Shoppers in Sainsbury’s Muswell Hill on the Thursday night before our DofE training expedition must have been baffled by the multi-uniformed gaggle of teenagers speeding round the aisles with a trolley filled with a combination of Sainsbury’s Basics and junk food. The fact that they were being apparently led by the smallest member of the group must have struck some as odd too.
We had been preparing for our practice expedition for about two weeks and the majority of the group only had scanty practice in a canoe and for many this was only their second camp away with Wild Wolf. We were somewhat dubious about how successful the training weekend might be.
I envisaged a large number of ways the weekend could go wrong, from us missing the train to getting food poisoning from undercooked sausages. In the end, we didn’t even use the sausages.
On Friday evening I arrived at Scout Park, apprehensive and certain that I would be the first to arrive. In fact, I was the last member of my team to arrive, and, after conducting rigorous checks that all team members had remembered to bring all the necessary food, chocolate and fire lighting materials which had been assigned to them, we were ready to go. When Megan began creating dangerous implements out of maracas I knew we really had to leave.
Despite our intermittent reminders, Megan had still forgotten the fruit and vegetables. What a shame. We arrived at Paddington Station with 50 minutes to spare until our train left. As a rigid control freak, I refused to allow my team to budge an inch from where we were sat. We saw the other Bronze team arrive, and eventually the Gold team. The minutes drew on, and our train’s platform was not being displayed. Leah and I were glaring at the screen, silently pleading for it to reveal our platform. About eight minutes before the train was due to leave, we breathed a sigh of relief. Platform 10, about five metres from where we were sat. We walked briskly to the platform and found the train had not even arrived yet. We strolled to the end of the train and made ourselves comfortable.
We were sat in the train carriage, looking at the map to work out the route to the campsite from the station, when we noticed a familiar group shuffling along a platform about three away from us. It was the other Bronze team, and the train was departing in three minutes. We ran to the doors whilst Cameron called Oliver, and screamed wildly. The other team looked first confused, then shocked, and then we lost their expressions as they swung around wildly, the momentum of their bags knocking them a little off balance. They sprinted frantically, and arrived at the train just before it was about to depart.
At Maidenhead, where we changed, we were a little disorientated and some members of our team attempted to leave the station. When we arrived at the correct platform we dashed on, assuming the other team were already onboard. But no. Again, there they were, several platforms away from us. We called out wildly to them again, and again they began to run. We were told that the train was being held to wait for them as they had lost a tent(!!), and we settled into our seats.
We finally arrived at Longridge and set up tents in the dark, after a complicated route involving an ornate Victorian bridge, several split plastic bags and some spilt chopped tomatoes. Finally, we attempted to fall asleep despite the roar of traffic overhead.
We are woken at 7am sharp by the team pyromaniac, Megan. We dressed, washed, ate breakfast, made lunch and attempted not to fall asleep. The other team had misplaced their bread somehow, and we shared our’s with them. We are then told that there was no need to make lunch after all! Then it was boats unloading time, and we paddled for the entire morning, staying largely in the sheltered part of the river near the campsite and practised getting our boats in and out of water and dealing with an injured teammate.
Some members of my team had never been in a boat before but by lunchtime were gaining confidence fast. In the afternoon we undertook the dreaded wet drills. The water was freezing and the current felt much stronger than it had done in the boat, but I am proud to say that all my team passed their wet drills. We then enjoyed some much earned hot showers before starting to cook dinner.
For dinner we had pasta with tomato sauce, that old camp favourite. In the process of cooking dinner, myself and others gained a mild addiction to Sainsbury’s Basics cheddar, which was then (temporarily) abducted by Sidney, I’m still not entirely sure why. I think we ate the supply of biscuits for the entire weekend in about an hour that evening. Some of us sat round the campfire while others opted for an early night.
The next morning we were woken at a slightly more reasonable hour. After we had dressed and breakfasted, we attempted some slightly more challenging activities paddling upstream, to prepare ourselves for the trip that afternoon. We then loaded all the boats onto various vehicles, and piled into a minibus to Hurley where we would spend the rest of the afternoon paddling downstream back to Marlow. After navigating the canoes down a narrow footpath and towing them across the river, Julian took us down to the lock and explained the proceedings to us, as none of us had ever been in a lock before. He then took pity on us and bought us all fizzy drinks. Nerves were frazzled and we did have some tears, but after much blackmailing and cajoling concerning Angel Cake on the journey back everyone was set to go. We ended up regularly at the back with Alex the optimistic, but we made it to the other end and through three locks and past a weir. Overall, I was pretty impressed.
After packing up what seemed like hundreds of canoes, we packed up our tents and kit and were ready to go. Despite a mysteriously mislaid tent bag, everything and everyone was accounted for and we set off home. The train was packed to bursting and was held for a technical error for what seemed like infinity. Conversation consisted of what we were all having for dinner. Shattered and drained, we eventually left the tube at our various stations, desperate for soft beds, no mud, and most of all, no more canoeing.
Over that weekend we became a team. We also got very cold and soggy, hungry, tired, bruised, achy, lost, and occasionally more than a little bit irritable. The other team did retrieve their tent, if you were wondering, and the vegetables turned up at some point, as did the other team’s bread. The chopped tomatoes, sadly, were never seen again.
Bronze Canoeing DofE Team A