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Thanks to some fine seamanship we'd clawed our way up the field by Salen, Graham and I looking at each other in astonishment as we set off jogging for the first checkpoint. It was really happening! "It would be good to get to the first checkpoint before being passed by the lead team," I said, only for Mark Hartell and Alex Johnson to pass us a few minutes later. Fair play to the old fellow (and the young fellow too!), they must have really belted round the route. I was jealous, as we would be route-finding in the dark. Naively, we were expecting our first checkpoint to be a tent with a couple of organisers and a clipboard, so we ran right past the discreet orange tagbag, only to be informed what we'd missed near the 332m col below A' Chioch. Lesson two for the novice SIPR crew. It was the final bit of running we did for the whole race. 'What's Ben More going to be like in the dark?' I wondered. We caught up with Duncan and Chris, Jamie Andrew's crew, on A' Chioch and together took the traverse too high, contouring on iffy ground before the col below Ben More. Behind and below, headtorches powered up a grassy slope to the same col, arriving first. Lesson three for the novice SIPR crew. It was good to chat to Duncan and Chris, the final scrambling ascent challenging for a runner without a left arm! Prewarned over the magnetic summit, I kept the compass out and watched it turn from north to to 140 degrees out. This could have been an expensive lesson four for a novice crew in bad weather! Fortunately it was a fine night, velvety hills visible against the midnight blue sky, and navigating down to the third checkpoint was not an issue, the hillside alive with pairs of torches, people behind us wisely climbing over the top of A' Chioch in the dark. After the fourth checkpoint Duncan and Chris pulled ahead, Graham astonished at how quickly people were moving over rough terrain. It's something hillgoers take for granted, but it takes practice to move quickly over uneven ground, no matter how fit you are.
After a scrabble about we finally found checkpoint 1/5 and walked back to the boat, the dawn chorus starting at Salen in a deep fog. We'd been overtaken by a few crews but weren't quite last down. There had also been some unfortunate teams retiring through injury on Ben More, which had been a particular worry for us. So though we'd not been very fast, we were still in the race - and completing the course in one piece was our only objective. Back on the boat we fell asleep, hoping to wake to new sights.
Read on for the next installment...