James expertly delivered a presentation with some well picked motivational music in the background to really get everyone buzzing with excitement for the weekend ahead and ultimately for Africa Expedition 2011. Videos demonstrating what we would be doing on each part of the expedition were shown, and for one video James was able to demonstrate his advanced presentational techniques – it involved stopping and starting one of the videos at random intervals. I think that he called this particular technique ‘buffering’. At about 20:30 we were all ready to begin the weekend and so we headed out on foot from Sheffield towards the Peak District.
After a quick stop for extra supplies at Tesco’s we encountered our first command task along the route that the Navigational team had set out for the weekend. The group was split in two and each group was designated one ‘shepherd’ whilst everyone else was a ‘sheep’. The aim of the task was for the ‘shepherd’ to herd the flock of sheep into a ‘pen’ set out with climbing rope. This sounds easy enough, except all the sheep were blindfolded and the shepherd was unable to speak. Impressively, both groups developed a method in their ‘planning time’ that got the whole herd into the pen pretty quickly. As would be the case for many later command tasks, an extension of the task was made with extra parameters to make it more challenging. For this task, the degree of difficulty was increased by randomly selecting a ‘shepherd’ only after all the ‘sheep’ had been scattered and disorientated. Of course, the ‘shepherd’ was nowhere near the ‘pen’ and consequently we actually had one ‘sheep’ cross over to a different group. Eventually, both groups did manage to herd all their respective ‘sheep’ into the correct pen.
After this task it was down to the respective groups to navigate to the next checkpoint on the maps. Every time the groups would consist of different members so everyone got a chance to work with everyone else. This setup would continue for the whole weekend with a rotation on who was navigating, team leader, observing the group for feedback and who was the backmarker or ‘Charlie’ as he or she was known.
Continuing the setup of two groups, each with navigator and team leader, we were given coordinates of the next checkpoint and given until 12pm to make it there. Interestingly the two groups opted for different routes, one taking the more direct route whilst the other group went for the slightly longer but ‘easier’ route on established footpaths. I was in the latter group so can’t make much comment on the other groups route other than it definitely turned out to be the better choice. Had we not had quite so much snow then it may have been a different story but unfortunately it soon became apparent that the well-trodden path we were hoping for was actually going to require us to wade through snow for a good few kilometres. At one point Nick who was leading the group in single file nearly disappeared as he fell down a particularly deep snow drift. Eventually we arrived approximately twenty minutes after the other group at the destination where we were to be greeted with another command task. For this task we had a series of strings as equipment and were required to pour ‘hazardous material’ from one tin can into another before removing the second can from the ‘contamination zone’. Here the difficulty arose in that no one was allowed within 6 feet of the can containing the rice, or as it is better known, ‘hazardous materials’. After some careful planning and good attempts two groups proved their methods partially successful with the other group unfortunately spilling the contents of their can on the floor.
The pub gave the whole team a much needed morale boost as we were served a lovely hot dinner and had the chance to get out of our walking boots for the first time in over twelve hours. After sharing stories including one particularly interesting one involving James and a sheep (you should ask him about it), we headed back out into the cold but in high spirits as we met our final command task for the day whilst setting up camp in some nearby woods. This time we had to set up tents in three separate groups. Each group had one leader who had frostbite and was unable to use his hands whilst every other member was snow-blind so was blindfolded (no one was actually snow-blind or frostbitten - don’t worry). Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to use the popup tent but we did still see some good efforts and perhaps with more time we would have had erected tents suitable to sleep in. A much earlier night meant that we were asleep by 23:00 and ready for another early start of 06:00.
Fuelled once again by porridge we were ready to leave out camp by 07:30 and head to a small ravine that would be our next and final command task before heading back to Sheffield. Here we were challenged to cross from one side to the other with only the first member being lowered down to climb up the other side – everyone else had to cross without touching the ground between either side. The method decided upon that would get us and all our gear across was the Tyrolean Traverse. Even with many skilled climbers in the group our crossing took the best part of 2 hours. This left us with only about five minutes with which to make our way to the bus stop, a fifteen minute walk away. The group was able to muster a decent running pace however and we arrived at the bus stop with a minute to spare.
On behalf of the group we should thank James for his personal motivation and drive to come up with such a great idea and for working so hard to make this happen. Now, the onus is on the group. It is all well and good saying we’re going to sail, cycle and kayak to Morocco, but it’s definitely going to take a whole lot of planning, training, determination and most importantly teamwork for us to realise the dream.
More updates will follow as we continue the planning and training aspects for our trip so look out for these.