On leaving for my year abroad in Vancouver I was given a little boat ornament with the quote ‘There is no set path, just follow your heart’. This came as welcome news to me as it seems I am utterly incapable of following any set path even when intending to. As a geography student my poor sense of direction seems rather ironic and it would appear that I have been spending too much time ‘colouring in’ and not enough time map reading.
Take for example fresher’s week last year. After splitting off from the rest of the group in town to head back to college I somehow found myself not at the hill colleges, as I had expected, but near Durham School, half way to the viaduct. The light was quickly diminishing and there was no one on the streets to ask for directions. The prospect of spending my second night of fresher’s roaming the streets instead of at the toga party was beginning to look quite daunting. I tried to phone the one friend in Durham whose number I had, but she had somehow already lost her voice so I was unable to hear her hoarse directions from the other end of the phone. Fortunately for me at that point an old lady pulled up to pick her grandson up from school. After frantically asking her for directions it turned out she was heading my way to pick her granddaughter up, so in I hopped – a novel addition to the school run.
So, with what little sense of direction I possessed, I jetted off to what I hoped was the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver. I spent the first couple of weeks of lectures meandering around campus until I eventually found myself at the right building. In the meantime, I gawped at the ocean views backed by mountains and got lost in rose gardens, ice skating rinks, and even nudist beaches. 6 weeks on and I still had only a vague sense of the vast campus beyond my set routes from residence to class. So I figured that The CHASE, an urban adventure race around UBC campus and Vancouver city, would be the perfect opportunity to get to know the area. I convinced an unwitting friend that, being a geography student, I would be the ideal partner to help navigate the way around the course…
Off we went to complete a challenge reliant upon ‘determination and resourcefulness’ armed with ‘an official clue sheet’ and any items we deemed necessary to face them. It turns out that 2 bananas, a lighter, a piece of string, a map, and a bottle of water (which in fact turned out to be vodka) were not quite as adaptable and ingenious as we had envisioned.
With cryptic clues, puzzles and equations ranging from ‘Love means nothing’ (sports fans?) to ‘The Naked Truth – Get wet and finish quick’ (no you haven’t guessed it… skinny dipping on the on campus nudist beach); the first problem was to solve the riddles in order to find the CHASE Point locations. Having cracked a few of them we raced around campus to the ones that sounded most intriguing.
The first Point we reached was in UBC Biodiversity museum, fronted by a CHASE sign ‘Face your fears…’. Behind this loomed a 25-metre long blue whale skeleton, hardly a terrifying sight. But, the comparatively tiny tarantula and snake hidden beyond that instantly set my skin crawling. The challenge was for each team to hold the tarantula and snake. A game of fives ensued between my team mate and I as to who should hold the tarantula. I lost. Trying to convince myself that it would be just like holding a small rodent (after all it was equally as big and hairy) I held out my hands and took the tarantula. Unfortunately as it began to crawl up my arm instead of across my hands my rodent illusion evaporated and I flinched, causing the massive spider to drop to my forearm where it desperately clung on with its sticky feet. Meanwhile, my team mate was not having much more luck with the snake. Although neither of us had been afraid of it, it appeared that this feeling was not reciprocated by the snake itself; consequently a foul stench began to seep across the room as the small snake excreted down my friends arm.
Fortunately, the other challenges proved more successful and we spent the day forming a band, playing beach tennis, milking cows, shooting laser guns, racing go karts and climbing tree top rope courses. Unfortunately, we never finished the 10 CHASE Points necessary to complete the race, partly because we chose to stop for lunch and were far too snap happy and slow walking, but (naturally) also because I got us lost, or as I would prefer to say ‘off the beaten track’. But we got what we had wanted to achieve from the day, a glimpse further into UBC campus and our new home. Anyway, my inability to follow a set path ought to mean that I will soon stumble across more secret spots that UBC and Vancouver have to offer. There are sometimes interesting rewards in getting lost.