May 2012 saw the fifth running of the Brit Butt Rally. After a really cold spell when it had snowed on me on the ride to work only a fortnight before, the week before the rally had seen the temperature rise to the heady heights of 28 degrees, with the night before the rally being the warmest night in May on record. The forecast for the weekend was for zero chance of rain. I certainly wasted my time packing waterproofs and a heated waistcoat. My packing had been rather rushed the night before as Wednesday night, two days before the start, had seen me having to strip the back end of the GS down, for the second time that week, to replace the clutch slave cylinder which had given up the ghost - I just prayed the leaking clutch fluid had not run down the pushrod onto the clutch itself! This was the third time the bike had broken down in the previous six months so I was slightly worried about its likelihood of lasting the rally and spent a couple of evenings the week before preparing the Bonneville in case I had to ride that - the 130 mile tank range meant I was really hoping I would not have to use it. In the event, the GS performed as it always has on the previous four BBRs and did not miss a beat the whole way round and clicked over to 90D00 miles somewhere between Dunkerque and Bethune (yes, in France - more of that later!).
The start and finish hotel was at the same location as the previous year, at the Premier Inn by J32 of the M62 near Castleford. I arrived there Friday afternoon in time to complete technical inspection and ride the 20 mile odometer check route down the motorway to J28 and back. After that I went back to my hotel (I never stay in the same hotel now) for a couple of hours kip before the evening meal at 7pm. The usual pasta dinner was also a chance to catch up with a few friends and meet som eof the new riders there for the first time, including a journalist from Bike magazine (two riders from MCN had entered in 2008 but never turned up, so Tony was already ahead of them!). Following that we met together for the riders' meeting. This year's rallymaster, Chris Kilner, distributed envelopes containing the rallybook, rally towel, usb stick, t-shirt and stickers to the 38 riders who had entered and made it to the start. As number 01 I was first up to receive my envelope and to find that the rally towel was actually a rally bag this year. When everyone had received their envelopes we were asked to open the rallybooks and Chris explained a few of the different ways of obtaining points over the 36 hours of the rally.
The Rallybook: Two Days in History
This year's rallybook had a theme - every bonus was linked in some way to either the 26th or 27th May at some time in history.
The book contained 65 bonuses, from Cruden Bay just north of Aberdeen, to Hayle in Cornwall and included one bonus on the Isle of Wight, and two in France - each had a number of points assigned to them, from 100 to 2115 points;
There were three mirrorball bonus locations, in Blackpool, Nottingham and Bristol and it was complusory to visit one of these (worth 2000 points, but you could only visit one of them);
There were four combination bonuses, when visiting all the bonuses in a combination would gain you an extra number of points;
There were two additional ways of gaining points at bonuses, plus the possibility of getting 1000 points for a picture of the Olympic torch if you met the torch relay on your way around Britain;
There were two text message bonuses for sending a message to the rallymaster with your number, odometer reading and rough location at set times - 750 points between 3pm and 5pm on Saturday, and 1500 points between 1am and 2am on Sunday morning;
The sleep bonus of 3 hours had to be taken so it started between 11pm on Saturday and 6am on Sunday and verified with receipts for 10,000 points;
And finally you had to keep a log of all fuel stops and record the details in the rallybook - as in previous years this was also worth 10,000 points - unlike in previous years when any mistake would cost you 250 points, this year each error would lose you 2500 points (with a maximum of four mistakes to count!).
The other main change for this year from previous years was that there was no minimum mileage or points score required to become a finisher (in the event 35 of the 38 starters finished the rally, with three riders pullin gout due to mechanical problems).
Lastly, all riders were told to carry a piece of string exactly 1.2 metres long - there had been much discussion on the IBA UK forum before the rally as to what this string would be used for, but we were not enlightened by the rallymaster, simply told we would need it at some time before the end of the rally.
As soon as I was sure I knew everything I needed to, I was off back to my hotel and started to plan out a route. Starting this off was made easier this year because for the first time riders were provided with data files of the bonus locations, in Garmin, TomTom and Autoroute formats, so the time spent inputting the bonus details in previous years was saved. My first task was to download the files to my laptop, then connect up my two Garmin 2610 satnavs and upload the Mapsource files to them. After checking each of the uploads I set these aside and opened up the Autoroute file. I went through each bonus in turn, renumbering it with my own code and putting each location onto a map of the UK, with a coloured sticker - green for those worth less than 500 points, blue for those worth between 500 and 1000 points, and red for any worth more than 1000 points. I then sat back and studied the map, looking for groupings of bonuses and ways of linking high scoring bonuses together.
It quickly became obvious that I was going to have to go to France - there were five bonuses in London, four more in Kent and two of these made up a combination bonus with the two in France, which were worth over 4000 points in their own right. This would mean getting train through the Channel Tunnel, something I had never done before, but I knew it was a lot quicker than the ferry. Going to the south east meant the only other major source of points was a combination bonus which involved two locations in Mid-Wales and one in North Yorkshire, so I added those in then played around with whatever else I could fit into the time frame, including the compulsory mirrorball bonus, opting for Bristol on the way from London to Wales. With all my stops accounted for, including the sleep bonus and an allowance for the Channel Tunnel route, my route had me finishing back at Castleford at 16.41 (penalties per minute started at 17.00). This gave me a 20 minute window but I had also built in a number of bonuses in Yorkshire which I could change around or drop if I was late. After writing up my roadbook and packing everything up I was in bed just after 11.30pm.
I got up around 4.45 am, just before the alarm went off, made some porridge and ate it while checking over my route, then packed up the bike and headed over to the start hotel. Everyone else was lined up outside the hotel so I stuck the GS at the head of the queue and sat on the kerb to wait for the off. There was still 20 minutes to go, several people were taking photographs of the bikes and one of the other riders came along looking for a pair of pliers and a 10mm spanner - I fished a spanner out of my toolkit and handed that over along with my leatherman. With five minutes to go to the start I wandered down the line of bikes to find him struggling to get his GPS connected to the battery of a new BMW R1200RT, watched on by his pillion. The bike was a BMW press bike - the rider the journalist from Bike! By the time he had got it sorted and I got back to my bike 6am had come and gone and half a dozen bikes had already started. I got going, only to find all the riders whi had started lined up at the traffic lights before the motorway a couple of hundred yards down the road. The lights turned green and off we all went in different directions - by the time I had got onto the M62 and then the A1 heading south there was only one rider with me, Dave Winter on his FJR. We stayed together as we tuned on to the A17 and headed into Norfolk - Dave had joked the night before about having a plan to follow me and I wondered if he had decided to follow this through! However he carried on when I turned off towards Swaffham so I guessed he had a different plan after all!
My first bonus was 145 miles (135 minutes) from the start in the town of Thetford. I had added it because it was worth 1460 points and I knew there were good roads all the way there. I had a good ride, marred only by having to pull over and sort out my tankbag when I realised I had a mixture of water, orange juice and powerade running down from it all over the bike and my legs - my drinks platypus was leaking. This meant that all the flapjack I had made the day before had turned into a sticky mush (it went straight into the gutter) , and everything stuck to me and the bike for the next day and a half. Arriving in Thetford I found the bonus quickly - next to the river is a bench on which sits a statue of Captain Mainwaring, of Dad's Army fame. The instruction was to take a photograph of yourself sat next to him. I had got my photograph taken by a passerby and was just getting back on the bike when Dave came round the corner. I hung on a minute to take his photo for him and set off south on the A11. My next bonus was to photograph the bike and sign outside the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy (385 pts) , which involved going through Cambridge itself to find the Institute. Again Dave arrived as I was pulling away. He was the last rider I was to see until about 3pm on Sunday.
My plan from Cambridge was to head around London to the east and collect the four bonuses in Kent before catching the Channel train. I was worried about this because I did not know what it would be like when I got there and whether I would end up having to wait for a train since I had not booked a ticket; I also had two bonuses in London which were available in daylight hours and might lose these if I got really held up waiting for trains (I was going to get held up, but not for the reason I anticipated!). As I got on to the M11 heading towards London, I decided to change my plan around, thinking that if I visited the London bonuses first, then went to catch the train, I would then be able to collect some of the Kent bonuses in the event of having to wait at the station. I therefore continued into London, working out the best way around the four bonuses I wanted to visit on the GPS as I went. The North Circular was its usual traffic jam but I got through it and to Wembley where I had to photograph the GS in front of the stadium (355 pts) fairly painlessly. The next bonus was the famous Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles recorded 'Yellow Submarine' on 26th May 1966. Here I had to photograph the studio sign (1130 pts) butcould also gain an extra 500 points by getting a photograph of myself doing the iconic walk across the zebra crossing. There were loads of tourists all round the studios and the crossing and I grabbed a passerby who kindly agreed to take both my photographs to give me 1630 points for this stop.
I had two more stops in central London, outside Euston station to photograph the station sign (255 pts), and then Vauxhall Bridge (610 pts), where I nearly lost my rally bag into the Thames, just catching it as it flew off the embankment wall. It was now just after 11am and time to get out of the rising heat of the city. I headed straight for Folkestone, stopping to top up both tanks with fuel as I had covered around 320 miles by then. Getting on to the train was far simpler than I had though it would be - turn up at the booths, buy a ticket (£50 return), ignore the directions to go to the shopping area, and straight onto the train within 10 minutes. I then had a short sleep on the floor of the train during the half hour crossing before riding out and getting waved through customs and into France.
The two bonuses in France were both war memorials. The first was thirty miles along the coast where I found the Memorial Battle of Dunkerque (1995 pts), commemorated to all those who lost their lives in Operation Dynamo which commenced on 26th May 1940, on the beach at Dunkerque. Turning south it took me an hour to cover the 66 miles to Bethune where I had to photograph the Paradis War Memorial (2115 pts), remembering 97 members of the Royal Norfolk Regiment who were massacred here on 27th May 1940. As I stood there for a quiet moment in front of the memorial I was surprised by a group of about forty people coming round the church, dressed in American WWII uniforms and pushing a large staff car. They saluted the memorial as they went past and then carried on down the street. I sent my first text bonus for 750 points (01; 90483; Bethune), then got back on the GS and headed back the way I had come to pick up the road back to Calais. I arrived back at the port a little over 2 hours after I had left it, and this is where my problem started. In my haste to pack up at home I had forgotten to put my passport into my documents case - however I was under the impression that as long as I had ID (my driving licence) I would be alright through customs. I was disabused of this notion quite firmly by the UK Border Police who pulled me over an dmade me sit on a bench in the customs hall while they worked out what to do with me. In the end they decided I was safe to let back into the UK, but because I could not tell them the number of my passport, they inisisted I sign a poorly photocopied form to say I had lost it and they could cancel it - I knew it was on my desk at home but could not get hold of my wife to tell me the number (she phoned me as I was getting on the train to say she had found it!). Altogether I was sat there for just over an hour and a half, getting frantic inside but trying to remain calm in case they decided to hold me up any more. It was a very frustrating experience but in some ways really helped my rally - each time I got tired or fed up after that I just thought of the UK Border Police and my anger at them energised me again!
Arriving back in Kent I had a quick tour of the county, visiting Dover Castle (845 pts), a huge radar mast at Dunkirk (750 pts), then a plaque on the seafront at Whitstable entitled 'Cushing's View' (1100 pts), before getting to Sheerness to photograph a memorial (745 pts) to the crew of HMS Princess Irene, a minelayer which blew up on 27th May 1915, killing 352 with only one survivor.