Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Howfast C2C and High Moors Sportive

What a week! Exciting stuff with three days supporting James Thurlow's project then great fun at the High Moors Sportive.  James's trip wasn't any normal sponsored run, but a bit of a jounery into the unknown for him and his support team.  James was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago (Type 1) but has decided to tackle it head on and find a way of living a different life to the expected norm.

So, last Wednesday James, along with Driver, Gofa, Co-ordinator Charlotte, Legendary Pacer Ant Cooper and myself travel to Robin Hoods Bay for the start of an unknown trip. No schedule had been published; in fact James had set up a "Guess My Time' page, so had been suitably vague and we had no real plan.

James marks up the map - purely for our benefit!
JT marks up the map - mainly for our benefit - he had the route well sussed!

But anyone entering one of James's events will testify that he is a very organized fella, and after a sunny afternoon by the sea with fish and chips, we were joined by Dave McFarlane who would film the trip. And so after a few (half pints) an early night was had by all.

I'll let James give you the detail, (and I'm looking forward to his blog) but following a 5am start on a nondescript but brightening breezy morning I tried to stay half asleep as James set a determined and dogged pace with Ant looking comfortable and me feeling like a bag of old bones. Early miles past steadily and soon we met Dave and Charlotte in Grosmont bearing mugs of tea and freshly baked hot sausage rolls.  'No, I'm not a veggie today.'

James checks his levels after the start

Steadily onwards towards the iconic Lion pub perched on the North York Moors we meet the morning rush of C2C walkers going the other way, just as 95% do.  They've just demolished a 'Full English' but we've clocked up about 20+ odd miles. Lucy Harris joined our bunch having run out to meet us, and we ran steadily onto The Lion for a Baked Potato lunch, pre-ordered by Charlotte. After an efficient ten minute break we were away with Andy Petit joining the party and Ant taking a break to work via t'web ... as he does. And then it rained. Very heavily for a while.

We were making good progress and James was jogging well on much of the flat railway trail and tarmac that makes up much of the high moors. Across to Clay Bank and Lucy dropped off the group to run back to The Lion, having clocked up 20 plus miles.  But an unexpected surprise awaited us in the form of Ruth and Dave Johnson. Dave accompanied us over the steeply undulating Cleveland escarpment, providing a much needed injection of jokes and conversation.

It was here that we learn that James simply can not go hard up hill as if his heart rate gets too high it effects his blood / blood sugars ...the science of which still eludes me.  James had been watching his pump meter (which is fitted to his six pack) and he can adjust the flow of insulin depending on sugars, etc.  So, we adopted a very steady 'alpine pace' on the steep climbs, and then he would trundle into a jog on the flats and downhills. In fact JT is pretty good at mincing along for a big guy in comedy clown shoes (aka Hokas - and 'Yes' other shoes are available!)

The Cleveland Hills mark the end of The North Yorks Moors and we descended down to Ingleby Cross on the edge of the vale of York with approximately 50 miles done in 14 hrs; not bad considering the weather and all circumstances. With a couple hours of hours of daylight remaining James headed off with the ever present Ant whilst Charlotte, Dave and myself drove to Northallerton for shopping inc Pizza.

We set up our roadside rendezvous a few miles up the trail in order to catch James again, but his pace had dropped and he was tired and woozey, with hypothermia being a really serious issue. Ant has seen him like this on previous adventures such as Lakes Mountain 40, so a brief rest, some food, and a check of blood sugars sorted him out and we drive a few miles ahead to Danby Wiske with the plan to pitch / park up for the night.

James' sleep strategy was to make full use of daylight and sleep 3-4 hours a night, so basically when it's dark. So, I had a cheeky pint just before last orders and waited for them to come into the village whilst Charlotte set up the camper van ready for James. Dave headed back to Northallerton to collect Sabs and Claire from the late train ready for an early start.

Cut to 3.30am and my alarm goes off deep in my bivi-bag and I hear noises from the van. James emerges shortly afterwards, is shivering violently so sets off walking. Half dressed in jeans and Crocs, I look at Charlotte as she looks at me and with very few words needed I shuffled after him, just in case he takes a sleepy wrong turn. It's a another beautiful day brewing and after a few kms Sabs, Ant and Claire arrive in the van ready for the early morning shift to Richmond, which is mainly lanes a fields and although pleasant a bit if a chore if I remember correctly. I retired to the mothership campervan to tend to a wee blister formed by early morning Croc shuffling.

So, this is was to be the nature of the trip.  Charlotte was already excelling as The Boss and Ant is Top-Dog pacer with the likes of Sabs and Claire, or Dave, kicking in for stages. There is a fine balance between over zealous supporting at each and every road crossing and leaving James and party to get on with the job of covering the miles. Hence, Charlotte and I headed for Richmond and another little shopping stint and some sleep. Here I had the luxury of trying out James VIP sleeping loft in the lift up lid of the VW Camper. It felt airy and tranquil and I dosed for a few minutes. Bliss ... got to pace yourself on trips like this. I woke up and peered down into the van to see Charlotte curled up on the back seat. What Charlotte acheived during this trip is remarkable.

Richmond to Reeth was fun. We we now into The Dales and the scenery became absorbing. Once again we met the morning's march of C2C walkers coming the other way and whilst Sabs reeled out terrible jokes,  Claire reveals her stash of mashed potato with cheese, to which James took a healthy liking to. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so keeping James healthy in terms of digestion, feet and mindset (Souls and Soles?) is a must. Coming into Reeth I notice he has a distinct tided mark of dirt and sunburn on his calfs so question whether he has had a wash at all in the past 30hours.  'No, of course not', so I suggested a quick shower at the excellent Dales Mountain Bike Centre, which is where a spruced up Charlotte, Ant and Dave would meet us having recharged all manner of electrical things and themselves, hopefully.  Stuey Price and his DMB staff are star people who didn't mind us spreading ourselves about in our make shift office, lounge, diner.  If you fancy some amazing MTB riding or a road trip, excellent B&B or just good coffee and cakes, then Dales Mountain Biking in Swaledale is the place to go.  There is also the excellent Swaledale Outdoors shop for some great gear.

Now deep in The Dales, Ant took control again of the pacing with Sabs still in tow but we'd left Claire looking for a train back South. Further up the Dale, James's wife, Lisa, and their kids arrived for a roadside rendezvous to find him moving OK, generally . The big 'if' now, was would JT make it over the looming summit of Nine Standards before night fall. We met again at Keld for a quick pit-stop before pushing on to Ravenseat, (Dave, Ruth and Sabs supporting) the last road head before Nine Standards. Here we have our first bit of confusion and fail to met James with the van.  I'd driven Ruth's car whilst Charlotte went to find phone coverage to make some arrangements for tomorrow and check out a proposed overnight parking place.

James happy at Ravenseat ... with Custard?

Unfortunately, James and team arrived before Charlotte and the van, and I had no food or clothing for them. The best thing was for them to head on rather than wait for the camper as the evening was drawing to a close and time was pressing.  Consequently, I quickly drove out to intercept Charlotte and Dave rather then have then arrive and then delay James unnecessarily, and we needed to get around the hill and make a plan for nightfall.  Even more unfortunate, was that Charlotte had been unable to drive the camper to the proposed night parking spot which was a little way off the road.

Just as we were pondering what to do, Ali Morris arrive in his Berlingo type van. With a little more ground clearance he was able to drive up the track and intercept the team and bring them down to the road. Thus, we adjourned up the road to a large layby and parked up with two VW campers, two cars and a pop-up coffin, big enough for 85% of me and Ant. T'was cosy!

Up again at 3am, for a 3.30 drive, and then a 3.42am depart from the same point Ali had collect James and team from.  Conditions on Nine Standards weren't good with mist and rain and James was becoming cold, so on the relative flat going he upped his pace before adding a layer at the top and descending to Kirkby Stephen for breakfast.  On the edge of the town we passed a finger post that read, 'Robin Hoods Bay 108miles - St.Bees 82miles'  ... Nice one - well over half way and only just into Day Three.

Alan Hartley was waiting as chief pacer for the section to Shap, which is intricate and a lot longer than it appears when you drive that way.  Day Three, through Shap to Burnbanks and possibly to Patterdale was going to be the crux day.  It's wonderful scenery, but undulating and a little tedious. At the end of Haweswater lurks Kidsty Pike, which is actually the highest point on the C2C, and is another mighty landmark especially with night threatening again.  Lisa, the twins, and Grandparents had arrived at Shap, and Lisa was to continue with James ... eventually all the way to St.Bees.

Van stop for food

The big issue was whether James could get over Kidsty before dark, and in increasingly threatening weather. James suffers terrible from hypothermia, due to his diabetes and with sleep deprivation building fast it was touch and go, especially if a four day finish was to be had.  (James had quietly mentioned that he really wanted to finish within four days early in the trip but none of us really had any idea what to expect. And I'd made my 3day 23hrs 59mins guess on the justgiving site way before he said this - honestly!)

A plan was hatched that James, Ant and Lisa would carry on along the shores of Haweswater (a distance of four miles or so) whilst Dave would drive to the end of the valley at Mardale and walk back in a mile or so to film them and be on standby for a night halt.  Charlotte would drive halfway along the valley to maintain line-of-sight radio contact with James, and then phone me at home if they were going over the top and I'd intercept them from the Patterdale side. James himself, had said at some point that you don't get things like this done without being a bit maverick, and whilst Charlotte, Ant and myself were suitably concerned for his safety, the plan worked!

I ran up from Patterale armed with a flask of coffee and spare gear and was mightily relieved to find the coming down in the gloom from The Knott, having crossed the high ridge in very poor conditions. James was on a mission, and I was keen to drive him on and make good use of the rapidly fading light. He was suffering badly and the rain was heavy in very blustery showers. Around Angle Tarn it was truely dark and the path around Angle Tarn Pikes is very exposed with steep ground; not good for a very wobbly James.  Quite rightly Lisa was reaching out to steady him, whilst I was ready to grab hold of Lisa. Normally, you would sit someone down and get a bit more food in them but time really was pressing. He was feeling cold his body was shutting down and he 'just wanted to sit down'  'No Way James, Fight This Now!'   Ant radioed ahead with concern requesting hot food, clothes and James's bed to be ready.  Once down, we bundled him straight into Charlotte's van where she'd weave her magic. It was 12.30 midnight.  Ant, Dave, myself and Jim shared a brew in Dave's van.  We'd taken the adventure very close to the edge without over stepping it.   

It was scary and James had spoken of some 'dark places' once he'd warmed up a little.  He did appear much better twenty minutes later.  I was due to be running a feed station on the High Moors Sportive the next day and I needed to get to bed, for once.

Tough ride into Teesdale ... but great scenery
It felt weird leaving them, but I also felt fairly confident that he was now well placed for a four day finish, and had good support around hime.  James had shown his ability to bounce back from bad periods before and a new day would bring a new dawn.  With the finish in sight I thought he'd have a good chance of upping the pace, and I was glad we'd given him the chance by getting him over Kidsty Pike rather than staying the night at Mardale Head.

This story isn't finished and I'm keen to read James blog, once he's recovered and reflected upon it.  I was really busy in Teesdale with the Sportive all day on Sunday but was intrigued as to what may have been happening in The Lakes.  With no phone coverage I was 'out of the loop' ... but secretively pleased as I don't think I could have done much more for him, not that he'd need it, with such a great team around him, together with his own stoic determination.

The High Moors Sportive is an excellent event organised by High Terrain Events.  It's the third year I have provided the feed station at Langdon Beck, just as the 170k and 115km routes come back together.  It starts from Appleby and heads over to the high Pennines to Middleton-in-Teesdale, then either up the wild upper reaches of the Tees valley or over into Weardale for some epic climbs, including the highest road pass in England.  They might not be as famous as those in The Lake District but they are just as tough, with the moors offering fine scenic views and quite a bit of solitude.  'Tougher than the Fred Whitton', they say!

Well set up ... high on the Moors
Fortunately the weather was a lot kinder this year, with the day remaining dry and becoming increasingly sunny. In 2011 I had my campervan
with the awning extended to provide shelter but it was rocking about in the wind and rain. Last year a hire van suffered the same fate so I set up my tea stall from the back of my MPV with the tarp shelter well peg down just in case.

Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and all manner of food stuffs were eagerly consumed by the riders. This was the view from inside .... next to the kettle!
The view from the kettle ... just legs!

It was great fun helping all the riders, some of which had done the ride in previous years, and some new faces too.  Everyone seemed really impressed with the route, although one or two of climbs really did take some effort. 

Come late morning I had a bit a lull between those on the shorter route and the longer route and so walked up the road to see this sign:
These moors are high and wild!

Laura and Nic looking great having beaten the climb over Harthope Moss, England's highest road pass.

Nic on the climb up Hartside ... a bit later.
Descending Hartside A686 last big descent
High Moors Sportive is a 'must do' ride.  It's epic and in amazingly countryside and so quiet! 
More details, Results and Photos can be found on the High Terrain Events website.

Back Home - How was James getting on?

I got home around 7pm, and was pleased to see James's tracker making steady progress down Ennerdale. With very little sleep after fours days on the road I went off to bed early, not being able to stay up and watch the dot move anymore and fearing an agonising death march.  I was a very nice surprise to wake up and see he had finished and even more pleased to see he had broken four days by just two minutes. 

Well Done James ... and Charlotte, Ant,and team.