(An epic write up for an epic event! - AD)
The objective of this years annual post apocalyptic (oops I mean new year) Arctic (cold area near Westbury) operation was the aggressive projection of armed (but mainly legged) force to occupy a 50km strip of Wiltshire which is owned by some blokes with big land rovers or summat (also known as the SPAM Winter Challenge).
As with all successful campaigns, preparation is key. Bike preparation. Snacks. Hydration. ALL your clothes. Tucking into a bottle of Jack Daniels over dinner, whilst your dining companions remind you about "that 50km ride". You know, the usual stuff.
As Chris and I frantically hunted for the start of the 50km race, Neil nursed his hang over and planned his assault on the 35km category. The sedate rolling start confused Chris into a false sense of security (he didn't know if we were cruising to the start or if we had started already) and I used the opportunity to catch up and sneak past. Climbing up the first hill the pace dropped significantly and finding routes around the mass of slower riders became increasingly tricky as people dabbed and crunched down through their gears. Once out onto the top the speed picked up and I tagged onto the back of faster riders as they passed, dragging me along in their wake. Eventually I couldn't hold onto their tails, I gave up chasing them and settled into a mini battle with about 5 other riders.
The roller coaster tank tracks rolled their way up and down, round fields, through coppices and over the back of a white horse leaving the shorter routes to their own devices. Somewhere along this theme park attraction Chris cruised by with a friendly "I thought I had already passed you!" and disappeared off into the distance. My battle continued with the pack of riders surrounding me as we dropped into the army barracks on the edge of Warminster, nearly half way to reaching the objective of getting to precisely where we started.
As I climbed the hill out of Warminster munching on my ration of Nutri-grain I spotted comrades Andy Stewart and David Bland that I used to ride with when I lived in Bath. Haunting memories of having my legs torn off on long sections of road and tow paths flashed through my mind. The summit of Sack Hill loomed ahead and I knew I had to tag onto the back of their group and catch a tow along the slightly downhill 10km section past Imber, so I sprinted, caught up to the hindmost rider and plugged into top gear, mashing away, desperately trying to hold onto the back as we dodged and hopped over pot holes the size of small eco-cars. As we neared Imber we screamed past my in-field-back-up-unit (mum and dad) so fast they barely noticed me. The punishment continued until a gradual incline forced me to concede defeat and my comrades disappeared into the distance, only for me to catch them up again and pass nearer West Lavington whilst they refueled on cake.
We were now on the final leg and joined by reinforcements from 35km (Yellow) operations and intermittently 25km (blue) operations as the 50km (orange) and yellow war machine rollercoastered its way on and off the blue objective. Stories were coming back from the blue army of missed start lines due to 8 minute long toilet queues and casualties due to wheelies in front of the first photographer at the top of the first hill , meanwhile the faster members of the Major Jack Daniels' Yellow squadron were flat out attacking towards the safety of the finish line.
As one of the orange troops I picked my way passed the blue troops including our very own Richard and Karen Evans (Live2Ride) before I kicked off into what was to be the most dangerous phase of the mission. I sprinted down a smooth descent of frozen grass, blasting past my fellow squaddies, my 45(ish)psi tyres beginning to squirm. I decided to press on - unfortunately a greasy, off camber shallow bend was too much and "BOOM", all the skills fell out of my bag and my front wheel disappeared, leaving me with a cracked combat helmet, a thumping headache, a mud grazed right hand side and a yard sale of helmet and face ornaments (peak and glasses scattered everywhere). I regrouped, found no major damage and was aided by comrades Stewart and Bland who helped me back on my bike. I stopped for a quick pork pie refreshment before the next climb and then set about catching up with comrades Stewart and Bland by passing as many riders as possible on the next heavily rutted and chalky descent. I was shocked to be passed by Paul Lasenby on the following climb, but found out that a couple of punctures had ruined his campaign.
Once back with my comrades we cruised in attack formation to the finish line, taking in the final woodland single track and field sections to be greeted by Neil, Chris and my in-field-back-up-unit. Objective complete and a great day in the -4 deg C Wiltshire countryside.
Although it is a non competitive event I thought I would show peoples positions and times:
Orange operations - 50km - 436 soldiers completed the objective
069 Chris Sheppard (1859) 02:25:34
137 Simon Truelove (1846) 02:39:15
302 Chris Snell (1817) 03:14:30
Major Jack Daniels' Yellow ops - 35km - 229 soldiers completed the objective
010 Neil Cousins (1244) 01:39:44
Blue ops (men) - 25km - 80 soldiers completed the objective
024 Tim + Helen Flooks - Tandem (156) 01:30:14 (8 minutes late starting for some reason according to Tim)
048 Richard Evans - Live2Ride (429) 01:51:45
Blue ops (women) - 25km - 16 soldiers completed the objective
006 Karen Evans - Live2Ride (428) 01:51:45
Race numbers are in brackets - event photos can be found on www.photo-it.com