In the time honoured tradition of this training journal (that’s about three weeks now), I have skipped the bit that involves exercise and training, and I will go straight on to something else, though if you want a considered, grown up race report of the Coast to Coast, then see here.
Camp Life? No. No. I’m not referring to the Coast to Coast as the Cage aux Folles of adventure races (for those of you who don’t remember the film, it was about two outrageously camp gay cabaret owners in the South of France whose son turns out straight. When they have to meet his in-laws-to-be, all sorts of camp chaos ensues. Released in 1978, it was all rather risqué at the time). No, when I say Camp Life, I’m talking about the half way point of the race, the overnight camping stop in Fort Augustus.
It’s quite a spectacle actually. As we walk down the main alley, there is a thousand-person marquee to one side, with an open corner where bacon and burgers are grilling – after five hours of hearty exercise the smell of fatty meat barbecuing and dripping on coal hits me smack in the food receptors (I blame ancestral memory, of ten thousand generations of Henderson hunters who have salivated at the smell of grilling meat). On the other side is a row of porta-loos, and then porta-showers – blimey, that’s pretty impressive. And next to the massive bladder containing the water are some heaters… Hot showers!? A first. All rather more comfortable than I am used to.
Next we enter the main camp-ground. To one side are some pre-pitched tents, the glamping option, I assume. And on the other there’s a huge stretch of grass, which the early arrivals are steadily filling with tents. You wonder what the collective noun is for a group of people in this state of mild confusion, struggling to convert yards and yards of rebellious fluorescent nylon into shelters… A tentaculation? A tentasmagoria? Or is it just an intention? If anyone has any better ideas, please let me know and I’ll include them.
We find a patch of grass and repeat the same rather confusing process. We have a borrowed tent and it’s a revelation to discover that it has a west wing, an enclosed annex, from which the main sleeping compartment, a sort of inner sanctum, is accessed, all hanging unevenly from a frame. No wonder it was confusing.
Fort Augustus is hardly a huge town. There are a few cafés, bars and shops, but the town’s main feature, which they all overlook, is this not a river but the stepped flight of locks that link Loch Ness to an upper section of the Caledonian Canal. It’s an odd centrepiece, but a nice enough spot to lay on the grass first with an ice cream and then a pint of beer, watching yachts making their way down the locks and the swing-bridge opening and closing.
By the time we got back our tent was invisible in the veritable sea of nylon… What colour was it? We worked it out in the end through a process of elimination.
Then, over in the marquee, some music struck up. Blimey. A band. That’s pretty cool too. So we headed off for a meal and some music, and beer. It’s one of Rat Races’ signatures. Just because you’re working hard physically during the day doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge yourself a little in the evening. There’s a German sausage stall, a pizza stall, burgers and butties. And another stall with a vat simmering away like a paella, Yorkshire-style, all beans and chopped sausage. All a true outdoorsman could ever want. And hey, there are good minerals in beer. I am sure of it.
There’s a thing about tents, though. You lie in them, desperately not wanting to have to get out of your sleeping bag into the cold and damp, with a surround-sound pitter patter of rain (well, despite Day 1’s excellent weather, this is Scotland). And it was so loud when I was woken at 5.30 am the next morning by the first of the day’s many showers, I imagined a downpour going on outside. I dreaded emerging from the tent out into the world, knowing that I would be soaked in seconds.
We packed, let ourselves into the annex, and crouched near the door, so that all we had to do was to hop outside, unpeg, perform a nylon-folding dance, shove the tent into its bag and then run for cover. Stand by, Stand by… GO!
Well, what a wuss. We hopped out into nothing but a light spray of drizzle. Every tiny ‘pock’ noise of a raindrop hitting the nylon had reverberated as if on a drum, amplifying it into a deluge. Just glad it wasn’t proper rain. That was for later in the day.
At this moment I should put in a word for the lad. Day 1 was my day really, mostly cycling after the initial run to Cawdor Castle. How he managed so well without cleats and for nearly 50 miles, I don’t know. Particularly as the final hill was a proper test. ‘A chip off the old block’, said someone, kindly, I think. But as soon as he was off the bike and running down to the kayak leg I was left behind and feeling distinctly old and painful. Doubtless will be more of this on Day 2. We may start with cycling, about 35 miles of it, but then we have a mountain run…