When she wanted to get out of her comfort zone, Aida Austin hadn’t banked on an adventure in the woods
Aida Austin tries bootcamp
Back in April, I e-mailed my editor after returning from a press trip to Budapest.
“Thank you for sending me on a three-day luxury cruise,” I said, “but next time, let’s change things up a bit. Pack me off on an assignment that’s as far out of my comfort zone as a cruise but in an opposite way — like...oh I don’t know... white water rafting or a healing crystals workshop.” Don’t ask me why I wanted to change things up. I just took a notion, as they say round here.
The notion passed, as notions do, falling straight out of my head as quickly as it entered it, helped by the fact that my editor didn’t get back to me.
But then, alas, she did. Which is why today, at 10am on Saturday morning, I’m hidden in the woods that run along the shoreline of Fota Island, doing press-ups in the mud.
Terry, lead instructor at Fota Island Adventure, has just ordered me to drop to the forest floor. I am to do five, he says, as punishment for standing with my arms folded across my chest (tip: hands in pockets will get you the same.) Terry, an impassioned, kind, twinklyeyed disciplinarian heads up the team of professional instructors here — many of them ex-army and all expertly trained to the highest standard — that have put together a range of daily outdoor activities and bespoke packages which are designed to excite, challenge, build confidence but most importantly, be top fun.
But there are rules — and I’ve already broken one.
“Back straight,” Terry roars, “and ONE.” I push myself up from the forest floor with my hands. ONE is hard. Like any normal person, I use my body for normal things like gardening, cycling on the flat, pottering and sin.
“CALL THAT A PRESSUP?” Terry shouts — then something else that I don’t quite catch. I hear laughter.
He must have made a joke.
“TWO,” he roars.
I fear I am the butt of it. TWO is harder.
I’m a middle-aged lady and my mouth is closed so as to avoid ladling rainwater out of a puddle. I’m sure I could build a case against doing press-up number three.
“THREE,” he barks.
I do THREE: Terry has that jolly twinkle in his eye but on the other hand, he’s seen live combat, not just pretend. Better not mess with a man like that.
After the last press-up, I scramble to my feet and rejoin the small group of six to which I belong. Its members have formed a straight line and each one — including my husband who’s accompanying me as my plus-oneis standing goody-twoshoes-upright with their arms goody-two-shoes down by their sides. They all look eager to start the morning’s activities, particularly my husband who’s forever on the look-out for new ways to injure himself.
I get in line, next to my husband.
“What was the joke?” I whisper.
“He said you looked like a distressed mackerel,” my husband says.
Terry says the next three hours will be about us getting a feel for what the Fota Island Adventure team offers participants.
It’s very beautiful down here but starting to spit rain, I have mud in my mouth and have got a feel already.
“Not being funny,” I say. “But who are these participants?”
“Families,” he says, “solo visitors, corporate retreats, school tours, scout groups, hens and stags.”
“You see,” my husband says. “A lot of people like adrenaline, it’s not just...”
But Terry has spotted my husband’s folded arms.
“Dear oh dear,” I say. “Down you go.”
Terry tells us the plan: first we are going to do the obstacle course, then have a pop at combat archery, after which we will do Bushcraft, which he says is becoming popular in urban areas where the average person is separated from nature. One of the bushcraft skills we will be learning is firecraft. Having lived in a farmhouse for the past two decades in which I had to light two stoves every day just to stay alive, I’m not sure there’s anything Terry can teach me about firecraft. (Turns out there is: I should have invested in a Magnesium Stick when I first bought the house.) This will be followed by Find the Sniper. This, he explains, is when someone dresses up in a ghillie camouflage suit and hides in the forest. (It’s exactly like Hide and Seek, we discover later, only minus the finding part.)
“So are we all clear?” Terry says.
“Yes,” we say, responding politely and not all at once.
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” he bellows.
“YES,” we shout in unison.
“THAT’S MORE LIKE IT,” he bellows back.
“It’s vital that you give a loud, clear, immediate response to any instruction that I give you,” he says. “Because it shows me that you’ve understood the instruction.”
This is for our own safety, he explains, and the safety of the group. But there are other reasons why we must remember to respond in this fashion (to do with discipline, respect for ourselves and obligation to our comrades) but personallyspeaking, none of these are as compelling as the fact that Terry will make us do more press-ups if we don’t.
“So this morning is going to be sort of like a taster menu,” my husband says under his breath as we yomp behind Terry deeper into the woods.
“Exactly,” I say. “But where everything on the menu looks alarming, we have to eat it all, and there’s no pudding.”
We proceed to the obstacle course after a slight delay: two comrades drop to do press-ups on the way (hands in pockets.) My heart goes out to them but I see what he means about mackerel.
We yomp through forest under broadleaf tree canopy, arriving at the custombuilt obstacle course.
This is the cornerstone of Fota Island Adventure: Swings, tyres, ropes, climbing wall, hurdles and tunnels — you name it, it has it. Half a mile of hell. Or fun. Not sure which yet but I’m about to find out.
“First time round, I want you to go at your own pace,” Terry says.
I tremble at the start line. My husband stands beside me.
“Terry just told me they’re building 15 more obstacles to add to this course,” he says. “You’d get a right bloody pasting here if you came with a bunch of mates. I’m totally coming back.”
“GO!” Terry shouts. We all GO, GO, GO.
I GO, GO, GO until I reach the dark tunnels where I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. I don’t like dark tunnels. But I GO, GO, GO through them and I keep going, right up to the last obstacle when I stop.
The last obstacle is f ***** g HUGE. Like its designer sat down and thought: “Hmmm, now what can I create specifically for people who are forever on the lookout for new ways to injure themselves? Oh yes! I know! I’m going to design a massive skateboard-ramp and then I’m going to super-super size it. And after that, just to inject a little near-death frisson into it, I’m going to cover it in slippery black plastic. For a laugh. So people will either have to run up it like speedy geckos running up an ice wall — or die trying.” My husband’s up it in a blink.
IRUN at it like a gecko. It’s easy to run like a gecko on grass. I get halfway up the ramp and slide down.
My second and third attempts end the same way.
On my fourth, everyone shouts, “YOU CAN DO IT.”
“I AM A SPEEDY GECKO,” I say, and summon all my strength. I run two thirds of the way up and hurl myself towards the top to find myself hanging off a bar with one hand, my legs splayed out behind me.
Somehow, now, I have to hoist myself up the slippery plastic.
I hoooooooooooist myself up.
I am up! Right at the tip, tip top. I am the gecko CHAMPION.
We traipse back to the startline, where we are allowed to catch our breath before we going round again. This time our aim is cover the course in under four minutes.
“This is top fun,” I say, jigging up and down. “Is this what it’s like to be pumped?” “GO,” shouts Terry. OFF goes my husband. OFF go I.
“I’m impressed,” my husband yells over his shoulder, hurtling towards the first obstacle. “What you lack in experience, you certainly make up for in grit.”
“I’ll show you grit,” I think, hurtling after him.
We are neck and neck at the horizontal log hurdles.
I am going to get round in under four minutes even if it kills me.
My husband sails over the first log.
“I’M GOING TO SHOW EVERYONE,” I think.
“It’s all about the technique,” I think, flying up into the air. “I just have to swing my right leg up like this and...” SMACK, my right knee slams straight into the log.
I am on the ground.
I try to move my leg.
I am overcome by a sudden wave of violent nausea.
I am escorted off the course.
Launched earlier this summer, Fota Island Adventure is a fun-filled, high-adrenaline adventure centre providing fun for all the family (sevenplus) with a range of activities including an obstacle course, kayaking, SUPing, bush craft as well as a selection of field based activities.
Fota Island Adventure promises fun and high-adrenaline activities including bushcraft and a half-mile-long obstacle course.