The Iron Butt Association seem to be the masters of the rally scene but a 36 hour rally or even the 18 hour version seemed to be a step too far for me to contemplate. Step up the inaugural running of the Iceni Rally, this is planned as an 8 hour event and the information pack is even sent out in advance similar to the rallies that I had already done. This was a perfect way to end my first year of these events so I paid over the dosh and signed up.
The rally was organised by Mark Fowler and was to be along the lines of the main Brit Butt & Brit Butt Light rallies but designed to be a gentle introduction for novices with the intention of encouraging participation in future events.
Well before the event, Mark sent out sample rally books so that the likes of myself could acquaint themselves with the format and prepare a plan. This proved to be helpful when, a week ahead of the stated release date, an email arrived with the actual rally book and final instructions. This was a bonus for me as I had more time in the first week than would have had the day’s running up to the rally date.
After a few hours I had sorted out an initial route. I had decided on a circular trip from the starting point at Rally HQ in Histon with the focus being the timed bonus at Norwich Railway Station which was planned for 12:30 in order to maximise the bonus. All the remaining stops were organised backwards or forwards from this time slot.
My planned trip was to net me around 10,000 points. This as a target meant nothing to me as I had no marker to go on or any idea if this was a good or bad total, all I knew was that it would involve a hard day in the saddle which would be magnified by an additional 150 miles due to my intention to ride to and from the rally HQ on the day.
I had plenty of reservations about the plan but decided it was achievable given the roads in the area. What transpired, however, threw up a glaring flaw in my plan…..
The day of the rally dawned and for the first time before one of these events I had a decent kip. A quick look out of the window at 5am didn’t give me any indication of the early trial that was to unfold.
I got ready and managed to achieve the first target of the day, that was to set off at 5:30am (ish), the initial trip was 75 miles and with signing on from 7am this gave me ample time to cover the distance, sort out my bearings and get a bit of a sit down before the start time of 9am.
The weather was forecast to be perfect, plenty of sunshine and above all it was to be dry, however in September the trade-off for this can often be a misty start to the proceedings and this proved to be the case, no real problem as my route was to be the A14 which I had travelled many times and knew well.
Off I set to Rugby, the mist was actually fog, no problem though a steady trip was planned and that was going to happen…… or was it?……., I got to the short stretch of M6 which I need to cover to join the A14 at Catthorpe, bollox the road was closed due to overnight roadworks, it was ten to six, dark and foggy……. Not to panic I had a very rough idea of a way to circumnavigate the problem and the sat-nav would pick up an alternative…. Bollox would it, the dam thing kept trying to send me back to the M6 no help at all, I ploughed on blindly through twisty roads, the fog was particularly thick on the outskirts of town and I hadn’t got a clue where I was. After 20 minutes I emerged from the suburbs and spotted a sign to the A5, that will do I thought a main road it would at least lead to somewhere. That somewhere was the M1 and about 10 miles of roadworks. At least the slow progress meant the sat-nav could sort out a track to Cambridge albeit a convoluted one.
After the initial setback the rest of the trip was uneventful, my guide performed flawlessly and I stopped just before Histon to fill up with petrol.
I was one of the early arrivals as many of the competitors had stayed overnight in the local Travelodge and had already signed in. I sat down, completed the paperwork and had my “before” photograph taken. This gave the organisers a starting point, another photo would be taken at the end so all pictures between were of the Rally, simples…..
During the rally masters briefing, Mark gave details of a proposed Handicap system designed to level the playing field a little bit by deducting points from the seasoned Iron Butt competitors, also there was to be a bonus system of a 100 points for taking a snap of your rally flag with a county name, something else to look out for on my travels.
The clock was ticking round to the 9am start time and we were all champing at the bit in the car park, edging inch by inch to the gate for a swift exit when the flag dropped…….. smack on time it was off down the narrow road from the British legion club and onto the main road. My first couple of stops involved the A11 where I was hoping to make up time against the ride plan, already it was dawning on me that my plan might be flawed, the traffic was evil. Still, nothing to be done now so I headed off to Grafham Water, also dodging the traffic was a few more entrants with the same starting plan so it was pass and be passed for the journey.
The Grafham water stop was simple enough except it was a narrow lane with a downhill gradient, this made it tricky for turning round so this operation was carried out with no elegance at all, next it was off to Peterborough and the Lido. Once in Peterborough I had clocked near 50 miles got two bonus locations and was not far behind schedule, all was going well so far.
Next stop was 30 miles away at Sutton Bridge, I knew this location as I had been there last year with Rig on our “way out east” trip. I snapped this one from a different location and set off to Thornham and the Lifeboat Inn which was one of Marco Pierre White’s places before they went bust.
I suspected this bonus location may give a problem as the google research did not match Marks rally book request. This proved to be the case, I arrived along with a few others and we were all scuttling about looking for the required sign which was no longer in existence. A photo of the pub sign would have to do and by the time I got away I was well behind schedule.
A bit of a bonus on the way to the pub was that in the traffic I spotted a sign for Norfolk Lavender, so at the next one I stopped and snapped a 100 point bonus.
Next stop was Burnham Thorpe Church, another devious location from Mark, the road to the church seemed to run out and I couldn’t see the entrance, I was just about to get off and explore on foot when a car passed me and carried on round the bend which went nowhere…or did it? I followed and just round the bend was the entrance, saved! A quick dismount and a run round the churchyard to locate the memorial, quick photo and back to the bike with a couple of scenic shots added. Another tricky turn round in the track and off to the next, now even more behind schedule. My timing for Norwich Station was looking suspect but I had built in a steady run so all would be well!?.
My next run was to photograph the Harrier Jump jet at the Muckleborough collection, this was straightforward except that the wind had got up a bit and I had to take several photos to get the rally number in view, each one had more weight added at the bottom to keep it steady. The campers in the field opposite were watching my antics and no doubt wondered what was going on.
By this time Norwich seemed a loooooooong way off, the fuel level was low and the traffic was pants. A planned 20-mile steady run turned into a frantic dash with no fuel and a ticking clock. I finally arrived on the outskirts of Norwich with 4 miles to run, the fuel tank empty and 4 minutes to go until 12:45 which was the latest time to get maximum points in the bag. I was about 500 yards from the station and sat in traffic when the time ticked by on the bikes clock, I decided to abandon this stop and head to a fuel station, the delay had meant that a possible 1230 points had evaporated into 100. I set the sat-nav for the nearest fuel station but as I got to the traffic lights I looked across and spotted that in true railway style the clock was slow, bonus I thought, I swerved into the bus stop and quickly snapped off a couple of photos, no good though as it turned out, I was too far away to see the time in the picture on the camera display. This was to prove a bit of a sticking point at the check in, the adjudicators were not interested in connecting the camera to the computer to have a close inspection, apparently it is only the picture you can see on the camera display which is taken into account, oh well you live and learn. However, I would have expected the minimum bonus possible of 100 points to be credited to my score but even this did not happen, not impressed, to say the least. Not that 100 points were going to make any difference but it was the principle of the thing.
Anyway I digress, another “U” in the street to find the fuel stop, I was expecting the bike to stop running at any second so it was with great relief that the Esso station came into view.
A bit dispirited in missing the station clock I filled up the bike and also took on board some sustenance of my own.
Next target was the Nelson’s Monument in Great Yarmouth, this turned out to be the easiest stop of the day, traffic was non-existent in the dock area and there was plenty to see around as I trundled along. My thought process at this time was in overdrive, I was weighing up my options which, after the disappointment of Norwich, were not looking too rosy. I had decided to get to the next bonus location at Sizewell and at the risk of growing more fingers I was going to have a break and decide what to do.
The final approach to the Sizewell Cafe is narrow but once there a large parking area is available. I parked up took the necessary photo and had a drink and munched on my cereal bars. After much deliberation, I had come to the conclusion that the day had all gone a bit pear-shaped. I had a couple of hours to get back in the time and 80 odd miles to cover. I was going to swerve most of the remaining targets on my list and pick off the two highest scoring ones, namely Orford Castle and the Angel Hotel to pick up my combination bonus.
Before setting off on the homeward leg, I took the opportunity to dispose of the accumulated rubbish in the top box in the nearby bin, whilst doing so I spotted
another county name, brilliant, a quick photo and another 100 point bonus in the bag.
I arrived back at the British Legion Club and was timed in at 4:23 so had made decent time, I went to the check in and sorted out my evidence. At this point I hadn’t got a clue as to my potential score, not that it mattered as I was still smarting at missing the Norwich station clock, surprising how this failure was playing on my mind, it was the main feature of the day’s plan and it had gone wrong.
Other riders were returning slowly and all the scoring was taking place, eventually it came to the results announcement, which in true style was going to be in reverse order. There were 34 entrants so my first target was not to come last… excellent this one passed, next I hoped to be in the top 20. again this came and went, wow! perhaps a top 15 would be good? again this passed by, could I dare hope for a top 10 finish???, the points tally were getting ever higher and it was at this point I started to rue curtailing my trip. I eventually came up with 7th place, unthinkable from my point of view, I ended up with 7,715 points only a couple of grand short of my target, I was well pleased with that.
When it got to the winners it highlighted the talent these guys have for this type of event, over 11,000 points and this after the handicap adjustment and time penalty deductions, a brilliant effort and worthy winners. I take my hat off to them.
On the homeward trip I was analysing the day, if I had kept my wits about me and rode to my plan, I could have finished with a lot higher points tally, if I had kept my head and visited the planned bonus location on the final leg and also used the full allocation of time, even though it would have meant penalties, then the day would have been different.
Still, loads of if’s and but’s as usual, it was a fantastic day, 500 miles ridden in total and I thoroughly enjoyed it learning many lessons on the art of planning for rally events. I can also take this experience forward to next year where it all starts with the South West Peninsula Spring Rally on Saturday 2nd April 2016, I can’t wait.
Final words must go to Mark Fowler and his crew of helpers, excellent organisation, I can’t imagine the time involved in setting up an event like this but well done.