My sister and I went on an ‘adventure day’ hosted by 3xtreme in East Grinstead, which is in the southeast of the UK. The theme was zombie apocalypse/hunger games, and was billed to include crossbows, axe throwing, shooting, spear throwing, archery, all sorts of wonderful stuff. I was way more excited by the axe throwing than I should have been; I’ve always liked holding hammers, and axes are my weapon of choice in a video game, if there’s any available. Maybe there’s something in my childhood that I need to look at…
It looked really good and sounded exciting, but as with anything like this that’s relatively unknown, there’s a bit of pot luck involved. Photos can’t be trusted as a realistic representation, so unless you actually know someone who’s been, you could be walking into anything. I was mentally prepared for it to be like one of those Winter Wonderland horror stories, where parents pay loads of money to take their kids to a promised Lapland in the heart of Wiltshire, only to find it’s just a cordoned off field with a few bales of hay, a couple of sheep in reindeer headbands and a drunken Santa who’s forgotten his trousers and shouts at the kids.
Also, the other thing to be aware of with events like this; they attract weirdos. Yes, I do appreciate the implications of that statement… but I am talking about the type of people that until you actually meet them, you’d think only existed as parody characters in comedy shows. They’re normally too short/unstable/boss-eyed to get into the military, but they are so determined that they’ve still put in the time to learn the jargon and get the kit, or at least a vague approximation of. They’ve learned everything they know from reading Bravo Two Zero, and listening to Keith with the gammy leg who works in the Army surplus store.
Imagine our delight then when we arrived and it was actually at a proper outdoor activity centre, and the only people there with any kit were actually instructors. Other people on the adventure day with us were a Dad with his two sons, a couple who just looked like any normal couple you might see in Tesco, and four young giggly teenage girls.
Joining us late was a group of 6 “young adults”, who were not only late, but then took their sweet time wandering off to the toilet, gathering their takeaway coffees and chatting amongst themselves. I got the impression that they weren’t used to having to listen to anyone else telling them what to do very often.
Whilst it had been warm and bright on the drive down, the weather forecast had said that it was going to rain for a bit in the early morning, before clearing up to be sunny for the rest of the day. I had therefore committed to shorts for the entirety of proceedings – not just because it was due to be warm, but because all of the trousers I own are actually longer than my legs, and therefore a REALLY bad idea if there is going to be any hint of mud. It did indeed start raining as soon as we arrived, and even though we were expecting it, it was still disappointing.
We eventually went off in a convoy down to a field half a mile or so away from the main centre. We parked up and walked past a group of the tattiest, greenest caravans I have ever seen (which actually made my car look well maintained), down a muddy slope to the bottom of the field, where there was a tree-lined stream, and a camp set up in a little hollow. The shelter was a little lean to, with benches and a firepit, covered by camouflage tarpaulins.
Once there, we were divided into two groups; the other half were taken off to start with the archery in the next field along, and our group stayed where we were to begin with the air rifles. I was rather pleased about that turn of events because a) it was still drizzling, and the trees offered some shelter and b) the 6 pricks were away in the other field.
The instructor, Dave, talked to us about the guns we were going to be using, how to safely carry, load and fire them. He also explained about how to ensure the gun is braced into your shoulder properly and not get too close to the sights on the top, in order to avoid cracking yourself in the face when the gun kicks back. I mentioned that I had in fact done exactly that to myself when I was younger, and given myself a black eye, ha ha ha, don’t do THAT kids…the funny thing being that while doing a sunburn reccy later on, I noticed that I had a sodding great lump above my eyebrow which looks very much like I had done exactly the same thing again. Well done, me.
Anyway, we split into pairs to work our way through 10 different targets along the side of the stream. The targets themselves were perched in the branches of the trees bordering the water – metal animal shapes, with little yellow ‘kill zone’ dots painted on them. If you hit the target, you got a point. If you hit the kill zone, the metal animal fell over and you scored two points. The group that scored most points got to dictate which of the two teams did the final activity of the day first, and therefore got to leave earlier.
My sister and I worked our way around the different targets, leapfrogging one of the pairs of girls who were giggling and squealing about not being able to pull the trigger because it was too hard. I generously thought at the time that they had simply forgotten to take the safety off, but based on later events, it’s entirely possible that they just couldn’t do it. My sister was consistently good at hitting the targets and didn’t miss much, but for me it was another example of my complete inability to moderate anything; I either hit the kill-zone or missed entirely. As it happened, I achieved the joint top individual score with the Dad, which I think says more about how everyone else’s day was going than it did about mine.
Dave had a started a fire in our absence, and we steamed the rain out of our clothes whilst enjoying some toasted marshmallows and waiting for everyone else to get back.
Once everyone was finished and scores collected, Dave talked to us a bit about trapping in a survival situation, and then we moved on around to the archery where the other guys were – unsurprisingly – taking their time.
Here we were using ‘recurve’ bows and the instructor, Mark, talked us again through safety and how to shoot the bow properly. Once more, I was completely inconsistent, and once more, I managed to injure myself – although this time it was more immediately apparent. Every time I released an arrow, the bowstring snapped me inside my left forearm on the way through. I don’t mind admitting, it fucking hurt. Mark had a forearm strap that he gave me to wear, which really helped and also offered me some reassurance; I can’t be THAT much of a spaz if someone has already designed a bit of kit for it. [It’s shaping up to be a cracking bruise, by the way]
We had a few rounds of shooting, with the gradual introduction of balloons in the centre of the targets (I have to be honest, I only managed to hit mine because the wind blew it to one side and into the path of the arrow I just fired), and then lastly a rubber skull with an apple on its head, which the youngest of the two brothers absolutely nailed.
We then went back to Dave, who introduced us to the crossbows, and a movie reality-check about the difficulties of actually using them in a combat scenario. He had three different weapons, which ranged in price from £100 to £500, and ranged in ease of ability to cock from “Hmm, that was harder than I expected” to “Help me; I think I just herniated a disc in my spine”. I’ve used a stock picture because I was too busy paying attention to take a photo of my own, but you need to use a special rope tool just to cock these crossbows, before you can even get in a position to use them.
We all had a go at firing each of the three weapons at a couple of dummies on the other side of the field, and the speed they fire at is surprising and impressive. While the end result is pretty devastating, these crossbows were time consuming and labour intensive to cock and fire. I imagine they would be good for hunting, but more of a liability in any combat situation.
Now, while I will happily take the piss out of people who are behaving like idiots or arseholes, I generally try not to be negative about people who are trying their best… Unfortunately, at this point in the day, two of the young girls were so totally incapable that it actually felt dangerous having them around.
One in particular (who had looked from the start of the day like her boots were too heavy for her to walk around in) would definitely have struggled to even open a packet a crisps. She couldn’t cock the bow with the lightest draw weight, and ended out catapulting the heaviest one at the Dad who was trying to help her. I hope he’s OK actually…
After we had all surveyed the damage wrought upon the two ‘zombies’, we moved on to my favourite bit of the whole day; spear, knife and axe throwing with Mark. As before, the previous group were still arsing about by the time that we got there.
There were a series of wooden stands, with sodding greats slices of tree nailed to them, with a knife and an axe for each one. Next to those targets was that hay that I had been expecting, but it was there for hurling the spears into. We each stood in front of one station, had two throws of each pair of weapons, and then moved along one space ensuring that everyone got a go on the spears.
Turns out, throwing lumps of metal is surprisingly difficult, and I could not have failed harder unless I had thrown the knife and the axe down behind me and just run face-first into the target.
To my utter relief, it wasn’t just me. It was like we were all hopeless peasant villagers from a medieval action movie, where a heroic warrior steps in to train The People how to fight against whoever it is that is oppressing them. In the first scenes of the training montage, the hero sits on horseback, watching in awed disbelief at the sheer incompetence unfolding around him, as the scruffy villagers utterly miss the archery targets, trip over their swords and accidentally set fire to their own shoes. I thought that was all hammed up for the sake of the films – nope, that’s precisely how it would have happened. Every time Mark shouted for everyone to throw, there was a spray of weapons quickly followed by synchronised clattering and thuds as everything simply bounced off, landed handle first, or just whistled off into the distance. I’m not sure about anyone else, but I thought it was hilarious, and I don’t think that I could have scripted it better.
The spears were OK and felt fairly familiar, but the axes/knives were a different matter. It’s an unusual throwing action, completely different to any sport I have ever been forced to participate in, or any action I have needed to use in any line of work. Imagine, if you will, the first time a toddler throws a ball, and then just ends out hurling it enthusiastically onto the floor in front of them. That is EXACTLY what it felt like I was doing on the first two axe stations. I also felt like I was rolling my shoulder out of joint. I was clearly Doing It Wrong.
Now, while I like to think that I am smart, and quick to pick up facts and processes and numbers, physically speaking I am an absolute fucking doofus. It takes me an inordinate length of time to learn new physical abilities. I flail at stuff like an angry child with absolutely no success, until eventually something clicks and I can just do it. Normally, I get so frustrated that I give up ages before the ‘click’ moment, and rarely end out doing most of the things I’d like to be able to.
As a result, I am deeply envious of people who can pick new physical activities up instinctively, and we had one of those people in our group – the oldest of the two boys. I couldn’t say how old he actually was, just that he was old enough that he didn’t look like he was made from parts of other, taller boys any more, while being too young to buy a round of drinks yet. He got good really quickly, and was the only person to land the two handed axe at the end, although his Dad gave it a good go.
To be fair to myself, by the time I reached the third station, I was actually landing the axe on 50% of my throws, and on one occasion I managed to land the knife too. (Granted, the knife was flat edge of the blade into the wood, and the axe was hanging on by the tip, but I am taking that as a Win.) It was nothing short of haphazard, but it was progress, and I would have liked to have spent loads more time there.
Sadly, it was the end of the session and we had to break for lunch. One thing I can say for sure; I do not want that to be the last axe I ever throw. Despite not exactly being the axe-wielding maniac I had hoped for, I really enjoyed myself and will definitely be doing more – watch this space.
After lunch, and after sitting around again waiting for the other group, we got to use some air pistols, but any gangsta fantasies were very quickly destroyed. We gathered inside a darkened hut, with scrim netting across the ceiling and a tin can range at the far end. We were all given the opportunity to practise opening, loading and closing a few different types of handguns… which proved to be a lot slower and less slick than I think a few people had hoped for. There was quite a bit of grumbling and struggling, followed by slightly disappointing little crack noise when the gun was fired. Boyz n the Shed; it’s the British version.
When the girls got up to have a go, Dave dialled the difficulty back a bit and gave them an easier gun to load – I can’t remember what it was called but it looked liked something out of an Indiana Jones movie. All you had to do was break the barrel down, pop a pellet in, and close it again. Those girls were hopeless – seriously, one of them couldn’t break a fucking Kit-Kat. If it really WAS a zombie apocalypse, I know who’d be going for bait first.
Anyway, we all had a go with a few different handguns, and I can state categorically that I did not hit a damn thing. That is not in any way an exaggeration. I thought I was lining the sights up properly, but absolutely nothing hit. The pellets all disappeared into bales of hay at the back, so I couldn’t see where they were landing, and had no idea what I was doing wrong in order to correct it.
My sister on the other hand did really well, which was great, because shooting was the thing she was really interested in. The older lad from earlier also shone, as did the fourth of the girls who ended up with us… I just stuck with looking more badass than everyone else.