What’s a Scout’s favourite topic of conversation? Well, I’m sure it depends on the Unit, but at Wild Wolf ESU it’s not uncommon to hear Explorers comparing the merits of different Goretex waterproofs, or planning a DofE expedition by sail, or finalising the details of an Explorer Belt hike in Germany. One thing’s for certain though, while undertaking the Southern 50 Challenge, you end up walking for enough time to discuss just about anything and everything!
A competitive hike of 30km, 50km, or 50miles, and completed in under 24 hours, the Southern 50 is now in its 38th year, and as usual, Wild Wolf was proudly represented! This year we had two 30km teams and one 50km team entering.
The weekend started just like any other camp, with a mix of Explorers and kit bundled in the back of a minibus on a Friday evening. After a short drive we reached our destination: a school in Tring in the Chiltern Hills. Having arrived early, we had the luxury of being the first teams to check in, managing to get ahead of the queues of hoards of Scouts, both young and old, gathering for this annual competition. After that, all that remained to do was claim our corner of the school hall to sleep in, surprise Marlon with some belated birthday cake, and head to bed!
The next day started early, with a cacophony of alarms going off at around 4:30. Soon, we accepted the inevitable and crawled out of our sleeping bags, reluctant to relinquish the much-needed warmth (a situation that I’m sure any Scout could relate to…). With varying degrees of speed, we packed up our kit and waved goodbye to Leah, Megan and Esme as they headed off for their early 50km start. Once we had had breakfast, and made it through kit check (a process that produces stress along the same lines as going through airport security), the two 30km teams were driven to the start point. ‘ENTHUSIASM!’ we reminded each other as we climbed out of the minibus and pulled on the necessary waterproofs. After that, we were off!
This year, WWESU had also offered to run a checkpoint along the route, providing good food, good music and good cheer to those people crazy enough to undertake hiking across the snowy Chiltern Hills in freezing February.
“Our checkpoint was easily identifiable by the enthusiastic singing and screams of ‘Legs!’ every time a group of hikers emerged from the snowy distance. Set up by around 10am, we soon realised that it was blooming freezing. Aided by an ungodly number of layers and Dan’s camp blanket, we quickly formed a collective snuggle religiously surrounding the single tiny laptop that the organisers had entrusted us with. The new tech was très exciting – shout out to Steve and Alan – and only went wrong twice! Although it was a long day, replete with lies such as ‘It’s pretty straightforward from here’, it was extremely rewarding providing a continuous supply of sugar to all the walkers who passed through Checkpoint 16.”
– Lily (along with Rosie, Emily, Nat, Amy, Will, Dan and Marlon at CP16)
While those at the checkpoint were giving out handfuls of Haribos and cutting up a year’s supply of swiss roll, one of our 30km teams was dashing across the hills in an attempt to claim the 30km trophy:
“‘We’re running the 30km’. It’s a very easy thing to say, but, as we learnt, not so easy to do. After hurriedly posing a photo at the start, we hoisted our trendy bum bags onto our hips, before enthusiastically running off, sure we could keep up the pace. Three minutes later, we were puffed out and had to slow to a power walk. For the rest of the 30km we rushed through checkpoints, hardly pausing whilst we grabbed as much sugary food as could be held in one hand, enjoyed the comforting blip of the tracker, and attempted to shake the number of hikers on our trail. A warm, hyper welcome from our friends at the great Checkpoint 16 roused our spirits, as we stormed towards the final checkpoints, sliding with dogged determination through the mud. Constant snowfall created a Narnia-esque feel, actually improving our shoes’ grips. Having gone from being the last team to start, to having overtaken every other team, we became the first group to arrive back at the school. On our arrival we enjoyed the warm showers, before being driven out to join the group at Checkpoint 16, to cheer through the upcoming 50km and 50mile teams. That night we waited with bated breath to hear the final timings of the competition, eventually confirming that we had won the title in a time of 5 hours and 1 minute!”
– Lawrence (with his teammates Thomas and Max)
Although impressed by this display of energy, our other 30km team decided to make their way across the Chilterns at a more sedate pace:
“For our team ‘Ellie and the Twirl Bites’, the 30km was slightly more chill, with us maintaining a steady(ish) pace throughout the whole day. We managed to get to our first checkpoint, Checkpoint 11, pretty quickly, which we were impressed with, before taking a scenic detour (yes, of course it was intentional…) through an extremely pretty forest, where the snow created a winter wonderland, prompting the singing of a few Christmas songs. When we made it back onto the main route again we carried on, with Carina’s sudden competitive spirit urging us on from one checkpoint to the next, overtaking a few groups as we did so. At Checkpoint 13 we opened some good ol’ fashioned Twirl Bites chocolate (although we only got round to eating half of them – shocking!). Before long we made it to the WWESU checkpoint, where we were greeted with songs and smiles, as well as cake and Haribos. Sadly, we soon left, eager to reach our target time of 8 hours. This, however, was when we encountered the second forest. There were so many paths. So many. As the vague direction of our next checkpoint was west, we kept going that way. And kept going west. And still west. Fortunately, we were eventually able to clamber down a steep hill and reach a point pretty near to where we were meant to be. The feeling of relief at finding ourselves out of the forest was amazing. Back on the road, we picked up the pace to make up for lost time, and powered through Checkpoints 17 and 18, and then, after a ridiculously long road, finally made it back to the school, where we decided it was time for a well-earned nap.”
– Ellie (along with her team of Carina and Zuzanna)
Meanwhile, our admirable 50km team were pushing onwards through the Chilterns, indulging in rounds of campfire songs and bags of dried apple rings to keep spirits up:
“After a nice and early start, the three of us set off into the dark, fully waterproofed and raring to go. We set a good pace for ourselves and managed to reach Checkpoints 1,2,3 and 4 without any problems. However, the same cannot be said for Checkpoint 5. A more-than-slight detour meant we ended up back at a junction we could’ve sworn we’d passed previously, and discovered the ‘invisible church’ as Esme has now named it (there was no church).
Despite us taking a few ‘scenic routes’ along the way, our team managed to reach the checkpoints relatively easily and were glad for the warm welcome awaiting us at each, especially WWESU-hosted Checkpoint 16! After many hours of walking in both daylight and the dark we finally made it to the finish, heading to the canteen after debating the really hard choice between food and sleep.”
– Leah (with teammates Esme and Megan)
The next day, Sunday, consisted of perfectly executed ‘Southern 50 shuffle’, some classic Fozzy jokes, and of course the presentation of the all-important trophies.
Once all the certificates had been handed out, our kit put back in the van, and our bin bags of ridiculously muddy boots collected, it was time to head home, from what has been a tiring, yet immensely rewarding, weekend.