Real life doesn't stop for puzzles, even ones the size of the Cube Hunt. On Thursday, returning from Fineshade, I'd stopped off at the hospital where my sister was recovering from having a baby the day before. And on Friday Beloved Other Half and I were due to go househunting, with appointments booked for 2pm more than 60 miles from the woods. PXC was having to fit into the available gaps.
We knew we were on a timer from the moment we woke up, at an outrageously early hour of the morning - you haven't lived until you've seen the sky growing purple behind the industrial units of Biggleswade, I always say. We arrived at Wakerley at about 8.30am and set off to explore the paths. Rather than get too excited by any one location on first sight, we planned to walk all the possible routes and then return to anywhere that looked likely. As before, the main thing we were looking for was a plausible quadruped - but we were also trying to watch for groups of trees or posts that matched the ones on the Library of Babel page.
It's an easy walk around on the purple path to where it's met by the blue bridleway, and you can't miss the junction. The blue path is actually a logging road, quite big, and there was a camp set up where treecutting work was obviously being undertaken during working hours. The correct path to take, the only non-blue and non-purple path, is a clear and well-trodden continuation of the one you've arrived on, sloping gently downhill. From the moment you've stepped on it, of course, you need to be on the alert for quadrupeds.
With hindsight, I now know that you only need to go a few yards before you should turn off onto a smaller grassy path that disappears into the trees. But at the time I was convinced that the clue "after that, nothing was right" required you to go along waymarked paths with at least one - and probably two - left turns before you needed to worry about anything with four feet. We made a mental note that there was a bridleway sign with a picture of a horse, and also a fencepost by the smaller path that didn't match the Babel photo, and continued onwards.
The paths around the back of the woods feel different - they are lower lying, wetter, more likely to be muddy, less hospitable. Despite this, after the first left turn the long back path looked quite promising. It had useful-looking bridleway signs that still (despite having seen Ixalon's fencepost) seemed the best bet to be a quadruped. There were any number of enticing clearings off to the side of the path. And there were a lot of left turns, including the Jurassic Way itself. We explored them all, seeing no fenceposts and few of the correct sort of tree, and found ourselves looping back to the car park.
I have to admit to feeling more than a little demoralised by this point - we'd explored thoroughly, and found no compellingly obvious place to return to. Beloved Other Half was still keen to try again, though, and in the end I was ridiculously encouraged after re-reading the End of the Line card. "My children I did not despair, as you must not despair," it says - and, although this sounds corny, after reading it I decided I bloody well was up for another look after all.
One thing we had noted exploring the woods was a near-total lack of fenceposts after leaving behind the one by the small side path. There were a few in the far corner, as part of the wood's boundary, but they were almost inaccessible and not at all promising. So when we got back to the post that marked the small side path, we did wonder whether there might be any more around. And Beloved Other Half felt very strongly indeed that we should go up the side path. Partly, she wondered whether it might in some way triangulate with a line drawn back from some theoretical quadruped on the long back path, and partly she felt it was a place we needed to go.
So we did. And at about 11am on Friday we found the fencepost pictured in the Library of Babel. It was an extraordinarily exciting moment. Up until then, we were as certain as we could be that we were in the correct woods, but lacked any sort of tangible proof. To see the combination of cracks and knotholes and shadows in the real post match up with the photograph held up next to it was electrifying. Even then, though, it wasn't about the possibility of winning. We were very aware that we were in the driving seat, that we had an advantage over all other players that wouldn't last forever, but I don't think either of us truly believed we'd be the ones to find it. I think we were mostly in awe of being at the focal point of all the work that had gone into setting up the game and its puzzles. Someone had planned for years, someone had taken the photograph, and now we were the first and only people to follow in their footsteps. Sure, we wanted to find the Cube - but mostly I think we were excited to be at the sharp end, and in a state of disbelief that we were alone there.
And it's just as well we weren't obsessed with winning, because over the next few hours I made a series of decisions that might almost have been designed to throw our advantage away.