And so to another week of volunteering as I let my broken foot and dodgy knee recover. Chief organiser of the Kipling Kaper, Julie Brownhill, was in need of extra help. I was only too happy to oblige. I had enjoyed this event last year, notwithstanding the violent hail squall that caught me on the top of The Roaches, and now was the time to pay something back. This year the event started from Swythamley, a couple of miles to the west of its normal base at Meerbrook. Renovations meant that Meerbrook Village Hall was not available for us this year. The new location proved to be a very good alternative.
I drove there in low cloud and drizzle, but I knew it wouldn't last because the forecast was good. I was posted to the road junction to direct to our car-park any cars that came along. Every one, without exception, was headed for our event. It wasn't long before both small car-parks were full. The field opposite was available for overflow parking, but only for 4x4s. Unfortunately the first two vehicles directed in there were ordinary cars. Mistake! I quickly became aware that both cars were stranded in what had looked like a nice grassy field, but its saturation turned it into a car trap. I deserted my post and ran down to join others to help push them back out. With a good run-up we succeeded with the first, but the other was having none of it. Mud sprayed wildly from the spinning wheels as we pushed, all to no avail. We could not get it even close to the field exit and solid ground. Finally, after exhausting all the options we could think of, I asked a local friendly neighbour if he knew of anyone with a towing rope who might be able to help. He saved the day himself with his 4x4 (an ambulance, no less) and a rope. What a hero. Later we gave him a 'Thank you' card to let him know how much his efforts to save our stricken walker were appreciated.
That little bit of excitement brought us to 07:45, just 15 minutes before the walkers' start, so hopefully not too disastrous. The field was shunned from then on, all remaining cars being directed to line the road. At 08:00 the walkers were sent on their way on a choice of five routes – 20, 22, 26, 29 and 31 miles. The tougher options included a climb of Shutlingsloe (like a mini version of Ingleborough) and the length of The Roaches ridge.
Over the next hour the runners arrived and the weather brightened, such that the sun was out by the time they set off at 09:00. Then the work began – duck-taping floor coverings to give protection from muddy shoes, setting up chairs, tables, drinks, waste bins, brewing up for the workers, washing up, wiping down and anything else that needed doing before our first customer returned. A dedicated team of four beavered away with the food preparation, working from recipe sheets to make sure the ingredients were just right. I was extremely impressed by the care and dedication that went into the healthy choice on offer. Kipling Kaper's food is among the best of all the events I have done. It is comparable to the best offerings on an LDWA 100. Bowls of different salads & pastas, quiche, bread & butter, tuna and pork pies formed just some of the main course. For afters there was fruit pie and custard. Tea, coffee, water and juice were ready to flow freely, on demand. And that's just back at base. I did not get to experience the checkpoint duties. Julie Brownhill and all her willing helpers from Staffordshire Long Distance Walkers Association deserve high praise for what they lay on at Kipling Kaper.
It seemed no time before the first 20-mile runner returned. The second finisher wasn't far behind. That began the trickle, which increased in fits and starts. I stayed for as long as I could, helping out where required and chatting to the finishers until I had to leave for a pre-arranged dinner date, just after the first 31-mile runner had finished. It proved to be an excellent day and again I dreamed of getting back out there again. The rushing around and pushing of cars had not done my foot any favours, but it was nothing compared to what would have happened had I actually done the event. I will bide my time, and while I wait I shall continue to enjoy 'life on the other side'.