Category: Adventures

“We Can Take Teabags… Right?”

“Twas the night before an adventure, when all in my room
Not a guide dog was stirring, she’d gone after one last groom.
The backpack was hung by the door with care,
In hopes that the morning would soon be there.”

Tomorrow I am going on a trip to France with my college- this is currently resulting in me having that tingly feeling in my toes which only comes with pure excitement. Whilst we are there we will be staying at the ‘Cité Scolaire René Pellet‘- a school like my college here in England, which provides for visually impaired students. We will be exploring Lyon, meeting the students and getting immersed in the culture for five days. I am studying the language for an AS level at the moment, so I am looking forward to trying to overcome my fear of offending people by accident when I speak a foreign language. It also gives me the opportunity to practice for my french speaking exam which discusses gay marriage in Francophone countries.

During the last few weeks we have gone over the details of the trip as a group several times. In the most recent I voiced my growing concern on whether we would be allowed to take teabags in our hand luggage through customs. I was relieved to know that I wasn’t alone in my pondering and yes: teabags can go through airport security. After all, we are British and therefore need our cups of tea like we need oxygen, Radio 4 and Stephen Fry.

We were only allowed to take hand luggage and I have just about managed to squeeze my essentials (tea included) into my big ‘for every occasion’ backpack. There will be seven visually impaired students and four staff members going on the trip. I am hoping (internet dependent) to blog as I go. Anyway… I have a 5am wake up call to look forward to in the morning so I better be getting to bed!

Bon Voyage!

Map of France with Lyon Marked On

Music:

Rusted Root – Send Me On My Way

Cœur de Pirate – Ensemble

We Scuffled in Skiffle and Survived.

On thursday night my friends and I went to a concert at the local theatre. This was a brave decision on their part considering one of them hates anything to do with theatre and the other is a big fan of ‘EDM’ (Electronic Dance Music). To me on the other hand, a theatre visit is the ultimate definition of a good night out and ‘EDM’ is what you get when someone leaves the ‘A’ out of Edam. This is why I was very surprised when they came with a group of friends and I to a skiffle music concert…

The tickets had been booked before christmas by our enthusiastic key worker at college. A small group of us had shown interest in going to see something at the local theatre, and she spent a happy hour with us in the common room putting stars next to potentially good acts. ‘The London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra’ won the vote on which event we were going to buy tickets for and everyone was looking forward to it. The programme promised vibrant mandolin music and (as a mandolinist in training myself) I was very excited for the opportunity to hear the instrument being played properly for once!

By the time it came to going to the concert the group had completely evolved from our original gathering of programme circlers. People had dropped in and out and to my surprise the group now included my EDM listening friend J, who admitted that he had been heavily persuaded by our key worker to come along. On the day of the gig, when faced with a psychology night class, my friend P quickly joined the group also; casting aside all previous hatred of theatre based activities. Both J and P were fairly nervous about the gig and as they tentatively shuffled into skiffle they gave me looks of “Oh what have you brought us to…”.

As we entered the auditorium I was informed that Lai would probably bark during the performance because of the high pitch of some of the music. I was slightly apprehensive because even though the venue would be expecting this it is still embarrassing to have a barking dog next to you. As soon as we stepped into the theatre we were jumped on by the stewards and the theatre manager who had reserved spaces for our group at the front of the tiered seating stand. I came around the corner and was immediately told that they were going to put a seat below the rest of our group (on the same level as the stage) for me and my dog.

“But I’d really rather not sit by myself.” I calmly protested.

“But the seating is raised. We can move a chair so you can sit with a friend.” the lady replied.

“It’s no problem, she has been on raised seating before.” I added whilst gesturing to my guide dog- who at the time was putting on an exemplary pair of puppy-dog eyes.

“But it’s carpeted… And there’s also fire safety to think of”. My face was now a perfect model of someone who was not impressed. She evidently knew she had made a mistake with the carpet comment, especially when I called for my key worker to come and back me up. Safe to say I managed to get a seat with my friends, although I was consistently reminded that Lai must not be anywhere near the aisle. Being my guide dog, and a very sassy one too at times, Lai took great pleasure in daringly throwing her tail into the aisle from time to time during the performance.

The music started with a lively number in which we learnt the names of each member of the group. Mike, Martyn, Captain Cabbage and Ron were lively mature men wearing brightly coloured clothes and large wigs. Their first piece, a chant, had P turning round and giving me raised eyebrows and a look which clearly said ‘What on earth?!”.

The music quickly moved on to a catchy song which involved the chorus ‘Buy, buy, buy viagra!’. This had all of our group uncontrollably snorting with laughter. There were so many brilliant pieces in the set with vocals that had the audience grinning from ear to ear. Collectively they can play an overwhelming amount of instruments: violin, banjo, harmonica, ukelele, mandolin, guitar, bouzouki, knee trumpets, washboards, suitcases, trumpet, saw, accordion, double bass, sousaphone, bagpipes and spoons! We saw a lot of these instruments during the set and seeing someone play an industrial saw with a violin bow was certainly an experience I won’t forget! I was very proud because Lai stayed silent throughout it all.

The music was fun and bouncy, making us all want to dance and sing. Wrapped in it were such good feelings of happiness, whit and good humour- it was infectious. As we arrived back at college and were signing ourselves in for the night we were still rowdily running through the catchiest of the night’s choruses together. It was a fantastic experience and I have certainly now earned the musical respect of my friends. Lai is now considering learning to play the spoons professionally and I am aiming to be able to play the mandolin to at least half the ability of Martyn Oram.

Overall it was an amazing night.

Finding The Handless Toddler and His Creepy Cohort

Getting up early on a saturday isn’t usually my idea of fun, I like to laze about with catch up television and cups of tea until mid morning, but today I made an exception. I love taking pictures. I take them everywhere and of anything. I like to capture places, objects and people continuing to go about whatever they are doing. I don’t see the point in moving things around or making people pose in photographs because the picture then doesn’t depict the moment it was taken in. I would never necessarily attach the word ‘photography’ to this hobby of mine. I just bumble about and take photos as I go. ‘Photography’ is expensive lenses, knowing what macro is and being able to use dropbox. Certainly not me. But today I decided to take a chance on a student notice at college and take part in a photography project.

College took a minibus of five students, including myself, up to Ebbw Vale in Wales. This is somewhere that I had never even heard of before and had previously misread in the email as ‘Elbow Vail’. When we set off the sun was shining but as we crossed the Welsh border we found that snow was falling thick and fast. We gathered at a coffee shop where I met L from UCAN for the first time. She was a lovely lady, who very patiently explained to me what ‘Aperture’ is and how I can use it to my advantage in photographs. She also very kindly sorted out my camera which used to have a tendency of overexerting itself on the zoom button. The snow was still coming down when we left the cafe to start taking pictures.

The first place we went to was a small Owl Sanctuary at the top of a steep hill. There were two tiny wooden buildings- one with small animals in and the other with birds. Lai was very pleased to see the owl, but the pale coloured bird wasn’t so stricken with her and made a horribly loud screech. At first I was pretty nervous about taking photos. I knew that was the whole purpose of the trip but I wasn’t sure what everyone else was doing and didn’t want to seem like I was going overkill or, to another extreme, like I couldn’t be bothered. I soon settled in though, and continued my usual happy snapping of the things that I can sort of see and in the general direction of things I would like to. There was a slightly bizarre moment when the man working at the sanctuary mistook my polite ‘hello’ smile for an ‘I would like to hold an owl’ smile. I had unwittingly had the glove put on my hand and before my discomfort could be made known there was an owl walking on me. I was nervous and protested as politely as I could but he was now convinced I wanted to stroke the owl with my other hand also. Luckily at this point I was rescued by a member of staff who reiterated my point about not really wanting a large bird to sit on me and I was duly de-owled. The other building had degus, guinea pigs, smaller birds and a tortoise in. I preferred these to the owls because they all looked very sweet and I could imagine children visiting and spending ages watching them.

The owlA guinea pig behind bars

The weather turned into rain and icy winds. I was glad that I had brought my thick coat but I was still frozen. We all got back into the bus and went down to a small lake with a bridge. On a patch of waterlogged grass was a chilling set of stone statues. One of them was a huge boxing glove which in the rain cupped a small pool of water. The others were of babies and cherubs with terrifying pupil-less eyes and their skin mottled by the weather. These creepy statues reminded me of the children in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. No one in the group knew the relevance of these statues, but I think that made them endearing in a way. It was almost as if they had placed themselves there because it was so hard to imagine the rationality behind someone picking them. I began to think up stories and meanings behind them, particularly about the sinister toddler who’s hands I imagined to have either rotted away in the welsh weather or to have always been congenitally absent. I imagined him fighting away a sleek abstract sculpture that had been originally chosen to compliment the lake, bending the metal and sending it sliding into the blackness below the water’s surface. Once the battle had been won I pictured the other statues slowly creeping into place to join the terrifying toddler; where they would remain as relics of an event that no one was aware of. I do love art that lets you think up such strange ideas.

Stone baby, which seems to have a hand coming out of its stomach. It is mottled colours of grey with pupil-less eyes.A stone Skull on a rockA stone boxing glove.A cherub with pulling a face with bloated cheeks

The handless child with a quiff and blank eyes

When we had become too cold to push down the shutters of our cameras we headed back to college. I had a lovely day despite the weather and I am so glad it was so far from the stoney faced camera clutching that I feared.

Wet branches

Lai with soaking fur

Then My Trousers Illuminated Themselves…

Last saturday I went on what I believe to be my longest independent rail journey so far. But don’t worry this post isn’t going to be about the triumph of independence or anything as grand as that…

On days of long journeys or out of the ordinary activity I tend to wake up very early in the morning in order to give myself plenty of time. I am one of those people who needs time to pack and unpack their bag at least three times to check they definitely have everything, who will need time to change outfits at least twice and also requires a small allowance of time to run and collect forgotten items. Not to mention I also need to get my dog, AKA furry child, ready. Thinking on this I set my alarm for 5:50am and promptly fell asleep knowing that I had plenty –if not too much- time to get to the station.

At 2am I woke up. In the brief moment of consciousness that followed I assured myself that I could go back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that I had so much time ahead of me. In hindsight I now know that those few waking moments at witching hour were a warning from my sub-conscience of things to come.

My alarm went off as expected with its usual cacophony of deafening pre-installed jingles, and after I had silenced it I checked my twitter feed as I have become accustomed to doing in the past months. I was feeling pretty relaxed and a bit tired, but when I swiped up to the top of my screen my head imploded. 6:50am. That can’t be right? After confirming the time with my iPad and laptop I realised, with a sinking heart, that I had made a terrible error. Rushing about I quickly did a triple check of my bag, grabbed my lunch from the kitchen and rushed Lai to the pen. My taxi arrived promptly at 7:15 as planned. My hour and twenty minutes preparation time had been banished to just twenty minutes. In my rushing I hadn’t had time to get changed out of my pyjamas but had somehow managed to stuff a set of clothes and face wipes into my oversized bag. Officially dishevelled and panting slightly I ran up the path to the waiting taxi.

On the short ride from the college to the station my mind was dancing about on the, rather prominent, issue of how I was going to get changed and also avoid public humiliation. I paid the driver and he very kindly guided me from the taxi to the ticket office where I was then met by passenger assistance, who took me onto the dark platform. It was still early and the sun hadn’t risen properly yet. I was self conscious of my choice of attire but I was for once grateful that it was so dark and hoped no one would notice.

If only. If only I had chosen any other pyjamas the night before. The assistance man gave me a surprised look as we stepped into the darkness and I felt his arm shake slightly as if he was holding back a laugh. That was when I saw it. Out of the bottom of my eye I could just see a greeny yellow glow rising up my leg. My heart sunk for the second time that morning. I was wearing my glow in the dark pyjama bottoms, the ones I had bought in town years ago because I thought that the novelty of them was rather endearing. They had been a talking point at sleepovers for a year or so, and then they had began to get a bit short around the ankles and were subsequently demoted to ‘it’ll do’ sleepwear. The taxi driver who had guided me around the front of the taxi in the bright headlights had unknowingly charged my trousers to the max. On further inspection I had never seen them glow so bright. Now here I was, on a train station platform at 7am wearing alarmingly luminous trousers.

I asked quickly if I could be shown to the toilets and once in there, still ashen faced with the stupidity of my actions, I quickly pulled on my leggings. From the other side of the door I could hear the guide whistling in a very up tempo we-have-to-go manner. Alas, I pulled my bag back onto my shoulders and hurried out, now painfully aware that I was still wearing a top which said ‘sweet dreams’ in big letters across the chest.

Once on the train I wiped my face with some of the wipes I had shoved into my bag and ate some mints in place of brushing my teeth. I was clutching my coat to myself in an attempt to conceal my embarrassing pyjama top from the teenage couple opposite me. There was no toilet on this train and no way of actually swapping tops. In the end I resorted to a layering technique of subtly covering up my pyjama top with it’s more acceptable substitute. It must have looked quite bizarre to the other passengers, but I think I got away with it by pretending it was a jumper and someone had stolen its sleeves…

It could have been a lot worse because I could have forgotten to set my alarm entirely and missed my train. Though the moral of this story is always make sure you change the hour of your alarm and as well as the minutes.

… And when planning on being publicly pyjama-ed always make sure they are not brighter than most traffic lights…

A pair of glow in the dark trousers

NATSPEC Student Conference

On tuesday I had the pleasure of being part of the group representing my college at the NATSPEC student conference. NATSPEC is the Association of National Specialist Colleges and it works to connect and support all the specialist colleges in the country. The conference was set up to give the students of the colleges a chance to give their opinions on the specialist education system and to meet each other.

Unfortunately getting into a specialist college isn’t as easy as enrolling in a mainstream school. Funding needs to be granted from the local authority for a student to be educated elsewhere, and a case needs to be made for why the funding is necessary. The funding application process is long and stressful, and a lot of hard work needs to go into it. This is something that every student at the conference had to face to get to their specialist college, and why NATSPEC are working to change the system for the better to give more young people the opportunity to benefit from specialist education. The new Children and Families Act is due to change the specialist education system again, and it is important that the views of the people it will effect are shown now.

The conference was held at the very impressive  National Star College near Cheltenham. The day started with introductions and we were put into groups with a few representatives of each college per table. On our table we were sharing with some lovely staff and students from Derwen College who we quickly got chatting with. The activities involved writing down our answers to some set questions on large pieces of paper. They covered a range of topics- from what we would recommend about specialist colleges, to what NATSPEC should do to improve the current system. With each question came very valuable discussions and ideas began to fly. Everyone on the tables, both staff and students, were passionate about the fact that specialist education is vital and needs to be protected and made available for more young people. As funding gets more and more difficult to obtain for prospective students the more these colleges struggle to stay open. I had never really thought about the effects of the funding system on the colleges themselves, and it was a real eye opener to hear about it. All over the room I could hear words like ‘Life changing’ and ‘Independence’ being used and so many more positive words being scribbled in big letters on each group’s sugar paper. It breaks my heart that every year so many young people get denied these opportunities because of the harsh funding process.

When asked what I would say to someone thinking about going to a specialist college I replied: “You can stop worrying about your disability and start learning and living.” and I mean it with all my heart.

It was an amazing day and NATSPEC is now in the process of planning it’s new campaign using the ideas students gave. You can read more about NATSPEC here, and see my thoughts on my personal move to specialist education here. I’ve seen the way specialist education can change lives, and I think it is something that we should definitely be fighting for.

Moving Forwards

As I write this I am at my desk in a room that I didn’t know I would be living in less than two months ago. There is a suitcase on the floor with stuff spilling out as I attempt to pack. My ever faithful guide dog is asleep in her bed, choosing to ignore the chaos. I have been at my new college for seven weeks now and it is nearly half term, and time to go home.

If I think about all the things that I have done in the last seven weeks it feels like I have been here for a lifetime. I’ve grown so much in independence, resilience and responsibility. I’ve done so many weird and wonderful things and formed closer friendships than I could have ever hoped. If I think about the the amount of time that has passed between nervously getting out of the taxi with my Mum and Dad on the first day to right now, it feels almost non-existent.

Moving to a specialist college was hard at times because in some ways it felt like I was giving up on myself and on ‘the system’. I want to live as a person and not as an impairment, and I was afraid that the move to specialist education would contradict this aim. But I am proud that I have made the decision, because now I can learn and I can have just a normal college experience. Normal meaning not having to justify myself, or fight for my access to the curriculum. My college isn’t so different from any other- there are a wide range of pupils with different personalities and abilities, we do lectures in the day and have fun with friends at lunch and in the evenings. At my old school I was constantly having to justify why I needed help, why I was doing things in a certain way and why it mattered that I couldn’t read things. It was exhausting. Now I barely have to talk about my sight because it is just a matter of fact that everyone has their own requirements for learning. On letters from school it used to state that things should be in my ‘preferred’ reading format, as if it would be nice if I could have it but it wasn’t pressing if I didn’t. Now my lecturers know what I need and it is waiting for me on the desk when I come into the classroom. I don’t worry anymore, because the focus at college is certainly on the person rather than the impairment.

On top of normal subjects most people here do additional lessons. Transitional support helps us to plan what we are going to do when we leave here and independent living skills teaches us everything from ironing to cooking. It’s not all about learning to get grades, it’s about learning for life itself.

I’m home for the holidays now, and although it is good to be in my own bed and away from work for a while I can’t help but think about college. This time last year I was struggling; ill, stressed and there was a question mark over whether I would actually complete my secondary education. Moving on, the changes are huge and overwhelming, but so very positive. I am so grateful to my parents for putting massive resources of time and energy into helping me get the funding to go to college, and to the college itself of course.

Obviously I know that we live in a ‘mainstream’ world and that I am not always going to be able to have the same ease of access as I do at college. However after my experience of studying for GCSE’s with very poor access to the curriculum there was no way that I could repeat the process for my A Levels. Whilst at college I am learning what technology can help me from other people, rather than doing my own research and being unsure of what I actually need. There are many people in the VI community who see going into specialist education as isolating yourself from the ‘seeing’ world. I don’t see it like that at all! In my opinion going into the specialist system is helping me repair almost. I am learning that it is possible for me to learn properly and achieve given the right resources, and I am also learning what those resources are. When I do end my time at college, and hopefully move on to university, I will know what I need and how to produce it. I will have had the time to try different things- technologies, printed formats and techniques to know what I like and what works best for me. Going to college has taken away the day-to-day emphasis on my sight, and it is truly allowing me to see myself, and develop, as an individual. This is something that I needed to do very badly, and I am so grateful I have been able to. It is definitely onwards and upwards from here.

I'm in repair

Off His Trolley?

Some of you reading this will know that I set off to a residential college on friday. From friday onwards I will be living at college during term time. It is all very exciting, and there is a room downstairs currently dedicated to the boxes, bags and cases that will be used for the big move. My family is just as excited as I am but my Dad, being a chronic worrier, tends to go overkill at times like this. My packing currently consists of three (fairly light) plastic boxes, one large case with wheels and a few assorted bits and bobs. This is why I feel that what happened next was a little over the top.

Dad ordered a large industrial haulage trolley from the internet a few days ago because it will ‘help with carrying things’. Like any teenager I began to squirm. I don’t mind being different however being the girl with the father ferrying things around in a steel trolley worthy of british rail, wasn’t in the least bit desirable.

Yesterday was the due date for the trolley’s arrival. We waited in and surprisingly promptly there was a knock on the door and a large parcel.  The first saga to unfold (or not) was the box. It was a strange triangular shape and appeared to be welded to whatever was inside. Dad -in his enthusiastic state- then had to resort to tearing the box apart to reveal a large amount of shiny metal. The trolley was a large platform with a foldable handle- and I hated it already.

“How will you get it up the stairs?” I protested.
“There’s a lift.” Said Dad, not looking up from his new toy.
“What if someone using a wheelchair is moving in and needs to use the lift?” I retried. I got no response for this pretty weak argument.
“Can’t we just carry my stuff like the other families will be carrying theres?” I sighed. I really don’t want to stick out as odd the second I arrive at college.
“All the other parents will want one! They will be like: ‘Hey, who’s that guy with the trolley, we should get one like that.'” He responded- slipping into the half fantasy world where things like this are cool. I could tell that this would probably escalate quite quickly if I kept arguing. Looking at it despairingly once more I asked- “But where are the wheels?”

This was a good point. The bottom of the trolley seemed to be just smooth metal, with no sign of wheels what-so-ever. It looked as if it had been made as a solution for removal men in Greenland as a half sledge- half trolley. After some more rummaging we found the wheels hidden in the box. They had no instructions enclosed and as far as wheels went; these looked like they were made for the tricycles of the trolley world- rather than this huge delivery lorry.

With disappointed mutters he turned the trolley back to being the right way up. That’s when he noticed the tear. At the platform part of the trolley -where my relatively light bags would sit- there was a large gash through the middle. It looked as if it wouldn’t be able to carry my teacup, let alone a case. Sadly he packed it back into the torn box (with great difficulty) and organised for it to be sent back as faulty.

I can’t say I am sad at this loss and I am more inclined to dance with joy over the fortunate death of the trolley. As Dad doesn’t work as a porter, or a delivery man, I make the assumption that the trolley was unnecessary: though he argues it just isn’t as clear cut as that. I suppose we will only know who was right on friday…!

A humongous orange case carried by two struggling men

Birthday Adventure and Travels

This is going to be a quick blog post, mostly because I have spent way too much time thinking and not left enough for writing. Excuses, excuses I know. Tomorrow I start on my epic summer ‘tour’ and I am very excited. Every year in the summer holidays I tend to do something away from my family or, as I prefer to call it, an adventure. For two years I went on Action for Blind People activity weeks, before that I did guide and brownie camps and last year I went through my biggest adventure yet- training with my guide dog. This year, after finishing my exams and finding myself a whole extra month of holiday to play with I have taken it upon myself to cram as much in as possible. Tomorrow is the start of my travels, but first a catch up…

My status as a ‘May Baby’ was always fine until I hit my year six SATs at primary school. This was the first time that I realised that my birthday would clash with nearly all of my major exam seasons throughout my time in education. However during my SATs I remember being more concerned with the vomiting bug I had unfortunately contracted at the start of my tests than my multiplication methods taking over my birthday! Being a may baby really isn’t that bad though, so far it has been only every six years that I have had exams imminent on the day. This year my birthday took place right before my friends and I were due to sit our final french exam. I figured that it would be both incredibly selfish (and incredibly stupid) to use the weekend before our monday exam for a sleepover or celebration. So I waited for summer and I am so glad I did!

As I have already written in a previous post: Dalby Forest is one of my favourite places in the world. For my late birthday celebration I was lucky enough to be able to go camping there with my friends. We had a fantastic time and the weather was perfect. During the day we went bike and tandem riding around the many paths through the forest, and at night we devoured a very large oatmeal and raisin cookie cake slice by slice. Riding a tandem is something that I had not experienced as a VI person before, though I had ridden (navigated by Mum) a tandem around the forest when I was six years old. This was nothing to do with my impending vision loss, but I was just a very uncoordinated child and wasn’t to be trusted near large hills and craters whilst on a bike. Ten years later and though myself and friend Z were initially very unsure and wobbly on our new found shared wheels we quickly picked it up. We found that a system of counting up and down for setting off and slowing down was very helpful for keeping us in sync. It seems that the first few seconds of movement are very important when navigating a tandem and if both riders aren’t seated, balanced and peddling you are on very rocky ground! Though Z found the experience slightly stressful as she was completely responsible for my safety (apparently I am to blame for some grip-related blisters on her hands) I found it relaxing- after all I only had to peddle! Myself, S, E and Z did two bike rides: one which was two miles long in the morning, and the other which was supposed to be eight miles. All the routes were circular and so you just had to keep riding and following the signs to get home, simple!

Sadly my friends and I have a tendency of getting in bizarre/dangerous situations. On the first bike ride there was an incident with E, who was at this time probably the most confident rider in the group, and Z’s video camcorder which she got for christmas. One thing that we all share is our love of multimedia; S is a keen future animator, Z is a very good photographer and always is the one with the camera, and I am the geek with the sound recorder and often a camera somewhere in a bag too. Early into this first trail -when myself and Z were still wobbling but beginning to relax a bit- we remarked how cool it would be to get some footage travelling through the forest and of the scenery around us. E, who was riding my old bike rather well, offered to film with Z’s camcorder and everything was fine… until it wasn’t. Myself, Z and S passed over a bridge and we didn’t have any doubts that E would be quick to catch up with the camera. But then there was an “Agh!” from behind in the direction of where we had just come, not very loud and not enough to make us brake. It was the splash that followed that made us abruptly stop in our tracks. Screaming E’s name in the alarming silence which had fallen upon us, we all ran to the side of the bridge where we found E kneeling in the stream water just to the side of the bridge. Offering her a hand and helping her up the mucky slope she had seemingly fallen down, and then fishing out the bike, we established that she was not too badly hurt aside from some grazed knees. E is one of those remarkable people who tends to bounce back quickly when they are put in a potentially dangerous situations, in fact she was once hit by a car and was texting friends a few minutes later. Sadly the same could not be said for Z’s rather soggy camcorder which we hoped very dearly would dry off and recover, or at least let us see the footage of E falling into the stream for a laugh. It showed how strong our friendships are in the group because it was a good few minutes before Z even mentioned her likely broken christmas present even once we found out that E was fine. The rest of the ride was beautiful, though E was still soaked through!

After a lunch of crisps and brioche bread we attempted the second of the ‘beginner’ routes. My Mum, a naturally outdoorsy person, had warned us that it started with a very large hill which we shouldn’t let deter us. Thinking back this should probably have set alarm bells off in my head. For Mum to even mention a hill existing, for the average person it must of been an extreme mountain. When we reached the start of the route we were faced with what appeared to be a cliff face. A very steep hill indeed. Cycling up the hill lasted mere moments because none of us had the muscles that would be required to prevent ourselves rolling back down the slope. Lugging our heavy bikes up caused energy levels -and general morale- to drop. It was all that I could do to keep in a state of permanent optimism, although my arms and legs were admittedly screaming from pushing the back end of the tandem. If you were going to make the assumption that a tandem shared between two people walking up a hill requires less effort than a whole bike each- you are sadly mistaken. After recovering from the climb we carried on cycling; it was steeper than our first route and we had to walk the bikes up various bumps in the track. Whilst trying to follow the signs my group had problems distinguishing the green arrows (a very dark shade) from the black. This was a bit of a problem because the black was, according to our map, ‘extreme’ where as the green (which we were already struggling with) was ‘beginner’. At some stage I think these signs were responsible for causing the following incident. Myself and Z had found ourselves at the head of the group, and after powering up and down a hill we had lost the other half of our party. We had raced past a cross roads and (whilst pausing for them to catch up) it began to dawn on us that E and S had probably gone the other way. At this point we had been biking for a few hours and we were expecting to be approaching the end of the route so we continued, knowing that all the routes would end in the same place anyway. Sadly the end wasn’t in sight, and after cycling for another half hour we found that we were at the stunt bike track that we had passed before at the beginning of our ride. We had run out of water, were hungry and very tired when Z left me with the tandem to try and find some people to ask for directions. We were both trying to block out the thought that we might have to complete the route again to exit , meaning we would have done roughly sixteen miles on this single track. We asked a Mum who was sitting on a log watching her son do various gravity defying stunts on the course below how to get out. She, in turn, gave a detailed description and then conferred with her son who enthusiastically gave completely different instructions.  Now the only sighted person cycling, Z had to keep looking for orange arrows which apparently indicated an escape. Though the forest was undoubtedly beautiful, there is nothing like burning first to make you want to get out of it. We went down some extremely large hills (thankfully not having to climb up them first) this was perfect because we were both verging on too exhausted to peddle. Luckily by this time I had picked up the queues which meant that Z was slowing down, changing gear, or upping the pace so we dropped the verbal communication we had previously had through the journey to preserve our energy.

Reaching the bike hire building, only minutes before our maximum time was up, we were pleasantly surprised to find that E and S were there and had been for quite some time. It seems that they found some other very large and rocky hills to use as an escape and that they had indeed gone the other way at the cross roads. We were too tired to really comment on this though, and we both reported feeling like we were either going to vomit or cry. After all, myself and Z had done four miles on top of the necessary eight. After ice creams at the visitor’s centre we felt significantly better, and after showers at the campsite (plus spidery companions) our aches and pains from the saddle were quite far out of our minds. There aren’t many things that beat campfire cooked pasta and white sauce either! There are countless moments that I can’t fit in this post, but maybe thats not a bad thing. As I have already said in a previous blog- Dalby is one of my favourite places to just think about the now and to simply ‘be’. But at the weekend I found that it is amazing to be there with friends

Over the next few weeks I am going to be doing a lot of travelling. I could do a big long list of the places I’m going and the things that I am doing there, but it will be more interesting to write about it after (or maybe whilst I am there). I am planning to put my WordPress app on my phone to good use, though it all depends on if I have wifi at the various places I am going. Adventures are ahead and the suitcase is packed… well nearly. Why is my whole life on charge?! Too many wires! I decided to leave the word ‘quick’ in the introduction for irony, I have never seen such a long post!

Four girls on bikes, two sharing a tandem.

Leaves

Girls sitting outside a tent