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12-13 June 2010
The starting point for the Bally Rally was the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown, north-east Dublin. The twelve riders taking part in this year's rally met together on Satuday evening to receive the rallybook from the rallymaster Chris McGaffin. We had been sent the location of the 61 bonuses a month before, but did not know how many points each was worth or when they were available until we saw the rallybook, which was a corker!
Part of the skill in reading a rallybook is in working out the rallymaster's thinking - which bonuses have been put in as 'sucker' bonuses and are not worth going for, which will take you down dead ends, and what combination of bonuses will give you the possibility of a winning ride.
There were several different types of bonuses in Chris' book, including:
- a combination bonus where both bonuses could only be accessed in daylight at low tide (and although possible, when you worked it out only gave you 382 extra points);
- many daylight only bonuses;
- a single night only bonus;
- quite a few timed bonuses, e.g. so could only be accessed between 10am and 5pm;
- a ferry bonus (photograph needed in the middle of the river);
- an accelerator bonus, where you had to purchase something from the bonus between 14:00 and 18:00, with the time on your receipt giving you your points (e.g. a receipt time of 15:32 would give you 1532 points, ergo you got more points the later you got there, as long as it was before 6pm);
- a decelerator bonus - similar to the accelerator but working on a 12 hour clock between 10am and 5pm (e.g. a receipt time of 12:59 would net you 1259 points. a minute later at 13:00 would only net you 100 points);
-and a courier bonus - this combined five bonuses within Dublin, each worth 150 points each, but if all were visited in numbered order their value was doubled for a total of 1500 points.
Some of the bonuses had extra requirements, so that your bike, or you, or you and your bike had to be in the photograph. Others demanded a certain amount of walking to get to the location - Chris described these as anti-Robert Roalfe bonuses! He tried to further hex my ride by giving me number 13 as my rally number!
While we were digesting all this and checking through the book Chris introduced the 62nd bonus, which we hadn't been told about. We would have the option of taking a decorated egg with us on the ride - if taken we would have to photograph the egg in front of our odometer every 200 miles (plus or minus 5 miles), and a safe return of the egg with photographs would add a massive 2000 points to our score. However, failure to do this by either forgetting to take a photograph, or by breaking the egg, would lose us 2000 points. We had until the morning to decide whether to take the egg.
We then dispersed to our various rooms and hotels to plan our routes. I had already marked up a map of Ireland with white stickers and the number for each bonus - I then went through each bonus and coloured the sticker in, either green for those worth less than 500 points, blue for those worth between 500 and 1000 points, and red for those worth more than 1000 points. I then used this to try and work out a few possible routes and ended up with two options - one going north, the other west. It was also clear that while collecting points in daylight would not be a problem, it would be far harder to string together some valuable bonuses once it got dark.
By midnight I had finished planning my route and written up my roadbook - I had one route for the first twelve bonuses until it would be starting to get dark, then two options, one going through Dublin and then heading south, the other bypassing Dublin but returning there early on Sunday morning to collect the courier bonuses. I woke up again at 2am and realised I had not considered the egg bonus - I thought about several different ways of carrying an egg safely, but the inherent problems of this, my memories of the state of some of the Irish roads I would be travelling on, and the expensive consequences of losing 2000 points made me decide it was not worth it - how wrong I was to be!
At 7.15am I left the Travelodge and rode with Chris Kilner on his Moto Guzzi California the few miles to the start. The other riders were all outside the hotel, except for Margaret Peart who had managed to oversleep by setting her alarm clock for 6pm instead of 6am (she is from Tasmania so may be forgiven for thinking she was in a different time zone!). The only two riders from last year's rally were Gerald Perkins (Honda ST1100) from Wales, and Joe Fisher (BMW K1200RS) from Northern Ireland. The other riders were Gerhard Memmen-Krueger (BMW R1200GSA) from Germany, Michiel Kerkhof (H-D Ultra Glide) from Belgium, Ken Tucker (BMW R1100RT), from Wales, Dave Winter (Yamaha FJR1300) from England, and three riders from Ireland, Tom Kerrigan (BMW R1200GSA), Bernard Murray (BMW R1200GSA) and Daniel Jayakumar (Honda CBF600), taking part in his first rally. Five of the riders, Gerhard, Michiel, Margaret, Bernard and Joe (can't quite remember if it was Joe or someone else) had all elected to take an egg. I helped Margaret open up her V-Strom's panniers to get out the eggcase she already had in there to put her decorated egg in - I thought the fact that two of the eggs already in there were broken was a sign that I had made the right choice in not taking one!
At 8am we all lined up and were waved off by Chris - I immediately took the wrong turn at the first roundabout and had to go around the houses to get to the motorway, getting on it in as a number of other riders were passing. I ended up in front of several and behind Joe. After ten miles the others had gone different ways and only Joe and I were left heading north on the M1 towards Belfast. My first bonus was at the Ulster American Folk Museum just past Omagh in Northern Ireland. Due to timings of later bonuses I was on a fairly tight timetable for the first nine hours - I had to be at the other Ulster Folk Museum at Holywood near Belfast before it closed at 17:00 and my schedule had me getting there at 16:42 after 377 miles so I did not have a lot of time to play with before then.
I had passed Joe at the toll booths on the M1 and was just in front of him when I turned off the motorway at Dundalk - I was glad to see he carried on which meant he was not following the same route as I was. Strangely we had followed a similar route together at the beginning of last year's rally. For the next hour my route criss-crossed the border, with the speed limit changing frequently from kms to miles - often the only way to tell was by looking at the line on the edge of the road - in the south it is yellow, in the north white. The first museum was 120 miles from the start and opened at 10:00. I arrived there at 10:04, having stopped in Omagh to find a bank (first one ATM machine broken, second one long queue!) and get some money out as I had realised I only had euro in my wallet and needed £6 for the entry fee to the museum. I ran into the museum's reception, only to be told there was a special opening that morning and you could not go into the grounds until after 10:30! I explained what I was doing and the lady at reception took pity on me and let me go through the doors. As I looked at the map I realised this was one of Chris' little jokes - I had to photograph two of the houses in the museum park, and each was at either end of the map! It took me over a quarter of an hour to get to both of them and back to the entrance - meeting Joe going into the park as I left, perhaps he was on a similar route after all.
From the museum I headed towards my northern most bonus, the lighthouse at Fanad Head. From Letterkenny the roads became narrower and narrower until single track lanes lead to the end of the peninsula. As soon as I saw the lighthouse I stopped and took my photograph, figuring as long as it could be seen it counted. This was also my highest points value bonus at 2100 points. From Fanad it was only ten miles down the coast to my next bonus. After passing this beach south of Portsalon I followed the road up the hill to a viewpoint above a series of hairpin corners and took this photograph of the view.
Heading back to Letterkenny I took the N13 east past Londonderry (or Derry - I noticed many of the roadsigns had the London bit painted over) and Limavady to the Antrim Coast. Just past Portrush I arrived at the car park of the White Rocks beach. This was one of the tidal dependent bonuses - low water was at 13:32 or 02:11 on Sunday morning. My schedule had me arriving here at 13:52 but I was a bit ahead of that and actually arrived eactly on 13:32 which seemed a good omen. The bonus involved leaving the bike and walking a couple of hundred yards along the beach (past the sunbathers and surfers - it had turned into a very sunny day - I felt rather out of place) until you came to a stream. You then had to turn right, find three caves and enter the left hand one. The book said you would need a torch but I only had the small led light on my keyring to guide me into the cave and through it into a second cave. I had to find a number which had been painted on the back wall of the cave, record it in the rallybook and take a photograph of it.
Having found it I made my way back to my bike, resisted the urge to stop for an ice cream and got back on the A2 heading east. I had hoped to stop for petrol in Ballycastle, thinking I had seen a petrol station there in the past but when I got there the GPS did not have one listed so I carried on to my next bonus on the edge of the coast at Torr Head. This involved another walk and quite a steep climb up to the top of the head and the old coastguard station on the top of it. Having got there I then had to climb a raking ladder to the roof of the station to photograph this tripod. By the time I got back to the bike I was quite exhausted.
The next bonus was only a few miles down the road at Greenhill where I had to photograph this roadside sign. I was on reserve by now but reckoned it would only take me about 25 miles to get to Ballymoney and find fuel. My economy was helped by the fact that the next ten miles was spent sat behind a short stream of cars on a very windy, very narrow single track road, with the cars all stopping every half a mile to negotiate a vehicle coming the other direction.
Taking the scenic route alongside the Glenduin River I came to this picnic site at Altarichard. The rallybook said you had to photograph the 'Westerley View Sign' and that your bike had to be in the photograph too. But i could see no such sign - there were two stone signs at the entrance to the car park with Altarichard on one and I wondered if this faced west. Riding into the car park there were some green posts at the back of the car park, with a sign which should have been between them obviously missing - perhaps that had been the sign and it had been pinched? I decided I should have a look around. I could just see the top of another sign above the peat hags, and clambered up the side of them to see there were two signs in a small stone circle, but how to get to them? Then I saw that next to the first green posts I had seen there was a small stone chip path - I rode the bike along the path, round a steep bend and over a small hill to get to the stone circle where I could get this photograph for the bonus.
I was still 20 minutes ahead even after stopping for fuel and filling the tanks with £50 of petrol near Armoy. I continued south, got on the M2 at Ballymena and got into Belfast. Between us my GPS and I got completely lost in Belfast trying to find the correct route out towards Holywood but eventually I found the A2 east and arrived at the Ulster Folk Museum half an hour before it closed. We were supposed to have to buy a ticket at £6 to get in but there was nobody on the gate as I rode in and found the car park. Here I had to find and photograph the Rectors House, which fortunately was not too far away this time. As I bent down to put my flag down for the photograph a lady in old-fashioned costume came out of the house and proceeded to throw a large basin of dirty water over the plants, just missing me - I am not sure which of us was most surprised!
I had no more time bound bonuses now but still had three (or as it turned out, four) daylight bonuses to collect before it got dark at around 21:50, so I still had no time to stop. Half an hour round the coast of Strangford Loch brought me to the village of Ballyhalbert where I pulled over by the side of the road to photograph the village sign. I was in a rush to get going but was held up by a kindly couple on a Honda cruiser who stopped to see if I was in trouble and then started asking me what I was doing...