This weekend I took part in run into Kielder forest with permission from the forestry commission. People were invited to camp in a field near Hexham, travel up to the forest in small groups, be led through the forest as one large group with guides spacing it out and then split into groups again to travel back to the campsite. I was asked to and agreed to act as a guide for one of the easy groups.
I arrived early before the weekend to help with the setup of the projector screen for the nighttime entertainment, collecting firewood and so on. A pleasant evening was spent around a campfire. On Friday people started arriving I met far too many new faces and names.
The Big Screen and fires
Saturday was an early start and ~60 bikes were assembled and dispatched in groups. The first half of the day went well, I got my group to the right place at the right time and we set off into the forest. The slower/easy groups were first in the combined pack with me following behind them to deal with any issues. Early on there was a fast flowing ford that nearly caught a couple of my group out but thankfully they made it through. Most of the roads were forest fire roads and fairly solid albeit with a loose surface in places. In Kershope forest we came across some challenging terrain and ended up diverting the second half of the group around via an alternative route.
The most trail bikes I’ve seen in one place!
A couple of people had mechanical issues which the tail runners dealt with and we redeployed the guides accordingly with me ending up back marking the main group. This was fine until we came to a grassy steep ascent which there was no way around. For those that ran into real difficulties, we had some experienced riders who helped get bikes to the top. Being the back marshal I got to be last up after everyone else which made things more of a challenge. There were offers to get the bike up for me but I gave it a go myself and did eventually make the top with a couple of breaks on the way up, one forced to let the overheating bike cool down. I did get some assistance in places which was appreciated. I also managed to twist my knee when my foot was stuck in mud at one point feeling it kind of go pop. Thankfully I was able to take weight off it and stop the twisting quickly and think I just strained it and didn’t do more serious damage. I need to investigate knee braces.
The group stopped at a clearing/junction
At this point our rear group caught back up so I redeployed 2/3rds through the group and this is where the day took a turn for the worse. As I understand it there was a collision between two bikes and then concerns about broken bones.
The incident happened behind me and I spent a while waiting at a junction wondering why there were no bikes following before doubling back carefully to investigate. I didn’t get to the incident before I met a messenger heading for the main group/leader. He was a more experienced rider but I had GPS and the route so I followed in case he couldn’t find his way. I knew there would be plenty of people including the rear guides at the scene.
By the time he reached them, the group was mostly down a steep tricky decent which people couldn’t get back up so I stayed at the top acting as a messenger between the crash site and the others. We were just before the refueling site so I was on reserve and low on fuel.
What follows is a long story and a long day for me. To try and briefly summarise, the riders were taken to hospital by air ambulance. The lack of fuel complicated things, as did the need for people to stay with the crashed bikes while recovery was arranged. There was a messenger’s bike out of fuel in the decent which needed to be recovered and I joined a small sweep through team who checked the route, picked it up and then got to the refuel point. It was then back to Hexham to become the bike recovery detail. The crash site was just short of the Scottish border in a very remote area with no good through roads from the English side meaning long round trips to get to the scene for support. There was also a lack of mobile phone signal for most of the forest and a lot of the surrounding area meaning communication was difficult and Chinese whispers were hard at work.
We did get back, refueled the remaining bikes, collected one of the crashed bikes, the other had already been collected and got everyone back to camp. It did take a while and I’m grateful to those people for their patience.
On a positive note, I’m told both injured people were discharged from hospital that evening. One had a broken thumb in end, the other knee injuries according to the last reports I heard which was much better than the picture painted at the scene.
I hope this unfortunate incident doesn’t adversely affect our chances of future use of the forest. Several of the riders went out of their way to help in various ways and thanks have to go to them. They’ve helped maintain my faith in human nature.
Finally, I have to say the emergency services did a fantastic job at the scene.