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.




Monday, 24 February 2020

ITERA

ITERA

NAV4: JRP

What an adventure, what a laugh

Our race plan was to 'make good decisions' race well and ... have a laugh!  Ok, some moments weren't so funny but overall a happy and fun team completed five days racing around wonderful North Western Scotland based out of Inverness.


My team-mates were Eddie Winthrope, Alli Holland and Paul Taylor.  I'd raced with Eddie in ITERA Wales in 2014, but both Alli and Paul were new to the NAV4 madness.  It was Paul's first Expedition AR, and Alli's first for twelve years.  Between us there was a lot of experience of Exped AR and a high degree of competency in all disciplines.



'Why NAV4: JRP?'  Well this was tagged Joe's Retirement Party and I wanted to go out on a high.  The route did not disappoint, neither my team-mates.  Nick-named 'The Beast' due to his powerful Kayak wrangling, Paul was particularly impressive meshing into an experienced team and learning quickly. 
Alli - 'Mini-Beast' probably has the best power to weight ratio of anyone in the race; just a shame she's only five stone piss wet through.  Eddie, master technician, strategist and facilitator.  I had three very good carers.



'Stage O'
Just a quick 5km trek around Dunrobin Castle prior to the kayak stage.  Alli manages to fall over her own feet just metres after the start line, Eddie hurdles clear of her and we all fall about laughing.

'Close the two gates behind you' says Course planner Tom as well head off last up the road.  Gate one was OK, but Gate two needed a complete re-hang and was a three person job.




Stage One - Paddle
Last into transition, but then all Ok really. No dramas.  Paddled well, good technique from everyone, good lines and reading of the tidal water and so we made up many places.  Transitioned calmly (had to tidy up other teams litter ...) and onto the Bikes.






Stage Two - MTB
All drafting well and taking turns on the front, we'd planned to drop CP1 and CP2 take the two 1 hour penalties, by using the road.  The complex navigation and off-road route wasn't worth two hours..  Great work from the team as I just wasn't feeling on form, so they each take some weight out of rucsac; a kilo or two shared out made all the difference and I started to eat and drink more and recovered.  Probably didn't do so on the paddle, and of course missed out on my mid-morning coffee!





I really started to enjoy the MTB ride and this is Cape Wrath Ultra route country. The late afternoon view up towards Suilven was stunning with it looking super steep end on.  I had been up Suilven a year ago and it had crossed my mind that it would be pomposterious to cross such a wild beak area in an Exped race. especially by Kayak,  but here we were;

Stage Three - Paddle
Back on the Boats, easy twilight paddling achieving approximately 5kph on calm water.  (Leaders fast estimate for this 55km leg being stated as ten hours!)   

The route connected together a series of Lochans strung along a geological line.  Suilven is a magical hill and a 600 metre climb about halfway of this 15km stage.  About three hours were spent up and down the hill, all in the dark and a bit rainy and breezy, but generally OK.  However, the 'portaging' of kayaks in between the lochans was just awful. I'd expected rough grass, perhaps, sodden and boggy so that you could easily tow the boats on wet grass, but the route took us through some very rough boulder fields and was not at all flat. The rocks were sharp and whilst there were tiny wee trods occasionally they were useless when Beating the Boats across them.




Finally, we get out to the Northern road and complete another few kms relatively easily on undulating tarmac. Eddie was feeling cold and sleepy; so it was his turn to be pampered and we had a 45 minute 'picnic' with the NAV4 Super Bothy bag in use for a power snooze, hot food and drink from the Jetboil (I also have an MSR 1.8 litre Windbuner in the team bag.)  Off again for a few more road kms, then another paddle with increasing headwinds.  Landing on the next headland was tough, as there was another steep portage then another wee lochan, then another 400m heather bashing up to the road.  Despite having made some portage hauling straps were were suffer hand injuries due to the physical effort involved.

Another 5km on windswept headwind roads then onto the next beach for a mid-day power snooze.  The sun was up and dry and sheltered behind the boats so we took a 30 minute kip with socks and shoes off and feet drying.  The last big paddle crossing was ahead and quite a complicated route to follow.  Hugging the shore to begin, with a cross wind and rolling sea.  Not too bad but needed concentration.  Long paddle down to Isle of Mains initially in the company of  'Team Macleod' (Nicola Macleod, Dave Spence, Si Enderby and Adam Marcinowicz)

Being world class racers, Team Macleod pulled slowly away from us, whilst we in turn passed another couple of teams who were looking decidedly ropey.

'Turn right at Isle of Mains' had said Tim, the Sea Safety Tech, and this is where the hard work started.  Cutting straight across Loch Broom, a distance of 1.5km, which took nearly 90 mins of really hard effort. 'Team Mac' were perhaps a km ahead and we could just about make them out turning right along the shore into the wind.  Apparently, the tide wasn't very strong against us but progress was very slow and soon Eddie voiced what I had been thinking for a few minutes.

'Looks like they are paddling back this way?'  Yep, Team Mac had turn back and the were soon a few hundred metres away making thumbs down gestures.  We shouted our agreement and headed back left and into a relatively sheltered and sunny but breezy bay.

Safely beached in the sheltered bay for a bit of a team conference with Team Mac, we were shortly joined by a third team, French I think.   Pondering our options, the 6km 'upstream' paddle was just not going to happen at the moment, or the next few hours. I dug out the emergency safety phone (Nokia 108 - £13 inc £10 credit)  and phoned Event Control.  'All three teams safe but considering options', I reported.

Not sure about the French, (after all the are French) but the obvious thing was to 'bail out' (no pun intended) and head for Ullapool.  Hence a 5km 'downstream' leg, which we duly did in around and hour.


"Stage Ullapool"
This was an unexpected but necessary course of action, as this now put us out of the competitive race.  However, just like 'Sound Mountain Judgement' on the mountains, Sound Water Judgement was used.

It's all a bit weird being in a town, in race kit, evening time, when everyone is out for a beer and food, a bit damp, probably smelly not that we'd notice and all without a smart phone.  Ultimately, we wanted to get ourselves over to the next transition, under our own steam, be it taxi, etc.  as it was our decision to head here away from the race route.  This might have entailed staying in Ullapool the night and finding a suitable taxi for four plus kayaks next morning, not an easy task.

There were many teams further behind us in the race and many had abandoned further up the coast.  Open Adventure and Paul McGreal as event coordinator did a fine job of booking a coach at 4:30pm and we were all bused around to Transition that evening.

We were to be picked up by MPV. You had to have a bit of a chuckle when a eight seater MPV was sent to collect us and Team Macleod. Yes, as that's eight seats including the driving.   'Ok, I'll stay and wait with the kayaks and for the kayak guys.'  So another pint and a snooze on the pier for me.

It was Chris Gazeley's infamous 'International Kayak Rescue Team' who picked me up. I helped load the boats a bit but kept out of the way as they have their system and I was a bit of a zombie, and hence a liability.

A twenty mile drive around to transition followed. 'So, what will your team have done this evening Joe?'  asked Chris.  'Hopefully sorted the kit, put the tent up, made a plan, and will hand me a cup of tea when I arrive'  said I.  And so they did.  I was asleep in minutes.

Up for 3am?  
Trek the road for 4km eating breakfast then a good strong climb over Antshallach.


Moving well on the rough ground , navigating with ease and all appear cruising.  Paul takes as tumble and I heard a crack, 'Broken pole?' ... 'Yep, broken pole.'  No other dramas. Mandatory controls and short route option taken as we need to make up time.





Kinlochewe - Transition
Transition onto Bikes after an hours tentage in transition.  This is a clever way to ensure each team has a proper tent and to encourage them to sleep, maybe.
Off on the road with a buoyant French team who wanted to ride with us, but three a breast on these single track roads, and them not really taking turns wasn't working for me. Eddie our diplomat thought they wanted to work together navigationally as well, but they were younger and faster than us and I was happy to see them go.

Another night fall as we ascend an easy fast forest track route over the Bealach and down into Strath Carron.  Unfortunately in started to rain, and so the fast forest descent and then main road down the Strath made us all very wet and cold.

We needed to find shelter and 'gear up'. As we rode we sized up any possible shelter, an open empty garage, bus stop or similar would be ideal. There's a few houses, sone with dim lights glowing through curtained windows but we're too desperate, yet.

Then I remembered that Strath Carton has a station, and what's more, The Strathcarron Hotel right next door.   We weren't the first team to make use of his bolt hole. The handful of late night drinkers had been watching the trackers and knew much about the race.  Wet and cold, the bar staff sensibly waved us through to the hardwood floor of the pool room, which became our haven for 30mins or so. A round of Hot Chocolates were great, so great I wanted another,

Never pass up the chance to sit on a toilet. That, plus the Exped AR need to multi-task, means I came back into to order a second hot drink wearing a complete set of dry base layers plus mid layer, ready for an epic night.  A second round of Hot Chocolates would have been too rich, so tea was ordered.  Unfortuately, I don't think the 'well oiled, well meaning barman' had made tea before.  It seemed to be warm water mixed with milk powder and tea; Ok, warm and wet, but it repeated on my constantly as we biked climbed over the next watershed.

I'd ridden up here a few Summers ago. I'd bike-packed into a bothy and knew the climb was a tough rough and steep zig-zag. Steep enough to have me walking, pushing and retching.  The others seemed to be be spinning up easily.

Previously, I'd biked off North East from the Bealach but our route head South East, on what looked like a reasonable bridleway track. It was very dark, raining and I was starting to suffer. I was sleepy and the track deteriorated. It might have been rideable in daylight but not in the dark, rain and with many other teams having churned it up in front of us.

My new bike, although comfy is a tall frame, and with quite skinny slick tyres I wasn't enjoying this descent.  It also seemed to go in for ever. I was conscious that I wasn't contributing to the team effort, concentrating on keeping myself upright, sane and 'ungrumpy'.

I was out front, pushing more than freewheeling, and trying to read the map.  Didn't want to lead us the wrong way and checked the compass frequently.  Another gate, another, boggy stream crossing. I remember crossing a footbridge and the swollen 'burn' appearing to flow the wrong way.  Compass out, double check. 'Yep, that's right were here....only here'

I kept looking back, count three sets of headlights, yep, all here. Paul's bringing up the rear, Alli and Eddie appear Ok in the middle.  I'm aware Paul is suffering but, we all are to some extent and there's, no crossed words. It's Churchillian ....keep pushing on, no point stopping.

Paul later told me his wire cable clamp dial on his bike shoes weren't gripping due to the mud, so in essence he's riding in Crocs. Plus his bike light was flopping about on the handlebars.

Eventually, we reach the tarmac at the road head.  Yay! Enjoy the smooth sleek riding whilst you can.  N-i-c-e but quickly soporific.



After few miles of undulating tarmac and I was very sleepy, weaving down the road with one eye closed in turn.  Alli is alongside me and aware. She shouted to Eddie, 'Stop Now!' or similar and miraculously we find an open barn with a bail of straw.  Quickly, I'm sat on the warm straw in the barn, team mates either side, NAV4 Super Bothy over the top of us and set the alarm' for 25mins sleep.

To be continued......

Q: Will they ever wake Up?

Q: Will Joe fall off his bike?

Q: Why does Eddie's finger look like it should have it's own Viz magazine story?

Find out on 3rd March, in Part Two.
 .......



Monday, 3 June 2019

DBR - CoMo and Marginal Losses


Dragon's Back Race 

The Dragon's Back Race starts inside Conwy Castle, and participants 'run' along the castle walls before heading up onto the Snowdonia mountains.  The Welsh Male Voice choir added to the atmosphere, and prior to the start I drifted to the back, feeling unattached and struggled to get involved. Big crowds and ceremony aren't my style, and I just wanted to get started.

I didn't enjoy the morning of Day One.  It's a long steady drag up onto the Carnedd massif, although higher up, the cloud and clag, and running a section with my friend Mel lifted my spirits. I started to pass many people on the descent to Ogwen, and went quickly through the CP without access to my drop-bag.  The rocky ground of the Glyders suits me but, I was struggling for 'CoMo'  ...Commitment and Momentum a mantra I use when Mountain Biking over technical ground and in many ways very lacking this week.

Something needed to change so I stopped for a cup of Earl Grey at the Pen-y-Pass YHA checkpoint. I enjoyed it so much, I had a second one ( well why not?) and then set off afresh for the scrambling climb of Crib Goch.

'Ok, let's see if I can pass ten people on the long descent off Snowdon.' All went well and I enjoyed the company of 'Basil' on the climb up Lliwedd. I descended well, relaxed and easy and finished Day One comfortably.  Good food and sleep was my priority, that and to avoid the early start queues.
I had a good stretch and massage on my old school 9mm 'Karrimat' and then went to lay out my Thermarest.  'Where is it, Oh no...left in the car.  No worries, let's get some more dinner....'

A good hour spent eating and chatting then off to bed.  I pull out my Down quilt, ready to settle down, massage my feet, and let them breath,  only to discover I've packed my Rab Top Bag, rather than the quilt.  Little thing's but each very annoying - let's call them Marginal Losses, and added to the forgotten trekking poles.

I did sleep well, which was a bonus and decided on a relatively late start.

CoMo and Marginal Losses

Day Two had begun with what only can be described as a comedy of numpty errors, failing the kit check mis-packing my map, breaking safety pins, and even once started being called back by tent mate Oli as he found my phone stashed in our tent.   The compensation of a later start is a peaceful warm up over the Moelwyns and I found finally found my Dragon's Back rhythm ascending out of Maentrwog, enjoying the next few miles with Peter, a first timer who had previously volunteered in the Ourea events team.

Pushing on comfortably towards the mid-day Checkpoint, I was starting to pass those who were suffering and who would be tight up against the CP cut-off time. I was moving well, feeling much better and actually running racing lines towards Cwm Bychan.    By cutting corners off the snaking 'DBR trod', I was passing small groups of suffering Dragonettes, (sadly including Sarah Fuller, who'd 'had an horrendous morning if weapons grade suffering' )

With twenty five minutes to cut-off I was moving well - walking and running on firmer ground and bed rock. I was really starting to enjoy myself but conscious I need to bear left and drop into the valley.  Glancing left I'd lost sight of the DBR snaking peleton and a quick glance at the compass confirmed I need to keep going left.

'No Worries, time is Ok' I thought and continued, inspired by the terrain and with adrenaline rising.  Then things got worse; more rough ground, thick heather, vicious gorse and big boulders and all on slope gentle facing the wrong aspect.  I stopped on a large boulder. Map out, reading glasses out, compass...accurately locate myself.   Oh shit, I'm actually nearly 1km right of the penultimate CP, at the right height, but that ground looks hard!  I gave it another five minutes of effort, on equally slow and ground and jumped up onto another large flat boulder... looking back I'd only covered about 300 metres.

'Game Over' I said out loud.  Only a miracle would have me making the cut-off and I just didn't have the fight for that.  A slight sense of numbness and shock quickly subsided as I navigated and ran well, heading intentionally rightwards to the road and enjoying being back in control.

Cwm Bychan is a tranquil place, accessible only by a narrow gated road. I use to come here quite often as a teenage as it's the road end access point to the Rhinogs if you come by the West coast train.  Llyn Cwm Bychan is beautiful, still and peaceful and I thought about taking a swim, but thought anyone who might be watching my tracker might get a bit worried, or laugh maybe?

I walked the 1km up the road to the CP.  I wondered how I was, what did I feel, not doubt I would be asked a few times today, possibly with a camera in front of me. I simply felt Calm and Content.

So, they you have it folks .....Dragon's Back No.5 was not to be.  I messed up, perhaps under prepared and certainly not on form.


Time to Go Home

With a brew in hand, thanks to Captain Cowie, I heard that Mel had made it through the cut-off and was in good spirits.  Then Sarah arrived missing the cut-off.  We both had tried, there were tears of sadness, effort  and relief.

Then another runner was seen coming back down from the Rhinogs. This was Mel, she was Ok, but was sore, and felt that she'd be slow over the second half of the route, be late and more importantly chasing darkness and didn't want to be a liability to herself or others.  A brave decision. Well Done, Mel.

After the unexpected, but strangely enjoyable bus drive round the Camp Two, (thank you Emily)  I had a quiet evening in camp, keeping out of the way and doing my best to support my tent mates, all of which were going well.  No half days for me; I was going home in the morning.  Lying in your tent in racing gear, no longer in 'the game' you are aware of the smell, stickiness and ache of your body and stupidity of my sleeping bag and mat combo mistakes were annoying.   I also didn't have any proper trousers.

Beautiful Blaenau 

So, an early bus to Blaenau Ffestiniog, a couple of hours in the community cafe, excellent customer service,  including a free coffee and finding me a charging lead, then banter and breakfast. Another scenic bus trip over to Conwy and I was home for 4pm.  The dirty washing was in the machine and DBR washed away by 6pm.

There was lots to do at home.  My 'CBA*' attitude at the start of the race was a bit worrying, but I had things to do. DBR was just Week One of a three week road trip: including a trip to my sisters house in Pembrokeshire and then onto Somerset for work with James Thurlow and Open Adventure.

Washed Up?

*CBA - (Can't Be Arsed) I felt somewhat unmotivated and lacking in passion for this year's race.  I was under no illusions as to how tough it is.  2012 was toughest - 2017 tough due to the very hot weather and super dry mountains.  During this year's race the weather forecast steadily improved and I had no desire to repeat the fight to get through the heat of 2017.  

Unbeknown to many I did arrive back in Dragon's Back Camp Four on Thursday evening.  This was to help Sandra and the catering team and indulge in my secret guilty pleasure of washing big pots behind the scenes.  Even on Day One, I was concerned that I was applying my talents and skills in the right places, and knew my efforts were better served up behind the scenes.  I contacted Shane and asked for special permission to return to work with the stunning volunteer team.


There is no doubt I was under par in terms of mental and emotional preparation. My packing and admin showed up some errors and I was maybe complacent.  For example, I realised I'd forgotten my poles and I drive down the M6. I would have used them from Day Two onwards, but thought, 'Oh Well, perhaps they are cheat sticks ...and I'll just have to manage without'.   Maybe I should have made more of an effort to replace them, maybe I wanted the additional challenge. 

Equally so, you can't pull off such big adventures without great commitment and drive. It was simply lacking .... I could only see a sweaty, sunburning sufferfest ahead, and very little enjoyable challenge.

#DragonsBackRace # catering


Wednesday, 20 March 2019

DBR - Sixty days

DBR - Sixty Days

So ...I've decided to do the Dragon's Back Race again.

The past two weekends has seen me out on, and around the mountain of Snowdonia  as well as attend Huw Jack Brassington's excellent 'Fell Running Legends' evening.  I've four days out with Dragonettes, mainly in some challenging weather.  A week in Exmoor where I clocked up 4000m' of ascent on Exmoor, with the highest point being 520metres.  But today was different; third time lucky and we did a super stealth raid on Crib Goch and the Snowdon Horseshoe.

I've spent the winter months trying to find a reason NOT to do the Dragon's Back.  Nope....sorry, still can't.  It's suits me. It's my Welsh Spring week's holiday....I hope it's not too hot, again!

#sixtydaystogo
#contourscrucial

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Joe's Joss Naylor Challenge

Chasing the 12 hour time of a fifty year old was never going to happen; too fast for me?
But come last summer, I told Hilary Barber that I was thinking of a 15 hour Joss. Hilary, and then Ros  Blackmore, said they wanted to do it, as well.  So they're to blame ... although neither looks old enough.

An infected tick bite and two months of feeling bad put paid to last years attempt, so now it was time to stop procrastinating and get it done. Weekends are busy work time for me, and a mid-week date would give quieter fells and I wanted to keep the run small and informal. I simply told Ros and Hilary they either had to do it with me or pace, so that was sorted.   I'd been busy 'working' in Scotland and the Hebrides, with some slow days in very heavy terrain and wasn't feeling confident at all.  With the summer months passing quickly and a 'iffy' forecast, all the last minute arrangements were made sat on the ferry coming back from Benbecula two days before.

A quick post on facebook for a few willing pacers and all was set.  Berni Gilmartin would lead me off from Pooley, Ros volunteered Neil Bowmer for Leg two, Kirkstone to Dummail and Scott Newburn kindly filled the gap to Styhead where the wimpy Ros and Hilary had been bullied to do the glory leg.

0530 Start

The rumours that Matt Neale and Jim Mann would come for a pre work, and post UTMB recovery jog respectively were true, so four of us set off  'when ready' in calm weather. It's just a shame I hadn't sussed the way out of the fields in the dark.

I was lucky with the weather all day; light NW winds, dry, dry-ish underfoot and good banter. Easy pace to Kirkstone, Berni providing positive time checks and puffing a bit carrying all the gear.  Good Lad, Berni.

First time 'selfie; on the fells.  Leg One...quick let's drop Jimm

I'd taken the 15 hour schedule off the JNC page, added a few minutes to the early leg and hoped to be on schedule by the later stages and gain a little if I could.

Ros had a brew waiting at Kirkstone and Neil loaded himself up with the gear and food. He
was  most upset when I only ate one piece of malt loaf, but Leg Two  is all ups and downs so no flat cruisy ground to eat on.  I can't eat going uphill anymore - too busy breathing!



Dunmail came really easily.  I'd decided that I need to relax and run well on the downs, although it seems any ascent beginning with the letter 's' is a steep sod.

Boss Lady Charmian Heaton was waiting at Dunmail, along with her partner Steve Wathall who'd come along for the remainder.  Scott Newburn was official pacer as far as Bowfell, but we picked up Young Phil Wilkinson on High Raise who'd lead us to Styhead and the dream team of Ros and Hilary.



Dunmail social
Scott peeled off at Stake Pass to run back via the Langdale Pikes and we three, me, The Old Master Steve and the Youngster (Phil is only 30 ....I did a BG before he was born) found Rossett via three slightly different routes, then climbed Bowfell well by the latest 'fastest line'  (Yeah, right!)

Bowfell is a milestone and turning point just as it is on a Bob Graham; you've gained the higher Central fells and head North over Esk Pike and Great End, then Styhead and Gable.  A few spots of rain led to nothing and the forecasted showers never really materialised or at least went around us.

I hadn't specifically reccied any of the lines despite being Lakes based but was confident that we wouldn't get lost.  Phil The Younger was leading OK ( he'll learn ...) and we took the direct line North off Great End, if only because it's what Joss would have wanted.

Styhead - Five Stars on Trip Adviser

Naturally, Ros, Hilary and Neil were ready at Styhead Box with a fine selection of food and replete we four started a very social plod up Gable.

Ninja Mountain Suit - Hilary and Neil's Buffet Box
It's just a month or so since I did this last in the Borrowdale fell race and this time it seemed easy.  We topped out surprisingly quickly and I was by now gaining time on each summit and around 30 minutes up on 14:40 schedule.


One of Hilary's excellent photos


Never taken selfies on a run before.  Reputation ruined!!

The showers held off, and were blessed with good views over Pillar, Scoat and Steeple.  Haycock was a delight and Steve found such a good line off even he was surprised!

Climbing Kirkfell, Gable behind


It really was a stunning evening - Hilary the photographer
The last 'S', Seatallan had me puffing and allowed Ros to finally break out the much offered  sweeties. Looking at my watch properly for the first time,  I thought it would be rude not to push for sub 14 hours with a nice run over to Middlefell and a surprisingly easy descent.

An 'S' summit - Seatallan steepens up to the top.

It really is a great descent - you can see Wastwater as you leave Middlefell summit but then the finish kindly comes nearer as you descend towards Greendale, first seeing your supporters cars, then the bridge itself.  It must have been agony for Mandy Goth chasing her 14 hour deadline, but I was lucky with time in hand.


Steve, Hilary, Joss, Joe, Neil, Ros and Phil

My friend Richard had walked out just to make sure we turned right down the beck and didn't get lost then suddenly it's over, I'm at The Bridge with Neil, Phil, Charmian, Carol, Linz and of course Joss.

My friends, Richard and Carol, are near neighbours of Joss and had booked a table at The Strand ...so it was off the the pub for the remainder of a simply brilliant day.  Thank You, everyone, for your help during the day and for our kind donations to 'Fix-the-Fells' via JustGiving

Simply Brilliant.

Joe Faulkner’s JNC Schedule / Time Sheet :  Thurs 6/9/2018



Sched
Actual
Pacers
Pooley
5:30
5:40
Berni Gilmartin
Matt Neale
Jim Mann
Arthur’s Pike
6:14
6:22
Loadpot Hill
6:35
6:47
Wether Hill
6:46
6:55
Red Crag
7:02
7:12
Raven Howe
7:08
7:19
High Raise
7:19
7:27
Kidsty Pike
7:30
7:27
Rampsgill Head
7:35
7:36
High Street
7:51
7:41
Thornthwaite Beacon
8:04
8:08
Stony Cove Pike
8:33
8:31
Pike How
8:44
8:40
Kirkstone Arr
9:05
8:55
Red Screes
9:30
9:25
Neil Bowman
Hart Crag
10:25
10:18
Fairfield
10:41
10:33
Seat Sandal
11:07
10:58
Dunmail
11:30
11:16
Steel Fell
11:55
11:49
Scott Newburn
Steve Wathall
High Raise
12:50
12:42
Rossett Pike
13:40
13:37
Steve Wathall
Phil Wilkinson
Bowfell
14:15
14:10
Esk Pike
14:45
14:30
Great End
15:10
14:51
Styhead
15:40
15:21
Great Gable
16:15
16:05
Ros Blackmore
Hillary Barber
Steve Wathall
Kirkfell
17:00
16:35
Pillar
18:00
17:29
Scoat Fell
18:25
17:51
Steeple
18:30
17:57
Haycock
18:50
18:17
Seatallan
19:23
18:53
Middle Fell
19:48
19:14
Greendale Bridge
20:10
19;35

14:40
13hr:55mins

Red Screes and Dunmail road support by Ros Blackmore
Schedule adapted from JNC pdf, with a minute or two added early on based on guesswork.
No time scheduled for breaks at Kirkstone or Dunmail, but  a few minutes taken stand about.