Stage 3 - enter the sleepmonsters
The stage was supposed to start with downhill mountain biking but we chose to skirt round this section by road as it looked pretty steep and we thought we'd be quicker riding downhill than nervously pushing our bikes and trying not to fall over, especially since it was night time. Next we had a trekking section where I realised that the tarmac road we were walking along wasn't even on the map. And animals stared waving at me.
This was the ride of a 100 hills, 1000 windmills and many splendid suns. Others referred to it as the World bike pushing championships :) We attached our bikes together using our tows so we were all in one long line and our very own champion Philip put his muscles to good use pulling all of our bikes up those hills. What a shame that we couldn't manage to ride down them again. I suspect they were wasted on our tired bodies and brains.
I've never seen a longer or steeper downhill in my life. Teams had been told they should take skates off towards the bottom as it would be too dangerous to skate the whole way. We took ours off near the top. Except Philip of course. He hadn't realised his brake was wearing out and he took off at the speed of light only to find he had no way of stopping. Heeding Don's advice he did nothing but get in a tuck (and pray) and got faster and faster until finally, and thankfully, the gradient started to go uphill again. Still at the top of the hill, the rest of us had thought he was a goner!
As we walked down the hill together I called everyone over to see a beautifully engraved wall, covered in statues and umm... i'm not sure. Everyone had a good look at the wall, exchanged looks with each other, then continued walking, murmuring things about sleepmonsters and 'away with the fairies'.
Heeding the pre-race words of wisdom from Russ and Iona about kayaking sending people to sleep, we opted to have a quick 20min sleep on a hall floor before starting the kayak stage. They were dead right about the rythmical nature of kayaking in the darkness being perfect for lulling you to sleep - until your paddle hits the water with a crash that is. That must have been the hardest section for Philip as his body was obviously desperate to grab some sleep. I tried really hard to keep him awake by talking to him (we were sharing a kayak) but I think my conversation left a lot to be desired and at some stage I resorted to interrogating him just to keep in contact: 'what was the name of your high school? what was the name of your primary school? how many years were you at high school?' Lizzie and Dan had already done the same with me earlier that day and been regailed with my million and one facts about viagra, as gleaned from PhD.
When conversation and word games (what vegetable begins with z?) had been more than exhausted we moved on to singing. Pyro had written the words of 'eye of the tiger' onto Philip's mapboard so we tried singing that, several times and just about every other song imaginable from Frere Jacques to the Sound of Music. It may have been pretty dire for everyone else but it kept me awake!
Gill and Russ were great about just paddling a bit behind and letting us get on with our team thing in our own way. They understood from their own racing experience (possibly better than we did) that after us having put so much thought into how we worked together, new people could really change the whole dynamic. So they accompanied us and chatted to us when we chatted to them but otherwise didn't interfere.
And we paddled down the river, weaving in between the buoys that marked the Portugal / Spain border and dreamed of the end of the paddle! The next section had a fairly complicated set of cut-offs attached to it. We were pretty clear that we didn't want to be there between 9pm and 3am as this would mean that we would have to do an extra 8hr of kayaking. Clearly not an option for us!
Eventually daylight came and we dragged our boats onto the shore to get to the next assistance area- desperate to sleep. There, one of the organisers informed us that we'd missed the 6am cut off (what cut off??) and would not be able to continue onto the next stage. Flabbergasted, we thought this meant we were out of the race entirely but he reassured us that it just meant they would drive us to the next assisstance area where we could get some sleep (a whopping 4hr as it turned out) and carry on the race with everyone else. And we'd miss out a long bike leg - something we could all live with. I even got to have a quick shower -luxury!