Sunday 23 November 2014

A little ride round Mid Wales

The other weekend was the date for the All Terrain Rally Challenge, Road Book "Social"; a training exercise in road book navigation and perfect preparation for the Tuareg Rally. Run by Robert (Burt) Hughes and Mark (Moly) Molyneux of the All Terrain Rally Challenge and RallyMoto GB Club.

Road book navigation is nothing new to me as I first did it in car rallies as student back around 1980 and have often used road books with their distinctive "tulip" diagrams for 4x4 green lane trips I have organised. My first experience of using it on a bike was back in 1989 when I participated for the second time in the National Road Rally (An annual UK wide navigation event). This was on a most unsuitable bike for attempting 500 miles overnight, a Yamaha XT250! Not least because of the pitiful 6 volt 35 watt headlight but also the tiny 1.1 gallon petrol tank. To facilitate navigation, I built my own small manual road book holder that mounted on the left hand mirror mount and used a till roll that I painstakingly transcribed my route onto by hand. An old side light fitting provided illumination and it worked perfectly helping me to gaining a "Special Gold Award" in the Rally.

But I have never raced and navigated at the same time and whilst I love navigation (and have a degree in Geography and training as a cartographer) I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hack it? Well there was only one way to find out!

I built the bike up into full rally spec on the Friday afternoon and after only a rudimentary check that everything was working OK I loaded up the bike on the trailer and on Saturday morning headed off to Wales.

I had booked a place in the Unicorn Hotel in Llanidloes as part of the event although finding somewhere to park in town with a trailer was a bit problematic. After three laps of the town, I managed to find a spot just round the corner. After meeting up with some of the others in the Unicorn, I was lucky enough to get my own room (the plan had been to share rooms) so dumped my bags and headed back round the corner to the Trewythen Hotel (where the car and trailer was parked)! for our roadbook briefing. This was followed by the obligatory sticking together of the road books and copious amounts of highlighting! Then we retreated back to the dining room at the Unicorn for dinner together and then the pub next door!

Sunday morning dawned cloudy but at that stage not wet and we assembled in the car park behind the Trewythen to unload bikes, kit up and load road books. We were all thankful of the extra hour in bed we had due to the end of British Summer Time.

We were flagged off from the car park in town at two minutes intervals (Just like the fast guys in the Dakar) for a 150km road book loop, this involved some (very) small back roads out of town to the first checkpoint where Moly was waiting with the sag wagon. We lost a few riders on this section and Burt, riding as tail end Charlie had his work cut out finding them!

We then did a large loop in the Tarenig Forest where most of us had raced the Tarenig Rally the month before but this time we rode in the opposite direction, which was interesting. As a result you sort of knew where you were but not entirely (they had made a few changes from the Rally route too) so had to trust the roadbook absolutely (a few people got a bit lost here too).

A second checkpoint at a filling station in Ponterwyd where we met Moly again gave us a chance to refuel and grab some food before set of on the northern loop around the Nant y Moch reservoir. Here we rode on a combination of public byways and other unsurfaced highways but also footpaths, bridleways and other private tracks where motor vehicles are not normally allowed. Thanks to Burt and Moly's efforts we had permission to use these routes that were rather "challenging" in places. You'll note from the photos that we all had to wear Rallymoto hi-viz vests to prove we were legitimate entrants in the event as there has been a lot of problems locally with illegal off-road riding. I did pass one bunch of guys on motocross bikes in one of the forests, clearly riding where they shouldn't be.

A third checkpoint back at Ponterwyd gave us a chance to regroup and the waifs and strays reappeared before we set off back to Llanidloes, this was mostly on black top but with a brief detour through the Tarenig Forest on the way. We all got back together and all agreed it had been a fantastic day, with a great route and excellent preparation for a "proper" road book event.

Best news of all is the boys will be running  three rallies with road book navigation in 2015.... bring it on!

From my own point of view, the roadbook navigation seemed to come quite easily, after a couple of schoolboy errors in the first few miles (not matching the tulip diagram to the mileage basically and turning too early) It all started to flow very naturally, I did overshoot a few tricky junctions but each time I knew I had done it and just needed to pull a U-turn and readjust the trip meter as I got back to the turn. One thing I did realise is a handlebar remote switch for the trip meter is a must!


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