North Pennines – Warcop Army Training Centre
I’ve been looking at the Open Adventure web pages on Facebook and elsewhere for more than a year now, thinking “If only I was fit enough”, or “can I persuade A.N.Other to do that with me”. In the end I took fate at its face value and signed up a week ago for the latest event the “North Pennines”; ordered a Mountain Bike and prayed for some good weather.
With all the fear and panic in the press over the British Weather, including Heathrow cancelling 50% of all flights during Saturday (4th Feb 2012) for the following day. With the falling snow and icy conditions on the East of the Pennines, there was more than a little concern over my ability to get to the event. 6 am on Sunday and there’s still lying snow on the main roads at home. In the end the trip to Warcop was uneventful. The snow all but disappeared by the time I’d got to Hexham on the A69 but the fog closed in and renewed my anxiety until we reached the M6 at Carlisle whereupon the sky lit up a gorgeous shade of pink. This could be a good day…
By the time we get to Penrith and turn off on the A66 there’s obvious fellow competitors in the traffic, mountain bikes strapped to the back / roof of the car a dead giveaway.
Once passed the gatehouse, (the complexities of security and car park passes was nowhere near as bad as was anticipated) parked up and then on to check-in. Signed in, SportIdent tag attached to right wrist, maps acquired, now the planning starts.
For those of you who don’t know the Open5 Series, the map you are given at this stage is double-sided, on one side a 1:50,000 OS map of the MTB section with all the Control Points marked. On the other side there’s a 1:25,000 OS map of the RUN section, again with all the control points (CP) printed. However at this stage we’re not told of the value of the controls or which ones are ‘fake’ or ‘non-existent’, we only get that information at the start and after the clock starts ticking. So planning is virtual, with best guesses and contingencies held in memory waiting for the final seconds before the off.
Now with all that nervousness and complexity in my head there’s the Start come Transition to get to, some 20 mins cycle ride and a cave dive away over the other side of the A66. It’s now of course I remember that I’ve left my wellies by the back door at home and the thought of wet and cold feet just adds to my anxiety. I’m not good at the start of any race, stage fright seems to gobble up all my glycogen and this is infinitely worse that anything that’s gone before, so much to organise. But the organisation, re-packing of kit for Transition, route planning, topping up on food, actually seems to help and takes my mind off things. The Cave Dive is as bad as expected, the feeble attempt to protect my feet with supermarket carrier bags fails completely and I have wet and very cold feet before even getting to Transition.
The Start/Trans is indeed 20 mins away and up a steep hill, with all the gear and the bike it is truly a warm up. I convince myself that’s GOOD. Final prep, change of socks and running shoes, coffee, yet another look at the map, yes run first, 2hrs then back for the bike. Last photo before packing the iPhone away in the rucksack.
Start, quick re-cap on rules and so on from the ever helpful marshalls, who hands me the CP list. Good my guesses on the NO-CONTROLS are pretty much spot on; the revision of past events has paid off. I mark the CP values on the map with what I believe to be indelible OHP marker, remember those? It’s not, they smudge but I have a plan and am sticking to it. Now I’m off and running and its starting to feel OK.
I’ve picked my route around what could be considered as the inner loop of CPs on the RUN which dives in and out of the live firing range which is definitely OOB. This route has several plusses I thought, some fairly high scoring CPs and a couple of contingent extras should time be on my side towards the end. It also kept off of the high tops, I doubted I would manage those and still have anything left for the MTB section. The advice beforehand from anyone I spoke to was “don’t be greedy, and don’t be late”.
If you pardon the mixed metaphor, there’s a hell of a buzz when the dibber goes BEEP for the first time. The feeling of success, no matter how small at this stage, is a very positive one, yes I CAN do this. In fact as each CP is logged that BEEP gets better all the time. Even the slip sliding run walk up the icy slope(s) seems like fun, but damn it hurts.
The downhill run from 37 to 29 past the “Beware Unexploded Ordnance” signs is over what seems more like a fallen drystone wall rather than a track and it takes a lot of concentration to keep the speed up. As I approach 29 on the track proper a fellow competitor, approaching in the opposite direction, shouts out a warning of “sheet ice at the next control”. 45 seconds later I’m flat on my back, sheet ice indeed, I didn’t have a chance. I’m not sure if my pack absorbed some of the shock but I’ve still got pulled neck muscles and a sore head 3 days later. I did my share of warning shouts as I passed others by. I hope you all fared better than I did. There is a great deal of camaraderie amongst competitors, well at least in the lower ranks, as exemplified by the hurried advice given to me at the crossroads, “go grab CP30, it’s only a few minutes down there”. To be fair it was on my list but the fall earlier had shaken me an I’d probably have gone past it on my way back to Transition. Then it’s a long pull back up the hill, collecting the last RUN CP 27 and I am indeed back at Transition bang on my 2hr schedule.
I do take the time to rest and grab food and something to drink. I’ve never done this transition thing before, certainly not in anger and the run-stop-cycle combination was the bit I was dreading the most. Well apart from the Mountain Bike that is! For the other thing is that I’ve never ridden a mountain bike off track except once about 2 days before; just after I took delivery of it! Now I have a road/cross-bike and have done many miles but all on road. When I took the new one out the previous day it became clear this was a very different experience. The tyres for one thing and the pedals; although I fitted a pair of SPDs I found getting off and on in the deep muddy places way too scary and thus swapped them back for the big flatties it came with, for the race itself. I could probably handle falling off in the snow but I’d rather not be fixed to the machine while I did it.
15 mins. in Transition then I’m off taking the lower loop, mostly on road to the four highest scoring MTB controls. I knew it was going to be hard but bloddy hell getting up to CP12 was a killer. I had to push the last few metres up to the control itself. Coming down really showed my lack of experience for what it was, dreadful. While I’d seen others pedal down at speed. I crawled brakes on and totally out of control. The remaining controls on that loop were just a matter of efficient navigation and grinding. Then a pull back up past the start gate an on to see if I could pick up more points on the upper section of the map. I get to CP4 but by them I’m shattered and my feet are so cold I can’t feel them, I call it a day and finally clock into the finish 4 hours after I left it.
So lots of lessons learned, not just about kit and planning but the fact that this is hard work but fun and rewarding. That the event is friendly and the format means it’s only as competitive as you want to make it. Would I do it again? Hell yes! I’ve booked a place on the appropriately timed Peak District event, the last one in the series on the 1st April!
The new mountain bike
This is the new bike, a Pinnacle Iroko One from Evans Cycles on it’s maiden shakedown ride just 2 days before the event.