Tuesday, 3 June 2014

2014 Brit Butt Rally

This was my second go at the Brit But Rally and I found my self a bit more relaxed than last year. I had also took part in the South West Peninsular Rally in April to give me some good rallying practice. Last year I came third overall on my first rally which kind of put pressure on myself to do well again this year but with a talented field and some Iron Butt veterans taking part this year that weren't in it last year, it would be a tough job, so if I got top 10 again I would be very happy. I ride a BMW R1200GSA which I had new September last year and had covered 5000 miles on it, the longest day run being about 700 miles which I did on the SWPR rally and found it to be a brilliant and very comfy bike. Riding up to Castleford Thursday all was well until going over then Pennines where I was in real discomfort with a pain across the bottom of my back/top of my Butt. This had me a bit worried because there was definitely no way I could do the 36 hours like that. So Friday morning I checked stock availability on an Airhawk seat and get geared in Leeds and nipped up first thing and got one, good news too was we get 10% off there as IBA members. On the way back it was great, very comfy but I did need to let a bit of air out to get it just right.
First Job check in, get the bike checked by Rick and ride the mileage check route. Then time to relax until 8PM when the bonus books were handed out. I went back to my room for a bit and put everything out ready for route planning. 2 Navs ready with lead, laptop plugged in and ready, map and sticky dots out and packed everything away ready I wouldn't need. After a pasta dinner it was into the rally room ready to get the bonus books. Last year this meeting had felt like it went on for ages but this year it was thankfully very short. This years theme was 'and now for something completely different' based on Monty Python and the bonus book really was different. There were now 80 bonus locations and each location has an old black and white photo which we had to copy in its modern day form.  I was flicking through the bonus book and could hardly believe my eyes when when I saw a picture of my family business (Watsons Motor Works) in my home town. Rallymaster Chris had got the photo off my web site and it even has my great great Uncle in it. 

Back to my room I got all the locations onto the navs ready, then looked for a good route. As there were alot more locations this year more spread out nothing was really jumping out at me. So I looked at all the combined bonus's put them in auto route which gave me a loop. Then decided as Leominster was en route I'd have my rest stop at home. I'd then head to London and pick as many up as bonus's time allowed. So I had a plan and was in bed by midnight. I found trying to get to sleep before the rally hard last year and it was no better this year with my mind and adrenalin racing. Eventually getting to sleep I was up again at 4.00am and decided to get up have another check of my route shower then out to the bike. 

As I was early there wasn't many people about so managed to get my bike at the front behind Roberto's BMW. I then had a longish wait as I was early so checked the bike over had another coffee and a trip to the loo. Its a great time on the rally watching everyone getting ready and the nervous excitement.


6.00 AM and Phil Weston the IBAUK president sent us on our way, but not far. My first bonus was Chris's mystery manned bonus about a mile down the road. When we got there Chris asked us to line up and play 'always look on the bright side of life' on Kazoos we had been asked to bring whilst Chris was rolling round in fits of laughter. 


It was a bit of fun and worth 2000 points so happy days and then onwards to Middlesbrough and take a picture of the suspension bridge. On my way up I ran into John Young on his Triumph Explorer and road up with him to the bridge. When we got there there were 3 other bikes and I past about 4 more on the way out so it was obviously a popular route. 

I next headed for the lake district to Cockermouth first to photograph an old Iron Mungers. The weather was lovely, warm and sunny and a bonus my nav decided to take me direct over the lovely twisty mountain road to Cockermouth, the main road seemed to go longer around so I just followed the nav. 

That done I was heading for Grasmere to photo an old cottage. It was a bit tricky to find and it looked a bit different to the photo but I found it and whilst there 3 other riders turned up. I think a big difference on this years rally to me was the photos, it was a bit tricky to make sure what was needed and I needed to double check what was required in the photo. All part of the rally masters cunning plan I'm sure. 

The next leg took me south to White Nancy just south of Manchester. The roads between Ambleside and Windemere were busy as it was bank holiday but I was soon through it and settled into the motorway for an hour. Stopped for my first fuel stop on the M6 Lancaster after  242 miles, good range but the big GSA isn't as efficient on the motorways. I got to White Nancy location as per the nav and couldn't see it anywhere, there were lots of houses, flats and a lake but no White Nancy which was a stone monument. I asked a lady where it was and she pointed to the top of the nearby hill. Great, looked like I had some climbing to do, but the bonus book said nothing of this so I rang Chris for clarification. He advised me a photo of it from the nav coordinates was acceptable, apparently a few others had rang in for the same reason. By now it was raining heavily and my planned route was to go to Chester then Anglesea. The rain was forecast and meant to be moving in that direction but it was much heavier than anticipated so I decided to change my route and cut out Wales and head south as the forecast was to brighten up in the south later. There were lots of bonus's south and East so I didn't think I would loose out. 

The next bonus was in Shrewsbury town centre which turned out to be very busy. There I had to photo the market hall and a Victorian post box which was a combined bonus with one in Eton. I rang Mum when I was there to say I would be in Leominster in an hour and when I got there she was waiting at the garage with a coffee. There was also another rider there having a coffee and sheltering from the rain. I got Mum to hold my rally flag and took a photo. It was very strange doing all this in the place I work. 

Onwards then to the Skirid Inn on the way to Newport. I used to drink in that pub years ago so knew it well took my photo and headed off. But got 100 meters down the road and stopped. The photo in the bonus book was not of the front of the pub so I did a U turn and went back. Sure enough I really needed a photo of the rear, good job I noticed. When I got back there there were two other riders just about to photo the front so I told them they needed the back too. 

Next bonus was a combined one (with the Middlesbrough Transporter bridge) of the Newport Transporter Bridge, took that then on to Bristol. 

By now the sun had come out and it was nice and warm so the decision to miss Wales was a good one I thought. The only consideration was now where to take a rest bonus but heading south towards London I'm sure I'll find somewhere.
The bonus in Bristol was right in the centre but there was a fuel station right next to it so I filled up and headed next to Pewsey Wiltshire then on to Bray and Eton. Bray was a daylight only location and got there just before 9PM so okay. I then had a decision to head south to Brighton now and then go back into London in the middle of the night or head into London now. I decided to go straight in as I was near the A40 which I knew went straight to the centre. Saturday night at 10PM in central London was great, the traffic was quite light but in was great to see all the lights and everyone out and about in London. My first location was Selfridges on Oxford Street. 

Fortunately I managed to pull up on the kerb opposite and take a quick photo then on round to the Crown Tavern Clerkenwell Green where Stalin and Lenin held a meeting in 1905. 
As I was riding through London I thought back to last years rally. Last year at 10PM I was on a deserted track heading for a bonus at Altnabreac Station in the far north of Scotland with not a soul for miles (apart from Gordon Sears another rider on the rally). This year at 10PM I was riding through a busy Piccadilly Circus definitely 'and now for something different'.

I headed out of London south towards Brighton which seemed to take ages riding out through The Elephant and Castle and Brixton. I started thinking about a rest stop. We had to stop for 3 hours between 10PM and 5AM but could choose when. It was sods law as I past about 5 miles from my brothers flat but he was up in Leominster with Mum and Dad this weekend. My plan was to go to Brighton photo the lighthouse at Shorham then head back and do my rest stop at Clacket Lane. I didn't realise though there was a services at Pease Pottage on the M23 south so I decided instead to stop there and have something to eat. As I was filling up to my suprise Rob Roalf another rider pulled in, of all the places. I got my receipt to prove I was there. I then had to get another in 3 hours from the same place without going anywhere. I checked it was a 24 hour station and went to the service area to eat. I quickly realised this wasn't the best place to stop. There was no hot food being served so I had to make do with a toasted sandwich in Costa. Then outside it was very busy with late night revelers on there way home. I found a bench in the corner of the carpark to get some rest. It was nice and warm but I couldn't really relax and rest properly with lots of cars and loud people coming and going. I lay on the bench for another hour then went round filled up the bike to get a receipt and was on my way again at 2.08AM. After 20 hours I was feeling good, ready for the next half.
Shorham was next to photo the lighthouse but at 3AM in the dark its not an easy job. In the end I pointed the bike towards it, full beam and just got a photo although I checked twice to see it actually was a bonus you could take anytime over 24 hours of. It was then back up to the M25 and accross first to photograph the old control tower at West Malling Airfield which was now surrounded with shops and houses then to Canterbury in Kent. 

By now it was getting light. It was a stunning morning with a thin crescent moon on the horizon and a lovely sunrise and it was warm. This is what I find most exhilarating about long distance riding, it puts you in places and a times of the day you would not normally be riding and gives you those wow moments.
By now it was 5.30AM and I was getting through the bonus's down south well. There was a bonus at Stow Maries Aerodrome Nr Malden but it was not open until 10am and I was well early. I thought about doing some other bonus's and going back but I would still be very early. So instead I decided to do all the bonus's in Norfolk and go out to Great Yarmouth which I hadn't originally planned to go too which was worth 1200 points anyway. 
Canvey Island was my next port of call where there were two locations next to each other, the old lobster Smack and Labworth cafe. 

Being so early the roads were deserted and it was easy to get on. My big worry though was how busy would Great Yarmouth be on a bank holiday? The next location was really interesting and beautiful. It was Flatford Mill where John Constable had painted the haywain. You could regognize the scene even now. 

I was getting low on fuel so dived into the services on the A14 , hopefully that was the last fill up today. I was then heading into deepest Norfolk along some lovely country roads heading for the market square in Milldenhall. I had a bit of a deviation as a road was closed that ended up taking me past the air base at Lakenheath. It was then a busy run up the to Great Yarmouth with one stop off at Wymondham. The traffic was worrying me, was Yarmouth going to be packed? But the closer I got the less busy it was. Soon enough I road straight into Yarmouth and found the bonus on the Bridge in the town. As I was there two more bikes pullded up including Robert Koeber an Iron Butt rally veteran who didn't even switch his bike off just took the picture and was off, so that's how its done. 

I then turned west for the final leg. I was heading for Hunstanton. It was now hot and sunny and I was starting to get tired. The roads to hunstanton were lovely, riding across country but I wasn't enjoying them as much as I just wanted to get there. When I got to the lighthouse at Hunstanton I parked right next to it and decided to have a break, a coffee and some food which really did the trick and perked me up. It was still only 12PM and I had two more bonus planned on my route back. I tried to see if there were anymore I could go too but nothing with any larger scores jumped out so I stuck to my plan and road the last leg back to castleford.

The A17 was quite busy so I just sat back and went with the flow. I stopped at a village hall in Dowsby then on to my final bonus in Doncaster only 20 miles from home. It was Arkwrights shop from open all hours. It was really interesting to see it and nurse Gladys's house opposite. I passed about four other riders on my way there.
Just as I got to the final bonus my fuel light came on. I couldn't be bothered to fuel up again so road back to Castleford with my light on. The computer still showed 20 miles range when I got back. I record all my motorbike fillups on Fuelly.com my average MPG's on the rally were 39.9 MPG for the first tank, 43.1 MPG for the second, 41.0 MPG for the third and 50.0 MPG four the fourth. The fourth is higher due to a lot less motorways.
Pulling into the hotel at Castleford it was nice to be back but before I could rest and relax I had to make sure all my paperwork was in order and present it to the rally team. I don't take energy drinks or gels on the rally but I did when I got back to keep me awake in my room doing the paperwork. I did my fuel log first which didn't take long but then the photo log and checking the bonus information took ages as there were a lot of bonus's in my book, and a lot more than last year.

Once checked and double check I went through to the scoring room. Its a nervous time for riders as after all that hard riding you don't want to loose points for an admin error in the scoring room. First off Rick checks the fuel logs okay then i went through all the pictures and the rally book. Good news all okay, no points lost and I totaled 36620  in all, I was pleased with that. Time then for a quick shower, food and then into the scoring room. As everyone gets there name called out and collects their certificate you just sit and wait for your name to be called. Eighth place for me this year and although I wasn't as highly placed as last year I was very happy with eighth place. There were some excellent experienced rider above me including six times winner Rob Roalf and Iron Butt Rally veterans Kevin and Lyn Weller, Robert Koeber and the winner John Young. I am really pleased and congratulate John Young on winning. John has only ever competed on his old Triumph Trident and its nice to see what he can do on a competitive bike. 

As I found out last year once you have finished I analyzed my route against the top riders and the main difference between me and John was he went further north into Scotland but its coulda, woulda, shoulda can't be changed now and I will learn from my experience this year and put it towards next years rally. If you are reading this and have not taken part before, give it a go its great fun, a great experience with great people not only riding in it but also organizing it who I am very grateful too, even if you only do it once a least you will be a Iron Butt rally finisher.

                                                         Total rally miles = 1285.4 
                                                           In 33 hours 44 minutes.