and with a few patches of swirling cloud the traverse around Cofa Pike was fun.   This used to be a frequent route of mine, dating back from Outward Bound days, as it's off the beaten track and a nice horseshoe from Deepdale.  Jim mentioned that it would be nice to get off St. Sunday before dark and as we turned to look at the sunset Dwane and Louise Greenwood were rapidly catching us up. Cold on the summit, it was time to layer up for a long evening.  Whilst doing so, I got Jim to off load all the accumulated food in my rucsac that wasn't going to get eaten and sent in valley wards with Dwane and Louise, thus saving a kilogram or two.

Across the outlet of Grisedale Tarn, two more friends appeared; Ros and Neil. It was delightful to see them both. Ros continued on with me, but Neil was on driving duties and so Jim jumped off here to get a lift around to Threlkeld with Neil.

Another very steady climb, but strong and enjoyable. I'd learnt to adopt an 'alpine plod' as per my mountaineering days in the Alps. As long as I kept my heart rate and breathing really easy there was no coughing or wheezing.  Ros caught me up just before the top having taken a few goodies from Jim, and made a bit of a plan.  Jim was keen to get around to Threlkeld and come up my proposed descent route as it was new to him and not as per the tracker link down via Newsham Farm.

At this stage I was aware that I should or could become a passenger in my own adventure as others (Friday evening after all) were taking the reins. I was glad of the company but I did keep wondering how I felt about this and how I'd feel if I had been solo.  I was certainly geared up for it and prepared to be so, but Ros was great company. Then I heard a Geordie voice up in the murk just short of Dollywaggon.  Daveed Atkinson? No....even better Ken Maynard.  Star man Ken, did a great job of navigating us along from Dollywagen to Nethermost where a few more torches loomed out of the mist, as we cautiously search for all three summit cairns in turn.  'Are you folk at the top?' I shouted.  'Not sure, really,' was the consensus, and suddenly there seemed about eight or nine of us bimbling about in happy mood.  

Seriously good to see everyone: Becky and Joel, Mel and Billy Dog, Paul and Emma, Mel and Angela armed with a flask, but soup, this time.  Off we go ...'Er, Why are we heading South West folks? Classic, anybody, everybody, somebody.

Helvellyn summit shelter was a good spot to pause, warm soup welcome and plans checked as to who is doing what.  Most headed off back down to Swirls car park, Mel decided to wait on Lower Man with Billy Dog while Ros and Ken and myself tackle the blustery greasy out and back to Castye Cam.

Reunited with Billy and Mel, we make good steady progress over Whiteside, Raise, both Stybarrow Dodds and then what seemed a very long dog leg out to Watson's Dodd.  A final climb up Great Dodd was actually very pleasurable and all the while I was trying to raise the pace and push off down to the Old Coach Road via the Western shoulder of Clough Head and the steep diagonal path, as used on Open Adventure's Lakes in A Day.  We met Jim again as he'd come up this way to locate the exit point and all was good. Well, apart from a big slippery tumble where I bent one pole, which is now called Suzanna.

I was frustrated at the pace. I had running left in my legs and had envisaged powering along the Helvellyn ridge gaining on my schedule, but the lungs just wouldn't let it happen.  Overall a good laugh, great adventure.


Posting the tracker back to Open Tracking at the finish in Threlkeld.

Thanks Everybody

It was a great fun adventure.  It definitely met the criteria of 1) Realistic Objective 2) Uncertainty of Outcome and 3) Good Companionship, and I enjoyed it all with a few obvious exceptions. It was great seeing folk 'pop-up' unexpectedly and much appreciated.

I did also enjoy my mainly solo approach, and still wonder how the final stage from Kirkstone Pass to Threlkeld would have gone without the various support I received.

I think sub 61 hours was or still is a good target for some who like a solo adventure.  Naturally, those chasing a Steve Parr Round, need to aim for sub 48hours and will be heavily paced and use the 'modern' Martin Stone route and order of peaks.  However, Paul Wilson thinks there is a further route option which may prove to be beneficial. 

I'd like to propose #Parr61 as an objective along the lines that I set out to do, hence attractive to the slower, steady solo adventurer looking for a project.  I certainly think 61 hours would have been achieved if it wasn't for the long dark evenings and of course my breathing problems.  


Two weeks later and I seem to be well on the way to recovery. I did get to work later that day and a couple of J.Sainsbury sponsored step class helped with my active recovery. I spent three or four days eating and sleeping well, and stretching as normal. 

I've seen my GP and was referred quickly to a specialist nurse. I've been on an asthma inhaler and monitoring my peak flow (breath) daily with improving results.  I also had a chest X-ray yesterday, which is 'all clear'.  I've yet to do any proper exercise but will be doing soon.

#Parr61 To Do List

Monday, 12 October 2020


#Parr 61

In 1984, Steve Parr completed a run around all 2500' foot fells of the Lake District. He wrote an article entitled, 'Beyond The Bob Graham' as a simple report of his sub 43hour 'round' of 61 peaks. 

I got to know Steve a year or so later, and helped him achieve a Winter BG, which he did all but solo, with me pacing the middle leg three. Together we battled really rough underfoot conditions of shin deep crusty inconsistent snow and wet bog from Steel Fell all the way to Bowfell. As a pacer, I tried to do the hard graft but it was tedious and extremely hard work. Steve took turns in front and fortunately conditions improved with harder frozen snow over the higher tops of the Scafell massif.

I vaguely recall West Wall traverse being exciting, but vividly remember slumping down in the snow halfway down Scafell as Steve raced down to Wasdale nearly two hours behind schedule. I was knackered and sore as I arrived at the road a broken man, and Stve was halfway up Yewbarrow.  It was my hardest day out on the fells ever and I was very fit then.

Steve did make up time and went sub 24hr for a Winter BG. Shortly afterwards, Martin Stone went around completely solo to eclipse Steve's effort. It was all pre-social media and Steve, and Martin both modest mountain men.  I never really got hooked by the Winter BG thing, but totally understand those who do. A friend, Iain Taylor, did just that achieving his goal after many years of toil, training, trying, waiting, and Martin's achievements are simply outstanding.

Steve had told me of his 61 Peaks round, and sent me a copy of his report, 'Beyond The Bob Graham' and I filed it away, to be undertaken at a future date. He quite rightly proposed it as something to do 'beyond the Bob Graham, perhaps a reminder some folk need now.

Sadly, Steve disappeared in the Himalayas a few years later, and his story is little know. Martin Stone summed this up just yesterday'

"In 1992, I optimised Steve's route into the current fig 8 and included a 62nd peak Mardale Ill Bell, because it is exactly 2500’ and a Wainwright. Instead of attempting the round, I did the Dragon's Back Race in 1992 and everything went quiet until 2019. Since then there have been 4 successful completions*."
* successful completions - details to follow

As I said, it's been an amazing year of adventure runs and records. I could write at length about this although I'm sure Ally Beavan has done a better job in his new book, 'Broken'. 2020 Covid-19 has been an influencer but I also believe ethics and ethos are ever evolving and inspiration comes from many different places, people and different forms. 

Steve Parr's approach and attitude was such, as was that of Mel Steventon's Wainwright Round this Autumn.   It was during Mel's round that I found myself out on the fells, for a few long days wandering if I would ever do Steve's round. Any hope of me doing sub 48hours (as Steve suggested) has long gone, not least proven by my friend, a 'young fit and strong' Howard Dracup.  But a slowly dawning light bulb moment, inspired by all these gave me this plan. 

#Parr61 is my Round

Based on the route and summits that Steve Parr did in 1984, I'm recreating what Steve did but aiming for sub 61, not his incredible 43hrs. As a 'nod' to Steve, I'm going mainly solo with road support, and during the Winter months as Steve was a prolific Winter mountaineer. 

I am open to 'pop-up' support on the fells, but no lengthy pacing has been arranged. Hence, a few folk doing a fell or three then retreating to their car / start point would be very welcome and much appreciated.  That way, there is much reduced traffic mileage, with no pacers being car shuttled.   If you fancy a trip it would be great to see you, just keep it real, please.  I'll accept any food and drink you might wish to share, banter or abuse optional.

I've decided I can do my own thing; hence, I'm starting at Threlkeld, going over Blencathra and Skiddaw first then finishing off Great Dodd. Why? I see no need to start and finish at the Moot Hall, and a trip taking in 'Bog House' is just a must.   Threlkeld is the closest road point to home, has parking and a coffee shop, so what more do I need? 

There will be a Open Tracking tracker - note that this GPX route is thanks to Jim Tinnion who did some number crunching in the planning stage (last week) and isn't always my exact line. There will be outline schedule there as well. Again, it's best guestimate and could be +/- a couple of hours each way as time goes on.
If you do want to join me on the fells for a summit or two, please do, #BringMeABrew - anything, not just tea, and a butty if you can. Brown Tea, no sugar, Butties veggie, Banter and Abuse.
I'm not after wholesale pacers, and not offering taxi services back to your start point. Mel, Gwen and Lindsey will be feed me at road crossings and I have a few other folk maybe, on the fells tbc. But there are some convenient loops and horseshoes where it will be great to see friends, old and new. 

If anyone can #BringMeABrew in Langstrath on Thursday morning ....that would be awesome.


Please be safe, Covid secure, self-contained and responsible.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020


According to facebook,  three years ago I completed a fourth Dragon's Bace.  Last May, I set off again, getting timed out mid-day on Tuesday.  I have since jokingly call DBR 2019 '4.3'.

Last week, I was interviewed by John Kynaston for his YouTube channel talking about a wide range of things, not just DBR.   There was good banter from the live facebook audience and I exchanged a lot of messages with folk over the following few days.  OK, DBR has been a part of my life for nigh on thirty years but it's far from the only thing.

Race Director, Shane Ohly with Joe Faulkner, the only person to have completed all four Berghaus Dragon's Back Races® in 1992, 2012, and 2015 (and subsequently 2017). Amazing! ©

I hated being the 'only person to have done four' and didn't want to continue that ever-present record as doing so for the wrong reasons would be sick.  Indeed, I smiled and 'lol' when a few minutes before the start prior to last years fun run, Jim Mann said, 'Just think, in five days time, I will have equalled your record Joe'. 
'And in a much quicker aggregate time! said I.
'But a few hours later you will have done five' said Jim

I went to an evening talk at Eden Runners many years ago, given by a guy who'd run every London Marathon. I think he was on number twenty eight, and had also run across the USA once or twice. He reckoned he was the youngest of the ever presents, had run them all under three hours.   It was a fascinating talk, and the questions afterwards reflected this.  As the questions waned I asked, 'Do you think you'll ever choose not to do it?  There was an expectation in the room that he had a good chance to be London's Last Man Standing.

This post isn't about what went wrong, or to relive the good times, but I've spent quite a few hours talking and listening to several people about their DBR experiences, expectations and aspirations.  I've talked with folk about their 'DNFs'; always a different reason for each of us.

A few have contacted me about online coaching; something I haven't felt qualified to do.  I'm not currently scientifically trained or qualified in that sphere, and it's along while since I studied sports science and psychology 35 years ago at college. However, I am a professional trainer, facilitator and trained as a Counsellor; skills I draw on working with clients.  I am fascinated in what makes people 'tick'  (no pun intended) and the mental psychological, emotional and maybe even spiritual side of  long adventures in the mountains, such as the Dragon's Back Race.   I purposely avoided the use of the word 'Ultra' there.  DBR is not an 'ultra' in my view, it's more than that.
Yes, many will disagree, after all it is more than 26.2 miles.

So, the other Dragon's Back 'FAQs'

Q: How did the various DBR years differ?  'Vastly', is my response.  '92 was in black and white.
No blog, no RD report, very few photos, simply superb photo journalism by Rob Howard.


57 people, in 26 pairs and one lone Swede who all quickly became a bunch of mates.   The Army were providing the infrastructure.  Two square meals a day, and erecting 14' foot army tents, dark and gloomy, but very breathable. A mobile field kitchen, with petrol burners that could melt iron.  The route was based around some creaky grid references, and we quickly realised the squaddies, couldn't be trusted to be where the said they would be 'manning' the checkpoints.    They were nervous and then gobsmacked about having any women in the event, not least an attractive looking one who went on to win in a mixed pair, nor two more finishing in the top nine pairs.  (Wendy Dodds and Sue Walsh, FYI)

Was it really a race?  Yes. for Martin, Helene, Mark and Adrian, closely fought and well documented.  Several now iconic black and white main stream press images by Rob Howard illustrate this, whilst the rest of us were happy to get to the finish in one piece, as quickly as possible and help each other as much as we could.  For Steve and myself our friendly battle was against Wendy and Sue, and playing a good rhthym guitar to Martin, Helene, Adrian and Marks lead.

We had no formal mid-day support, no mid-day 'dropbag',  but there were a handful of 'supporters', friend of some participants who between them supported everyone as best the could. They'd leapfrog the handful of road crossings and make sure every one was watered.  It's a long way from what I have seen of late in some other ultras.

2012 was different.  

2012 was professionally produced, and excellently delivered by Shane and his Ourea events team.
Adding in all the Welsh 3000' foot summits on day one as a bit cheeky, dare I say disrespectful to class of '92, and those additional 3000' footers ate up and spat out all but 37 of the c.100 starters.

Luckily Steve Dubie, my original '92 partner, and myself paced ourselves well sneaking through Nant Peris as a cut-off was being invoked towards the end of Day One.  We finished the day OK, fifteen hours in the saddle, went strong on Day Two, but Steve took a half day sabbatical on Wednesday.

I was just getting going.  Revived by Day Three, I finish strongly in 15th place overall.  Not bad for 'Fatty Faulkner' and catching younger faster runners.   Apart from sun burnt nipples, I got to enjoy a DBR presentation.  I hadn't been to the presentation in 1992 as we'd been the local A&E with Dubie's knee ligaments. 'CL nearly severed' was the diagnosis.  But this time, a fittingly sweet evening at Creggan Castle, sharing a couple of beers with a few fellows waiting for Wendy to finish and then retired to bed happy.     Well, except for the news that my sister in law had decided to end her own life .earlier that week.  Life is easy in the bubble on the mountains.

The next morning's bus ride back to Conway was an experience.


2015 race production settled into the groove. Lot's had been learnt by everyone and I don't remember much about the racing, apart from a few chats with a few folk, talk of deadman's willies, climbing Nameless mountain with Basil, and that irksome tarmac road at the end.  2017 was similar. A larger, and more psyched set of ultra runners, GPS enabled and collectively much more 'corporate nouse'.
I actually got into race mode on Tuesday pm, but the hot Cambria sun had other ideas and fried me alive.  Day Four afternoon was the hottest and dustiest racing I have ever done, with route choice being dictated by stream courses and fresh water.

This picture tells a story.
Early afternoon, Day Four mid-way CP, kneeling at Captain Cowie's feet, as he drenches me in water.

No sun burnt nipples this time, more suitable clothing, and a wet T-shirt on my head at every opportunity.

It's my photo taken of Ourea's Media wall at the GL3D overnight campsite.

An excellent event and essential DBR graduation.  What a brill idea.

Spring 2019 Prep 

In the build up to 2019, I worked on the first official recce weekend with Kate from RAW Adventures.  We had very cold, snowy conditions and Crib Goch was way off the agenda. A lot was learned by many, and I did go back a few times with different people to talk, 'run' and coach on varying individual recce days.

Crib Goch later in the Spring, private recce
I met some brilliant people doing so, many of which went on to succeed in their goals and dreams, some who surprisingly did not, occasionally through accident or an unlucky error. 

I'm pleased to see Kate will be heading up all the DBR recces in prep for 2021, and hope to be able to support her accordingly.


So, to 2019 and my own experience.
Picture this.  I'm standing in the Castle, ten minutes before the start. Shane re-iterates that the timing will start at the far end of the Castle Walls, so there's no need to push the front, and asks the faster runners to start at the back, to allow the slower people more time.  (Cut-offs are finite)

So why do I gravitate to the back? Quietly confident, complacent maybe. I wish Jim a speedy and efficient journey and moved away a small distance, each in our own space. I moved further back so that I'm observing the whole scene in front of me.  What is all this about?  Do I really want to be here? Do I want this any more?  Certainly, what I found in front of me seemed alien; the behaviours of some in congruent with my own values, and I struggled to hear  the Welsh Male Voice Choir.

My body language was appalling. Conscious that I was leaning somewhat casually against a 1000 year old Castle wall, I became aware of a photographer pointing a long lens at me.  I don't think they bothered to press the shutter, or hope they didn't.

For several minutes I thought, 'You don't have to do this. Walk away now.' I watched the start, went for the customary loo stop, then set off at the back, catching the Dragon's tail on the outskirts of the town.  I hated that first morning. A few minutes pleasure running with Mel over the Carneddau a steady climb over Tryfan with a nice French couple, then a cup of tea at PyP.

A good climb of Crib Goch, followed by 'Lets see if I can pass 10 people on the descent to camp?' No racing, just let your fell running experience count for something.  It did. I passed ten before Lliwedd.

For the record I kept a low profile in camp. Tried to avoid the crowds with a late start on Tuesday. Made a couple of numpty errors leaving camp.  Enjoy an hour or so with Peter heading across to the Rhinogs but messed up coming into Day Two cut-off and missed it by 5-10 mins.  After an initial numb feel, a glorious sense of relief engulfed me.

Further reading:

Original blogs for 2012 and 2019

Training opportunities:

I am very willing to support and help anyone in their future DBR endeavours.  I'm happy to have a free phone or skype call regarding training and preparation, hopes and fears. Remember, I am not a coach and so will not write you a training programme or sign you up for a monthly deal.  I will try and sort you head out and get you on the right track, now or in the future.

Plus, of course, you can book a 'One-to-One' day on the hills, with myself (or one of the NAV4 tutor team if you prefer).  Details can be found on the Personal Coaching pages of the  NAV4 Adventure website.

Hardskills, softskills's a complex issue.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

ITERA Part Two

ITERA 2019 - Part Two

Group Bothy inside the barn
I didn't sleep deeply, but twenty-five minutes of nodding my bike helmet against the railing behind passed quickly, and did enough to make me 'sober' again, and I hear the alarm.  The trick with getting out of the relative warmth of a Bothy-Bag is to get moving fast.  The cold air outside it's micro climate cuts into you and so we were quickly on the bikes and spinning away.

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.

Fort Augustus 
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.
Later, we walked into town to get a proper sit down meal, and afterwards the small dusty stage area behind the curtain became our own surreal little haven.  We'd earned a little bit of preferential treatment, given we had no personal bags, but as soon as the other teams were approaching we went outside.

Final Stage

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

Other teams started arriving, including our friends Lakes Crusaders, so I brought them a tray of tea and coffee and sat outside in the afternoon sun, playing 'food swopsies', a peculiarity of Exped AR racing.  I was impressed with their gear management. They had large saddle-bag / seat post bags with gear and food in and had played a clever game of strategy throughout.

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 

As the 7pm re-start deadline approached, I realised that the bags just weren't going to arrive, and in the greater scheme of things they didn't really matter.  70km on a bike in three days old strides and no undies could work.  We geared up and set off in a group of eight or ten teams, all in various states of decay, excitement and determination.

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'
'You OK?
'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.

Yep, dislocated!
A short ride with clean bikes and the hostel is busy with spaced out teams de-gunging in the sun.  I'd given our race phone to Paul to take to hospital so that he could phone with news or to be collected. An hour or so later he phoned and I drove across town to collect him.  Still in his cycle shorts and smelly gear, he was a fine sight and the medical staff had been intrigued by his accident and the event which had led to it.  Indeed they googled it to see all about it.

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?
The remainder of the day is spent washing, eating, packing, sleeping before a very generous evening reception given to us by the towns folk of Inverness,  A few more beers helped us sleep and the following day we headed home.

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
It certainly was alright.  Brilliant team effort, brilliant retirement gig.   There is some talk of me doing another one, and coming out of retirement.  Maybe it should be 'NAV4:ONO'  or 'One Night Only' perhaps a 36 hour race? Maybe not.

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.