Zipping Through Kielder

On the first morning (and second day) of ITERA Lite teams were visiting England for a morning of fun and games at the Calvert Trust Outdoor Centre in the Kielder National Park.

As night fell on day one they completed the Tweed River paddle at Kelso, and there were more spills and capsizes on the final weir near the take out.  Teams could portage there, and some perhaps should have.  Then came the stage 3 ride – a huge 175km ride over the Cheviot Hills and through Kielder, before crossing back into Scotland.

The long ride is broken by two special stages for climbing activities, the first at the Calvert Trust Outdoor Centre near Kielder.  Team Endurancelife Red passed through there in the pouring rain, arriving around 5am, and with a big lead over their nearest rivals.

Each team had to complete 3 challenges in the centre, which is primarily for children with disabilities and has extensive facilities, including indoor climbing walls, a high ropes course and the only ‘zip coaster’ in Europe.  Teams used them all.

The indoor climbs were not difficult but to give teams some idea of the challenges faced by the children who use the centre one racer had to climb wearing a boxing glove, and another blindfold. It took some good teamwork for the blindfold climbers who were directed by team mates, but I didn’t see any of them fall.

Next up was the leap of faith which is a climb up a shaky pole, about 15m high to reach a small platform.  Racers had to climb up and stand, then leap off to grab a trapeze before being lowered to the ground.  For those with any fear of heights it was a big challenge and there were a couple of refusals which incurred an hour penalty.  Dave Harcourt of the Portly Porties said he wouldn’t go up, but then returned, steadied himself and took the challenge stage by stage.  Those below could hear him doing breathing exercises on top, then he asked for a countdown and took the leap.

The Zip Coaster was faster and wilder than most expected.  It is a cross between a zip line and roller coaster and twisted, turned, rose and fell as it wound a crazy course through the trees. There were lots of whoops and screams as racers zipped down and were thrown about.  It was great fun and none of the teams had done anything like it before.  (There are only 5 in the world and this is the only one which is adapted to be ridden by wheelchair users.)

With a 90 minute time out there was no rush and teams had time to rest and sleep for a while in the dry inside the indoor climbing centre.  There had been frequent showers overnight, some very heavy, and these became more frequent through the morning. Simon Enderby of the pair Paddle, Pedal, Plod said, “Most of the showers were light during the night but we stopped before one to put on waterproofs and it was a wise move – it pelted down hard for some time.”

He added, “Some of the riding took a lot of concentration, especially on the Pennine Way sections where the maintained trail is narrow and if you go off either side you are into the bog, and inevitably when you put a put a foot down, that’s where it went.”

Experiences of the ride varied, depending on route choice. The shorter, most direct route was bridleway and it wasn’t the quickest route by a long way.  A longer route on the forest trails and tracks proved much quicker.  Two teams who were well placed at the start of the ride were Endurancelife Celts and UK Adventurers and both took the slower choice and lost many places.

Kevin Stephens just said, “The bridleway wasn’t there most of the time”, and Gary Davies said his team’s night consisted of “poor route choices, nav errors and lots of bike pushing.”  Course planner Tom Gibbs said they had forgotten the golden rule of MTB stages which is “speed over the ground is much more important than distance ridden”.

Magnus Svensson of Team Karlstad Multisport Green said he enjoyed the navigational challenge on the overnight ride. He is the only navigator on the team.  “We took time and I checked with the compass, because a wrong choice among the many paths on the moor could cost a lot of time. It was as challenging as I expected it to be but I think our route choice was OK and we only made small errors.”

He said the Tweed paddle was best he had ever done in a race (and he has raced many World Champs). “It was always interesting,” he said, “with different flows, portages and weirs, amazing views and the old fortresses and castles and big mansions were astonishing. They are so big and there were so many along the river.”  Teams have a second paddle on the Tweed as the penultimate stage of the race, so he has more to look forward to.

Not all teams visited Calvert Trust, some took short course options which missed it out, but for the majority who did visit it was a memorable stop on a route which is proving varied and challenging, and showing off what an area of the UK no races have visited before has to offer.

Rob Howard, Sleepmonsters