Quidnunc (kneeshooter) wrote,

Combinatorial Optimisation

Although I can't remember it very well, one of the courses I enjoyed most in my degree was combinatorial optimisation - which, IIRC, involved using matrices to determine the shortest routes between places based on weightings and so on. It's been a while since this was relevant to my life - and indeed it wasn't really relevant to my weekend just gone - but I wanted to mention it anyway so I appear smarter.

Actually what I did at the weekend was go to the Forest of Dean for a TrailPlus Adventure Camp. This rather thinly disguised attempt by Salomon to sell their end of season stock[1] to those idiots who are interested in exploring the idea of racing on foot, bike, canoe and abseil rope (plus lots of other equally stupid methods) in matching sportswear.

Friday was remarkably straightforward. I packed what I could find (so no bicycle pump or puncture repair kit), threw the bikes on the back of the car and headed south. I can once again confirm that Birmingham has the benefit of being "a couple of hours from nowhere" as well as "a couple of hours from anywhere" as we rolled into our "basic but comfortable" bunk-beds for thin dwarfs in Parkend. The fitness crew that turned up were the usual bunch, slightly less up-their-own-asses than the SCGB crowd can be but there were definitely those that were up for fun and the middle-aged men going through a mid-life crisis that really wanted to win everything - but more on that later. In an effort to confuse their WASP attitudes I spent the evening talking to fishthecat and at least trying to give a hint that Sarah was the odd one out in our threesome.

Saturday morning did have an "optional" 5km run. Needless to say I let it stay optional and remained in bed while the eager beavers around me leapt up and out. Honestly - do I look like I'm fit? After breakfast we set out on a quick cycle to our lakeside base for the day. It was pretty easy going - about 4.25 miles with 140m of hills on pretty easy track. This led us to Mallards Pike lake (I certainly saw a pike) where we split into groups depending on whether we wanted a longer or shorter run. fishthecat and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we stayed for a canoe. I was slightly disappointed they weren't kayaks, but coped as we got a chance to go around in circles, attempt to cheat very badly in silly games and have a quick swimming experience when my co-pilot decided that tying his shoelaces when standing up in a canoe in the middle of a lake was a good idea...

This left us slight damp for our own run (read completely soaked through) which was roughly 2.42 miles and involved learning how to walk up hills with triceps and run down hills flapping our arms like faeries. It was quite interesting stuff, thankfully quite a slow pace and buy the end of it I was nearly dry.

A packed lunch later and the choice was between a long cycle or short cycle. Again we left quondam, so she spent more time abseiling whilst we rode about 7.5 miles (as far as I can guess) with about 320m of hills. This took us a while as we stopped to learn how to bunnyhop, ride straight sitting down up quite steep hills and see who could overtake who the most (ok - the last one was rather unofficial). I did push my bike up some of the muddy hills - there was some truly horrible terrain!

Eventually we met up with the others who had been abseiling. To be honest I found this the dullest time - as we waited for some time before being lowered down a cliff. Whoopee. I can honestly say my heart rate increased more trying to safely get up and out of the bunk bed...

A few miles back on the bike (around 2.5 miles) and by golly I needed food and shower. Sensibly I reversed that order and sat down for dinner being clean rather than mud-splattered. As the meaties had Coq au Vin, the vegetarians of course had Quorn au Vin. Hmmm. However, this wasn't really much of an issue as I was ready to sleep in preference to any other activity. The slavedrivers had another idea and gave us our maps and the rules for Sunday's mock race. I say mock race because there was no pressure (ha ha) and it was just for fun (ha ha). Fortunately a combination of a running stage I knew I would frankly suck at, other competitors looking, well, competitive and quondam's firm insistence we couldn't win meant that my expectations were managed (something I could do better in other parts of life too!).

I wasn't going to let this pressure put me completely off my game though and had my little biro out, planning the routes, checking the contours, factoring in our speeds and the points costs. Basically I was overanalysing and wasn't afraid to say it. Our game plan turned out to be pretty simple. Do a circuit of the nearby running marks; do a circuit of the nearby cycling marks. Don't try and go too far. Don't rush. Don't try and win.

After starters orders we set off through a dark, water-filled tunnel; we ran up a hill; down it; walked up the next one; ran some; walked some; waded to an island; had a banana; got on bicycles; went downhill; uphill; through some mud; along some disused railway; round and round a trig point without spotting it; then back in 3 hours 45. Time, as long as you are under 4 hours, means nothing other than "yes you were back early" or "no you are penalised for being late". In the end we were shattered, but home. Unlike a couple of other teams who were a little late...

Back to the centre for another shower and then it was time for final debrief. They read out the scores in reverse order and we kept expecting to hear our team called - but we weren't. Finally - we'd won. I'm still not sure why, but it seems that the tortoise did indeed beat the hare - or maybe we were the hare with realistic expectations. But - with over 1000 points we were 200 points clear of our closest rivals. Fantastic. Astounding. More superlatives.

Anyway - it was great fun, and if you're particularly bothered the maps and stats are all here. It's definitely more fun than cross-country ever was at school and brains are as important as an iron backside...


Length 3.73 miles
Time 00:56:58
Ascent 127m


Length 13.20 miles
Time 02:39:16
Ascent 279m

1 I bought a shirt, while quondam and fishthecat purchased natty matching backpacks that I got to watch (along with their arses) during the run as I wheezed along behind them.
Tags: 43things, cycling, widatw

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