Managing expectations

Another in the occasional series of management guides by Management Guru Rufus Blue.

Managing expectations is key in any business relationship. In this case, the relationship between master (me) and minion (Dave). This is best illustrated by an example this morning.

We have been having a run of bad weather, with heavy rain and strong, gusty wind. I require a walk every day and Dave is the means by which that walk is facilitated. He has a grasp of weather conditions that I don’t really have time to develop, and that’s fine (I can’t be perfect at everything). So I rely on Dave to pick the right moments to avoid the worst of the weather. But underlying this is the ongoing requirement for the daily walk.

This morning, it was raining. It had been yesterday as well. The aim was to build an acceptance that walking in the rain was okay and so yesterday, using the simple but effective technique known as ‘puppy dog eyes’, I ensured a walk in the drizzle. It set me up for this morning. Although the rain was coming down, Dave was already influenced by yesterday’s decision and was more susceptible to suggestion. Thus, there was no question over whether we were going out. It was a case of when and where.

Dave’s pretty good at finding decent places to go so I have no worries there and leave those decisions to him. Giving your minion some responsibility makes him feel valued, as indeed he is. But I didn’t want the effects of yesterday’s walk fading as time went on, so the puppy dog eyes came out again. Sure enough, and as expected, Dave started to get ready to go out. A triumph of the management of expectation by example and repetition.

We ended up at the Brynllenfrith plantation again. The name sounds grand, but it’s just some trees a little north of the Upper Lliw Reservoir. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to explore and, as usual, we had the place to ourselves. Once we were in amongst the trees, I let Dave off the lead (it’s so touching that he think’s I’m the one on the lead) and while he scrabbled around taking photos of the mushrooms and drops of water on the fir tree pines, I explored, made sure he didn’t get into any difficulties, and took my exercise. When he fell over, I didn’t laugh, even when he tried to make light of it by claiming it was a wet and slippery tree root he’d stepped on.

An added bonus was that we didn’t actually get wet because it held off raining until we got home.

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Blown Away

It didn’t look too bad out when I jumped in the car and set off for the hills. There was a bit of a breeze, and the radio was telling me about gale and storm warnings for Scotland and the East coast. But the sea looked calm and I wasn’t concerned.

I was heading for Pen y Fan and Corn Du. On my first trek, these were my training hills of choice. I watched my fitness improve by seeing the time it took to get to the top drop by over half an hour in the space of 6 months. But having climbed them more than 40 times, they became too familiar and, usually, very crowded. I preferred other hills and after the treks, I stayed away. But today I needed the steady climb these two offered.

I started off from the Storey Arms car park. This route takes longer and has an ‘up-down-up’ profile that is great for mental preparation as well as physical. Just as you’ve climbed the first bit, you lose all that height gain as you drop back down to a little stream. Visible ahead for the whole of this descent is the re-ascent.

Once I’d set the pace, I found the going quite easy. I wasn’t rushing – there was no need. But I found I didn’t have to take a break  and I kept the plodding pace going. Before long I was on the re-ascent and feeling great. The wind picked up a little but nothing of any note. Before long I could see the shoulder of the hill, where the path to Tommy Jones’ memorial joins the route up to Corn Du. Just before reaching there, the wind picked up a lot more and began to gust strongly. Although it was blowing from behind, it didn’t help me as it was catching my backpack, which acted like a sail and blew me off course. The further I went, the harder the wind gusted.

At the shoulder, the constant wind was strong and the gusts stronger. The path changed direction and the wind was blowing from my right side. I made sure I was away from the edge on my left as the wind was now pushing me off course most of the time. As I climbed, it got worse and I found myself having to lean to my right just to keep going straight. Every time I lifted a foot to step forward, the wind would pivot me on my other foot. I couldn’t get a rhythm going and it made for tiring work.

The last part of this route is steep, slippery and hard going underfoot. And just before the summit, the wind became almost impossible to battle. I sat just below the edge of Corn Du, using the lip of rock as a brace, which I had to hold on to with both hands. Had I stood up at this point, I would have been carried across the flat summit to the northern edge, which is the express route down. I stayed like this for a minute or so until the wind died slightly. When I stood up, I was immediately pushed with some force onto the summit and only a combination of leaning back into the wind, digging my heels in to gaps between rocks and using my walking pole as a brace stopped me from going over. Even so, I was taking reluctant steps in the wrong direction.

I spent 10 seconds on Corn Du before I realised I had to get off and in to shelter before the wind picked up again. But the problem was, which way to go. I couldn’t have gone back the way I came as I’d been blown away before I could get any firm footing. There was only one way to go – east towards Pen y Fan. Crossing the summit was an ordeal and several times I was carried forward by gusts. Then I reached the little path off the top. This is made up of naturally formed steps and as soon as I started down these, the wind began to push me off balance again. I was struggling now and a little worried about getting off in one piece.

Further down the path I spotted three people sheltering by the side of the path, I decided to join them and took a few more steps. The next thing I knew, a gust knocked my legs from under me and I went skidding down the path. Fortunately, I was off the worst of the rocks steps and although painful, I wasn’t hurt (although as I type, my left wrist is painful where I landed on it). I sat in front of the walkers and I couldn’t help laughing. It turned out that all three had gone over in the same place.

They made to move off and the wind caught them. One went flying backwards, only just staying on his feet. The other two bent low and too small steps as the forced their way uphill. I got up, got blown forward but managed to keep my balance and slowly made my way to the gap between Corn Du and Pen y Fan. I was beginning to doubt whether I should go further. The path ran close to the edge on the left and I left it to move further to the right. Even so, the strong wind was pushing me to the left, and the gusts on top were almost like someone shoving me. In the end, I decided to let common sense prevail. I’ve been on Pen y Fan in the wind and it’s worse than Corn Du. And there are more edges to fall off.

Almost as soon as I’d made the decision, I found myself flat on my back again as the wind had beaten me once more. I turned to head around Corn Du as I knew the path was a little more sheltered but it was almost impossible to make headway against the constant force and the gusts. I could barely breathe as the wind was now in my face. Each gust snapped abruptly, making it hard to compensate in time and for a third time I found myself  blown over, this time close to a steep slope which might have seen my tumbling down to the valley below.

Time for a quick exit! As I made my stop start way along the path, the wind began to die down in intensity until suddenly I found myself in a strangely calm and quiet part of the path. Corn Du was deflecting the wind to either side and I could see the mist ahead swirling back and forth. I had five minutes of this calm, which was most welcome, before the wind began to pick up again. I expected the worst to be on the bwlch where the Corn Du path meets the one coming up from Pont ar Daf. Most times I’ve come up that way, the wind has been bad at the top. Today it was no worse that at other times. I guess the mass of Corn Du was affecting the wind patterns.

Grateful for some respite, I headed down the path. It was easy going despite a constant wind, still from the right. I stopped to chat with a chap making his way up and I warned him about the wind, He dismissed it because, as he said, ‘I come up this way every week and I’m off to Brecon for a cup of coffee’. Good for him!

Getting down to Pont ar Daf was quick and I arrive back at the car only two hours after I’d left it. I was amused to see my phone GPS had logged my route as over 160km in two hours – giving me an average speed of around 80km per hour. I have been training a lot recently, but I was fairly sure there was some kind of error and sure enough, when I checked at home, it seems it had been logging me at three points some 20km apart in a triangle over and over.

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Snow more puns

It was cold last night. I’ve taken to using a hot water bottle to keep my feet warm at night. I may not need to but it’s comfy and I like it. There was no Rufus powered alarm clock this morning, either, so I ended up having a lie in until 7.45am. Lovely!

I decided to go for a walk first thing. I love the early morning when few people are about. It was fairly quiet even at 8.30. Having been disappointed with Singleton Park yesterday, I headed instead for a small park across the way from my house.  Walking down my road, the pavement was icy but as it was snow that had frozen, it was still a bit grippy. But at the bottom of the hill, where it joins the main road, there is a short, steep curve and it was like glass. I edged my way down, using the walls and railings of gardens as support. But inevitably I slipped and fell. Luckily, I went sideways into a large, soft bush growing in the driveway of someone’s house.

That was the hardest part though, and the rest of the route was more frozen snow. At the park, the trees still carried their loads of snow. Their branches were weighed down and several drooped wearily with the effort. A weak sun, filtered by thin cloud, gave a coppery glow to the park and it was leovely to have it to myself. I wandered for half a hour exploring the park and snapping away.

Then it was off to visit friends and Rufus.We spent a fun hour at the Lliw Valley reservoir where many snowballs were thrown and we built a snowman. Rufus chased snowballs and even managed to catch a few by leaping athletically into the air. But all that running around in deep snow meant that very quickly, he accumulated a load of snow around his paws until he looked like he was wearing snow boots. It didn’t stop him from charging across the dam and peeing on a very large snowman!

On the way home, I decded to detour to Cefn Bryn. It’s a heck of a detour but I wanted to get some photos of Broadpool and of Athur’s Stone. It’s great being able to nip off road to park without worrying about getting stuck. I popped over to the pool and took some photos. Cefn Bryn was looking wild and windswept and on the ridge I could see people sledging down the slopes.

On top of the ridge the car park was full and once again, I pulled up off road. I walked out to the stone and past wild horses that are often to be seen there. The landscape remined me a lot of Iceland. The snow was crunchy underneath and I didn’t stay long as the temperature was dropping.

Now where is that hot water bottle…

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Slip sliding awaaaay!

Out with Rufus this evening. Off to the river we went to catch the last rays of sunlight. I was looking for a place to cross so I could climb up to the stone circle. The river was quite full, as you would expect after a few days of rain. It takes a while to drain from the surrounding hills and mountains and the high water can be a few days after the actual rain has stopped.

So I was being extra careful in picking a place to cross. I had my wellies on so I could wade but even then, with some of the submerged stones slippery with slime, I had to be sure that my footing would be secure. All the while Rufus was crossing back and forth with four paw drive and the knowledge that I would dry him off later. Then I spotted it – a great big slab of rock, free from running water and extending almost two thirds the way across the river. I could cross on that, wade or jump the other bit and all would be well.

I got to the middle of the slab and suddenly I was falling. My foot had hit a damp patch that was like ice and my feet had gone from under me. You know when you fall and you feel it’s all going in slow motion., Well, that was me. I remember knowing I was going to be okay because the slap was bigger than me, and I remember thinking hitting the stone would hurt.

I landed on my hands and it did hurt. Then, a few milliseconds later, I started sliding down the slab towards the water. It was a pure cartoon moment. If I slipped off the slab, I would fall a foot or so into a pool of water that was probably deep enough for me to disappear under. I scrabbled and scraped and my fingers finally found the edge of the slab above my head and I managed to stop.

I may have sworn. If I did, it was probably only a mild expletive. Honest. I managed to stand up and found a crack in the rock to wedge my foot in. Then, pretending nothing had happened in case anyone was watching, I got back to the bank and started looking for another, safer, crossing point. The fingers of both hands had gone numb but I was okay.

I did manage to cross and I got to the stone circle. And I got back across safely again.

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