Those of you who read my blog should know by now that I have got into ‘tabbing’ in a big way. Just to remind you, ‘tabbing’ is a military term (‘tactical advance to battle’) which essentially means moving quickly while carrying weight. Of course, I do not travel as quickly or with as much weight as the military, but the events I am currently drawn to are worked on this basis. Back in the summer I had taken part in the Fan Dance organised by Avalanche Endurance Events to recreate one of the SAS Selection Test Marches (and you can read about my efforts in that here) and now they were very kindly allowing me to take part in Point To Point, another one of the Selection Test Marches. And they were being very kind in allowing me to take part because my time from the Fan Dance was way outside of the qualifying time for this event. With that in mind, I had put in a huge amount of training since being accepted in September, which had produced clear improvements in my fitness and speed, and I was feeling confident about the navigation requirements of the event following the navigation training day, which you can read about here, even if work commitments had kept me away from the Brecon orientation day. The navigation was going to be vital because one big ingredient of Point To Point is being able to read a map to determine the best route selection from one grid point to another.
I had read all the emails, gathered together all the necessary kit, dealt with all the work that needed to be dealt with before the weekend (other than a 1600 conference call, for which I would be stopping at services on the way down), and so I was ready to go. Two hours later than planned. Little did I know as I set off from St Albans what an impact that would have, but as I reached Wales in the darkness I was beginning to wish I had left on time. I had an address and postcode for the base camp location, but while I had reached the relevant village, when my satnav told me I had arrived, I clearly had not, and I had not seen any signs for the base camp while driving through. What I did see was Dan Ellis, who had been on the navigation training day, and as he was now walking away from my car I quickly turned around and drove after him, following him and another car up a road leading away from the village. It was only when we all stopped some further way up the track that I found out that actually none of us really knew where we were going. I had no signal at all on my telephone, but fortunately the driver of the other car, Vini Sihra, did, and she called Ian Ford. If anyone could get us out of this navigational nightmare it was Ian ! Once we had confirmed the location with Ian we knew we had to go back down the hill we had driven up, and as I did not fancy reversing all the way down I set about turning my car around on this very narrow track which had a sheer drop off one side of it. Yes, I did end up wedging it sideways, but with assistance from Dan I managed to get it back into the position it had started from without burning out the clutch too much and so began the long, slow and careful reverse down the hill. From there it was not too long before we had crossed the bridge over the reservoir and reached the base camp location, with the very familiar figure of Sean Linehan there to wave me through along a track which took me into a field which already felt muddy enough that it could turn out to be a problem when I would be looking to leave on Sunday. I was directed to the far side, parked up, and as it was so dark decided to not bother putting up my tent. I would sleep in the car and put it up the next morning.
My fears about the surface of the field were confirmed as Vini, Dan and I walked through the mud to the marquee outside of the main building to register. Inside were Ken Jones, the Event Director, and Stuart, one of the Directing Staff, who seemed to be doing most of the talking. I walked forward when it came to my turn and gave my name, prompting Stuart to mention my Fan Dance time and then ask if I had been training. I confirmed that I had been putting in training, both with the bergen and without, and that my fitness level was very far removed from the summer, which Stuart seemed pleased to hear. He handed me a waiver form, which I signed and returned with barely a glance, because we lawyers are the worst for reading the small print which actually applies to us, and also handed me a photocopied A4 sheet containing a map detail. I was told that I would see that same map hanging outside the main building and that I should add the Eastings to mine and also spot a difference between the two. Dinner was being served now and there would be a briefing at 2130. I stopped at the map on my way to dinner and joined a little group who were trying to spot the difference. It was certainly not immediately obvious and I decided I would be better off getting something to eat and coming back to it later, so I went through to the dining room and was greeted with some very familiar faces, some recognisable faces, and many I did not know at all.
I took a big plate of vegetable chilli and rice and sat down with Kram
ear Donachie, who I knew from Dark 15 training, Ian Ford, who I knew from the navigation training day, and Karl Rushen, who I knew from Facebook. And as we got the excellent food into us more people we knew arrived. It was good to catch up with those I already knew personally, and to get to know those I had previously only known online, and not before long everyone was chatting as though we had known each other for years. Although not well enough for them to tell me the difference between the maps, and so I had to go outside again to finish off that task, eventually finding it and wondering what it meant for the next day.
Now everyone was gathering in the marquee, ready for the briefing at 2130, and as Ken and the Directing Staff came in we fell silent. Breakfast would be between 0700 and 0820 (which seemed like a lie-in to me), with the training sessions following straight after. We would be split into two groups by surname (A-L and M-Z), and I would be indoors for the medical training with Matt to start off with, before moving on to radio and communications training with Dave. We would need to have our bergen, radio, comms matrix, notebook and pen for that session. Mark Massey would be taking a course photograph in an iconic location, and as that would be weather permitting it could be moved into the schedule at any time. There was a good chance it could take anything up to an hour to complete that, so we were asked to be as helpful as possible with that. Ken made the point that we were not here for an underwater knife fighting course, and that the training day would be all about mastering the basics. Jason emphasised that point, saying that our navigation would be pressure tested through the event, and that during the training day we were here to improve our skills. Now it had become serious. As I walked back to my car I came to the decision that I would pitch my tent tonight (even though it was never going to compare against Kramar’s zebra tent) and get a good night’s sleep, but as soon as I started I began to think this had been a bad idea. I had three poles and managed to mix up two of them, which meant that when I came to put on the flysheet in the wind and the rain which had suddenly whipped up into a frenzy it did not fit properly. Fortunately I had Vini helping me and we managed to get something pegged down. I very quickly got all my kit inside and settled into my sleeping bag. This evening had turned out to be a lot more epic than planned, and I reckoned I would need every second of sleep I could get to deal with the rest of the weekend.
You can see more photographs from the evening here.