We skipped out of Fleet Moss minutes before the 19:30 compulsary grouping. We could now push on to Cray with just the rather large obstacle of Fleet Moss in our way. I'm still undecided as to whether our approach to Fleet Moss was sensible or just a gamble which played out ok. Using GPS we tried to plow as the crow flies across Fleet Moss rather than the detour round which has some ok sections of path. I don't think this would have worked any other year, but it was dry enough that the giant mud pools were quite solid. I'd mostly get a spongy surface on foot down and leave little more than a deep footprint. So the only challenge was the large mounds and peat hags to be climbed over - which is tiring even without the leg-swallowing mud.
Another group of runners appeared to our side run-walking closer to the fence on possibly better surface. Whether it was or not we finally arrived at the Middle Tongue CP in fading light as this large group did. Heading back across the rough stuff we made a straight line towards the next CP and eventually we were guided in by the powerful lights of a 4x4 to Hell gap where we picked up a road. Running down the stony road in near darkness wasn't fun, but I was sure glad to be across Fleet Moss which had taken on a kind of "Pugatory" image in my mind over the last few months. Each of the last 5-7m (est) from Fleet Moss CP had seemingly dragged on forever.
We were grouped at Cray. Following a good feed and bringing the head torch intop play we were off with a group of lads from Leeds who had been buoyed by the news of Uniteds promotion. I kept quiet about my own football loyalties. It was now up Buckden Pike a big climb back well over 2000' in a short distance. No choice but to walk, often hands on knees, and I wasn't complaining.
Quite a few strings of headlights surrounded us in the dark night so our group was never quite alone. By the time we had started to descend again three groups had nearly converged homing in on the same pace. This was until the line we descended was not quite right and a large gulley blocked our forward path. One group headed downhill to round it, the other followed, but after some discussion and consultation of map and GPS we decided that we should head back up a bit and cross where we could. I couldn't recall this obstacle from the recce and I'm sure our line up until about 10-15mins ago was the same. We found a shallower descent and ascent to cross about 100yards up and then persisted downhill at what was to become our top speed until Yarnbury of "fast march" - and occasional run form me with my short legs and slow walk. Pleasingly as we approached the CP the headlights of the other group reappeared a few hundred yards back.
We clipped at Top Mere and changed course to round the higher ground towards Park Rash. Memories of this stage are a bit vague, we were basically marching on towards the lights of the next catering tent. Proving how easy it is in the dark, we managed to go about 100 yards off a fairly obvious path and didn't realise till we hit an unclimbable wall. Memories of Park Rash are also vague now, I'm not even sure what I ate and I can usually remember this kind of thing months if not years after any significant challenge I take on. I do recall putting on a second set of thinner gloves underneath my thicker ones. I didn't think it would be this cold at night this time of year and a fast walk obviously doesn't work you quite like even a slow run does.
Up Great Whernside and there were no more difficulties here as, if anything the march got faster and we caught the group ahead briefly. Once again over 2000ft, steeper at first, but we then took a steady path to the clip on top. Down towards Capplestone Gate and I had to run on the short steeper downhill. One of our group was suffering shin difficulties and couldn't run, but made up for it with a fast walk. It was soon, next stop Yarnbury and we had beacons to guide us towards the walled, hard track and the final CP. Not wthout incident here though as I stopped briefly on a descent for some reason. I then somehow tagged on at the back of another slower moving group I hadn't realised we'd overtaken. I realised about the same time my group did and yelled back. Anxious not to slow anybody down I had a brisk jog to catch up. That group dropped away quickly and must have been struggling badly - selfishly, good for my morale. The walk pace was now almost uncomfortably fast and I was half running to keep up. It seemed to be that one member of our group was really keen to wrap this up.
We ungrouped at Yarnbury, barely even stopping, Mark and I decided to run. Mark was obviously a bit fresher than me - encouraging considering his upcoming 100 - and leapt Gazelle like down the hard-surfaced narrow road down into Grassington. After a slower transition I tried to run this last 2m hard, but all of a sudden my knee was really sore. I tried to run through it, but it felt like the wrong thing to do. So I settled into a very slow jog. Grassington and Threshfield were deadly quiet post 3am on Sunday morning so no late night celebration. I crossed the bridge and tackled the, comparitively, very small hill into Threshfield and turned the corner to see the lights of Threshfield school. Once checked in - 18 hours and 31 minutes - I headed straight to get a cup of tea - having not had one in about 16 hours and that one had been while climbing Gragareth. I also decided to tackle the chilli con carne which seemed a good way to start refuelling before sleep.
Sleep was cruelly short, the lights were back on at about 6:30 (why!!!) and I awoke bleary-eyed, also somewhat sweaty and muddy having not showered. Mark and Stu Blofeld were discussing their repsctive "hike" experiances. There was also no shortage of conversation at breakfast, all of it hike-related or rumour tales of others not so lucky on their hike. I finally got showered at about 10am just before I left, that was good... fantastic and I could have stood under the flowing water forever.
I didn't get far on the way home, I was dozing at the wheel by Bingley so stopped for an energy drink and some food. This sustaned me until the M62 and A1 junction where I pulled into the services, reclined my seat fully and slept for a good one-and-a-half hours. I've only just caught my sleep up since. My usual 5:30 to 7:30 hrs not sustaining me the first two weeks since and leaving me very grumpily rising from my pit of a morning.
A thoroughly enjoyable experiance and at no time during or since have I thought or uttered "never again". The Hardmoors 55 was a hilly, trail 55 miles - this was much more than the sum of its 60 miles with lots of true unpathed countryside and no shying away from the really big hills and I'm so glad I've done it. It wasn't about time, but I'm also pretty pleased with that. Especially as I wasn't in bits at the finish. The knee issue has turned out to be ITBS where the ITB joins the knee. Thankfully, I don't think its too bad, I've been more restricted on mileage since this event. I've also been stretching and doing every exercise I can to try and get myself into a pain free zone prior to upping the miles again in preperation for an even bigger challenge in July.