Grow Never Shrinks From A Challenge
All content by Sofy Robertson
It feels like weeks ago that Grow entered The Bear Trail challenge to raise money for Exeter City Community Trust. We didn’t think much about it at the time; it would be a bit of muddy fun.
As the date for The Bear Trail drew closer, we realised we didn’t know much about the challenge itself. A quick Google left us feeling a little apprehensive. The word sheep dips was mentioned and every photo of challengers we found looked like creatures emerging from the brown lagoon.
With this in mind, I decided to take on a rigorous preparation routing of swimming three times a week in response to our recent deluges from Storm Callum.
It turns out this wasn’t necessary as the morning of the challenge dawned with clear skies, beautiful autumnal sunshine and highs of eighteen degrees.
It was only when packing my Bear Trail outfit that I realised I was missing a crucial bit of kit: trainers. This led to a panicked purchase at Tesco on my way to work. It seems that all of the shoppers with average-sized feet had raided the shoe section before my arrival, leaving only size three trainers or some rather old-school black plimsolls with a tread barely adequate for walking on pavement. Well, I knew I’d be getting muddy anyway, so there was no harm speeding up the process with some useless shoes.
The work morning passed far too quickly and the time to get suited and booted caught my by surprise, causing me to attempt changing and boosting Facebook posts at my desk at the same time.
Alice, our Head of Business Development and Events, was driving and as we turned in to The Bear Trail car park, I felt a thrill of excitement upon seeing the course. Looking over at Alice, I’m not sure that the expression was mirrored.
We waited for the other half of our team at a picnic bench, watching the other competitors do squats and lunges, now feeling more than a little apprehensive. Most of the teams around us had matching company shirts. We had failed to even pick a team colour.
Drew, our Business Development Consultant, arrived with his girlfriend Karra, honorary Grow employee for the day. Drew’s ludicrous enthusiasm immediately lifted our spirits. He was certain we were going to smash it. We were less certain, but enthusiastic all the same.
We chatted with Stacey Hedge, organiser of the event in her role as Business Development Manager for Exeter City Community Trust. Then it was time to listen to The Bear Trail team as they talked us through the course.
I filmed Grow’s first ever Facebook Live as we wandered around the course and tried to take in which bits we were doing and in what order. My excitement was building, but so was my apprehension. For me, it was not so much the monkey bars, muddy water bits and rickety rope bridges that had me worried. No, it was the sheer distance the course spanned that had me wishing I had done a little marathon training instead.
We were told that each of our team members would complete the course in turn whilst the other members completed team building challenges which were labelled as mental, rather than physical. After each team member had completed the course, then any of us could continue running it to make sure there was always someone collecting points from the laps completed.
I was nominated to go first to run The Bear Trail course. Eek. We started off in a strong pack, but I was soon the impala left at the back of the herd, ready to be picked off. I successfully scaled the rope nets and swung over the pits of stagnant, muddy water. I hopped from stepping stone to stepping stone, feeling graceful for the first time on the course, and scaled a roped net mound. I crossed the first bridge, and then met my downfall. The tyre mangle. It defeated me, every time I ran that damned course.
I had seen those ahead of me diving at it like one might dive into a tube slide. I tried this technique, only to head butt the top row of tyres. Shaking it off, I then tried a sort of scrambling technique by trying to climb the wooden frame. I succeeded in whacking my shin. Eyes watering, I tried a one-leg-up manoeuvre. This got me stuck.
I would love to say that I conquered this nemesis on my own, but this was not the case. A fellow competitor had to pull me through by the arms.
Decidedly behind the pack now, I set off again with the lady who had helped me through the mangle. I successfully crossed the rope bridge, well, ‘bridge’ may be a little grandiose. It was a rope suspended above the murky water with two ropes either side to hold on to; less of a bridge and more of a tight rope.
The balance beams didn’t defeat me, nor did the next set of stepping stones and the wobbly metal bridge. There were more rope nets to scale, these much higher than the ones at the beginning of the course. With three quarters of our team being afraid of heights, I think we did well not to panic at this stage. I can’t say there was any grace involved in this particular obstacle, especially trying to come down the other side where I managed to go through one of the gaps and get my leg stuck.
Over the hay bales I went, waving to the alpacas (not llamas, let’s be clear) and then across another bridge. I sprang from tyre to tyre, many of them bowing unexpectedly, and then came to the tunnels.
Before the yawning mouths were vast, murky puddles. Just like the We’re Going on a Bear Hunt book, I couldn’t go over it, I couldn’t go under it, I couldn’t go around it so I had to go through it.
My plimsolls, as predicted, did not fare well on this course. I lost one at this point in the particularly muddy slop before the tunnels. There is nothing quite like the squelching feeling of mud between your toes.
Inside the tunnels, I resorted to mouth-breathing. I had never really appreciated how smelly stagnant mud slop could be. Emerging, my hands and knees slimy, I ran to the mound which I scaled with he help of a rope. At the top, I made the split-second decision to prioritise speed over dignity, and promptly made my descent on my bottom.
I landed with a lovely splat in a puddle and proceeded to the end of the course where I needed to ring the bell before tagging in my next team member. That sounds like the easiest bit, you must be saying. Not so. The bell was hung from the top bar of a door-like frame. There was a rope suspended from the middle of the frame which competitors were supposed to climb in order to reach the bell.
I can tell you now, my upper body has very little strength at the best of times, and having just put it through this marathon assault course, I didn’t really see this happening. Quick thinking came in here; at no point did they say we had to climb and ring the bell. The only instruction was ring the bell.
I picked up the muddy end of the rope and flicked it upwards, catching the bell first time. Feeling rather pleased with myself, I ran on to tag Drew into the challenge.
I ran the course three times in total that afternoon. I’m really not sure how. We also had to complete a variety of ‘mental’ team-building challenges; there was a memory challenge, a towel-flipping challenge (this is where we discovered Karra’s excellent folding skills and decided she would be our designated suitcase-packer from this day forward) and what had to be the highlight for me: the medal challenge.
Karra was off running the course, so Drew, Alice and I were faced with a spider-web tangle of coloured lines to negotiate our way through to retrieve medals. The catch? We lost points if we touched the lines and we each had to hold a piece of rope, connecting us to our teammate.
This exercise was absolutely fantastic for the abs. With Drew on one side and Alice on the other, we wiggled and slumped like beached elephant seals, with full sound effects from my colleagues, to retrieve each medal in turn. I can safely say I cannot remember the last time I laughed so hard.
Needless to say, we were not the most efficient team at this challenge. Stacey did say, however, that if there was a prize for funniest team, we would have won it hands down.
Overall, we had a fantastic afternoon and decided that we must come again and drag along the rest of the Grow lot, then promptly abandon them and head to the pub across the road to mock their efforts.
After we had been rigorously put through our mental and physical paces, we were rewarded with flap jacks, brownies and oven-fired pizza.
As we were greedily replenishing the calories we had burned, the City Community Trust brought out the coveted medals and certificates ready for the prize giving.
Grow were absolutely ecstatic with the result: we did not come last. We placed fifth and no, I am not telling you how many teams took place…
On seeing the winning team, Eagle One, we felt it was fair enough as their team leader accepted the prizes with blood running down his legs. Hardcore, clearly.
We came, we clambered, we fell down a lot. But I couldn’t be prouder of our Grow Team, remaining relentlessly positive despite our wet bottoms.