EXERCISE BLOOD BLISTER THE 2013 PATHFINDER MARCH

On 22 June 2013, two teams from RAF Coningsby entered the 2013 Pathfinder March, a long distance, cross-country endurance event in commemoration of the Royal Air Force Pathfinder Force.

The Regiment Section made up the first team with the second based around Eng and Logs Wing personnel. The event started and finished at RAF Wyton and covered over 46 miles across the Cambridgeshire countryside in 20 hours.

The route joined the former RAF Pathfinder airfields of Wyton, Graveley, Oakington and Warboys. The date of the event selected as the nearest Saturday to the Summer Solstice to take advantage of the maximum daylight hours. The Eng and Logs Wing team of eleven opted to break the walk into sections with most participants completing one or more stages however some were mad enough to consider undertaking the entire 46 miles.

Having planned and trained, the day of the event arrived. It started with a very early breakfast of a bacon roll and hot drink in order to meet the 0300 registration. Here the teams received their important check point record card, essential to prove that teams had completed the entire march. The walkers were briefed and good luck speeches were made just in time for the heavens to open for the 0400 start; typical!

A mass start for all the participants under the white water tower saw the horde turn left out of RAF Wyton’s gate; a sight not to be seen again for many an hour. The teams headed out into the still dark, wet Cambridgeshire countryside, full of high spirits for the journey ahead, heading to RAF Graveley, the first check point, 8.2 miles away. Check Point 1 was reached in just over 2 hours by which time the rain had stopped, giving the teams a chance to dry out. The important record card received its first punched hole; only 8 to go! The support wagon was a welcome sight for a quick team swap then the walkers headed east to Check Point 2. The second check point was serving three fine real ales, JHB, Wherry and Tribute, which were hard to resist but sensible heads ruled on that early in the morning and a cup of tea had to do. After a quick chat with the Regiment, a tasty “Morale” roll, a hot drink and the card punched, it was off towards Check Point 3; 14.8 miles completed!

This meant more walking East heading to Dry Drayton; it wasn’t “dry” as more rain arrived just as the team did. At Check Point 3 (20.2 miles done) two team members had reached their intended distance goal but afflicted by some madness decided to press on further. The walk followed the southern edge of RAF Oakington which marked the half way point; only 23 miles left to go. With the next check point less than 2 miles ahead at Longstanton, the sun made its first attempt to dry the teams out at last.

At Check Point 4, the Longstanton sport ground, food, drink and medical help was to be had. One member had a very large blister which required lengthy treatment so all had a good rest where feet were checked, dried and socks changed. The Regiment team, still ahead, left the check point soon after we arrived. Not long afterwards our support crew disappeared to collect one of the Regiment who had received an injury. It is likely he will never live it down the fact he had to pull out yet all the old walkers soldiered through. At Check Point 5 (32.4 miles done) blistered feet were becoming harder to ignore. At this point we had our only retirement from the team; a member who had to give into the dreaded blisters. The support crew took him away with a good ribbing from the older walkers.

Check Point 6 – “easy, only 6.6 miles away.” One person’s previous experience provided the direction with “this way, I’ve walked it before.” The team followed and after a while noticed some other walkers about five hundred metres north on the other side of a very large field. Perhaps they were lost? A voice was then heard to say: “I thought it was strange as I didn’t recall a cemetery last time.” After a quick change of route the team were back on track expressing their opinion of their commissioned colleagues’ navigational prowess with the upmost diplomacy.

Check Point 6 (39 miles done) was the Royal Oak car park. After refreshments and with the card punched, there were only 7.4 miles left! From the pub the route headed south out of the village and on to Warboys airfield walking on what was an old service road to the very remote Check Point 7 manned by members of the organisation team. The card was punched and encouragement provided. The team walked on across fields to the last check point in King’s Ripton village hall. Card punched and a quick rest by the footpath sign which read “2 ½ Miles to RAF Wyton;” a welcome sight.  With the blisters growing and people tiring, these last check points came and went in a determined blur.

Just outside RAF Wyton the team stopped and walked as one across the line together. 46.4 miles plus an unintended diversion and the clock hadn’t reached 8pm; a significant success. Elated, but worn out the team had just completed the Pathfinder March (Exercise BLOOD BLISTER) in 15 hrs and 40 mins. Four of the team (average age 50) completed the whole march. This included the two who madly carried on after the third check point. The award for completing was a team medal, some very tired bodies, a lot of blisters and valuable funds raised for RAFA. Thanks to all who were involved from RAF Coningsby; especially the support team.

Fg Off Allen (Arm Eng Flt) & CT Brown (Fwd STANEVAL Sqn)


PHOTOGRAPH: The Regiment Flt after the first shower of many

 

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