Back on the Fan!

THE WINTER FAN DANCE, BACK to BACK - 09/10.01.16


Three years ago I was meant to line up at the Red Phone Box in pursuit of my first Fan Dance, I didn't get there because of the weather, and that has bitten hard ever since, it's the only Fan I've missed, and in all honesty I don't think I've ever really got over it!

Much like the Paras'10 it's an event I look forward to, more so because of the friends I've made. The Fan has always been about tracing Lloydys footsteps a little and trying to endure I tiny element of what he put himself through to achieve what he did. It's my way of keeping his light burning bright, it's always been a battle for me, especially the early ones, a battle against mother nature and my own short comings, not in heart, but fitness. That has changed somewhat in the last 18 months and now I almost revel in the competition of it and trying to achieve that sub 4.

My first Fan in the Summer of 2013 took 6 painful hours and 47 minutes, last Winter (2015) I broke in to the 4 hrs for the first time with 4hrs 37mins and improved upon that again in the Summer with 4hr 24mins. A marker had been put down and a gauntlet thrown by a few friends to get that 4hrs. It's a target at one stage that seemed unattainable but now felt like it was in reach, although knocking over 24 mins off the Summer time would be a big ask. 

This would also be my first crack at doing the Fan Dance Back to Back (on Saturday and again on the Sunday). I wasn't sure what to expect with it, I'd had a go at 'back to back' over at Ivinghoe just to get myself used the slog of 2 days at it. You can always rely on the notion that no 2 days on the Fan are ever the same, and so it would prove.

I arrived though full of hope and heart and that was only swollen further when parking up at the Storey Arms on the Friday and meeting up with so many great friends and soaking up the normal Fan Dance atmosphere. The air filled with anticipation, excitement a fair amount of dread and a good sprinkling of banter. Checked in and registered with Back to Back race numbers in hand, Jay chaperoned me back to the Youth Hostel where we were hauled up for the weekend, we claimed our bunks and began the obligatory faff with kit. We were soon joined by Big Dave, Mick H and Nikki and so the fun begins.

With my weekend Partners in Grime - Paul and Jay

SATURDAY 9th JANUARY


At 0600 5 alarms go off along with a crescendo of grunts, and other bodily noises that would have made the deaf wince. Getting kitted up and breakfast stuffed down the neck is a laboured process at that time of the morning, it's a familiar routine that doesn't get any easier despite how often we inflict it upon ourselves. The only saving grace is that the last time we were all together breakfast would have been at just after 0400! Thankfully Jay had brought a kettle so at least we could begin the day in proper fashion. It was evident from the noise outside that it was going to be a 'normal for Brecon' kinda day. It was p*ssing down and blowing a hoolie, to be fair we'd been subjected to that on the previous two Winter Fans, it wasn't anything new.

We loaded up and headed out just after 0700, a journey of no more than 10 mins was followed by taking about 20 mins to park. I'd never seen the event so backlogged with cars along the A470, it was like the final scene from 'Field of Dreams' "if you build it, they will come". Again I'd never seen the start area swollen with so many bergens. Standing waiting for the safety brief I was tapped on the back by a guy that had noticed my tribute to Lloydy (placed as normal on the top of my pack), turns out that he served with Lloydy (albeit in a different Squadron), I think that gave me a little extra, knowing that someone that knew Lloydy was on the hill with us. The chat was brief and no more than a confirmation of who I was to Lloydy, and that James knew him, but nonetheless it was a welcome distraction from the hill!

By now the weather was full on, torrential rain and gusting winds, but huddled in the pack waiting for gun to go off we were pretty sheltered, it wouldn't be until we hit the path up to Corn Du we'd feel the full force of it. The gun sounded a little after 0805 and the climb began. I've become accustomed now to how I'm gonna feel, and know how long it take me to hit each 'marker', the first is the gate, the second the turn under Corn Du, third Fan Summit. By Fan Summit I was 50 mins in, not as quick as I'd hoped but in decent shape. The next target is Windy Gap then the turnaround (Windy Gap doesn't feel right without Fordy manning it). 

I reached the turnaround an hour after getting of the Fan. I grabbed a bag of jelly babies, gave in my number and turned straight around. I passed quite a few of the guys as I headed back up the Roman Road, taking the opportunity for a little chat as it presented itself. Guttingly I passed Mick who was in a bad way being ably supported by Strokey, Mick insisting he was jacking at half way.

The Roman Road can be a pretty lonely and dull drag back to Windy Gap and luckily the boredom was punctured by Christine, who like Mick was struggling with injury, she still cracks out a smile though, again it's gutting to see her struggling. I'm still setting myself targets, going back up the Roman Road, must be at Windy Gap inside 3 hrs on Fan Summit in 3hrs 30. Bang on 3hrs 30 I'm checking in with Staff Big, who gives me a well done, swiftly followed by a "get a f****** move on", well that's what it sounded like as I skipped off the summit.

Now It was a question of how quick I could get back, I was on for 4 hours, I knew it was tight, but I left nothing out there on that last slog back. As I slapped out my last few steps I shouted out my number and got 4:01 back! 

Done, eye of the Tiger!

I was greeted by TEC, Lesley and the 'Hunter' and Nick's family and waited for a few of the guys to come in before heading back to the Youth Hostel with Jay to sort ourselves out. One of those I waited for was my good friend Nick Hore, Nick and I had a running wager over a 'Victory Cigar', the first one back to the Red Phone Box got it, the bugger tried to give it to me as we passed each other from the turnaround point. I wasn't having any of it, on paper I won the Cigar, but he's true gentlemen and deserved to keep the Cuban in my opinion (enjoy it buddy whilst you recuperate, we'll share one next June if not before).

The 'Victory' Cigar

4hrs 1min, it was a massive mix of pride and disappointment, so close to breaking 4, I know there were a few moments out there where I could have 'pushed' a bit harder, but I gave it a fair crack and now I know that there is a sub 4 in there, however it was not going to be the following morning!

Always a humbling moment getting my patch from KJ!
Kit squared away and prep and admin done ready for the morning, we are greeted to Mick arriving back with patch in hand, the dogged bugger had only got it done after going over on his ankle, much banter was had but that made my day to see him back at the bunk with that precious bit of cloth! It went without saying though he wouldn't be taking on back to back as planned though!

That evening was spent in great company at the Red Dragon in Brecon and was the perfect way to end the day before the mornings revelry! You know who you are, and I hope we get to do it again!


SUNDAY 10th JANUARY


Welcome to a winter wonderland, white stuff greeted Jay and I as we made our way to his car with our kit on Sunday morning. The routine had been exactly the same as Saturday morning, albeit some kit wetter than the day before but there couldn't have been a greater contrast in the conditions.


The moment we saw how much snow there was up on the hills, we had a game plan, it was never going to be anything more than, get it done safely and get home fully intact. There was going to be no gung ho attitude from me, Jay and I pretty much determined that we'd get through the second day together. In comparison the effort was a bimble to the previous day. That was reinforced when we reached the top of Jacobs to descend, everywhere you looked along the edge it was just ice, I must have muttered f**k to myself a hundred times. The next 15/20 mins weren't dignified as I spent most of it on my arse bumping down Jacobs, for me a bruised arse was easier to contemplate than a broken leg or worse. The rest of the time down Jacobs was spent picking my arse out of the snow as the combination of fresh snow and long wet grass made the lower slope pretty treacherous. 



It's weird looking back at Sunday, because it was nothing more than (as I've already said) a 'nice bimble' in the white stuff with great friends. By the time we'd reached the turnaround we were pretty much a three again, as we'd begun the weekend, Paul, Jay and I. 

I must admit after the effort of getting down Jacobs safely, the idea of ascending Jacobs in the same conditions filled me with dread, moreover because I just wondered how the f**k we'd get up there! Again looking back I don't know what I was worried about, ascending was far easier than getting down and I got up on the shelf in pretty decent time. At the top I was greeted by Staff Bigg, he offered me his last piece of Millionaires Shortbread which I gratefully took, and waited for Jay and Paul to rear their heads above the ridge. 

We took some pics on the summit of the Fan and I laid my cross for Lloydy among the stones, we pretty much skated back, the drop off Fan Summit was mental until it levelled out under Corn Du.


And that was that, a perfect bimble in the White stuff in great company. It wasn't quick, it was never going to be, we weren't going to break any records and conversely any bones and we were fine with that, home and hosed in 5hrs 30.

For me the effort was there to see on Saturday and I hope on some level I did Lloydy proud, and ultimately a 'Back to Back' Fan Dance weekend isn't to be sniffed at, no matter the time it's done in, and again although breaking the 4hrs will always be the holy grail, being in the hills with friends will always be (after being there for Lloydy) my primary reason for turning up each Summer and Winter.

The Weekend Done!

I'm still completely staggered by the impact this event has on a group of people and how it's capable of creating the bonds it does, and for that I'll be forever grateful. My thanks as always to KJ, DS Bigg, Linda, Dave Humm and all those that make this event possible, and enable us to walk in the footsteps of giants, no matter your reasons. 

Lloydy may have had the same size feet as me, but they are boots I could never fill, nor would I want to, I'm just thankful I get to be on that hill and celebrate the life he lead. 

And as is customary I must mention my gorgeous wife and littleman, without who, I'd be lost, they are always there to light up my life, love you both to the depths of forever xxxx

And Lloydy for always being there when I need him the most, blue skies little brother and big love. You may be beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow, but my heart walks with you always xxx

See you in the Summer, if not before...........

Comments

  1. Always a pleasure to read Karl. And there's not many people James doesn't know with 33 yrs service in 22, including 15 yrs on Selection Trg Wing, an astonishing feat and we're honloured to have him on the DS team. Always pleased me to see a 4:01, all that suffering to be thrawted. See you in the summer in your bid to beat the clock. KJ

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  2. Great read buddy.Looking forward to catching up soon.

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  3. It was an honour to be tapped on the shoulder by him, just wish I'd got to have a proper chat with him at the end. Hope you and the family are well and recovery is on track!

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  4. What an awesome, inspiring read. I think I may have got a bit of grit in my eyes at the end there, they seem to be a bit moist. Am sure you will do the sub 4 in the summer. Top stuff, fella, all the best to you.

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