It only took 3km of relative flatness for the sun to disappear, and with the night my spirits picked up. Team Rolfe had timed their visit perfectly - the usual pre-night demons had been properly scared off. Even my right leg which had been getting progressively more grumpy as the day wore on, had a pick up in spirits.
9km and 691m of climb, and I was at the Col du Bovine. It obviously wasn't easy, but as the runners spread out, and more dropped out, I was increasingly on my own. In the dark, in the woods. It was these magical moments that drew me again and again to Ultra Running. The crisp clear night sky affording amazing views that very few other people would ever see, the odd rustle of a nocturnal animal, just myself immersed in the mountains in the dark. It wasn't for everyone, with more than one person I had met admitting that they found the nights the toughest, but I loved it.
I emerged above the tree line - but before the summit - to a bonfire, makeshift camp, and several marshalls scanning chips. I tried to follow the trail in the dark, but quite a few of the tracks were submerged under snowmelt and cow dung. The summit of Bovine was a cow farm, hence the name I presumed, and there were pens that needed to be skirted before I could get to the other side and the descent. I highlighted my route with my headlamp, and ignored the deafening cacophony of cow bells, I presumed locked up in the pens. When everything went quiet, I looked around me with my headlamp. Around 50 pairs of yellow eyes looked back at me. As I made my round the pens, I realised the cattle were not in the pens. And they all had massive razor sharp horns. One belligerent fellow deliberately blocked my path, and looked at me like Dirty Harry, daring me to make his day. Fortunately I had worked with cows extensively in another life (one of many before stockbroking) and I outstared him. He moved and I went on my way, undecided whether to breathe a sigh of relief or just revel in the comedy.
My descending mojo returned after a significant holiday. My knee pain disappeared, and even the blisters calmed down enough to let me descend at a clip I was more familiar with. I seemed to be able to zip down the more technical descents than the steady farm tracks we had experienced previously in Switzerland. I had enjoyed both the climb and the descent from Bovine and was looking forward to the ravi stop at the bottom, and my morale was further lifted by the news from Mrs R that I was now in 807th place overall. I was amazed, but the plan was working!
However, 2km from the Trient ravi stop at the bottom of Bovine, I encountered a demon. I have no idea what happened - I'd let a pack of the aforementioned Spaniards past and I started to crumble. I was tired, it was almost midnight on my second night of no sleep, and my body was wrecked. Whatever I was saying to myself, my right leg was shot, blisters and bandages about all that was holding it together. I saw a volunteer, and a spectacular view over Martigny - well laid out roads and twinkling orange lights. I sat on a rock and slowly masticated a Go Bar, drinking in the amazing view. Two minutes later I was rejuvenated, and I set off back down the hill again.
Trient came and I employed my usual strategy - Camelback, Coke, a bit of soup as a special treat, and a couple of choccy flapjack pieces, as I thought my previous despondancy was perhaps due to a hunger flat spot. A couple of minutes later and I was off.
To my surprise Mrs R was still giving me live updates. I was in 799th place, and she was living every moment with me! One thing I hadn't told her though was that I had started to see things. The first thing I saw was a dog. It brought to mind thoughts of my Dog, and how I missed her. It was only when I got close that I realised that the couple didn't have a dog it was instead a suitcase. The next vision was a fluffy white pussy cat. I turned and all my headlamp could pick out was cow parsley. Things were getting weird. My balance was also getting tricky - a combination of fatigue, constant altitude change and the headlamp wobbling along rocky technical paths meant that occasionally I'd lose my balance, although normally on the slow ascents. I found the descents were getting easier, and where others were slipping and tripping, I was sure footed and moving well.
Only 2 more climbs and descents to go...