Point to Point - 15/16th November 2014

"If there's a mountain you're going up it"

........was the phrase uttered by Ken during the Briefing on Saturday evening, it was the phrase still ringing in the ears when we set off as a group, myself, the Brothers Massey and  Tim @ 0615, after being given our first grid to RV1 on Sunday morning.

Let's back track to the beginning though....

The build up to "Point to Point" had been a frantic race to get somewhere near prepared. Out for so long with injury, I worked myself hard to get miles and hours in the bank with and without the bergen on, finding whatever hills I could to scramble up and down. I remember thinking at the time it's not gonna help too much considering the terrain I knew we'd be facing.....but it did make a difference and I'm glad now that I stuck to it.

The Sunday before "Point to Point", I got myself out of bed at 0345 (because it was rumoured that we may well be parading at 0400 the following Sunday) and strapped the bergen on, loaded with 35lb, with nothing but a red filtered torch and my own heartbeat for company. At 0409 I set off, I had a definitive plan that I would be out for 5 to 6 hours, to ensure I got decent time on the feet and that I was back before 1100 for remembrance. The world is an eerie place at that time of the morning, there are no birds singing, and other than the occasional meeting of eyes with a deer or a fox and the occasional set of headlights, not much stirs, only the blood! My route took me out of our Village and around Stewartby Lake before plodding on up into Ampthill via Stewartby, and through Flitwick, before heading off into Ampthill Country Park from Millbrook. By that point it was close to 0615 and I'd covered nearly 11 miles, and was feeling pretty decent. By the time I made my way out of Coopers Hill on the opposite side of Ampthill Country Park and headed towards Woburn Forest I'd completed 17.5m in just over 3 and half hours and again was still feeling pretty decent. I took advantage of that and sent the boys a message, in the vain hope that some of them were joining me plodding about in 'Strava' world. By the time I'd done a loop of Woburn Forest around Center Parcs and come out the other side of Millbrook I was 22 miles down and well on the way to being out for 5 hrs. As I headed back towards Marston and home I got a message from Skip asking how the 17m had felt, to which I replied, "good, I'm not done yet". I got no response, which I knew meant, that he was rolling his eyes at me over a brew!

By the time I dumped the bergen at the front door, I'd covered 25.1m in 5:19 (fasted, because I'd destroyed my food due to poor placement in the top pouch of my bergen, which meant by the time I went to eat, my peanut butter sandwiches had disintegrated into a peanut/breadcrumb/foil mush). Maybe I'd overdone it considering how close we were to P2P, but I'd needed it for confidence after my troubles on the Fan in the Summer. I got my boots off and was greeted by unbattered feet and my legs felt ok, I'd sorted my nutrition (TORQ really is fantastic stuff) which meant there were no issues with cramp, so now it was just a question of getting on top of my admin and being mentally ready for "Point to Point"......

......most of the week was spent waiting for additional bits of kit to arrive, admin, more admin and checking admin, packing and repacking kit, weighing and re-weighing the bergen, sorting personal kit, nav practice on the coffee table, reading emails and SOP's and generally just faffing! Throw in a little panic about having enough batteries, although in my kit I had enough to light a small island, finding a clipboard, fabloning a map, without fabloning the wife and boy, what food to prep, polishing boots etc. Ok, polishing the boots was a lie, but I thought about it.  By Wednesday evening the bulk of my tick list had been ticked, with a few jobs left to do on Thursday morning. As I put all the kit away, the reality began to sink in.

The Fan Dance is a known animal, three times in the bag, admittedly not at a level I'm happy with, but this is different, "Point to Point" is an unknown. Other than the snippets from Lloydy and what I've read written by those who've gone through selection, and Ken gleefully suggesting this is his favourite, you know it's gonna hurt and you know you're going to be pushing beyond any limits you've gone before. You don't know how far you're going, the route or the RV's, you have to imagine the worst terrain possible, because in all probability you'll get that. We know at some point we'll be visiting Trig 642 and facing the prospect of VW valley, but not a lot else is known. 

Thursday was spent having quality time with Caz and the Littleman and finishing the outstanding jobs, Thursday evening everything was loaded into the car, I didn't sleep well that night.....

.....Friday morning rolled around all too quick and before I knew it the Littleman was going down for his pre-lunch kip and I was kissing the wife goodbye, uttering promises that I wouldn't do anything stupid (which on the face of it was an oxymoron) and that I'd stay safe. I guess we all did that. 

En-route I stopped off in H at the 'Pilgrims Gate' to sit with Lloydy for a little while, hoping that he might enlighten me a little, but generally now the conversations are a little one-sided, and he was never much of a talker anyway. However, being there at his graveside always gives me focus and helps me remember that when things get tough, I know he's got my back.

The excitement was palpable and had been all week and seemed to rise into a complete crescendo by the time I'd got to Talybont, especially as Kramar had decided he was driving a tractor and the lower field we were to camp in, offered no issues to him as he drove in to the bog it had become. He'd managed to get himself royally stuck, right up to the axial!

Kramar and his Tractor....
A real Volvo Tractor.....
I arrived about 4pm, eventually, after driving through Aber twice before finally getting hold of Kramar to guide me in. Luckily I'd seen the pic that had been taken of him and his car before I arrived and heeded the warnings. I gingerly made my way to spot, which became my set down point, as I couldn't go any further without decorating my mates in mud and sheep shit. As I dumped my feet on the ground to greet the guys I quickly discovered the flip flops weren't really appropriate footwear!

The remainder of the evening post registration, was spent nervously and excitedly chatting with (now) old friends and new ones as they arrived, and taking the piss out of Kramar's Safari-Cam tent. At least he'd got his up, luckily Skip and Adam were already in as was Tim, and somehow we managed to get a tent up that should take 7 minutes in about 30! The look on Tim's face when he realised that the little tent we'd just erected in the middle of the quagmire we were stood in, would be our abode for the next two days was worth the entrance fee alone. It really has become a family, a truly unique band of individuals brought together by doing the most gruelling events that are out there, most of us, kicked off with Paras'10 before taking on the Fan Dance and here we were on Friday evening, ready for a weekend of absolute brutality and "Point to Point". 

A few beers were drunk and a few toasts made after dinner and the evening briefing, there was some nav swotting and the normal amount of banter, mainly at Tim's and Kramars expense, Kramar for the reasons already mentioned, and Tim, because of his issues trying to find an M&S in Merthyr! Eventually everyone slipped away to their tents, at the second time of asking anyway! Saturday would be a full day of training and exercises in skills we would need for the weekend. Breakfast kicked off the day, after a pretty fitful sleep as my spooning buddy, rolled around all night as if he was wrapped in BacoFoil. It transpires that his fancy North Face sleeping bag wasn't so fancy after all, and that he'd been tucked up by his lovely wife. The sleeping bag was hers from trekking in Nepal, he didn't know it was bought off of the side of the road, until it was too late and he would need 15 layers to keep him warm, even on British Autumn nights! 

The training day for me (and half of the group) began with Comms, expertly given by Dave Humm. I sat intently listening and taking notes whilst perched on young Charlie Martin's bergen, generously offered as I only had Lloydy's day sack with me, which in truth I didn't really want to sit on. He's a young man with a lot about him and a bright future ahead of him, not too mention he's like a mountain goat!

Then came Med training and a quick bite to eat before we were into 'sickener' territory and Bergen familirisation (with your eyes closed), kit and map inspection! 20 press-ups were being thrown about as punishment, for not being able to identify where your kit was in your bergen and not having the kit you required. Luckily I avoided such sickeners, but the tricky bit for me was to come. The afternoon was completed with a NAVEX, a 'gentle 4k' around the hills near Base camp, even without the pack on, the legs and lungs got a workout. Luckily walking on a bearing is pretty easy, but because I hadn't been able to join up on any of the practice Nav sessions, my experience was homework only, so confidence was shaky and even more so, when I cracked under a little bit of pressure from Stu about route selection. In truth that was as difficult as it got, the NAVEX was a workout and at times there was a bit of doubt flying around, trying to block out the notion that even without the bergen strapped on these hills work you hard. Again no amount of training ever makes you feel like you've done enough to cope with the rigours Brecon throws at you, you just have to make sure your mentally ready for the test, if your head's right, better still if you have a reason for being out there, it makes the job a damn sight easier!

In truth, in the last couple of years with the events I've taken on, I don't really know what Lloydy would be thinking, and obviously if he was still here, I wouldn't have done them or be facing the daunting task of trying to complete "Point to Point". There are easier ways I could pay him tribute or indeed support Army Charities, but the easy option, has never felt like the right option! 

At 2100 we were given the March brief and informed that we'd be set off staggered in two waves, a fast group with a sub 4:30 Fan Dance time and a slow group at above 4:30. That meant I was going to be in fine company with The Brothers Massey and Tim, but we'd be setting alarms for 0340 and in the dining area for breakfast at 0400 sharp and out by 0430 so that the fast group could get their scoff done. The rest of the evening was spent in a mild state of panic, preparing food and nutrition, personal and belt kit and getting the bergen up to weight, which I'd struggled to do before leaving on Friday morning. Sorted we all turned in about 2230, but sleep was fitful at best and at 0330 Tim and I were already nervously getting ourselves ready for our oats made from steel! 

I know the objective is to always ram as much food into your face as is possible, but I find it difficult pre and during, so by the time I'd finished my porridge and cactus syrup, I really couldn't stomach a full english, besides Ken insisted on the oats alone we'd be good for 4hrs, he wasn't wrong!

At 0500 Tim and I bundled into Mark's van and waited the off, the intention to be at the start for 0600. We bundled back out just before 6, and filed into two ranks and then were double timed to the actual start about a quarter mile from the drop. Maps in hand, torches off, compasses hanging from the left breast pocket. On reaching Ken we filed into a patient but nervous line of lone wolves and teams, before being ushered forward to receive the first grid.

Huddled together and surveying our maps we decided on our route selection - we were to quickly find out, that was our first error. It wasn't so much the route selection we chose, but more so the route we didn't take, which would cost us significant time. None the wiser though and happy with our route we set off, however it wasn't long before we were climbing hard over boggy ground, up to our nuts in bog, with Stu and Tim both taking epic falls, Tim's rather more dramatically though as he used his face to break his fall. Luckily the terrain was like a water bed so any physical damage would be negligible, the pride however did take a little knock, well until the piss taking started anyway!

Following our bearing we quickly stumbled into even worse shit and had the maps out looking for relief and features. Stupidly we hadn't paced that first leg so had no real idea how far we had traveled, and in the pitch black and no real features to nav from we were guessing on our location. We decided on a new bearing to get us out of the water and climbed to higher ground before setting back on the bearing we thought we should be taking. By the time we'd got ourselves back on track (and found fresh footprints), daylight had replaced the bleakness and darkness of the early hours, confidence had been shot a little but we were still in good spirits. Making our way up to RV1, friends had already started coming back past us and it was difficult at first to understand if they were lost, we were lost or they were on their way to RV2. Turns out it was the latter, which meant we were falling well behind in time and needed to get our arses moving. 

Once at RV1, relieved that we'd got ourselves there despite our best efforts to make it more difficult for ourselves, nav to the the next grid was straightforward. It was just the terrain we had to get ourselves over to to haul our arses up to Trig 642 and RV2. We kinda knew what to expect, but what you expect and what you get especially when you're climbing fully loaded are two very different things, the slopes become steeper and the slog a lot longer. I stood at the base of the climb looking up at the objective just muttering to myself "You've got to be shitting me", the first rise is tough enough but as it plateaus you're stood there, looking at another rise the same height that you've just got yourself up. What makes it more daunting is that you notice that KJ is steaming up behind, moving like a train, the decision is then, do you plod like you're done, or use his example to push hard? It's the latter of course and by the time you hit the top you're blowing hard, but boy is it worth it. For me for two reasons, the views from up there are stunning even with the clag in, you can see enough to marvel at the beauty all around, but more importantly for me, I decided before I set off, that at Trig 642 I would place my little tribute to Lloydy. When I got up there and checked in, it felt like the right place. There wasn't much ceremony, I just muttered a few words to myself and just hoped that he'd heard them. 

By this point we had no real idea how far we'd gone, or still how far we had to go, we just knew we had to keep going and next up was the prospect of "VW Valley". Grid to RV3 given and route selection done we knew at some point we'd have no choice but straight down and straight up. If anything it's those steep downs that are tougher on the body than the ups, the knees and feet take an absolute pounding trying to ensure you don't make like a cheese wheel and forward roll into the valley floor. Little did we know that "VW Valley" would be piss easy in comparison to those first 90 mins though! We reached the valley floor relatively unscathed other than a little protest in the lower limbs, started to climb back out the valley, before noticing the intermediate RV, only to find after getting ourselves back down and checking in, that we didn't need to! We took the opportunity to get some scoff down the neck and gave each other the gee up we all needed to go again. The sickener came though as we plateaued and looked across to our right and saw people clambering up the adjacent slope.

On the approach to RV3 we met up once again with Bear and Jimifer (resplendent with the clag dripping off their beards - it had been the third time we'd crossed paths that day and from that point on we pulled together). We also had to rescue a fellow competitor out of a ditch as he somehow managed to fall in to it, we made sure he stayed still and tried not to move, relieved him of his bergen and gently eased him out. Luckily he seemed ok, but had to withdraw at RV3. On reaching RV3 heads dropped a little as firstly we'd only just made it there in time, but were informed by the DS, "you're going up there" as he pointed up the slope we'd noticed people clambering up as we'd got ourselves out of "VW Valley". I also started to panic a little at this stage, as I was sure I was very close to running out of fluid. My camelback was packed tight in my bergen, and therefore unable to grab and check without pulling everything out, with the threat of being be swept up if we didn't shift, we legged it.....and I kept my fingers crossed! 

Sorry James......had to nick it!
As if the first 90 mins and the climbs to RV2 and up and down "VW Valley" weren't enough the next climb out of RV3 was hideous, a slow ascent, that used almost every ounce of grit left to get up, add to that Stu (DS) bounding up there to answer an emergency call for a head wound (which turned out to be Mick Henderson, who thankfully was ok after a visit to A&E, other than sporting a nasty gash), didn't make it feel any easier, but as it had with KJ bounding up behind us on the way to RV2, again, it was incentive enough to push hard. The climb in certain places on the slope meant grabbing hold of anything you could, to pull yourself along. Grabbing hold of thistles became the norm until the fingers were numb, and after what felt like a long 45 mins, I was standing on top of the slope taking a well earned breather. Within another 5 mins the group were all standing atop that slope, and we'd also been joined by Mad Nick, Jamie H (the ginger bearded warrior), Jamie B & Mark P.

Olly hadn't made it up the hill, which was gutting. By this point Stu had attended to Mick, got him off the mountain and had joined the group and was pushing us along towards the next RV. I must admit at that point, I knew it wouldn't be long before we needed to get the head torches back out, so stretched it out a bit with Stu M, by the time we got to the climb up towards RV4 we were back to the four of us, Bear and Jimifer. On the approach to RV4, I was feeling pretty decent other than the bergen wearing itself permanently into my traps, and no matter how much I adjusted, I just couldn't get it comfortable again. All assembled at the RV we were given our next and what turned out to be our final grid. The relief and the excitement that we'd almost broken the back of the march was plain to see, very evident on the faces of all my mates despite the fading light.

Getting off the the RV, I had a spring in my step, well as much as you can going downhill on difficult terrain in the near dark, then as I took a sip on my camelback, that horrible sound of it being drained hit my ears! Fuck! Alarm bells rang, we still had a good trek to get back and I only had myself to blame for my poor admin. At that point I zoned out a bit just to keep myself pushing on, not concentrating on the fact I had no fluid left, a bit of radio chatter signalled that the FRV was now marked with a red strobe. Renewed with vigour I took a deep draw on the straw to my pack and got a decent mouthful, keeping a check on our bearing at all times. By now there was no light, it was pitch black, and trusting the compass became paramount. We had a couple of little wobbles but with great map reading from Jimifer, and trusting our bearing we hit the path that signified we were on the last stretch home. In the darkness all you could hear was the occasional chatter over the radio and Bear falling in yet another bear trap, but as the red strobes became visible you could hear excitement in the voices as the chatter picked up again. Tim let Zero know we were on the approach as the red light appeared, I heard him utter "eta 8 mins over". I had a little giggle to myself thinking he's just making shit up now, but it was nice to hear high morale in his voice.

He'd battled some demons during the course of the march, as we all had, but I think his might have been slightly more fierce than most. I was so proud of him, that he never gave into them. The stretch back to the FRV seemed to go on like a queue for a ride at Disney, albeit slightly more treacherous. As the road came in to view, I remember being side by side with Bear and us both putting in a decent stride to get home. Just as we skipped over the brow I squinted in the dark to make out what looked like Skipper and Adam checking in at the FRV, emotionally it was an incredible moment to be able to see their grins at a truly defining moment for us all. James had also arrived and despite the fact this was Nails SF Heartland, there was no way I wasn't throwing a few hugs around. Shaking Jason's hand and receiving a "well done" I turned around to see Tim, Stu and Mark and couldn't help but hug them half to death, we'd gone through a lot that day together, and had come out the other end a bit taller for it. Mark had also done an exceptional job keeping us on track and led from the front all day, even when the shit hit the fan, I could have kissed his beautiful bald ginger head for that. In the emotion of it all I may well have done. My only thought after that was getting that bloody bergen off, so off I marched, back towards the drop off, in no small part trying to catch Skipper and Adam up, as the batteries on my torch had failed and I couldn't be bothered to change them, and secondly because after such a long day it had been so good to see them.

However, they'd clearly switched their nav skills off, as the took the wrong fork in the road, which amused me no end, and resulted in something 'banterish' coming out of my mouth. Even after 12hrs of arduous effort there's still room for banter! All back at Marks' van we loaded up and set off back to base camp. Thankfully a few of the guys were still there packing up and sorting themselves out, Fordy was the first to rock up looking good and fresh, it was so good to see him, as we hadn't seen him since first thing that morning. News then came in that the girls had all gone in to a collective panic, as they'd not heard from us all day, so duty done and Mrs Rushen's mind put at ease, I cracked on with packing kit away. Thankfully, before we left, Tim and I got the chance to shake Ken's hand and offer some thanks for the day, it felt incredible to hug it out knowing that we'd completed his favourite march, and in some small way I'd paid a little tribute to Lloydy. Ken gave us both our patches before offering us the notion that we were now "officially nails", just as I was turning away to go back to the car, Ken called me back and handed me another patch "that one's for Lloydy mate" he said, and he was gone. 

Walking back to the car to get it out the shit I had a few minutes to reflect at what had just happened, that little gesture after that day had meant everything. With some incredible help from the guys still there my beast of a car was freed from the field. Parked up on decent ground, I grab clean and dry kit and showered before heading for home. On the way home Caz asked me to describe the day, which I tried to do as best I could. But if truth be told it's difficult to fully help those that weren't out there understand just how incredibly tough, physically, mentally and emotionally that march was. However, I do know this; I couldn't have wished to have gone through that whole experience and that weekend with better people and I'm pretty certain, the one other person I would have wanted to do that with, was there with us too, especially when we were hauling our balls through the bog!

Lloydy was always the original reason for doing these events and will always be the first reason, but as I've said before, these events have created a family, which I truly miss, and would miss greatly if I wasn't out there with them. There's also a third reason that in Lloydy's name, hopefully by generating support, I can raise enough money to help benefit those that need it through the charities I'm supporting. So please help me if you can get my page out there, the ABF The Soldiers Charity are a wonderful charity and it would mean so much to be able to hit my target again for them as I begin training for next years Virgin London Marathon.

I can't sign off without the customary thank yous. Firstly, I have made so many incredible friends since I first began taking on these events, friends that I know are always there, friends that I hope I will always have in my life. To you, I'm humbled and eternally thankful for your friendships, the support, the banter and the laughs! Skipper, Tim, Mr D, Limby, Mark and Stu Massey, Bear, Jimifer, Super Rob, Fordy, Jamie H, Mad Nick, Adam, Matty L, Olly, Phil W, James Allen, Billy Mc and Kate & Simon Bent. And after the weekend I've made a few more, it's great to see the circle increasing in size, and long may that continue.

Secondly, Ken Jones and all the DS (Stu, Matt, Jas and Dave + others) for giving us mere mortals an opportunity to grow a little, and walk in the footsteps of giants and for me personally those of my little brother. Also for the personal touches and the respect they afford me in my brother's memory. Truly in awe of you all. 

Thirdly, my brother, he may not be here anymore but he'll always be my best friend, and example of what a man should be, and what a man should stand for. I know he is always on my shoulder and the whisper around me when I need that extra push. Blue skies little brother xxx

....and lastly my wife and littlebear! Without who, I'd be lost, always the light in my life, especially on the difficult days, and my reason for always living with a smile on my face. To the depths of forever Mrs R xxxxx


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