I have never done the Oxfam Trailwalker myself. I was contemplating joining this year for about 10 minutes. But then I decided to focus my preparations on HK100 in January and signed up for shorter 70km long LT70 instead.
I still wanted to participate in Trailwalker though and when the HKTR Bros started to build their support team that was to help them to achieve sub 15 hours finish I joined in.
I was looking for some afternoon to evening section. Firstly I still needed to go to office in the morning, secondly I was not sure how fast the guys will start off, I did not want to be a hindrance instead of support in case I could not keep up with them while they were still fresh (I was still recovering from LT70). So taking over the mule duties from Shatin Pass (about 50km mark) was just about the perfect spot for me. I was to accompany the guys at least up to the Shing Mun Reservoir checkpoint. I carried drinks and some other stuff for Vince and Rupert while Vivien took care of Vic and Michael. I spent most of the time to the next checkpoint at back of the HKTR train handing the drinks to the guys as they needed them. They weren’t too demanding at this stage. They seemed reasonably fresh and still talkative.
It was pretty uneventful run on the MacLehose Trail towards the CP5 at Beacon Hill. We helped the guys with drinks and everything they needed to replenish here and continued without wasting any time. We were now running mostly downhill and into the monkey territory. Some of the guys were obviously beginning to struggle a bit so some pace adjustments were necessary. We reached the road still in the daylight, more supporters were there to cheer the guys up and take some photos. We crossed the road, ran downhill a bit, passed the Kowloon Reservoir and begun the climb up the road. Guys kept good pace over here and all four seemed to be in good spirits. Once the climb was over we ran downhill and in everybody in very different pace. We spread a bit and it took me a while to catch up with the guys once we were back on trail and climbing up. It was not the best timing for me to drop back. It was getting dark and Vince and Rupert needed the headlamps that were in my backpack. Lucky for me I caught up with them while they still could see and handed them the source of illumination (although I think I mixed them up gave each of them the lamp of the other guy 🙂 ).
By the time we reached the checkpoint at Shing Mun Reservoir it was totally dark already. I could bail out here as there were other guys ready to take over the mule duties. But I felt well and it was such a wonderful experience running along with these guys that I decided to keep on going. As a result now there were more of us to support the and each of the mules had a bit less cargo to carry.
This next section was going to be a tough one – Needle Hill up and down, Grassy Hill and down to Lead Mine Pass. Vince was clearly struggling on the Needle Hill climb so I dropped back a bit to keep him company. It was more the fact that he was quiet than his pace that gave away his hard time. Here I felt the first and luckily the only spasm or cramp in my right calf. But i managed to quickly shake it off and keep on going down together with the everybody.
All made it down from Needle Hill safely, team was still together and ready to climb the Grassy Hill. The guys paired up and ropes came to action now I do not remember well who towed who but I think it was Vic towing Vince and Michael towed Rupert. There was not much talking going on, I think at this stage only the support team chatted.
We spread up again on the downhill towards the Lead Mine Pass checkpoint. I think it was Vivien who rushed ahead to get some warm drinks and soups ready for the guys. I collected several orders for jam and peanut butter sandwiches on the way down and once I reached the check point I went to the sandwich counter to get them ready. This was quite bizzare checkpoint though. Almost all the pre-ordered hot drinks were left untouched on the ground by the four bros and nobody wanted to have anything to do with the sandwiches I was carrying for them. I did not want to throw them away and so I ate 4 or 5 jam and/or peanut butter sandwiches while climbing up the initial steep section of the Tai Mo Shan climb. Clearly I was hungry, it was dinner time anyway.
The guys were in different shape on this climb and they were all going up in their own pace while us in the support team were trying to keep them within reasonable distance from each other. At this stage I climbed at the front with Vic. He was going strong and did not ask for anything other than drinks from time to time. Somewhere may be half way up we were caught up and overtaken by another team. Nobody seemed to worry too much about that though.
Once we got at the top of Tai Mo Shan I took Vic’s poles and he disappeared down the hill. It took me a while to fold those poles back and I was joined by the other 3 guys. I remember somebody racing down to the check point with Vic, I stayed behind and ran with Rupert, Michael and Vince. Vince was not his talkative self at all and was taking it easy down the hill, Michael followed at similar pace and I think Rupert dropped further bit back on this 4 km downhill run.
When we got down to the check point Vic was already eating like a hungry wolf while waiting for his team mates. I registered another team arriving shortly after our guys (and half of that team throwing up).
This was the end of my support role so I made sure that I passed all the things I carried for the guys to the fresh support crew taking over from here. I ended up running almost 28km with these guys, so close the a third of their race. For me it was also a great opportunity to recce the final part of HK100 route in dark.
I ate a banana, had a cup of ginger tea (a very popular drink among the HKTR Bros) and slowly jogged down towards the Rotary Park. I met few familiar faces there, chatted a bit and went on down the road to look for Romain and find out how to get to the finish line.
There was an option of a bus with frequency of one every who-knows-how-many-hours or a green taxi that was nowhere to be found. At the end after almost an hour of waiting finally a taxi appeared and I could embark on the route towards the finish line.
We slowly started to gather at the finish point awaiting the arrival of HKTR Bros. The clock was ticking down and soon became obvious that the guys are cutting it very close to that sub 15 hours finish. At the end they missed out only by few minutes but they did not look disappointed at all – they still managed to cut big chunk of time from their previous year time.
I was an honour to accompany these awesome guys. It was an incredible experience and I am really glad I joined them on this adventure. Now I need to think if for the next year I will try to go for it and attempt to complete the Trailwalker or I join in as a member of the support crew and become again a privileged mule for few hours.