Rodings from a Competitors viewpoint

Twenty Years in the Woods with the Rayleigh Rockets

The Rayleigh Rockets began competing as a team in the Rodings Rally in 1989, although one of us can remember running from bullocks (shrieking mock -hysterically) in a close on the forest fringe on a Rodings night as early as 1978. Those were the days when one used to receive YHA stamps at the end of the rally to add to one’s collection. Ah, the innocent days of one’s youth....

The Rockets were named after a long-defunct speedway club in Rayleigh, Essex, and are a loose grouping of ‘lads’ (now pushing 50 years of age) from the Rochford/Rayleigh/Leigh area of south-east Essex who mis-spent their youths gaming and hanging out together at sixth-form college, and who have been firm friends since.

The original three have been joined over the past twenty years by other friends, and in turn, their friends (at university or work) from places as far away as North Norfolk, Leicester and Kent. Some have dropped away, but others have stayed, and a new generation of sons and daughters have been ‘blooded’ and, we hope, will continue to renew the ageing Rayleigh Rockets ‘brand’.

We are not runners, and do not belong to orienteering clubs, and were, to begin with, happy just to find all the checkpoints and return to the youth hostel before the eight hours were up. In those days, we were younger, and rather relished late starts, and tired teams often saw the cold, grey light of dawn before they arrived, muddied (and sometimes, bloodied) from head to foot at journey’s end. It wasn’t long, however, before we began to achieve top-ten or even top-five placings, and by fissuring to lead separate teams, have several times challenged for, and occasionally, won, the group trophy. Our traditional rivalry in this with The Alchemists (previously known as the Cockney Nimrods) has been fierce, but latterly our results have been mixed, and we have been eclipsed by a dramatic improvement in their times (some secret weapon, or foreign players, we suspect) and by recent incomers, the Cam Racers. Naturally, we are not complaining, but we have noticed an increase in the incidence of lycra moving at speed around the forest on Rally nights!

Above all, we want to be in the forest at night, soaking up the atmosphere, hearing the owls call, snuffing the tang of wet leaves, and trying (and often failing) to avoid the slap of holly branches in our eyes. We revel in the coded calls around the checkpoints (occasionally, in the attempt to confuse other teams with one’s own fake calls), and in the sheer, joyous juvenility of being abroad in the deep, dark woods when sensible folks are long abed.

Of course, we also crave the competition, the excitement of chasing down other teams, the fear of being caught by them, the exhilaration of finding that tent dead on your bearing, and even the despair of wandering fruitlessly around the checkpoint area as other teams arrive and depart.

Competing against other teams is important. However, what we really live for on a Rodings night is the opportunity to achieve bragging rights over the other Rayleigh Rocket teams. The most consistently quick performers have been Colin Smith and his crew, and the chance to get one over them and be the top Rayleigh Rockets team is the drive that forces the rest of us through the Rodings mud.  Last year was a particular triumph for a sons and dads team, finishing in a respectable tenth place, just twelve minutes faster than Colin’s team, but this year Colin reasserted his hegemony.

So, ‘thank you’ to the organising committee and to all the volunteers on the night (though this year, we did not bother those in checkpoint nine) and for all those of the past twenty years. The Rally is not only a consummately well-organised and exciting sporting event; it is also a fixture on our social calendars, as immutable as Christmas and far more enjoyable. Long may it continue!

Tom Townsend