Saturday, 27 August 2011
Oh dear. It’s that time of year again. With the leaves already turning brown (very early this year) and our teenage son grumbling about going back to school, my husband’s begun training for the Tour de Trigs. If you haven’t heard of this extraordinary event, it’s a gruelling 24-hour orienteering hike through the wilds of Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. Just to make it extra-challenging, it’s held every December – when the days are short, the temperatures are freezing and the fields are at their boggiest. Entrants compete in teams of three and it’s so tough that most years only a third complete the top-secret 50-mile route.
My husband’s done five Tours de Trigs already and until a few weeks ago swore he wouldn’t attempt a sixth. But time is a great healer and a year’s long enough to forget what it’s like. When his GP friend Tim rang to suggest their team might stand a chance of winning a prize this year, I couldn’t believe my husband’s jaunty response. “Great idea,” he shot back.
Three months ahead of the event, I can predict exactly what will happen. On the morning of December 3, the intrepid trio will start the big day in high spirits. After a slap-up breakfast and quick kit-check, blister plasters, head torches and maps will be flung into rucksacks amid jokes about the horror that lies ahead.
Nonetheless, they’ll stick to their guns. As long as they keep eating high-energy bars and drinking strong black coffee, the walk is mostly fine till nightfall. Then the rot sets in. One year my husband felt so sick he had to quit halfway. Another year he trudged on through wind and rain, unable to speak or map-read. At one point he got in such a muddle that just like the Grand Old Duke of York he repeatedly led the team up and down the same hill. It still gives him a funny turn when we drive past the village of Brailes en route to the Cotswolds.
If previous years are anything to go by, the morning after the night before a weary-looking walker will stumble up our garden path. His face will be bright red, pummelled for hours on end by the elements, he’ll be covered in mud from head to toe and he’ll be barefoot because his feet are in agony. As he staggers through the front door, dropping his rucksack, first-aid kit, fluorescent armbands and great clods of earth everywhere, there’ll be just one thing on his mind.
“I’m never doing it again,” he’ll splutter. “Never. Ever. Do you hear me? Never.”