En-route I stopped off in H at the 'Pilgrims Gate' to sit with Lloydy for a little while, hoping that he might enlighten me a little, but generally now the conversations are a little one-sided, and he was never much of a talker anyway. However, being there at his graveside always gives me focus and helps me remember that when things get tough, I know he's got my back.
The excitement was palpable and had been all week and seemed to rise into a complete crescendo by the time I'd got to Talybont, especially as Kramar had decided he was driving a tractor and the lower field we were to camp in, offered no issues to him as he drove in to the bog it had become. He'd managed to get himself royally stuck, right up to the axial!
|Kramar and his Tractor....|
|A real Volvo Tractor.....|
Then came Med training and a quick bite to eat before we were into 'sickener' territory and Bergen familirisation (with your eyes closed), kit and map inspection! 20 press-ups were being thrown about as punishment, for not being able to identify where your kit was in your bergen and not having the kit you required. Luckily I avoided such sickeners, but the tricky bit for me was to come. The afternoon was completed with a NAVEX, a 'gentle 4k' around the hills near Base camp, even without the pack on, the legs and lungs got a workout. Luckily walking on a bearing is pretty easy, but because I hadn't been able to join up on any of the practice Nav sessions, my experience was homework only, so confidence was shaky and even more so, when I cracked under a little bit of pressure from Stu about route selection. In truth that was as difficult as it got, the NAVEX was a workout and at times there was a bit of doubt flying around, trying to block out the notion that even without the bergen strapped on these hills work you hard. Again no amount of training ever makes you feel like you've done enough to cope with the rigours Brecon throws at you, you just have to make sure your mentally ready for the test, if your head's right, better still if you have a reason for being out there, it makes the job a damn sight easier!
In truth, in the last couple of years with the events I've taken on, I don't really know what Lloydy would be thinking, and obviously if he was still here, I wouldn't have done them or be facing the daunting task of trying to complete "Point to Point". There are easier ways I could pay him tribute or indeed support Army Charities, but the easy option, has never felt like the right option!
At 2100 we were given the March brief and informed that we'd be set off staggered in two waves, a fast group with a sub 4:30 Fan Dance time and a slow group at above 4:30. That meant I was going to be in fine company with The Brothers Massey and Tim, but we'd be setting alarms for 0340 and in the dining area for breakfast at 0400 sharp and out by 0430 so that the fast group could get their scoff done. The rest of the evening was spent in a mild state of panic, preparing food and nutrition, personal and belt kit and getting the bergen up to weight, which I'd struggled to do before leaving on Friday morning. Sorted we all turned in about 2230, but sleep was fitful at best and at 0330 Tim and I were already nervously getting ourselves ready for our oats made from steel!
I know the objective is to always ram as much food into your face as is possible, but I find it difficult pre and during, so by the time I'd finished my porridge and cactus syrup, I really couldn't stomach a full english, besides Ken insisted on the oats alone we'd be good for 4hrs, he wasn't wrong!
At 0500 Tim and I bundled into Mark's van and waited the off, the intention to be at the start for 0600. We bundled back out just before 6, and filed into two ranks and then were double timed to the actual start about a quarter mile from the drop. Maps in hand, torches off, compasses hanging from the left breast pocket. On reaching Ken we filed into a patient but nervous line of lone wolves and teams, before being ushered forward to receive the first grid.
Huddled together and surveying our maps we decided on our route selection - we were to quickly find out, that was our first error. It wasn't so much the route selection we chose, but more so the route we didn't take, which would cost us significant time. None the wiser though and happy with our route we set off, however it wasn't long before we were climbing hard over boggy ground, up to our nuts in bog, with Stu and Tim both taking epic falls, Tim's rather more dramatically though as he used his face to break his fall. Luckily the terrain was like a water bed so any physical damage would be negligible, the pride however did take a little knock, well until the piss taking started anyway!
Following our bearing we quickly stumbled into even worse shit and had the maps out looking for relief and features. Stupidly we hadn't paced that first leg so had no real idea how far we had traveled, and in the pitch black and no real features to nav from we were guessing on our location. We decided on a new bearing to get us out of the water and climbed to higher ground before setting back on the bearing we thought we should be taking. By the time we'd got ourselves back on track (and found fresh footprints), daylight had replaced the bleakness and darkness of the early hours, confidence had been shot a little but we were still in good spirits. Making our way up to RV1, friends had already started coming back past us and it was difficult at first to understand if they were lost, we were lost or they were on their way to RV2. Turns out it was the latter, which meant we were falling well behind in time and needed to get our arses moving.
Once at RV1, relieved that we'd got ourselves there despite our best efforts to make it more difficult for ourselves, nav to the the next grid was straightforward. It was just the terrain we had to get ourselves over to to haul our arses up to Trig 642 and RV2. We kinda knew what to expect, but what you expect and what you get especially when you're climbing fully loaded are two very different things, the slopes become steeper and the slog a lot longer. I stood at the base of the climb looking up at the objective just muttering to myself "You've got to be shitting me", the first rise is tough enough but as it plateaus you're stood there, looking at another rise the same height that you've just got yourself up. What makes it more daunting is that you notice that KJ is steaming up behind, moving like a train, the decision is then, do you plod like you're done, or use his example to push hard? It's the latter of course and by the time you hit the top you're blowing hard, but boy is it worth it. For me for two reasons, the views from up there are stunning even with the clag in, you can see enough to marvel at the beauty all around, but more importantly for me, I decided before I set off, that at Trig 642 I would place my little tribute to Lloydy. When I got up there and checked in, it felt like the right place. There wasn't much ceremony, I just muttered a few words to myself and just hoped that he'd heard them.
By this point we had no real idea how far we'd gone, or still how far we had to go, we just knew we had to keep going and next up was the prospect of "VW Valley". Grid to RV3 given and route selection done we knew at some point we'd have no choice but straight down and straight up. If anything it's those steep downs that are tougher on the body than the ups, the knees and feet take an absolute pounding trying to ensure you don't make like a cheese wheel and forward roll into the valley floor. Little did we know that "VW Valley" would be piss easy in comparison to those first 90 mins though! We reached the valley floor relatively unscathed other than a little protest in the lower limbs, started to climb back out the valley, before noticing the intermediate RV, only to find after getting ourselves back down and checking in, that we didn't need to! We took the opportunity to get some scoff down the neck and gave each other the gee up we all needed to go again. The sickener came though as we plateaued and looked across to our right and saw people clambering up the adjacent slope.
On the approach to RV3 we met up once again with Bear and Jimifer (resplendent with the clag dripping off their beards - it had been the third time we'd crossed paths that day and from that point on we pulled together). We also had to rescue a fellow competitor out of a ditch as he somehow managed to fall in to it, we made sure he stayed still and tried not to move, relieved him of his bergen and gently eased him out. Luckily he seemed ok, but had to withdraw at RV3. On reaching RV3 heads dropped a little as firstly we'd only just made it there in time, but were informed by the DS, "you're going up there" as he pointed up the slope we'd noticed people clambering up as we'd got ourselves out of "VW Valley". I also started to panic a little at this stage, as I was sure I was very close to running out of fluid. My camelback was packed tight in my bergen, and therefore unable to grab and check without pulling everything out, with the threat of being be swept up if we didn't shift, we legged it.....and I kept my fingers crossed!
|Sorry James......had to nick it!|
Getting off the the RV, I had a spring in my step, well as much as you can going downhill on difficult terrain in the near dark, then as I took a sip on my camelback, that horrible sound of it being drained hit my ears! Fuck! Alarm bells rang, we still had a good trek to get back and I only had myself to blame for my poor admin. At that point I zoned out a bit just to keep myself pushing on, not concentrating on the fact I had no fluid left, a bit of radio chatter signalled that the FRV was now marked with a red strobe. Renewed with vigour I took a deep draw on the straw to my pack and got a decent mouthful, keeping a check on our bearing at all times. By now there was no light, it was pitch black, and trusting the compass became paramount. We had a couple of little wobbles but with great map reading from Jimifer, and trusting our bearing we hit the path that signified we were on the last stretch home. In the darkness all you could hear was the occasional chatter over the radio and Bear falling in yet another bear trap, but as the red strobes became visible you could hear excitement in the voices as the chatter picked up again. Tim let Zero know we were on the approach as the red light appeared, I heard him utter "eta 8 mins over". I had a little giggle to myself thinking he's just making shit up now, but it was nice to hear high morale in his voice.
He'd battled some demons during the course of the march, as we all had, but I think his might have been slightly more fierce than most. I was so proud of him, that he never gave into them. The stretch back to the FRV seemed to go on like a queue for a ride at Disney, albeit slightly more treacherous. As the road came in to view, I remember being side by side with Bear and us both putting in a decent stride to get home. Just as we skipped over the brow I squinted in the dark to make out what looked like Skipper and Adam checking in at the FRV, emotionally it was an incredible moment to be able to see their grins at a truly defining moment for us all. James had also arrived and despite the fact this was Nails SF Heartland, there was no way I wasn't throwing a few hugs around. Shaking Jason's hand and receiving a "well done" I turned around to see Tim, Stu and Mark and couldn't help but hug them half to death, we'd gone through a lot that day together, and had come out the other end a bit taller for it. Mark had also done an exceptional job keeping us on track and led from the front all day, even when the shit hit the fan, I could have kissed his beautiful bald ginger head for that. In the emotion of it all I may well have done. My only thought after that was getting that bloody bergen off, so off I marched, back towards the drop off, in no small part trying to catch Skipper and Adam up, as the batteries on my torch had failed and I couldn't be bothered to change them, and secondly because after such a long day it had been so good to see them.
However, they'd clearly switched their nav skills off, as the took the wrong fork in the road, which amused me no end, and resulted in something 'banterish' coming out of my mouth. Even after 12hrs of arduous effort there's still room for banter! All back at Marks' van we loaded up and set off back to base camp. Thankfully a few of the guys were still there packing up and sorting themselves out, Fordy was the first to rock up looking good and fresh, it was so good to see him, as we hadn't seen him since first thing that morning. News then came in that the girls had all gone in to a collective panic, as they'd not heard from us all day, so duty done and Mrs Rushen's mind put at ease, I cracked on with packing kit away. Thankfully, before we left, Tim and I got the chance to shake Ken's hand and offer some thanks for the day, it felt incredible to hug it out knowing that we'd completed his favourite march, and in some small way I'd paid a little tribute to Lloydy. Ken gave us both our patches before offering us the notion that we were now "officially nails", just as I was turning away to go back to the car, Ken called me back and handed me another patch "that one's for Lloydy mate" he said, and he was gone.
Lloydy was always the original reason for doing these events and will always be the first reason, but as I've said before, these events have created a family, which I truly miss, and would miss greatly if I wasn't out there with them. There's also a third reason that in Lloydy's name, hopefully by generating support, I can raise enough money to help benefit those that need it through the charities I'm supporting. So please help me if you can get my page out there, the ABF The Soldiers Charity are a wonderful charity and it would mean so much to be able to hit my target again for them as I begin training for next years Virgin London Marathon.
Secondly, Ken Jones and all the DS (Stu, Matt, Jas and Dave + others) for giving us mere mortals an opportunity to grow a little, and walk in the footsteps of giants and for me personally those of my little brother. Also for the personal touches and the respect they afford me in my brother's memory. Truly in awe of you all.
Thirdly, my brother, he may not be here anymore but he'll always be my best friend, and example of what a man should be, and what a man should stand for. I know he is always on my shoulder and the whisper around me when I need that extra push. Blue skies little brother xxx
....and lastly my wife and littlebear! Without who, I'd be lost, always the light in my life, especially on the difficult days, and my reason for always living with a smile on my face. To the depths of forever Mrs R xxxxx