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Friday 15th May - With one week to go from today have been preparing bike and kit ready for the rally. Serviced bike and had it checked over and a few small jobs (some heavy handed idiot had managed to round off two of the threads in the cylinder head for the rocker cover and needed a couple of timeserts fitting - oh, just remembered I do my own servicing!). Tested Aerostich on way to work this morning in torrential downpour and found it wanting as ended up with a wet crotch (knew I shouldn't have put my suit on at home - spent 5 minutes in the staffroom with a hair dryer aimed at my nether regions!) so will be taking the XL rainsuit I bought on fleabay in case of this eventuality. Also bought my first new kit for about two years - a pair of Alpinestars Drystar gloves as warmer and more waterproof than the O'Neal motorcross gloves I normally wear, and will stop the wind going up my sleeves. I am sure the rally will be more competitive this year - we were all riding somewhat into the unknown last year but this year many of the riders have that experience behind them and will have made changes to their strategy based on where they lost time or made mistakes. I have a list of changes to my strategy for this year but shall be guarding them closely! I am sure the rallymaster, Chris McGaffin, will be introducing greater variety and twists to the event to try and make us think harder about possible route choices.
Wednesday 23rd May - Spent all evening loading up bike's panniers and tankbag - first disaster finding next morning that my camelbak was leaking and had pool of orange juice and water all over the lounge floor! (luckily it is wood and not carpeted!). Spent a while debating whether to take sleeping bag and bivvy bag - in the end strapped them on the back - thought of being stranded in the wilds of Scotland in the middle of Saturday night is not appealing!
Friday 24th May - Arrived at the start/finish base, the Premier Inn at Trentham Gardens near Stoke on Trent in the afternoon and met up with quite a few friends from last year's rally. Having arrived there was a real feeling of excitement and anticipation of the rally to come as everyone was talking about their chances and where they are likely to be going. Scotland was favourite last year but I doubt it will be the case this year and the weather certainly looks worse further north with heavy rain coming in for Saturday and Sunday, while the south looks like it will be clear. Settled into the room and got everything ready for the planning session - both laptops switched on with Autoroute and Mapsource running; two UK maps out on the bed - cut down so one shows northern England and Scotland, the other showing southern England and Wales; and assortment of pens and route planning sheets on the desk. Also put out and checked all my riding gear. Then went down and got myself signed in with Roger Allen, the UK IBA President - he also took my start photo on the SD card I would then use for the rally photos:
After signing in I went outside for the technical inspection. I was feeling very happy about the bike. I had put new tyres on it in the previous months, serviced it myself a fortnight before and had it into the BMW dealers to have the pinion bearings adjusted and a few small jobs done and they had checked it right over and pronounced it sound. Having said that I had a constant worry in the back of my mind about the final drive bearing - having covered 54k miles and heard so many bad stories of them collapsing on IBRs! Also had a second near disaster after the odometer check when I decided to go and fill with petrol and only then realised I had left my wallet in the hotel! Luckily a fellow rider was filling up at the same time and paid for my fill - thanks Tony!
We all met for a meal at 6.30pm and then went into the riders' meeting, walking in past the glass trophies and certificates which woud be given to the first three placed riders. There had initially been 65 riders taking part, a few weeks ago we were down to 56 with various withdrawals for a variety of reasons, and in the end there would be 49 starters. Roger Allen welcomed us all to the event and started by handing out several IBA UK certificates gained over the past year - I received a certificate for my SS2000 ride last year, and a UK Mileater award for completing four certified rides, and was most surprised to be presented with a glass trophy for last year's BBR win, similar to those created for this year's winner. After an explanation of the rules, safety issues, and a run through of the rally book by the rallymaster, we were at last handed out the rally books and flags which would have to appear in all our photographs. The minimum for this year's rally was to be 27500 points and 1123 miles covered. I had been given flag number 1 this year, and noted that Chris told us that, unlike last year when you could manage without your flag by appearing in the picture yourself, many of the bonuses this year could not be claimed in this way (I was the only rider to lose their flag last year!) - this year I was going to be super careful of that flag!
We all repaired to our rooms and set about planning. One major change this year was that each page of the bonus book showed not only a google map and description of each bonus, but also a small photograph of the bonus itself, and the gps coordinates for it. It took me about an hour and a half to get all the bonuses logged. This involved putting each coordinate into Mapsource, then placing a coloured sticker (green for those worth less than 500 pts; blue for those worth between 500 and 900 points; and red for those above 900 points) on the maps. When I had got all the coordinates into Mapsource I transferred the bonuses to my Garmin 2610 and then used GPSU to save the file as an Autoroute txt file and imported it into Autoroute 2007 - I would use this program to make all the route calculations. There were 69 bonus locations altogether, ranging from the far north coast of Scotland to Lands' End in Cornwall, and two ferry options, visiting either the Isle of Wight, or Arran to visit the distillery at Lochranza.
One major change this year was that many of the bonuses were time restricted, e.g. you could visit a pub on the Isle of Sheppey but only between 12.00 and 15.00 or it would not count. This made planning far more complicated. There were also fewer high values bonuses this year so I quickly realised a good route was going to have to collect far more bonuses this year, and be based on collecting groups of higher value bonuses. Apart from the far north of Scotland, which I quickly discarded because of the time restricted bonuses there, I could see four main groups - around London, Glasgow, Birmingham amd the Lake District, so I used these as the basis for my planning, sighing at the thought of having to ride through London! I started off with a route which visited all four areas but realised that it would mean riding past about four Day only bonuses between Scotland and London in the dark, and I could only get a score of around 34k points this way. Eventually I ended up with a route which went straight to the Lakes, turned east across the country to Whitby, then south to London by the evening when it should be quieter (I foolishly thought!) then down to the south coast where I would find somewhere to stop for my rest bonus, My first bonus the next day was a Daylight only bonus in the New Forest so I would have to be there after 5am. My route then took me across Wiltshire, over the Severn Bridge and through mid-Wales before crossing to collect four bonuses around Birmingham and arriving at the finish around 3pm, well in time for the 5pm finish after which you would start losing points for being late. I worked out this, with the rest bonus of 5000 points and the fuel bonus of 10000 points, should come to just over 39000 points, a little short of my points gained last year. I also calculated times for every leg, building in time for stopping at controls for photographs, stopping for fuel and for rest stops, using Autoroute, and transferred this information and details of what I had to photograph at each bonus to my route cards. This was important as it varied for different controls - in all your rally flag had to appear, but some said you had to appear in the control yourself, in others the bike had to appear, for some there were specific instructions of which part of the bonus had to be photographed. I finished all of this just before 1am and grabbed four hours sleep.
I was up just after 5am got dressed, spending five minutes jumping around the room and cursing as the zip on my Aerostich broke and jammed in the material, meaning I could neither do it up or under it - eventually Stacey pulled it apart with my Leatherman and I calmed down! Down to the car park which was filling up with riders packing their bikes and looking nervous. Some were angling to get to the front of the queue for the start but I reckoned it didn't matter a great deal and was better just to try and relax and start whenever I got to the front. I left in the middle of the pack and immediately headed north for the motorway. I had only done two miles and not even reached the motorway when a car stopped next to me and told me my brake light wasn't working - it had been the night before! I quickly pulled over and saw my main rear brake bulb wasn't working, but I waggled the wires to the auxiliary LED brakelight and that worked - I stuck it on tighter with a bit of gaffa tape and set off again.
The first part of my route was the same as last year - straight up the M6, this time for the 120 miles to the Lake District, passing last year's first stop at Forton. I settled into a steady pace, glad to be on the road at last and passing and collecting a few other riders as I went before turning off to the south Lakes. My first stop was the inn high up at the top of the Kirkstone Pass, and the weather quickly deteriorated as I climbed up into the mist. At the top you could only just see the sign above the inn's door from the other side of the road.
There were several other riders at Kirkstone, and I overheard one saying 'I'm not going up Hardknott in this rain!'. Most of us seemed to be heading that way 'though and I set off to Ambleside, where I caught up with Phil Weston in time to watch him turn the wrong way down the one way system! Luckily I used to do a lot of climbing in the Lakes so was confident of navigating without using the GPS, but I did have to stop to put on my waterproof one piece suit and change the dark visor on my helmet - I waved at Phil as he went past so he had obviousy found his way out! (The next day Phil had the misfortune to lose all his paperwork when his topbox flew open as he rode along and despite backtracking he never found it all and had to retire).
Going up Hardknott Pass is always tricky (I once had a nightmare reversing a minibus down it), but it was made worse by the poor visibility and rain running down the road. I was following Paddy McCreanor's yellow Goldwing up the pass after stopping for the first photograph, the blue warning signs at the bottom of the pass. The second photograph was to be taken of the cattle grid at the summit of the pass - I stopped behind Barry Manning's Kawasaki ZZR1400 and put the bike on it's stand, only for it to roll forward and on top of me, trapping me underneath and lying on my bad leg. I was very fortunate that there were two other riders there who rushed over and pulled the bike off me (although Barry later said he might not have done if he had realised it was me underneath!). I was glad that I had not hit his bike in going down but felt a bit daft and my leg was hurting now - I rode to the bottom of the pass before getting off and hopping around a bit, cursing again, and taking more painkillers.
My third bonus in the Lakes was the Pencil Museum in Keswick where we had to photograph the longest pencil in the world. I set off from Hardknott and ambled along, surprised to see a few other riders rush past me as the museum did not open until 9.30am and I aimed to get there as it opened, still with time to have filled up in Keswick. I did this and got to the museum in time to join the queue of riders waiting to pay their £3.25 entry fee to walk around the corner and get their photograph. I later heard that one rider had put his flag on the wooden frame, with his wallet on the top to hold it in place, but the wallet had then fallen down inside the case - the museum caretaker had to be called to unscrew the glass panel to get it out! The museum staff also gave us free pencils and said they would donate half our entry fees to charity, which was nice. This was also my highest single value bonus collected at 1592 points.
From Keswick I set off with Tony Carr towards the motorway, Tony turned onto it north towards Scotland (he was later to have trouble with a flat battery on his RT and finish as a DNF after the end time for the rally), while I continued east towards my next bonus, Tan Hill Inn. Tan Hill is the highest pub in Britain, at 1732 feet above sea level, and I had to photograph the sign on the side of the pub stating this height. It is also in the middle of nowhere, with long narrow single track roads leading to and from it. Most of the road from it was also full of a cycling race, making my progress rather slow - but I was glad to be on a motorbike when I saw some of the hills they were cycling up! At Tan Hill I also solved a mystery which had been troubling me since Kirkstone - I had realised then that the photographs I had taken at Kirkstone were the first two photos in the memory, so where had the start photo gone to? I concluded I must have deleted it by accident and was wondering whether that meant I was disqualified and should phone the rallymaster to find out now before wasting any more time. But I had been using my backup cheap Tesco camera until now because of the rain and at Tan Hill I had changed the SD card back to the Canon I had used to take the start photo, which then reappeared - obviously the other camera could not 'see' the photos taken with the Canon camera - I was okay to carry on after all!