This past week, the last of the 12I expedition, saw our hardened venturers journey to the state of Kerala for a final contest known as the Adventure Challenge. In it, both volunteer and manager alike would push their limits as they embarked on a series of pursuits which could earn them points and the chance of becoming the expedition’s Olympic champions.
As they disembarked onto Keralan soil, the three foxtrot teams were naturally overjoyed to see one another for the first time since the 2nd of August when they deployed; but their merrymaking was short-lived, for by the very next morning each team was once again separated by geographical and competitive distance. Their trials had begun.
The adventure challenge comprised five separate disciplines in a set order of rotation: a 10km rafting trip; a 43km cycle ride; an 8km trek; a 13km hike and a survival challenge, all cemented by a series of smaller team puzzles and challenges. Successfully completing each task earned that team their points, but the real beauty of the competition was that, since the challenges were conducted in different locations and since each team started on a separate discipline, no team would meet another until the whole thing was finished. That meant that everyone but the score keepers at field base was in the dark when it came to what challenge they’d be doing next, or how the other teams were faring.
The challenges were unrelentingly tough. For instance, rafting didn’t merely comprise the paddling of the craft, but its construction too. Grey matter and red muscle were both taxed a great deal as the week wore on. Thankfully, on this, as on all challenges, there was help, given generously and with great expertise by the chaps from Muddy Boots, our project partner for the adventure phase and an organisation which specialises in running adventure challenges in this part of Kerala. Famously optimistic and can-do in nature, the Muddy Boots agents set just the right tone in keeping the various tasks doable but difficult and fun but safe.
The cycling marathon (for a marathon is 42km as the crow flies) would have worn that same crow out with its frequent undulations and provided an unexpected extra challenge to the groups in the matter of whether they’d be able to walk the next day, for walking was just what they did.
The trek and the hike, brutal enough on the plains of Karnataka, took on a new and frequently upwards dimension here in hilly surrounds of Kerala. But while leeches did their best to take vital oxygenated blood from our venturers’ legs, the humbling views from the mountain tops restocked their lungs with gasps aplenty. In total, they went 21km in two days which, to their dismay, was an awfully big circle.
And now on to the part which all of our recently returned venturers will undoubtedly find difficult to forget, though only for the right reasons, I am sure. The survival challenge is perhaps the hallmark of the Raleigh adventure challenge – a chance for the teams to experience life at its most uncompromising, not least for the live chickens who were either going to stay as pets or end up as dinner. Each group took their turn to live for 24 hours on an entirely unremarkable patch of grass next to a river – unremarkable, that is, except for an abundance of leeches. With them, they took all they could carry in both their pockets and a small drybag, and arrived at the site to find certain other items of group kit such as tarpaulins and bamboo already provided.
Their first tasks were to set up camp and to find food from the surrounding area (cunningly stashed in boxes by the Muddy Boots agents). Each team then set about finding enough firewood to make and sustain a campfire – not a superfluous luxury in the cold night time world of the Keralan jungle, I can assure you! The groups then built a shelter out of bamboo and tarpaulins and began to settle down into their new and often quite wanting abodes. Sooner or later those chickens started to look appetising and the most gamely of our venturers stepped up, after a brief demonstration by the Muddy boots agents, to try their hand at dispatching them into the undergloom. It was never going to be family friendly spectacle, but those who did witness the event were inwardly compelled to do so out of respect for the animals and afterwards felt that they’d have a lot more than poultry to chew on the next time that they ate chicken.
Then came the night: a night which, by our design, came without a sleeping bag. If the physical proximity demanded by such events didn’t complete the venturers’ bonding process, nothing would. Thankfully, all groups rose the next morning in fine condition although Foxtrot 2 were clearly wrestling with the start of an addiction to midnight snacking. Worrying stuff.
And who won after all of this? Well, our Adventure Challenge Olympic Champions are the redoubtable Foxtrot 3 – a worthy and very close win from a group with a ridiculous level of team spirit. Roy Hodgson, take notes – these people are up there with the Dream Team, The Rolling Stones and The Marvel Avengers. Congratulations to our runners up by name (though not by nature), Foxtrots 1 and 2, who acquitted themselves with gamely industriousness and dignity (well, maybe not dignity since they learned to not shower for a very long time), but certainly industriousness, yes.