May 26 2012

Walk 50: Trailtrekker 2012 – Sir Edmund

Sunset over Whernside

route: skipton to skipton via gargrave, malham, horton in ribblesdale, buckden, kettlewell, conistone & hetton
26th & 27th may 2012
distance: 63.6 miles (graham, roger & simon) 24.9 miles (dave)
ascent: 7,015 ft (graham, roger & simon) 3,132 ft (dave)
time: 28 hrs 47 mins (graham, roger & simon) 11 hrs 40 mins (dave)
walkers: dave, graham, roger & simon


The story of…. Sir Edmund the Organiser

For the week before Trailtrekker I found my mood changing from one of optimism and confidence to one of worry or in truth, scared. It didn’t mean to say I didn’t think it was possible, but as the day approached the enormity of the task was impossible to avoid and everything became crystal clear. No longer could I tell myself that there was time for a couple more practice walks to help tune up, that time had been and gone. Yes we had prepared by doing some big walks, but it had been a month since the last of those and the only walking I had done since was a few miles stolen here and there. That was the same for all of us though and I still felt confident although extremely nervous about the whole thing. This wasn’t helped on Thursday night when I noticed the weather forecast for the weekend. It seemed that the hottest place in Britain would not be Cornwall or Devon who clocked a mere 24 degrees. The South East was only the same and Jersey which is usually the warmest place in Britain was only 23 degrees. It seems the hottest place in Britain for the Trailtrekker weekend would be the Yorkshire Dales!

I have to say that this forecast didn’t help quash my fears about the whole thing. I have never been a big lover of the sun and have occasionally been found wanting during some of our previous walks in hot weather. It wasn’t going to be fun, but I wasn’t going to let this beat me. During the six months we had to prepare for the walk we have all learned so much about ourselves mentally as well as how to maintain ourselves physically (feet, legs, food, water etc), so it would mean a change of approach but one we could manage. By the time we jumped in the mini bus I was all over the place with an equal amount of excitement and nerves, but I was sure the whole experience would be one I would never forget. The journey to Skipton was pretty relaxed with all of us in good spirits and that only continued as we checked in at the travel lodge, dumped our bags, then jumped back in the van to drive to the site to register. We saw a group of people walking back with their t-shirts, but chose to drive anyway in case it was a little further away than we wanted to walk the night before a 63 mile trek. We jumped in the van turned right out of the car park and drove 50 yards up the road to see a sign “Trailtrekker Parking” directing us left. Once out of the van we then had to walk five times that distance to the registration point, so all in all it was a bit silly to take the van, but we didn’t know that at the time.

Once at Aireville School we promptly registered and were instructed that the second of three safety briefings was just about to start in the hall and we could also get our evening meal at the same time. Off we went and joined the queue whilst paying full attention to the info we were given by a couple of guys up on stage. We were told about how often we should be eating and drinking, and that to be hydrated correctly that we should visit the toilet every hour and a half and it should be a nice Chardonnay colour. Darker and we weren’t drinking enough, lighter and we were drinking too much. As well as food and drink we were also told about sun protection and other little tricks that may help with our feet and general body maintenance. It seems that some teams either weren’t bothered, or had seen the first briefing therefore felt the need to laugh and joke loudly which I found pretty annoying and also disrespectful. You would never want anyone to come to harm whilst doing a charity walk, but sometimes it takes an injury in your team to make you realise you should have listened when the advice was being dished out. Not that any of that applied to us though as we all paid full attention with only G being slightly distracted by the thought of the food he would soon have his hands on…

With the briefing over and our food consumed we collected our wrist bands that we would use to sign in to each check point, then picked up our Trailtrekker 2012 t-shirts and with each of these small tasks the realisation sunk in a little more. There was only one sleep to go and I knew that wasn’t going to be a big one either due to nerves, and not long after I finally got off to sleep I would no doubt be woken by the alarm, so when G asked if I wanted a drink it seemed like a nice way to relax and just let the moment soak in. Beaky, Ramblo and Wu Tang wanted to try and get some sleep so they took the van back to the lodge as myself, Roger and Graham purchased the last two cans of Stella and the last can of Guinness. It seems people must have been pretty confident of completing the walk if the bar was empty but we only wanted one, and I needed this half an hour to unwind because I can’t just go to bed and go to sleep. I would be laying there for ages so it was a nice way to relax without going crazy, and we sat outside overlooking the start line and discussed how we saw tomorrow going. At that moment I felt calm and relaxed and my confidence was high. Yes it was going to be tough, but we had a plan the four of us were happy with and as a team we would help each other through.

We walked back to the room and as I entered I was informed that G and Roger had the food in their room meaning the girls couldn’t do any prep for the morning and that Sandra was annoyed with us for staying behind. The room key could and should have been sorted but I make no apologies for having that drink. Each person has their own way of readying themselves and it wasn’t the fact that it was a can of Guiness I needed it was the chance to sit and just let the whole thing sink in. I didn’t want there to be an atmosphere in the morning though (which I didn’t think there would be as we all had bigger fish to fry) so I helped Leanne with some peanut butter and jam sandwiches which sounded wrong but were good for us apparently. I then dug out the gear I would need first thing and set it out ready for the morning. By now it was approaching midnight and the alarm was set for 5.30 so my sleep wasn’t going to be much, and it was even less as through the night we were disturbed by other people coming and going. I heard the early starters (6.00am) leave around 4.45am so all in all I didn’t get more than three hours sleep which wasn’t the best, but I felt ok as we convened by the mini bus and loaded up. Any atmospheric hangover from the previous night didn’t materialise and everybody was united in the common cause as we drove the short journey to the drop off car park and went for breakfast. The full English on offer looked good and I got a plate full even though my stomach didn’t feel like eating. It was in knots as nerves really began to kick in. I knew however that I had to eat so I slowly forced it down as the other demolished theirs. The time was now 7am and our start time was 7.30am meaning we had nothing to do other than sit on the grass and wait. I found this the hardest part of all to be honest. I knew and everybody kept saying that I would feel ok when we got going, but the waiting was horrible. I felt sick due to nerves and I couldn’t wait to be on the move and get into our usual Badgers routine of talking gibberish and enjoying the countryside. We decided to have a couple of pictures with the badger masks Roger had bought earlier that week and that put a smile on our faces and filled 10 minutes without even thinking about it.

Almost immediately afterwards there was an announcement for walkers to congregate round the back of the start line and we just had time for a quick team shot for posterity then we headed off with words of encouragement from L’Autobus.

Behind the start line it was a huddle mass of people and the sense of expectancy was high. I could hear other teams offering words of encouragement to each other but we seemed strangely relaxed and quiet. It wasn’t as if we weren’t supportive but more along the lines of we knew what we were here to do and we had confidence in each other. I know I had confidence in the other three and we had prepared well. In all honesty we could have done more but then you can just about always do more, the question was had we done enough. Time would tell on that front but we had discovered many things during our practice walks and we were in a much better position than when we signed up six months previous. As the clocked ticked from 10 down to 1 I suddenly sensed relief and the realisation that the time was actually here. We crossed the line making sure we held our wrist band against the magnetic reader and our Trailtrekker adventure was now well and truly underway. I was unsure how we would feel being surrounded by hundreds of other walkers and has said as much the night before. We dropped through Aireville Park and onto the Leeds/Liverpool Canal tow path and basically followed the hordes. This would work in one of two ways. It would either frustrate us due to the slow speed meaning we would be on edge by the time we reached Gargrave 5 miles later, or, and I believe this was the case, it would force us to go steady early and that would hopefully save energy for later. I know Beaky was keen to get on with things and found a way to sneak through a few gaps and into the distance. I was chatting to G and Roger but mainly listening to other conversations in all sorts of languages. We passed a guy filming and I laughed with G as we strolled by, little knowing that footage would be used by the Yorkshire Post in their Trailtrekker video. Ahead of us Beaky was waiting and we ambled along the last mile or so to Gargrave and Water Stop 1. A couple of months earlier I saw a program about John Bishop and the challenge of cycling, rowing and running from Paris to London and I noticed how much he valued seeing new faces and having boosts along the route so I had discussed with the others and we had agreed to do the same. Up ahead, waiting for us on the bridge over the canal was Tony and he would accompany us to Horton some 19 miles further round the route. We were only 5 miles in and still fresh but even so it was good to know someone was willing to walk with us to help us along and he joined us as we checked in to the first water stop and grabbed a drink.

The water stops were the only thing during the whole event where things didn’t quite go as we had planned. I don’t mean it was a bad thing but our water stop strategy was to register, have a quick pit stop and then go. In fact in our estimated finish time of 27 hours (as planned at our last meeting) we had set aside 5 minutes per water stop of which there were 5. This wouldn’t be the case as even at this early stage we got some liquids both to drink there and to top up our supply. A few of us nipped to the portaloo and I applied more sun cream as I wasn’t taking chances today. By the time we had done this and set off to Malham we had been there 15 minutes which was more than half the time we had allocated for all water stops. We had allowed time for slowing down later on and also built some extra time in as a back-up so it wasn’t as if we were in trouble but I thought it worthy of a mention as everything else went exactly as we had planned, with one big exception but more of that later…

The small climb from Gargrave caused no problems at all other than me losing my sun hat in the wind. I turned to find two girls had picked it up and were walking towards me with it, and as they handed it over we realised we had worked together 15 years ago, talk about small world. We chatted for a while as we headed for the River Aire which we would follow for the next few miles to Malham. Along this stretch we spotted Ramblo & Wu Tang going past us in the mini bus as they headed to set up check point one, and even though we were still feeling good the sight of smiley faces was very welcoming and our spirits were very good. We laughed and joked as we made good progress alongside the river pausing from time to time at the bottle necks through gates and stiles before the concertina would stretch once more and we would return to a big long line

We soon reached the sign stating we had 1km to go until the first check point and shortly after this we heard a crackle on the radio as the girls asked us how long we would be so they could prepare themselves. Roughly 10 minutes later we had bleeped our wrist bands to sign in and we at the mini bus being looked after by L’Autobus. It was clear they were taking their job seriously as they immediately offered us drinks and food whilst at the same time handing over the box of stuff each of us had packed with our own personal essentials. For me this meant a change of underwear and socks plus a new t-shirt. I have had chaffing in the past so I was determined to try and prevent that if possible and as well as new pants I made sure I applied plenty of talc.

As with the water stops we had allowed 20 minutes per check point into our pre walk calculations so we had one eye on the time but found we managed to do everything we needed to in good time. The 20 minutes would probably be harder to do later on when the tempatation to stay sat down increases, but for now we were all good. We were stocked up with more snack and things to eat. Wu Tang and Ramblo had done a few trips to the water supply to top up our Camelbaks, we were all set, but for one final obstacle. The Trailtrekker support staff were checking walkers as they left for the next section which could’ve potentially caused trouble. In the rules and regulations there was a list of essential items and they included a warm fleece, water proof jacket, water proof trousers, woolly hat and gloves as well as numerous other things. It was already a bug bear of mine that we needed to carry this with us at all times and we had left it on the bus for the first 11 miles and I wasn’t about to take it now either. The sun was now out in full force and anyone could tell it wasn’t going to change so I told the rest of my team I would refuse to carry it or if needs be take it and throw it back over the wall to Leanne. I fully understand why things like this need to be in place as many people doing the walk were from all over Britain as well as Belgium, Germany and Australia so a large chunk of people may not know how quickly weather in the Dales can change, but we do. We have experienced all sorts of weather since we started and I didn’t want to sound high and mighty but there was no need for us to be carrying half the stuff in that list on a day like today. I left my stuff in the van and we took another team shot before heading over to be searched…

It turns out after all my ranting that common sense was applied and we didn’t need any of the things mentioned above. We were asked if we had plenty of food, snacks, liquid, sun cream and a sun hat as well as a map, compass and whistle. We had all those things and we were waved through and on our way once again. I was still full of beans at this stage as I expected I would be and I have to say the change of socks and pants made me feel like I was starting all over again. The boys had been swapping socks regularly on practice walks and had said how good it makes your feet feel to be dry once again. I had chosen to leave it on previous walks choosing to get the first time benefit on the big walk and it worked wonders although I got the impression I had been missing out on practice walks rather than getting first time benefit right now. That didn’t matter though as spirits were still high and everybody felt good as we began the approach to Malham Cove. The day was sweltering by this stage as we were just after midday. The first few steps were fine and as I have said before and no doubt other people do in their reports, we intended to take things nice and steady and conserve energy for later. It had been agreed at the start that I wouldn’t expect anybody to wait for me all the way up, I would be happy for them to get to the top and take five, ten or however long at the top where they could have a snack, drink or just rest up. About a quarter of the way up I started to feel very hot and I needed to stop, which Sherpa was happy to do too. The other three carried on upwards into the distance as myself and Sherpa G-String did another couple of dozen steps before stopping once more. By the time we were three quarters of the way up I was really feeling bad and felt like I could vomit at any time. We found the shelter of the a solitary tree and waited for a few minutes to try and cool down before we made the final push and that was split into three sections. By the time I got to the top I was struggling and really needed to take five minutes to come round, which I soon enough did. Unfortunately there wasn’t any shade but the lack of physical effort enabled me to feel better and I took on more water and snacked on some fruit and nuts. The others asked me how I was feeling and I said I was good to go safe in the knowledge the next few miles were all level barring one little pull in between the cove and the tarn. Looking back it was probably 10 minutes or so before I felt totally comfortable again as those first few minutes my legs felt a little shaky, and with the benefit of hindsight this was a very bad sign so early into the walk. The group changed positions and the conversation was upbeat as we walked through the Limestone scars that lined either side of the path and made our way to the tarn.

I felt like I was in need of refreshment and something other than the water and isotonic drinks we had been taking on in great quantities, so it was with great pleasure that we spotted an ice cream van parked up near the tarn. Tony did the honours and I indulged myself with a Strawberry Split which tasted so nice and was just what I needed at that time. With a renewed spring in my step we skirted Malham Tarn along with dozens of other Trailtrekkers who seemed quite happy to be going the same pace as us. That was reassuring in a way as we knew that still being surrounded by people meant we weren’t going much slower than everybody else, unless they were the 9am starters, in which case we were in big trouble!

We found shelter from the blazing sun at Malham Tarn House and spent ten minutes in the shade which allowed us to remove our sun hats and let some air read our heads. From here we pushed on to Tennant Gill where we would begin the walks big climb up Fountains Fell. Just before Tennant Gill the event organisers, realising the temperature was a tad on the high side for doing stuff like this had organised an impromptu water stop where Roger enjoyed some Brie or possibly Camembert with some biscuits and the rest of us grab whatever we fancied before we moved on once again. I knew this was going to be tough as it had been a couple of months earlier when we did the first 25 miles as a practice walk. On that day I had problems with gout in my toe but today I was fine, so I was hoping that the steady approach would allow me to keep making progress and soon reach the top. It was about 2.5 miles to the summit and it was going to take a while and I resigned myself to the fact it was going to be tough in the conditions but ultimately I knew if I kept plodding along I would reach the top. It soon became apparent that this was going to be a long drawn out affair as Beaky, Roger and Tony soon disappeared into the distance as the ever loyal Sherpa G-String accompanied me each step of the way. It wasn’t an issue and I never feel once split second of resentment towards the others. I fully appreciate that doing things at your own pace is much easier and any marginal gains we could make would help with the mammoth distance we were undertaking. After an hour we were probably nearly half way up and people were coming past us ever five minutes or so. Each one offered a polite comment of encouragement as I did in return, we were all in this together no matter what “team” you were walking on. Even though I was finding this tough physically, mentally I was still in a good place as I kept telling myself that once over this we had the descent then a little climb up the shoulder of Pen-y-ghent followed by the drop into Horton and check point two. At that point I could change my clothing, refresh and look forward to the sun going down as we headed off into the early evening sun. There was a little bit of work to do before that though and I continued to haul myself up step by step sharing snacks with G to try and keep fuel going into our bodies. After nearly two and a half hours we finally caught a glimpse of the cairn where I knew the boys would be waiting.

The climb up had been hard and the rest was very welcome but I still felt happy about things even though I could quite easily have stayed put for the next hour or so. We didn’t have time for that, so a quick five minutes was all I had before we were up and off again. One thing I have become accustomed to over the last two years and especially the large training walks is only having a few minutes to rest. Those who climb well have half an hour or more to rest but when I get to them it is unfair to expect them to wait another 15 minutes so we are soon on our way again. On this occasion we had a wall to cross only a few yards from the cairn and the stile had two volunteers encouraging people along. As I shifted my leg from one side to the other I got cramp in my calf and had to straighten my leg sharply nearly kicking the poor girl behind me in the head. Fortunately I didn’t connect and after some advice on stretching my leg helped me feel a little better I set off after the others who had quickly noticed I wasn’t there and waited. The next twenty minutes were easy as we descended to the valley below but I also felt like I could cramp again so I was trying to stretch at the same time which probably looked ridiculous to anyone following me.

Once down on the valley floow we followed the small road to water stop 2 where we had 15 minutes to re-group. I was beginning to suffer now and for the first time my thought pattern wasn’t 100% positive. I sat on the grass trying to stretch my calf and upon realising the soft runny thing my leg was in was cow dung I simply shrugged my shoulders and left my leg there. It was too much hassle to move. The rest of the boys were still chirpy and I was still happy enough as we laughed about the predicament we found ourselves in. Well in truth it was volunteer for but never the less we were in this now and it was too late to change anything.

We left the water stop and another half a mile or so down the road we had to sign in using our wrist bands. I can only assume it was something to do with signal as this was the only occasion they were at separate places. We then turn right and headed up the Pennine Way towards my favourite peak of them all, Pen-y-ghent. Once more G stayed by my side as I really began to struggle with even the smallest of inclines and at that point I had to admit to myself I was in big trouble. Until now I hadn’t even considered what might happen if I couldn’t go on, but now it was a real possibility. The rest of the Rambling Badgers were at the gate where the route from Horton joins the Pennine Way. They had made radio contact with the girls and informed them of our imminent arrival and they were pleased to hear we were all still ok. I don’t think the others really realised what I was feeling at that point. By the time I reached the gate the others must have been waiting 30 minutes and I knew the game was up. I spent the five minutes rest time hoping beyond all hope that somehow my body would find a little more just to keep me going a bit further and then the cooler temperatures would allow me to recover. We began the descent towards Horton and even downhill I was now tailed off within a minute of setting off. I felt like all my strength had gone and I just wanted to sit down. It is in no way comparible but you read stories of people near the top of Everest who just want to sit down even though they must know they won’t get back up, ever! I felt a little like that. I knew I had to get to Horton but I wanted to just lay on the grass and wait for as long as it took to feel strong again.

My head was now filled with all different things but the main two were thoughts of all those who had sponsored me who I had let down, but more importantly how I would explain to the other three. I think they knew I wasn’t going past Horton but we had agreed a one out all out policy and this could jeopardise the team effort. I had already mentioned to Leanne before that if I should stop I wanted the boys to go on but how would I explain and would they feel I had let them down? With each step I took towards Horton I felt fractionally weaker and a bigger failure. One thing that had crossed my mind as we descended Pen-y-ghent was to tell the boys that I could reach Buckden and the silver award but it would take me so long it would scupper any chance they had to reach the finish line. This would have been the ultimate test of “team” but who am I to ask the boys to sacrifice their glory for me?, after all it wasn’t fair on them. We will never know what the answer would have been had I asked the question but I knew I could never really ask it as in my eyes team always comes above self. Beaky, Tony and Roger walked around the church in Horton and I nipped up the footpath with G to cut the corner off and we came out with a 50 yard lead which soon vanished as I was absolutely exhausted. As we caught a glimpse of the café we saw Wu Tang and Ramblo walking towards us as they were worried we had been so long since hearing from us. As soon as I saw Leanne I gave her a big hug and broke down. She said all the right things and re-assured me I hadn’t let anyone down but that was all it felt like to me. On top of that I had let myself down too bu that I could live with as I am not someone who is too hard on myself. We walked to the far end of Horton and across the field to the check point with me still in floods of tears. Marc and Jane were waiting there, as they had been for nearly 4 hours to walk with us on the next stretch. This was another reason why I could never have expected anybody not to go on. Tony was finishing here and was on his way home anyway, but Marc and Jane were here to walk as was Stuart who was already in Hetton after travelling from Cheshire. There was no choice to be made in that respect, the team must go on without me. I walked towards the check point with my head bowed and my tears covered by the brim of my sun hat. I squeezed Leanne’s hand for comfort and support when all I wanted to do was disappear but the clapping and cheering of the volunteers made me lift my head and somehow force a smile even though my shoulders were juddering through crying that much. I had to let them know that I appreciated all their efforts in keeping morale high even if mine was rock bottom. We checked in and made our way to the van where the girls sprang into action as I sulked off to the other side of the van and laid in the shade to compose myself. Leanne checked to see I was ok but I told her to look after the others first as they were more deserving of her attention. Jane came round and said a few nice words as did Marc and while I really appreciated the gesture the words went in one ear and out of the other due to me being so all over the place emotionally. I took on some fluids and composed myself and I worked out how to actually tell the guys I was done. Should I ask to speak to them three in privacy or should I just tell everybody, after all it was a team effort by all of the Badgers not just the four walkers and two support crew. I also had the option of asking to speak to them one by one but before any of these became reality G came round and asked how I was. I told him I wasn’t feeling the best in terms I choose not to repeat, and also told him I was quitting. I made sure he knew to focus his attentions on himself and the other two and get himself ready for the next section. I think it was Graham I felt most sorry for because throughout the previous 11 hours he had looked after me as he always does. If I need to stop, he stops with me. When I was struggling he shared out the food and drinks to keep me going. I could go into great detail but put simply, he always seems to put my needs before his and for that I will always be grateful. (I was going to leave it there but I don’t want anyone reading this to think I don’t appreciate anything Beaky or Roger does or had done on this day, but I am sure they will also understand my point) I then spoke to Beaky who was offering to stop with me as we had agreed during the preparation meetings earlier in the year. I had no intention of asking anyone to stop and made sure he knew that the only way I could possibly feel good about this whole experience now was for him, Roger and G to complete the course. Secretly I was hoping for a sign, no matter how small, that I was coming round and that I felt a little stronger, but the sign never came and I had a quick chat with Roger to explain this and tell him the things I had mentioned to the others. The others set off once again accompanied by Marc and Jane and Leanne and Sandra packed the van up helped by Tony as I sat on the grass crying. That was me done and my Trailtrekker adventure was now over… as a walker.

With the van loaded up the girls drove me the 50 yards to hand in my computer chip and much to my surprise I was handed a medal there and then, and asked if they could take a picture. I felt like offering some excuse or hurling some abuse but it wasn’t the fault of the guy who was asking me, so I nodded and followed him to the Trailtrekker banner outside the marquee. I stood there with tears rolling down my face and forced the most unconvincing of smiles as he took a couple of pictures then thanked me for allowing him to take the picture and at the same time asking me why I had stopped. I told him that the heat had beaten me and he said that 1 in 10 walkers had stopped at Horton or some even before. I didn’t know whether to believe him or if he was just trying to make me feel better as I jumped in the van and we drove to Gargrave to drop Tony off at his car. The girls then informed we of a plan they had hatched earlier to stop off at Burger King on the way round to pick Stuart up from Hetton. I had had my head out of the window trying not to be sick since we left Horton so it didn’t really appeal although some devilish voice told me to order one as it may kick start my system again and make me feel better. The girls went in to order as I spent my time alternating between stood up bent over the passenger seats and laid flat out on my back sprawled over the grass next to the bus. I didn’t feel well as the smallest of bites to my burger confirmed. Once the girls had finished we picked Stuart up from Hetton then headed through Upper Wharfedale towards Oughtershaw where we planned to surprise the boys with an extra check point. As we sat there chatting and waiting, I did begin to feel a little better both physically and mentally and my usual jovial self slowly returned. The arrival of Stuart lifted spirits as we hoped the new faces would by keeping things fresh and injecting new topics into conversation. He did however have to stop the chit chat and leave the van as the girls slipped into their evening wear which happened to be pink onesies.

Once changed Ramblo wound her window down and encouraged each of the passing walkers as we waited for our team to arrive. The lights of dozens of head torches could be seen advancing towards us and I kept trying to pick out five close by who could possibly be team Badgers. Some of those passing by looked pretty good considering they were now 35 miles in but others looked pretty fed up. In some microscopic way I was glad I didn’t have to go through that but the overriding feeling was one of disappointment I wasn’t experiencing what they were. It was two hours or so before our lot turned up and the best way to describe their appearance was we had seen better, but we had seen worse. Marc and Jane were going to stop here as Stuart joined the three remaining trekkers, but then Marc said he would carry on to Buckden (roughly 6 miles). Jane joined us in the van and once the boys had finished their impromptu pit stop they set off allowing us to head for check point three.

It was now after midnight and the difference in darkness between the Dales and a city was clear to see. There was no ambient lighting and as a result the night seemed much deeper and darker than usual meaning the head torches stood out from a great distance as people continued around the route. We passed a few people next to the Wharfe and it seemed like they had set up camp for the night as they had roaring fires and seemed quite happy with their situation. I don’t know if these were support staff for the walkers or just people wild camping but it will certainly have helped those walking by to know other people were about and they weren’t in the middle of nowhere. As we pulled into Buckden it was clear that this seemed to be a point when people were beginning to find things tough. The number of Mountain Rescue vehicles was re-assuring but also a little daunting, if they were all to be needed, and as we soon found out, they were. We parked up and knew we had a couple of hours until the boys reached us. My addition to the support staff meant Wu Tang and Ramblo could have a sleep without worrying about an alarm. They cleared some of the back seats and put their heads down for some well-earned rest as Jane and I chatted away in the front. We decided to play “spot the funny walk” which while so wrong helped us pass an hour with ease. Don’t get me wrong we were extremely sympathetic but it was still funny all the same. I wouldn’t expect people not to laugh at me if I was in that state, in fact I would rather have been in that state and have people laughing at me if it meant I was still walking. The longer we chatted the more the blue flashing lights would go and return to unload people with various different conditions, most of which I am sure were blisters. Most of those who climbed gingerly out of these rescue vehicles were in tears which I certainly could sympathise with and deep down I had nothing but respect for these people, especially the ones who scored me most points! A little while later we walked over to the check in point to see if we could spot our guys signing in. It was certainly cool now and as I contemplated putting something over my shorts the boys arrived looking a tad on the rough side. Cue L’Autobus who once again had the chairs out and kettle on in no time. Oxfam had a warm meal ready for everyone who registered at the start and the girls went to get the meal for those who wanted one as they went through the usual routine of changing socks etc The morale at this point was the lowest it had been and it wouldn’t have surprised me had anyone decided enough was enough. Stuart was still enthusiastic and kept telling people how well they were doing and seemed to be saying the right things at the right time. He advised G to take his boots off and put his trainers on to try and help the blisters that were beginning to form. I think one of my random funny moments happened at Buckden. Sandra had fired up the generator and plugged in the kettle to ensure everyone could have hot drinks should they wish. For 10 minutes the kettle boiled and then for what seemed like 10 minutes longer but still it kept going. The steam was shooting out of the spout but the kettle never switched off and half of it evaporated. At one point we joked that you couldn’t tell if the generator was powering the kettle or the kettle was powering the generator. I appreciate that this isn’t funny when written and I am sure anyone reading this won’t find it funny but at the time it helped to raise a few smiles. It was probably the lack of sleep!

After a change of gear and a bite to eat the general demeanour of the boys had noticeably picked up. In the twenty minutes or so since they arrived the mood had changed sufficiently for me to know they would see this through. That wasn’t to say they were going to find it easy but I just sensed they could finish things off. They set off once again into the darkness and it would be another 4 hours or so before they would reach check point four at Conistone. We dropped Marc and Jane off at their campsite to get a couple of hours shut eye before the kids would wake them up (before child services report them, there were other adults looking after them). After that we made our way to Conistone where we would have a few hours to kill until we saw them again. Initially this calm was welcomed but it soon became difficult to get comfy in a van full with stuff. The sun was on its way up and my body clock was all over the place and from time to time I just wanted to go to sleep but at the same time I wanted to stay up as I felt that would be letting people down. I don’t know why I thought this but never the less I decided I was going to stay awake as I would have to had I still been walking. An hour later and I was really uncomfortable and asked to borrow a pillow from the girls. I put my head down to rest and listed to the conversation L’Autobus were having in the front and the next thing I know Leanne was waking me up to help get things ready. I asked her how long I had been asleep and she said it had been 5 minutes. What’s the point in 5 minutes?! I felt worse for it but Ramblo had got word the boys were near so we needed to set up for them once again.

The early morning sun was already warm as the team reached Conistone. Again the girls were awesome as they fed, watered and tended to everyone in no particular order. They had made a conscious effort not to prioritise myself and Beaky and I think they did a good job of making sure everyone was looked after. That went for Stuart too who was still going strong and seemed upbeat about the whole thing. He commented that he couldn’t believe the speed they were going after 50 miles and that no doubt helped to keep spirits up. I had a quick chat with Beaky about timings as the last thing we wanted was to miss the 30 hour time limit after all this effort. It was decided we were ok but they should keep the stop short when no doubt their bodies just wanted to rest for longer or probably just stop. That wasn’t an option, at least not for another 13 miles, so they set off once again each one of them walking gingerly due to stiffness and/or blisters. I have found that often after large distances and then a break it takes you a little while to get back into it so I knew they would be ok and my mind switched to helping the girls pack the van up then we were off to Hetton where we would wait for them once more.

At Hetton there was water stop 5 which was quiet but busy at the same time. There were never more than 10 – 15 walkers there at any point we were there but there always seemed to be movement and a general buzz about the place. I suppose most of this came from the walkers who knew they were just over 6 miles from completion and had renewed energy but the support staff were fantastic as they had been all the way around. The medical staff were quietly going about their business patching up feet where required and I spent twenty minutes talking to one of them who was telling me about his role and some of the things that had gone on. I think 6 people got this far round and had to stop for one reason or another and that must have been heart breaking. My mind went back to 15 hours earlier and I tried to work out if I would rather have stopped when I did or at the 56 mile point. To be honest I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. Nobody can ever call you a failure after 56 miles but then anybody who stood on the start line yesterday morning deserves massive respect. Ultimately it comes down to how hard you are on yourself and while I would have liked to go on, I knew I physically couldn’t at the point I stopped. Had I made the decision then regretted it 20 minutes later after a period of rest then I may have been hard on myself, but knowing you weren’t weak mentally and that it was down to being physically exhausted, meant I would one day be at ease with it. My daydreaming was interrupted by my mobile ringing and I answered to find my mum on the other end asking for an estimated time of arrival at Skipton. I told her that they would soon be arriving in Hetton and as it is close my mum and dad along with Beaky’s, came round to meet us. G’s wife Carol and daughters Charlie and Helena also arrived just before the boys came up the road. Again they took on board liquid and Roger and Beaky changed their socks. G was complaining of a sore heel due to a blister and I told him to go see the medical staff. He resisted at first but I was having none of it and made him go. At times everyone can be a bit too manly to accept help, but the support was there so why not use it. With his heel bandaged and the rest of the boys ready they were joined by Charlie and Helena for the last 6.5 miles as Stuart said goodbye after his amazing effort of 22 miles through the night. With the Badgers disappearing out of sight for the final time until the finish lines we hopped into our various vehicles and headed for the finish line where we were joined by my sister, brother-in-law and three kids. We found a spot on the banking overlooking the finish line and settled down for a few hours. From time to time the loud speaker would announce the name of a team that were approaching the finish and everybody would applaud generously in recognition of what was an amazing achievement. With each team that crossed the line I found myself getting more and more emotional that I was missing out on this whole experience. Eventually I could take it no more and the tears started rolling down my face one again. My two nephews put on the badger masks we had with us and joined me for a photo which wasn’t the best timing but did put things in perspective in the grand scheme of things. I had failed to finish a walk, I still had my wonderful friends and family around me and they were all still proud of me so why should I feel so upset? This thought helped for a while but I was soon bawling again and didn’t really stop for the next hour.

Finally we got word to say they were almost with us and we moved down to the barriers between which the final few dozen yards are walked. We stood for five minutes awaiting the arrival of the team and with each passing second I found myself becoming more and more uncontrollable. The more I tried to keep calm the more I wanted to sob out loud. I put my arms around Leanne and Sandra and gave them a hug. I told them that I wanted to go wait at the corner of the school build so I could be on my own and they said they were fine with that. I had to explain that I didn’t want them to think I was trying to steal any thunder and I didn’t just want to walk off. I was fully aware this had been a team effort and I didn’t want them thinking I was out of order but I shouldn’t have worried. They gave their blessing and I walked over to wait patiently, then they were here. The tears I had somehow manage to get under control came flooding back and I clapped them as they entered the school grounds.

As they turned the final corner I walked towards them and told them to enjoy the moment and to soak it all up. I don’t really know whether they understood me or not as I don’t think I actually managed to get any full words out between sniffling and blubbering. I joined them for a few strides the eased back slowly so they could have their moment of glory but they were having none of it. They reached out and pulled me into line and allowed me to cross the line with them and for this I will be eternally grateful.

When I walked under that finish line the initial feeling was one of disappointment mixed with regret but it was soon replaced by an over whelming sense of pride that we had done all we had over the last two days. I think this came from the reactions of the other three. Had they have been off with me or wrapped up in their own success it would have hurt and made the whole situation awkward to accept. The truth is I think they realised that this whole adventure had been a team effort from start to finish and with that team they couldn’t have done it. Our strength lies in the team and as individuals we are weaker and that may or may not be realised by those there that day. Each and everyone one of the main 6 (myself, Simon, Graham, Roger, Leanne and Sandra) contributed immensely throughout the six months it took us to get here. On top of that we had Tony, Marc, Jane, Stuart, Charlie and Helena who had all gone out of their way to walk with us which was a massive help. It was such a fantastic event to be part of and one that I will always remember for all sorts of reasons. We had put so much time and effort into getting to the start line that in itself was something to be proud of but ultimately Trailtrekker is about the walk. Granted it is much more than a walk but take the walk away and you are left with no reason or purpose, so in that sense I felt like I had failed. I was pleased with my efforts as team organiser and I feel I got most things right in that respect but the big part was missing. The completion of the walk was something I hadn’t achieved and even though this was meant to be the one and only attempt, I found myself considering another attempt next year. Too many rash decisions are made in the heat of the moment and I want to let the dust settle before I make any decision on that. Let’s just say I don’t think me and Trailtrekker have crossed swords for the one and only time. For the foreseeable future I will be happy to get back to the civilised walks and enjoy the beauty of our countryside without the pressure Trailtrekker brings. Having said all that, if this review makes anyone consider signing up for next year then I would advise it. The experience was one that will stay with me for a very long time, I only wish my experience had gone fully to plan.

Sir Edmund

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