Sand in All the Right Places

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'Wheelbarrow race

Ninja jumping

Sand in All the Right Places

Merthyr Mawr Training Tour (15-17/02/2002)

Friday, February 15th, 17:30

An assorted group of backpack-laden students materialised out of the night and congregated around a large white mini-bus. Half an hour later, with everyone and their gear wedged tightly into place, and with Ash buried under a pile of bags by the door, we were off, headed for Wales once again. As usual, the Marks were ensconced up front, Collis behind the wheel, and Bown firmly in control of the music. Between the two of them, we had the dubious pleasure of 'Eye of the Tiger' and 'The Final Countdown', more than once. There was a suspicious amount of overlap between the various tapes that found their way into the player. The final straw, however, was my musical offering - when it got to a rousing chorus of 'Officer Krumpke' from West Side Story, Cath rebelled and steered us into the realm of Radio One.

After a surprisingly lengthy stop at Burger King (they were clearly unprepared for the business of actually having to serve Whoppers on demand), we finally bounced our way over the border and into the realm of quaintly vowel-less and unpronounceable road signs, declaring GWDDYWFF LLYDN or FFWFFFF. English translations were kindly provided at the bottom of each sign, to ensure that you would not have time to read them before whizzing past in the night. When we arrived, the Ystradfellte Youth Hostel was everything a group of tired travellers could want: dry, warm(ish), small, and filled with the quiet bleating of sheep through the night.

Day 1 at Merthyr Mawr Warren

To begin the training part of the weekend, our fearless leader and esteemed captain Wayne Patrick led us on a warm-up run, emphasis on the '-up'. The trail climbed through the sand straight up the back of that formidable mountain of sand, the Big Dipper, which would feature so prominently in the next day's antics. From the top of the dunes, we stopped to admire the view and catch our breath, before plunging down into the first activity of the day: a mini self-set score course. I, of course, managed to put my flag in the wrong 'large depression,' but Alan came along and covered for me by moving it to its intended location. It was during this first exercise that the governing strategy for the weekend became apparent: by scampering to the top of the nearest knoll, you could get a view of all the contours around you and figure out where you were. I don't know if it was the name of the map or the constant feeling of popping up to examine my surroundings, but in my mind, I immediately began referring to it as the 'bunny-rabbit' method of orienteering. Everywhere around me, I could see other little orienteers popping up to survey the land, then disappearing back down into the Warren.

By the time we'd finished the score course, Mark Bown had returned from setting up the next course for the day. He was a bit torn and bloodied and helpfully showed us which patches of green to avoid and where crawling might be the best strategy. For most of the team, this afternoon was an exercise in incompetence - on the whole, not some of our best navigating - and I personally was reminded that on the map, dark green is the symbol for stay-the-hell-out-of-here-you-stupid-idiot. I've never quite learned to respect the brambles as much as I ought. Coming out of control 13, Ashley went whizzing by me, judging from the thrashing noises and the muffled cursing that I had perhaps not made the best route choice.

Once everyone had straggled in, we gathered up the flags and headed back to the hostel for the traditional CUOC meal of pasta covered in random vegetables. This night's meal had an exciting twist on the theme: beans in the pasta sauce! I helped out with the cooking for about 2 minutes until I sliced deeply into my thumb, right as we were in the midst of a conversation about people who cut themselves chopping veggies. After dinner, a contingent of the team wander down into the 'town' to visit the pub, where Simon discovered a local brew that was both surprisingly tasty and shockingly cheap. On the way home, Orion was gleaming brightly in the sky and Serius, the brightest star in the heavens, was flashing red and green and blue and truly looking like a ball of fire.

Day 2 at Merthyr Mawr Warren

Armed with bread-bags full of home-made sandwiches (ranging from Collis' cheese & oregano and my ham & jam to the more normal ham & cheese or cheese & pickle), we returned to the Warren for the second day and the all-important Varsity Match Selection Race. Upon arriving, it was discovered that one of Cath's O-shoes had gone missing somewhere along the way: a forlorn and brightly-colored shoe was lying in front of the hostel. The terrain that afternoon made it obvious how golf-courses had been invented, all rolling grassy dunes with randomly placed water-hazards and sand-traps. Once again, the bunny-rabbit strategy proved useful and the open space made it easy to spot other orienteers hopping over the dunes.

The race finished (with some surprising results!), we settled down for lunch and Collis wandered off in search of the beach. The rest of us climbed up that mother-of-all-sand-dunes, the Big Dipper, and the afternoon was spent engaging in all sorts of recklessly fun activities. There were races down the dune (and a few of the blokes even tried heroically to race back up!). Emma went rolling down head over heels. Søren went bounding down in hand-springs.

But the true glory went to the jumpers, who managed to launch themselves off of every potential promontory with a decent run-in. Finally, the perfect hillock was located, with some large bushes below to act as an incentive, and there were some impressively long-distance jumps executed, both singly and in pairs. It was only afterward, reviewing the digital photos of the race, that it became clear that a good jump was not so much about the lead-in or the landing or the time spent in the air, but rather the ninja-position assumed mid-flight.

Eventually, we dragged ourselves back down to the car, emptied our shoes (creating a new set of dunes in the parking lot) and piled back into the van. On the way back, everyone was too tired, or too busy trying to ignore the sand everywhere in their clothes, to complain about the music.

Written by Jenny Graves

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