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PostPosted: Sun Oct 30, 2011 8:32 pm 
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Location: UK
Day 01 Friday
===========

" 'They'll be waiting at Gretna Gateway, Mike-- You can't miss them...' Yeah, yeah..." I grumbled. "Thanks, Sandra ! Come out, come out, wherever you are-- Ah ?"

I slowed the weather-beaten crew-bus, checked the group of mid-teens I'd glimpsed. No, they weren't mine. Their sign read '614', and there were but six of them. I went around the coach-park twice more, dodging inter-city and tour buses like a dolphin between whales. A third circuit offered a new group of candidates. As I slowed near their half-dozen, they held up a sheet with the Prince's Trust logo. I'd found them.

I braked, pulled into their bay, called, "Camp-out crew ?"

"That's us !" A plump girl shouted back.

"Where's all your kit ?"

She waved to her modest rucksack.

"I'm sorry, I meant food and such..."

"We've had lunch... " Her wave took in the two shorter lads finishing their take-out cheese-burgers and fries. "We've sandwiches and picnic stuff for tonight."

"Are the others still inside ?"

"Er, no, this is all of us--"

"Four missed the connection--"

"They're travelling up on Monday--"

"You're not Pete." The slight girl had eyes like grey gimlets, deep doubt in her voice.

"I'm Mike Jones. 'Mister Mike' if you want formal. Pete's gone sick. It's either colic or a grumbling appendix. Colic just needs a shot in the back-side and he farts for England. Other's a key-hole op, but he's grounded." I shrugged. "I was the only one available to cover this weekend, so I'll do three days then hand over to a trained Camp Leader."

"You're not a Camp Leader ?"

"I'm a Field Archaeologist." I shrugged again. "My speciality's Early Iron Age in the Western Provinces. I'd planned some fell-walking, but I've bossed a couple of isolated rescue digs so, well, here I am.

"Good news is I'll get you settled into the camp-out barn. Bad news is you must tote the others' kit, too." I grinned at their glum expressions. "But you get to do a trolley dash first... Jump in !"

They eyed my mucky crew-bus with dismay. A sizeable roof box was clamped to the roof-bars. The near-side rail ends carried a three metre alloy ladder and a bundle of four two-metre wooden poles. I'd secured the extras with synthetic rope plus a dozen bungee toggles to be sure, to be sure.

"Box has a dozen each foam bed-rolls and sleeping bags." I waved. "Plus six two-place bivvy-tents--"

"But we're based in a barn, Mister Mike !" The stockier youth puzzled.

"A big, cold, damp, draughty, leaky barn with a hellacious Autumn storm due ?" I shrugged. "You'll need these throw-up tents indoors."

"But a dozen beds ?"

"Contingencies. Pete turns up. Roof leaks. A bag-zip breaks. Some-one falls in a bog and gets soaked through... Hop in, hang your bags beside my pack then buckle up."

They grumbled, but slowly found seats and latched their seat-belts. I pulled out my clip board. "Okay, who have we got ? Call out..."

Jenny Overleath, a plump blonde, seemed blessed with a permanent smile. Dave Brown, the stockier of the two shorter youths, had a dour expression. Alys Potter was Jenny's opposite. Too thin, she wore her brunette hair in a short bob, her lips in a tight scowl. Sue Dean was so lanky, so plain, I'd initially mistaken her for a youth. Her mousey hair, cut boyish, and her clear contralto lent ambiguity. Henry Wright, thinner than Dave, seemed haunted.

That brought me to the third youth. A clear foot taller than my six, he was dark as old oak, knife-thin. He moved like a preying mantis. "And you are ?"

"O."

"Oh ?" I checked my list.

"O."

"Aha..." I ticked off 'O (Only)' and closed the cover. "Welcome aboard ! We've some shopping to do, so we're not going far."

I drove half-way around the Gateway estate, pulled up between the Asda / Walmart and its adjacent DIY store. Opening my wallet, I found three tens. "Team as pairs, please. First is nine of potatoes, bagged even three ways, plus carrots to ten." Dave and Henry grabbed the note, waited to see what came next. "Second-- Pearl barley, split peas, split lentils, pine nuts. Toss in some onions and cloves of garlic-- Fresh, mind you, not dried." Jenny and Alys took that. The third, I handed to Sue and O. "Pasta, milk powder, rolled oats and two big tubs of cooking salt. Meet you back here."

"Basics do, Mister Mike ?"

"Just fine. The more, the merrier."

"Uh... We allowed to trade ?"

"Sure ! Or put everything through together. Just keep receipts."

"Okay !"

"Sounds like fun !"

"What are you going to get, Mister Mike ?"

I tilted a thumb towards the ladder. "Barn needs some attention. Hammer, nails, some odds and ends. Won't take me long..."

I watched as they grabbed trolleys and scooted into the store before I strode to the adjacent DIY warehouse. I was back before my amateur gleaners, but only by a minute or two.

"Hiya, Mister Mike !" O calmly handed over four receipts and seven pence. "We got extra carrots."

"That's good thinking." I nodded thanks, checked their haul, nodded again. "And you double-bagged everything. Thank you."

That drew appreciative nods and grins. Their eyes explored the crew-bus' load space as I opened the tail-gate. Henry puzzled, "Uh ? What are those ?"

"Hazard tape spikes." I hefted one of the five like a spear. "Metre of re-bar, tape wraps around the top's 'N'. But, three and an O-ring gets you a camp-fire tripod. There's some chain, shackles and S-hooks to make it official--"

"Ooh, we get a real camp-fire ?" Jenny seemed pleased.

"Open hearth." I grinned. "That's why there's three 'paint kettles', too-- Think stew-pots..."

"Uh, Mister Mike, all this stuff is Veggy." Dave seemed rather dismayed.

"One more stop." I promised as they transferred the shopping to the load space, threading bungee cords through the bag handles to prevent them sliding about. I drove to a small shop on the edge of the trading estate. The six followed me inside like a bizarre comet tail.

"Smoked bacon. Two smoked hams. Smoked cheese. Smoked sausage. Smoked fish." Smelly lumps, whether solid, slices, links or fillets, they all went through the heat-sealer, emerged hermetically packed. I swiped my credit card, filed this receipt with the others. We double-bagged the packages for carrying, secured those for travelling. "Thank you all. Now we've fifty some miles. I'd like to stay ahead of the big weather front that's swinging through."

We made fair time. I turned into the dead-end lane, halted by the stile beside The Leat's National Trust sign.

"The barn is about a mile up The Leat." I waved towards the made path. "I strongly advise against two trips. The front is at most an hour behind us. I really, really want to be under cover when it arrives."

I scrambled up the tail-gate's rungs to open the roof box. Piece by piece, I handed fabric lumps to O, who handed them off to the others. Their knapsacks had gradually swallowed most of the food, leaving both hams, the potatoes, the carrots and most of the salt fish.

"We're going to be loaded like donkeys !" Henry had realised how much we must carry.

"I'll be humping twice yours. I get the first-aid kit, some tools and anything over. Besides, we'll have the poles to help."

They each tied a bed-roll and sleeping bag atop their full knapsacks' flaps. I handed down the six mini-tents, closed and secured the roof box. After I untied the back of the pole bundle and ladder, I switched to the side door, from where I was able to release the middle and front. I re-used several short bungee toggles to gather the poles to pairs.

"Hang stuff from these." Each pair got two tents, plus two extra rolls and bags. I tied the rope around the ladder to make two odd-sized slings at each end. Hams, tents, bed rolls and laden paint kettles hung between the rungs. The four tape-spikes tied along. The flat-sealed salt fish tucked in my pack between my lap-top and its folded solar panel. That left the potatoes, the carrots and assorted tools.

"Dutch auction time: Who'd like a lovely bag of potatoes ? Just think-- When you eat them, you'll know that you carried them ! Thank you ! Who'd like a neat hammer ? Thank you !" With male pride at stake, Dave and Henry took two bags of potatoes and one hammer. Alys and Jenny took the carrots and second hammer, leaving the ladder with a hitch-hiker. I checked the bus, sighed and took the screw-jack and its wheel-nut wrench / winder lest they be stolen. They made a heavy and most unwelcome lump on the laden ladder.

At last, I could make a final check of the bus and lock up. Having an odd number made the stile easier to negotiate than the youngsters expected. With the laden poles and ladder handed across the fence, I took the back end of the ladder, Sue and O took the front slings and we followed the others up the path.

I was minutes off in my estimate of the weather. We were barely a quarter of a mile into the Leat, just passing an over-flowing litter bin, when the first rain began to fall. Big, slow drops that splat on the dry path, they were unwelcome harbingers. A glance back showed a squall line approaching.

"Eeew ! We're going to be soaked !" Alys sounded disgusted.

"Not if I can help it !" I called ahead. "Fifty yards on, there's a rock shelter ! See it ?"

"Sure !"

The two metre opening was about eight feet up a slippery slope. With the ladder's front resting against the rise, Sue and O hastily unloaded the contents. Then, we could lay the ladder up the slope to the entrance.

"This is Woden's Cave. The Western side is lower and damp." I warned. "So, hold to the right as you go in."

Again, the laden poles were handed up more easily than expected, and a hasty 'bucket brigade' shifted the ladder's load. I scrambled up last, then hauled in the ladder barely seconds before the squall hit. The gourd-like outer cave widened to almost ten metres diameter and nearly three metres tall, then narrowed towards a sloping weep at the back with a small, natural skylight above. There was ample space for me to swing my ladder across the lower damp zone and rest it against the wall beyond. That gave our laden poles something to lean against.

"There we go ! This squall should blow through in fifteen, twenty minutes, then we'll have a weather window to reach the barn."

"Okay, Mister Mike !"

As rain danced on the threshold, we edged back.

"Stay clear of that weep." I warned. "Stay uphill of the drainage."

They grumbled, but complied. It was better being a bit crowded than skidding on the muddy, algal slick or getting soused.

"Wow ! Look at that rain !"

It was heavy, it was loud and it was outside. Well, some was bouncing in, but we were dry.

"There's thunder, too, Mister Mike." Dave offered.

"Uh-huh." I nodded. I'd glimpsed the flash, heard the rumble. "Two miles away, but approaching."

"Two miles ?"

"Yeah, just count five seconds from flash to bang per mile: One thousand five, one thousand six, one thousand seven-- Getting closer... We're okay in here. Just stand with your feet together-- No-one touches the ladder. One thousand four-- Closer again. One thousand two-- Going to be on top of us-- One-- Wow !"

The storm cell was right overhead. Bang after bang followed flash after flash by only the echo time across the Leat's small gorge. Each brought a tingle through the ground, a ghostly flicker from quartz inclusions.

A dozen leaders rose from the Leat's further rim. One reached higher. It connected with a leader snaking from the cloud. The thunderbolt lanced down, blinding us for a vertiginous instant. The shock-wave slammed our chests and guts, reverberated within the cave. The very ground seemed to drop.

Then, silence, as the thunder abruptly ceased.

"Wow !"

"D'you see that ?"

"Slam-dunk !"

"Hey ? What's that gurgling--"

"Stand clear of the gulley !" I yelled, herding them back up-slope. We'd just pressed ourselves against the Eastern wall when the seep burst to a flood. First, a century of mud, muck and detritus spewed down-slope. Then clean water washed it clear out of the cave. The flow diminished to a stream, to a trickle, to a fresh seep.

"Wow !" Sue was bouncing on her toes, waving her camera/phone. "And I thought a camp-out would be boring !"

"That had to be a Century Flood." I nodded.

"Wow !"

"Stay clear of the gulley..." My admonition tailed off as the cave brightened.

"Storm's cleared, Mister Mike." Henry mentioned.

"Uh, yes..." It was impossible, but the storm had indeed gone. The falling rain thinned, ceased. I ventured to the wet threshold, looked out at sunshine, fluffy clouds and a strange, dark, lenticular cloud dispersing downwind as straggly tufts. "What the..."

"That was a strange storm, if you ask me." Henry muttered. No-one took up his offer.

"Weather window." I reckoned. "Time we were going."

They grabbed their poles, backed up to let me maneuvre the ladder onto the muddy slope outside. Going down back-wards was tricky, but we managed to transfer the poles and the ladder's load to the drying path without slipping. Dave and Henry were ready first.

"Want to get started ?" I asked. "Barn's path meets the Leat about a quarter-mile ahead. You could wait for us at the turn."

"Okay, Mister Mike !"

Alys and Jenny helped Sue, O and me to load the ladder. We were almost done when Dave and Henry returned in a rush.

"Path's gone, Mister Mike !"

"The Leat Path's gone !"

"Washed out ?" I adjusted a nails-laden paint-kettle.

"No, no--"

"Like it never was !"

"There's a tree where the path should be !"

"Oh ?" I looked around at the others. "Take five while I check this out."

"Okay..."

I glanced at the folding shovel attached to my pack, sighed. That was no tool for a land-slip. Besides, I'd need to see the damage. My long stride took me around the bend in moments. As the sight-line opened, I stopped. They were only right. A hundred metres ahead, the Leat's made-path simply ceased. Beyond it, the gorge was as wild as before lead-miners forced a tramway through. There were scrubby trees, saplings, boulders, even a king-pine. And, yes, there was a tree just where the path should be. They'd been carried by no avalanche. They belonged where they were.

I walked to the end of the path, studied the demarcation. The unstable slope beyond was tumbling debris onto the path. I eyed the line of cleft rocks, hesitated, looked a second time. The line curved. It swept across the gorge's stream forcing a tumbling zig-zag. It arced up the gorge face on both sides. Rock slides, half boulders, a sliced tree and orphaned roots bore witness to the phenomenon. After patting the first tree to be sure, to be sure, I stood for a while. Then I selected several fist-sized half-rocks and turned my back on the impossibility. Counting paces, I returned to Woden's Cave and five very pale faces. Even dark skinned O had gone gray.

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'P for Pleistocene' A camp-out goes impossibly wrong...


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 31, 2011 3:08 pm 
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Location: Warszawa, Rzeczpospolita Polska
More, please.
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