Tuesday 26 January 2016

The Spine Race 2016 - the finale

We left Bellingham into the cold. It wasn't as cold as it had seemed last night when we were exhausted and needing sleep. Although by now we were always needing sleep. i was beginning to panic we wouldn't get back in time. My panic manifested itself in a bossy, sergeant major, marching, yelling directions, telling people to keep moving. I was soon put in my place by Zoe, who gave me a talking to and quite right too! That would have been a long day for everyone had I carried on like that!

The next section was a bastard. Truly. It wasn't particularly hilly which was nice. What it was however was miles and miles of moors with hideous deep snow. Energy sapping, high stepping snow that I hated. It was hours of it. I sulked my way through it like an angry teenager. There was a diversion after I believe 3 days of hiking through it to avoid the "deep snow". Feck knows how bad it was through the next bit!

This section saw my first hallucinations. From here the race got weird. I can't even confirm if what I'm going to write is real or if the events actually happened.
Hiking along through not quite so deep snow now towards the forest, still night, I was becoming mesmerised by the glitter off the snow from my head torch. The only other time I'd felt this way was in Amsterdam several years ago after eating magic mushrooms.
I saw things in the trees. Faces that probably weren't there. People that shouldn't be there. Things that gave me a fright, things that made me giggle. I was walking along with my eyes shut, wondering if I could sleep walk. I stopped and shut my eyes, I could sleep standing up. I was totally incapable of navigating, I was just following behind Doug like a told off child.

I dozed in and out of awareness of Zoe and Doug around me. Doug getting irritated by my slow movement. Zoe was struggling too now. She wanted to sing. We were hanging behind singing something, I can't remember what now.

We caught up with Doug, or more accurately he waited for us. Zoe wanted to sing again. No, she wanted Doug to sing. Doug started singing "the amazing horse" I joined in, in a drunken slur. I don't think Zoe knew this song.

I was aware that Esteve the Spanish racer who didn't speak much English was with us. We sung a round of frere Jacques, and some song about a caterpillar that my tired brain was unable to repeat the lyrics back. The sparkles in the air holding me in a trance. The sun was beginning to rise once more. I was so tired. What day it was I couldn't tell you. I was moaning. Why aren't we at byrness yet? Can I sleep? Looking for anywhere to curl up in a ball and sleep for just five minutes. I handed round pro plus.

Doug, let me sleep, just here for 2 minutes?
Why wouldn't he let me sleep? I'd be so much better if I could sleep.

We slowly trudged on. Doug and Zoe had held back doing something, maybe fussing with gaitors which had clogged up with giants snow balls. I knew I had a couple of minutes On them. I kept looking out for snow holes. Trees I could duck behind. Grab just 90 seconds sleep. That's all I needed. Esteve was somewhere in the distance, escaping our increasing idiocy.
I took my bag off and sat on it, closed my eyes and was immediately asleep. I woke to Doug looking angry. He was right, it wasn't safe to stop in the freezing cold. It wasn't fair on the rest of the group.

It was daytime now. I needed to wake up. I ran. Actually ran. It was the only thing I could think of to wake myself up. I stopped to strip off some layers, during which time Doug passed me. He tried to wait but I told him to carry on and I'd run to catch up. The gradient was declining slightly making my amble much less arduous. I ran to catch him. He was hiking hard. Knowing we were only a few km from Byrness and a nap and a feed and a hot drink! Entering kielder forest I brightened up further. I had fond memories of mountain biking in kielder. We had dropped Zoe a little way back but we knew she'd catch us shortly, the nav was straight forward, the sun was up and the only way I could keep awake was to jog.

By the time we'd regrouped, Zoe was in a chipper mood too, moving briskly, banging off clumps of snow from boots and poles. The sun was shining and it was once more a gorgeous alpine day. Reaching Byrness we bumped in to Ronnie once more. He was full of spirit and excitement. Partly at the excitement of seeing us still in the race but also to deliver some news.

News was that over the Cheviots the snow was knee deep and waste deep in places, people were travelling a max on 1.5 mph though the section, the last 28 miles taking over 20 hours! He was urging us to press on, not stop too long and get the fuck on with it.

I didn't really believe him. Although having coming through what we had through the night, I can't imagine it would be worse than that.

We went into the forest view b&b where there was a great set up, sofas, medics, beds should we need them, hot food. We took advantage of most of it. I slept on s sofa, had some coffee, a pile of mince and mash, got to use a proper toilet. Whilst there it got pretty busy so when we felt we'd had enough to of a break we decided to push on.

We almost instantly climbed up out of the forest onto the Cheviots. The Cheviots were the final legend of the spine race. Again, they filled me with fear. Stories of spines gone by had nearly taken men to the grave (or something) on paper it was a long long section with two mountain refuge huts breaking it up. We had expected to take 15 hours to cross to the finish. With the new estimate of 20 hours I'd thought that we could get a nap in at hut 1 at the least.

Once up onto the Cheviots we looked back at a spectacular view across the snow and onto s perfect sky. Once more wishing I had a camera but taking a mental image.

Once more, we tried to work as a team on the navigation, it wasn't too tricky to be fair. We cross referenced the summits, partly for our satisfaction that we weren't just following footsteps. The snow wasn't that bad here, mostly ankle deep, the sun on our backs, what was Ronnie on about?? I felt like we were making great progress. The air was really cold though and a breeze was whipping up. Someone back at the cp had warned against breath inning in the cold air as you could get hypothermia from it, so to breath through our buffs. This I was doing but still the cold was biting at my chest.

We'd dropped down into a valley and Doug needed to stop to de-ice his boots. I confidently led the way off. Fifteen or so minutes later, dougs caught up with us and it transpired I had no idea where I was going. Doug went off back to the gate he'd stopped at, and retraced the correct route. I didn't know what was going on. Should we be following?

Once more I found myself following dougs heels. We finally saw a pennine way sign and I felt better about our location. The sun was beginning to lose its shine. A misty cloud cover forming, it would be night again in a few hours. we seemed to be striding out well now Into the cold. Seeing footprints now and then to confirm we were heading in the right direction or at least the direction of other lost folk.

I begun to feel a bit weird. I had a really strong sense of de ja vu. I knew I'd never been up here before but it all felt so familiar. The trail looked familiar, striding out with Zoe with me. It was very strange. It as very cold now, so I was marching back and forth while maps and Gps were being checked by Doug and Zoe. I wasn't capable of reading a map at the moment. I was so cold. We plodded on, my de ja vu becoming more and more surreal. This entire situation was now playing back like a movie I'd once watched.

Doug was beginning to act strange. Whether this was just in my mind or reality. He was really tired. I suggested that we take a decent break at the first hut, have a half hour sleep. I as expecting a lovely warm hut like Gregs hut. I thought we could get our sleeping bags out and have a hot meal and good sleep. Doug was falling asleep on his feet. I was really starting to worry about him. I told Zoe such. He was acting strange. We were right by the rufuge hut all of a sudden. I stopped for a pee and let the others carry on in.

When inside, the hut wasn't quite what I expected. The floor was wet. It was full of racers, mark and al were in there boiling up water and making ration packs and noodles for those in need.

I was so worried about doug. He needed sleep before we carried on. I tried to tuck up in to sleep while I prepared hot water and got food going. I made a hot water bottle out of my sigg bottle. Doug may have closed his eyes for s minute.

People started to leave. Suddenly I knew the ending of the movie I'd been watching, Zoe was going to leave us. We were going to get lost out in the snow. We'd miss the cut off. I was panicking. I was struggling to read a map. I could barely concentrate. My brain was making up fictional endings to a story that I thought I'd lived through before. Apparently the next bit of the route was the worst hit by snow drifts. This was the bit that would take forever to get through. It was dark again, it was of course night time again.

I was so worried about this bit. I knew what would happen. Of course I'd seen it in my memory. I asked mark for advice in the nav for this bit, he said, just keep following the fence, he went through it. Head to the fence. Following the fence. Get to there and follow the fence. Just follow the fence.

How hard can it be? How did I get so lost last time I was thinking?

Doug was so tired, he wasn't ready to go, but I rushed him out. Forced him to put more layers on than he wanted. But you're cold Doug.its so cold out there. We can't stop when we're out because Zoe will leave us and we'll be lost.

Mark ushered the three of us to the fence where we dutifully followed it. It was funny, to one side of the fence was England, the other Scotland. How funny, I thought. We starte off at a steady pace. My legs felt fine. I just wanted us all safe together.

Heading up towards windy gyle was the most horrific wind. Blowing straight from Scotland, it was already below freezing but apparently with the wind it was minus 15. I remembered this part of the route from my dream. I couldn't remember when I'd been here though. Maybe it was with penny and David. But it must have been daylight.

We could see lights ahead of us, which we were slowly catching up with. It was so cold. We were constantly checking on each other. Anna are you ok? Doug are you ok? Zoe are you ok? Doug leading Keeping the pace steady so everyone could remain close. The wind was biting. The hill went on forever. We weren't even at windy gyle yet. I felt like I was in labrynth. Tricked into taking a wrong turn somewhere, waiting to fall into the bog of eternal stench.

The snow was getting deep again. My de ja vu just wouldn't go away. We caught up with the the others now. I had feelings of being on the Southdown way by Eastbourne. Except it wasn't sunny. The snow was creating a strange light around us. We plodded on, mingling with the group we'd caught up with who were all behaving weird. Everyone was acting like when you're drunk and trying to hide it from your parents. No one really wanted to take control of the direction we were taking. So Doug pushed on passed. We bumped in to javed who was acting weird. He was just stood still and said he'd lost his food somewhere. Could we give him some food. I searched in my bag and pulled out some malt load to share with him. I saw a bag of food in my bag. Oh no! I stole javeds food! Of course I hadn't but my brain convinced me I had. It was some food that Ronnie had given me earlier that day/week/month. The rest of the group caught up and he asked them for food too, Colin said he'd lost his food too. This was weird.

We pushed on once more, moving as a detached group of maybe 8 of us. The snow was so deep. Every step was a high step followed by falling somewhere between knee and waist deep snow. There were no tracks. We can't be going the right way. The fence was still on our left. We were moving really weirdly. Doug and luke had taken control and were taking it in turns to blaze a trail through the snow. We'd been moving for hours. Javed said we had about 5k to go before the 2nd hut. This made me whimper. It had taken us so long to get to here.

I was confused. I voiced this. I didn't understand what was going on. I knew I was in trouble. I felt we all were. We were all acting weird. With the exception of luke and Doug who were just ploughing through the snow. Doug was getting infuriated with me, he said to stick with him and keep moving. I kept saying I was confused, why is all this snow here. Why would this be in the race. Was this a new part of the race, a twist to make it impossible?

I fell in a massive deep hole and couldn't get out. Zoe tried pulling me out, but it felt like she was laid on me pushing me in deeper. I started laughing. Uncontrollable laughter. I couldn't get out. Doug was getting impatient. I crawled out of my snow hole.

By now I can only describe how I was feeling as being stoned. Not the good stoned your get from a cheeky drag. The awful paranoid stoned you get. Why was everyone acting weird? Why didn't this bit of race end? Why could t we reach the road from here?

I could see lights ahead of the mountain rescue teams in the road. Only to get there and it be nothing but snow. We were physically hauling ourself along the fence like a tug of war. Through the snow drifts. It was exhausting.

I was still confused. Doug force fed be as much food as he could get in me. He shouted at me. I whined. I can't do it. Can we pitch the tent?

"No! The only way out of this is to keep moving. Were our best hope at getting out of this"

The others were still drunk. I was stoned. Doug was focused. The bottoms of my feet were freezing. Is it possible to get frost bite out here? I wondered.

For hours I was trying to remember Zoe's name. I knew it had three letter and begin with z but I couldn't for the life of me remember her name. It was crazy. Of course I knew it but I couldn't get it to come to me.

Why weren't we getting anywhere?

At some point Doug stopped, gave me a talking to. He was freezing. He told me he was so cold. His boots had frozen with snow and ice and he was properly frightened we werent getting out of this, that I need to focus, stay with him and keep moving to keep warm.

Seeing him like this sobered me up slightly, I started panic hiking. Doug, luke and I got a march on. We marched for days. My confusion didn't go away, I still didn't understand what was going on but I trusted Doug to follow him. I looked down and saw I'd lost my map. I have no idea when or where. I checked my pocket where I keep my gps, it was open, and empty. Great.,lost that too. Just stick with Doug. he'll keep me safe.

We got near the top where we were to make a turn or something and group had all dispersed. Zoe wasn't with us anymore, Dan was with us, some people were going to camp. Colin wanted to ring hq and collect us. Doug and I both queried what they'd do. There's no way down here with a vehicle. We'd be dead and frozen before we were found.

It was so cold. My feet were burning for the ice on them. Hell only knows what dougs felt like. I felt guilty for dawdling so much. Dan and Doug worked on finding the route to the refuge hut.

I thought the refuge hut was a different one to what we were trying to get to and that we were out of the race now. I didn't know how we'd get from here to the proper refuge hut.

Doug had run off down a hill and was shouting for Dan and I to follow. My feet were so sore but adrenaline let me run hard down through the snow chasing after Doug. He saw a flashing light of someone st the hut. I wondered if someone was always at the hut or if they'd known we were out there.... I still thought we were somewhere far from the race route left to freeze on the mountain somewhere. We reached the bottom and someone told us it was about a km to the hut we kept going going going. Eventually we were in the hut, it was warm and snow free. I thought the race was over for us. We'd gone too far off course to correct it in this deep snow.

When the realisation came that we were still, in the race I was happy. But where was the lady who we were running with? Why couldn't I remember her name? We should wait for her. What if she doesn't make it down?

I sat down. I just wanted to sleep. Doug was keen to carry straight on. Can we sleep a while?

Pretty quickly I was bundled into a foil bag, along with hot water bottles, a medic was force feeding me hot food, I just wanted to sleep. Why won't you let me sleep?

I have vague recollection of drifting in and out of sleep over the next few hours, being fed hot things, Doug trying to make me lie down. Doug refusing to go to sleep so he could keep an eye on me. I was given some glucose at some point which seemed to act like adrenaline. Very quickly I sobered up, what time is it? 3am. Shit we need to get back by 10, I looked up to see that Zoe was in another corner of the Hut also in a bag. Thankful she had made it down safely.

I asked the medic could we go? She said not for a couple of hours. during this time, I guess I slept some more, people came and went in varying states of disrepair. Dougs feet and ankles were still frozen up. I urge him to sleep. He refused. I felt he was disappointed. People had overtaken whilst I was being pathetic. We ended up being held there for 5 hours. We could have been back by now.

We were told the last 7 miles was taking 5 hours. Which meant we need to get moving. Zoe was awake now, and we had an escort of tom waiting to take us to the finish.

I'd been stopped too long. My feet were so sore. The night had destroyed them. They'd also swollen so I had to loosen my shoes off. Which meant that the snow kept pulling them off. I hobbled painfully outside.

Zoe and Doug were moving well and clearly keen to be back. I just couldn't walk. It was so painful. I knew the longer I went the more comfortable it would become, but it hurt so bad.

The next 7 miles were excruciating. Doug and Zoe waited patiently for me. Zoe and I knew we were joint First Lady, and had made a gentle woman's agreement almost as soon as we'd joined forces that we'd finish together, for one of us to run off now would have been a dick move but she was well within her right to at that moment as it's the only time we'd really been a significantly different pace.

The last few miles went on forever. Although it was no longer night time, for a change. The snow gave way to treacherous ice. Every time I stood on it my feet flew from beneath me. Three time landing me flat on my ass.

We knew we would finish now. It s just a matter of putting one foot in front of another. Doug and Zoe were so patient with me this last few hours. Ronnie caught up with us as we were coming through the final few hundred meters, so happy for us, I could barely raise a smile. I was so exhausted and the ice was pissing me off.

We could see the pub now. Scott was there waiting for us. The three of us reached the pub and with a 3...2...1 we all touched the wall at the same time.

It's the only race I've finished she I've actually felt euphoric. I'm sure I didn't look it, but I'd taken quite a battering.

What a race, what a week. What an amazing achievement that I'm so proud of. I couldn't have done it without Doug by my side. Until those last 10 or so miles, I'd never doubted us. But it goes to show how quickly things can turn bad.


  1. You is nails. A lesser person would have quit.

  2. amazing. you are an inspiration x

  3. You nailed that evening in the Cheviots spot on Anna. I felt just the same - even down to the deja vu


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This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)