How to win the Brit Butt Rally 2015

Logo BBR2015I didn’t have good memories of the previous BBR in 2014; I had no clue what to do with the provided rally book and no good solution to solve the navigational puzzle. I even repeated the error to go to the Isle of Write…White…Wight! That time at daylight though. I had missed points near the motorway and for the first time, I had lost many points at the scoring table. In total, a nightmare which gave the sixth place in the rally in the end. Sixth place! The worst result since my first rally in 2002 when I competed ‘just for fun’ with my old XBR in the European Road Runner Rally for the first time ever in a long distance event. The BBR2014 was won by John Young with a cracking ride; he agreed to be the rally master of the BBR2015 so it was clear that this would be a challenging event.
Prior to the BBR2015, quite some top riders dropped out for various reasons. John Young had to organize the rally, Kevin &Lyn Weller (2nd in 2014) had some health issues, Giel Kerkhof was still recovering from a broken pelvis in an accident in China, and seven time winner Rob Roalfe was banned not only from the Ironbutt forum, but also from any future rallies in Britain. Who am I to interfere with the internal issues of the IBA UK, but I could not see a comprehensible reason for that and I expressed this in the forum. I knew that Rob’s attitude in discussions and the tone of some of his comments caused quite some resentment at times, but I could not see any reason to strip him from the possibility to ride in rallies. Normally, this punishment is applied when there’s cheating in rallies involved, but this was not the case here. I thought it was pity that people who share the same passion and have contributed so much to long distance riding in Britain could not get along with each other.
It was the first time for the Pan to be ridden in a rally. I had decided to retire the BMW R1100S that had failed miserably during the European Tour 2014 when I was (virtually) in the first place until I dropped out with a ‘chipped’ gearbox in Spain. I had the Honda prepared well: I had added a Russell day-long LD seat, my 16 L auxiliary tank, the highest wind shield available, a home-made dashboard, my old Clearwater Krista LD lights, handlebar risers and my Arboreal controller for my electronic gadgets, allowing a step-less control of my heated jacket. It had received some thorough maintenance by me and some professional maintenance in addition by Mart!n. This was now the best LD bike I had ever ridden.
As the rally start and finish was not near Leeds any more, I didn’t take the ferry to Hull this time, but had to ride all the way to Coventry. I arrived Thursday night as the rally master had announced that the rally books would be provided very early in the afternoon on Friday. So I had a relaxed breakfast and could prepare my things calmly, including some food shopping for the rally. In the afternoon we had to register and to do the usual odometer check by riding a certain distance on the motorway and back. This was also necessary because for the first time, it was possible to obtain a Bun Burner certificate during the rally (1500 miles in 36 hours). Rally master John handed out the rally books at the registration, looked everybody deep in the eyes and said: “the rally starts NOW!”. Aha. This was a clear hint. Something was fishy here. In my room, I opened the rally book and read on the first page in bold letters:”You should keep your rally flag with you at all times during the rally”. Right. I grabbed the flag and attached it with a carabiner to my trousers so that the flag was always with me. I had a look at the bonus point locations: all over Britain and as expected, also two locations in France and Belgium.

Bonus point locations of the 2015 Brit Butt Rally.

Bonus point locations of the 2015 Brit Butt Rally. So many places, only 36 hours…

As expected, this was a difficult nut to crack. Apart from the usual call-in bonus, there was also a Triumph Dealer Bonus: visit 5 Triumph dealer bonus point locations and get 250 points extra, visit 6 and get 500 points, visit 7 and 1000 points, etcetera. But it immediately caught my eye that the combined bonus locations (combos) would be crucial.  They combined locations in Wales and Land’s End, Wales and North England, Scotland, the Midlands, and the Midlands and Scotland. I spotted that there would be three potential winning routes: Wales and Cornwall, South East England including the locations in France and Belgium, and Scotland. But it was still too early to calculate routes; it was clear that John would give the whole thing a decisive last minute twist.


The riders meeting with John Young, aka the rally bast….rally master.

With eagerness, the riders gathered for the dinner and the riders meeting. As a first action, John asked everybody who was carrying his rally flag to stand up and show the flag. Aha, this was the first of the little dirty tricks of the rally master. Less than the majority of the riders was standing and received the first 250 points of the rally. You had to carry the flag at any time during the rally, also during the riders meeting! But luckily I was prepared. John explained some of the basic rules of the rally and also the end of the rally: before the end of the rally, a fully filled scoring sheet plus the receipts and rally book had to be presented in an envelope. A challenging extra task consisted in spelling the word “bastard” (clearly aimed at the rally master) with real estate signs: the first letter of the real estate company name on a “to let/for sale” sign would count, but the letters had to be collected in the right order. Wow.

Ow, ow, ow...this is going to be a rough ride....

Ow, ow, ow…this is going to be a rough ride….

The riders meeting was coming to an end and I asked myself: “is that it?” Where was the big twist that I was expecting? When everybody get up from their chairs, John mentioned in passing that he forget to tell a small detail. Everybody sat down again with a sigh. With a sarcastic tone in his voice, he asked if somebody realized that there was no bonus point number 64 in the rally book. Aaaah, this was the hint from the rally t-shirt with John’s bike on it: the number plate read BP64???.

The missing bonus point 64. And with this, many well laid plans went up in smoke...

The missing bonus point 64. And with this, many well laid plans went up in smoke…

He announced what the missing bonus point 64 was: every rider had to return between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday, take a 15 minute break and take a picture with the rally master. Gulp. This meant that going to Scotland would be impossible, it was simply too far. This shattered a lot of plans in that moment. This was confusing. Why did he introduce all this distant points and combos in the North if they couldn’t be visited? But knowing John, there must be a way. Why did the rally have the subtitle “unlocking the combination”? There must be a way….

In my room, I tried to solve the puzzle. Due to the low points, the option to go to France was not worthwhile, there were also no combos involved. So there remained Land’s End and Scotland. But how could I go to Scotland when I needed to be back after 8 hours?

Categorised bonus point locations. Rally start, checkpoint and finish in Coventry. Red: high points value. Green: middle. Blue: low.

Categorised bonus point locations. Rally start, checkpoint and finish in Coventry. Red: high points value. Green: middle. Blue: low.

And how could I combine the combos when I had to return to the rally HQ for the picture? I had a closer look to the combos:

Combined bonus locations. Same symbol shapes belong to the same combo.

Combined bonus locations. Same symbol shapes belong to the same combo.

It was clear that if you selected the combo including Land’s End, only the Midlands Combo would be possible as well. Two of the combos included John’s home:

Zoom of the Midlands combos. The highlighted locations are John's posh garage and cottage.

Zoom of the Midlands combos. The highlighted locations are John’s posh garage and cottage.

So by visiting his place, you could include two bonus combo points. It fitted that John wanted the riders to visit his collection of old, famous Triumph bikes. Wasn’t it possible to combine four of the five combos? The problem was that I had to return to the rally HQ…hmmmm….what if I did a short stint though the Midlands, collected part of the combo locations there, returned to HQ as early as possible, and tried to pick the combo locations in Scotland as well? In the end, the decision has to be made by number crunching. I calculated the points of the Scotland and the Land’s End routes. Hm, the Northern route gave clearly much more points. However, the riding time was more than challenging for the Scottish option: the first part was relaxed and short and should give me the possibility to return early at the checkpoint; however, the second part was massive: about 2000 km (1250 mls) in about 25 hours 45 min…. and this included the three hour sleeping bonus! This meant only 22h 45 min riding time. What did the navigation program say? It calculated a riding time of 20 h 30 min….based on the high rally average speed that I had introduced. At first sight, this seems feasible, but the 2 hours 25 min of buffer included a lot of things: filling petrol at least three times, stops at bonus point locations, red lights, retention due to traffic, preparation of the rest break and preparation of the scoring paper in the end. If I subtracted the latter, there was only a buffer of 2 hours 10 min left. Should I risk it? Well, at least I could give it a try. Since my lucky victory in the Brit Butt Light 2014 I had learned that you had to go for a risky strategy if you want to win in Britain. In the worst case, I could still change my route after the checkpoint. I finished my route, sacrificing two middle range points near Newcastle: I didn’t have the spare time to collect them. Should I have some spare time in the end, I still could visit some small points or take a short rest break right before the finish.

My final planned route. About 2580 km in less than 33 hours net. Woah.

My final planned route. About 2580 km (1604 mls) in less than 33 hours net. Woah.

As usual in the BBR, I tried to reserve a hotel in Scotland. During a three hour rest break period, you can have one hour of quality sleep in a cosy bed. And a quick shower. And some internet, if needed. But most of the hotels in the Highlands were already booked. I found one in Aviemore, but I would arrive too early there. The solution was to plan the check in around midnight and go further bonus hunting for three more hours before returning to the hotel. So I reserved the hotel. Contentedly, I went to bed and waited for the adrenaline to come down.

After some hours of sleep, I got up, had a quick breakfast in the room, dressed, grabbed my stuff and went to the parking lot where all the riders gathered and waited to set off at 6 a.m. I prepared my bike and had the usual small talk with my fellow riders. The weather forecast was good, no rain was expected during my route, except at night in the Scottish Highlands. Something to be slightly worried about. But for the time being, sunny to cloudy weather would be my companion. We all set off at six o’clock and only 16 minutes later I arrived at my first location, Umberslade Park where I had to take a picture of the entrance.

8:15. Croft Castle. Still life with artiodactyla.

8:15. Croft Castle. Still life with artiodactyla.

The next stop was at Croft Castle where the sign at the entrance was missing, but it still was recognizable. I always enjoy riding through the Western Midlands, especially early in the morning. No traffic and lots of nice country roads. At the border with Wales, I had to take pictures of the Welsh and English signs, this was part of the border signs combo. I was constantly looking out for real estate signs, but there was no sign that started with a “B”. I was going north along the Welsh border, I was almost three hours in the rally and I hadn’t seen the right real estate sign!

9:22h. Horseshoe Pass. Ponderosa Café.

9:22h. Horseshoe Pass. Ponderosa Café.

Just after visiting the next BP location in Chirk, I spotted a sign of Bowen Son and Watson, the first step was made. This additional task with the real estate sign seems playful, but if you want to get to the podium, you have to revolve this puzzle as well. I entered Wales again and rode to the Horseshoe Pass. There I stopped for another 800 points at the Ponderosa farm, er, café. It was chilly now, but my electric jacket kept me warm.

2015-05-23 10.50.21

9:50 h. Welsh – English border. Note the additional mirror on the right. One week before the rally, I dropped the bike and ruined the mirror.   I felt that it was quite essential for riding a rally in Britain (wrong side of the road!). As I couldn’t get one in time, I decided to use an old XBR mirror that I attached in a rough-and-ready manner.

I descended, passed Wrexham and stopped at the border to take pictures of the border signs again, as this was the second part of the border sign combo. The sole signs did not bring a lot of points, but together with the Scottish border signs, they would be good for another 7500 combo points! I headed further north towards Liverpool to stop in Birkenhead. This was not easy as I almost entered the tunnel under the River Mersey. Only by reversing the heavy bike, I could escape this mistake and arrive at the submarine location. Albeit close to Liverpool, it was not a yellow one. Now I could enter the tunnel and cross under the Mersey. In Liverpool, I found a real estate sign – Abode Group – which gave me the second letter “A”.

11:36 h. The Midlands Hotel in Manchester.

11:36 h. The Midlands Hotel in Manchester.

Next I could take the M62 to Manchester – a quick ride after all these country roads. In Manchester, I had to visit the local Triumph dealer. But before I got there, I had to pass a ‘colourful’ street. Hm, I thought, if this looks like this at broad daylight on Saturday noon, let’s better not be here on a Saturday night! I stopped shortly at the dealership, took my picture and went back towards the Manchester city centre. I took a picture of the Midland Hotel worth some 850 points, but I wanted also to get the 250 extra points for a Rolls Royce plaque in the interior of the hotel. It was well hidden, so I lost a couple of minutes.

12:31 h. Stafford Triumph dealer. I made acquaintance with Jeff.

12:31 h. Stoke-on-Trent. Triumph dealer. I made acquaintance with Jeff.

I turned southwards again on the M6. In Stoke-on-Trent, I visited another Triumph dealer which was good for 500 points. As the shop was open, I could easily get additional 1750 points. All I needed to do was to “go inside, ask for Jeff and have your picture taken with him”. So I addressed a salesman and asked if I could talk to Jeff. After I had repeated my question, he watched me with a bemused smirk on his face and said “talking to Jeff? This will be difficult” and showed me the way to the main counter. “There he is”. What? There’s only a lady…”Over there!” Hm? But there’s only this fluffy monkey….wait a minute…this is Jeff? Ha ha. That was a good one.

I did not go back to the motorway, but stayed on the A34 towards Stafford. There I found a sign of “Stafford and Rural Homes” – my third letter. Only a few minutes later, I arrived at a special place – John’s home at Pottal Pool. It was a timed bonus from 11 to 3 o’clock and I was welcomed by John and took a picture of the cottage (Combo 1) and of the pride of his Triumph collection – the original ‘Son of Sam’ racing bike.

13:17 h. The rally master's joy. Time for a tea.

13:17 h. The rally master’s joy. Time for a tea.

I took the time to accept the cup of tea offered by John and chatted a bit over the rally so far. A couple of minutes later I left and headed for Wolverhampton where I visited another Triumph dealer. As I had almost one hour buffer before my return to the checkpoint, I decided to combine my petrol stop with a one hour rest bonus that would give me an extra 3000 points. I filled up my bike, paid and got the receipt that started the one hour break. I had a very relaxing meal at the adjacent American restaurant with the big M, checked my bike and studied the rally book and my route. 2015-05-23 16.24.31So far, everything went according to my plan. Actually, even better, because I could make this extra break. However I would arrive a couple of minutes after 4 p.m. at the checkpoint, this was the price to pay for the extra 3000 points. And I had to leave out the Triumph dealer in Birmingham. After one hour, I got me another receipt and went to Lichfield where I took a picture of the statue of Captain Smith, the captain of the Titanic. There was only one location on the plan before returning to the HQ: the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull. I took a picture of the entrance and to get the extra 350 points, I had to enter and to take a picture of ‘Slippery Sam’, yet another old Triumph racing bike. Of course it was located at the very back of the museum. This cost me some more minutes than expected and shortly after 4 p.m., I reached the rally HQ.

16:07 h. Rally master John and me. The silence before the storm.

16:07 h. Rally master John and me. The silence before the storm.

I got my paper signed, my picture with the rally master taken and all I had to do was to wait until the 15 minute break was over. I picked my laptop and checked the rest of the route. So far, everything was easy and went according to the plan. It was only now when I had to swallow the big chunk. I had a look at the route again. More than 2000 km, and only two hours of buffer left. I was happy that I had prepared a time schedule that should tell me at any time how much buffer was left, based on the calculated arrival times at the bonus point locations. I waived goodbye and about 4:20 p.m., I set off for the last 25.5 hours of the rally.

I headed north on the M1 and passed Castleford, the start and finish of many past rallies. I exited the motorway and visited the Squires Café, apparently a very popular meeting point for motorbikers on a Saturday afternoon. I continued my trip on the motorway and reached another location very close to the exit, and enormous sculpture called “The Brick Train”. Again back to the motorway. I left out the two middle sized bonuses along the way on purpose. People asked me later why I didn’t pick these points as well. It was very simple – my route was extremely risky and visiting these places would have costed me a large chunk of my precious time buffer of two hours.

20:05 h. St John The Baptist Church. Northumberland.

20:05 h. St John The Baptist Church. Northumberland.

This is the art of clever route planning: sometimes you have to sacrifice some smaller points to have enough time to go for the bigger plan.

My next destination was the St John the Baptist Church in Edlingham in the middle of nowhere in Northumberland. It was a great ride – a nice evening atmosphere, hilly roads and no traffic. I took my picture and continued on the A697. By chance I found my letter ‘T’ in Crookham right before the next bonus point. I arrived at the River Tweed that forms the border between England and Scotland.

20:46 h. Scottish - English border. Finally found the sign.

20:46 h. Scottish – English border. Finally found the sign.

Here I should find the third of the four border sign locations of the respective combo. But…I could not find them. I passed the indicated GPS point a couple of times, but could not find the signs. Had they been removed? Impossible. I followed the road another quarter mile until I spotted the Scottish sign. But then I should find the English one easily…not. I went back and forth again to locate this darn sign, but only after a couple of attempts I spotted the small stone next to the road. That was it! Take your picture and move north. This was my last bonus point for quite a while; now I had to move quickly to the Highlands and check into my pre-booked hotel in Aviemore. This would take me at least three hours. I watched the sunset when I passed Edinburgh. It was time to refill my tank, have some sort of ‘dinner’ and to put on my rain suit, for I expected some rain in the Highlands. While I was munching my sandwich, I checked the rainfall in my GPS: this looked good for the moment, but the roads would still be wet and sooner or later the rain would catch me. So I converted into the yellow Michelin Man 2.0, prepared to enter the Scottish Highlands in my night shift to come. I crossed the Forth of Firth and moved north on the M90 towards Perth. It was pitch dark now and the road was a bit wet. When the road turned into the A9, I decided to stay behind a car that was going reasonably fast. I was scared of the wildlife at night in Scotland. I still remembered my close encounter on the A9 during the BBR2013 so the best thing was to stay safely behind this car, wasn’t it? And the wet road also reduced my eagerness to overtake it. I thought I was clever. What happened next in the fraction of a second proofed me wrong. Suddenly something appeared under the car. I could only see it very late…it looked like….an animal?!! Whatever it was, I made a small correction to the right in order to avoid at least the head of this big carcass on the road and tried to ride as straight as possible over what once was a roe deer. Holy Shit!!! I was scanning the roadsides for animals, but I did not expect the danger to come from underneath. Sometimes it is an advantage to ride such a chubby bike like the Pan that had went right through the body…

Slowly the adrenaline ebbed away. This showed me that my carefulness was justified. I continued to watch the side of the road very closely and kept the speed low. I decided to leave out the bonus point in Pitlochry and to try it the next day. I had already lost half an hour in relation to my plan (mainly due to my petrol stops) which meant that my buffer was down to 2:00 h. The roads dried and finally I reached Aviemore at midnight. “Let’s just check in and quickly continue the ride” I thought. I spotted a petrol station where I could get my receipt later. I entered the complex of the MacDonald Hotel and looked for the entrance. But this place was huge! Buildings everywhere and no clear indication in this dark place. Finally I found a reception….however, it was the wrong one! I was told where I should go – but I simply couldn’t find it either! Eventually I spotted the nondescript entrance and went to the reception. The young guy was a bit confused when I paid immediately and told him I would come back later. I quickly had a look in the room and left the place. I had lost another 20 minutes of my precious buffer and was now down to +1:40 h. Luckily the roads were dry now and I could make use of my LED floodlights. In contrast to 2013, I had enough alternator power to feed them. Two years earlier, the system voltage of my XBR dropped when the brake light was on. In retrospect, I do not understand why I had reversed the order of the points of this trip before the sleeping bonus. I guess that a rain front came in and I wanted to do the mountain part still in dry conditions.

I climbed the mountains on small roads, my lights cutting though the black night. The next bonus point was located in the highest village in the Scottish Highlands: Tomintoul. In the dark of my cockpit, the chess board like streets of the village popped up on my Sat Nav screen. I took a picture of the required monument and started my descent. Buffer: +1:35 h.

2:01 h. Forres. The Sueno's Stone. Time was starting to run out.

2:01 h. Forres. The Sueno’s Stone. Time was starting to run out.

2015-05-24 03.56.27

2:55 h. Chanonry Point. The lighthouse is on the right….really! It’s the same angle as in the rally book.

Suddenly it started to pour down. Not just a drizzle, no. All the rain I had evaded so far seemed to be effused on me. While the ride up was fun, the ride down was grappling with the elements. I went down to the coast and although the rain had stopped, I was blocked by a truck that was impossible to pass on these winding small roads. What was this guy doing here at half past one in the night?? Finally I reached Forres and looked for the ‘Sueno’s Stone’, a monolith in an enormous glass cage. Buffer: +1:30 h. I rode on the A96 to Inverness; a déjà vu moment. Two years earlier, I also rode on this dark road with the light of Inverness on the horizon. I passed Inverness and took the A832 north in direction of John O’Groats. Some miles I rode down to the coastline and stopped at the lighthouse at Canonry Point. It took several attempts to get a useful picture under these conditions…it’s always a challenge to take a picture of a lighthouse at night….I sensed it was time for a decision. I was still at a buffer of +1:30 h, but I had left out Pitlochry. And the way to the Scottish west coast would take some time as well….And if I skipped the plan to go to Stranraer the next day? I could now go to John O’Groats and bag at least this big bonus if I had to leave the Scottish combo. I introduced John O’Groats as the next location for a check….what? Two hours riding time? That was too far. OK, so I would just follow my plan and return to the hotel in Aviemore. I got my rest break starting receipt at 3:50 h and at 4 a.m. I entered my hotel room, had a quick shower and assessed the situation with my laptop. This was frustrating…from my 2:25 h buffer at the beginning of the rally, I was down to +0:50 h now. I had not only skipped the bonus point in Pitlochry, but also two points in the near-by Alvie. If I considered the time extra time to visit the three locations, I was surely down to +0:30 h. This this meant that my plan had failed. With a heavy heart I decided to cancel my plan and to go down south the next day, adding some points along the way to contain this disaster. I had pushed my luck, but I failed. I tried to find some sleep in this disappointed mood….

7:08 h. Church in Alvie. New day, new luck.

7:08 h. Church in Alvie. New day, new luck.

My alarm clock rang at a quarter past six and I startled out of my sleep. I made some tea, dressed, packed my stuff and choked down some biscuits. I left the hotel and at 6:51 h, I had my ticket from the petrol station in front of the hotel. It was a cloudy,  but dry morning and I had decided to make the best out of it. With a good improvisation, I still could make it to the podium. The first bonus points were very close; I had passed them deliberately the night before. I stopped at the church in Alvie and took a picture of me in front as required. Next, I stopped at the Hillview cottage that gave me the second combo and some big 4750 extra points. The roads were deserted on this Sunday morning and with no wildlife to be afraid of, I could pull the throttle cable a bit. In Pitlochry, I took a picture of the Edradour Distillery, the “smallest distillery in Scotland”. When I studied the estimated arrival time at the finish on my second Sat Nav, I realised that I actually had caught up some of the lost time, I was back to a +0:45 h buffer time. This was reassuring. Could I still switch to my old plan? I had made a list of bonus points for my plan B and I started asking myself what to do. On the A9, I managed to slowly increase the buffer time minute by minute…in contrast to last night, I encountered best conditions now and maybe my plan A was possible. I had to make a decision, and quick! In a few miles, I would get to the junction when I would have to go south (plan B) or south-west (plan A). I balanced the reasons for A and B…and still couldn’t decide myself. Then I remembered my experience from the Brit Butt Light Rally 2014 that I had won so scantily on my little XBR: at the end of the rally, I made a very risky, bold move that brought me the first place. I came second twice in the BBR, so it was time to put it all on one card. Only one mile to the junction…And if some small roads would slow me down too much? Showing up too late without having the time to fill in the scoring papers would result in a DNF which was still worse than a place in the top 5…..There was the roundabout, first exit to Glasgow, second exit to Edinburgh….decide NOW!

It was actually a last second decision when I entered the roundabout, coming right from the gut. Sod it!, I thought, I finally want to win this f***ing rally!! Let’s go for it!!

So I did not follow the M90, but turned right and followed the A9. At this moment, it was 8:25 a.m. and I still had about 9 hours and 850 km (530 mls) to go. My buffer time was up at +0:50 h again. I needed to pull petrol once (8 min), visit 5 bonus locations (15 min), make a text-in (3 min), find three letters (3 min), have some food (5 min)…which left 16 minutes for numerous red lights (1 min per lights, often at roundabouts) and unforeseen traffic delays, such as the usual retentions on the M5. Risky. Very risky. But I had still a chance to catch up: ride smarter, not harder.

To my pleasant surprise, the A9 turned into a motorway near Stirling. Perfect! As there was no traffic, I could catch up even more. The estimated arrival time decreased minute by minute. This was too good to be true. Another great example that frustration and euphoria can be very close during LD rallies. I passed Glasgow and headed to the coast on the M77. At Kilmarnock, it turned into the A77, but I had made quite good progress. I was alert to not forget about the text-in bonus: a text message had to be sent to the rally master between 9:30 h and 10:00 h.

I stopped near Ayr at the western coast and sent the required message with my rider number, location and odometer reading. I mounted the bike again and continued. After ten minutes I stopped again as I had seen a real estate sign of “Allen & Harris” that gave me the “A” worth 1000 points and extended the magic word to ‘basta…’. I checked my cell phone if I had received the confirmation of the text message. No confirmation! So I sent another message, just to be sure…On a different note: the Ironbutt Rally 2015 was tragically lost by a malfunctioning call-in bonus….

My buffer was increasing and increasing which pushed my mood to new heights. This looked good now! I finally reached the coast and enjoyed the coastal road with its nice views. I arrived at the Varyag monument next to the sea and took my picture. Planned arrival time: 9:09 h, actual arrival time 10:13 h, this meant that my buffer was back to +0:56 h, despite the little issue with the text-in messages: I hadn’t received the confirmations and now I was outside the time window (BTW: I received the confirmation hours later…).

10:51 h. Corsewall Lighthouse. Rains of Galloway.

10:51 h. Corsewall Lighthouse. Rhins of Galloway.

But now a crucial part was ahead of me: a visit to both ends of the Rhins of Galloway, the hammer-head peninsula west of Stranraer. The navigation programme estimated a 2 hour ride (without stops) for about 140 km (87 mls). That seemed a bit optimistic, for this were small rural roads… I was in a good mood now, some sunshine rays broke through the clouds and I started to have fun here. The first point was the Corsewall Lighthouse at the northern tip of the peninsula. The roads got smaller and smaller, first a rural B road, then a even smaller road, then a single track road….But I didn’t want to slow down, I blasted with the heavy Pan through the Peninsula. The sheep in the fields felt sorry for my lucky charm companion, my little black sheep called Shawn…I think he was about to throw up. I even applied off-road techniques to keep the speed up: any obstacles or potholes? No problem, just ride standing on the foot pegs. But when the rear suspension still bottomed out I knew that I had reached the limits of the poor bike. I reached the Lighthouse and took the picture from a reasonable distance. Buffer time: + 1:03 h, I had not lost ground on these roads! I turned around and did the same play with the southern tip, from single track roads to B roads and back again. I arrived at the Lighthouse of the Mull of Galloway, the most southern point of Scotland. Buffer time: +1:04 h. I had successfully bagged the Scottish combos, worth some 7500 extra points. Again a bumpy ride back, but I enjoyed it. Picture taken and back to the mainland. I think the sheep rarely see a 470 kg total weight Japanese low flyer around there…

When I was back on the A75, I checked my position: Instead 2 hours, I had only needed 1:40 for the trip to the peninsula, this meant I was at a +1:16 h buffer! I started to feel confident now. The most difficult test on the back to the finish was behind me, now there was only the fast A75 (I had learned that the short cut through the interior is scenic, but time-wise a disaster) and then the M6 and M5. I had only 500 km (310 mls) to go and more than one hour of buffer. This really could work! I was well back on track, the Pan was humming, the sun was shining……what could possibly go wrong?

It was not long when my reserve petrol lamp lit. Well, no problem, I thought, the A75 is an important road for the ferry traffic between Dumfries and Stranraer. There must be lots of petrol stations along the road. I was wrong. I searched for one in my Sat Nav…..there it is….only 8 miles away…, there isn’t any…thank you, Garmin…..ok, the next one….doesn’t exist….the next one…..closed on Sunday noon….I was running on empty! I searched left and right of the A75, but there was no open station to find. Finally I found an open station in Castle Douglas. Phew! That was close! I filled more than 41 litres into my tanks….I was heading further east on the A75….I still had enough time…what options did I have to add some additional points? Hmmm….before the return to the HQ, I had left out the Triumph dealer in Birmingham to be back in time.

13:46 h. Scottish - English border. Monster combo bagged!

13:46 h. Scottish – English border near Carlisle. Monster combo bagged!

I would have enough time to add a 30 minute rest break in Coventry right before returning to the finish: I would give me additional points and I could get my paperwork done there. But first I had an important bonus location: the last of the four border signs point near Gretna. The two pictures of the English and Scottish border signs gave some fat 7500 extra points. Buffer: +0:43 h. This should be enough. Now I had only to enter the M6 and fly south….

It was a nice ride. I made good progress so I could permit myself a little detour to the Triumph garage in Claughton. Some easily earned 950 points. Buffer: +0:47 h. It was clear that by riding back on the motorway, I wouldn’t be able to find the last “D” for the “bastard”, this would have been some nice 1000 points plus 2000 extra points for the whole word….but you can’t always get what you wa-haaaant….

I decided to visit the Triumph dealer in Birmingham which gave me another 600 points. I had not encountered any significant traffic, so I had time for the short break at a petrol station in Coventry. I got my ticket at 17:05 h to start the 30 minute rest break. I sorted my papers and wrote my claiming list for the scoring. I had time to relax a bit and to reflect on what I had done. With two miles to the finish, I had mastered my most daring and daunting rally ride ever. I had played for high stakes – and was successful! I wondered how many other riders had dared to go the same route. It was unusual that I hadn’t seen any other rider since I left the checkpoint. Was I the only one? Quite unlikely…I was sure to get to the podium with this monster ride. I had learned from my past ‘near misses’: if you play it safe, you can get a top result. But to excel, you have to dare to make bold decisions. But I still needed to get to the finish and to survive the scoring. In the previous year, I had lost lots of points for an incorrect fuel log; this should not happen again…

At 17:45 h, at 15 minutes before the closure of the rally, I arrived at the finish. I was the last rider to pop up and the rally team was already nervous: “quick, quick, you still need to fill in the papers!”. With a grin on my face, I handed the envelope with the papers over to Phil, the IBA UK president. After some chatting with the team members and fellow riders, I returned to my room and changed to a lighter outfit. I waited in the lobby to be called for the scoring which was smoother than usual because of some optimised procedure. My fuel log and rest bonus log was OK (yes!), I even could claim five Triumph dealers (nice!), get 6000 points for the ‘bastar….’ (yes!), my bonus point pictures were all accepted (YES!) which meant that I received all points for the locations (YES! YES!) AND all four combos worth a massive 22500 extra points (YESYESYESYESYES!!!!). I had lost no points at the scoring table!

I summed up 92250 points, this sounded a lot. I had not committed any big errors and rode simply an almost perfect rally. I felt this was as good as it could get. For the BBR2015, I had given my very best. I had even completed a Bun Burner ride (>1500 miles in 36 hours). The question was now, how many riders did solve the puzzle in an even better way? After a shower and the dinner, the ceremony began…

All 36 riders had successfully finished the rally and the places from the bottom started from 42000 points…top 20 from 56000 points….but then the differences from place to place got small…top 10 from 61000 points….hmmm, this doesn’t look too bad…. a jump from sixth to fifth place: 65800 points (Mark Fowler) to 73100 points (Martin Buck)….fourth place with 76740 points went to Gordon Sears…..this meant that the top three riders were called to the (non-existent) podium: Dave Winter, Lee Edwards and me…his looked good….third place went to Dave Winter with 76800 points….so there were only Lee and me left…second place with 84270 points went to Lee Edwards…which meant…I had done it! I had won the Brit Butt Rally 2015! And with a lead of almost 10 %! In the history of the BBR, this was only achieved once in 2009…

I received the congratulations of the other riders and had to answer many questions. It was a long evening with lots of talks and chats. This trophy was finally mine now:

First place trophy

First place trophy

The next day I returned home without any problems, such as flat tyres or other adversities.

This was really a great rally! John did a great job in developing this great ride. He laid out many traps and had something special in mind…the subtitle of the rally “unlocking the combination” was chosen on purpose. The combos were indeed decisive. And to my surprise, I was the only one who dared to go Scotland and get four of the five combos. A big thanks goes also to the whole rally team, the organization of the event was as professional as ever. John Young will also be the rally master of the Brit Butt Rally 2016. I am afraid that the next BBR will be even more challenging than the BBR2015…