I am alive.
No one is more surprised by this than me.
Long story short, I now know what hell looks like. It's all featureless, steep-sided hills, impenetrable mist, paths that lead to nowhere, tufty grass and the leg-swallowing bogs that hide among them. Not to mention the rainstorms that soak you utterly to the bone and reduce you to cowering in your tent in the middle of nowhere while your instructor worries about you and one of your team-mates showing early signs of hypothermia.
My feet hardly remember what it is like to be dry any more.
Not nice. Not nice at all.
But let me tell you, I have never felt more awesome in my entire life. I could have cried with happiness when I saw the mini-bus waiting at the end of our route (not in the least because there were veins of fire running through my shoulders, and my hips felt like they were about to shatter into pieces).
Eat your heart out, Fellowship. Mordor is Disneyland compared to Dartmoor.
However, that said, the sheer mental and physical anguish of the trip did spawn some truly hilarious moments. Such as the classic moments I shall repeat to you below. Call them the rantings of six starving, stinking, semi-hysterical seventeen-year-olds, but at the time they were funnier than anything else in the universe.
Oh, and the promised video from my last post will be coming soon. It will probably be short, and the pictures may be absolute rubbish, but it will be there. Eventually.
Six sodden figures are wobbling along a disused tramline. They are one one of the highest ridges on Dartmoor, but even at this altitude the mist is so thick that they can scarcely see three feet down the path in front of them. All around is a swirling mass of white, forbidding fog.
Then, suddenly, the lead figure halts with a shriek.
"Look! Look, up there!" She points into the sky, almost jumping up and down, though the weight of her rucksack keeps her firmly rooted to the damp ground. "Do you see it?"
A great shriek goes up among the group. One drops to her knees and raises her hands to the sky, shouting, "Good God, save us from this unknown horror! What art thou, strange burning orange ball? Where didst thou come from?"
"I think it's ... the sun," says another team-mate, peeking out from under her sodden hood.
"Sun? What is this fabled "sun" of which you speak?" says the lead figure.
All six stare up at the faint outline in the sky until it is once again swallowed by the mist. They then struggle back to their feet and continue on their way as if nothing had happened.
The invigilator leans on his walking stick and laughs as the group wind past him, down the heather-covered hill to their camp site. He chuckles at the grim, stoic expressions on their faces.
"Watch out girls," he says jovially, "it's going to be a pretty foul night according to the weather reports. Let's hope none of the monsters you learned about at the visitor's centre come and get you, eh? Wouldn't want the Hound of the Baskervilles to make off with anyone!"
The last figure stops and looks into the invigilator's eyes with a blank, dead stare.
"If I see a hound, I will turn it into a hat and gloves without a second thought."
The invigilator watches, utterly bemused, as the girls vanish down the gully. Perhaps the weather is taking more of a toll on them than he thought. . .
It is 5:50 AM, and the still morning air is shattered by a loud, incessant beeping. From underneath a frame of wind-blasted tent poles and mournfully damp canvas, a bestial snarl rises and the sound of dull, wet thudding begins, accompanied by a series of words spat viciously at the source of the noise.
"Silence. Watch. Your. Queen. Commands It!"
And finally, a piece of riveting, Dartmoor-inspired songwriting that was sung from the base of Ryder's Hill right down to the valley town of Ivybridge. Feel free to sing along - the tune is very easy, and you get the gist of the lyrics pretty quickly.
100 wooly sheep, standing in the bog.
100 wooly sheep, standing in the bog,
And if one wooly sheep
Should wander into the fog
There'd be 99 wooly sheep, standing in the bog.