Yet again it was time for Polaris, my careful training schedule had been slightly interrupted by the Outdoors Show the week before.. ok not that much given that I had been on my bike about 4 times since the last Polaris. I was glad that we had gone out on our last training run 2 weeks before as it was bitterly bitterly cold and I was sure that the Polaris riding experience would be a whole lot better. There were going to be a few changes at team Alpkit, Jim was going solo and and I was teaming up with Ken "the rookie" Stocker.
Nick goes for a bike ride in Wiltshire
That was the plan but things change. The week before the event the weather looked less and less promising but at least a little warmer than the previous 4 months where temperatures hadn't approached double figures. The day before Jim pulled out due to family commitments (I think he had inside knowledge), so it was up to Ken and I to fly the Alpkit flag. We planned to interrupt the journey down to Wiltshire with a short sojourn with the Pash, but after we had drunk their coffee the lure of a warm fire, good conversation and a glass of vino was just to much to resist, we made a night of it. Nonetheless we got to the start just before nine, we were the last to start just a few mins after ten and had 7 (slightly ill-prepared) hours in the saddle in front of us.
The Polaris format
At the check in you receive a map; this has 20 or so check points. At this stage you don't know which are live and which are not, you pass through the start and 'blip' you proceed to 'Give out'. Give out is where you get told which check points are live and how many points are attributed to each of the check points. One of you shouts out the value and check point ID, the other marks them on the map. The trick is then to determine what route will achieve you the most points in the seven hour time limit. The penalties for over running your allotted time are severe, and applied, on an increasing scale. A bad choice of route can lead to a lot of wasted effort. You have to think about many factors such as terrain, wind direction, and most of all fitness. If it all goes to plan you have scored over 300 points and arrive with a minute to spare. It is a two day event and you carry all your stuff with you so there is a fine balance between just enough and not enough. The pro-guys don't have enough... not really but that's why they are pro. Some guys seem to carry way to much stuff but then when your at the overnight camp and they are swaning around in their down jackets it looks like a good idea. Sunday is the same but this time you have a just five hours do it. We started well, despite the rain we rode south on fairly dry tracks but after 2-3 hours it was time to head north and the day got worse. After a 1 mile ride on a grass caked in glue I made the wrong route suggestion and we ended up on a bridleway which plastered the bikes in mud rendering them unridable. It then all got a bit hilly and our enthusiastic riding style of "leap before you look" meant that we had missed a turning and a 30 point check point, ouch. With the clock ticking we plugged on ahead, tired, cold and hungry we arrived at the campsite. I was really cold and once the tent was up I didn't leave it. It was far cry from the previous Lakes event with blue skies and Lakeland views. The Octomid seemed to do the job yet again and I think if we can sort out the floor we will be on to a winner. I must of drifted of about 9pm and woke at about 6. The night was restless, of all things I was worried about whether I had lost my car keys on route. The thought of finishing the event and not being able to get in the car or even home didn't let me rest. The temperature was about 5 degrees but very damp, although I was just warm it was proof that it is "you" who warms the bag up and not the other way round. Despite using a PD400 rated at -3c I simply wasn't generating enough heat to warm me up. Ken on the other hand, also in a PD400 slept with the zip open, go figure! On Sunday we tried to keep away from the muddy tracks, but with little success. We went for glory (in our own small way) a 30 pointer up on the ridge, and then bashed along to a 40! With 70 points in the bag we had made a good start to the day. Ken was leading the way but I gradually felt more and more tired, I was just glad to be heading back. To be honest I just wasn't enjoying it, to much mud and to many puddles. The only thing to cheer me up was the sight of my car keys in a unlocked car. We finished 75 in our category which was down to my fitness level rather than anything else but had we got that 30 pointer and if I had just a little more gumption we would of been top 50. Some thing to aim for next time...