Friday, 7 February 2014

268 miles from Derbyshire to Scotland!

                        Click on photo's to enlarge, click again 'off' the photo to go back to blog. 

Photo's courtesy of John Bamber (donation to Border search and Rescue made) and Joe Faulkner.

Experimenting with my new GoPro Hero, I took many short Video clips, some of which are on YouTube, click on the right hand box for full screen, click the same box (lower right) to return to blog. Some last only a couple of seconds and end abruptly, like I said I was experimenting!!!

You think this unshaven face looks heavy eyed, fatigued & weather beaten, yet determined and having the time of his life? Then you are 100% correct. (At Byrness with only 28 of the 268 miles left to go).

At 67 years, I am the only over 60's and thus the oldest, ever to be on the start line of the Spine Race.
The question is, would I be the oldest ever to finish!? Read on to find out!

                                                           The Spine Race 2014

 First of all, let me say this is long one, so allow plenty of time. It may be a a good idea to read through first and come back to the video's later, it's up to you. I can't recall everyone's name but I remember their faces, so if I have missed anyone out whom I spent any time with, I apologise. Timings are also something I have difficulty with, like where and when, as to me it was just one long continuous thing and I didn't take too much notice of the clock. I was just trying to move forward at every opportunity. I hope no one that I have mentioned is offended by my comments, if so please let me know and I will rectify. 
The thing that stands out probably the most from this experience is the saturated ground conditions and miles and miles of mud. The toll on energy reserves was massive and everyone after day one was complaining of being that fatigued that they were moving along in a semi conscious state at times. It is for this reason that I camped out and bivvied three times in between CPs, just to grab that extra short sleep.

     Three members of the marvelous Spine team, John Bamber, Stuart Smith and Joe Faulkner.                     The Spine team and volunteers were as usual absolutely marvelous, nothing was too much trouble and we were waited on hand and foot at Cps.
With live trackers fitted to everyone's rucksack shoulder strap, they and those following the race on their Pcs etc. could see where we were at any time.

After reaching the first refuge hut on the Cheviot's during the final stage of the Spine race in January 2013 and almost within sight of the finish, before being beaten by the atrocious weather conditions, it is perhaps obvious that the aim in 2014 is to get beyond that point and finish, within the seven day limit.
However the other main consideration for me, is to manage my sleep better. just how I manage that I am not sure, but one thing I am sure of, is that I do not want to experience the weird mental state that comes with extreme sleep deprivation. Of course I didn't plan to get only 2 hours sleep during those first three and a half days, it was just the way it went at the time. This time I have a different strategy, so fingers crossed.

Last time, I started trying to run again after 5.5 years off with a bad injury, in September 2012. It was a matter of go for a short run, followed by a least a week off, recovering. Eventually I knew that I would simply have to go to the Spine 2013, with what was already naturally there.  I knew my legs were strong at least, with the many Ultra distance walks I had done over many years and there was my history of Marathon and Fell running going back over more than 50 years.
All the same this time I wanted to be fitter, much fitter, and I think I am, not massively, as injuries have raised there head again, disrupting training, but nevertheless I go hoping, confident, that I can do better this time.

Gear wise, I have changed a few things, added more clothing, printed off 1:25,000 strip maps on waterproof paper, got my GPS serviced, insulated water bottles, and new shoes, etc. etc.

I normally do these things purely for my own enjoyment, however, given the heads up about two guys doing the Pennine Way, North to South, by Joyce form the Forest View B&B in Byrness, I decided to catch up with them on a training rum between Horton and Hawes, and back, in the summer of 2013. I came across Gary Kelso and his pal Paul Tyler during my descent to Hawes, I carried on to Hawes then turned around and caught up with them again on the Cam High Road, and walked the 9 miles back to Horton with them.
They were doing this walk to raise funds for Gary's son Cieran, who as a baby lost his legs to meningitis. Cieran, now an eight year old wanted a pair of 'Blades', so that he could run like the rest of his pals. Well his story really touched me and as we shared a pint at the Crown in Horton, I gave them a small donation and told Gary that I would use the Spine to try and raise a few quid for Cieran. If anyone feels that they would like to help this little lad in his plight, you can make a donation no matter how small, by clicking on the 'donation' button, on his website, and marking it 'Daves Spine Race'.  Thank you very much, website:-

      With Paul Tyler...........&...Gary Kelso near Hawes on PW.

Week prior to the start.
Just what I didn't need, picked up a virus that led to Laryngitis on the Sunday before. Still feeling rough on Thursday, I knew that if I awoke still feeling bad, on Friday, the day I am due to to travel to Edale, then I would have no choice but call it off.
Friday morning - feeling much better, but of course I just had to!

Friday January 10th.
Quite a number of us alighting the train at Edale. I made straight for the registration hall and met Scott and some other members of the Spine team. Left my drop bag and rucksack there and made for my accommodation to book in, then shortly after went back down to the hall for the pre-race briefing and kit check.

                                                       Kit check with Conrad Dickinson.
After that I walked up the lane to the Old Nags Head Inn to have a meal, but found it closed, so back down the lane and in the Ramblers Inn.
Gary Morrison, Mark Caldwell, Rob Spalton, Andrew Hayes, some others and Annie Garcia were all together in one of the lounges. Rob came over and shook my hand and Annie got up came across and we shared a big hug. It was good to see everyone again.
After a short while Annie mentioned her tent that she had hired but never pitched. We both went outside to a area of grass and pitched the tent so that she would at least have a better idea of how to do it, should she need to, during the race.
Back in the pub I met Frances and Justin Roach at the bar, he had pulled out from starting as he was injured but came along to help as a volunteer. After chatting I ordered a meal and a pint of Guinness. Finished that and off to my B&B at Western House for an early night.

Saturday January 11th. 
The following morning had an early breakfast and good conversation with the other guests, among them, Spine legends of Gary Morrison, Mark Caldwell, and Richard Lendon. Well, I remember thinking, here's three that are going to finish ahead of me - however, little did anyone know, especially me, at the time, the Spine decides who will finish and when- if at all.
Back up to room, pay bill and walk down the lane to the start near the hall. On the way, Jenn Gaskell came running up and I got another big hug. Jenn had retired at Dufton last year and was keen to finish this time and possibly win the ladies race. She was as enthusiastic as ever. We arrived at the bedlum of the start area together. It was a bit chaotic, with kit checks and Trackers being fitted, people filling water bottles etc, but finally we were ordered down to the start line, as it began raining. Dark clouds loomed overhead, although the forecast was for slight drizzle only.

                                                                      Race HQ Edale.

                                The Start Line. Richard in the centre and Pav in orange top.

                                                                   Just after the start!

Saturday Start Edale to CP1 Hebden Bridge. 44 miles.
8.20am a little later than planned and we are off! Those at the front are running whilst the main group get into a steady fast walk - there's a long way to go! I pass Annie shortly after the first gate, the weather gets worse, people stop to put on waterproofs. After the farm on the way top Jacobs Ladder I find a big map case with maps and compass inside lying on the track. That's not good news for someone, I thought. I stashed it inside my hip belt.
Up Jacobs Ladder, the German crew led by Thomas overtook me. Then it started snowing in earnest and by the time I was up on the Kinder plateau, it was coming down heavily and everything turned white very quickly.
                           Thomas Emke leading the German/Swiss team at Jacobs ladder.

                                                               Kinder Downfall area.

                                      Myself on Kinder Scout (Summit Fever Photography)

After the Downfall, I passed a guy being assisted by two others. This was Paul Radford and he was going very slowly and limping badly, apparently had slipped, twisted his knee and his cartilage had popped out - Ouch!. As I passed I asked if they all had their maps. One of them called out to me that his was apparently missing. He seemed surprised that the ones I had found were his, I don't think he had realised that he had dropped it.
This was Mark Hines and had fallen on the grassy descent to the farm and must have dislodged his map case which later parted company with his sack.

Over Mill Hill and along the slippery slabs of Featherbed Moss, Ian Bowles caught me up and I managed to stay with him beyond the Snake Pass, until he finally moved ahead of me.

                        Featherbed Moss, after Mill Hill Approaching the Snake Pass Road.

Bleaklow Summit.

Along the ridge dropping off Bleaklow, Jenn Gaskell caught me up, then moved a little in front, I didn't see much more of Jenn again on the route. Across the reservoirs, I started having really bad inner thigh cramps, the sort that leave you immobile until the spasms work their way out. These spasms would come and go over the course of the next 10 miles, slowing me down dramatically.

                        Clough Edge, Bleaklow, with Jenn Gaskell, heading for Crowden

Just before the steep climb up to Ladder Rocks I looked ahead and saw the first, second and third lady within 30 metres of each other, Jenn, Debbie and Mimi. The race for them was on already.
Having reached the level area at the top of the crags, I started to feel shaky and realised I was rapidly deteriorating, losing all energy and could no longer keep the pace. People were passing me in droves, I stumbled and felt awkward. I knew that reaching the first CP would not happen feeling like this, but fortunately recognised that I was in the early throws of exhaustion, perhaps the virus was not fully clear of my system afterall.  I know better, but I had got caught up with the desire to move as fast as possible, making good progress, during the early miles, thus arriving at Crowden a good hour up on last year. However I was now at approximately 18 miles and had not taken a drink or had any food. I purposely slowed right down and for the next hour ate continuously. After about 40 minutes I felt myself coming back up again and after the hour, was back feeling really good again, and able to crack on.  

During the next miles to Standstead I moved mostly alone but spent some time with others including Mick Coopers (second finisher in last years Spine) wife, Jacqueline. She was doing the Challenger and moving very well.
I reached a road crossing before the M62 footbridge and went over to what I thought was a Spine vehicle only to be abruptly rebuffed by a guy filling water bottles, "This is not a Spine vehicle, it is a support vehicle!"
Good job I wasn't in need of assistance, as I doubt it would have been forthcoming from him - perhaps he had not fully read the race rules.
Somewhere along the way Andrew Hayes caught me up then we were joined by Debbie Brupbacher a Swiss runner, who had lost ground on Jenn after a nav error. "Early days" she confidently said.
On reaching the White House pub, we checked in with the Spine crew with Ally Young and Amanda Crozier. These two young ladies kept popping up everywhere in their support role as voluteers, all the way along the route. We went into the pub for much needed food. I hadn't seen the point in stopping here last year, but this time I needed to, I was finding the heavy underfoot going really tiring this time.
We eventually left after much amusement at the bar, and later discovered that Ian had been in the pub, saw us there and deliberately sneaked out behind us without saying anything. I knew he was bent on finishing ahead of me. It was good natured private little ding dong between us, although I always knew he had the upper hand - but I wasn't going to let him know that!

We carried on and after the reservoirs at Stoodley Pike we came across other Spiners including Jonnathan Zeffert. After the horrible climb out of Charlesworth, we eventually arrived at CP1 Hebden Bridge, 1.5 hours down on my planned time.
As would occur at every CP, we had our numbers checked off by someone on duty, usually Nici Griffin, who it turned out to be was very much the 'commander in chief' at CPs and if she was there, we always received welcoming hug.

                                                              Nicci Griffin at Greggs Hut.

I think it was here that I met Rob Spaltons wife Lorna, who as well as supporting Rob, impressed everyone else with her willingness to assist all other runners as we passed through the CPs.
Last year I spent only 2.5 hours here, unable to sleep. This time my legs knew they had done 40 odd miles and needed a rest. I did manage a few hours sleep until the snoring got a bit much, so I got up and prepared for the off.
       CP1 Hebden Bridge, Steve Hayes getting his feet fixed and Annie just out of sleeping bag.

Sunday/Monday CP1 Hebden Bridge to CP2 Hawes. 66 miles.
Andrew and myself left CP1 at around 7.30am and climbed the wooded hill out onto the lane. We were surprised to see people only just arriving after being out between the start and HB for almost 24 hours. We were soon joined by Allan, doing the Challenger. This would be a day of mud, mud and more mud, really draining one of energy and forcing the legs to work hard. On the moorland sections it was hard to get any pace going on the stone slabs as they were extremely slippery.
 Around the reservoir area we met Adam Critchley from our running club and Chris Heyes a guy I knew from another guys Bob graham round, last year. They had come to share a bit of time with us, whilst out on a run. They stayed with us for a few miles, past Top Withins and down to Ponden. It was good to see them and really boosted my spirits.

                          Top Withins Ruin & Bothy, with Adam Chritchley and Chris Heyes.

I think we went ahead of Allan somewhere on the moor, after Ponden and arrived in Lothersdale, where we went straight in the Hare & Hounds pub and ordered some food and drink. Allan, then Annie and Eduardo  arrived shortly after.
Between there and Gargrave we were with Annie and Eduardo and Allan at some stage again, then went ahead of them. Along the Leeds/Liverpool canal and Approaching the turn off, we saw two Spiners or Challengers go wrong, carrying on under the bridge, we shouted but they were outside of earshot. Further on we saw their headlights on the wrong side of the fence in some woods. They asked if we were on the Pennine Way, which we confirmed, then they were trying to get across. Eventually, arriving in Gargrave in the rain. Shopping done in the Coop there and off once more, heading for Malham in the dark.
Over the Leeds/Liverpool canal and onto the fields section. We went slightly too far left in the deep mud and Anne Green on a better line caught us up. Then Andrew and myself ignored a gate we should have gone through, but seeing Anne on the other side of the fence, re-traced our steps and quickly caught her up. I was to learn that Anne a very steady, not fast, walker, nearly always stayed on route, and on a couple of occasions on the dark, I stayed a short distance behind her and let her lead the way. Thanks Anne.
After meeting the road we got ahead of her again and corrected her when she went wrong at a bridge. Even Anne got it wrong some time. It got a bit confusing after that and we missed a wall stile, but quickly realised and soon got ourselves back on route. We paused a while at Hanlith, before the steep climb up the lane, whilst Anne decided to continue on.
Finally after much mud and rain we arrived slightly battered in Malham a little before 11pm. We went into the pub there and asked for a coffee, but the barman was  unobliging, however a girl at the bar told us there was a grass area where we could camp (providing we were away early) next to the visitors centre car park. We found it and pitched our tents in the rain. I saw that Andrews tent was up first as I had, had some trouble with a plastic ring that had caught around the bottom of my tent pole. However the next thing Andrew was on his phone to the Spine team requesting they collect him, as he had enough and wanted out. I was a bit surprised, but knew he was getting fed up of the underfoot conditions and it was quite miserable and cold pitching the tents. Anyway I must have quickly dozed off, because I never heard them come for him, the next thing I knew I was woken by a vehicles headlights. I thought it was the police and was expecting to be moved on. However a quiet voice said " Dave, are you alright, we've been asked to check on you". It was Stuart Smith from the Spine team. "Yes. thanks, I'm fine. I will give it another hour or so, then be on my way." "Ok, just wanted to know you are ok, do you need any water?", "No' Ive got plenty, thanks". "Ok ".
It was reassuring that they had taken the trouble to come out to check on me, and as I said about an hour or so later, at around 4.40am, I broke camp and set off for CP1.5 near Malham Tarn.

                                                          Inside my wet tent at Malham.

Monday Malham to Hawes.
Up the road out of Malham and onto the path leading to the cove, I came across Ian and Annie just breaking their camp. Apparently Annie who had abandoned her tent due it's weight had fortunately come across Ian the night before, and they had shared his tent. The three of us climbed the never ending steps up by the cove and then by the fossilised waterfall, at the end of the dry valley. Annie fell behind a bit along the next stretch up to CP1.5, where John Bamber had set up a small marquee. John welcomed us in his usual cheery way and provided hot drinks. There were a couple of guys stretched out on chairs, trying to get some sleep. Annie arrived just before Ian and myself were ready to move on. She told me she was fine, so we bade farewell and went off into the night heading for CP2 at Hawes.

                                                                 CP1.5 Malham Tarn.

                                                       Arriving at CP1.5 Malham Tarn.

                                                               Annie Garcia arrives.

Daylight broke shortly after ascending Fountains fell and we came across Joe Faulkner on the lane checking on people going through. Up and over Pen Y Ghent, then the direct alternative, avoiding Horton, up the Cam High Road and met the photographers from Summit Fever at the top where we turned left along the continuing track.

                                              Ascending Pen Y Ghent with Ian Bowles.

                                                    Cam High Road, heading for Hawes.

A runner came towards us and shouted, it was Dave Kershaw from our running club. He had done the same as Adam and Chris the day before, and came to catch us up, as he had been following the race on Facebook and Opentracking. He walked back with us for a while, before turning round and running back to his car at Ribblehead. It had been really good to see and have a laugh with him.
Further on after starting our descent down to Hawes, Scott was coming up looking for another runner and asked us whether we had seen him. We hadn't, so he carried on up, but soon was back with us, then Stuart Westfield came up, and they joined us as far as the road where their vehicle was waiting. We arrived at CP2 in Hawes and got a cheer as we went through the door.

                                     Arriving at CP2 Hawes with supplies from local shop.

The Cps tend to be rather noisy places, with people getting their feet mended by the medical team, shoveling food down, generally chatting or sleeping. At Hawes it was floor space only, but Ian and myself were not intending on staying long, so just went about what needed to be done and rested up some.
Here I met Colin Fitzjohn who had, had a fall, suffering a head injury and had been ruled out of any further participation. I really felt for him, he was clearly so disappointed at not being able to continue. His wife and family then arrived to take him home.

Monday CP2 Hawes to CP3 Middleton in Teesdale 33 miles.
Ian and I set off for the ascent of Great Shunner Fell on the way to CP3 Middleton in Teesdale. There was an 84 hour time out for exiting this CP. Last time it took me 82 hours to reach there and 91 hours to exit, but fortunately the 84 hour time out was on 'arriving', not exiting, last year. This year however I was well up on overall time and knew that I could still have a good enough sleep and leave there well within the limit.
Nearing Gt Shunners summit it started to snow, and the German and Swiss crew were hot on our heels.

                                           With Ian Bowles on Gt. Shunner Fell Summit.

They passed us shortly after, but we stayed just behind them for a good while, then came a slippery downhill slab stretch. They were moving fast, I slipped a couple of times so did Ian, before I suggested that rather than risk breaking something, we should let them go, especially as we still moving well and not exactly dawdling.
Shortly after that, we caught them as they began moving really slowly, which was a surprise, then Ian managed to get past and they kindly stepped to one side to allow me to pass. Apparently Michael had slipped and badly caught his foot between slabs and twisted his ankle. We soon opened up a gap and after going through the village of Thwaite progressed on up the hill and along the tricky stony path towards Keld, but turning off to cross the river Swale to join the path to Tan Hill Inn.
I later learnt that Michael had stopped at Thwaite and called the medic team. They came out, took him to a CP, examined and patched up his ankle, then delivered him back to Thwaite, so that he could carry on.

We had both been feeling rather tired and literally almost falling asleep on our feet, as seemed to be the case with everyone else too that got this far. We decided to bivvy for a couple of hours, and found a spot over a wall and above the track we were on. Ian seemed to doze off fairly quickly, whilst I couldn't settle, but may have briefly dozed off. Guys coming past often shouted up asking if we were ok. It was no good, I decided that I may as well carry on, and hopefully get some proper rest at Tan Hill. I shouted to Ian but he was well away, so I got out of my bag and packed up. This woke Ian so I told him I was leaving. He started to get organised and I left just before him. Further along I temporarily lost the route, sussed it and headed back onto it. This had given Ian the opportunity to get slightly ahead of me, but we arrived at Tan Hill almost together. It was disappointing that that we were only allowed access to the porch, so no proper rest was to be had here. Ben Taylor, yet another really helpful and enthusiastic volunteer was there and made me a brew, I sat for a while. Ian had left earlier.  Ben walked with me to the stile and I began the horrendous crossing of the moor. To say it was submerged is a bit of an understatement. I squelched my way through, mile after mile of it, until I finally cleared it and arrived at the track. I came across Michael or I should say he came across me, and we sort of walked together before he got away from me, then I caught him up, then he went away again. Coming to a road crossing Richard Lendon, who had retired from the race a day or two earlier had come up to help, and was in his car ticking off numbers. He gave me some cereal type bars, before wishing me well. I left him there as someone else approached.
Before dropping down to CP3 Middleton I caught up with Anne Green. I told her (jokingly) that she had beaten me once again to Hawes but she wasn't going to beat me to Middleton. We arrived there together, she headed straight for the CP, I headed for the shop and re-supplied first.  Once inside the CP, I saw that Annie was there, she had attempted the ascent of Great Shunner Fell in the snow, but struggled with an injury that had her walking backwards, as it was easier, up the Cam High road to Hawes, during the earlier section. She was helping out now and brought me food and drink, and generally assisting everyone.
Steve Thompson, joint winner of the first Spine was also there helping out and brought me numerous cups of tea.  I worked out how long I could rest up, but get away with a couple of hours to spare of the cut off, 84 hours, at 8pm.

Tuesday/Wednesday CP3 Middleton to CP4 Alston. 44 miles.
I set off with time to spare after managing a few hours sleep. Anne was just ahead of me. We crossed the river Tees bridge and entered the path along the Pennine Way, this was going to be a long night, with a good 20 plus miles to the next real habitation of Dufton, before the long climb up and over the highest point of the route, Cross Fell.
Anne stopped for some food and I carried on, past the roaring High Force and onto some open moor, where I went astray before re-finding the route by which time I could see other headtorch lights coming up the trail. Over the bridge I carried straight on until I realised again that this was not right. A quick check on the GPS made me about turn and back to the bridge where I should have turned abruptly left. Anne had got ahead of me due to my nav error and Matt had caught me up. Further along I rejoined Anne, then went slightly ahead, only on crossing the head of High Cup Nick she found the right line first and was once again in front. Then Michael was with us, but somehow we all ended up on a lower path cutting through the top of the crags instead of above them. It was tricky in the dark and bad visibility due to hill fog. It was no use, I needed to change my headtorch batteries, and stopped to do so. I was on my own again, but safely arrived in Dufton with Michael. I think it was Stuart Westfield from the Spine team approached to inform us that we were being held back until daylight, as a safety measure as Cross Fell was being battered by blizzard and high winds. We had to sleep in the bus shelter as all room in the public toilets had been taken. Ian was already settled and asleep on the only bench so Michael found a space on the concrete floor of the bus shelter on one side and I on the other. Tom Jones who had earlier retired but came back as volunteer helper, was there and was organising everyone, and doing a very good job of it too. He brought me a hot drink before I settled in my sleeping bag and bivvy bag on my Thermarest sleep mat. I may have briefly dozed off, but all too soon came the cry, "It's 7am, the clock is now ticking you are free to go". We were however put into teams which we had to maintained until at least Greggs Hut Bothy on the other side of Cross Fells summit. I was with Michael and Anne, although we joined the team ahead for a while, ascending the slopes up to Great Dunn Fell and its Golf Ball comms station.

Ascending to Gt. Dunn and Cross fells.

We arrived at the tarmac stations access road and had to wait for Michael who had dropped back some. On reaching us he apologised, saying that his injured ankle was bothering him. I was a bit concerned at this as I was becoming quite chilled and wanted to move much faster, to keep warm. However this was not possible, so I started breathing really quickly exhaling into the top of my jacket and moving my stomach muscles repeatedly. I had used this technique before and it seemed to work as I warmed up slightly. On Cross fells plateau we caught up once again with the group ahead and arrived at Greggs Hut together after meeting Paul and his search dog Mist, who had come out to meet us, along with one of the medical team.

                                                        Arriving at Greggs Hut Bothy.

                                                         Greggs Hut Bothy, Cross Fell.

                             John serving Noodles inside the highest Noodle bar in the UK!

                                                      Inside Greggs Hut with Noodles!

John Bamber was there as usual serving hot drinks and Noodles to everyone. After asking if we were now free to go, and being told we were, I was off. I walked alone down the long dark track to Garrigill. Through there and along and across the river. Seeing a Spine sign for CP4, I climbed the grass then tarmac hill and entered. I had a nice shower first then something to eat before retiring for about four or five hours sleep. Time of day didn't mean much, it was a matter of trying to be continually moving forward as much as possible and just grabbing the occasional time for some sleep where possible.

Thursday CP4 Alston to CP5 Bellingham. 40 miles.
I left Alston CP alone but came across a largish group near the river, that included Rob, Gary, Jonathan, Steve and some others, however as daylight arrived I found myself once more alone. Charlie Sharpe came running past and I shouted to him asking how he managed such a remarkable recovery. He shouted back that he had put loads of Vaseline on his feet. The fact that he was struggling to walk at the last CP, had two of us doubting that he would get any further let alone finish. Mind you this guy did finish second in last years Lakes 100 miler.
Geoginio joined me at some stage for a while before he headed off into the distance. Later on near to a sharp road bend and after a river footbridge I decided to bivvy for a couple of hours, and did so sat leaning against a fence. After that it involved crossing a huge open stretch of flooded moorland, squelching along once more. I eventually arrived at Greenhead at the start of the Hadrians Wall section. No sign of anyone at the YHA so went to the pub where Michael and Dimitry (A Russian born, but living in the USA) were having breakfast. I ordered mine. The other two left before I had finished. I left there about 20 minutes after they had, so was surprised that after a few miles I caught them up. At some point Stuart Smith was there checking on everyone and he joined me along the wall for a short time. I was feeling very strong (must have been that breakfast) and opened up a gap on Michael and Dimitry. Fortunately it was still light as I crossed the known swamp area after Rapishaw Gap on the wall, and headed North for Scotland. It was well dark back onto the further forest tracks and a particularly unpleasant deep mud stretch, where I fell over. I was so pleased to finish that length of track. I called my wife to give a sitrep as I walked down the road towards CP5 at Bellingham.
This was it the last CP. Usual things, shoes off at the door, get drop bag and sort out what is required for the next stage, then get showered and get some food down. Everyone recalled the awful mud lane in the forest, which soaked up so much time and effort just to get through. Gary Morrison and Mark Caldwell arrived as I was taking a short video shot of Debbie having her feet attended to by a medic.

                                 Debbie Brupbacher having her feet fixed, with Dave Dixon.

They had, had a good sleep ay Greenhead YHA and were feeling good. That is how I had managed to get in front of them. Gary asked me what time I was leaving, but I had not decided at that point. Then someone told me a bed was becoming available in a nearby room. Steve Hayes was trying to get some sleep on the rooms other bed. I had noticed Steve during the course of the event, in his late twenties, an obvious 'stayer' always strong and at the forefront of any group, always pushing the pace. The fact that that he had in fact successfully swum the English Channel in 17 hours, a perfect example of his endurance. After a bit he suggested that I join several who were planning on leaving at 2am. That would give us over 30 hours to complete the last stage of around 40 miles. I agreed.

Friday CP5 Bellingham to the finish Kirk Yetholm. 40 miles.
Up and ready to go, I was told that Rob was waiting for his mate Gary and that Anne and Steve had just left. So much for all leaving together. I walked down the road and entered  Bellingham Village. Stopping to make sure I was on the right road out of there, I heard a whistle and saw Steve a little further along, Anne was no longer with him. We set off together on the trail heading firstly for Byrness some 13 miles away.
On one of the boggy moorland sections we could see headtorches behind but much further over to our left. We kept on anyway, although in places the path was difficult to follow. I waited for Steve after he dropped his GPS and had to back a short distance to recover it.
Heading for the road crossing in the continuing dark I got the feeling we were swinging too far left, so took a compass bearing off my GPS to the crossing. The direction coincided with a dim light in the distance. We headed over cross coutry and on reaching the road saw that the light was from a car - Andrew Hayes car. He had come back after retiring to help out and was there taking numbers of everyone who passed through.
He pointed us in the right direction and we were off again.
We both started falling asleep on our feet and decided to bivvy. We found a spot amongst the Pine needles a little in from the edge of Kielder Forest.

                                                                Bivvy in Kielder Forest.

I awoke suddenly and although we had only planned on staying an hour, as that is allowed without informing HQ, I found we had been there 1 hour 40 minutes. I got up and woke Steve. We moved along the edge of the forest to the track, which we had been allowed to take to avoid a very boggy section. Steve phoned HQ and apologised for us not informing them, but they were fine with it.
Well the track wasn't much better for a while, as they had covered it with branches, probably to avoid turning it into a quagmire like the one we came across the day earlier. Eventually we reached the improved track and made good time to Byrness, where the Spine Team were waiting.

                                                                     Me at Byrness.

                                                    Steve Hayes and myself at Byrness.

Hot drink and some snacks were served up which was greatly appreciated, John Bamber and Joe Faulkner took some photo's. We stayed around 20 minutes then Ben led us up into the forest to the track where we were being diverted to avoid a 'super bog'. The diversion took a mile or so along the track before re-joining the Pennine Way on the grassy moorland.

                                               Heading up to the Cheviots from Byrness.

Heading for the first refuge hut, which was as far I got last year, due to the storm that had us withdrawn from the race on safety grounds. We could see it as we turned abruptly left, following the border fence between England and Scotland. In to the hut we went and lit our stoves for a brew.

                                               England/Scotland Border fence, Cheviot's.

                                                       Lamb Hill Refuge Hut (Cheviots).

                                                                 Steve airing his feet!

Steve wanted to get a couple of hours sleep, but I didn't feel tired enough and felt we should press on as it was only 16 miles to the finish.
We ended up staying just a short while, then continued onwards. Steve began getting out his supply of energy gels and we had one each at 45 minuet intervals, to keep us alert and moving. Breaking into a run for a good way, we caught up with Michael and Dimitry and came across Stewart Westfield with Ben and Russ Swift, out for a night walk but reverse sweeping the route at the same time. Tom gave me some water as mine was becoming depleted, then they went on their way and us on ours.
At Windy Gyle we started to descent on the left of the fence, the visibility was poor. I knew this was wrong and signalled to Steve to get onto the other side, which we did and quickly found the path. Round by Auchope Cairn, down then up to the second refuge hut. We only had a very brief stop here and left Michael and Dimitry there in their Bivvy bags, grabbing some sleep.

                                                      Leaving Refuge Hut 2, Cheviot's.

                                                    Michael & Dimitry, earlier at Byrness.

Up again for the last time and over the Schill. At the top Steve noticed that his GPS was missing from the open pocket of his front pouch. It could have anywhere some distance back, so after a fruitless little search, he accepted it's loss and on we went. The visibility was not good in the hill fog.
Just as we were approaching the turn off for the lower route to Kirk Yetholm, we could see headtorch coming down the hill towards us. It was dave Dixon who had left Bellingham several hours before us. He told us he had been wandering around for a couple of hours unable to find his way down to the finish. I told him to tag along with us. I went forward, but shortly after turned round to see they still way back, so I walked back up to them. Dave was struggling to walk because of his sore shins I told him we had to make a decision as it would take him too long at that rate to walk down. It was hard, knowing he really wanted to finish and being so close, but I doubted his legs would hold up that last 4 or 5 miles.
At first Myself and Steve were going to rush to the finish together to raise the alarm, then Steve decided to stay with Dave and told me to get going. I left them and hurried as fast I could, but was concerned it was taking me too long. I attempted to phone a couple of times before giving due to the lack of signal.
Finally I came down the lane and arrived to a small welcoming party cheering as I reached the finish.

                                               Rushing to the Finish at Kirk Yetholm.

 I let the photographers take their snaps before I mentioned about the medical emergency involving Dave Dixon. I didn't see her at first, but Daves wife was there and I think she had heard me, she looked sort of shocked.
I was quickly led inside the back area of the Border Hotel, where I was questioned about the situation. What I hadn't known was that someone from the team had managed via text to contact Steve asking if he had seen Vad, who was apparently in some kind of bother near Windy Gyle. He hadn't but was able to let them know about Dave. A recovery was already under-way. Scott then came across and told me they had got him. Richard Lendon appeared and presented me with my fisher medal and badge. I told him My main concern was that Steve was recorded as finishing at the same time as me, which he would have done, had he not been looking after Dave.
So that was it job done, success, I had finished the Spine! It wasn't the finish I had been hoping for however, as it was somewhat subdued with what occurred in those final few miles, and disappointing not to finish with Steve whom I been with all the way from Bellingham. No celebration, no euphoria and the bar was even closed. I did however get a nearly full pint, thanks to John Bamber giving me his. Cheers John!
I was then wisked away with Russ Swift, who really looked after me and I managed to showered and changed before being transferred to the village hall where everyone else was gathered and found a spot on the floor to get some sleep.
On waking I noticed that Ian Bowles was there almost next to me, and discussed the way things had gone throughout the race. He was telling me how he saw with his own eyes, Charlie Sharpe 'run' up that final tarmac, killer hill just a mile from the finish. Then we saw the Border Mountain Rescue Team enter the hall. Some looked over and recognised me from last year, I shook their hands. Their member Damon came over and told me his sole purpose for coming down to KY was to interview me for an article he wanted to do, about the guy, they assisted down from the refuge hut last year, who had come back again, to make a finish of  it. He told me however that the events on Windy Gyle for which the team had been called out to, had sort of put paid to that. He did take a photo and I sent him my contact details in case he still wanted to go ahead.
I had a quick word with Steve and was glad to hear that Michael who we had left in the second refuge hut, had found his GPS on the way up the Schill.

People started to leave as we had to all be out of the hall. Russ gave me a lift to the Border Hotel where I had a room booked for the Saturday night. On arriving there, Gary Morrison and his wife were just leaving, so I went over and shook his hand to say farewell.
I booked in and found my room, then came down to the bar for a few drinks. I joined Stuart, his dad Peter, Ben  and Joe Faulkner. Several drinks later we dispersed until the evening. I went to my room and had a bit of a sleep and got organised.
Later I went down and ordered a meal, after which I joined the others again in the bar. I began feeling tired again so had an early night, after a few drinks once more. I had booked my return rail ticket, but after joining the other at breakfast, Stuarts and Peter offered me a lift in their rather large mini bus to Chorley railway station.
"That would be fantastic" I told them. They left me to breakfast as they finished theirs.
Ben was dropped off in Penrith as he was meeting someone, and eventually I was dropped off at Chorley rail station. A taxi then took me home, where I surprised my wife by arriving so early.

The next couple of days were spent sorting things out, putting all me gear through the washer, tent, survival shelter, bivvy bag and shoes and gaiters in the garage to dry out. Sleeping bag hung to air and on to computer to catch up on Facebook and the Tracker.

After Thoughts.
Another trip that I thoroughly enjoyed but wish the finish had been better. Great meeting everyone again and the new faces too. Everything didn't go quite as I planned it, but I was not expecting it to. With the ground conditions being as they were, it was much harder this time. The main thing was that everything came good in the end and I finished with 8 hours to spare.

Things I got right.
Well I don't think I got much wrong to be honest. I managed to get more sleep this time albeit in short broken periods. I camped and bivvied three times between CPs. I chose the right footwear, a pair of North Face Hedgehog GTX walking shoes with Sorbothane Doublee Strike insoles, short Rab Gaiters and Sealskins Socks. My feet stayed dry apart from one occasion when my left foot got slightly damp. My feet stayed good with no blisters or any other problems at all. I left my Bufallo Jacket at home and used a three layer system, just adding one more top during one day, this worked well and kept me comfortable. Only once on Cross Fell did I feels chills.

Things I got wrong.
Not a lot really, apart from not eating and drinking during those first 18 miles, but wish I had taken my usual camera instead of experimenting with my Go Pro Hero video one, and I managed to lose another walking pole and a pair of gloves.

Next Year?  ..........................................Who knows, never say never!

Finally, my congratulations to Pav for his brilliant win, and to Debbie, first lady in the Spine, and to Marcus and Jacqueline for their wins in the Challenger.
My thanks once more to the Spine team and all volunteers for such another amazing experience. 

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