First taste of the Rodings Rally

Before the rally my feelings about volunteering to be a check point checker went up and down; one moment congratulating myself on taking on a new challenge and assuring myself it must be fun – otherwise why would people do it more than once - the next, letting the nagging voice of panicked reality persuade me I must be mad. My friend Sofia might be right – don't sleep anywhere without a socket, especially in winter!

The week of the 2010 rally brought new concerns. The weather forecast was dire. Not rain this year, but snow threatened - skyfull's of it, even in London – and the temperature was dipping drastically. I kept remembering my Dad telling me how I had become a Southern Softie since moving down here, and thinking maybe he was right.

However, I had seen where Eileen and I would be camping. There were lots of trees to protect from the elements and even soft looking bracken – perhaps a bed for the tent? The leaves were thick on the ground and we were really very near the road and the site had a good few night time loo options. Experienced EFOGers had persuaded me that I wouldn't be bored (I still took reading and writing stuff just in case) because the Number 5 check point would be busy.

The day began very well. I found the hall relatively easily (only one phone call to Peter – and that was just to check) and had a pleasant time helping out a bit, but mainly chatting with other EFOG folk. I met Bill and Inger for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed the meal they cooked. The choice of desserts was incredible, the atmosphere jolly.

I discovered that over a hundred competitors were expected but I doubted they would all turn up – it was freezing outside! I was wrong -more than 200 took part and most, it seemed, enjoyed it.

Paul had brought a choice of under bedding and I borrowed the biggest pack (the best for warmth). Thank goodness we had trusty EFOG sherpas to help us trek to the tent site and put it up in the dark. I had made a flask of green tea before I went, made sure I had a hat or two, scarves, nibbles and two pair of warm socks. I even had time to make a hot water bottle for my feet. I wasn't the only one – so did Val and Prue I was told.

Finding the check point was more difficult than expected. How many metres in was easy – the directions to follow weren't- but thanks to Fred's experience and persistence ( I think I would have given up and put the tent down before we found the right spot) we eventually got there.

Thus began one of the toughest nights of my life! It was getting late so we had to hurry to put up the tent. The spot would have been great if we had remembered that our heads would be at the open end. That slight slope down made all the difference to me. Poor Eileen had to put up with my constant moving around, wriggling and experiments (it seemed like all night) trying to raise my head above my feet to stop my head aching and my neck cricking.

I was amazed how noisy the forest was. A few times (I must have dozed now and then despite my conviction that I didn't sleep a wink) I thought I was taking a nap in a motorway service station or even an airport. Do the planes fly lower at night? Perhaps they were UFOs? Where was the mystic silence of a forest, the soft call of owls, the gentle snuffling of forest creatures around the tent? I had been warned, but was still surprised.

And the competitors! They did come. We had at least 25 hands thrust through the cold draughty gap – some joking, a few a little despairing. “You've missed check point 2 and 3,” said Eileen to one, scoring through their board. “I know,” replied the voice in a tone that made me think, I bet this is far as they go – and it wasn't even midnight. Most though seemed eager to continue. None suggested swapping places.

What I want to know is how they knew how to time their visits just at that point when I thought I might finally drop off to sleep for a few minutes. I began to understand the torture of sleep deprivation. At times I wanted to shine my torch to help them find us (and then go away). I hope that John, Robert, Vicky and other “lost” competitors were found by their team mates whose shouts and torch beams pierced the starry night sky looking for them.

Most of the time (on what was the coldest Rodings Night ever) I was warm as long as I retrieved my ever slipping hat and accepted that I should keep my head inside the sleeping bag (I will get a balaclava next time, Steve) but eventually the least efficient circulatory part of my anatomy began to feel the cold – more wriggling to try and wrap my additional blanket around my bum. In vain.

My top half and feet were so warm in comparison that I dreamed of asking my sister in Ireland to make me a pair of double fleece lined (ideally Jack Wolfskin) knickers, long ones, down to the knees! Very sexy!

Our last caller came some time after 5 am and I think I went to sleep at last for a bit – until Eileen shouted me awake at almost 8am and we packed up in a rush. But by then the magic had begun to seep back into my bones. The forest seemed quieter, breathing deeply in the what seemed relatively mild and still morning air. The earthy smell from the leaf carpet was homely, the surrounding trees seemed welcoming and beneficent. Even the ice we shook off the inner tent had beauty.

By the time Katy padded along the track to help us get back to a great breakfast with cool friends (Maz and Peter following of course) I was already listing the lessons learned for next time – do the walk in at night beforehand, take less baggage and above all – check and choose the tent site beforehand. Forget the hot water bottle. Remember the fleecy knickers. Next time! Next time! What am I saying? Am I mad?

Pamela Fleisch, December 2010