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Forest Enduro Race Report

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3 Peaks

We came.. we saw and we very nearly conquered.
I'm not really sure how to start this post about my weekend.  Thoughts, emotions, memories.. all swirling in my head, vying for space. 
I guess, therefore I should start at the start and go from there..  Leaving Beachley Station at 0900hrs Friday we started our long journey north and the start line for our 3 Peaks challenge.  Sitting in a vehicle with two squaddies was always going to be humorous and the military banter flowed from the off.  This being a charity event, we had a collection and this was quickly nominated as the swear box.  Over the course of the weekend it collected a pretty hefty amount.. I threw in a couple of pounds straight away, just so I could be in credit.
The drive north took around 11 hours, I spent the time reading, listening to music and trying to gauge my words carefully enough so I could keep change in my pocket.. as the landscape outside the car windows changed from the flat southern countryside to the rugged moors and then the Highlands of Scotland, my focus shifted and I spent time staring out at the beauty which makes up that part of the world.
We finally made our stop for the night, a Youth Hostel nestling at the base of Ben Nevis, we wandered to the Restaurant a stones throw away to get some food.  Not only was the food excellent and the conversation easy as is always the way when good friends are together, but the bar stocked and impressive range of single malt whiskies, much to the delight of our group.. we sampled, giggled and pretended it mattered whether the malt we each cradled was peaty, light or rich.  What really counted though, was waiting on the opposite side of the road, looming over us in the dark and partly obscured by low cloud.  Later, as I was standing outside talking on the phone to Kate, I watched the head torches of countless walkers, descending out of the cloud from the summit, seeing those dots of light clinging to the side of the mountain made me realise how small we were, and how big the challenge was.
Saturday was all about killing time until we could begin, finally we were ready and, standing at the footbridge waiting for 5 o'clock I got that familiar tightness in my belly, the apprehension of competition and of knowing the coming hours were about testing myself and not letting sponsors, friends and my team-mates down.
We climbed well and made the summit in just over 2 hours 15 minutes, this was the first time I've been to the area and the views got better with each turn, every one leaving me breathless in awe and reaching for my camera.  As the team congregated at the cairn it was obvious we all felt strong and morale was good, descending in the dark, our group splintered though and myself and another member of the team missed the path leading to the Youth Hostel, a silly mistake, one I kicked myself for and one that could, in different situations have been very costly.  As it was, it only added another couple of miles to our trip.  Arriving back at the vehicles I was tired and grumpy for my carelessness, throwing off my kit I had hot food shoved into one hand and mug of steaming tea into the other, both were dealt with swiftly as the cars pulled away on the start of our 6 hour trip south toward the second climb.
Once I had sorted myself out (not an easy task in the confines of the back seat of a car) I dozed on and off, waking up as we pulled into the carpark at Wasdale.  Torrential rain greeted us on the start of this, our second climb.  It's not something that bothers me, I always find it easy to create my own comfortable world by pulling a hood up and switching my mind off, concentrating on only what I need to.. there is a stream crossing at the start of the climb, normally a small brook, this time, it was an angry roaring monster that we fought our way across and, not for the first time I gave silent thanks I was with a group I trusted implicitly. 
Throughout our ascent we met walkers coming down, quickly passed conversations told us that most of them were turning back due to the weather.. spirits lifted somehow, we trudged on.  The total climb (start to finish) is supposedly 5 hours, we took that to reach the top, visibility was around 20ft, the dawn was delayed by an hour, the rain didn't relent at all and several group members had complete sense of humour failures.. for some reason, I found myself sitting on a scree slope laughing.. why not? sulking wasn't going to make it sunny and I've done enough wet 24hr bike races to know how much energy can be wasted by complaining.  We finally reached the summit but this time there was no posing for photos, we took shelter against the rising wind, got our bearings sorted out to find our way down, readjusted wet kit and headed home.  I can honestly say that climb was the toughest thing I've ever done, I was beat, Scafell kicked my butt.. firstly on the way up, and then on the way down.  I loved it though and was grinning like a mad-man as we reached the cars again.  More hot food, more stripping off in a car-park.  Wet kit into one bag, sort in another for remaining dry stuff, get into the car, and we're off.. now it's our time to dry off, sort out wet, blistered feet and prepare for our final challenge.
Pulling into a service station just before we hit Wales, we park next to a mini-bus.. It's full of fellow 3 peakers, one comes over with a T Shirt in hand.. anyone lost this on Ben Nevis??  It's mine... plastered in our Sponsors names, I had dropped it whilst descending, noticing too late to turn around and find it.  I had been gutted, this was my souvenir of the trip, something I was going to wear with pride in future. wow.. I was so grateful to them....
They passed on bad news though, they had had word that Snowdon was shut, 80mph winds were being recorded on the summit, the mountain railway was shut and the peak had been evacuated for safety... confirming with our own call to the Mountain Warden we were all devastated, so close to success we had to, instead, head for home.
I'm not sure what else to say, the experience was incredible, tough times shared with good friends, laughs, practical jokes, discomfort, big scenery and the feeling that we were doing something pretty worthwhile.  I still ache.. when I got home Sunday things like stairs were a bit too challenging, I can manage stairs now.. although I am walking like an old man.  That's ok, feeling like this means I was pushed.. next time though, Snowdon had better watch out

Three Peaks

So.. 24 hours from now I'm going to be sat in a mini-bus with 7 other walkers and 4 drivers as we begin the long journey towards Fort William, Scotland and the start of our attempt at completing the Three Peaks Challenge.
For those of you who haven't heard of it before, this is where walkers attempt to scale the three highest peaks in the UK in a single 24 hour period.
It's not an inconsequential task, not only do we have to gain 11,165ft vertical ft but there will also be just over 1000 miles of driving, door to door.
Doing this has been on my 'List' for quite a while, and, through my membership of a rescue team, I'm now getting the opportunity.  The team provides an Inshore lifeboat facility on the River Severn.  A notorious stretch of water on the west coast of England, it has the second largest tidal range in the world and claims the lives of numerous people each year. Severn Area Rescue Association (or SARA as it's known to it's members) has put together a team to scale the three peaks whilst raising money to purchase a new D Class boat to replace an elderly and soon to be retired SARA3.
Last night was my time to pack.. to be honest, I wish I'd taken a photo of it.  For the best part of two hours I sat in our living room, equipment, clothing and food strewn around me.  My initial 'To Pack' list was used, amended, rewritten and amended again.  Finally, I was happy and now two packs (one for walking, one for the vehicle) sit waiting for the off.
Will we make it? I don't know, weather forecasts this morning show high winds, heavy rain and low temperatures battering Scotland over the next few days.. what I do know though is that the attempt will be filled with emotional highs and lows, as 8 good friends take on the challenge with a single purpose.
If you're reading this and have 5 minutes and a few coins to spare.. check out our donations page
See you on the other side

Canoe Trip

I don’t do canoes, I like canoes more than I like Kayaks.. which I’ll readily admit terrify me, but given a choice between two wheels and a saddle and sitting in a boat moving downstream in what can only very loosely be described as something approaching a straight line.. well… reaching a decision wouldn’t take long.
But, find myself in a canoe I did, for a friends stag do.  The trip was never going to involve long stretches of isolation, living off the land and emerging, victorious, as a band of wilderness tamers, indeed, it was billed as a 30 mile drift downstream, whilst calling in on pubs along the way, a bit of camping and an awful lot of messing about on (and possibly in) the water.
As the old adage goes, what happens on tour, stays on tour, but some things I guess can enter the public domain..
A pitched apple hurling battle that covered around 8 miles – all the while shattering the quiet Herefordshire countryside and destroying the chances of  numerous disgruntled anglers, the father of the bride capsizing… 3 times, copious alcohol, some of the worst boat handling the River Wye has ever seen and what happens when bets are taken up by a pair of very determined individuals.
It never fails to amaze me how a group of blokes can turn up at a location, barely knowing each other and yet find a common ground that quickly turns into friendship.  It also seems apparent that a lot of the worlds problems would simply fade into obscurity if each Nation’s leaders were left in a field with only a tennis ball for entertainment.. the chance discovery of said tennis ball became a source of amusement each time we stopped for *ahem* refreshments.. I just hope everyone else’s shoulder hurt as much as mine.
We started in the right way, a fry up in a pub, before being taken to our starting point.  The safety briefing was.. brief and very soon we were weaving our way downstream.  There has been a fair amount of rain around recently and the water level was rising before our eyes, that probably contributed to some of the capsizes but at the time, it was adding to the fun.
The bet I mentioned involved passing a cement mixer which was about to be overtaken by the river.. “a tenner says you can’t get that in the boat” laughter followed and the group moved on.  Getting to the campsite for the evening we noticed two boats weren’t with us..
One had capsized, leaving it’s two passengers to make their own way downstream, the other had a third member of the team..  Cue much cheering and laughter.  The evening was fantastic, we hit a local pub before getting back to the tents to restoke the BBQ and light a separate fire out of anything looking vaguely combustible. 
The second day was, much to everyone’s disappointment cancelled, the rain had caused the river at our final get out point to become flooded to the point of danger.  The minibus ride home was filled with laughter and not a single hangover..
OK so maybe canoes aren’t so bad after-all..;o)

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