As I took the biggest gasp of air my wracked body could handle, my hands flew forwards and hit the ground. I kicked my legs, falling forwards, and crawled painfully upwards. Robinson, equally shattered, was right beside me. This was going to take us a while.
"I am never, ever, ever," I lied when we got back to the centre, "doing that again." Picturesque though it may have been, I would have traded the lovely view over the Peak District for a centre on a slightly lower hill. One on a 75% gradient wasn't great for the weary hiker. How they got the minibus up there with all of us on it I'll never know.
"But we have to do another walk tomorrow," Robinson said.
"Apart from tomorrow," I added, holding off from asking what the Romans had ever done for us.
I had, a couple of months back, been almost in a relationship with - and then dumped by - Soldiergirl, and I was still getting over it. All the different factors in my life were starting to combine and I was as stressed out as I could possibly be, but at that point, Woodcraft was - as it always has been - solidly, dependably present. Though I knew my muscles wouldn't thank me for it, I was ready to roam the Peaks for a weekend, even if I did spend some of said weekend shouting "I love you!" at maximum volume in the general direction of Nottinghamshire, even though I knew she was also away that weekend, just in case she heard it, or something.
I returned to the break room after dinner and shouting to find the general mess of people there: Mane explaining for the 4,097,295th time that he wasn't a real porn king, he'd just borrowed Dick's General Erection magazine supplement for a laugh and it had then blown out of the window. Mane Jr. and someone who was, at that point, a very young raver playing table tennis in the corner. Robinson, my friend-who-is-now-a-midwife and the rest reclining on whatever comfortable chairs were available. My sister reading 1984.
A young girl skipped over and asked me to sign cards for everyone. I had no idea this was happening, but I took part, signing everything for everyone, fully aware that my card would have the word "groovy" written in it several hundred times since I'd taken to doing impressions of Ash from Evil Dead 2 and everyone thought this was hilarious. Accordingly, I wrote "groovy!" in everyone else's card.
I got to the final card, which was to someone new. Dick - and his family, who were all there - had invited along a cousin, who was young and pretty, and who seemed to fit the Woodcraft mould like a glove. Feeling that I ought to do something different in her card (since I'd tired of "groovy"), I saw that her cousin had written "love you loads" in it. I put an arrow, wrote "agreed", signed my name, and passed it on.
It was only during the following night that I realised that I'd effectively written "love you loads" to someone I didn't know very well. To make matters worse, I think she may have had a crush on Mane, while my hairy friend had a crush on everyone, possibly if not actually including her. For the rest of the weekend, including the bus ride home (a real treat, considering it didn't involve walking), I avoided her gaze in case she was suddenly under the impression that I was passionately in love with her. She certainly hadn't written anything untoward in my card (among all the "groovy"s, one "funky" because she wanted to be different and "(Porn King)" from Mane), but in the end, Dick's little sister asked me outright if I fancied her cousin.
"No, of course not," I said, truthfully. "Whatever gave you that idea?" And that was that.
Fast-forward a school term and I was standing on the south bank of the River Thames, looking out on the Docklands and attempting to write some poetry. She did whatever the physical equivalent of "sliding into my DMs" might have been in the day and asked what was troubling me. So I told her - a relative stranger - all about everything. About Soldiergirl and school and Woodcraft and walking, and all the other communities I was part of, and all about earlier people like the girl-I-used-to-have-a-crush-on, and her sister too(!), and all about my worries...
She sympathised, as best she could. And she left me feeling at least a little better.
"Oh, I meant to ask," she said, almost as an afterthought. "Do you fancy anyone else?"
"No," I said, again truthfully. "Why? Did you think it was you?" Although I didn't say that. I did say "no," however.
Soon after that, I had my first sexual experience; soon after that, I had my first girlfriend. In the end, I reasoned, everything kind of moved on.
It's not always been easy since then. But I hope that, at least for a while, everything was - if I may say it one more time - groovy.