First things first - I was racing in a pair for once, rather than soloing like I usually do. Psychologically that usually makes it a little bit easier, having someone else to share the day with. The wrinkle this time was that it was my teammate Rachel's first adventure race, and with the forecast looking the way it did I was feeling guilty and nervous about dragging her into it. Not, I hasten to add, that I had any doubts whatsoever about her ability - I've biked and boated with her before and think we were both pretty aware of each other's abilities and mentality towards sport - just that, if we had a really bad time of things I was acutely aware that I was responsible for getting us into this mess and I would also feel that I was very much responsible for getting us out of it.
|In the briefing, not paying attention. Pic: James Kirby|
We got to Cracoe village hall and parked up, registered, picked up our maps, grabbed a brew and sat down to try and get a plan together. Sitting in on one of James T's newcomer briefings was good, Rachel listened in to the maestro himself while I scribbled things on the map, highlighting the possible bike routes and crossing out things I knew to avoid. Parts of the bike area intersected with stuff we'd ridden on the Grassington race back in April 2018, so I remembered what some of the trails were like back then when it was drier (and the bit I made a massive nav cock-up on, ho-hum...). There'd been a couple of tweaks and a change to the format in the run-up to the event, with the run start actually being over at Malham, making it bike-run-bike rather than just two stages. One of James's tips for newcomers was to head pretty directly to the run transition, then pick up bike points on the way back. "It's about 20mins direct by road" was a phrase that had popped up in a pre-event email, in some eerily rubbish foreshadowing, but I'll come back to that...
We faffed. Well, I'll rephrase that, I faffed. It took me ages to get my shit together, so we ended up being some of the last to start at about 9:50am. We dibbed out, got the description sheets and sat down to fine-tune our plan, though with only one dummy CP (which we hadn't planned to go to anyway) it didn't take much fine tuning. We set off to do what James had suggested, that 20min leg direct to Malham for the run...
Bike #1: 16.32km / 239m ascent / 1:47:53
Within a mile of the start we hit the first bit of flooding, just coming into Hetton, so we rode through what we could and waded what we couldn't. All of the local becks were out of their banks, and the roads were getting inundated as the field drains couldn't cope. Things were pretty grim, the wind was high and the odd squally shower lashed down, and it was all a bit uncomfortable, but we were out and moving and not too cold, so we pushed on as best we could.
|Not us, but the section where I came off. Pic: James Kirby|
I relaxed and went with it for a while: while inconvenient, there was no immediate danger, the water wasn't deep enough for my head to go under and I was sitting upright. As the gradient eased and the flow subsided a bit I managed to dislodge myself from the bikes, pick myself up, and get back on my feet, while the two errant steeds drifted along a bit further. Rachel caught us up, and we waded along toward where the bikes had finally come to rest. Picking them up, Rachel's bars had twisted to one side and one end had been ground down a bit by the submerged tarmac, but there seemed to be little other damage aside from having ground the backside of my waterproof trousers, so we waded out of the flood and found a slightly sheltered place to do running repairs and sanity checks (none found: situation normal). Bars realigned, a quick breather, some food, and a mental note to myself to try not to do that again and we were off, climbing sharply, looking at the map and hoping the Aire wasn't misbehaving around the bridge between Calton and Airton - if it had been we would effectively have been trapped if we stayed low, and the winds weren't making going up higher that appealing an option. Fortunately, the bridge was well clear, and we trotted along nicely towards Kirby Malham, nipping up for an out-and-back to our first CP above 'Windy Pike' - funnily enough it was windy there - and onwards to the run transition at Malham itself, over an hour and three quarters after we set off. So much for 20 flipping minutes...
|Around the gate at Malham Cove. Pic: John Bamber|
Run: 4.79km / 143m ascent / 0:49:49
|Down from the cove, still smiling! Pic: John Bamber|
Bike #2: 19.39km / 337m ascent / 2:09:38
We climbed steeply from Malham up Malham Rakes, headed towards the tarn and the top of Mastiles Lane, with one CP on the way up the climb, one up on the Roman earthworks near Street Gate, and a few options to either zig-zag if we were so inclined, or head fairly straight if we felt we needed to. The wind had dropped a fair amount, the showers had all but stopped, and there was even a hint of blue sky, so it was much improved from when we'd exited the hall three hours previous. Climbing up the tarmac was a drag, but part way up we realised we'd have a tailwind for a good chunk of the lap home, giving a mental boost as well as a bit of assist. Turning on to Mastiles we dropped down to Gordale Beck and the ford there. We'd seen a pair ahead of us cross, but there was a lot of water coming down, so we stopped, looked, looked some more, and I started walking towards the water to test it out. "Erm, Carrick? Can we try a bit further upstream?" came the voice of reason from Rachel. Directly below the ford there was a hanging gate/barrier as a boundary. Again, maybe the over-cautious side of being kayakers, but with the volume of water that gate was forming a really unpleasant looking strainer. If either of us had slipped in the ford, it could have been pretty unpleasant, so we hiked upstream 30 yards or so to give ourselves some leeway, crossed at a slightly wider patch where the flow was less strong, then hiked back down the wall at the far side to the gate. We shouted back to a pair that arrived behind us that we'd seen others cross there but had opted to go upstream ourselves, and let them get on with it. They came past us a few minutes later, they'd crossed fine but agreed that it was hard work.
|Roman Camp in the sun! Pic: Eddie Winthorpe|
We canned the zig-zag options and turned right at CP3 to head onto tarmac down to Threshfield, pick up 3 more CPs and leave CP13 as an option. It was nice to be going downhill, fairly fast, and to be out of the wind a bit, but we were going to be running tight on time. We picked up CP14, headed along the more major road and over the slippy, leafy lane to CP10, then made for the road back home - through, of course, one more section of flooding. The wind, of course, had decided it had been far too nice to us across the tops and was now blowing in our faces, just when we needed it least. We were pushing hard along the road, gritting our teeth, when all of a sudden there's a shout from behind me - a momentary chainsuck and Rachel's chain is jammed up on the stay. Quick maintenance, un-jam the chain, jump back on and we go as hard as our legs will manage, up into Cracoe village and along to the hall, dibbing in to the finish utterly, utterly done.
|Finished and knackered. Pic: James Kirby|
All in all, a cracking but pushy day for us and everyone else. Some of the worst conditions I've raced in for a very long time, but made better by good company, so massive thanks to Rachel for not calling me an idiot and bailing on me. A baptism of fire (or water, whichever you prefer) for her, but hopefully I haven't put anyone off trying Adventure Racing! As usual, also a massive thank you to James and all of the volunteers and team at Open Adventure for putting on the event - challenging day for the staff as much as the participants, so huge thanks.