If you’re afraid of the dark, this night-owl challenge may not be for you, but it’s perfect for bonding with pals


I’ll level with you – I’m quite the chicken when it comes to the dark; the woods at night; a full moon shrouded in grey cloud cover. It took me a little by surprise therefore when I committed to a night time orienteering challenge through Epping Forest with my husband and two of our friends.

Drawing straws for who gets to stay in the warm car...

Drawing straws for who gets to stay in the warm car…

The Rodings Rally offers two routes – a 5 mile challenge and a 10 miler for those a little more skilled and experienced at orienteering. At the start we couldn’t help but feel that the attire we all wore was entirely misjudged. Our competitors pranced around in reflective gear and headlamps, as we swigged some dutch-courage from a hipflask, wearing as many dark layers our wardrobes could afford.

Mapping things out

Mapping things out

We’d registered and been given our map and so we were off. Or so the girls thought. Instead we were put on torch duty while the boys scouted out the map coordinates so we’d know where to go. It was 9.30pm in November. It was cold out. Our challenge was to find 2 lit and 3 unlit checkpoints in the forest at night.

Each bearing a torch we set off. Initially the place was crawling with other teams despite everyone setting off at different times. With a competitive streak in all of us, we made ourselves disappear by turning our torches off and using our eyes to scout for a dimly lit marker. We thanked our parents for making us eat carrots as a kid. We sure needed that nighttime vision!

My husband found the first checkpoint and signaled his find to us, by way of a shady owl impression. Before other teams could follow our lead, we glided into the night to the second checkpoint. The checkpoints are tents with two people inside, having a cuddle. Ok I made the cuddle part up but it does seem a likely scenario given how cold it was outside.

Reading the map wasn’t really my forte, though I did pick up some handy hints from the ‘map experts’ we were with and managed to locate the last unlit checkpoint. (It was a fluke I’m sure.)

We all became decidedly more elegant at skipping through the forest closer to the end of the challenge – mostly

Recovering with some hot chocolate!

Recovering with some hot chocolate!

through trying to avoid the barrage of twigs scratching our faces and fallen branches tripping our feet. We made it back to base to check-in for the final time. It was 1am and we’d completed the challenge in 3h 34m. We were pretty pleased with that and were even more so when we found out the next day that we came 5th out of 35 teams.

We huddled around the car once we found it again to enjoy some hot chocolate, before racing down to one of the food stations we’d missed earlier to grab 4 hot dogs for the journey home.

Would I do it again? Yes, though whether I’d do it again in 2015 without more training, I’m unsure!

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