Bristol ACF conducted Exercise Bristolian Zeus during the back end of October 2017, with the main aim of cycling some of the varied technical and challenging off road routes of Cyprus. From the stunning views along the Cyprus coastlines showing off the deep blue and emerald sea of the Mediterranean, to the craggy and muddy trails of the Troodos Mountains, Bristol ACF were primed and ready to embark on an experience that will remain in the memories of all of those that took part.
This event was to be the second time that Bristol ACF had mounted an overseas adventurous training exercise, so the trails and tracks of the West Country once again became our training grounds to help us prepare for what was ahead. After a selection process and many hours of training, the team to go to Cyprus consisted of eleven Cadets, two Trail cycle Leaders and a dedicated support team of two experienced driver/medics. At this point I would like to note that no Adult Volunteers had any arms twisted, were tricked or offered bribes during the making of this exercise!
On Oct 18th the advance party flew off to Cyprus to sort out general admin details, whilst the remainder of the group after a very early start to the day, flew from Bristol and finally arrived at Pathos Airport on Oct 21st in what can only be described as a very indifferent weather pattern to that experienced by the advance party, hot muggy and sticky were the phrases used on arrival into Pathos. With the team now complete we headed off to our accommodation in Troodos Station which was to be our home for the days ahead, arriving in the Troodos Mountains at around midnight, the team was greeted with a misty and very cold chilly wind. Welcome to sunny Cyprus.
The following day was dedicated to bike safety checks and tweaking the bikes to fit the cadets, and the first day of riding was also included. This involved a moderate ride in the Troodos Mountains designed to gently persuade the legs to get going again, and start thinking about putting all those hours spent in training into practice. This in fact was achieved, however, the unpredictable weather decided to rear its ugly head and on occasion the persistent rain almost cut short the day’s activities, the ride continued successfully and comments of “ I thought Cyprus was supposed to be sunny” could be heard at almost every twist and turn of the rugged mountain trails.
Moving on to a ride that took place within the confines of RAF Akrotiri, saw a good chance to ride some great coastline, ride to the fantastic area of Dreamers Bay and take on 20kms of challenging undulating trails and tracks.
To date the cadets had experienced plenty of bad weather and today showed just how hot it can get within a matter of minutes of the rain drying up. The sun had its hat on and was coming out to play. During all rides on the exercise the cadets were encouraged to ride to the front of the group and choose good lines for the rest of the group to follow, on more than one occasion line choice was indifferent which in turn led to unexpected terrain not previous planned on, during this day three cadets suffered the annoying experience of cog rash, i.e., feet slipping off the pedals and shins making contact with the front cogs of the bikes chain drive and slicing open the skin for good measure. Thankfully after getting the wounds dressed and dusting themselves down the cadets were able to carry on with a smile on their faces, although at times through gritted teeth.
Our next day of riding took place along the coastline of the western part of Cyprus, proving just how diverse the terrain could be on this fantastic Island. The ride started off along a nice piece of tarmac, the road then disappeared and quickly became a very bumpy and rutty dirt road with short but very steep hills thrown in to create an even more challenging ride. Local tourist traffic also quickly became another hazard the cadets had to overcome. It was on this day that I was to become another victim of bad line choice, although coming off my bike was not planned, I can at least report that I was not injured and fell off with grace and finesse and, can also boast we were on sand at the time of my demise. After two hours of riding during the hottest day so far, we turned back on our 36km route and headed back to our safe haven of the shade and headed back up to the Mountain tops of Troodos.
The next day saw a cultural visit to the Archaeological sight of Kourion, situated along the Akrotiri Peninsula, where, upon arrival, the cadets conducted their own guided tour of the site by each cadet delivering a 3 minute talk on individual aspects of the area, the cadets researched the information prior to the exercise and included areas such as the House of The Gladiators, The House of Achilles and the main Theatre. The whole site dates to c.484 – 426 B.C.
The day ended with a trip to the local main town of Pathos to take in the sights and experience some of the excellent locally prepared food and ice cream.
With only two days left of the exercise our plan was to continue the ride along the western edge of the Island where we left off from a previous days ride. Due to the hot and humid conditions we were only able to ride for about three and a half hours before the weather conditions dictated we turn back, the heat was by now too hot to ride in. The extra rest was welcomed by the cadets as our last ride was to be the most challenging ride to date and at the same time most enjoyable of the whole trip.
Our last and final ride was the jewel in the crown for any off road cyclist, although short (18km return trip) the route was littered with steep hill climbs and descents, large and long rock gardens, overall very technical terrain, rutty, dusty and muddy trails and views that were absolutely outstanding from every angle. Not even the wild stray goats would get in the way of the intrepid cadets. This ride certainly tested all the cadets and demanded respect, all the previous training came into play to get through this very demanding route and even asked questions of the fittest members of the group. A most exhilarating ride that challenged everyone without exception.
In summary, Exercise Bristolian Zeus was a huge success. Everyone was able to develop leadership skills and apply technical ability on a Mountain Bike, appreciate the importance of being a team member, and I saw tons of personal confidence grow within the cadets on a daily basis, or as one cadet put it:
“this exercise is ace, I learndid more about my confidence than what I knew I add”
(Proper Bristolian, I never knew ‘learndid’ was a word!) Ample opportunities to hone other skills also came to the fore, from repairing untimely tyre punctures to conquering saddle-sore!
All participants on the exercise would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ulysses Trust for the generous financial support which enabled this exercise to be such a great success. A situation not mentioned until now saw the exercise cancelled six days before we were due to fly out to Cyprus, this was due to the collapse of Monarch Airlines, the cost of new flights with another low cost airline was astronomical, undoubtedly the help and support of the Uylsses Trust enabled the exercise to go ahead. Thank You.
Lt Gary Forder, Exercise Leader. Bristol Army Cadet Force.