Polaris Challenge – Askrigg, Wensleydale
I had hardly had time to get over the disappointments of the Sandman before it was time for the next race. I had entered the Polaris Challenge a week later! I spent the week feeling tired and wondering why on earth I had signed up for this. By the time I got to 15:30 on Thursday afternoon I didn’t think I would make it through Friday and asked my boss for an ‘emergency day off’ (to be deducted from annual leave, of course!). He agreed – and what a good decision it was.
I relaxed on Thursday night, had a lie in on Friday, sorted out my packing without panicking and did a few chores before it was time to get the train. By then I was feeling much more positive and cheerful about the whole venture :-).
I entered the race as a female pair with Lucy Harris. Lucy and I spent the winter sparring over the Open 5 series, so we knew we ought to be well matched! This was a bit of an experiment to test that out and to see how we got on working with each other instead of the usual head to head.
By the time we had registered and got to Lucy’s friend’s very nearby house for the night, it was late. I wanted to examine maps, the others wanted to chat! I looked at the map anyway, after they had gone to bed, and felt better for it :-). The difference between this and an Open 5 is the size of the thing. 4x A4! It was also very pink, which suggested many contours.
This event had the option of an overnight camp at a remote location, which we took. It brought back many memories for me of my first ever adventure racing event. Myself and Robert got hopelessly stuck on ‘indistinct paths’ in a place named ‘Hannel Bog’. On day 1 we lost all our points for lateness, didn’t have much food and squeezed into a tiny tent for the night. This time it was going to be different!
For a start, I persuaded Lucy to let us take the really roomy tent at a 500g weight penalty, in exchange for leaving behind the big stove, my thermarest and some unnecessary extra food. The sun was shining; we set off in high spirits. As others passed us we carried on at our own pace, chatting away non-stop. I had a bad time between hours 4 and 5 but then got a new high, especially as we really started racing along about an hour from the end (7 hours in total).
At the camp location we were surprised to find that we were up near the two leading mixed pairs on points, and just in front of Iwona, who well and truly beat me last year in the solo category.
As the cold started to bite we dived into our toasty down sleeping bags well fed and happy. We chatted until ‘late’ – or so everyone commented the next day, but it was only about 10pm!
Day 2 started cold and misty. The atmosphere seemed different from the previous day, perhaps also because we thought we should take it seriously now. We got caught up with some people dithering over navigation and it was a distraction. Lucy was also not feeling as good as the day before. It turned out she had a bit of a cold coming on. But we got ourselves untangled and cleared our minds.
Our route seemed OK until we found ourselves bumping down a highly technical ‘byway’ = narrow, rocky, rooty, strewn with vicious stinging nettles! Then we emerged onto the road and followed an arrow for a ‘bridleway’ = overgrown and covered in those big leafy giant rhubarb like plants you get near water. We were heading for the ‘ford’ of which there was little sign. After considering turning round and going the long way round the road, I suggested we were here for the adventure and should go this way, even if no-one else clearly ever did. We eventually clambered out with very wet feet and big smiles (well, from me anyway!)
The second half of the 5-hour day went well, and we were moving at a good speed similar to the day before. After an agonising debate on a final control (would penalties wipe out all 60 points it was worth?) we sped to the finish. We thought it had all gone OK. But straight after download we realised something was awry. Our Saturday score was 11th best, but on Sunday we were only 26th and about 100 points down! This was a bit of a low point. However, on reflection our route choice wasn’t daft – we just didn’t have quite enough oomph on the day to pull it off properly at the end. There were also one or two smart tweaks that would have saved us energy or got more points for effort earlier on.
These things can happen, but we were 17th overall and first female pair. More importantly, we did get on and we did have fun!
I also learnt what happens to Lucy when she gets a bit low on food. Some sort of mild mania sets in. We got back to the van to find two flat tyres. Lucy assured me this was normal and that she would fix it with her track pump. Whilst I was half naked in the back of the van trying to get changed, the pump broke and I could hear panic going on outside but could do nothing! As soon as I was decent, I hopped out and suggested using my trail pump. I got going and it was truly working (slowly) – though it felt faintly ridiculous pumping up a tyre with the weight of a van above with this:
Luckily a man came and helped us out with a proper compressor, and wasn’t until we had to try and negotiate incompetent reversers in the train station car park that the craziness set in again! 😉