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Polaris Challenge Autumn 2003 By John Gartside   Page 1

Here's an account by John Gartside that gives you a feel for the laughs and reality of a Polaris event. When you've read this (if you still want to enter one!) check out Polaris Tips

Summer's for softies
Over the past 11 years or so I have taken part in and thoroughly enjoyed something like 20 Polaris Challenges. The Autumn 2003 event was our first for a long time, as we have a rule about not doing Summer ones, (we think they are too 'soft') and the Spring one was on the Isle of Man and just too expensive to take part in. Partner Matt and I set out at 10:30 from Ross for the long drive up to Alston, Cumbria. The Espace was already fairly well-laden with equipment, bikes etc. The first problem arose with the amount of luggage that our attractive hitch-hiker, Hannah, a work colleague of Matt's was taking up to her parental home in the Lake District!

The journey up was fairly uneventful, the traffic was quite busy but moving at a decent speed, and we were looking for a place to park in Penrith a few hours later. Matt had to locate and purchase a new pair of size 14 Sealskinz socks, but the only pair in town were 10 dearer and last years model as well! We therefore changed the plan a bit, nipped over to Keswick, which is one big outdoor clothing outlet, and managed to achieve 3 things, 1) Get the socks, 2) Have a pint and 3) drop Hannah off at home and get a kiss goodbye!!! Despite what you may think, this was the last vaguely sexual encounter of the weekend.

The Polaris Dinner Challenge
We then headed over the infamous A686 (over Hartside - 57 casualties in 2 years) for the event centre at the secondary school at Alston. We signed in and registered very quickly with the Polaris people, and enjoyed a bit of light-hearted banter with the waggish Graham Longstaff. Next step was finding a space near one of the 'Master Maps' and mark our event maps with the ROW and out-of-bounds information. We mooched the trade stalls a bit, nothing much on offer, T-shirts being rationed and to order only, It was a strange situation, but Rab, main event sponsor just had one rep hanging about with just 4 lightweight sleeping bags for sale, no publicity material etc. Next we dropped our stuff off at our hotel for the night, the High Windy Hall above Garrigill. Wow, Matt and I were a bit taken aback by the high standard. A lovely woman called Pauline welcomes us, and inquires whether we will be eating there, as Alston apparently is a bit limited in the way of facilities. We recklessly say no, and after marking the checkpoints out onto our event map, head off to the bright lights for a beer, a gossip with other competitors and some food.

Feeding the 1000
The first pub we visited (8:30pm) had a huge queue, the tables were heaving and the whole place was full of sweaty locals gurning at everyone, we didn't even have a drink there. We went on down to the town 'centre' and another large pub presented itself, it certainly looked a bit quieter. We made our way through the herd of people having a darts tournament clogging the entrance, found a table and had a quick look at the menu, as if we ever have anything other than steak & chips! I went to the bar to order, but noted to my alarm that the Polaris-people in front also ordering get rebuffed with a 'we've finished serving'.
According to some other people in the bar, all the pubs in town have stopped as well!! There are only 1000-or so Polaris competitors wandering about with money to spend and the wiseacres running the pubs don't want their money! What would you do in the same position?
This was seriously bad news, I nipped up to the local Spar to get some ham and rolls just in case we had to go hungry, leaving Matt to eat 2 bags of peanuts as a meal substitute. Luckily we spot a caf'-type thingy down the road that has the good sense to stay open, I eventually get sausage & chips and Matt has a curry. This is the only food available in Alston at 9PM - Spar having long since run out of bread etc.

With hardly any beer inside us to speak of either, we headed back to our lovely hotel to pack our rucksacks and fettle equipment one last time. We both of us hit the sack at 12 and were eerily sober! This may be a first for us on Polaris. Various little alarms on phones, PDA and watches woke us whilst it was still dark, I drew the curtains but it was still too dark to see what the weather was doing, our main concern at that moment of the day. We showered and put on a bit of our riding kit and raced downstairs to the dining room by 6AM for a huge breakfast, all fresh-cooked and yum. A couple of other competitors were already eating, but they looked too professional to get too chatty with. With about 2000 calories each under our belts, we went back to the room to watch weather reports on TV, and then have massive kit cull after hearing the joyous news 'ITS GOING TO BE SUNNY AND GREAT!' We dressed accordingly in more lightweight stuff and saved about 5lbs in superfluous clothing apiece. We say our goodbyes to Pauline, and have to admit she was right about Alston, to our astonishment she adds that we only had to ask and she would have cooked us something, whatever the time last night!

The sky was now lightening up by the minute, the overnight wind had dropped and we headed off down to Alston. Big 'Polaris' signs directed us to the car park field, where we soon found a space. A quick faff about with the bikes and final check and we are off up a track to the start line for our 8:20 AM slot. A huge bunch of excited cyclists are clogging the track a bit waiting around, we are bang on time and have to push up through to the front. A quick pre-ride briefing for our start group from the organizers, then Matt and I insert our SportIdent dibbers into the electronic units and we are off!

Our first checkpoint is no 5 on a small bridge, which by the look of the large crowds, everyone else seems to have chosen, then we head anti-clockwise up to Garrigill for no 7, which isn't far from our hotel of the night before. Off come the zippable sleeves on my Endura jacket, and we start to motor on up to no 13 on the C2C cycle route, a very steep haul indeed. We carry on past some wonderful old lead mines at Nenthead, then up a rocky track to no 15, the electronic logger at which unfortunately isn't working properly. We carry out the usual procedure and record the number and identifier and take a picture for good measure!
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