There is life in the old dog yet … (My Microsoft UK Challenger Story) – Part 3 of 4

In the last two parts of my Microsoft UK Challenger Story I’ve described the first two training weekends.  Now we started coming into the real stuff.  First off though we had news that due to family commitments Ray Booyson, decided that he would pull out to let somebody else have a chance and that somebody was Steve Smith of the UK SharePoint User Group.  Now Steve is a biking man through and through, and at the fair age of 41 he again boosted the average age of the team to over 38, so we thought there might be a chance that we could get one of the over 35 trophies in the final event!

Spurred on by that thought, everybody in the team got right down to some serious training.  David also set up a Friday conference call and sent out puzzles by email each Friday for us all to have a go at.  These were great fun and it was good to chat with the other team members at least by phone since we were all so scattered around the country.  Pretty soon however the final training weekend came around and was in fact a Mini Competition to give us all experience of the real thing.

Mini Competition

So in mid May we all met up at Ilam in the southern Peak District and what a beautiful place it was too.  We were staying in Dovedale House, an old vicarage in a wonderful location.  David unfortunately could not make the weekend, so yours truly was nominated as stand in team captain.  I arrived first at the location and was soon joined by our newest team member Steve Smith.  More people arrived but the remainder of the Tutti Fruttis didn’t turn up until right before the evening Quiz night was due to start.  With the team together at last, we set about the Quiz with a vengeance and managed to finish 2nd!  A great start to the weekend, unfortunately that The Mini Comp Team, Steve Loader, Gavin Osborn, Tim Leung, Me, Steve Smithwas the highest we ever went …

The next morning we were up and off to Carsington Water for Stage 1.  This naturally turned out to be a combined water/biking stage.  We had to visit 6 Check Points with a code.  The code could only be gotten by visiting 6 buoys one at a time  which were placed out on the lake, buoy No 1 was closest, buoy No 6 on the other side of the lake.  OK … simple enough you think.  The problem was you could only have one boat on the water per team, the Check Points we up to 4 miles away by road and you had to visit in a pair and we only had about 3 hours to do it all in. Oh … and you only had one oar to start with, the other was at Check Point 1.  There were Bonus Points available too.  It was a fastest to finish. 

We decided that we’d get the Check Point 1 code first and fetch the oar back when we got there.  The only problem was, there was a heck of a wind blowing on the lake which made rowing and steering the boat really hard.  Anyhow, Steve Loader and Gavin headed out first and after about 30 mins managed to get back with the code for CP1.  Off went Steve Smith and Tim to get the oar and to visit the CP.  Gavin and me then went out again with still one oar to get CP2.  The wind was getting up again at this point, but we were getting the hang of this and we managed to get back in 20 mins with the code.  Steve and Tim hadn’t returned from CP1 at this point, so we decided to go for buoy no 3 with CP3 code.  This was our first mistake ….  We should have been checking our strategy at this point and actually gone for CP4 which was the closer CP by road. CP3 was miles away.  Still buoy No 3 was closer than Buoy No 4 and we still only had one oar.  So off went Steve Loader and me and boy did we struggle.  The wind was up still further and though eventually we got to buoy 3, getting back proved a real pain in the ass.  We visited the bank a few times including some willow trees and rocks, I was heard to utter several colourful expletives but somehow we got back just as Steve and Tim pitched up with the second oar ready for the second CP. 

I volunteered to get back in the boat with Gavin to this time go for Buoy No 6 and out we headed.  What ensued next can only be described as a mini version of Captain Bligh and Mr Christian trying to go aroundThe Team after Stage 1, a bit damp but happy! the Horn.  By now the wind was really up and I kind of thought we should row up the lake and let the wind blow us into the buoy.  Good plan apart from the fact that we weren’t allowed to carry it through as the safety boat said we had to move down the lake to get out of the way of the Windsurfers.  At that moment we saw a blur of this geezer zipping through the water like nobody’s business.  We saw his point and headed down the lake.  So thereafter for the next 30 minutes Captain Bligh and Mr Christian paddled like lunatics getting nowhere fast and eventually we had to row backwards for 10 mins just to get within viewing distance of the buoy.  At last  we spotted the code and we started back.  By now the kayak had a fair amount of water sloshing around in the bottom and a couple of of near misses on capsizing made for a tense row back.  But … we got there just as the lake’s management decided to close the lake to rowers as it was too windy!!!

So we got back to the start point and met up with the rest of the team and we decided to get to a couple of other points, but by this time we realised we weren’t going to have time to get all the CPs, so Gav and  Steve Loader headed off on Bikes to get a third CP and Tim and me went for a BP.  After a gargantuan effort by Steve and Gav which included scything through a crowd of fun-runners, we checked in but were hit with a bunch of penalty points for not getting all the CPs.  We weren’t too downhearted as not many other teams had either, but we realised we could have gotten another CP with a little extra thought.

We had a break after that and got ready for the evening stage which was a running stage. It was a fairly easy stage a number of points to find on foot.  So Gav and Steve Loader set off on the longer section, Steve Smith, Tim and me did the shorter but steeper section, we found our CP and headed back to the Rendezvous point having decided to ‘Do No More!’ i.e do the minimum required.  We waited and waited but no Gav or Steve.  Then we got a text from Gav saying Steve had injured himself getting over a wall and sure enough after some anxious waiting, along can Steve L hobbling and hopping but still going – a sight to make you proud to be English!  We lost time, but hey, we still got in ahead of Stage Close.  However, we’d lost Steve one of our key team members  …

Next morning, Steve’s ankle was pretty swollen and painful, the room didn’t smell too sweet after a night with 5 Tutti Frutti’s snorting away either, still the weather was good and we had a build stage next so Steve could still do that.  The aim was to get water out of a well (represented by a paddling pool) and take it to a village, using only a few bits of wood, bolts, pulleys etc and a bucket.  We won’t dwell on the build stage except to say – if you ever do one of these – read the instructions!!  We did OK, had a good design, but we could have got loads more points if … we’d read the instructions!!!

The afternoon was a biking/running stage which was down to Steve Smith, Gav, Tim and me, poor old Steve had to sit out and I know he was gutted about not taking part.  Still he could help with Strategy.  We had a gooden, “Do No More!” that is get to the Check Points, then make sure we got a few Bonus Points then beat back to finish before Stage Close.  We started off running in the pouring rain. Within a few minutes we were drenched through – but hey – water won’t kill you.  We went at a good pace, me navigating initially.  We got to the 4 checkpoints despite going out of bounds (marshals missed that one!) and then split up with Steve and me heading back to the bikes to get 2 or 3 BPs and Gav and Tim heading out for two BPs on foot.

Steve and me pounded it back to the bikes, hopped on and then mullered it to 3 BPs. An everlasting image I have is of Steve careering down this rubble-strewn , muddy, water logged track at an unfeasible speed disappearing into the hazy distance …, whilst I tootled along behind a bit chicken like … still I beat him UP the hills heh heh.   We got back with about 10 mins to spare unfortunately to find that Gav and Tim had unfortunately strayed out of bounds and this time the marshals did see them … doh!  Never mind everybody had worked their socks off, we’d learnt some lessons and more importantly we’d started to really gel as a team. We felt ready for the main competition and were excited and couldn’t wait for June.  How did we do? That’s in part 4 …


Dave Mc


About davemcmahon81
Software Developer & Architect, User Group Leader, Speaker, Writer, Blogger, Occasional Guitarist, Man-made Global Warming Sceptic, Climate Change Believer, General Optimist but most of all proud Husband and Dad ...

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