Finding My Solo Adventure Mojo at the Open 5 Adventure race.
It’s been a truly exceptional day, one of those life on toast ones. Probably with beans and cheese. What started with a nerve-induced single tear making its way down my face and an almost resigned, ‘let’s do this then’, ended with my cheeks aching from five hours of grinning.
A question occurred to me as I was biking – well, walking – and slipping down a woodland trail with my cross bike slung over my shoulder, map in my mouth, compass in pocket and OMM bag on my back full of all the necessaries; first aid kit, life blanket, whistle, food, water, waterproof and Nine Bars; that perhaps what I was most afraid of was in fact where I felt the most brilliant.
When this thought popped into my head, I’d been biking for a couple of hours at the Lake District Open Adventure race, in which you gather as many points as you can in the allotted five hours, on bike and on foot – all off-road.
I had been quietly and subconsciously nervous about doing this solo, knowing, in hindsight, that not only were my previous Open 5 partner and I alone for long stretches of time (in my first race, completed in the comfort of a pair), but also that it was in fact just two weeks before Christmas and the UK had just seen an almighty dumping of snow. I knew therefore that I would probably likely be alone for a lot of the event, just me in the wilds; an idea that is my nemesis.
I have been greatly inspired to venture solo by the likes of Emily Chappell, Eleanor Jaskowska, Anna Mcnuff and a friend lesser-known to the adventure scene, Megan Irving. These women have between them cycled the transcontinental alone, around the world alone, through every state of the USA… you guessed it, alone, run the length of New Zealand and cycled the length of South America… I don’t need to say it. Yes. These women inspire me. And the more I try a solo adventure, the more I LOVE it – and yes, there is still the fear, but that’s nothing new; I was afraid of Ironman and I did it, I was afraid of mountains and I climbed six big ones, and so…
I left race HQ at 9am armed with the sundries and a cross bike. I was probably about 300 yards away when I first stopped to study my map. A quiet voice said ‘Go back! Go back! There’s still time!’ Other competitors were by now whizzing past me and I could have followed them, but I decided to do my own thing this time (having following others in past orienteering events) I spent some time in this spot, near the start – a little perplexed.
A local Lakeland man made his way to me and attempted to be helpful. I thanked him, but he could’t really assist with finding a bridal path somewhere north east of a small bridge. Meanwhile, I diligently ignored my brain cheerily inviting me back to safety.
I quietly let everything settle around me, the start of a process I went through countless times today:
- check my map is orientated,
- study the lines on the map,
- study the features surrounding me,
- blend facts with good old gut instinct,
- make my move.
And so onward I peddled, up a road and onto the bridalway where the cross bike came into its own. I found my first control, punched it with a merry bleep, and eventually popped out onto a snowy road, of a rather meaty ascent.
The tarmac road gave me my second control but quickly turned into off-road sheet ice and slippery rock – where my cross bike came out of its own, for miles. I rode, jumped on and off, walked, sometimes jogged, and stumbled and slipped my way through miles of map and bog and path, checking, checking so often my location.
Unsurprisingly, my bike gave out under the ice, and I fell onto it in my cleats, a bike-shaped imprint in my leg and a hole in my bib tights. I gave a whimper, then stood up and carried on along the path, on my way to the next control.
Slipping and sliding, I was having fun, and truly alone now, just me and my cross bike and all of this ice and snow; and the sounds of the quickening streams as the ice slowly melted, and the occasional grunt of a Highland Cow or the scurries of some nervous sheep, disturbed from their icy-cold grassy breakfast. I breathed in the sights; so stunningly beautiful, the ice capped-fells, hazy winter sun and holly leaves dusted with snow. And when I occasionally stopped the foot-crunching on the ice, the self-chatter and clicking of my cleats along the rocks, it was silent. It was just me, and all this lakeland beauty.
I was proud of myself, and so happy. It was amazing for so many reasons but the best part is that I did it.*
*With a bucket load of support from James. Thank you.