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Camel Rally 2009/ IBA Saddlesore Lite

The Camel Rally is organised by the Camel Riders MCC, and takes place, not as you might think, in North Africa but in Norway. It is a 24 hour rally.  This was the fifth running of the event last held in 2006.


After completing the 1345 miles from home in 29 hours, including the ferry from Dover to Dunkerque, I had arrived in Fredrikstad, southern Norway at midday on Friday 31st July. After registering at the motel I had slept for a few hours before getting up in time to ride to the rally meet at 6pm that evening. I met a couple of Norwegian riders outside the motel, on a couple of Africa Twins and a Suzuki Burgman, and set off after them since I decided I had time to fill up with fuel before hand. I had been very efficient on the way to the the motel, checking where the nearest garage was, just a few hundred yards around the corner, and even visiting the location for the rally meet and start, a club hut at the end of a dirt track, which was about half a mile the opposite direction.


I got to the club hut to find everything locked up and nobody there. After waiting a few minutes I rode back to the motel to see if anyone was still there, but everyone else had left. I rode back to the hut and saw some guys in an old American car arrive. I explained why I was there and they shrugged their shoulders - one made a phone call and then explained that the rally could not be held there but was starting from a petrol station in Fredrikstad. Okay, so I just had to find the right petrol station... An hour and a quarter, and 30 miles covered, later I had visited sixteen petrol stations and not found the meeting. I had travelled out from the centre of Fredrikstad on every road going out of it for several miles and then cut acoss to cover a sort of spider's web pattern but had not found anything. While I was doing this it was raining heavily, very heavily - to the extent that the roads in the town centre were all under water, with the water several feet deep under the bridges. My feet were soaked through where the water was above the top of my boots and had filled them! I was not happy, cursing the fact that I did not have the rallymaster's phone number. I was ready to go back to the motel and give up, but I had to find the meet as the rallybooks were being given out at 7.30. For some reason I felt one road was more likely than the others and followed it right out of the town - then I saw a line of bikes coming the opposite direction and recognised the bikes I had seen earlier. Assuming they were coming from the meet I carried on and several miles down the road found the rallymaster, Per Jensen, waiting for all the other riders to come back from their odometer check ride! The email telling me the venue had changed had obviously arrived after I had left home, or during the two days my internet connection was down before I left.


After brief explanations of the rallybook it was handed out with our rally flags (I was number 8) and we were free to leave and start planning our routes. I went back to the motel, set up my laptop and map and read through the rallybook. There were three ways to gain points on the rally, and other ways to lose them. The book listed eight checkpoints (worth between 100 and 700 points), of which you had to visit at least five of them, with penalties if you did not. Several of these were time-restricted as well so could only be visited between 4pm and 7pm on Saturday or between Midnight and 3am on Sunday. There were then 39 bonuses which you could visit, with other options for gaining points (anything from 100 to 1400 points) also being possible, eg collecting receipts as well. Then you could gain points by taking photographs of certain of the Fylke, or County, signs, (100 points) with a bonus of 250 ponts for getting 5 of them; by taking photographs of warning signs for animals and similar dangers (50 points) ; and for taking ferries (200 points). In addition taking a rest bonus, proved by getting a receipt at the beginning and end of your stop, would gain you 500 points for each hour up to 5 hours.

You could lose points by not visiting enough checkpoints, by getting stopped for speeding (your driving licence was sealed in an envelope at the beginning of the rally and  you points equivalent to the speeding fine you got in Krone, if the envelope was unsealed), and you lost 3 points for every km you covered over 851km in total, and 5km for every km you covered over 1250km. If you covered more than 1750km you would be disqualified.


So with not much to think about I started to try and locate all the bonus locations and get them onto my map and into Microsoft Autoroute. This was not a simple task. The rallybook simply had the name of the location, with a brief description of what you had to photograph there, and sometimes a picture of what you had to photograph. After two hours I had worked out where 30 of the 39 bonuses were. With no internet connection I sent texts to my father and to Stacey asking them to look for some of the bonuses. After much sending of texts and hard work on their part I was confident I knew where all but four of the bonuses were so could start planning a route. I took a break to get a cup of coffee and had a chat with a few of the other riders including Hampe from Sweden and Benne, the Burgman rider, from Norway. I mentioned I could not find some of the bonuses but they were obviously not going to give anything away!


I had already decided I had to go for quite a safe option, linking the five nearest checkpoints together and then seeing what else I could add to that route. The shortest route still came to around 1100km. This meant that for anything off that route I would be losing 3 points for every km covered. This also gave me four hours resting so I did not want to lose that time since it gave me a potential gain of 2000 points. For example, there was a bonus at Lysebotn which was worth 1400 points and I thought I could get there. But getting there added 130km, which meant I would gain 1400 points but lose 390 points - but it would also take another 2 hours, in which time I could gain 1000 points by resting, so in actual fact going there would gain me 1400 points, but effectively lose me 1390 points - a net gain of 10 points! And that without taking into account being late and getting more tired by covering the extra miles. I tried lots of different possibilities and combinations before ending up with a route I was reasonably happy with and gave me options to collect more points at the end if I got back to Fredrikstad in time. I went to bed about 1am, but still got up a couple of times to look at the route and try to add some more bonuses. Each time I had to work out what points I would gain, home much time it would take to get there, how many extra kilometres I would cover, and then work out how many points I would lose by adding those kilometres, and then do the calculations to see if it was worthwhile. Eventually I dropped off to sleep.


I had set the alarm on my mobile phone for 6.45am, giving me time to get up, get packed, have the breakfast I had booked at 7.30, get to the start, complete the odometer check I had not had time for the previous evening, and be ready for the start at 9 o'clock. As I got up I was surprised to hear a bike start up and looked outside to see one of the riders leaving, and several others packing up. I grabbed my some of my stuff (I had loads, what with a tent, two sleeping mats and sleeping bags, cooking stuff, plus clothing and rally gear...) and went outside to the bike. As I started to pack the bike I realised that the clock on the bike did not say 7am, but 8am - my mobile had not reset itself to the change in time on crossing on to the continent, when I had manually changed the bike's clock. I rushed back inside, several times, to collect all my gear, and set off to the rally start. By the time I had got there, completed the 23km for the odometer check and got back to the start most of the other riders had already started. I just had time to get a start receipt from the petrol station so I could claim the SSLight at the end of the rally before I was off too - my mind pretty frazzled and my stomach empty! This did not seem to be going as I had planned it!


My first stop was 10 miles up the road (although my GPS was reading in km I kept records from my odometer so my distances are still in miles), for my first checkpoint, the sign for the town of Sarpsborg. I jumped off the bike in the layby and took the photograph of my bike and rally flag in front of the sign. It felt good to be starting off, the weather was beautiful and it looked like it was going to be a good day. From Sarpsborg I got onto the E6 motorway south and settled myself down as I sat at 100km/h.


My second bonus was to take a photograph of the Swedish customs post at the Norway-Sweden border. I could not stop on the south carriageway because there was a police car sat in the entrance to the post and I thought it probably not a good idea to stop there, so I went on through the border, took the first exit, came back into Norway and stopped by the side of the road opposite the customs house to grab my picture. It is possible to see the Swedish Customs sign on the building if you look really closely (honestly!).


From there I headed back north and took the turn off for Halden. On the road I saw my first animal sign, for a moose and stopped to get my photograph (with the bike and rally flag in the picture). I had not seen this sign before and although I was to see loads of them during the rally, could not help but be excited each time I saw one, although it was of course completely the wrong time of year to see such an animal. Talking to someone later on after the rally I was told these signs often disappear as tourists pinch them as souvenirs.


I continued on into the town of Halden and followed the brown signs for the Fredriksen Fortress. I had two tasks here, to get a photograph, and to get a receipt from the restaurant. The fortress was extremely busy, there was some sort of outdoor show on and there were people everywhere setting up equipment and tents. I had to have my bike in the photograph and managed to blag my way past the car park attendants to ride up to the fortress and get my picture outside the Red Cross tent. I then had to return to the car park to leave my bike and return up the hill to find the restaurant. On asking, I was first sent into the fortress and bought an ice cream from the shop there to get a receipt. Walking out of the fortress I saw a large building behind the tents which said restaurant on it - oh well, since I had come this far. Another ice cream later (it was becoming a hot day with all this walking!) and I was back on the bike and heading back to the E6 north, reflecting that it had taken quite some time to get this 600 points.


I sat at the speed limit on the motorway until a Honda Blackbird with Swedish plates came by and I tagged on to him for a while, upping the speed to 70mph (or so) - the only time I think I went that fast on the rally! Turning off the motorway after 30km I headed for the village of Hvitsten. The GPS took me down some minor roads and then I turned off onto a gravel track which went through a farmyard and then snaked across some fields and into the trees. The track gradually became less gravel and more muddy track as it wound its way past cottages in the woods, looking more and more like a scene from Hansel and Gretel - then, with the destination supposedly 350m away I came to a dead end. I got the map out and worked out that I was about 5km from Hvitsten - obviously my GPS waypoint was in the wrong position, not good! I had to retrace my steps back to the road and then ride around the woods to find a sign to Hvitsten. It was a beautiful village by an inlet, and I got my picture of the bike on the bridge by the church.


I stopped for a drink and to reflect that I was possibly not going to finish well at this rate! I set the next waypoint, for the Opera House in Oslo - confident that I could not get that wrong (could I?) and set off, stopping only to grab this picture of the warning sign for a Horse and Rider in the hope that it would get me a few more points.


Bowling along the motorway on the way to Oslo I had a stroke of good luck, which I felt I needed after the morning so far. One of the bonuses I had been unable to find the evening before was Svartskog, the location for a statue of the famous explorer Roald Amundsen. As I was riding I suddenly noticed the name of the rest stop I was passing - Svartskog - surely it had to be the same place? There was a junction just past it so I turned off and there was a sign for 'Roald Amundsen Hjem'. I followed those signs for the next quarter of an hour as the road wound round and down to the sea. Eventually I came to where this statue of Amundsen and his dog looks out across the bay and got my picture.


My next destination was the Opera House in Oslo, it was only worth 100 points but it was one of my five checkpoints. I had found a building called the Opera House in Autoroute in the centre of Oslo so was sure I would be okay with this one - sure enough I was wrong. After fighting my way around the one way system in the city centre more than once I pulled up in a square outside a large brick building advertising a musical play. I thought I had better check with some lads standing by the road - no, this was not the opera house - that was a large white building over there (they said, pointing back the way I thought I had come). So I got back on the bike and headed towards the sea, and eventually came across this incredible, very white building on the edge of the harbour. Problem was I could only see it from the dual carriageway as I went past. After another circuit I worked out where I could get off and get a picture of my bike and rally flag with the Opera House in the background.


There was one other bonus in Oslo, to get a photograph of the Sinattaggen, the famous baby statue in Frognaparken. I had to work out my own route for this as the GPS insisted on taking me through the park which I was fairly sure would not be approved of by the good people of Oslo! Having made my way around the park I found a car park and left the bike while I went to look for the statue. The first person I asked insisted it was by a tall monolith in the middle of the park - after walking for quarter of an hour and going right round that, I asked someone else - no, it is not here, it is over there on the bridge. There were many statues on the bridge but it was easy to find this one as it was the only one surounded by tourists. I got my way through the pack and even managed to get someone to take a picture of me in front of the angry baby.