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Brit Butt Rally 2010

The third running of the IBA UK's Brit Butt Rally saw a changed start/finish at the Marriott hotel in Cheshunt, just north of junction 25 of the M25. I arrived there on Friday afternoon, having ridden down with Margaret Peart (Beemerbird) who had been staying with me, and Chris McGaffin and Joe Fisher, both riders from Northern Ireland, whom we had met up with at Corley services on the M6. There were many riders aready there in the car park and around the hotel and I spent a while catching up with people before unpacking in my room and then signing in for the rally. Technical inspection in the car park meant having lights, tyres, horn and my auxiliary tank checked over - thankfully my horn, which I had spent the previous evening rewiring, was still working! That only left the odometer check - following a route for 20 miles so the rally team could use the difference on your odometer to calculate your final mileage. After that I went into Cheshunt to fill the bike up (both tanks), went back to my room and got it ready for planning - laptop fired up and two paper maps, one for northern Britain, and one for southern Britain spread out on the floor, and then lay down for an hour's rest before the dinner.


At 8.30, after the pasta buffet dinner, the rally flags and rallybooks were distributed - I got mine last as they were given out to riders in reverse order according to your rider number. Pete West, this year's rallymaster, took us through a few details of the rallybook, including how to claim for the rest bonus (3 hours stop which had to start at any time between 11pm and 5am) which was worth 5000 points and the fuel log, worth an extra 10000 points. We were finally told the minimum mileage and points needed to obtain a finish - 28000 points and 1206 miles. We then all retired to our rooms to work out our routes. There were 67 bonus locations altogether, from the Lizard in the south of Cornwall, to Duncansby Head lighthouse in the far north east corner of Scotland - this the highest value bonus at 2999 points. There was also one combo bonus, with one location on the far north west coast of Scotland and one bonus at Carrisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. I had a quick look at using these bonuses as they were the highest scoring, but I had already worked out that the start to John O Groats and back would come to around 1340 miles by itself, so put these down as sucker bonuses and dismissed them. This was one of the disappointing effects of having a start so far south - hopefully it will move around and be further north next year.


Each page of the rallybook listed details of one bonus, listing its name, latitude/longitude location, a Google Map screenshot, and photograph of the bonus. It also detailed what you had to do to show you had visited the location. For all bonuses you had to take a photograph with your rally flag in it with other details as well for some, e.g. if you or your bike had to be in the photograph as well. For some you needed to collect something else as well, such as a receipt for something specific. Finally, the page listed what points the bonus was worth and when it could be visited - some could only be photographed in daylight, some at night, and others only between certain hours of the day.


I spent the first hour typing the longitude and latitude details of all the bonus locations into Garmin Mapsource on my laptop, marking all the bonuses worth over 1000 points with a red flag, those worth between 600 and 1000 points with a blue flag, and those worth less than 600 point with a green flag. I did this carefully - and briefly checked each one against the google map in the rallybook as I typed it in - a basic mistake here would be costly on the rally. Having got all the bonuses into Mapsource I saved the file to my desktop and to my pen-drive (I had also saved it after inputting every five bonuses) and then transferred the file to the Garmin 2610 I would carry on the bike, and to the 2620 I would carry in my pannier as a backup (the advantage of using fairly cheap old GPS units!).


After a cup of coffee and a few biscuits I got back to work - next step was to mark up my two maps with the same locations, using red, blue and green stickers and marking them with each bonus' code showing its number, points value and any restrictions (e.g. 04900T for bonus number 4, worth 900 points, available between certain times). While this step could be missed out I do it so I have a physical backup of all the locations, and mainly because I find it easier to see possible routes when I can see all the bonuses laid out before me on a map. While doing this I was also considering different legs and grouping bonuses together to create a route. I then imported the Mapsource file into Autoroute 2010 and set about putting a route together. I was struggling with my third route, finding I was having to discard a couple of bonuses because of their time restrictions when it struck me that by reversing my route I could posssibly get to them all in time. According to Autoroute my route, including the 3 hour rest stop, came to 35 hours and 1 minute  (after 35 hours each minute late would cost you 100 points deducted, with a finish after 36 hours leading to disqualification), so it looked pretty tight, but I knew from experience that I could catch some of that up as I had built in time at each bonus location and some rest time every few hours which I rarely used. I was fairly sure I could cover all the route with two possible changes - I had to get to Wasdale Head in the daylight but my timetable was saying I would get there at 22:02 (sunset was at 21:15) so I might have to miss that out, and my last three bonuses in Kent might get reduced or cut out altogether depending on what time I got to Southampton on Sunday morning.


My final task was to write up the route list for my roadbook on two sheets of tyvek paper - this listed each bonus' code in the order I intended to visit them, the time I expected to be there, the distance I should have covered by the time I got there, and exactly what I had to photograph when I got to each bonus. This meant that I would have this in front of me all the time and could put the rallybook away safe in my pannier. At just after 1 am I packed everything and fell straight asleep.


I was up just after 5 o'clock, had a cup of tea and some breakfast (a can of Nurishment) as I got dressed and headed out to the car park. There  were several riders already there packing there bikes. I decided that my timing meant I had to get away quickly and having checked where we were starting from, I pushed my bike to the startline to be the first off (I figured being number 1 gave me the right!). I then finished packing my bike, dropped off my room key and checked over the bike, suddenly realising that I had forgotten to fit my roadbook sheets, but where were they? A quick check of the panniers revealed no sign of them so it was back into reception for a replacement room key - sure enough they were still on the desk where I had left them!


At 6 am Pete West waved me off, I promptly stalled the bike and had to restart it while moving towards the start point where I shook hands with Roger Allen and set off turning north at the roundabout outside the hotel, towards the A10 and my first control in Hereford, 10 miles away. I had got into Hereford and was going around the centre when the bike started to feel strange and then to start wobbling - surely I did not have a puncture already? I stopped to check and pulled the bike onto its centrestand The tyre was fine, but the four bolts holding the rear wheel on were very loose, two of them half out. I got out the tool kit and tightened them up and checked the rest of the bike over - I had checked the bike right over a few days before the rally and have more reason than most people to be careful when it comes to checking tyres and wheels so I was quite perplexed as to how this could have happened. Several riders came past me and Michiel Kerkhof, a Belgian rider, stopped to make sure I was okay which was good of him. When I was sure everything was sound I got back off on the bike, went back round the town centre as I had missed the turn in concentrating on my problem with the bike, and shortly came to my first bonus, this public house:


It is always good to get the first points in the bag, even if a small score. In fact both my first two controls were not worth a great deal of points but every one counts, and could be crucial come the finish, and I had added them before heading into London as my first bonus there was not available until 7 am and I did not want to waste time getting there early. I headed back onto the A10 south and then cut off towards Harlow. The day had started bright and sunny at Cheshunt but now thick fog started rolling in and before long it became difficult to see across the road and my speed fell accordingly. My second bonus was a water tower at the end of Old Hall Rise - when I got there I rode right up to it and could just about make out its shape in the fog. I decided it was best to take a photograph of the road sign to evidence my visit.


Heading into London the traffic was fairly light but it still reminded me of my despatching days as I rode down to Greenwich. At this bonus I had to appear in the photograph and it was only available after 7am. I had my Gorillapod ready to hold my camera, but, as was to happen many times in the rally, when I needed to take my own photograph, there was another rider there to do it for me. In this case there were four other riders but Gerald Perkins did the honours for me.


I left quickly and saw several other riders heading towards Greenwich as I made my way into central London, over the Thames and past the Houses of Parliament to reach my next bonus, the Cenotaph - Britain's memorial to those killed in war. I pulled onto the central reservation and got my photograph. I heard that some later riders were moved on by police who objected to them stopping there.


I was riding away past the memorial when I glanced back and saw another rally rider stopped the other side of the Cenotaph. He was looking at his bike in that way people do when they are having a problem so I turned back and pulled alongside his black Triumph Rocket. The bike's battery had died but he had some jumpleads which I attached to the positive takeoff on the starter motor housing on the GS and the rear footrest hanger. After running my bike for a short while the big Triumph fired up and I left him to continue his ride without switching his bike off! I headed out west towards Heathrow airport and got on the M4 for a couple of junctions to arrive at my next bonus, a large model of an Emirates A380 on a roundabout on the way into Heathrow. I had pulled onto the service road before it and was just taking my photograph when I looked round to find two policemen sat in their car staring at me. I went over and they asked what I was doing - they were fine when I explained although looked at me as if I was mad when I said I had to be in Scotland by the afternoon! Another rider pulled up behind the police car but I thought it best to get out of there before I outstayed my welcome.


I jumped back onto the M25 and then took the M40 north to get to High Wycombe and my next bonus, the Hell Fire Caves. Part of the reason I liked changing the route around was that it gave me a long stretch this morning when I could link up a number of bonuses with motorway sections, which should give me a good chance of raising my average speed. I had already worked out that since I was aiming ot cover around 1400 miles I needed to maintain an average overall speed including all stops (but not the 3 hour rest stop), of 43.75 mph. Arriving at Heathrow my average had been around 36 mph so I needed to up this over the next few hours.


I headed north on the M40 again and then turned off onto the A43, another good fast road, past Brackley, Silverstone and Towcester to get to the village of Stoke Bruerne to get a photograph of the locks and Canal Museum. I pulled the bike onto the pavement on the narrow bridge over the canal and took this photo;


It was nearly 60 miles to my next bonus but this was nearly entirely via the M1, and luckily one of the few sections of the motorway without any roadworks or 50pmh restrictions so I made good progress to reach Donington Park. I had been here many times to see racing and bands but had never visited the museum and had not known about this statue of the racing drivers Senna and Fangio. I also had to make a donation to the museum aand get a signed compliments slip. I made a mental note that I must come back here again and spend more time looking around.


A short 20 mile stretch into the centre of Nottingham brought me to this statue of Robin Hood. I had not seen it before but knew exactly where it was as it was only a hundred yards past the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub, one of the pubs on Grim Riders' Pub Crawl Ride, and one which I had visited only the previous month on the Treasure Hunt ride. I had to be in the photograph and managed to ask a Japanese tourist taking a photo of the statue to take mine as well.