Mike Simpson

Losing Time

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Salt is being rubbed firmly into open wounds at the moment; the current situation of nursing an injury after a knee operation and really feeling the onset of being in my late forties is being compounded by losing a few local Strava KOMs (King of the Mountains).

Strava is a lot of fun, I started using it in 2011 - that year two weeks riding in the Pyrenees, then two weeks in the Dolomites produced many KOM's as the software was so new. (It compiles a list of times recorded by cyclist up a given climb). Then for the following few years I'd get regular emails telling me I’d lost a KOM, as Strava fever hit France and Italy. A week would hardly go by without an email saying someone somewhere has ridden faster than me. The email header used say 'Look Out!' Then it was 'Uh oh!', now I think it says 'You've been Dethroned', either way the outcome is the same; I was top of the leaderboard no more, whether it was an Alpine climb, descent or some obsure section of road. Some however were a joy to receive; for instance when Rabobank pro Laurens ten Dam took my Port De Balès top spot, I didn’t mind being second best on that occasion!

More recently though I've lost a few local climbs. Pishill had stood for 4 years, Aston Hill 3 years. Yet the inevitable email was always bound to come through. Insult was added to injury with the fact that the new KOM holder on Aston hill was only 17 years old, 30 years younger than me! Yet as my times slow, time in general just seems to speed up. When you're young a summer holiday would seem to last an eternity, but as you get older time accelerates exponentially and nowadays a year seems to flash past in an instant. Managing time is such a difficult art form, without careful planning I find time seems to work against me. With work, other commitments piling up and a 'to do' list that expands faster than I can cross anything off, it's so therapeutic sometimes just to have a way of being able to press a reset button and for me a short micro-adventure usually does the trick.

A few weeks ago I jumped on a train to go and visit an old friend and to 'sleep out' in the open. The trip had it's own intrinsic time constraints but it’s surprising how much you can pack into a short trip. After a few hours I got off the train in Penrith at 1pm. My friend was there to meet me. I met Damon in 1988 at the freshers fair at Oxford Polytechnic, he was instrumental in the sporting lifestyle I've since adopted. We went many years after Oxford without seeing each other but in more recent times we have started meeting once a year for some sort of adventure. He lives on the Scottish border and is a member of the Border Mountain Rescue Team, he has great outdoor skills and someone who you can rely on if things turn nasty or we get into trouble.

What we had planned was simple; walk along part of the Pennine Way, bed down for the night under the stars and then walk back. We walked for hours, chatting and catching up with what we'd both been up to. I can literally feel my mind relaxing in these moments, absorbing wonderful views of Cumbria and the North Penines, and relaying and hearing each others recent highs and lows. We were travelling light, very light carrying just a small rucksack with sleeping bag, bivvi bag and stove. In fact to keep weight down we took no water. I had a filter purifying straw to drink from streams on route and we would collect water up in the hills for cooking. Rain had been forecast but as it turned out there was very little.

We reached an obvious camp at the wonderful High Cup Nick, a view point most hikers would probably only stop for a few moments before continuing, but we had the luxury of having a few more hours of daylight to just sit and gaze at this natural wonder. Just before dark we went off on a short walk to stretch our legs. It was odd looking back at our sleeping bags laid out in the distance on the edge of the rock formation. Our camp looked very small and vunerable. Once back I cooked up some rice and some tea as darkness closed in. I slept well, despite being on such an exposed position and the expected rain never materialized.

As for the morning, we started off with coffee. However our lightweight ethos prevented the inclusion of a percolator, press or cafetière, so we had to improvise. I am a firm believer that each item you take with you on an adventure should have multiple uses - so we used a head buff to strain the coffee! The only downside being the unique sweaty tang/aftertaste the drink had infused!

Rather than just retracing our route from the previous afternoon, an 'off path' excursion formed the basis of the return journey. Early on we bumped into a chap walking the whole length of the way solo (267miles). Sounds like a great way to spend a few weeks. It was a very misty morning and a detour to avoid a MOD firing range resulted in us having to trudge through very boggy moss for a few kilometers. This was slow going and put my chances of catching the 1pm train in doubt. So once clear of the bog we upped the pace. This involved a rocky descent and some scrambling over boulders. Usually I would relish this but I was testing my knee to the limit so soon post op. A dead sheep in a stream highlighted the necessity to always collect water as high as possible.

The last few miles were on road and we needed to try and hitch hike if we were to make it back in time. By now the unanimous conclusion was that this had all been a great, enjoyable success and we were already planning the theme and location of the next adventure. The road was deserted and just as it was looking unlikely we'd have any joy with a lift, a lady in a tiny metro trundled into view. She was happy to oblige and we shared the last few miles with her and her dog.

It was tight but I just made the 1pm train, a cracking adventure, 24 hours well spent and for once, for one day at least, time was on my side.

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