Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

December 28, 2012

Harrogate Rock Climbing Wall

The Harrogate Climbing Centre has been my weekly climbing escape for a few years now...pretty much since it opened.  Great for upper body strength, and fun, too.  Plus a great way to hang out with friends of all climbing abilities, there is a climb for everyone. 

This was Rob's first practice attempt at using Adobe Premiere Elements.  Since his sense of music and timing is much better than mine, guess I'm out of a job!  (Look for the cool time-lapse at the middle and end of the video).

December 27, 2012

UK Countryside (Video)

Rob's rather artistic take on the beautiful country we live in!   (And his first attempt at using Adobe Premiere Pro CS6)

December 20, 2012

Dark/White Mini-MM, 16 Dec 2012

My second visit to the Peak District in less than a week.  Luckily no rain this time, although the clouds were laying low over the tops.   As I was munching an ever-present apple while walking over to the start hall, I ran into teammate Jon and a carload of his mates, all of which I had met at varying events over the years.   Of course they have a friendly rivalry going between them, so the race was on immediately. 

This Dark/White Event was a 4 hour mini orienteering event.  Although 4 hours of running can only be considered "mini" when you consider their flagship event of the year is a two-day overnight with 11-13 hours of running! Collect as many controls worth high points as you can and get back within the time limit.   I always prefer these orienteering-style events to the straight-line distance because thinking and route planning can trump pure speed. Yay for me 'cuz I'm pretty slow.   Now the challenge was to see if my calculating route could beat the hares.  More specifically, Jon and his mates Tim, Mike and Paul! 

Jon and I agreed to start out together, but after a couple of controls it was clear that I was hyperventilating and he was running away from me.   He took off and I was navigating on my own through the fabled bog district that is the top of Kinder Scout.  (I wore a bright orange shirt just in case I got stuck in one and needed to be rescued! )

Navigation was pretty tricky, especially for a few moments when the fog covered the plateau and I could see nothing but lumpy bogs.  There was a lot of elevation involved, including some sliding descents down gullies and heart-pounding slogs back up again.  It was tough going even downhill, as the heather and dead ferns threatened to catch my shoes with every step and give me a wind-milling excuse for a faceplant.  There was even a few snowdrifts left along the trail at the top.   The tough terrain meant that I used my compass more in this race than I have in all my other races combined...my sense of direction was gone today.   Luckily the compass doesn't have off days, even when your own senses make you think it's broken!

As in most races, the navigation went pretty well until the last hour, when I started calculating how long I needed to get back to the hall before I ran out of time.  Then it seemed the hills got higher and the terrain got tougher, until I doubted I would be back in 4 hours or even 5!.  Luckily, with the finish down in the valley, it was a downhill run to the end, and I was only 5 minutes late, not a big deal in this series.  

Jon was already at the finish, looking well rested from coming in 20 minutes early.  My grin got pretty big when I realized I had tied him in points...I still don't know how that is possible.  Tim and Mike were there too, having taken some eccentric route choices, to say the least.   Since Tim hates being beat by women, it was quite fun to, well...beat him.   By a pretty good margin, I must say!  Paul was nowhere to be seen, and since he had started with us, we knew his late penaties were racking up.  He finally showed up 25 minutes late...needless to say, his final points were only marginally above 0.   Paul's adventures had included running 90 degrees off his intended heading for quite a long time, and then suddenly finding a control that was not at all what he was looking for.   Much less being a long ways from the finish without much time left! 

It was all in good fun, though, and a nice day out with even the sun making an appearance.  Although as one of the shortest days of the year, it appears to hover on the horizon and constantly get in your eyes when you're trying to run, as though it is a sunset which never sets.  Am I really complaining about the sun being out?  Surely not?!? 

It was great to see the guys again....I am acutely aware now that I only have 2 months or so left to live in the UK and see the friends I've made around the country.  Although I'm really excited to move to Utah and start a new career and explore desert terrain, I'll be sad to leave the beautiful country and the friendly people here.

Overall Results

Split Times by Class

No photos from me but check out some good ones by Steve!

December 11, 2012

Dark/White MTB Orienteering, 9 Dec 2012

What a wacky weather weekend!   On Saturday morning, I was up in the Dales for a short run, and it was cold, calm and clear with few inches of snow on the ground.  Unexpected, really, as there is no snow in Harrogate at all.  It was cold enough I actually wrote my teammates in the Peak district to ask if conditions were icy down there, as the next day I was supposed to ride my mountain bike in a race.  Never recommended when black ice could be around! 

The Peak district wasn't as snowy, and indeed one of my teammates was racing in the Dark/White event as well.  So we met up early the next morning for the 3 hour orienteering event.  I was miserably huddled in my car, as conditions were definitely not icy anymore.  The temperature had risen considerably above freezing, but with it had come buckets of rainfall (isolated over the Peaks, from what I can tell of the radar after the fact).  It was also what I call gale-force windy...the kind of wind that should not happen unless a hurricane eye is nearby, but somehow does anyway. 

We convinced ourselves that since we were there, we should get out of the car and go race.  Gavin and I stuck together for company in our miserableness, along with Nick, who left us behind on the first big hill.  Starting out of a valley town called Hope, as in I "hope" I get back to the car so I can warm up and dry off!, so our only option was to go up a hill.  We choose to go up a hill into the wind, and struggled just to go forward.  At one point, I was pushing my bike up the hill, and a big gust of wind stopped my forward progress, and pushed me back down the hill a few steps.  Impossible to describe how scary that is. 

Gavin met a woman halfway up the hill who had lost her map to the wind (it was probably in London already) and gallantly gave her his map, so he was stuck with riding by my navigation then.  She went on to beat us, how fair is that!?!

Once at the top, our route choice took us along country lanes flooded with rainwater.  Except that the day before they had been frozen, and still had large ice chunks floating in them.  At that point I bitterly regretted not wearing my waterproof socks for warmth!  Although after riding through a deep puddle with water up to my bike axles, it would have gone over the top anyway.   My feet started a slow decline into a state of frozen numbness. 

Our route choices kept leading us farther from Hope, only to be taken partially literally.   In a few lucky sections we flew along with our backs to the wind barely touching the pedals with our frozen feet.  With an hour to go, we turned for home and found that there was a lot of downhill between us and Hope, and even the wind wasn't an issue.  At some point the sun had even come out, which between the wind and the puddles we hadn't really noticed!  I guess there is hope for us after all.  We finished 10 minutes early, which wasn't a minute too soon to save my wooden feet, which I thawed out with dry socks, warm tea, and the car heater.  Plus I gave Gavin a ride to his in-laws and got invited in for a meal! 

Postscript:  After taking my map off my mapboard, which had been folded on fairly carefully to avoid losing it to the gusts and wet, I noticed that we had missed a nearby control which was under a crease.  Bummer.   The trials of wind and rain.  

But it was fun anyway.  Did I just say that?

December 5, 2012

Open 5, South Downs, 2 Dec 2012

England is bigger than I thought when I got here.   Mostly that's good, because there's a lot to see and discover.  But also bad, when it comes to races which are just a little further away from home than I really want to travel.   But with only 3 months left to live here before moving back to the States, surely that is justification for a little more sightseeing before I leave?   In any case, I had never been to the South Downs, and the Haglofs Open 5 race down there gave me a reason to visit. 

See a little video about the Open 5 Series here

It was close, but my car managed to fit 3 bikes, 3 people, and assorted gear inside for the trip down from Harrogate.  After collecting Tom and Rosemary in Leeds, we were on our way late into Friday night.  Making a weekend of it allowed us to have a leisurely ride around the area on Saturday to give us a feel for the location.  I don't normally recce any races, but I must say it was nice to actually have time to stop and admire the terrain rather than rushing through it.  We even had a chance to see some huge pandas on top of Black Downs hill!  (Tom informed me that they were actually some sort of black and white striped cow with a long name).  A photo of said pandas is on Rosemary's Blog.

Anyway, the weather for the weekened was gorgeous.  Cold but clear, sunshine and frost.    Unfortunately not enough frost to freeze the mud puddles solid, but at least it hadn't rained for a few days and they weren't too bad.   The terrain was really pretty, lots of holly and rhododendron trees bushes? to make everything look green even in the middle of dead winter.   The hills were small, but the multitude of tracks and trails make the navigation pretty detailed. 

My race went really well until it all went bad.  Evidentally I have a problem with the 4th hour of racing.  In retrospect, my brain just doesn't function that well in regards to decision making when trying to go fast.  Anyway, I started out running, as usual, and had a nice round of not getting lost and getting back to transition within shouting distance of two hours, which is always my goal.   Near the end of the run, I was just arriving at a control when three blokes looking lost also dibbed into the checkpoint.  Since they came come the opposite way I had, when they started following me back the way they had come, it seemed a little fishy.  I asked them which point they were looking for, which turned out to be where I had just come from.  They were going the wrong way, which seemed to be a trend for them as they had just spent 45 minutes looking for the control I had just led them to!   My hurried directions went something like "bash north until you hit a fence, follow it left, and then through the gate".   At any rate, they went away and I went to transition. 

My bike tires weren't flat, always nice, so the bike started off well.  I zoomed down from transition to the first couple controls (do you sense a hill at the end?), and managed to collect quite a few in my first hour.   Just the opposite from last month where I was bogged down and panicking at my slowness.  I guess at that point I got a little greedy and tried to do too much.  Perhaps I was just yo-yoing from last month, where I was finished a few minutes early and passed a control which would have gotten me the win.   This time I thought I would take a chance on some high points and gamble, passing up some easier, lower points nearby.  I gambled a bit wrong, didn't get the points, and still got back late.   Oh, and that last hill was a doozy.  Not really a surprise since the transition was on top of the tallest hill around! 

I came back 7 minutes late, but that seemed to be the trend of the day.  Tom and Rosemary were also back late, much later, losing 45 points!  That didn't stop Rosemary and Lucy from winning their class with ease, congrats to them.   It was 2nd place for me by a close margin, another frustrating end to a really fun race, but that just means the race is on next month!   What's a race without some great competition, anyway?   Just a jog in the park. 

Tom has an early start running through the frosty ground

James Kirby finally stars in his own photo!

Rosemary out of breath at the hilltop finish.

November 22, 2012

Wensleydale Wedge, 18 Nov 2012

Since the Nidderdale LDWA is my local club, for the Wensleydale Wedge this year, I officially becaome a volunteer.  We arrived early at the hall to help set up, and I had a few minutes to help with registrations.  Then I was whisked away to the first checkpoint to mark down numbers as people raced through...most of the 260 entries came through in about 40 minutes and it was a riot. 

I spent the rest of the day as a sweeper at the back of the pack, making sure that signs were taken down and all the entrants made it through the checkpoints. We had a radioman from Raynet there to keep track of everyone and make sure that all entrants got back safe and sound to the hall.  It was a rather slow pace, to be sure, but that gave me time to mess around with my camera, take some photos and even a time lapse.  Plus it was a lovely day. 

A short video of the day is below... Rob has recently been learning how to compile videos.  I must say he has outdone himself on this, really his first attempt.   Makes everything I've done look like a 10 year-old threw it together...  Guess I'm out of a job, aw, shucks!   Check it out...great sense of musical timing.

It was absolutely dark by the time we finished...I managed to resist pulling out my headlamp only because a nice chap I was walking with provided enough light for both of us.  Plus we had such a great conversation going that the time went quickly.   The best part of all...I managed to keep my feet dry the whole day!

November 17, 2012

Dark/White Mini-Orienteering, Coniston, 11 Nov 2012

Wow, another sunny day for a race...although this has been a very wet fall, I've gotten really lucky with time on the hills lately. I am now jinxed for all future events.

The second Dark/White Mini-Mountain Marathon was based in Coniston.  I hadn't been to the Lake District since early July, so it was nice to see the hills again.  Rob was even driving up with me, so I could watch the scenery rather than concentrating on the road.  Windermere reservoir was completely fogged in, but sky was blue when we arrived in Coniston with no chance of rain for the race.

Rob headed off to walk along the water's edge while I knew my day would be spent climbing a lot of elevation.  The area for the race was centered on Coniston Old Man...although I went all the way around the summit, I didn't actually go up and over it.  But there were plenty of other steep hills to make up for that!

I didn't feet terribly great at the start and wondered temporarily if I should just walk around rather than push myself.  That feeling lasted until I got on the clock, and then as predicted I was off and running.  Although I kept my effort to about 90% today...no need to push too hard.

Of course, it had been raining.  A lot.  Every stream and beck was still running almost in flood, so the ground underfoot was like a mini-river.  Sloshing through cold water for minutes at a time out on route was very chilling to my toes...to the point where my feet actually went numb a couple of times. 

I have a love/hate relationship with the Lake District.  I love the views, and often I hate the footing under me.  The rocks tend to be sharp and uneven, likely to be slippery and unstable.  A slip on some steep sections could mean not just a sprained ankle, but a bone busted in so many pieces that only a helicopter could get me out again.   Luckily, I stayed in one piece for the race, but I know my speed suffered as I picked my way down a few cliffy areas to controls. 

But overall, a really fun day out in the hills, amazing clear views of the valleys around me.  I was happy with my navigation and even got in a few minutes early so I didn't have to sprint to the finish.  These navigational races are my favorite type of events...I get to choose how hard and fast I race and which route to take. 

Results are here:  http://www.darkandwhite.co.uk/results/conistonsplittimesbyclassv2.html

November 13, 2012

Iowa Harvest Videos

A couple of videos about life on the farm!

November 7, 2012

Open 5, Scotland, 4 Nov 2012

The opening race of the Haglofs 2012-2013 Open 5 Series is now in the books.  Many of us have been waiting immpatiently all summer for these races to start up again...short, sharp, great competition, and smooth organization.  What more can you ask for in a race, really?

Since Open 5 series races are spread around the whole of the UK, the first one required the long drive up to Scotland.   This would only be my 4th visit up there, and Tom was willing to share the drive up, so the time went fast as I saw more new scenery.  Even the weather cooperated, sunshine and calm winds making us squint up at the hills as we arrived at the start hall.   Come to think of it, the weather for these events is either really good, or really, REALLY bad....perhaps that's the nature of a winter series.  There were chunks of ice in all the mud puddles, so although the sun was shining our feet were very cold. 

The Pentlands is a tiny area of wildness on the edge of Edinburgh, barely far enough way from the motorway to be quiet, yet rough and tough as any fell I've run on.   Rosemary Byde was the guest course planner for the event, commuting from her flat in the city to find exciting places to hide the controls.   And a wonderful job she did too (especially as I ended coming back on time!)

I had a bit of a panic at the starting line, when I really just didn't want to start.  I think mentally it just meant the line between when I was studying the map and all things were possible, to the time when I could potentially get lost, muddy, crash, come back late, or even have perfect race.  Perhaps I was used to racing these events with Sarah, and something just didn't feel right about going out solo!   I got past that "failure to start" moment, and headed off up the narrow lane into the hills, sharing it with cars, bikes, and a few ponies.   The run went really well, I have to say.  I collected all the controls I planned on getting and was back within 2 hours.  Although I came back a little dirtier, after butt-sliding down a steep hill on the grass, and then slipping in the mud.  After regaining my feet I must have looked like I had rolled in red clay....and I wasn't the only one. 

Back out on the bike, I choose the hardest sections first, knowing that I could always zoom home on the roads on the back half of the circle if I was late.  Unfortunately most of the high value controls were on the backside of the circle too!  The trails started out really terrible...steep, boggy, and mostly unridable.  I was pushing my bike, cursing the mud, and wondering if it would ever get better.  Where were all the nice trails everyone was raving about?!?!   In the meantime, I spent 1 hr 40 minutes of my remaining time on the first 1/3 of the bike circle.   The math really didn't add up with that, meaning that I then had 1 hr 20 minutes to do 2/3 of the circle.  Impossible?   I started wondering how many HOURS I would be back late to the finish....

Luckily for me, the trails improved when I reached a reservoir, and I sped along on tarmac and level trails to the bottom half of my route and the highest value control of the day.  Whew.   Although there were still a lot of controls to find and I couldn't afford to make any mistakes.  The land continued to be pretty flat, with fast trails, and I found myself with with possibly enough time to everything I wanted.  Well, not everything I wanted, but everything I could realistically collect!   However there was one off-road section remaining and if it was boggy I knew I would get back late.  I skipped a control immediately, to make sure that I could get back on time, which I did with 4 minutes to spare.

I felt like I had done really well, and I was happy with my route choices in the end.  Much happier than I had been 1 hr 40 minutes into the bike section, that's for sure!   Unfortunately two other female solos were able to best me by just 5 points to push me down into 3rd place.  Kudos to them and the race is on for next month!  

October 24, 2012

Round Rotherham 50 Mile, 20 Oct 2012

Third time's a charm, and this will be the only race that I have managed to do every year since moving to England.  (I really just do it for the T-shirt although this year it was bright orange, making it virtually unwearable unless I find myself running through hunting season!).

As a side note, the streak will have to stop with just three, as I won't be around here next year.  I am switching careers and trying out something new. Finally I will also have a job that I can talk about without getting thrown in jail, but even better will actually have something to do with the outdoors.  A lot actually.  More on that later.  Hmmm.  Anyway, we are moving out of the UK in March 2013, to Utah in the States still known as the Colonies for some of my teammates.  Really excited to move out west.  Sad to leave the UK and the wonderful racing scene here.

Back to the race, I was feeling rather unprepared for this year's Round Rotherham.  50 miles is a long way, and with my big adventure races and a few niggling injuries, I hadn't run more than 6 miles at a stretch for almost 6 months.  But I had done a lot of walking.  I hoped that walking fitness would carry me through. 

It didn't.  As I write this a few days later my legs are still terribly painful, and the last 20 miles of the race was a lesson in the value of proper preparation.  An acute, painful lesson.

The race started off kindly enough.   I met up with Karen, Nick, Roger, and Mike before the race, in the tradition of friends who only meet a few times a year before and after big runs! 

It was a beautiful day with a great forecast.  Not cold, not windy, not rainy, why do I always feel the need to list all the things that could be bad? and quite sunny.  Once the sun came up, anyway.  It was warm enough that a light shirt was perfect the entire day, and I never got hot or cold.  With no required kit list to speak of, my lightest pack contained only food, a few bandaids, and a windshirt.   After the heavy packs of adventure racing I hardly knew this one was there.

Since the job change requires me to move, I will essentially saying goodbye to all things British over the winter as I make my last visits to my favorite places.  I found myself doing the same during the race, but this time I was noticing all of the places where I got lost the first year!   There must have been at least 5 or 6 locations where I added a little mileage to the already long 50 mile route, including the major detour which made it 60 miles instead of 50.  Ouch.  I managed to stick to the route (even in my head I now pronounce this word as "root" like the Brits, thanks Gavin!?!) this year, although it still seemed like a long way around.

I was faster through the first half this time, even with the added mud and sticky clay from all the recent rains.  My shoes acquired a layer of the goo which managed to stick on the entire race, I'm sure it must have weighed a pound or two per foot!   I'm not going to rave about the field crossings...they were slippery as snot and quite a few people were sporting muddy spots on their bums by the end of the race.  I managed to fall only once but keeping my balance in the mud took extra effort. 

Still, a very pleasant route (root?) by streams, canals, neighborhoods, overlooks, parks, etc.   I was starting to think of a PB at 30 miles when we got our halfway bags.  Perhaps I felt faster than I really was, after seeing Nick Ham at the checkpoint, as he is usually far in front of me.  Unfortunately I left my pain medication in that bag, thinking I wouldn't need it.  About 10 minutes out of the checkpoint, I realized that I really did need it.  There went my PB and here came the needles in my muscles with every running step.  Ouch. By the last 10 miles I couldn't run a lick, the best I could manage was a fast walk.  The volunteers at all the checkpoints were always very cheerful and helpful, (and well stocked with good eats) but by the last one it was all I could do to say "thanks" before continuing to the last 3, painful miles.  Finally time was 10:46, which was almost 45 minutes longer than my time of last year.  But still 3 hours faster than when I got lost in 2010! 

After Nick posts his photos (I'm sure that's what slowed him down so I could catch him), I'll borrow a few to add to this post.  It really was a gorgeous day, and luckily I even finished in full daylight because I forgot my headlamp in my halfway bag, too

October 15, 2012

Nidderdale Bike Orienteering, 13 Oct 2012

How cool is it to have a checkpoint near my house! 

This was the last race in the summer series of the North Yorkshire Mountain Bike Orienteering club (NYMBO) (although I missed all the rest of them).  The race was held in Dacre Banks in the Nidderdale valley, which is only a couple of miles from my house, so I rode my bike to the start as a little warm-up.   The race map, I was excited to see, covered the area including Brimham Rocks and my own backyard to the south!   Due to my accumulated forays on foot and bike into the neighborhood, I knew all of the roads and trails pretty well.   I figured this would help me out with my route choices. 

It was another absolutely gorgeous weekend in Yorkshire, sunny, calm, and not too cold.  (Two in a row, I know that's almost unheard of!?!)  It was really muddy from all the recent rains, though, so I rapidly got my feet wet and my bike muddy and stayed that way for the rest of the 4 hour score course.   There are plenty of hills leading out of the river vally, and the course designers put controls on what seemed like all of them!  I was able to plan a route that seemed like it would avoid at least a few, plus get some high value controls on the edges of the map.  (Plus I was able to avoid a really nasty muddy trail near my house). 

Time got away from me at the end, and I was a few minutes late into the finish, but I had a really good day out.  Guess local knowledge really does help, as I ended up first lady overall, and 13th out of 85 participants. 

Results are HERE

October 9, 2012

Rab Mountain Marathon, 6-7 Oct 2012

Sarah and I are back together again for the 2012 Rab Mountain Marathon.  After all, we did win the Elite class last year (although we actually aren't that fast).  Not that we were gunning for it again...our summer activities had been pretty energetic and we had agreed that walking might be a more fun way to see the area.  However, we had still entered the "Elite" class, only because the extra hour each day of competition meant that we had less time to be cold in camp.  (Rab, if you are reading this, please rename the Elite category as Long, instead.  After all, it's just the same course over 13 hours instead of 11 over the two days).  Perhaps then more people would enter this category and we would have some, errr...competition.  Yup... newsflash... we won our class again this year, but this time because we were the only entries.  Bummer.

Anyway, this year's Rab MM was up in the Cheviots, near the border of Scotland.   This would be a first visit to the area for me, and I was prepped for it by friends with horror stories of the bogs, which must be running full given the large amounts of rain falling this year!   But the weather forecast was good, actually great...my fingers were crossed the whole week that the sunshine would actually stick around.  The stars were out for the drive up, which went fast as Sarah, Tony and Paul kept me awake and entertained. 

The Rab is a score event, meaning that each control is assigned a point value, and the more controls you can reach in the time limit, the more points you finish with.  The challenge is to choose a route which nets lots of high value controls while still reaching the finish within the time limit.   Unfortunately the highest value controls are also some of the hardest to reach, for example a hilltop, a boggy valley, a steep climb, or just tough, nasty tussocky ground. 

We managed to get lost trying to find our first checkpoint.  Yep the very first one.  I guess we weren't mentally switched on to our navigation yet.  In any case it took the first hour to get to any points to our name, which was quite pathetic.  We picked it up a little after that, making good progress towards the highest point in the area, known as The Cheviot.   Very original.   However, our progress bogged down (literally), when we hit the steep climb to Hedgehope Hill, and then the peat hags that followed after.  It was several hours of slogging through terrain that was sometimes boggy, often very bumpy, and covered with heather or dead ferns.  Tough going.   Hours of tough going.  I managed to faceplant myself at least 3 times, luckily always when I was carrying the camera so Sarah couldn't record my indignities.  She did laugh...and then always gave me a hand back up!

Finally we reached the Pennine Way on top of the Cheviot at about 800 meters.  We felt rediculously speedy running on the sections of large paving stones, which somehow hadn't sunk into the bogs below them (yet).   The control with the highest value of the day would have required us to leave the nice stones and take off back into the bogs.  Luckily for our feet, we were running out of time and couldn't get to it.  Instead we picked up a couple of easier points, and made it into midcamp with just 3 minutes to spare.

It was a nice evening in camp, with my tiny alcohol stove cooking away (it really isn't meant to cook meals for 2 hungry people, as it took about an hour of constantly cooking water to get us both warm and fed.)  Well, fed anyway.  By the time the sun went away, we were wearing all of our clothing and starting to get chilled despite the hot chocolate. Paul was especially cold as he had forgetten any spare socks!  We were happy to climb into our tents for the night at the late old time of 6 pm.  Yes, we went to bed at 6 pm...and happy to be there.   We hadn't gotten much sleep the night before so being horizontal felt great.   Although my Klymit sleeping mat had developed a slow leak, so I slept basically on the grass with no padding...that wasn't so nice. 
Last year's prize kept us warm overnight!
12 hours later, we forced ourselves to crawl out of the warm (but wet) tent and start packing up.  It was still dark, as the later date this year for the Rab meant that we had a full HOUR more of darkness than last year.  Yup, we are losing 4 Minutes of daylight every day in October here.  The tent, soaked from dew and our own breathing, had made our sleeping bags damp as well.  It's hard to stay away from the fabric walls with two people inside a tent really sized for one.  As soon as we were out of the tent, the wetness cooled quickly, and as I was taking it down, it all suddenly flashed into ice.  It was cold.  The grass was frosty and my fingers were freezing.  Good motivation to get going and warm up out on the course. 

Despite the cold, we knew it was going to be another beautiful day of sunshine.  As we ran, the layers started coming off one by one until we were down to just a shirt and tights.  A few more degrees and we would have been wishing for shorts, with no wind and the sun actually adding warmth to the day.  We had learned a little from our route on Day 1, and chose controls on Day 2 which would keep us to known tracks and roads as much as possible.  As we went back east to the finish, the lumps and bumps (translation: hills and peat hags) got smaller and smaller.  Our traveling speed actually got faster on the level terrain, despite the tiredness in our legs, and we picked up more points on the second day than on the first.  With an hour less of racing.  Yay.  It was nice to finish but I could have stayed out in the sunshine a lot longer, given that we don't actually see that much of it here. 

Rab put on a great race as usual.  I'm sure they order up good weather months in advance for this!

Results are HERE

(Several photos courtesy of Dark & White) 
At the finish

Paul, Tony and I relaxing in camp

4 Border Collies waiting patiently for their farmer!

September 30, 2012

Fastpacking: The Nidderdale Way

Alternatively Titled: The Misadventures of my First Solo Backpacking Attempt! 

For many months I have wanted to get out by myself.  Love it, hate it, don't know until I try it.  The 53-mile Nidderdale Way was an obvious choice for a short weekend round.   The best part?  I could walk out my front door and be down at the trail in minutes.   Oddly enough I hadn't been on any of the trail yet, aside from a few short miles.

Friday afternoon saw me walking down the sidewalk and waving goodbye to Rob.  It was mild, I was in no hurry (yet) and with a small tree-identification book in hand, I was feeling up leaves as I ambled down the trail.  Ripley Castle came and went, along with a lot of unremarkable scenery, remarkable in that it was all rather pleasant, even in a quick rainshower. 

Almost October and the days are short, the coming darkness saw me peering desperately for a spot to hide out for the night, just short of Brimham Rocks and the boggy moors that surround them.  Many likely-looking sleep spots were filled with cows, sheep, in sight of houses, or just plain soaking wet.   Finally, a good spot, hop a fence and set up my bivy bag.  The wind died, the (almost) full moon rose, and I had a wonderful evening cooking over my stove and laying down watching the stars. 

Just short of sleep and short of midnight, I hear a motor (strange for my location), and peek out of my bag to see a 4-wheeler driving slowly around the field with a flashlight waving around.   I hunkered down in my bivy bag, which luckily is the color of grass, and realize they were in the field next to mine.  No consolation if they see me, though...the first rule of wild camping:  tell no one where you are.   The lights disappear, only to turn around and come slowly back.  Eek!  The motor exits the field without discovering me, and I am left in peace for the night.  It's warm enough I brave the possible slugs and leave the top open on the bivy. 

I packed up quickly in the morning and around the bend found a concrete pad, which I shared with some mud and random animal bones for a sheltered cooking spot.  Breakfast was an epic fail.  My alcohol fuel was too cold to light, I guess, requiring that I swap to my good fuel.  Trying to pour it back into the bottle (from a holey cat food can stove) was almost pointless.  Once I had a good boil, I failed to stir up my rice (boil in a bag) pudding at all early enough, leaving crunchy bits of rice in the bottom and rendering it inedible.  Uh-oh, my food ration suddenly seemed a little short.  The bag of now-congealing rice pudding went back in the pack as dead weight.

Saturday was sunny, if quite windy, and never quite warm enough.  I stayed on the move, surprising at least 1000 pheasants from the path.  No, I'm not exaggerating, I think there were a few pheasant "farms" near the trail to help out with the population.  Mid day found me still battling a headwind and skirting the edge of Masham Moor, heading for the most northwest point over Scar House Reservoir Dam.  Along the way I crossed a completely dry creekbed, remarkable after the monsoonal rains we had earlier in the week.  I speculated that the water must have diverted into one of the many potholes (caves) in the area.  This would not be a good week to go spelunking. 

The dam overflow at Scar House was really kicking up, putting on quite a show for visitors.  It must have been really crazy a few days earlier.  I was mostly grateful I would now be walking with my back to the wind, over the moor and back down to How Stean Gorge.   It was near there that I accidentally forgot to shut off my GoPro camera after taking a photo...after snapping 1,847 worthless photos at 2-second intervals, it finally beeped to complain that the memory card was full.  Given the limited field options of the GoPro, and no spare chip, there were no more photos to be taken.  Into the pack it went.

After 11 hours of walking for the day, I hopped another fence on top of a likely deserted hill, and found a lush pasture just past a "private road" sign, with no hint of animals, poop, soggy ground, people or unwanted 4-wheelers.  Aren't I particular. I had just dumped my gear all over the grass when I heard a woman walking by yelling at her dog.  Luckily she was so busy watching the dog (who probably knew I was frozen behind the rock wall), that she didn't notice me then, or again when she walked back a few minutes later.  It was windy in my little rock corner, the moon was soon obscured by clouds, and my stove fuel (warmed by a few minutes in my armpit) still went out at least 7 times.   I managed to eat and then burrowed inside the bivy, which kept me surprisingly warm even if the wind was whacking the cloth into my head. 

I woke to a light rain in the morning, and wondered what to do about it.  With no small amount of contorting, I was able to stuff my sleeping bag away and slip into full rain gear before I opened the door to the bivy.  The sad news was that I didn't feel like fighting with my stove for a hot breakfast.  Sadder still was the contents of my food bag.  Congealed rice pudding, uncooked couscous, and a few gels.  They would have to last me the last 15 miles to get home, which was looking like a long, soggy way.  Raiding all the pockets of my pack only turned out a few squares of leftoever chocolate.  I guess 6000 calories (minus rice pudding and couscous) wasn't enough for a 45-hour tromp through 50 miles of valley trails.    (Yes, I could have stopped in one of the many villages I passed through for additional supplies, but I wanted to be self-sufficient.)  No, gels don't even taste good when you're hungry...why did I even pack them?  This wasn't a race. 

I had managed to keep my feet mostly dry for a day and a half, no mean feat in a country where I usually measure my first soaking in minutes, not miles.  Not today.  The grass was already wet, and this section of the trail relied heavily on cow pastures.   At some point, once water has soaked into every crevice in my shoes, I stop caring where I step.  I think this helps me go faster, but at times when I hear that sucking sound, I wonder which will win out for control of my shoe...my feet or the mud trying to suck it off.   And then I wonder why I didn't tie my shoelaces tighter BEFORE the diluted cow poop got smeared all over them?!?

Let me just say that a little rain is no fun.  A lot of rain ruins even the strongest wish to stay outside.  Yet driving rain or not, the high moor trail south of Pateley Bridge was beautiful.  In the fog, the deep crevices in the cliffs held green ferns, and the damp atmosphere transported me straight to the rainforest in New Zealand.

The last few miles of trail were along the River Nidd.  A few days before, it had been raging at the highest flood levels in recorded history, due to heavy rains over just a day and a half.  Sure, that only resulted in a couple inches total of rain, but around here in the UK that's a month's worth, and enough to send everyone rushing for needed sandbags.  The river was trickling along nicely enough now, 15 feet below me, but there was clear evidence that most of the trail had been underwater in the flood, with some of the path rather washed out. 

I arrived home close to noon on Sunday, soaked to the skin, looking like a drowned kitten and ready to raid the kitchen.   In short order I was washed, dried, fed, and watching football on the couch.   Amazing things, houses.  I really like mine sometimes.

So did I enjoy going out solo?  Well, yes.  Well, no.   I would have prefered it to be warmer, and sunnier.  Then I would have packed more food, and walked slower, and nosed into my book for a few more tree discoveries.   Then again, I always say I want to slow down...perhaps in a warmer climate I even would.   It is nice to have friends on the trail, too...I don't think I'll audition for a hermit anytime soon!

Near Ripley Castle
Moon Rise
Home for the night
A sunrise (failed) breakfast spot
Brimham Rocks

Scar House Reservoir