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canoeing, kayaking and other adventures

canoeing and kayaking adventures born in the Southeastern U.S. and now centered in Scotland...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fire Group Firbush Escape - 15/9/2008 - 17/9/2008

Ricky was the grand organiser of what sounds to be the Fire group's first annual escape to the university's Outdoor Education Centre at Firbush. The weather was not scheduled to be with us.

The activity for Day 1 was an assault on Ben Lawers and Bein Glas, two Munros on the north side of Loch Tay. The mood was divided among nationalities with a certain fatalism among the natives who were far less offended by the weather conditions than those more accustomed to normal weather. Fire group leader Jose claimed to be raised in a city that was essentially a 100km diametre circle of concrete and definitely not one with nature. The majority of the group went anyway with a fair amount of protesting along the way. A few decided against the walk and instead explored the dry of the shops and cafes of nearby Killin.

It rained a lot and mist/fog limited visibility significantly. At one point, we came to a crossroads and I asked the group leaders which clouds we were aiming for. We turned toward the summit clouds on the right and continued up into the mist.

The first summit group shivered through a no visibility summit shot and retreated along the path up. The second summit group chose to continue the assault to Bein Glas. Both groups were treated to a break in the mist that allowed for some nice views before the rain continued again.

We arrived to Firbush a little ahead of dinner, which allowed some settling and exploring time. The academics all headed back to Edinburgh as Freshers week and the start of classes prevented them from more time away.

Dinner was camp food. They were utterly unprepared for me, but we made it work. The cooks had made a nice lentil soup that was safe for me, which was a lovely dinner for me. At the Firbush retreat, the plan was for each of us to give a presentation on something, preferably with appeal for everyone. We avoided presentations on the first night but worked them into the second day's schedule. Instead, an epic match of Trivial Pursuit ensued with the doctors losing quite badly. Where I failed in my role as bartender, Rory picked up the slack.

Day 2 stared with a few presentations and then a choice of activities. Most of us chose kayaking, save Pedro, Mercedes, Pauline and Freddy, who instead chose to take out a rowboat. The instructor was nice and gave a reasonable introduction in their sheltered semi-lagoon. He had Ricky and me as the designated "Its" during a game of stick in the mud which ended with Ian in the water from a misguided lean. After everyone was comfortable enough, we headed into Loch Tay proper. The group spread out pretty quickly. I hung toward the back to make sure nobody got too lost or frustrated. We heard some disgruntled cows mooing from the waters edge but took a long time to find them camouflaged in the shrubbery. Our instructor gave us the option of rafting up and playing tag running across the bows of each others boats, but a general lack of enthusiasm for falling into the cold loch shot down that idea. Instead, we paddled around the island, met up with the rowers and paddled back to Firbush centre. Our kayak adventure ended with a game of polo, which was far more tame than the version of polo I understood from Edinburgh Kayak Club experiences.

After lunch, we had a few more presentations and then another choice of activities. The rowing group headed to the pub and I wonder if they were appalled by the packed lunch choices. Again, very much camp food and not exactly quality. Another group headed back to Edinburgh because work called for some of them. Those of us remaining chose between mountain biking and windsurfing. They had enough instructors for one of each group. The kayaker from the morning went with the mountain bikers. The assistant warden guy went with the windsurfers.

We had our first windsurfing lessons on land with a mockup that was somewhat sheltered from the winds on Loch Tay. The gentle breeze on the loch translated to nothing on the mockup, so our instructor had to improvise. I took photos of everyone on the mockup just in case on the water did not compare as well. It turned out to be unnecessary. The gentle wind was very conducive to learning. Without any big gusts, we weren't blown off the boards so much. In fact, the boys were not pleased that I never fell off the board at all. They fell off plenty.

Ricky and Angus were up first and realised they were not far enough into the wind to do anything useful. Instead, not really knowing how to steer, they crashed into each other in the slowest Austin Powers and the steamroller sort of way. I think I caught the aftermath in a photo before they both dropped their sails and paddled out farther into the loch. Our instructor piloted the motored rescue boat so he could zip between us pretty quickly.

Once Ian was up on his board, I never saw him up close again. He traveled much farther down the loch than I did. Angus, Ricky and I stayed somewhat more bunched up. Thankfully no Austin Powers moments were repeated. The gentle breeze meant things like getting the sail up still took a while (displacing water) but didn't result in splats forward as there was not enough wind to knock the sails out of our hands.

I got the feel for the windsurfer eventually, figuring out a little bit about steering and remembering some basic sailing skills. Turning was an awkward and wobbly dance around the centre mast, but it got less fumbly with practice. I had a much easier time heading to my right than to my left and could occasionally regain some ground by sort of tacking. After probably an hour of very slow windsurfing, the wind kicked up. Perfect timing as we were mostly ready to take advantage of it. We started moving a bit faster and turning a bit tighter.

My back got tired and eventually that is what ended my windsurfing adventure for the day. I was able to pass my camera over to our instructor who got some pretty cool shots of everybody in the slightly stronger wind. Definite thumbs up to windsurfing. I would love to try it again in warmer water.

We ended day 2 with the remaining presentations and I think Rory was officially the bartender. Day 3 was less eventful. Everyone headed back to Edinburgh in some form or another. My car, with Pedro as tour guide, headed by way of Perth and the bridge rather than the Stirling route we took getting there. Sun threatened to peek out through the clouds, much as we expected.

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