As I came to on the coach, I looked out the window at a massive flat expanse of sand: Morecombe Sands. Two lonely flags stood a few hundred metres out from the 'shore' and a wind-battered camera man was waiting patiently half a kilometre away. The Start.
Racers hugged their team mates and lined up under the clock, waiting for the count down. Adrenaline and fear was pulsing through everyone. 3... 2... 1... we were off. Teams ran 4 abreast, splashing through the enless puddles and dipping in and out of the streams and rivulets that cross the sands. Not a cockle in sight, nor a Chinese cockle picker.
Chapel Island never seemed to get any closer. Hours went past and then suddenly we were dibbing our first checkpoint and heading back across to the land. 25km of flat running on a hard surface. My ham strings were tight and my quads tired. I had 3 days to go...
In the first transition we grabbed our kit and sat out the penalty we had been given from the prologue the night before. We had 33 minutes to sit out (which was triple the time we finished behind the lead team). Barney looked unhappy. He had pulled a muscle in the prologue (explaining our slow time) and was suffering today. But we had a 14 hour bike leg to look forward to.
It felt wonderful swinging my leg over my bike and pedalling off across the grass. The miles flew past. We were riding strong but comfortably and picking off team after team. We were soon up in 4th place, despite Barney's crippling cramps. An orienteering stage saw Andy take over the navigation reigns from Steve and we stormed round the course, enjoying the tussocky running and the fading sunlight.
The first night snuck up on us at the top of a brutal uphill hike-a-bike which spurred off from the bottom of Hard Knot Pass. Reaching the top, the hiking just got harder, as we lurched and draggd our bikes down hill over bogs and boulders! Another push and we were up over the top and were greeted with the finest descent I have ever done. Rocks, boulders, loose shale... every inch of my tired body taught with concentration. Every little scrap of skill I had was employed on that descent. Four smiling and relieved team mates met at the bottom to discuss the next section (the Ghyll Scramble), fill camelbaks from the stream and give our brakes a chance to cool off.
It's lucky there is no rule about nakedness in AR. The Gyhll Scramble involved complete submersion and as it was 11pm we knew we would never dry off afterwards, so to avoid getting too cold, we decided to put waterproofs on and nothing else! The scramble was exhilarating and really bonded our team, who had been struggling under the weight of Barney's suffering until the descent. Now the mood was really up and we were forging ahead!
A final push and we arrived at transition for a quick kayak in simply beautiful conditions. It was still, the moon was full and clear and the clouds were illuminated. Coniston was peaceful and quiet and we were in heaven.
Finishing the kayak, however, the drizzle had started and we experienced a rather demoralizingly slow bush whacking trek over to the big tea-and-toast transition. 10km in 3hrs. Exhausting! Overdue a sleep, we changed, ate and grabbed an hour in the frame tents at Windermere YHA.
Refreshed and ready for day 2, we grabbed our kayaks and set off on the lake for some rainy paddling...