Trailtrekking, across the universe…Well, 100km around Skipton!

I volunteered at a special event last weekend. It wasn’t a festival, but it involved camping and Oxfam.

It was Trailtrekker, a long distance walk to raise money for Oxfam. Around 1,400 walkers, in teams of four, walked up to 100km in a circular route around Skipton in North Yorkshire, trekking through some of the most spectacular scenery in England. The event raises an amazing £800,000 for Oxfam.

As you can imagine, a lot of volunteers are needed. As well as the essential medics,  mountain rescue teams and logistics crew, Oxfam need lots of people to make sure that the walkers get refreshments; that the walkers’ support crews can park safely and most importantly, that the walkers get lots of cheers and applause as they reach every checkpoint, water points and essentially, at the finish line! This was my fourth Trailtrekker. My role is volunteer co-ordinator / deputy co-ordinator, making sure that all the volunteer roles are covered and everything is going smoothly, working with my Oxfam friend Karen.

I arrived at Aireville School in Skipton early on Friday evening. For the first time, I managed to avoid getting stuck in the slow roads around Bradford, and had a scenic drive via Ilkley. Aireville school is the most scenic secondary school I’ve ever scene, with a beautiful backdrop of mountains, surrounded by woodland with wild birds and rabbits that seem remarkably tame. I put my tent up and had a meal in the main hall while listening to the walkers’ briefing.

Most of the walkers hadn’t walked for such a long distance before, but the majority of them were still determined to “go for gold” – the 100km distance. Walkers get a bronze medal if they get to the 40km stage and silver if they reach the 60km stage. Since Trailtrekker brought in the bronze and silver medals a few years ago, the demographic of the walkers has changed – there are still several super-fit teams, all sinew and muscle. However, most of the walkers are now “ordinary” and lovely, if slightly insane people – work colleagues, friends, families and even couples! There are several corporate teams, and this year, Oxfam volunteers were supporting a team from Barclays.  It’s wonderful that the prime motivation of most of the walkers is to raise money for Oxfam. I don’t think I could ever attempt gold – I think my feet would disintegrate first – so anyone who manages it gets my full respect!

Friends from the Oxfam Stewarding world arrived and soon it was time for the staff and volunteers’ briefing – an interesting mixture of medical volunteers, events staff, mountain rescue, radio hams (from RAYNET – they are essential because the hills and mountains block mobile phone signals), as well as the Oxfam volunteer co-ordinators. The briefing was livened up by a lovely black labrador padding around us. He belonged to the owner of the events company and eventually, he fell asleep next to a little boy.

After a few beers and catching up on festival news, it was time for bed – Saturday was going to be very busy!

After watching some of the walkers set off early on Saturday morning, it was time for Karen and I to head off to Checkpoint Two at Horton-in-Ribblesdale; the Bronze finish line. By the time the walkers reached this beautiful village, they had walked 40km, over Fountains Fell and around the dramatic peak of Pen y Ghent. I’m not sure why this mountain has a Welsh sounding name when it’s in Yorkshire! The checkpoint was in a scenic, riverside field, with views of the mountains and the famous Settle to Carlisle railway.

We busied ourselves getting the checkpoint marquee ready: putting up signs and banners; making sure the urn was full of hot water for tea and coffee (always essential for anything Oxfam do); decorating the marquee with bunting and getting to know the Oxfam volunteers and the other Trailtrekker staff here. We discovered that we were due to park hundreds of cars in a field which doubled up as a home for a flock of free-range chickens, which caused amusement and alarm throughout the day! The other major trauma was that we had no biscuits on our checkpoint. It wasn’t too bad, as the walkers’ support crews arrange amazing meals, relaxation and pampering to the knackered walkers! Also, the village fete was taking part in the next door field, so we were frequently confused by tannoy announcements of “Mr Bubbles the Magician is on shortly in the main arena”.

As soon as we were ready, the first walkers came through – they were actually running, as they were aiming for a record time, and eventually finished the entire route of 100km in 13 hours. The average time for completing the route was 24-30 hours! We had to wait almost two more hours for the next walkers to come, and then it was a steady trickle, building into a torrent from 4-6pm, when all I did was put teabags and coffee in disposable cups, occasionally running around to make sure that everything was running smoothly. Karen was busy too, but everything seemed to go very well. No chickens were run over (it was a close-run thing!) and astoundingly, the last walkers were through the checkpoint by 8.30pm, well before the cut-off point of 10pm. Some people were happy – and relieved – to get bronze medals, but the majority of people were determined to go for gold, or silver at least. Most of the walkers still looked relatively fit, but there were a few people badly limping – let down by their feet, ankles or knees, who were glad of the first aid and massage available.

We tidied up as soon as the walkers had all checked in. The checkpoint had created an entire skip of rubbish throughout the day, but everyone had been very tidy, apart from some naughty people who left a smouldering barbecue by the river. The only other litter was the backs of blister plasters!

On Sunday, I woke up at 4.15am to start my shift at the finish line at 4.30am. I really must be crackers! My tent was just further up the field, so it was just a case of waking up and getting dressed, shivering in the dawn! The sky was perfectly clear, but it was freezing. Only a few teams had made it through the finish line, but as the morning drew on, more and more teams limped, ran, stumbled and crawled over the finish line. More than one person was in tears (of pain and relief), and everyone was very glad to have finally earned their medals. Soon, the school playing field was full of exhausted people with medals around their necks, having a well-earned beer and clapping on the other walkers, with their friends and family. The atmosphere was brilliant, and I even came back to do more clapping, once my shift had finished.

Trailtrekker is a completely different experience for Oxfam volunteers. You don’t get to see your favourite band for free or party all night, but you do get inspired by the grit and determination of the walkers. The money they raise will make a massive difference to people around the world.

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