New Needles in a Rodings Rally Checkpoint

I write as a new participant in helping out at the annual EFOG Rodings Rally in which, last Saturday, about 260 brave souls attempted to find ten needles in a haystack called Epping Forest – in the dark. We, David and I, were one of the needles, and our checkpoint was Number 4 – Bury Wood. From our viewpoint, as complete novices, we would like to pass on some lessons learned:

  1. If you are interested in the idea of spending 12 hours in the dark in a flimsy tent in cold, foggy weather with a real possibility of rain, wind, frost, sleet, snow, thunder and lightening, to name but a few, the first and most important rule is – find somebody else to do it! If you require help with this skill, we recommend Paul – one of the organizers - we were putty in his hands!

  2. Have a good look at your tent (put it up in advance) – was its previous owner Baden Powell, are half its ‘bits’ missing, and would it just about accommodate Grumpy and Dopey? If the answer to these questions is yes, take your own. Experience has taught us that, if you wish to make your tent difficult to find, choose a nice bright scarlet-coloured specimen. In our case, only less than 50% of the contestants found us – a record for the night.

  3. Assuming you don’t have a degree in civil engineering, and are possessed of average hamfistedness, get to your site early (7pm) to erect your tent. Do not use guys (they trip over them, and, unless it is windy, they are unnecessary). It is difficult to hold or support a torch in a way that is remotely helpful and, if your colleague is of a puritanical persuasion, you will need to learn to swear under your breath.

  4. If you do not wish to suffer the fate of Scott of the Antarctic, take something that would have got him there before Amundsen – a duvet. Also something to lie on – preferably inflatable as you have to be able to walk 12 hours later.

  5. Make full use of the ‘bathroom’ before you leave.

  6. Make sure your colleague lies on the side near the door (nudge! nudge! wink! wink!).

  7. You need a big, digital time readout on your phone.

As to the experience itself – here goes!

Lying, tense with nervous expectation in a tangible silence – waiting – waiting. Then a distant snap of a branch, then silence and we let out our held breath. Then another – was it nearer? And another. A bird starts noisily. “Was that a voice?” I whisper. “I didn’t hear anything”. “You never hear anything! There – surely you heard that - pause - even you must have heard that!”. “Yes I can hear them now – they’re getting closer”. Lights begin to flicker, get nearer, flash on the tent. Cracking and snapping of branches and “Where are you Felicity?” “Over here Archibald!”

Some of the voices must have been audible half a mile away, while others were half whispered as they closed in on us. We froze as they got nearer with that nasty feeling of being hunted down. Soon the silhouettes of adjacent trees became sharp before the blazing headlights on the tent and David (who was nearest to the door!!) scrambled over to respond to the muffled “Hello!”. Zipping open the door, all we could see was big muddy boots and a hand with a card. It could have been the Mad Axe Man of Epping Forest for all we knew. David entered the time, signed the card, completed the time sheet and wished them luck. They vanished like phantoms into the night and all became still again. The pace increased towards midnight, and from 3 o’clockish - till awoken by a phone call from a warm, comfortable, breakfasted Paul at 7.30 - we got some sleep. Naturally, we lost our ourselves on the way back – but that’s another story!!

Would we do it again? Well may you ask! The day before the event, David was grumpily asking what possessed us to volunteer. And I was sure we had to be slightly mad. Both of us blamed Paul and the sob story he sold us! After the event however, we both – rather shamefacedly – had to admit that we had thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. We felt that our souls had been purified by sacrifice and suffering and – if asked by those very nice people at EFOG to do it again – yes, we would!

Roger Snook, 22 November 2013