3rd - 11th July 2006
In early July 2006, eight members of UWOC travelled to Lithuania to take part in the Takas 5-day orienteering event. Based around the town of Druskininkai, the events were in densely forested richly contoured regions, and the weather there was very hot (in fact, this was a record-breaking period of high temperatures in Lithuania, exceeding 100F at times!) We did a wide range of courses: Graham Gristwood, Iain Embrey, and Matt Rooke all ran in the M21E category, Mark Cummings in M21S, Anthony Barnard in M21N, and Caroline Northall in W21S. Ben Saxby and Yen Nguyen took part in the open courses.
Monday 3rd July
Early morning saw the UWOC squad heading to Lithuania from different directions, and heading to different airports. Some communication problems, mixed with misunderstandings, meant that Graham, Matt, Iain, Mark and Ben were waiting anxiously for Anthony to join them on the trip from Stansted to Kaunas, when he was actually flying from Gatwick to Vilnius with Caroline. They also did not realise that Yen would be arriving at Kaunas later (travelling from Sweden), and so made their own arrangements to reach Druskininkai.
Lithuanian drivers seem fond of travelling at high speeds, and as a result all the journeys the team made to get to Druskininkai were rather bumpy. In at least one case, the taxi used left the ground, and landed with an impact that dislodged the bumper, which rattled along for the rest of the journey.
Arriving early in Druskininkai, Graham, Matt, Mark, Iain and Ben went along to view part of the JWOC sprint event, taking place in the town centre. Although they missed the first half of the female event, they were in time to view the rest. There was a spectator control close to the start/finish areas, and this was a good place to view the event. Although it was slightly awkward watching a few of the competitors head off in the wrong direction after this control, there was some enjoyment to be taken in observing the different approaches used to reach the control (around the flowerbed, or leap over it).
At length, we were all gathered in Druskininkai, and able to organise our sleeping arrangements. We had two caravans hired, on a campsite with a number of other orienteers, including several British ones (such as the entire Halliday clan).
Later, Caroline, Yen and Anthony went to the shops to get some dinner for the group, while the rest did a training run, exploring some of the local woods.
That evening, there were a few amusements to be had. Mark tried to teach some of the others to juggle (many of the others did well, and made good progress), and Caroline amused us all with readings from the information booklet (complete with its incomprehensible grammar). Then the decision was made to play a game, and the rest of the evening was spent attempting to think of something to play (Ben’s suggestion of strip-twister didn’t get accepted).
Tuesday 4th July
There was very little done this day other than the trip to the event. Everyone rose late, and went on a trip to the shops for some lunch. On the way back, subtle interrogation by Ben revealed that Yen is a cannibal. This lead to a lot of amusement, and many jokes throughout the week.
One and Two were based near the river Nemunas, which took a long time to reach. After a 40-minute coach journey, competitors were dropped off with a further 20-minute walk to reach the assembly area. This was a slow and tiring journey, along a dry, dusty road; every time a vehicle passed, clouds of dust were sent up; this was made worse by the sun beating down on us. Fortunately, we were able to acquire rides on the other occasions we had to travel along this road.
Eventually we reached the assembly area, and were able to rest before our events. The terrain in this region consisted largely of runnable woodland, and many rises and depressions; navigation was primarily by contours and bearings, with few other features to aid. It was essential to tick off every contour feature that was passed, to ensure you knew exactly where you were, as to lose contact with the map would mean a lengthy relocation process, due to the lack of paths and other large features (as several of us discovered the hard way). The run-in at the end was up a hill, slowing everyone enough for the supporters to have time to cheer them along.
After the event, we returned to the campsite, and had a barbecue for dinner.
Wednesday 5th July
A loud chorus of the Beatles woke one caravan early this morning, when Iain got confused about what time we were supposed to be getting up. As with the previous day, there was little done in the morning, before we headed off to get the coach to the event. This was in the same location as before, but luckily we were able to catch a minibus from the coach drop-off to the assembly area. The courses were different, but were based around the same area. The UWOC prestige rose for this event, with GG finishing in 2nd place
After the event, we returned to the campsite, and joined in with the picnic that had been set out by the British JWOC team. Due to late starts at the event, most of our group arrived late, and so required dinner, while GG headed to the centre of Druskininkai to attend a presentation for the first two days. The rest of us arrived to see him presented with the magnificent prize of a drawstring bag.
Throughout the events, there had been music playing, but after several repeats of Christmas songs (such as jingle bells in Lithuanian), and the entries of the Eurovision song contest (including the Lithuanian entry “We are the Winners”, also played at the presentations repeatedly), we decided to create our own CD from Iain’s music collection, and ask for it to be played the next day. After trimming down the suggestion list (Caroline had added all the songs which she recognised in the collection), this task was completed. The highlight of the disc was a Lithuanian version of “Singing in the Rain”, from a CD Ben had bought earlier in the day. Interestingly, the caravans had wireless internet connection, which was also used that evening.
Thursday 6th July
This is the Lithuanian State Day, marking the anniversary of the coronation of the first king of Lithuania, Mindaugas, in 1253. As a result, most of Druskininkai was closed, so our morning spent looking around the town was largely futile. We saw a few monuments and churches, along with war memorials. There were also two lakes that we walked past, one of which had pedal boats for hire; we decided we would have to get a go on these before the end of the week.
This event was much closer, near the town of Petroskai, about a 30-minute journey by coach. The start was 1.5K from the assembly area, meaning a long walk before you could begin your course, and the finish was up a hill steeper than that of the earlier days. Like the previous region, this area was heavily and intricately contoured, but the forests were much denser in many places, most courses seemingly taking in routes through as many of these areas as possible. This area had a few small open areas as well, which had their own challenge provided by the sun beating down. This event saw an even better performance from Graham, who finished in first place.
Iain’s CD got handed to the powers that be, and (after further requests passed on through Anthony) it got played. Iain managed to time it right so that he escaped to the start just before the CD reached “Barbie Girl”, received with much amusement in the British tent
Returning to Druskininkai, we went out for pizza in the evening. After this, we went back to the caravans, and found things to amuse ourselves. One of the strange things that happened developed through several stages. After several attempts to juggle (including accidentally hitting other people with bad throws), the balls began to be thrown among the group. Moving outside for a bit of a cool-down, this was changed to a game whereby one person stood still with a ball balanced on their head, and the others threw the other balls at it, in an attempt to knock it off. Three boys staying at the campsite joined in, and after several attempts to find out from them what the Lithuanian word for “sorry” is, we discovered that they were actually Ukrainian. It seems that the Ukrainian for “thank you” lies somewhere between “spacebar” and “placebo”. Who would have thought we’d spend the evening throwing balls at Ukrainian children?
Friday 7th July
While Graham and Matt again went to the event early to support the JWOC team (as they had done on previous days), the rest of the group headed for a small lake to go swimming. Anthony and Mark sat out, due to the need for eating lunch before an early start time, but the others had great fun.
The event was in the same place as the previous day, but this time the start was placed much closer to the assembly area. The terrain was again thickly forested with a few small open areas, but with only a slight overlap with the earlier courses. Graham built on his success by finishing in first place on this day as well. This meant that he was first overall in the M21 elite class, and so would be the first to start on the final day.
Back at Druskininkai, Graham, Matt and Ben went out for pizza, while the rest cooked dinner (which Ben kindly helped to eat). Later in the evening, Caroline, Ben, Iain, Mark, and Anthony went outside to play with a football, and ended up with an energetic game of Piggy-in-the-middle. It was learnt the hard way that Caroline can be quite vicious, and in a short space of time all participants were soaked in sweat.
The game ended when Iain (and by extension the rest) were invited by other British orienteers to a party in what may be the only nightclub in Druskininkai. Taking Yen instead of Mark, the game-players headed off, spotting the first of many glow-worms in the woods on their way there. Unfortunately, the club was getting full, and on the grounds that Iain was wearing shorts (apparently not allowed), the group was turned aside. Conveniently however, a derelict playground was located just outside the club entrance, and so they had a much cheaper night of fun playing around on the seesaws, slide and parallel bars; then climbed atop the abandoned swing frame, lacking in swings, but they improvised. It was decided to take the most interesting (and direct) route back to the campsite, which involved walking through the woods in the dark, without lights, and over a broken bridge, of which remained only two narrow metal beams and one and a half handrails. They (unwisely?) followed Caroline off the path and took the cross-country route back, though the trees (literally) and back to camp.
Saturday 8th July
Today the event was taking place in Druskininkai, with the courses beginning with a chasing start. Thus Graham was first to start on his course, with the remainder starting later at intervals dependant upon how far behind they were cumulatively over the earlier events. For those beyond 90 minutes behind, the starts were then given at one-minute intervals. This meant a late start for most of us, and so while Graham and Matt watched the JWOC relay in the morning, we decided to have a go on the pedal boats.
When we got to the boats, however, we saw that there were rowing boats available too, and decided to go in them instead. This developed into a game of rowing-boat polo, mixed with attempts to sink the other boat, races across the lake, and getting soaked if you strayed too close to the fountain in the middle.
After this, with plenty of time before the event, we then decided to go for a swim. Since the lake beside the event was quite full, we went to the one we had swum in before. Again, great fun was had, and an energetic and somewhat violent game of piggy-in-the-middle was played. This went on too long, and as a result Anthony arrived a couple of minutes late for his start time. Iain decided since he was late as well, that he might as well do so in style, and began 25 minutes late.
Graham ran in the coach’s race before the main event, and won this, despite the coaches being forced to cross a river in the process (the bridge was deliberately blocked). He then went on to win his course as well. The terrain was much better than the other events; while still contour-rich, the trees were much thinner and runnable. Despite this, Ben managed to get attacked by a tree, and returned with a blood-covered nose. This was, however, the hottest day so far and, coupled with the effect of competing five days in a row, this took its toll. A post-run dip in the lake was greatly welcomed by several in the group.
Graham was called up to the podium to receive his prize (accompanied by yet another rendition of “We are the Winners”). He was surprised to receive 500 litai and, rather than convert it back into British money, decided to spend a large portion of it that evening at the JWOC party, buying drinks for everyone he knew (and some that he didn’t).
That evening we went out for dinner, and subsequently Graham went to the JWOC party (he had tickets since he was there in several capacities, as coach and reporter). Matt decided to join with some other British orienteers and gate crashed the party. The rest of us bought some snacks, and sat on benches in a park and played team charades. When this ended, Yen and Anthony headed straight back to the caravans, while the rest took the route through the woods and across the broken bridge.
The nighttime woodland wanderings led to Caroline, Iain and Ben putting on their head-torches and going for a nighttime orienteer. Caroline kindly drew out a route for Anthony, which consisted of three points in essentially the same position (the caravan). A short while after they got back, Matt returned, rather drunk (due in part to the exhaustion of competing for the five days), and wearing a blue cowboy-style hat he had somehow acquired from the JWOC squad.
Results for Takas 5
Caroline Northall (W21S)
Graham Gristwood (M21E)
Iain Embrey (M21E)
Matt Rooke (M21E)
Mark Cummings (M21S)
Anthony Barnard (M21N)
***No results for Ben and Yen, as they took part in the Open courses, and did not receive start times.
Sunday 9th July
After packing all our stuff, we travelled to Kaunas. Although we were late getting to the collection point, the minibus arriving to collect us was much later, and so by the time we reached Kaunas, dropped our belongings in the apartment we were renting, and had lunch, it was mid-afternoon. We wandered around Kaunas for a while, and had a look at some of the sights. Graham and Matt had a go on some small cars, racing around the top of a hill. After heading back down the hill, Graham and Iain decided to race back up to the top of the steps, but Graham played a trick on Iain, and let him run off without following.
We looked around at a number of monuments, large churches and the outside of (closed) museums, and found several squares which lent themselves very well to a game or three of One Bounce with Graham’s volleyball. On one occasion, we were randomly joined in the game by a Lithuanian child wearing a monster mask. Later, after tiring ourselves out, we found finding somewhere to have dinner. This was disturbed part way through when a comment by Ben caused Iain to laugh, managing to snort a mouthful of food into his nose (not at all pleasant). After desert, we returned to the apartment and spent the evening there; some watching the football on the television, others playing Worms on Iain’s computer.
Monday 10th July
Our last day in Lithuania, we spent the morning wandering around Kaunas, seeing a range of churches and other old buildings. We arrived at Kaunas Castle at lunchtime, and after a game of Ultimate Frisbee (played with a wide range of skill) we stopped for lunch. This was followed by a look at the castle (not much to see), and then a walk to the river where Graham, Ben and Iain decided to go for a swim. Matt reluctantly joined them, and together they dragged Caroline and Yen into the water fully-clothed and got them to join in – a very welcome cool-down after running around in the midday sun for so long!
After drying off, we headed back into town. On the way, Ben found a fountain, guarded by two stone-and-iron dogs, which appeared to be for free consumption. Looking around, it seems that the sign on it translates as “drinking water”, so that was fine. Subsequent antics, involving the washing of faces, and Caroline shaking her head to dry her hair (hitting Ben with it in the process), were filmed by a man with a camera, so it’s possible that we may end up on a Kaunas tourist information video.
With the afternoon getting on, Matt and Graham went off to have a run, while the rest explored a bit more. Yen, Anthony and Mark had a go on the funicular railway (which was not particularly interesting, despite being one of the only two funicular railways in Lithuania), while Caroline, Ben and Iain walked up a different way. En route, they discovered some steps with a slope that they proceeded to slide down; Caroline made the mistake of wearing a pale-coloured pair of shorts, so it was clear what she had been doing (or maybe she just got grubby because she went first). At the top of the hill is the Resurrection Church, which at present stands in a building site, and the church itself appears unfinished; it was closed so we couldn’t go in
After this, we headed back to the apartment. Ben and Iain decided to look around a bit, but failed to find any restaurants where they could sneakily acquire some toilet paper for the apartment, while Yen stopped to see part of a Christian concert put on by a group of Americans.
Once everyone had showered and changed, we went out for dinner. Graham, Matt and Anthony decided that this was the opportunity to try a litre of beer; this was a struggle for Matt in particular. Iain, Caroline and Yen also sampled some cocktails, courtesy of Graham
After dinner, attempts were made to find a club of some sort but, since almost nothing is open on Sundays or Mondays, this failed, and so after a visit to the off-licence, a small UWOC party was held in the apartment. An attempt was made to have a boat-race, but with a wide variety of glass-sizes and drinks. Then several hours passed playing a game of twenty-one, with Matt and Iain in particular getting slightly drunk. Finally at 4am this ended, and it was time to head for bed.
Tuesday 11th July
This day, most of the group returned to Britain. Caroline being the only person flying from Vilnius, opted for just under two hours’ sleep and caught a coach in the early hours of the morning to have a look around the capital city, in truly speedy sightseeing mode, until heat and lack-of-sleep finally caught up with her on the journey back home. Yen stayed behind, to have a few more days in Lithuania, while Iain searched for something to do as he had confused himself with the dates and booked a flight back for the 12th by mistake. The others got up at 8.30am, packed, and caught a taxi to Kaunas airport. After a delay for take-off, they flew back to Stansted and subsequently all went their separate ways.