2003 Lands End Trial

MCC Lands End, 18-19 April 2003 by Julia Browne

I chose to skin out a part-worn rear tyre on the LE, as the forecast was dry, but after seeing how much tread peeled away on the sixty mile ride to the start on a blistering hot Friday evening I wondered if it was a poor choice. The back wheel is fairly well twatted anyway; the hub is worn to the point where the bearings drop in by hand (and knock themselves out in about two hundred miles) and parts of the rim have started to break away, but the new wheel ordered at great expense from Talon hadn’t arrived in time.  And really, does anyone think that tyre choice was going to be a bigger issue than riding ability?  No, no.

julia_browneOnce again I was riding my XR600, with my brother Neil on his TR1-BSA. I had all my paperwork with me this year, I had a full tool-bag, and the bike had been ‘ready’ for a week, so all that was left was to start. The start at Plusha services, Launceston, was uncomfortably hot, and after scrutineering, we had ample time to chew the fat.  It was good to see Trevor Griffiths, ex of the Crocker/Griffiths Yamaha outfit, and even better to hear that Trevor will be turning out this autumn with his new VMC KTM outfit, with his wife as chairman.  I hope none of this is meant to be a secret.

I went on my minute and waited for Neil just along the road. The deal was that he would lead the route up to North Petherton from memory, and then I would take over and read the route from my lighted road-book. We overtook Roy Warren and his Bantam several times on the ride up; he kept getting past us again, which probably proves that engine size isn’t everything.  There was a brief stop at the Devon route-check near Holsworthy and a quick word with Roger Pole, who always seems happy to see us. Approaching Bickleigh we caught up with two riders whose only lighting appeared to be one headlight between them. I can sort of remember their numbers but solidarity calls for me not to reveal them. I’ve no idea what was going on and will have to wait for the results to see how they fared at scrutineering. I was certainly holding my breath for them at darkened road junctions and roundabouts.

And so we reached North Petherton shortly after dark and got scrutineered. Now I understand why we are told to have the bore and stroke marked on the crankcases – all to do with noise levels. Apart from that, we got through okay, parked up and made haste to the café where we took our coffees outside and sat on a low wall in the warm night.

There we exchanged notes and opinions with other competitors for an hour or so until our due time approached and at 10:50 we left North Petherton with me leading. I know where Felon’s Oak is, I’ve been there lots (not practising, guv, honest) so found it OK, but I was surprised at how hard I had to read the route card to make sure I got there the right way.  All the way along the A39 (which I never ride, and therefore was caught out by every bend on it) I would see RUPPs, and small roads which I know lead to RUPPs, and the best RUPP of all, the one all along the Quantocks ridge and it did flash through my mind – how much more fun would it be if the MCC was able to route us along the Quantocks ridge? I’ve ridden the ridge track in the dark. You bother no one and it’s a brilliant ride. Where was I? Ah. Yes, on the way to Felon’s Oak.

At the foot of Felon’s Oak several bikes were gathered, some tyre pressure adjustment going on I daresay. I went straight to the start line running the same atmospheric tyre pressure that I’d ridden on all the way. “What do they know that I don’t?” I asked the marshal. Nothing, as it turned out and Felon’s Oak was nice and dry but extraordinarily rough, and might have gone smoother if I’d pulled second gear and carried more speed through it.

Both of us were clean and went on our way to Stoney Street, following a couple of guys as far as the other side of Minehead where they turned off at a point vaguely resembling the route card description. I just want you to know, you two, that it’s very inconsiderate to do that. I knew that wasn’t the correct turning, and kept going but… hesitantly…  It doesn’t matter how right you think you know you are; when the bloke in front of you turns off, you have doubts.

We got to Stoney Street via the nice little rough track from the right. We both cleaned this section, but it made my flabby little arms work quite hard. Last year I remember being shocked by how long and how rough Stoney Street was, but this year I was emotionally prepared and it wasn’t a problem. I was also geared up to spotting the boards which say “section continues” and so knew that if I hadn’t seen the “section ends” boards, it was still in my future and I wasn’t to relax!

Away from the top of Webber’s Post and over the moor for the ride to Culbone County gate where I had another little moment of doubt about the route. We were early again, probably just within the ¾ rule, which idea we kicked around before we handed in our control cards.  In fact, Reuben Alcock and Keith Johnston, both on Triumphs, and waiting to leave again, were decidedly scathing of our concern regarding the timing. They left before us, Reuben declaiming that we was going West in search of Gold… Another black coffee later, hands starting the caffeine buzz, now, we too were on our way to Beggars.

The lights of Wales (Port Talbot, somebody told me) winked at us through the night as we descended Countisbury Hill, then up to Barbrook and into Beggars Roost.  It was very rough, and very loose, and I bloody nearly failed it shortly after the start line.  It was only luck that the rear tyre hooked up in time and pushed the bike forwards; up until then it was just pushing the hill backwards…

Neil made me lead from the top of Beggars across to Riverton. He waited patiently for me to return to each junction that I missed, and once on the Simonsbath road I got my bearings a bit and we were on our way. No sheep sleeping on the road over the moor this year, and we made good progress.

I made a mess of Riverton, very silly. I don’t know what I was thinking about but the marshals’ helpfully shone their torches on the blur that was my frantically paddling foot just in case I hadn’t spotted that it was no longer on the footpeg…Thanks, guys… Neil and his TR1 were fine here, and we found our way to Torrington (I’m still route-finding, mind) and the holding check.  John and June Blakeley were welcoming as ever, but even they couldn’t magic up, say a burger van, let alone lighting in the loos… It was a long wait.

Eventually we were unleashed to Sutcombe – Neil knew the way (I think he knew his way to all of them, but I need practice at route-finding) and lead this one. The sky was lightening a little as we descended to the stream, but the ground was still full dark.  Sutcombe was good, cleaned, and we claimed our cake at the top. From there, via refuelling and a long queue, we rode on to Darracott, and watery daylight. We followed an early Marlin along the track before Darracott itself, and it was quite difficult to ride at the steady pace he chose. I understand his reluctance to rip out his sump or gearbox unnecessarily, but it made me work quite hard. This, of course, psyched me up for Darracott itself. Another couple of cleans here – how important it is to carry enough speed around the Darracott bends so that you can berm up the banks with impunity – and we were rushing through Bude (no special test in the car-park this year) to the Widemouth Bay holding check.

The sun was cracking the horizon as we waited on the blasted dunes, a cold wind howling in off the Atlantic. Simon Eddy was kind enough to lay his TL1000 outfit on its side in the dunes for our amusement while we waited, and he got a round of applause for his trouble. Plenty of people were complaining of cold during the rather long wait, but I, alone, it seems, was warm enough. I probably get more fear and excitement out of my XR than most people. Neil got past me and led the run over to Crackington. He left the start line in full attack mode and as he went of sight over the brow, the back end of the TR1 started to wag, and sure enough, he ventured up the banks at some speed and whilst wrestling it back onto the track, had a small dab… I settled for plodding up in first gear, second would have been better, even through the wet mud and stuff at the top. My grass-track-riding Uncle John had said he would try to get to Crackington to spectate (Crackington being close to where, in circa 1650, the original family was washed up on the shore from foreign climes) and half way up I heard his voice but was concentrating too fiercely to acknowledge him…

Treworld I have failed gloriously in a past End to End on my XL500.  Well, those were the old days, and the XR is a better bike all round.  I had some trouble starting it at the bottom: the bike was pointing sharp downhill, and to get a good swing on the kickstart I have to hop momentarily off my other foot (being a shortarse) and I couldn’t balance enough to do this and stay upright. Neil kindly left his TR1, also pointing downhill, on the sidestand (imagine if we’d had to stop and pick that one up!) and put his foot in front of the XR so that I could jump on the kickstart like I meant it. This achieved it started immediately. I like Treworld much better on an XR than on an XL500. The XR just crashed through the very rough stones near the top and kept going, in a way that the XL never could have. From the top I could hear the TR1 roaring all the way up to another clean.

From here we were of one accord – Breakfast. About a half hour down at the Wilsey Down Hotel, we sat on the ground outside in the sunshine and ate our healthy chip breakfast. We got some more grief from Reuben, whose search for gold in the West was looking a bit wobbly, and had a good session of chain oiling (quite a lot of it missed the chain, but some must have gone on because mine stopped squealing so loudly). I also bumped into Mike Holden, who was doing class 0 with this 350 BSA, and he proudly announced that he had a new accessory; a quickly detachable gear lever.  He had it sorted, though; it was tied to the frame-rails with a piece of bailer-twine, and when he heard it going “chink-chink” along the road, he knew it had fallen off again. I wish I had thought of this solution when I had my QD gear lever last year, instead of wasting all that time trying to pack the splines with beer-can.

A little before our time out, I went and gave Tony Webb the best smile I could muster at that hour of the morning, and he let us have our control cards and go. There was a short delay at Warleggan – some poor soul’s chain had snapped and wrapped itself around the sprocket, so we had to wait until he was manhandled clear before we could move up for our go. After Warleggan we paid our congestion charge to the Highwaymen in Mount village before riding on to Cardinham Woods and the Hurstock special test. I wobbled around the cone feet up and that was that, and followed the track on to Hoskin. I liked Hoskin last year, and I still liked it this year. Second gear and keep it nailed…

It was a long ride to Bishops Wood, which gave me plenty of time to wonder how I was ever going to clean it. Last year I only got up the bank because I hadn’t known it was there and I footed right afterwards. My special test was pathetic, and I went and joined the queue for the section. In the event it was lovely again; the bike flew up the ramp and sailed through the air, landed straight and with my little feet dug firmly into the pegs we got well past the “section ends” board without any trouble.  The TR1 flew again, too.

It was an even longer ride to the Perranporth holding check, lots of dual carriageway and an awful lot of traffic snarl-ups. We were the only two at the holding check, confirmation that we weren’t early, and were allowed on almost immediately. I’ve never cleaned the last turn on Blue Hills 1, and I didn’t this year either. Waiting at the bottom of Blue Hills 2, the start marshal warned me that it was very loose on the top corner, and being crap in loose stuff (okay, and on dry stuff, and on mud, I know) I had a nasty feeling that Blue Hills wouldn’t be Mine… Sure enough, I started to lose grip in the sandy stuff part way up, and on the top turn it washed out altogether and the bike pitched me into the bank before lying down in the sand-pit.  Three marshals had obviously anticipated that I was going to be trouble because they landed almost before I did and started picking the bike up for me. They asked me a couple of times if I was okay, but the impact with the bank had winded me and all I could do was nod and wheeze a bit. My stainless steel thermos fared even worse, and I am very glad that I decided NOT to tuck the digital camera into my bum-bag; otherwise I would be on Ebay now, looking for another one. I was very cross to have thrown everything away on Blue Hills, a feeling which I know many MCC people are familiar with, but “D’oh!” Better news for the TR1, though; Neil and It cleaned both Blue Hills and are on for another silver, thanks only to over-enthusiasm on Crackington.

St Agnes was gridlocked thanks to some indecisive driving by a perfectly normal person. Four bikes and John Young’s outfit got through a gap which didn’t really look big enough even for a solo and we all got a move on to the finish. It was quite an education to follow the Youngs along the twisty coast road to Newquay, and it becomes clear why they are such a force.  Our mate Fishy was at the finish with the trailer to take us home. He’d been in Newquay all morning, he said, cruising for tottie.  I’ve no idea what he meant by that.  We loaded up, I have some vague recollection of taking my boots off before I got into the car and then suddenly we were in Exeter.

Sunday morning; Mike was taking a TRF run out trail-riding, and I wanted to go but knew that I’d be far too weary to be anything other than a liability. Instead I rode out on my BMW R80 GS with my camera and arranged to meet them in a couple of RUPPs for photographs.  And I was right; I was so drained by the effort of riding the 800 BMW along the flat, dry, easy RUPPs that I knew I’d made the correct decision for once.  And I’m not tempted to ride the GS in class 0 one year, not at all. Hardly…

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