Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Intermission: "It's Richmond Park - there's trees *everywhere*"

We interrupt the regularly-scheduled Book Shelf theme week for a story of adventure and excitement in the wilderness of a West London park. 

(Oh, and it's my 600th post, so I thought it was deserving of something a little bit more special than a couple of pictures of books on shelves)


Running club last night offered something a little different to the regular training activities: orienteering. I've never done orienteering in my life, but the idea has always appealed to me, perhaps because it reminds me of the classic Anneka Rice television programme Treasure Hunt (before Anneka left and was replaced by the hopeless Annebel Croft). Upon finding out about the orienteering evening a few weeks back I immediately began pestering Sweatband, certain that she'd be up for the challenge.

"No. I hate orienteering," was her response. 


Still, I'm nothing if not persistent, so I kept hassling her until she caved.

"OK, but I'm not doing any map work," she said.

"Fine," I replied. "I'll do all that."

And this is where I tell you that I've never done any map work in my life. Still, how difficult could it be? Sparky Pa reckons I've got a great sense of direction; he always used to say that if he dumped me in a field in the middle of nowhere he was pretty certain I'd find my way home again.

All throughout Tuesday I was mega-excited, even when I woke up first thing in the morning to hear torrential rain outside. It could only add to the fun, right? So I rock up to running club headquarters at about 18:40 to find a relatively miserable looking Sweatband skulking around outside. She started kicking off with excuses straight away.

"You've got to pay, did you know you've got to pay? I've got no cash on me."

As a gentleman, I naturally offered to pay for her - especially seeing as she was doing it for me. She looked crestfallen. 

"We've got to wait an hour until it starts…" 

I pretty much blocked out any other complaints by smiling, nodding, and hearing her voice as if she were talking like the school teacher in Peanuts - y'know all "whah whah whah…" That seemed to work.

With that sorted I dragged Sweatband into the clubhouse to sign-up. There was a choice between a 6km route, or a 10; again, seeing as Sweatband wasn't terribly excited by the prospect of orienteering, I agreed that we'd do the six. So I handed over the cash (12 quid, although the organiser dude decided to only charge me eight) and collected our dibber and map. The dibber was a little electronic tag thingy that we needed to press into a device left beside each marker around the course in order to prove that we'd followed the route correctly, and to track our time. Sweatband swiftly appointed me dibber custodian because she was refusing to take responsibility for anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. 

The map looked like this:

We immediately began studying the route - and I say 'we' because despite her initial refusal to even look at the map or acknowledge it even existed, Sweatband began to show a surprising amount of interest; perhaps because she hoped to be able to recognise some of the marker locations beforehand so that we could get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible. Encouragingly, I immediately knew where Marker 1 was located.

At about 1935 we wandered over to the start line, and within a couple of minutes we were on our way. Oh, and it started chucking it down with rain, which made the map a bit soggy. 

As expected, Marker 1 was located relatively easily; we overran by about 50 metres, and had to turn back and climb a hill to find it, but find it we did. And from there, I held the map out in front of me, literally imagining myself within it in order to to visualise the location of Marker 2.

"This way," I said confidently to Sweatband, pointing into the distance before setting off heroically into the bracken like a gazelle.

About 20 minutes later Sweatband was standing with her hands on her hips looking at me in that way that women look at you when they're deeply unimpressed. I, in contrast, had turned into assertive alpha male - you know the one, the type of guy who isn't actually 'lost as such,' but doesn't know exactly 'where you are per se,' and either won't admit it or claim that the map is wrong. Fortunately there was a clue on the map: the marker was located in a tree.

I began looking in and around various trees.

"It's Richmond Park," shouted Sweatband. "There's trees *everywhere*"

"I know!" I replied. "But we don't need to look in *every* tree - just the ones in the general vicinity."

I think I was *this* close to being a headline on today's newspapers: Hot young editor found beaten to death in park (subheading: Crazed local woman held by police).

After backtracking a … fair way, we finally located Marker 2. It was in a tree. As I gave Sweatband the thumbs up she looked at me with something unlike enthusiasm and said "I was going to give it two more minutes before giving up and going back to the clubhouse." I could be wrong, but I think she was actually a little bit disappointed that I found Marker 2. Anyway, with that devil of a marker finally out of the way, and the ragged remnants of our friendship just about holding together, I'm not afraid to say that I was on orienteering fire after that. Marker 3 was found just minutes later, along with an event organiser snuggled down by a tree.

"Don't worry," she laughed as I dibbed the dibber. "The sweeper's not been round yet!"

I smiled, and as we ran off towards Marker 4 I asked Sweatband what a sweeper was.

"It's the person who goes round to make sure no one is lost or left in the park when it closes," she replied matter-of-factly.

Marker 4 was found quickly and easily, and then we were off towards the fifth and final one, which I found after running on ahead after secretly fearing that I might have led Sweatband astray again, and not wanting to incur her wrath for a second time. From Marker 5 we could see down the hill toward the finish line, so tantilisingly close. And that's when Sweatband set off like a whippet on a beeline for the finish. 

If we'd really been paying attention, we probably would've noticed that what initially looked like relatively short grass was actually bumpy, untamed wilderness, but I really don't think anything short of an elephant tranquilizer could've stopped Sweatband as she barreled downhill, desperate to cross the line and bring the evening's events to a close. I followed a bit more carefully behind, which gave me a prime vantage point to observe her as she suddenly veered to the left, then to the right, then to the left again before ending up sitting in a big patch of thorns. I would've immediately offered a hand to help her up, but I was left speechless at her marvelous comedy fall. It was super-impressive.

After a few seconds of sitting in the thorns, Sweatband hauled herself up and showed me a cut on her hand, and some awesome-looking slices on her leg. Seriously, it looked like she'd gone one-on-one with a samurai squirrel or something. But do you know what? She totally laughed it off (and later showed them to everyone in the clubhouse as her "war-wounds"). 

As we finally staggered towards the finish line, the smiling, bleeding Sweatband turned to me and admitted that she'd actually quite enjoyed herself. "I think we probably added about half a kilometre to our distance looking for the second marker, though," she said. I checked my iPod, having recorded the run data using my Nike+ kit. "Hmmm." I replied. "Make that an extra two and a half kilometres."

Yes, we ran 8.59km. 


Some stats!

Times between markers/total time:

Marker 1 - 11:49/11:49
Marker 2 - 25:15/37:04
Marker 3 - 5:52/42:56
Marker 4 - 13:08/56:04
Marker 5 - 7:24/1:03:28
Finish - 4:27/1:07:55

And here's my Nike+ graph:

See how consistent we were - except for that dip at the end which is where Sweatband fell over.


Tara said...

First! Woo haa!

You'd do well as a running coach, since not even rain stops you from going to running club. You could have a shirt or a hoody that reads "No Excuses!" Then you'd need a bullhorn to shout motivational cheers to your students.

T-Bird said...

That actually sounds like a lot of fun. I especially like the part where you restored to male factory settings "I'm not lost". That was really funny!

Tim said...

Tara - Ooo, I dunno about that! There's plenty of experienced trainers at running club who really know what they're talking about, whereas I'm more like "does the black top or the red top look best?"

T-Bird - It was hilarious! I totally knew I was doing it, but I was adamant that either the map was wrong or someone had moved the marker because I TOTALLY KNEW WHERE WE WERE!

missy&chrissy. said...

ohh, your park expedition sounds like so much fun...this was a great adventure tale to commemorate your big 600th posting (congrats on that! i'll hit 600 postings probably when i'm, er, 600)

Dinah said...

Congrats on 600! And this was a worthy interruption to the shelf week. I would be absolutely awful that orienteering, I can't read a map to save my life. And I can't work a compass. When I lived in Toronto the only way I could get myself around was that the CN Tower was "south".

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Yay! Happy 600th!

The idea of orienteering sounds pretty pointless and crushingly dull to me, however, you've made it sound fun & exciting! If Treasure Hunt ever comes back on the airwaves, it should be you in the lurid tight tracksuit barrelling around the countryside!

Also, how was 1935 - I wasn't aware one had to be proficient in time travel for orienteering?

watch*paint*dry said...

Damn IDV beat me to it, I was also going to ask how 1935 was. Do you use a Tardis or Delorean?

Orienteering sounds like fun, except for the bleeding maybe.

Tim said...

Missy&Chrissy - I only realised it was my 600th yesterday! Who would've believed I could've gotten away with writing this tosh for this long?

Dinah - Cheers dude! We'll be back on the books shortly! I do a similar kind of thing in London - I always orient myself by Centre Point (a big ol' tower block just off Tottenham Court Road).

Inexplicable Device - Thanks! Um, where's mah cake?

Watch*Paint*Dry - Neither - it was a slingshot around the sun Star Trek IV-stylee!

Dinah said...

I would just like to add how much I LOVE Star Trek IV.

Tim said...

We should make a documentary called 'Everyone LOVES Star Trek IV!'

I'd do it.

CyberPete said...

Congratumalations with the 600th post!

It sounded like great fun. I remember doing that in school. I was on the athletics line which was a nightmare (I hate all sports, I could tell you why I picked that line) and we usually did a two our orienteering thing on Friday mornings.

I could get lost in a phonebooth, I don't like running and mornings so it was quite the horror before the weekends.

Tim said...

I was a bit like that at school. I dreaded PE. But now I'm all growed up, I really like doing sporty stuff. Isn't that weird?

CyberPete said...

It is really weird.

I should be more like that. Yesterday the woman at the supermarket said I'd lost a jeans button because it was there next to my groceries.

I actually thought it was mine! Turned out to be plastic - I don't wear jeans with plastic buttons dammit.

Quite traumatic. Long story short. Must start working out.