Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

September 30, 2012

Fastpacking: The Nidderdale Way

Alternatively Titled: The Misadventures of my First Solo Backpacking Attempt! 

For many months I have wanted to get out by myself.  Love it, hate it, don't know until I try it.  The 53-mile Nidderdale Way was an obvious choice for a short weekend round.   The best part?  I could walk out my front door and be down at the trail in minutes.   Oddly enough I hadn't been on any of the trail yet, aside from a few short miles.

Friday afternoon saw me walking down the sidewalk and waving goodbye to Rob.  It was mild, I was in no hurry (yet) and with a small tree-identification book in hand, I was feeling up leaves as I ambled down the trail.  Ripley Castle came and went, along with a lot of unremarkable scenery, remarkable in that it was all rather pleasant, even in a quick rainshower. 

Almost October and the days are short, the coming darkness saw me peering desperately for a spot to hide out for the night, just short of Brimham Rocks and the boggy moors that surround them.  Many likely-looking sleep spots were filled with cows, sheep, in sight of houses, or just plain soaking wet.   Finally, a good spot, hop a fence and set up my bivy bag.  The wind died, the (almost) full moon rose, and I had a wonderful evening cooking over my stove and laying down watching the stars. 

Just short of sleep and short of midnight, I hear a motor (strange for my location), and peek out of my bag to see a 4-wheeler driving slowly around the field with a flashlight waving around.   I hunkered down in my bivy bag, which luckily is the color of grass, and realize they were in the field next to mine.  No consolation if they see me, though...the first rule of wild camping:  tell no one where you are.   The lights disappear, only to turn around and come slowly back.  Eek!  The motor exits the field without discovering me, and I am left in peace for the night.  It's warm enough I brave the possible slugs and leave the top open on the bivy. 

I packed up quickly in the morning and around the bend found a concrete pad, which I shared with some mud and random animal bones for a sheltered cooking spot.  Breakfast was an epic fail.  My alcohol fuel was too cold to light, I guess, requiring that I swap to my good fuel.  Trying to pour it back into the bottle (from a holey cat food can stove) was almost pointless.  Once I had a good boil, I failed to stir up my rice (boil in a bag) pudding at all early enough, leaving crunchy bits of rice in the bottom and rendering it inedible.  Uh-oh, my food ration suddenly seemed a little short.  The bag of now-congealing rice pudding went back in the pack as dead weight.

Saturday was sunny, if quite windy, and never quite warm enough.  I stayed on the move, surprising at least 1000 pheasants from the path.  No, I'm not exaggerating, I think there were a few pheasant "farms" near the trail to help out with the population.  Mid day found me still battling a headwind and skirting the edge of Masham Moor, heading for the most northwest point over Scar House Reservoir Dam.  Along the way I crossed a completely dry creekbed, remarkable after the monsoonal rains we had earlier in the week.  I speculated that the water must have diverted into one of the many potholes (caves) in the area.  This would not be a good week to go spelunking. 

The dam overflow at Scar House was really kicking up, putting on quite a show for visitors.  It must have been really crazy a few days earlier.  I was mostly grateful I would now be walking with my back to the wind, over the moor and back down to How Stean Gorge.   It was near there that I accidentally forgot to shut off my GoPro camera after taking a photo...after snapping 1,847 worthless photos at 2-second intervals, it finally beeped to complain that the memory card was full.  Given the limited field options of the GoPro, and no spare chip, there were no more photos to be taken.  Into the pack it went.

After 11 hours of walking for the day, I hopped another fence on top of a likely deserted hill, and found a lush pasture just past a "private road" sign, with no hint of animals, poop, soggy ground, people or unwanted 4-wheelers.  Aren't I particular. I had just dumped my gear all over the grass when I heard a woman walking by yelling at her dog.  Luckily she was so busy watching the dog (who probably knew I was frozen behind the rock wall), that she didn't notice me then, or again when she walked back a few minutes later.  It was windy in my little rock corner, the moon was soon obscured by clouds, and my stove fuel (warmed by a few minutes in my armpit) still went out at least 7 times.   I managed to eat and then burrowed inside the bivy, which kept me surprisingly warm even if the wind was whacking the cloth into my head. 

I woke to a light rain in the morning, and wondered what to do about it.  With no small amount of contorting, I was able to stuff my sleeping bag away and slip into full rain gear before I opened the door to the bivy.  The sad news was that I didn't feel like fighting with my stove for a hot breakfast.  Sadder still was the contents of my food bag.  Congealed rice pudding, uncooked couscous, and a few gels.  They would have to last me the last 15 miles to get home, which was looking like a long, soggy way.  Raiding all the pockets of my pack only turned out a few squares of leftoever chocolate.  I guess 6000 calories (minus rice pudding and couscous) wasn't enough for a 45-hour tromp through 50 miles of valley trails.    (Yes, I could have stopped in one of the many villages I passed through for additional supplies, but I wanted to be self-sufficient.)  No, gels don't even taste good when you're hungry...why did I even pack them?  This wasn't a race. 

I had managed to keep my feet mostly dry for a day and a half, no mean feat in a country where I usually measure my first soaking in minutes, not miles.  Not today.  The grass was already wet, and this section of the trail relied heavily on cow pastures.   At some point, once water has soaked into every crevice in my shoes, I stop caring where I step.  I think this helps me go faster, but at times when I hear that sucking sound, I wonder which will win out for control of my shoe...my feet or the mud trying to suck it off.   And then I wonder why I didn't tie my shoelaces tighter BEFORE the diluted cow poop got smeared all over them?!?

Let me just say that a little rain is no fun.  A lot of rain ruins even the strongest wish to stay outside.  Yet driving rain or not, the high moor trail south of Pateley Bridge was beautiful.  In the fog, the deep crevices in the cliffs held green ferns, and the damp atmosphere transported me straight to the rainforest in New Zealand.

The last few miles of trail were along the River Nidd.  A few days before, it had been raging at the highest flood levels in recorded history, due to heavy rains over just a day and a half.  Sure, that only resulted in a couple inches total of rain, but around here in the UK that's a month's worth, and enough to send everyone rushing for needed sandbags.  The river was trickling along nicely enough now, 15 feet below me, but there was clear evidence that most of the trail had been underwater in the flood, with some of the path rather washed out. 

I arrived home close to noon on Sunday, soaked to the skin, looking like a drowned kitten and ready to raid the kitchen.   In short order I was washed, dried, fed, and watching football on the couch.   Amazing things, houses.  I really like mine sometimes.

So did I enjoy going out solo?  Well, yes.  Well, no.   I would have prefered it to be warmer, and sunnier.  Then I would have packed more food, and walked slower, and nosed into my book for a few more tree discoveries.   Then again, I always say I want to slow down...perhaps in a warmer climate I even would.   It is nice to have friends on the trail, too...I don't think I'll audition for a hermit anytime soon!

Near Ripley Castle
Moon Rise
Home for the night
A sunrise (failed) breakfast spot
Brimham Rocks

Scar House Reservoir

September 17, 2012

Book Review: Your Brain On Nature

Ever wonder why you suddenly feel happier when you stand next to a waterfall, walk through a forest, or see ocean waves crashing onto the beach?  Well, that goofy grin on your face is no accident, our brains are hardwired to admire nature, and we get physical and mental benefits from it that go far beyond the time we are spend outdoors.  There is fascinating research to prove this, all laid out for easy reading in: Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality by Eva M. Selhub, MD, and Alan C. Logan, ND.

Studies now conclusively prove that just being able to see green trees through a window (vs. a view of other buildings) helps make:
Students retain more knowledge;
Hospital patients recover quicker (and use less pain medication);
Jail inmates get in less fights;
and Office workers more productive.               

Just a view of nature can do this!

So while seeing trees from inside a building is a good start, even better would be to get out into the wilderness more often.  But even for urbanites there are small ways to do this, which include; adding plants to the office or home, getting a pet, gardening, escaping to a park for lunchtime walks, eating healthy fresh foods, minimizing screen time (TV, video games and computers), and/or using aromatherapy.  Something is definitely better than nothing in this case! 

Intensive use of nature for people with health issues has also proven to be more beneficial than prescription drugs.  In fact, nature has proven to be such a health benefit that some doctors are now writing prescriptions for Vitamin G(green). In other words, a prescription to go for walks out in in the woods!   This remedy has been positively used for people with all sorts of health problems, including stress, depression, and anger issues.

I highly recommend this fascinating book.  It is easy to read, easy to understand, yet speaks strongly to anyone who finds themselves relying more and more on technology, but less and less content with the results.  The book presents facts about our growing reliance on technology as a troubling issue, yet lays out options to combat our changing world in a way that is hopeful, rather than negative.

So go ahead, push back from whatever screen you are reading this on, and head outside for a walk in the woods.  It will do your brain good. 

I'll see you out there.

September 3, 2012

Adventure Racing Poem

...and now for something a little silly

Adidas TERREX Sting In Stirling AR 2012

Bang! Goes the gun, and we’re off like a shot,
Oops, running too fast, better that we’d not!
A long race awaits, a true test of skill,
Reaching the finish, is a force of will.

Racers spread out over hill, fell, and dale,
Near the beginning we all feel quite hale.
As days pass unending, pace starts to slow,
Without any rest, how far can we go?

Food is our fuel, so we constantly eat,
Gummies and shot bloks, are all so sweet.
Hand me some chocolate, to melt on my lips
I’m craving the sight of some fish and chips.

Time on the water can be a nice change,
We paddle in pairs and rest tired legs.
But rivers throw rapids around each bend,
This race is continuing without any end!

Help! We’ve tipped over, what’s to do now?
The bailer, I’ve lost it!  Pick up the bow.
Dump out the water, hope our bags are sealed,
Where’s the next rapid, keep your eyes peeled!

Our moods come and go, about like the sun.
With warmth on our face, then wow this is fun!
More likely, though, is a faceful of rain,
Soaking wet clothes are a consummate pain.

When darkness falls, we continue along,
The world is sleeping, this just seems so wrong.
A beam breaks the darkness, to show the way,
Some trails stay hidden, and we go astray.

It’s 2 am, can’t we stop for some sleep? 
My eyes are half-closed, I try not to weep.
Not on your life, we’ve got deadlines to beat,
I slump, uncaring, against my bike seat.

At last, a transition, a really nice sight,
With shelter and food, and welcoming light.
Spare bags give us shoes, dry clothes and some socks,
A place to sit down, and dump out the rocks.

Now for a wetsuit, a harness and lid,
Jump in the waterfall, act like a kid.
Canyoning cools down our muscles just right,
The largest leap, is an adrenaline spike!

Back on the bikes for the longest bit yet,
Puddles soon show us we’re gonna get wet.
Glen Tilt pulls us up the smooth valley trail,
Oh, more hike-a-bike, I let out a wail!

The orienteering is optional, right?
Instead we’ll just sit with antlers in sight!
Food from Clive Ramsey’s, some pasta and veg,
Warmth keeps us from tilting right over the edge.

We’ve chosen the long route, our bums rebel,
We’re biking a Munro, that’s something to tell!
O-k, we’re hike-a-biking a Munro?
Bums get a break, but progress is so slow.

Time to box up bikes, get them out of sight,
Let’s get up on the hills while there’s still light.
The long trek before us, how far can we go?
I don’t know, but we’re traveling so slow!

Teams travel in packs, just the four of us,
Alone on the horizon, from dawn ‘til dusk.
My feet are so wet, it’s boggy out there,
Where’s my dry socks? Our toes deserve some care!

Can’t go on forever, asleep on our feet,
We break out the tent, when we’re really beat.
Where to erect it, I see rocks and slopes?
Wind tries to steal it, we crawl in and hope...

For moments of stillness, a second of sleep,
A chance to lay flat, dry our feet and eat.
All too soon chimes my watch, beep-beeps your watch,
Get up, tired bones, we’ve controls to catch!

Rock scrambles loom above, so dark in the night,
We’re tired and cold, we wait for first light.
Volunteers in blue jackets point the way,
Thanks for enduring such winds without pay!

Transitions again, again, and some more,
More biking, more paddling, what’s in store?
Packs crammed with gear, may explode in a pile,
That wet shirt stuffed inside, smells terribly vile.

Hold on, I’m thirsty, my bottle is dry!
“A stream up ahead”, soon comes the glad cry.
Maps fly all over, where’s the one I need?
To tell us the turns, the hills we should heed.

Late in the race, our muscles are so sore,
Sleepmonsters beckon, with visions galore.
In stillness the midges come at us again,
Speed through transition, only way to win!

Teammates tell jokes, lend a hand, or a drink,
There when needed, to save us from the brink.
Carry our packs, and pull us up the hills,
Push bikes unceasing, pick us up from spills.

Now drop the bikes, to the finish line run,
Hand-in-hand, we will cross the line as one.
Medals and cameras stuffed in our face,
Only one thought, that we’ve finished the race!