Ultras and lesser deeds

Posted on: 27 Jan 2017

It was blob-watching time again last week, as a hardcore band of runners made their way up the length of the Pennine Way. 268 miles! In 7 days! In JANUARY!!! I dipped intermittently in and out of the Spine Race coverage for the first day or two, but gradually became more and more caught up in the stories and progress of the various runners, to the extent that I sat up into the small hours on a couple of occasions, silently cheering them home. (I was particularly rooting for the Swiss guy, although I don't know him.) I truly don't know how they do it, keeping going day after day over such terrain, in such conditions, and with virtually no sleep. I have walked various sections of the Pennine Way, but never all of it in one go, never at night, and never in midwinter. I can honestly say I have NO wish whatever to attempt such a thing; but it was riveting viewing all the same, and I have enormous (if bemused) admiration for those who did.

My own recent achievements have been on a somewhat (ahem) lesser scale. 'Modest but at least ongoing' about covers it. In my defence, conditions are far from ideal: it is bitterly cold (well into minus figures by day, double minus figures at night), and much of the snow is now ice. At least I'm virus-free now, though it took its time. But then again: I have nothing very urgent to work towards, so I can afford a spell of 'just ticking along' mode for a while.

Tuesday 17/1/17: I proposed an outing down to the lake, and to check out the school track. J declined to come with me - he said it would be too windy. HE proposed an outing to the woods - he likes to carry (sic) his bike up to Oberrüti and ride down - which I thought would be too slippery. Fearing ice more than wind, I stuck to my own plans. On this occasion, we would have to differ. So we said goodbye to each other à la Captain Oates, and set off divisi. The wind had changed overnight, and was now from the north - the strong, vicious, icy Bise that cut effortlessly through my thickest fleece tights, Swiss Army underwear, shirt, jacket, 2 buffs, supposedly windproof gloves - ha! nothing was proof against its onslaught. There was intermittent weak sun, but no warmth in it, and continuous blowing snow - that fine, dusty stuff like flour. The sort of weather people say is 'too cold for snow' - but there it was. (Sorry, I promised not to overwork the 's' word - but it's pretty unavoidable at the moment.) I trotted briskly down to the lake, where actual waves were breaking as the Bise came blasting in across the water, and over to the Wagner Museum. Quick diversion along the road to Wartegg and back (this was good - a bit more sheltered), then down to Alpenquai; eerie whistling howl of the wind through masts and rigging in the harbour. The track was white over, and looked as though no-one else had been there, with mine the first and only footprints. There was ice underneath, I could hear it crackling, and see its contours, but there was enough snow to cancel out its slipperiness. From time to time, a big gust would blow a cloud of the fine dust across. Even after just one round, my prints were already getting blurred; after three, they were all but obliterated. It was quite hard to judge where the edge of the track was - I went a bit off-piste at one point, and realized I was on the grass round the side. Exploring further, I returned to Alpenquai and went to check out the Ufschötti - a lakeside park. Very pleasant, usually, but today a white wilderness, and very exposed. One round was enough. (Though I did meet a very friendly dog, and its equally friendly owner.) On the bridge, I paused momentarily to watch a coot diving, marvelling that the cold didn't seem to bother it at all, then back to the track, to find sections of my footprints had now completely disappeared, after less than 10 minutes away; another couple of rounds. By now, though, I felt my face might freeze and crack into small pieces - I had to get somewhere more sheltered. So up the path to Wartegg and along the road again. I braved the wind a final time to do a round of the Wagner Museum, then cut down the zigzag path and sought the protection of the walkways between the rows of houses and across the back of the Shopping Centre car park, before the final hill home. 9.5 kms, 1 hr 8. I pitied anyone having to do marathon training in this - I think some treadmills will be getting a good hammering. I did see 3 other runners, though. ('Mad fools!' as my brother would say.) Actually, it was not toooooooo bad as long as I kept moving fairly briskly, (though my hip protested a bit at anything more than about 7mins/km pace), and I did feel proper hardcore for getting out there! (if not quite in the Spine Race league.)

Friday 20/1/17: opted for another visit to the pool. Not my favourite lane (next to the window) this time, but a middle one, sandwiched between a swimming club training session and some very splashy crawl swimmers. But the usual 40 lengths of aqua jogging accomplished; working moderately hard, I managed them in 57 something this time. With the 2 lengths of 'Hündele', and 2 slow lengths of cool-down, 1.1 kms in all.

Sunday 23/1/17 Sick of the freezing fog that had closed in on Tuesday and was still showing no signs of leaving, we made our escape to somewhere higher. A spontaneous decision on a short day doesn't leave much scope for going very far, so we decided on Niederrickenbach, a short train ride into Kanton Nidwalden. It has its own station, but for some reason the trains aren't stopping there at the moment, so we had to get off one stop earlier, at Dallenwil, and walk the few hundred metres down the road. The car park was rammed full, so we knew to expect a queue for the cablecar - it seemed everyone had had the same idea. Many of them were families with children and sledges; others had skis. After waiting in the chilly entrance hall for about 20 minutes, I began to think maybe this was not such a good idea after all........... but finally it was our turn, the next batch of people crowded on, and up we rose through the fog, floating above trees totally encased in ice. After a couple of minutes, a pale disc appeared in the greyness - the sun! The haze thinned and grew brighter, then like a miracle we emerged into a technicolour world of blue sky, green fir trees, and dazzling white snow. We waited a minute to let the sledge-wielding families disperse (they all turned right, along the main track through the village), then set off ourselves to explore a path down to the left. Not a 'prepared' path, just one made by a few other people walking that way. It wandered up and down along the hillside (sometimes a little too close to a long, steep drop for my liking) with amazing views over the mountains and the cloud-filled valley below.

Sunshine in Niederrickenbach........


..........and what we'd escaped from.

As it reached woodland, it began to head rather determinedly downhill, and just as I was about to comment that I didn't want to go too far down again, a mini-avalanche came rumbling down through the trees and onto the path ahead. (I may be exaggerating slightly.) Combined with a notice we had just passed about possible rock falls in this area, I thought this was a sign we should maybe turn back........ So we returned the way we had come, reaching the cablecar station just as it disgorged another influx of people with sledges. We hurried to overtake them, and then enjoyed the panoramic walk through the village, past the convent, and out towards Haldigrat. We didn't get all the way to the chairlift station (probably it wasn't running anyway) as the last part of the track was in shade and suddenly very cold; turning round at the bridge, we marched back to enjoy the sunny part again. Some of the sledgers had made it this far, a few skiers too, even a snowboarder, though the slope was only very slight. Most of them were sledging or skiing down the road back down to the valley. The track was icy in places, but nothing impossible. We did try another track too, higher up the hillside, but this one WAS seriously icy, so we gave up on that and gave the panoramic track another go-round. It was so wonderful to see and feel the sun! By then I was getting hungry, so we headed - where else?! - for the restaurant. Too late in the day to get a proper meal, but I had a plate of chips and J. a Gulasch soup. Timed it just right for a cablecar down, descending into a bizarrely monochrome world (not a vestige of colour anywhere, no matter how hard I looked; even the fir trees were pure grey), but then had to run back to Dallenwil to catch the next train. With visions of being frustratingly stranded on the wrong side of the level crossing barrier when the train arrived, I even managed a sprint finish! Ah, it was a good day. Not high-octane training, maybe, but it was more for the benefit of the soul than the body. And every little counts.

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