Friday, 15 June 2018

Cape Wrath Ultra: The Finale

Life really does go on, despite a continuing desire to be back running across the hills, surrounded by beautiful mountains, and beautiful new friends.  After a challenging set of night shifts (not blog-reproducible), I’m currently on a train home from London after a course.  The mountains are different in London; made of skyscrapers, and the people busier; they smile less!  Yesterday (after a 5am wake up; still not fully shaken the Cape Wrath routine…) I fell back to sleep and had vivid dreams of running through the mountains for a good three hours, before finally waking again after 8am… time to start the day.

So back to the journey…

Sunshine and Salt

Day 5 constitutes another ‘rest’ day on the CWU, clocking in at only 44 Km, with a pleasant 1400m of ascent.  And compared to day 4, the terrain is positively pleasant! 

We (myself and the boys) fall into our usual routine, heading off around 7am after a generous application of the factor 50 sunscreen.  Unusually it takes a while before the first hill; we get at least 5km along an easy track, before slowly heading uphill along a footpath, and into the dreaded trackless terrain.

Day 5: Approaching Fisherfield
Photo by Ian Heywood
We’re talking about band roles; Ian on the rhythm guitar (and Owain too if I remember correctly, or maybe the bass guitar?); Glenn and myself have a debate about singing (both of us decide to be share lead vocals), and apparently I’m doing drums as well.  Pam (my tent mate) comes up with an excellent band name and voila!  “Nikki & The Tendonitis Heals” is born!

Heading through Fisherfield is absolutely stunning.  Half way through the day we pause at a river crossing to fill our bottles.  I lay down on the grass under the baking sun, and we joke about being on holiday.  The descent down after the second hill into the checkpoint is great!  There’s a decent track with some good running; it’s great to open up the legs and feel a bit of speed.

The final climb whizzes by quickly, before we start a more challenging descent down into camp at Inverbroom.  The path is just a bit too rocky, the angle a bit too steep, and legs a bit too tired to make it enjoyable.  After a few cheers from support crew who have come part way up the hill (thank you!), we make it into camp by 3pm, and are treated to Callipos!  Yum!  The sun is out, there’s more time to dry wet kit, and a great river to wash in.  An awesome evening in camp!

Drying kit at Inverbroom
Photo by Jimmy Hyland JHPVisuals
A hug delivery!

The best word to describe day 6 would be long.  It’s 72km through prime salmon fishing territory in Assynt.  The day starts with a lot of good tracks, and we move well as a team, reaching half way in no time.

We run into the checkpoint, met by a chorus of “woo-ooo”… “We’re half way there, woo-ooo, living on a prayer!” we respond, before dishing out hugs to everyone and anyone (including an awkward looking Gary; sorry!).

Hug Delivery!
Photo by Jimmy Hyland JHPVisuals
After the imposing Ben More Lodge, we head up into Glen Oykel, and the terrain gets more challenging.  Until this point my feet have been good, but at some point today a few toes have blistered.  I’ve hit today’s metaphorical wall, and struggle along the glen, watching the feet in front.  I look up, and am met with the impressive views of a rocky Garbh Choire, beneath Conival and Ben More Assynt.  It takes my breathe away, and induces another round of tears.  The final climb is tough, and very hard work.  Unfortunately by this point descending is now quite painful.  It’s a relief to reach camp after a tough end to the day.  Emotion is high in our group, and for once I’m not the only one to be crying.  There is another river wash, another evening in camp, and another beautiful sunset.

Heading up Glen Oykel
Photo by Ian Heywood
Cry Me a River

As we leave camp on day 7 Shane reassures us with a smile that it’s only 60km today.  Since when did 60km have ‘only’ in the same sentence??  We’re all sore, and all tired.  It’s going to be a tough one!  The terrain up to the first checkpoint is tough, much tougher than our poor legs can bear.  Ian, who has been stoical and strong until this point, hits his rock bottom (I know I’d hit mine yesterday), and stumbles along with a concoction of angry words.  We pass the tallest waterfall in Scotland (no, not the small one on the right, the giant one on the left Alex!), and Ian regains composure and a sense of positivity.

We hit the only summit of the week; Ben Dreavie, and finally the end is in sight- literally!!  We can just see the tip of the Cape Wrath Lighthouse!

Summit of Ben Dreavie
Photo by Ian Heyood
Perhaps the low point of the day, if not the week, was trudging along the shores of Loch a’ Garbh-bhaid Mor.  Ian pulled us out of our slump with some excellent bird-watching skills.  He excitedly pointed out a Northern Diver to us all, which still makes me laugh now!  He told us a bit about them, his voice full of sincerity!!

The day finished with tarmac; 7 km of tarmac, plus painful feet with blistered toes.  Not a pleasant experience.  I spent most of the tarmac hiding behind my sunglasses, crying.  And crying, and crying.  Reaching the crest of the final hill and seeing camp below us brought on yet more tears.  We arrived in camp tired, with the tears still flowing.  I’m not sure why; I guess a mixture of pain, exhaustion, and also relief; the finish was so close now!

Owen played the hero yet again, bringing me tea and more chocolate cake to the tent, so I could get my feet sorted.  Even Charlotte popped over to the tent to check in with me (clearly my tears had everyone worried; sorry; I’m a crier!).

Kinlochbervie Camp at sunset
Photo by Jimmy Hyland JHPVisuals
Cape Wrath Lighthouse/ "The is the End, oh beautiful friend, the End"

Having spent all week dreaming of the end, it was odd being so close.  But equally, I didn’t want things to end.  I’m not sure I can find the best words to write about this day!  Or else I could write far too many words!

Sandwood bay: gorgeous.  I’ll definitely be coming back to climb Am Buchaille, the sea stack at the end of the beach.  After Sandwood Bay we headed across yet more trackless moor; a combination of tussocks and bog are by now our favourite terrain!

There’s a final alphabet for our final hill.  This time it’s “I went ultra running with Noah and I took… a whole herd of animals!  Hitting the track, we round a final bend, to see the lighthouse ahead of us.  We run, singing, elated across the finish line.  The expected tears don’t come; I used them all up yesterday, and they won’t come until much later, at the finisher’s meal/ medal ceremony.

Running across the finish line
Photo by Fiona Outdoors
We have team hugs, and finisher’s photos, cups of tea and soup, and wait patiently for the mini-bus that will take us back to civilisation.  We doze or chat quietly on the minibus as we bump our way to the Kyle of Durness, before climbing onto a small boat to be ferried across the Kyle.

Team hugs at Cape Wrath
Photo by Fiona Outdoors
My father-in-law and his wife have come out to wave (thank you!), and we exchange sweaty hugs, before a short minibus ride back to camp.  At camp we are met by the fabulous crew who have spent all week looking after us; time for lots more hugs and big grins.

After a trip to the shop to buy cans of lager and ice creams, I lay on the grass outside the boys tent (24!), surrounded by new friends who I now know so well, feeling overwhelmed, and in awe of what we’ve achieved together.

That first shower is heaven, despite being cold!  We gather for a group photo; finishers and helpers; what a team!  Then it’s off to the finishing ceremony to eat lots of food, and celebrate our achievements.  Finally the tears start falling (Nico stood nearby can’t stop blubbing, and I’m quickly set off!).
Competitors and Crew at Durness
Photo by Jimmy Hyland JHPVisuals
The sun barely sets that night up in Durness, as we toss and turn in tents with our aching legs.

One final breakfast with friends before the long journey home.  There’s plenty of time for things to sink in as the miles pass by.  It’s a long way from Fort William to Cape Wrath.  It’s even further from Durness to Sheffield!

Nikki & The Tendonitis Heals (a.k.a Glenn, Owain, me and Ian)
Photo by Jimmy Hyland JHPVisuals
The End
Photo by Jimmy Hyland JHPVisuals

1 comment:

  1. An AWESOME achievement Nikki. A lovely person and I'm so glad I met you on this fabulous of journeys.