If you ask me, the Duke of Edinburgh Award is a damn strange way to show your worth to universities and employers. It all makes very little sense to me, and if I (as a participant) can't understand it, then who exactly can???
I returned this week from my silver level expedition. What this equates to in layman's terms is three days and two nights of gahbdajbshsjba in return for part of a certificate. Obviously this sounds like a fair and sensible exchange. And in each of these three days, seven hours is to be spent hiking and completing an additional productive 'aim', all before retiring to a tent to not sleep or eat substantially in the cold and wet for the rest of the evening. And what exactly is this supposed to teach us? Survival skills? I still have none other than how to use a supermarket and to stay alive whilst spending the night in a synthetic bag. Team work? In many ways, we were mainly bonded together just by a fear of each other letting the general public know just how ugly we can look if left to the mercy of Mother Nature, and that's not going to help me get a degree.
But perhaps you can tell - I'm not so outdoorsy.
Well okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit. I had fun. I mean, stick four friends together in miserable rain (3 thunderstorms in 2 hours, to be exact) and it's not going to be all bad. If anything, you get some good 'bantz' out of it. Or more specifically, one of you is bound to do something ridiculously stupid like falling in a river, and the rest will be able to enjoy laughing at you for the rest of the time and telling anybody who'll listen that yeah, you really did just fall in a river. In between all that you just eat and gossip, and that's not bad either. In this way, it was a great time.
But of course the sheer pain caused by freakin' heavy backpacks and too-small walking boots, getting wetter than you ever thought possible (I'm talking osmosis kind of effects here, where water was passing in and out of all clothing in equal measure) and the biting cold of sharing one sleeping bag between two people because both your stuff is all soaked also equates to a horribly miserable time.
The thing is, you don't really remember the pain so well, only the amusing stories to pass on. And this is really bad, because as much as I remember screaming at the rain clouds and threatening to commit some godless sin if it didn't stop spitting at us, my brain seems to have blocked out the physical memory of how cold and generally crap it all felt - and that is exactly how people end up repeating such debacles, focussing only on the laughs, and not on the pain. Naturally, this only leads to further self-loathing as only you can be held accountable for committing yourself to Hell 2.0. It's such a vicious, vicious circle.
For now, however, I think I am relatively safe. Two days later and I'm still trying to recover my feet enough to walk normally (or at the very least, so as not to give the impression that my bladder is constantly full) and so I am quite firmly sticking to the resolution that, seeing as we passed, I never have to hike or camp ever again. The guys in my team, as short-sighted and, well, 'guy-ish' as they are, have it in their brains that they'll manage gold level next year (FYI that means another day and night of pain, people) but I pride myself on my guts in refusing to go along with such a scheme. Instead, my friend and I are considering the finer side of camping. 'Glamping', if you will. This is the clever/preposterous idea that camping can be made comfortable and enjoyable by having tents with appliances and three square meals a day. In truth, sitting in my miserable scrap of polyester this past week whilst watching other campers with their bacon sandwiches and television sets in dry, heated vans has led me to believe that camping could be alright if only it were.. well, better. And so the likelihood of our investigating 'glamping' (that's 'glamour camping', for you uneducated ones) has increased to about 63%, a notable increase from me of the previous year, to whom camping was simply unnecessary if it meant pitching a tent any further outside than your back garden. Of course, I also have camping at Reading Festival to deal with in a couple of weeks, but really, I'm pretty sure the deal is that you sleep in a nice patch of mud anyways, so no problems there.
Basically, the conclusion here is that nature is not quite as scary I had thought; but it is damn miserable at times. Credit here goes to Prince Philip in some measure (that's the Duke, halfwits) and The Other Phil, our assessor and the man fated with the ability to either pass or fail us. But let's be real honest here: if we'd failed, you would not have been able to get me back out there.
Just call me nature girl.