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A bit of the Cumbria Way

One definition of Adventure is where “the outcome is uncertain”.

The outcome on Saturday was suffice to say unexpected, and it was an adventure!

Christmas had passed along with a lot of travelling / visiting family – oddly for me its a great time to relax, whilst I still have a small ear to work I don’t tend to get the emails / calls over this period and being away was a good time to keep the lid on the laptop shut. It was also a chance to get out on a few long walks each day. If the family was visiting a park I’d walk back.. I did quite a few miles yet didn’t miss out on much.

We headed home from Leeds on the Friday after a panic about snow blocking roads in the North, Lisa’s Mum was heading over and to all purposes the weekend was clear. I’d toyed with walking the Cambrian Way a few times – its a lowland route but made all the more interesting in Winter, and covers 70 miles. My quick plan was a 2 day outing – many friends would bang this out in a day, in fact Gaynor runs a race along it each September.

We popped by a service station on the way home and I grabbed some flapjack / crisps / pork pies (yum) – it was 8pm by the time we got back and whilst Lisa got the kids to bed I busied myself getting a pack together and find some clothes. It was forcast a showery day with the occasional clear sky and high winds – this coupled with snow when out of the valleys = pack for everything. I’d tried to find some accomodation in the Langdales with no luck but got a bed in the Borrowdale YHA, a little further than I’d hoped but thought it be OK.

It was a late night very late think I climbed in to bed around 12.30am and set the alarm for 4.30 – guilty of something I’ve seen many teams on the exped races do. Many teams spend long hours faffing in to the small hours I’ve mentally watched their team name roll down the leaderboard before the event has started.

The alarm went off at 4.30 – blurgh.. its not event an event, no one would care if I just rolled over and went back to bed. I got up, got changed, porridge and set off for Ulverston. I’d not expected the petrol station to be open, so when I saw the lights on took the opportunity to grab a coffee. I was at the start of the Cumbria Way at 6.00.

I’d also made another small error – ask any experienced ultra runner about shoes and they will tell you to make sure you use them on short runs before heading out on a 70 mile epic. I’d accrued a pair of inov8’s – my other stock of shoes were a pair of Hoka Speedgoats, which were worse than useless in the mud / ice and a few pairs of road shoes. So I took the risk.. after the Ullswater way event I’d also purchased a rather pricy pair of waterproof sealskin socks. I’m slightly nervous of these as have seen people with shreaded feet on the Spine race wearing these so I had a thin pair of socks on as well. This combination could easily resulted in the new shoes being too small. As it all turned out it kind of worked!!

It was a misty morning and my headtorch was only paving the way for 15m if not less – the light reflecting off the mist. This first section was across fields, through farms and along minor lanes – I really needed to pay attention to the map so deciceded the poles would have to stay packed away till Blawith Common where I pretty much knew the route.

My blood sugars were high – that was fine, I’ve learnt over the years to ignore any professional advice that suggests you should correct it. I’ve failed to finish a few events because by blood glucose has plummitted after correcting at the start of an event. Leave it an hour and then tentitively correct it with manual boluses.

My next error was the maps – I REALLY should know better, but 1:50000 maps really don’t cut the mustard when crossing fields they don’t show wall boundaries. There was just not enough detail and with the poor visibility navigation was testing! I could have spent a lot of time faffing here but decided to start up Anquet on my phone – I just hate the walkers who gorp at their GPS / Phone rather than their surroundings – using a map makes you take in your surroundings.. but at 6 ish in the morning I was walking in a cloud of fog anyway.

The path rises out of Ulverston, a mud fest at that – mixed with cow poo, slipping and sliding. I was in agony, my legs were screaming at me – I’d barely done a km and every step left me wanting to stop. For those who know me on facebook, I’ve found out I have not great blood circulation in my legs – 5 mins in to a short run my leg muscles run out of energy and I come to a thundering halt. Slow walking for around an hour tends to sort it, but it is really painful. Thing is I was already walking slowly just uphill on a muddy slope – it was a pitiful sight I can promise you.

It was still dark, and cold I was getting too hot so decided to shread a few layers and check my blood sugars with my Libre sensor. My plan was if it was still above 10 then I’d give myself one unit and check in another hour.

Well that didn’t work – I was pretty confident I was not low, there was no point in doing a blood test as that meter would be too cold as well. But not knowing a number meant I was not going push any insulin in.

The sun was rising, and on the whole, the route avoided properties but at one point the route went through a farm yard. It was around 7.30ish now – a small dog yelping at my presence, lights on in the yard, cows in barns – the little dog rounded me barking, I was leaving the yard and experience tells me that the dog probably thought it done its job in getting me out of its patch. Then the little sh!t got hold of the back of my leg – well that woke me up! Cussing that my poles were packed away otherwise it would have been kebabed. My new socks! Brr if there are holes in those socks!! ah I might be bleeding. A farmer was in a shed – usual grunt, I mentioned his cute little dog just bit my leg – ah we don’t put a muzzle on it till 9.00, don’t expect anyone till then. I hobbled away..

I couldn’t see any point in looking at the wound – I had little water to clean it and everywhere I looked there was mud. The pain passed so decided to ignore it and carry on.

Mentally I was trying to do some maths – I knew I was going slowly the terrain really prevented much running or fast walking. I knew it got a little simpler especially once I got to Coniston water.. but still would I make it to Borrowdale. Ideally I needed to be leaving Coniston at midday and Langdales by 4.. I thought that would get me to Borrowdale for 8 at the latest.

I kept moving forward not stopping, if only to pack a jacket away or grab a sandwich out of the bag – not sitting down. The terrain was spectacular and I was having a great time.. I reached Coniston water – its a rocky / up and down shore line for around 2-3km. I met a family heading towards me – “where is the cafe?” err not this way I replied. A Dad carrying a small baby a young lad and his sister, a wife who was clearly cheesed off and a grandma who thought this adventure was no fun. I think you must have turned right at the preistly centre instead of left to Coniston. I showed where they were on the map and left quickly to avoid being part of a family domestic.. 500m down the path I could still hear someone shouting. Golden rule of AR – don’t criticise the navigator! even when they make a mistake.

It was 1pm by the time I rocked up in Consiton, another sandwich / crisps, 1pint of milk out of the coop – I popped by the coffee shop and grabbed a warm coffee and moved on. I needed to make the best of the daylight and I was an hour down on my estimate.

The route goes via Tarn hows, full of people slipping around in wellies but great views the cloud had briefly lifted and the route dived off to the Iron Keld track which I’ve MTB’d many times before and now looked a lot rockier / steeper than before – not sure I could ride it now.

I made it to Elterwater by 5pm and found my torch, 11hrs later I was pretty sure I was moving at a steady pace – I was tired and mentally thinking about the stretch over to Borrowdale. I’ve done it a few times, its a high level pass with switchbacks and without question covered in snow and it was going to be dark. The last section down the Stonethwaite Valley is a rocky path devoid of any mobile signal. Is this really a good idea?

I was torn, I do think people need to push boundaries to grow comfortable with new surroundings – in the outdoors that is often weather, terrain, darkness. Always in a situation where you can step back away – it often takes real courage to step back / retrace steps. Usually coming out wiser.. I was comfortable with the terrain, darkness – I was definitely tired but OK. I was worried about the ascent and that my legs would slow me down to a pace where I would get cold, I was also concerned that if I did get over in to the other valley I would be very much on my own – there would be no stepping back.

The path continued on, there were Mountain Rescue vehicles rattling up and down the valley which didn’t help clear my thought process – pretty sure Saturday’s are not a night they like to practice so must be someone out there in bother. I picked my way down to Stickle Barn and sat down for the first time in 12 hrs. It was 6 pm. I took time to work out the distance, how long it had taken me to get to where I was and what the time of arrival would be if I went for it.

My estimate was that it was a good 4hrs – 10pm. The hostel shut its doors at 11pm – it really didn’t bare thinking about if I was locked out. I couldn’t afford to stop for too long as Hypothermia would get the better of me.

Joe Faulkner / Stu Smith often harp on about SMJ or Sound Mountain Judgement, personally I’d rather call it DBAD or Don’t be a Dick. I was sitting on the cusp of being a tough cookie who never let anything stand in his way, a Dick and some warm food in the pub. I elected the pub.. I got a diet coke and sat in the sofa and internally beat myself up about the decision I had just made.

Stickle Barn is a unique pub, considering its location it was buzzing with people enjoying conversation, playing board games and gorping at phones. I knew mobile reception here is sketchy but I also know that 200m up the hill you can get vodafone. I asked if there was a payphone – I may have just fast walked from Ulverston but I really couldn’t be bothered to walk 200m up a hill. “sorry no payphone, but you can use ours for free”.. I nearly fell over!

I’d been texting Lisa all day, think she half expected a call – she would be at the pub in an hour. I ordered some food – venison burger which was a bit too fancy for my pallette at the time. I landed in the sofa again still going through the mental torment of my decision, I hate not finishing stuff I set out to do and no matter how right this decision was it was still annoying.

Almost to the minute lisa turned up at 7.30 – I could have predicted what would happen, the sudden change from the warm temperature of the pub to 2 degrees outside – I was shaking uncontrolably on the walk to the car. During the drive home Lisa duely tried to encourage me that it was a good day out and that for the wreck of a man that I am I’d done pretty well.

Home by 8.30 and in the shower double quick – hello I have 2 little holes in the back of my leg!
What did I learn

  • The New Inov8’s / Sealskinz did good – although the sealskinz waterproof seal is quite abrasive on the leg.
  • Need 1:25K for non-mountain sections
  • Audio books good for long days out – listened to the whole of the new Jack Reacher book. I like podcasts but a faff to keep setting up
  • Anquet maps on my phone
  • Could do with a new rucksac with front pocket, struggle to reach food in back side pockets.
  • Although I got cold when I left the pub, visibly shaking my core temperature didn’t change.  I guess it been interesting to see what would have happened if stayed outside for 10 mins.  More testing in a controlled environment?  The core temp pill I used recorded on a 30 sec interval.


What didn’t work

  • My manner with dogs
  • My legs
  • 1:50 maps
  • BG sensor – possibly put further around my arm so not exposed to wind

When I sit and look at a map I did 26 miles – that is not far! I’ve done that distance off road in half the time. Even from Borrowdale the next day I would not have made the train from Carlise at 8.30 in the evening. Definitely can’t sign up for ultra runs – better off looking at LDWA events.. I am frustrated but giving up is not a solution – and I did enjoy the day out.

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