Monday, 21 June 2010

WHW crew (Long night's journey into day and back into night again...)

Just back from supporting Den boy on his epic West Highland Way race. For his support crew it has been a sleep deprivation derby. Setting out on Friday night could have been special and mysterious but I was already tired and hadn't taken enough clothes as it had been hot during the day. It was cold at night and I had to wrap up in an old fleece of Peter's so I was looking pretty weird in a great big coat with a midge net on my head but I cared nothing. Getting out the van seemed like an effort. At Rowardennan (26 miles in) it was pretty much light again, but midgy. I made a cup of tea on my camping stove and felt a bit better. Peter was doing the active work of going to meet Richard. We stumbled around cursing each other and getting lost in car-parks.

As the sun came up and we made our way round Loch Lomond to meet Richard at Beinn Glass farm campsite it was undeniably pretty, even to our jaded eyes. I started having waves of tiredness however so we pulled over in an unromantic parking spot at the side of the road and I had a semi-sleep with my head on the steering wheel, worried that the police might see us and think we were a (tidy) crash.

Not much refreshed but able to concentrate again we set off again and went to Beinn Glass where we spent an hour waiting for breakfast as the small cafe there was way over-subscribed with other people doing the same thing. It was worth waiting  however. Who would have thought that a potato scone would be nice in a roll? Well it was. And 2 mugs of coffee vastly improved my state of mind. It was unfortunate  that as we sat there in the cafe the good little Richard galloped past unseen and unheard outside. He'd said matter of factly that he'd be 4 hours which would have meant arriving at 10.10am but he passed at 9.30am. Oh well. Beinn Glass had a drop-bag and was an optional stop. We learned not to take Richard's time predictions too seriously.

At Auchtertyre the sun was properly up and beating and there was a good breeze which was keeping the midges at bay. The day looked like it was not going to be a total nightmare after all. I saw Kate Jenkins whisk through as I was climbing out the van and shouted "Well done", but she did not even glance across - very focused.

Richard was in pretty good form. He had some worries that he was developing a blister but on a foot inspection there was nothing to see or feel - hopefully just an early warning so he re-vaselined up his feet, had some stuff to eat and then moved on. At Tyndrum, Richard was again way ahead of his schedule and we were in the shop buying lasagne (!!) pies (which I heated up to nuclear reactor melt down heat in the microwave so we had to wait ages to eat them). He phoned Peter so Peter ran out with the drop bag and met him.

At Bridge of Orchy Peter got changed into his running kit to run with Richard. Here we met Scott Ferguson, crewing for Robert Kinnaird. I think it was about 1pm by now. We were pleased that Richard was making good time and it was a lovely day so we were doing okay. Richard wanted met again just a bit further along the road at Victoria Bridge which meant diverting onto a tiny single-track road. I was temporarily stuck in the carpark as someone's BMW had broken down and was getting carted away by a big transporty thing from Lixx Toll - right behind me. It took 10 minutes to clear out the way and I was able to head off.
We'd thought that it was a bit pointless me meeting him only 3 miles down the road as Peter was now carrying enough cakes and biscuits and juice  in his rucksack to stock a small, rubbish cafe. I was glad I drove to V Bridge though as it turned out to be a lovely little road and it was nice and quiet, which I'd been missing - the whole thing having been a bit busy so far.

I had a  seat in the grass listening to the wind and the birds sing and soaking up the sun-shine and thinking very little. Nice not to be at work. The team rocked through, were there for a couple of minutes, and were gone. There was a long tail-back on the A82 due to road works and so it took me quite a while to get to the ski centre. There I had a quick bowl of soup and a cup of tea - getting stuck in the queue behind a runner, who was taking an eternity to make his order and move on. I enjoyed the woman behind the counter's brisk impatience. "Oh come on" she said, "I'm losing the will to live!". He ordered a baked potato and then asked if it would be hot. You could see she had to do considerable editing of swear words before she managed to say, "I should hope so." I got back down to the trail as quick as I could, and just as well as Richard and Peter were again ahead of schedule and looking good, although Richard was looking overly-determined. Not good to be trying too hard too early.

Next stop, the bottom of the Devil's Staircase. It wasn't so great sitting here waiting. It was busy again and right next to the road. Cars flashed past at alarming speeds. I watched the shadows deepen on the Buchaille Etive Mhor across the road and got a crick in my neck looking out for my runners, who had dropped a few places. They walked in looking a bit grim. I'd been firing  random selections from Richard's store of food into one, now rather yucky, selection bag. Richard didn't want any of the things I'd chosen, preferring a prison diet of rich teas and water. So Peter hared off to the car for them. They headed off up the hill and I went for a long drive round to Kinlochleven.

At Kinlochleven I pottered around and got some beers in case we wanted a party later and then found a wall to sit on to wait for my team. I was beyond chatting or wanting to chat with strangers, feeling tired and peaceful and glad that the day was wearing on and all was going okay. Kinlochleven was the last official check-in for runners and support teams so by being there the job was really done as far as making sure Richard's support team didn't get him disqualified. (The minimum standard I had set myself.)

Peter and Richard arrived just after 8pm, this being the earliest that I thought I could expect them. They had some chips at the chip shop - Peter's were eaten with relish but Richard's were just picked at. Richard was weighed and off they went again.

I set off to see if I could find the road to Lundavra. My directions were a bit hazy. Take a road right up the hill as you're just coming in to Fort William and then drive 5 miles over single-track road to a bonfire. I found the road easily enough and enjoyed spectacular scenery as it wound up and down and twisted round corners for 5 miles. I was listening intently to every vibration in the van as mechanical problems at this stage would have been disastrous and the terrain was pretty taxing. At last I came to a rise and ahead I could see smoke from a bonfire. Arriving at this checkpoint was bizarre. There were a few people there wearing midge nets over their faces so they turned and looked at me with their blank faces as I approached. It seemed more like a small group of fanatics waiting for space-ships or the second coming than part of the organisation of a race. I deliberately stopped my mind from raking through its ample horror section for explanations of what was going on here. I was sleep deprived and the sun was almost down and my imagination was making a bid to take over.

The heat of the bonfire was lovely and the flames were cheering and there was enough of a breeze to still keep the midges away. The guys who had made (and were actively making) this fire were settled in for a long night. That's some dedication to keeping the runners safe through this difficult last section in the dark. One of them offered me some coffee. They couldn't have been nicer. And it was quite special to be out in the wilderness round a fire with strangers at sunset on pretty much midsummers night. There was low-key relaxed chat.

When Peter and Richard at last came into view I could see that the team were now flagging. The wind had just dropped and the midges had seized their moment so the lovely oasis of calm was turned into insect hell. We did what we could to feed Richard quickly. He stood where he stopped rather than moving closer to the fire. In 2 minutes they were out and off into the night. I tried not to think about what that might entail as there was nothing I could do. It was 7 miles max. to the end, but my experience of the end of the Highland Fling was that this could be a mighty long way if things were no longer going well. I was glad to get back down the tiny road in the dark and into Fort William.

My last agreed stop was the Braveheart Carpark in Glen Nevis. By now I was tired and muddled and I drove past it 3 times before -  4th time lucky - finding the entrance.
There was hardly anyone there and it was dead dark. By now some mild feelings of paranoia were turning into full blown Night of the Living Dead scenes. Road signs were turning into people and back into signs again. People were creeping around the back of the van. Things were flitting through the trees. Outside the midges were back in control of the world and there was no way I was stepping outside the van. After a long wait in the dark I began to question what the point of my being there was. I couldn't give them a lift. No food was going to do either of them any good. From there it was a 2 mile jog down the road to the finish and nothing I could do would hasten them. I texted Peter who phoned back and said just to get to the end. I also texted Scott Ferguson and had a quick chat with him. He was just leaving Kinlochleven with Robert. They had a good few hours ahead of them! Then I retreated to the end and sat in the van with the heater on and listening to music.

With 4 minutes to go before the 24 hour mark, at 0056 hrs Peter and Richard arrived in. I should have taken a photo just to show you how pale and pinched Richard looked but I didn't have the patience to fuss with a camera. We all jumped in the van as quick as we could and found our way to the hotel where we were staying. Peter and I were asleep pretty quickly. I think Richard lost a further night's sleep tending to his achy legs.

So by the next day at the prize-giving we had no idea what had happened out the front. Way back at Auchtertyre we'd asked the Lord of the Bridge how things were shaping up at the sharp end and he's said there were 3 men very close to each other, one of whom was Richie Cunningham. Since then we'd become too absorbed into our own micro-drama to take much note of the wider events of the day. So when we bumped into Richie Cunningham at the Sports centre and asked him how he'd done we were delighted to hear that he'd won. Good result!

Also at the sports centre we saw Robert Kinnaird and John Pickard both of whom had finished just a few hours before so were  wide-eyed and stary! Scott Ferguson was in fine form and he and Peter shared supporters tales.

Niall Dinwoodie, also Portie, had started the race but we saw him in a car at Beinn Glass farm so his race went wrong quite early on.

The prize-giving was mercifully short. The woman's prize went to Kate Jenkins who was also 7th overall.
And then the challenge of driving home safely with a still very tired brain. Nearly had a couple of bumps as we got into Edinburgh but we didn't -we made it. Peter was in bed by 7.30pm and I was in bed by 9.30pm and we slept 12 hours each. I think it'll be a few days before we're recovered.
Richard was last seen disappearing into his house in the carpet slippers he was also wearing at the prize-giving. I hope his recovery is swift and complete.


Climbingmandy said...

Wow... me thinks that posting must have been quite cathartic Mary. Well done on crewing over such a long distance and getting Richard home safe and sound.

The Sunday Adventure Club said...

great read as usual Mary. i didn't know Peter was a golf man??!

Yak Hunter said...

Haha he isn't. Richard put us up in a posh (for us) hotel, and that was the reading matter on offer. The idea of golf being tough after watching people run the WHW was pretty funny at the time. Hope you're recovering well.