May 2009

It was bright when I got home, perfect for running.  As I left the house the rain began to fall.  Then it emptied cats and dogs (or old women and sticks as the would say in parts of Wales).  It was the heaviest rain I have ever ran in and it just kept coming.  At one point the rain was so hard I ran for a kilometer with one eye closed and the other being constantly rubbed.  Periodically the arms of my waterproof filled with water on the inside and I kept having to swing my arms down to empty them.  The sky was solid rain and the roads were rivers.  As I turned back into my street to finish the run the sun began and the clouds slipped gently away as ninja like as they arrived.

from xkcdfrom xkcd

from xkcd

For me the summer has truly arrived when the wee series begins.  I missed last week but I got to break in my new trainers tonight.


It feels strange to break the routine.  There is resistance at first but then it is refreshing.

So after school on Monday I found myself sitting in the sunshine outside the cinema in belfast waiting for the lovely sharon.  I had time to read a little about the summer and all the season brings before she arrived a little stressed and frustrated.  For her it was the day her coursework was sent off, marking the end of a massive mountain of work completed.  We grabbed a coffee each and headed in to detach our brains on some relaxing show to escape in; Star Trek.

It was a good show and we both liked it a lot (there is geekness in the lovely sharon*).  It was strange to then walk out into the summer night on an evening that usually marks the beginning of a week of busy work.

*the lovely sharon’s favourite sci fi is battlestar galactica.  Although, can she truly be a fan if she has never seen the original series?


Lessons have been learned by me this weekend.  Taking groups in the mountains is always a delicate balance of encouragement and coercion.  Ultimately the goal is for them to experience something that they enjoy.  Does that mean they need to enjoy doing it or enjoy having done it?

Friday morning was a rough start, not too cold but very heavy rain.  This required some motivation when the groups were not packed up and ready to go on time.  Then it involved some extra walking to avoid crossing rivers.  The route was a long one for the day and so they had to get going, get moving at a good pace.  They could get into camp in good time if they pushed themselves, not too hard but no stopping, no dilly-dallying or faffing about.  Through the first hour I walked between the groups to get them going and make sure all was well as the other instructors left to ferry vehicles around.  The groups needed a bit of shepherding to get them navigating and thinking in the low visibility and the rain.  After the weather front cleared to give a clear sky and sunshine I left them to get on with it.


I relaxed, I ate my lunch, I wandered.  Then the groups failed to show at the top of the valley.  They were taking too long.  The morning had been foul, they were carrying heavy packs and if this was the rate of walking then we might have to consider changing the route for the rest of the day.  With these thoughts in mind I headed back down the valley.  As I turned a corner the visibility was such that I could see a little collection of coloured dots resting further down, not moving.  As I came progressively closer they still did not move.  It turns out that they were relaxing by a stream and taking a nice long break.  All thoughts of a shorter route for the day were put out of my mind, no more mr nice guy.  I spelled it out for them what the objectives of this expedition were, how far they were behind and how pathetically they were doing.

From then on they sped up but still made it into camp quite late.  The last group in had made a wrong turn in a forest and made it to an alternative camp site half an hour before sundown.  The next day was a much shorter route in much nicer conditions but they still needed to do some serious walking to get to the finish at the right time.  All the instructors took the same hard line, we gave them motivating speeches and left them to it.  So, did they enjoy it?  I think they did.  Several of them said to us that they really enjoyed it and many of them seemed so pleased that they did it.  I think a lot of them pushed themselves quite hard and were proud and pleased with themselves.



Aspects of this long weekend stand out like waypoints.

– Thursday evening had beautiful conditions for the evening camp-site.  Wandering between groups as they cooked typically pasta meals I found bits and pieces of old artillery shells slowly rusting away:


– As we, the instructors, began to leave and the shadows grew long, a helicopter arrived in the valley and began to play.  It looped low, it swooped and it hovered.

– Friday evening dinner was take away fish and chips.  It tasted amazing at 11pm.  The fact that we had not eaten a lot all day and that we had gotten up at 5:30am added to the flavour.