A Very ‘In-Tents’ Experience! - the 53rd Rodings Rally

The 53rd Rodings Rally - run entirely by the Epping Forest Outdoor Group - took place over the weekend of 14/15 November 2009.  For those of you who have never come across it before, the Rally is an orienteering/map reading competition, over a short course of roughly 5 miles or a longer course of about 12 miles, through Epping Forest, using both forest tracks and going across country.  It’s most unique feature, though, is that it is in the dark!

As new-ish members of EFOG, we had missed the Rally last year so this was to be our first time helping in any capacity.  After weeks of plotting points, diving through bushes (see, competitors, we have to do it as well!) and triangulating our positions, it was time for the big event.  EFOG is not a huge group, so it’s all hands to the pumps.  Setting up the hall, getting people fed, marshalling paperwork and contestants - it’s all done by the members, new and old.  By 6.30 on Saturday evening, with the starters already holding eager competitors at bay, we set off for the trees armed with stories of other marshals' previous nocturnal adventures.

Our tent, midway on the course, was in the lee of a large fallen tree, just below the brow of Staples Hill.  Since the competitors are supposed to find us, we made it a bit less easy by adding some twigs to break up the outline of the tent, then zipped ourselves into sleeping bags to await out first customer.  Owls hooted, animals scurried past.  At about 11.45 a heavier grade of rustling produced our first customer, check point board thrust to our tent flap keenly.  Then the rush hour began!

Between 12 and 1am the forest was alive with tramping feet, calling voices and rustling of bushes.  With our tent flap ajar slightly we watched the less experienced competitors blundering about, circling close to us but not close enough.  Soon we were able to sense those who had done this before – they all approached very quietly without the aid of torches, said very little then slipped away silently.  One team, who had been up and down the hill passed us several times, eventually found us and produced the best comment of the night – “Why does your tent have to be green?”.  Answer - it doesn’t, it just is, and it helps to make us harder to find!

In this group we also encountered our first incomplete board.  In fact it had been signed only by tent 6, the checkpoint after ours.  We pointed this out to the team who replied “oh, so you have to do them in the right order then?”  Unfortunately yes, it’s in the rules.  “Oh we’re from Down Under, we didn’t realise.”  They did set off and we are happy to report completed the course, one and a half times!

They were the lucky ones.  Shortly after 1am it began to rain fairly steadily.  As this was a few days after the terrible storms, there had been some doubt about the Rally even taking place, so it was with some sympathy that we welcomed those who dripped past.  Quite a number of people had by this time missed our predecessor checkpoint and feelings were quite strong about its position.  Most folk, it turned out, were looking at the top of Yardley Hill, an area of dense vegetation.  Had they but looked down the hill, the tent could be seen quite clearly in the open!   We were even accused of cutting down the vegetation around it just to fool people.  Now, we know EFOG does a lot of clearing projects for other groups, but really!  Offered the opportunity to go back and fill in the missing checkpoint, the general response of the poor sodden competitors was along the lines of “not ***** likely!”

Poor brave souls continued to trickle through until shortly before 6am, though we remained on station till almost 8am, just in case.  Packing the tent, we repaired to the pick-up point, then back to base for a hearty breakfast from the EFOG chefs.  Boxes were packed up, floors washed and everyone went home on a sunny morning to get some proper sleep!!  See you all next year, competitors!

Sue U.