OK, it was to be a simple recce this one. Of course we’d be tracking the Pennine Way out of Gargrave where the route quickly picks up and follows the River Aire to its head. Its then onto up and over Malham Cove, around the Eastern shores of Malham Tarn, around Fountains Fell, up onto the summit of Pen-y-Ghent before finally descending into Horton in Ribblesdale.

This time were attempting the 19 mile leg, packs fully laden with the required kit such as a tent, sleeping bag, clothing suitable for the inevitably challenging elements come January, food, 1st aid kits etc etc.

We set of at a reasonable pace, of course come the Challenge we’d have already covered some 70-75 miles or so at this stage so it’s unlikely we’d be moving at not much more that 3-4 mph.

Navigation was pretty straight forward taking us out of the town and onto open fields with indistinguishable paths so it’s worth paying attention on these bits. If were here in the dark or if the weathers closed in then we may need to rely on some hand railing the walls/fences that bordered the fields.

Once down to the river we followed this pretty much all the way to Malham Cove crisscrossing it a couple of times but it was pretty straightforward. Upon reaching the cove we climbed the 400 irregular stone steps that was our route and once we’d ascended these it dropped us on the limestone pavement.

These steps are unlikely to be welcomed on the event proper and will bring back memories of the ‘Tilberthwaite steps’ just after the final checkpoint on the Ultra Tour of the Lake District, although on the Spine Challenge we’ll still have a few over 20 miles to go at this point.

We should have been awarded with amazing views back down the valley at this point but sadly not today! The weather was atrocious and further down the valley a couple of the guys had put on their waterproof trousers.

I donned mine at the top of the cove just out of the wind; much to Wayne annoyance as he’d blasted straight to the top and was now waiting in the wind! I didn’t have my waterproof socks on this section but I was trying my Inov8 268 GTX boots. The last thing I wanted was a repeat of the previous issues id had on the last recce and I knew that now we were on top of the cove the route was to become more and more exposed the further we went.

We headed toward Malham Tarn and right enough the wind was blowing and the rain was coming down hard.

We followed the map closely, there were a few paths crisscrossing our route, and made our way to the Tarn. Just before we arrived we came across a sign post suggesting we’d come the wrong way!

After studying the map since I can see we should have headed right and over the Limestone pavement following Ings Scar toward the tarn, instead we veered of to the left and followed Raven Scar which does bring you out at the same place but isn’t the correct route. Need to make a mental note to be sure we follow this proper!!

It was at this point huddled behind a wall that I put another full waterproof Goretex jacket on so I in total I now had waterproof boots, full length leggings, shorts, waterproof trousers, 2 x base layers, waterproof smock, a jacket and a cap. It was at this point I put my waterproof gloves on too! 

So of we went around the tranquil waters of Malham Tarn, er no sadly not! For all we knew we could have been on the shores of the growling Atlantic Ocean on the North West coast of Scotland as the waves were rolling in and we were virtually unable to see the opposite shore less than 700m across from us!

At around only 7 miles in my day started to take a turn.

The guys were trotting on quite well and quite frankly I was hanging, I then started to drop off the back a little. We passed around the back of Malham Tarn Field Centre along the track through the woods that gave us some respite from the weather but then it was back onto open land headed to Fountains Fell.

We pushed on and crossed the road that takes you down to Arncliffe and some more clothing was required from some of the boys. Sam, our honorary Spiner, had long since got his waterproof cover out for his pack but was now layering up with gloves etc. Soaked gloves were exchanged and additional jackets were added by the other boys.

The wind was now fierce and often gusting and causing us problems to stay upright. I was keeping very quiet by my standards and was wrapped up in my gear and thoughts of wanting this to end.

My feet were dry, legs were a touch cold but only because wed stopped temporarily, body was warm because of the layering I’ve finally worked out and my head was nice and warm wrapped up in a couple of hoods! However the issue was my hands, my waterproof gloves had appeared get wet as they were totally saturated, water had penetrated the membrane inside & my hands were already starting to get very cold.

We cracked on and started the ascent with the wind and rain at our side coming across from the West it was awful and the slog seemed never ending. Soon I was lagging and I could see the boys drifting in and out of the clag that had now come down. I knew that some point we would top out but I also knew that we would then be turning directly into the path of the weather, this I wasn’t looking forward to. I’d been guilty of just following the guys at this point, trusting their nav which was pretty flawless. I’d hope that as we traversed the fell we might get some cover from the weather but there was nothing and it was to be unrelenting.

Fair play to Wayne, he dropped back and walked with me encouraging me to look up,” life’s better when you’re looking at it” he said he was right but it wasn’t pretty! He could see I was really struggling and suggested to use my poles. I said I didn’t need them but he kept on and got them out for me. They helped for sure but in all honesty I was losing a lot of energy and taking my pack off seemed too much effort v’s reward to get the poles.

Once at the top we turned and headed straight into the wind and rain and it was terrible. We started descending above the valley called ‘In Sleets’ (very apt) and made our way to the Stainforth road where we would continue along for about a mile before picking the track up and onto Pen-y-Ghent.

I’d already voiced gentle concerns to Wayne and my capability of making Pen-y-Ghent and also the suitability given the wind. My ascent down to the road was slow and clumsy and as such was making my thoughts even stronger as to tackling the last and biggest climb of the day!

Glyn had a few comedy falls in front of us, I hadn’t witnessed them as they’d got a trot on. Sam and I were a fair distance behind but caught up when we joined the road.

Sam had got to the guys before me and suggested we didn’t do the last climb; I’d caught up a few seconds later and categorically confirmed that I would not be attempting it finding a shorter safer route down to Horton. They knew something wasn’t right as id not even commented on the fact Glyn was covered in mud.

We pushed on along the road, still into the weather, by now my fingers tips were frozen, my back was hurting from the pack weight I wasn’t used to and I just wanted to be lower down that the 400m we were at and out of the weather and I didn’t care how.

I saw a camper van coming towards us and it looked like Sarah’s Mum and Dad, I just wanted it to be them so they could stop, let me in, make me a brew and take me home safe and sound. It so looked like them, same van and everything but sadly they drove on. Madness had set in! A range rover came screaming towards us driving far too fast. I swing my poles at the car gesturing to slow down! He waved back, well I think it was a wave, but it might possibly have been some other gesture at this idiot who’d been franticly waving poles in the air and shouting!!!

We came to the point where I was now becoming stupid(er). We met the path that took us off the road for about 3 miles or so which descended into Horton. I was dead against leaving the road professing it’ll be reet, I can walk down here, likely I’ll get a lift of someone and make my way to meet you guys thinking id be sat waiting for them when they arrived.

It was pointed out that the road didn’t actually go to Horton but Malham, I said I didn’t care and just wanted to stay on the road and make my way that way! The boys made a good case and talked me round. Sam offering to carry my pack for me but I stupidly refused, Wayne suggested we stop for 5 minutes at the farm house and get warm, change gloves etc, again I refused. Truth be told all I wanted to happen was to be able to curl up all foetal in a ditch, keep warm and wait for the wind and rain to stop. It had to at some point, right?

This didn’t happen but by now I was slow, very slow and it was a good track. We made out last turn and finally we descended below the weather and could see Horton.

I could see the boys in the distance, maybe half a mile or so, and once again Wayne had hung back to escort me in! Glyn bless him had gone for the car as it was a mile or so into the village and was going to pick me up and save me the last stretch! Turns out we’d missed him and when he finally came into the café and there we were all safe and sound.

Id popped some warm gloves on out of my pack and my insulated jacket but I was shaking uncontrollably like the proverbial crapping dog. Id downed a bottle of coke, had a large slice of fudge cake, a pint of tea full of sugar, a bowl of soup and some bread. Finally the shaking slowed and then stopped; I started to feel normal again!

We finished up, made our way back to Gargrave courtesy of Glyn who dropped us there for the and Chadders then dropped me home safe and sound in Harrogate on his way back to Hull.

It was here the real fun started, nausea, uncontrollable shaking started again, sweats, headaches and it was all I could do to lie down.

My temperature was up slightly at 38.5 but nothing too serious. I slept a bit, woke, slept, woke and this went on all night seeing most hours!

I rose in the morning and got ready for work feeling the worst I’ve felt in a long time and made an appointment to see the Drs that afternoon.

I made sure I drank a lot of liquid throughout the day laced with electrolytes to make sure I wasn’t suffering from dehydration although id eaten and drank steadily throughout the recce, well much better than I usually do for sure.

My blood pressure was a little low, she’d expected that, resting heart rate was healthily in the mid 50’s (Athlete status for my age) and in pretty good shape all-round although I was showing signs of a virus which I think had fully shown itself at about midday mid recce and simply sapped me of everything!

That coupled with 19 miles, a full pack, horrendous weather and some tough climbs to boot it was hardly surprising I ‘performed’ the way I did!

So I’m slowly recovering and getting back to normal, if you call registering the ballot for the London Marathon in 2014 and entering the Ultimate Trail 100km Ultra in September!

Stay tuned and be sure to follow as I think were gonna have some interesting tales to tell as our training progresses….

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