At the end of Ilkley Moor, there is a small wooden sign, weather beaten but still legible, which bears the yellow words 'No Off Road Driving'. This is unfortunate because our minibus containing 15 SAGGY members chose this as our best route to get to the start of ESCAPE 2014. (Naturally, we are not blaming my own navigation skills for this choice...) We decided that if this bus could survive the potholes, steep drain channels, a grumpy chiropodist in a Mini, and several rather ominous ditches, we as a team could survive anything else this weekend would throw at us.
So, arriving late in East Morton due to our team-bonding detour, we were greeted by nearly all of our expected Explorers, waiting patiently in the hall, and a frantic Safety Team eager to start the admin process. (I didn't realise at this point that the next 36 hours of my life would be one long administrative dream, and that I'd have to utilise more concentration skills than I think I've put into my degree for weeks!!) The key things I learned during this were that I don't know the Yorkshire accent as well as I thought I did and that Kieron has known me two years, yet still cannot spell my surname correctly (It’s -IS not -ACE!) But these things aside, the Explorers quickly set off, cheerful and excited, and the next stop was Ben Rhydding.
Again, it was another uneventful stop, except for poor Seb losing his treasured Pot Noodle and one team taking a phenomenally long time to get there. In the Safety Team, we began to fear we were experiencing the calm before the storm; I managed to complete some Dissertation research, win several games at Freecell, lose several games of Minesweeper and muse on the socio-political state of British current affairs.
And then, right on cue, the storm broke. And by storm, I don't mean uncontrolled, unmitigated and unplanned madness (or indeed, that physical storm which we encountered last year). This was the storm when the excitement began, when every participant began playing their role in the greatest concentration game yet, involving immense mental and physical stamina, and several cups of tea.
First the dropouts started. I must add here that I have immense respect for any participant who, some six years younger than I am, were prepared to attempt this 54 kilometre trek at all. Their exhaustion was testament to the vast physical effort they had exerted all day, even if it did also mean many temporarily forgot how to work out grid references and some even forgot their own name. Roving around in the Safety Team minibus, with the amber warning lights whirring, we were not so much rescuing teams as relieving them, leaving their energetic members to continue the quest; the overwhelming feeling in these groups was not sadness and frustration that they had had to retire but pride and satisfaction that they had made it so far at all. (And I do hope they all return next year to have another bite at the apple!)
But with dropouts came administrative chaos. Across the space of a hazy few hours, I had created several new spreadsheets, tried tea for the first time, hired Seb as my secretary, remembered why I don't drink tea, received probably 50 text messages from unnamed catchers, panicked over missing Explorers who were actually in the same room as I was, sacked Seb, had my phone taken off me, begged Seb to be my secretary again, wrestled my phone back in my possession, and finally created some order to the administration, with the help of my former secretary and Oli, which meant we had a very good idea of where every single Explorer was and when. All without sleeping.
The final stage of the event for me was the move to Pateley Bridge. I managed to blearily give some university career advice to some Explorers, who are currently embarking on their GCSEs; I then 'slept' for the first half of Knights of Cydonia before having to leap out of the minibus again to talk to the very impressive Explorers who were still going. I resigned myself, not unwillingly, that if they were still awake then I would have to be so too.
In the Comms War Room at Pateley Bridge, I was reunited with my society and suddenly found myself in awe of what we had managed to achieve. SAGGY is a society filled with many strong-minded and independent people who are excellent leaders, but who can sometimes clash. So I was incredibly impressed with how well we all worked together, so fluently, as one big team with no sleep, little decent food and room which smelt quite bad. (I'm blaming the socks!) Everyone listened to everyone and looked out for each other. There was friendly rivalry but no irritation or exasperation toward one another. This resilience and determination to make the event a success was undoubtedly the thing that held us together the most. Without this comradeship I sincerely doubt ESCAPE would have worked at all.
And so, returning to that little yellow sign once more, I am pleased to report that, two years running, SAGGY did manage to pull it off again. And I can only assure you that we will continue to do so. ESCAPE will be coming to a Yorkshire hillside for the third time very soon!