Thursday, 16 June 2011

Dales Way in 32 hours 56 minutes.

Following my recent sub 4.5 day crossing of the Coast to Coast, I decided to attempt yet another non stopper of the 84 mile Dales Way from Bowness to Ilkley.

I have done several such successful trips on this route going the other way in an average of 31 hours, but had failed with just about 17 miles left to go, between Kettlewell and Grassington, the only time I have attempted it, this way.
In fact I had failed at my last three high mileage (beyond 45 miles) non stoppers.
I decided that I would not attempt any more beyond 45 miles in future, but wanted to prove to myself I could still do them, and finish with a success.

I alighted the train at Windermere and after a meal in the Grays Inn, set off down Ambleside Road for my hotel where I had earlier booked B&B for the night. Thinking it wouldn't be far, as the address was in Windermere I had decided to walk. No sign of it as I passed through Troutbeck Bridge, and wondered how much further it would be. Well it turned out to be more like Windermere Road in Ambleside and must have been a 5 mile walk at least, just what I didn't need.
I booked a taxi for 6.30am the following day and after a nightcap retired to bed after first packing my sac and cutting lengths of Leukotape, ready to apply to my heels in the morning.
I awoke feeling still very tired and eventually decided to see how long I had before my alarm went off. Horror! it was 0649, I had missed my taxi!
Rapid shower, rushed to get dressed and apply the tape, quick breakfast, grabbed a couple of Bananas, Apple and a Pear, and out the door. I called the taxi firm as I walked down the hotels drive.
"I was there at 0630" the guy said. I apologised and told him I would pay for his wasted trip, which I did and was dropped off just below the slate seat, which marks the start, above Bowness.

The slight uphill beginning told me that my legs had not fully recovered from my C2C, especially as I had been extra busy with work since. I was 5 minutes down on 3mph pace after the first hour and although I got back on the pace for quite a way after that, I couldn't quite manage to get that 5 minutes back.
My heels were tweaking from early on, but I thought it was down to the remains of dried C2C blisters, so wasn't unduly concerned.
It was a nice clear morning but with a strong headwind, which would be in my face all the way to Ilkley.
The improved signage and new gates etc were very evident as I passed through the early miles, trying to remember the route in reverse, however these improvements ended after roughly 10 miles. I had the 1:40,000 map of the Lakes and my Terry Marsh guidebook, which doesn't have any maps just very basic line drawings.

The increase in the number of honesty refreshment caches were a welcome new discovery, there being only one near Grayrigg, the other times I have done the route.

I went wrong after crossing the railway lines and entered a farmyard for several yards, before spinning on my heels and dashing back to the safety (I hoped) of the gate, swiftly pursued by two barking Alsatians. Thankfully the farmer had heard the commotion and called them back before beckoning me to come through.
I followed the lane looking for the path, but just up ahead the lane crossed over the M6. This was wrong and so I returned to the farm, to be told to take the first lane off to the left, which shortly put me back on route to the correct Farmyard and the track bridge over the motorway.

 The crook of lune bridge came without further problems apart from my heels feeling more and more raw, but strangely higher up than usual, I tried to ignore it.

Alongside the rivers Lune and Rawthey is always a delightful walk and this was no exception. I crossed Millthrop Bridge, below Sedbergh and followed the new (to me) route before meeting up with the lane that would take me to Dent Village. I kept to the riverside rather than entering the village and headed for Lea Yeat. The dark dense forest had been almost completely cleared and new saplings planted.

Beyond Lea Yeat I decided to break with my usual non stop rules, and had a couple of pints of Guinness and a meal in the Sportsmans Inn.
I left there around 2130 hrs and continued up the steep road through Dentdale.

I had taken far too many photos early on and my cameras battery was showing low, so from there on, I couldn't take as many.
Gearstones passed and the long walk up Cam High Road came. I was soon in very thick low cloud, but didn't use my headtorch, as the light would have just bounced back. Higher up I could see a strange light down in the Dale somewhere. I knew there were no buildings there so thought it must be someone wild camping.
Past cam Houses I decided to stay with the track rather drop down through the moors. This turned out to be a mistake and added 3 miles to my journey.

A light approached, which turned out to be  cyclist, who stopped and asked me if I was competing in the Oxfam event. He was relieved to learn that I wasn't some tailender that had been missed.
This apparently was a 100K run/walk in aid of Oxfam, which passes over Pen y Ghent and Fountains Fell, finishing in Skipton. The strange light I had seen earlier turned out to be one of the events check-in stations. Later a van stopped and asked me the same question. During the following miles, as far as Oughtershaw this would be numerously repeated. I was impressed by what seemed a really well organised, much marshalled event.
Daylight broke as I entered Hubberholme and I took five on the seats at the rear of the George Inn.
I stopped for a short chat with one of the marshalls at Buckden Bridge as a group of five eventers passed through. I set off again hoping that they would spurr me on although the state of my heels had altered my walking gait somewhat, which in turn had tired out my legs muscles, and I was hardly lifting my feet, dragging them along the ground instead.
The group who were a few hundred yards ahead started to slow as a couple of them seemed to want to keep stopping. I caught them up. They were all in their twenties and only two of them had walked more than 20 miles in one go before. They were struggling badly. I walked with them although Their pace now was really slow and they decided to that they would abandon their walk at Kettlewell. I left them to it and proceeded. More marshalls were waiting at Kettlewell Bridge and they directed me to the public wc, so that I could at last attend to my feet.

I removed the leukotape on my left heel and was surprised to find that the painfull blister was huge, but higher up than the corner of my heel, where I usually have problems. Also this was no pressure blister but caused by friction, which I don't usually get. It was clear than in my rush to tape up, I had overstretched the tape, which had pulled on the surface skin with each step, eventually causing separation from the underlying layer.
I popped it and covered it with two large Compeed plasters side by side. My right heel wasn't so bad so I left it well alone.
The climb up onto track and path to Conistone Pie was a slog, but before long I was descending the main street of Grassington, where I stopped in a pub for Tea and Toast.

Continueing on to Burnsall the wind had only slightly relented but was still gusting strongly. People were in the river bathing as I crossed over Bursall Bridge. I decided to change my shorts and top in the fieldside public Loo. Feeling more refreshed I carried on. My right heel now decided it wouldn't be left out and was now also really sore, however I wasn't going to see to it until after I had finished.

The walk through Strid Woods was accompanied by more and more people and Cavendish Pavilion was extremely busy, so much so that I decided I wouldn't wait in the ice cream queue.

I could now almost relax for the final 6.5 miles, which I really enjoyed in the fine weather and came to the finish at Ilkley Bridge at 1641hrs, 32 hrs 56min after setting off from Bowness.

I was happy with that, as it is much harder this way round as the climbs come straight at the start and seem to be steeper and longer than the normal way.

But for my mistake with the taping I think I would have through blister free. I am however that used to blister pain that it doesn't affect me greatly, I know that I can still carry on and that they feel worse than they really are. The only exception to this maybe 'Ball of Foot' blisters which are a killer.
A week on now, legs recovering and blisters mostly excavated will feel raw for a couple of weeks, which will keep me out of doing any distance for a month or so.
That's it then, my LAST high mileage non stopper.
Before I tried, I didn't know I could do them. I remember the exhilaration as I passed the 60 mile mark for the first time and then being barely able to walk on reaching the finish. My journey of discovery that followed that first one, learning or trying to learn the importance of foot management, and the experimenting with footwear.

I never did find the ideal solution, what worked one time, would fail the next. One big thing I did learn though was that you really had to be on your metal on these things, and any underlying virus, infection or leg muscle problems, that weren't evident at the start, would surface along the way and result in failure.

As a friend of mine, who was the only person, I have ever had the company of for the whole route, said to me after finishing, " When you said my whole body would ache, I didn't realise you meant, all at the same time!"
Painful, yes, tiring, extremely so, will I do any more, no, but oh so glad of the experiences.