UK Trip 2021

After the VINCE 2020 rerun I was planning to go back to Spain with Alexander to do yet more trail riding, but he had just started a new job so that was cancelled. Instead I decided to head back to the UK with Dougie in his van to visit my brother Chris who had recently broken his leg and fallen behind with his very long list of jobs.

Breakfast in the van on our early morning channel tunnel journey..

Having arrived at Chris and Corinne’s place the first job was to get out one of his “big boys toys” and move some telegraph poles that are destined for use as fence posts.

Big boys toy…

The job list was very long and prioritising seemed to be difficult. As Chris said when sitting in the breakfast room you can look in any direction both inside the house and out of the window to see jobs that need doing. In fact we started with the job that was at our feet – there was a gaping hole in the floor which needed filling, after first re-plumbing the radiator, fitting insulation, floor boards and finishing off with oak flooring.

Big, draughty hole in the floor…
Job done !

While I was staying at Chris’ I wanted to try to keep up my exercise regime. For the next stage of the trip I was planning to visit my sister Sara in Preston who had just retired and had a wild idea of running a marathon. Despite the inclement weather I managed to find a few routes from the farm that weren’t too muddy and explored some public footpaths that didn’t look like they were used much.

Footpath

One of the biggest tasks on the job list was to make some progress with the loft extension. The builders had raised the roof of the bungalow to create a massive additional space – they had installed the new roof trusses, fitted windows and tiled the roof, but all the interior work was down to Chris. He had already fitted flooring boards and done a first layer of insulation in between the trusses. Then he broke his leg…. The next stage was to fit a second layer of insulation and then plasterboard the whole space.

Before – lots of work to do but a great view…

The insulation pieces needed cutting to fit in between the joists/rafters and because the joiners had done a less than perfect job, the spacings were not equal so every piece had to be measured before cutting.

Lots of measuring and cutting, and lots of dust…
Like a big jigsaw…
Making good progress on the insulation…
Bringing in the plasterboard sheets…
Homemade plasterboard lifting frame..
End wall needing battens, insulation and plasterboard…
End wall finished…
Job done…

The job took two weeks to complete and throughout we were kept well supplied with food and tea by Corinne…

Homemade Brioche..

After completing the plasterboarding of the loft it was time to head off to Preston and see what Sara had planned. We had originally talked about renting a cottage in the Lakes or North Wales and doing lots of walking, but the weather forecast was not looking good and she had a couple of rental properties that needed work. The idea of the marathon seemed to be fading but the daily routine involved either a 14 Km run or an even longer walk each day. In terms of food, her children had recently organised a combined birthday/retirement party with lots and lots of food so the fridge was overflowing when I arrived, plus the special cakes that her daughter Zoe had made.

One retirement goal that Sara was keen on was to complete the “Yorkshire Three Peaks” – in terms of distance this is equivalent to a marathon, but with three big peaks to climb. We had heard that it takes 10-12 hours to hike the route which meant we didn’t have enough daylight unless we could run some of the easier parts – we decided to give it a go anyway…

Nearing the top of Ingleborough…

We started off full of enthusiasm and made good progress up the first hill, but as we neared the summit the wind picked up and it became bitterly cold…

Freezing cold at Ingleborough Summit
Made it !

Having made it up the first hill we set off on the long trek to the second, but just got colder and colder. We stopped for a break out of the wind and my fingers were so cold I couldn’t do up my laces so we decided to call it a day rather than risk being exposed on another summit. But we were determined to come back and do more…

On the way back we passed a pub with a special weather forecasting stone hanging outside…

Weather forecasting stone

Sara has one day a week (sometimes more) of Grandma duties and looks after Rory. We decided to take him to the seaside at Lytham and for once the sun was shining…

Sunny day at the seaside…
Sara and Charlie…

One of the rental houses needed a new door mat so we called in to a shop to find one. Unfortunately Sara got distracted by the Christmas decorations and bought a Christmas tree which had to be installed as soon as we got home, despite it being November.

Early Christmas decorations…

Sara’s other children came round for a walk and dinner one day, for which Zoe had made a special bonfire cake…

Bonfire cake and crumble !

The gruelling exercise regime continued each day with long runs or walks under the usual Preston tupperware skies, but feeling quite autumnal.

Autumn leaves

One of the routes we used took us to a Starbuck’s, some of which allow dogs, which allowed us to indulge in a coffee and fruit toast. This didn’t last once we found that said toast has 450 calories, before you add the butter and jam…

Where’s mine ?

This wouldn’t be a blog post of mine if there wasn’t a mention of cars or motorbikes somewhere. We came acoss this bizzare contraption on one of our walks…

Bitsa…

And so it was that we decided to have a second attempt at the “three peaks” – this time we were better prepared with proper cold weather gear. But the weather turned out fine so the cold wasn’t a problem – our goal was to tackle the two peaks we had missed last time.

Great scenery and a lovely day..
One woman and her dog…
Ribblehead viaduct.

We managed to climb both Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside without too much trouble, but the conditions were very good and nothing like we had experienced the first time.

Back on with rental houses and now under time pressure as the new tenants wanted to be in before Christmas. Sara was tackling the painting (I couldn’t be trusted with a brush!) while I sorted out the DIY issues, one of which was a non working dish washer.

Ah, so that’s why it doesn’t work…

By now we had almost finished the left-overs so ventured into Preston to look for more provisions and especially the cheeses from the specialist stall at the indoor market. And I met Gromit outside the shop…

Gromit

Despite being retired Sara had agreed to continue working as a consultant for one day per week, my job was to take Charlie out for a walk. Called in to see Tim and Helen a couple of times, but was banished to the conservatory with Charlie to avoid getting dog hair and mud through the house…

Frosty morning.

While in the UK I took the opportunity to visit Felicity in Manchester and catch up with my grandchildren, before heading down to Sussex to see Lucy (and more grandchildren) – we also had time to go and visit Nanna.

The little beauties…

Bella had a tooth come out during my visit and was very excited at the possibility of the tooth fairy making a call, but she lost the tooth ! All was not lost as she wrote a little note for the tooth fairy which seemed to do the trick..

Dear Tooth Fairy…

Apart from getting up to Durham in Dougie’s van at the start of the trip and Chris/Sara doing a car relay to get me to Preston, the rest of my trip was using the train. I was a bit concerned at the general lack of mask wearing in the UK but seemed to escape uninfected (we had to do a Covid test before being allowed to see Nanna). Generally the train service was very good, although I had a couple of cancellations which introduced some minor delays. I took the Eurostar back to France, which was a first for me and worked very well. Then across Paris and train down to Limoges to be reunited with Hebe – fortunately she still recognised me.

Hebe Dog

Alexander kindly lent me the Focus to get back, but did mention that it needed a service, new front brakes, new tyres and a cam belt change. Oh yes, and the front windows have stopped working. Should keep me busy once I have defrosted the house – it was a bracing 8 degrees in the lounge when I got back…


VINCE 2020 Rerun

In the VINCE 2020 event we finished second using maps and compass with a score of 82 points. The number of competitors was significantly reduced (40 v 90+ for a normal year) due to COVID concerns and travel restrictions. For this reason Austin decided to run the 2020 event again in 2021 – same routes, same CPs – to give those that had missed the original event an opportunity to participate. We entered for the rerun but weren’t officially allowed to compete so we decided to try our luck using GPS instead of maps with the objective of beating last year’s score.

However, we had done no preparation for the rerun so after the Mondo in Spain we decided to head home for some route planning and servicing of the bikes…
I gave mine a wash and it was ready to go again :

Quick wash and ready for more..

Dougie’s Freeride needed a bit of tinkering before it was ready…

Freeride fettling…

It did clean up nicley once he had finished though – only time would tell if it would be reliable…

Cleaned up nicely…

I did need to do some work on my map board as we were intending to use our phones as GPS units, running an app to give us a track to follow. I wanted it mounted up high so it would be easy to see at a glance when standing up on the bike.

Map board with phone mount.

Dougie’s set up had two phones as he likes to use one for tracking the route and the other showing a wider overview of the general area – useful when having to replan the route on the fly.

Although the GPS option is easier to follow when riding, the amount of preparation is very similar and takes hours of work. We had to identify an “optimum” route for each day to accumulate as many points as possible within the time limit (12 hours riding per day). The selected route is then converted into a GPX track which can be validated using Google Earth to make sure the tracks exist and to try and spot any alternatives or short cuts.

Office converted to map central…

One of the difficulties we experienced last time we ran this event was in a large area to the North that consists of endless olive groves. They all look the same on the ground so navigating with a map and compass is really difficult. We were hoping to pick up time here and avoid getting lost. Here is a view of some of the olive groves on Google Earth…

Endless Olive Groves…

I managed to rustle up a few meals to keep us going – lots of vegetables to make a change from the Mondo menu of meat with extra meat at every meal. I did a stir fry one night but think I might have overdone the Chilli for Dougie’s taste…

We did manage a small amount of local trail riding in between planning sessions. This gave Dougie a chance to use his electric Freeride, but even that had problems and it had to be jump started from my bike every time we stopped !

Albas viewpoint.

We did a route that took us down into Prayssac which included the obligatory coffee stop where Dougie was able to have his cake and eat it.

Coffee and cake !

We saw some amazing views when we were in Spain, but the views from the terrace back home aren’t too bad either…

Morning mist from Hauts Du Brel

Once we had the bikes fettled, routes plotted and checkpoint cards printed and laminated, we were ready for the off once more..

Off we go again…

The location of the VINCE rerun was much further south in Spain and it took all day to get there. When we arrived in the early evening the town of Valderrobres was bathed in a golden glow.

Valderrobres

This was a new location for us – last year we stayed in Arnes a few Km away – and we struggled to find the hotel which seemed to be right in the middle of the old town with very narrow streets. Having failed to get the van anywhere near we called the hotel only to be told we had to park outside the town and walk !

Base camp established

The hotel was very old and quite small – the building to the right of the old gate in this picture..

Hotel in Valderrobres

We had a free day before the event and did a test ride and checked out the new walkie talkies we were planning to use – we soon gave up with them as the bike and wind noise made hearing anything very difficult. Dougie discovered a problem with the starter switch/solenoid on his bike, possibly as a result of pressure washing – so it was back to base for more fettling. Fortunately he has spares of almost everything and the solenoid was soon changed.

Day 1
We got away on time and set off on the long road stretch leading to the first trail. I was having trouble with my phone/app as it would not update the GPS location and was telling me I hadn’t left the car park. Fortunately we remembered this route from last year so finding the start of the first trail was no problem and my phone soon sorted itself out. Dougie was having more trouble – the Freeride was misfing along the road stretch and he was afraid this would only get worse along the bumpy trail. I set off to go and get the first checkpoint with Dougie following along behind – it didn’t matter too much if we got separated as we were both following the same GPS track and the app we were using has a useful “Buddy Beacon” feature to show where the other person is (or where they were 5 minutes ago). I got the first CP and waited, but no sign of Dougie. After a while I decided to retrace my steps to see what had happened and came across him at the side of the trail with his bike partially dismantled.

Breakdown on the trail…

He couldn’t do too much on his own as I was carrying the tools, but soon had the bike completely in bits. It emerged that the starter motor had engaged as he was riding along the trail and had kept on cranking continuously until it flattened the battery. Having stripped and checked everything there was nothing for it but to reassemble and try to get it going again. But the battery was dead flat and the Freeride doesn’t have a kickstarter (weight saving). Trying to bump start the bike on the trail was hard work but at least it was downhill going back the way we had come. It didn’t start…
We eventually made it back down to the road with the Freeride coasting most of the way…

Battery swap…

The Freeride battery was completely dead, but we realised it was the same size as the battery on my bike. Not only that, but my KTM does have a kickstart and doesn’t need a battery to run. A battery swap did the trick and we got the Freeride running again, but decided to head back to base for further investigation rather than risk being stranded out in the middle of nowhere.

Back at base for yet another strip down…

In the mobile workshop Dougie did have a spare battery, but it too was completely flat. He had brought a new spare battery with him but gave that to a needy friend at the VINCE a couple of weeks ago… Having checked all we could we decided to set off again to try to collect at least some points – crossing our fingers that the Freeride kept going and that mine would continue to be OK on the kick starter only. We managed to collect a few points and did one particularly gnarly goat trail that Austin had warned “no big bikes” and “no novices”..


Tricky trail – a lot worse than it looks in the photo…

I dicovered a problem with my setup – the phone wasn’t charging, probably due to the flat battery I was using which was refusing to hold any charge. As we were reliant on the phone for navigation we decided to call it a day and head for home to try to source a new battery for the Freeride to give us a decent shot at Day 2.

Back at base Dougie went to see Austin…
Fortunately he had a battery, but it was attached to his bike so he offered to lend it to Dougie for the day…

Austin’s CRF 250L

A bit of work was required to fit the map board/navigation and charging system to Austin’s bike, but at least it looked like we were in with a chance for Day 2…
Coincidentally Dougie had begun to tire of the Freeride and the constant maintenance and reliability issues and had been hoping to blag a ride on a CRF at some point…

The CRF 250L and Austin’s bike in particular is a very rugged and reliable machine (it’s a Honda!) and Austin had ridden his all the way down from the UK. It is a relatively heavy bike, made even heavier by the accessories and luggage that have been added…

Ex army canvas panniers…
Luggage rack, or fireguard…?

Day 2
With a reliable bike the machine problems were behind us and we could concentrate on following the route we had planned. As with the Vince 2021 we adopted our usual formula – me in front getting to the checkpoints and reading the tags, Dougie following, keeping a check on the route and monitoring the schedule and replanning as required to keep us on track.

Compared to the map and compass approach I found using GPS to be much better. Following a map is fine if your hiking or stationary but doesn’t allow you to glance down while riding to check you are still on track. With a GPS mounted high up on the bike it is possible to ride at a reasonable pace and concentrate more on riding while also being able to check that we are on track. When we did go wrong it was only by 50m or so and mistakes were quickly and esily corrected.

We made great progress and only a couple of minor errors – one place where the road we wanted to access from the trail was fenced off (not shown on the map or Google Earth), so we had to find an alternative route, and another where the trail we had plotted on the GPS didn’t exist – again a work around route was required.

We rode for 11 hours on Day 2 and managed to collect 74 points despite tackling the olive groves. Last year we scored 82 in two 12 hour days – our total this year was 83 so we did meet our objective of beating last year, but not quite in the manner we had expected. If we had managed a full Day 1 we would easily have had the best score in the event, although it would not have been recognised due to our prior knowledge. We arrived back after sunset and didn’t get back to the hotel until after dark…

The next day Dougie gratefully returned Austin’s bike with a “payment” of a new rear tyre…

Dougie a bit tyred today…

So what did Dougie do about the Freeride and the Honda v KTM debate ?

Which to choose ?

Well he made the only sensible choice and flogged the Freeride on ebay and ordered a brand new Honda….
On the GPS v map and compass issue, Dougie has insisted that we continue to go “old school” for next year’s event, so watch this space….

Mondo 2021

This one week event is the creation of Austin VINCE whose first round the world ride in 1995 was called “Mondo Enduro”. This was in the days before anyone had heard of “adventure motorcyling” and had not been seriously attempted before. Austin and his brother with a few other mates set off on Suzuki DR350s and spent many months and thousands of miles on the road. This video gives a few more details of the trip…

Mondo Enduro

Nowadays there are lots of people that have followed in Austin’s footsteps and he decided it would be a good idea to create an event that would give people a taste of adventure without all the unknowns and risks. This was called “Mini Mondo” and has been running for a number of years. The format is to set off for a week into the Spanish Pyrenees, rough camping every night and carrying everything you need on the bike. Washing is only possible when the route passes a mountain stream !

Dougie has done a few of these but I’ve never been attracted to the rough camping idea. Fortunatly Austin came up with a new idea which he originally christened “Marriott Mondo” – this would follow the same routes as the Mini Mondo but with the advantage of being able to stay in “proper” accommodation each evening – like a Mini Mondo for softies, which suited me fine – Dougie and I signed up. Unfortunately Austin received a legal “cease and desist” notice from the Marriott legal team and renamed the event Motel Mondo – only these aren’t motels but country farmhouses that are well off the beaten track and definitely not on AirBnB.

The Mondo Team

We assembled in the nominated hotel car park – a motley bunch of 14 riders and their machines to be ably guided by Austin and his right hand man Dai Jones. Unfortunately the event was over subscribed as there is a limit in some areas on the maximum number of riders in a group (6). Dougie saved the day by volunteering to lead a third group. There was quite a range of machinery and quite a few intrepid souls had ridden all the way down from the UK – a couple of Husqvarna 701s, a Triumph Tiger 800 and the ubiquitous Honda CRF 250Ls. A few guys had hired bikes locally, one of which was Steve’s DR650 which came with a rucksack full of spares. This was just as well as he managed to drop it in the car park and bust a brake lever..

Lever replacement before starting…

The DR proved to be one of the more troublesome bikes as it developed an oil leak which dripped onto the exhaust and ensured the bike was always followed by a blue haze and a strong smell of burning oil. Still he kept it topped up and it lasted the week.

Rather than write a long description of each day, I’ll let the photos and captions speak for themselves… We were blessed with great weather and the views at every turn were stunning. The places we stayed were great and every meal was a Catalan meatfest…

Not more bloody motorbikes…
Riding the trails…
View from one of the overnight stops…
Mind the drop…
Another overnight stop with a view…
Austin’s heavily loaded bike with his mascot…
Photo : Austin VINCE
Photo : Austin VINCE
Photo : Austin VINCE
Photo : Austin VINCE
Settling in for the evening…
Meatfest…
Photo : Simon ALDRIDGE
Settled in for the evening…

As the teams and sleeping arrangements were mixed up over the days we gradually got to know everyone on the trip. On this particular evening Austin decided to have a game of “Brush with Celebrity” – where each person in turn gets to tell a story about their own celebrity encounter. The one that I liked best was from Rich who held up his phone and played a video message addressed to our group from Mark Webber – turns out that Rich is his personal trainer !

Getting some help loading my bike in the morning…
Views forever…
The meatfest doesn’t stop at breakfast time..
Lunch stop, careful Austin’s baguette may be loaded…
Lots of photo opportunities…
Selfie time…
On top of the world after an epic hill climb…

On the afternoon of the last day, the groups were split up to take different routes, some people wanted to get away early and take the early bath and others wanted to keep going. I chose to go with Dai’s group as he was offering a very challenging and very long hill climb. It was brilliant fun ! After the climb one of the others decided he had done enough and headed back. That just left Dai, Achilleas and myself and we had a blast. Dai kept upping the pace which was great fun and we got back to the hotel buzzing.

One of the traditions of the Mondo events is that someone volunteers to be the diarist for each day – and makes a record of all the interesting things that happen. The author then reads out the diary at the end of the day, telling amusing tales of the day’s events. This is usually very well received as eveyone has had a drink or two by then. I volunteered to do the diary on the last day, which was a tall order as the preceeding days had been very amusing. I won’t bore you with the full story but I did go “off piste” a bit and talked about some of the riders and their bikes – especially the clown that turned up on a two stroke… The most impressive ride of the week was down to Gary who managed to wrestle his huge Triumph Tiger around without any serious mishaps. I composed a limeric for him…

There once was a rider called Gary
Who thought he had entered a rally
With balls of brass and puckered arse
His skills on his bike were uncanny

To finish off the diary reading I decided a sing song would be a good idea and chose the Frank Sinatra song “My Way” as a base – I can’t sing at all so probably sounded a bit more like the Sid Vicious version of the same song. I also changed the title and got everyone to join in with the chorus line…

WE DID IT OUR WAY

And now, the end is near
And so we face the final diary
My friends, I’ll say it clear
And make it up so it’s rhymly
We lived a week that’s full
We traveled each and every byway
And more, much more than this
We did it our way

Regrets, we’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
We did what we had to do
And saw it through to avoid detention
Our guides made each gnarly route
Each dusty track along the byway
And more, much more than this
We did it our way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When the muddy dust obscured the view
But through it all, when there was doubt
We ate it up and spat it out
We faced it all, and we stood tall
And did it our way

We’ve loved the varied rides
We’ve had our fill, our dose of sunshine
And now, as aches subside
We fortify with food and red wine
To think we did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me
We did it our way

Yes, it was our way

Until next time…

Post VINCE 2021

After the VINCE 2021 we planned to stay in the same area and ride more of the trails and even re-ride some of the ones we had already done. When concentrating on navigation and finding checkpoints (CPs) there is no time to stop and take pictures or admire the view so this was an opportunity to do just that. The original intention was to do “van camping” – camping under the awning of Dougie’s van, but the awning got damaged by the storm during the VINCE and was not useable. In addition the unsettled weather was set to continue and being under canvas didn’t seem like a good idea. Fortunately the camp site where I had booked us in with the the van had some log cabins and we were able to book one of those for the week.

I went out for a run to explore a trail that we had used on the VINCE and which came right past the campsite and then up into the mountains. I was rather shocked to discover the sheer drop off from the side of the trail which we hadn’t noticed when riding the route, see the video…

Mind The Drop

With plenty of free time we were able to explore the trails at our leisure and even had time to take some pictures…

Spot Dougie in the background…

My bike ran perfectly for the whole trip, but Dougie had a few issues with his Freeride. He noticed a small amount of play in the rear wheel and decided to change the wheel bearings. This could have been a tricky job to do on a campsite, but he’s done it before and carries spares in the van (mobile workshop) – it only took him 30 mins to change them !

Wheel bearing change..

There were several other people we knew competing in the VINCE, but most had left after the event. Nigel and David stayed on for a few days and had the same idea as us (but staying at a different location), so we met up with them for a ride one day…

Picnic at a remote Church…

It was at this picnic stop that I picked up my only injury of the trip… A small herd of cows with loud clanking bells came wandering over, but one of them was a huge bull… and I was wearing a red T shirt. I was doing something on my phone and didn’t notice the bull making its way towards us, nor did I realise that the other guys had scrambled over the low wall out of harms way. I tried to make my escape by leaping over the wall, but slipped and banged my shin on a rock. Ouch ! Even though I was wearing motorbike boots my shin swelled up and was very painful…

Out of harm’s way…

The weather was looking threatening so we decided to head back to a nearby village for a coffee and just as we arrived the heavens opened. We sat ouside under an awning watching the downpour and contemplating the long ride back to the camp site (24 Km). We were very glad we were staying in a warm log cabin and not a tent…

Cloudburst…

The rain eased off slightly and we headed for home. I didn’t realsie until I got back that the rain had shorted out my phone USB charger and melted the plastic connector…

Melted connector..

The next day I went out to find a new lead and fix the problem…

At least it’s not raining today…

On another ride we came across a surprising sight up in the hills and miles from anywhere – a Gaudi building…

Surprising sight…

What we did see on a number of the trails were mountain refuges. These are available to provide shelter to travellers and in bad weather would be a welcome respite compared to the camping alternative…

Mountain Refuge

And that was it… After a week of free trail riding and soaking up the views (and not a little of the rain), it was time to pack up and move on to our next scheduled event – the Mondo…

Picnic lunch with a view…

Coming next – the Mondo !

PS. I forgot to add the pic of one of the times I dropped my bike, so here it is…

Oops, dropped it – in a big muddy puddle too !


VINCE 2021

This is the third year that Dougie and I have entered this event. You can read the tale of last year here:
https://v2xs.com/the-vince-2020/

The VINCE is the creation of Austin VINCE (one of the first people to ride around the world) and the event is called the V.I.N.C.E. or Very Interesting Navigation Challenge Event. It takes place each year in September in the Spanish Pyrenees and is much like a traditional treasure hunt. Austin and his team have secreted small metal tags (usually attached to a sign post or abandoned farm building) – typically about 80 of them. A couple of months before the event he sends out the maps (in 1: 50,000 scale) and the all important Check Point (CP) booklet. This book has a page dedicated to each CP and provides a small map of the precise location, a photograph of the relevant post or building, a map reference and usually some additional instructions to help you find it.

Each team then has a few weeks to prepare for the event which consists of trying to define the best route to allow you to visit and collect as many CPs as possible and record the tag information in the CP book. The actual event is run over two 12 hour days – from 8am to 8pm. However, this is not enough time to visit all of the check points so you have to be selective. The preparation is further complicated by the fact that the CPs have different values (1, 2 or 4 for the 2021 event), the routes to the CPs can be roads, easy trails or more challenging goat tracks. In addition you have to allow time for food, drink and piddle breaks as well as planning a fuel stop. Finally the main competitive class for the event is restricted to only using the maps that Austin provides, plus a compass. However, there are other classes for older twinshock bikes and an “anything goes” class where GPS is allowed.

Amusing CP Tag
Some of the CP tags are not a set of random characters…

Last year (2020) we finished second in the map and compass class, but there was a reduced field due to Covid of only 40 competitors. For 2021 this had increased to over 90. Dougie and I were determined to turn in a better performance and had made a note of lessons learnt from 2020…

Optimise route for points score
More road miles in order to cover distance – winners doing 200 miles per day and scored 130 (we scored 82 !)
Reduce down time : No fuel stop – saves time and gives more flexibility for route planning
Need 1:25k maps (two times enlargement of Austin’s map)
Add CP info to maps
Use Sharpie to record CP tag details on map
Don’t take CP book
Use intercom – easier to correct mistakes – faster CP turnaround
Make even better use of Google Earth

Route preparation…

We tried to incorporate all of the above into our planning for 2021, including the “Don’t take the CP book” which proved to be a fateful choice….. The book is quite cumbersome and has to be dug out of the rucksack at each CP, flick through it to find the right page, pull out the page from its plastic wallet, write down the CP tag information, re-insert the page and stuff the book back into the rucksack. We decided this was wasting a lot of time and that we would create a laminated sheet and record the CP data on that using a “sharpie” – the CP book stayed at home.

Final routes shown on Google Earth for Days 1 & 2

The preparation for the event took weeks. Doug did his usual great job of creating a route for each day and converting it into a GPX track. I then validated that using Google Earth and discovered a few errors and suggested some changes. The revised route was then “walked through” using Google Earth and the knowledge used to mark up the official maps with the route we were to follow together with additional information such as embedding the photos of the CPs. This took hours and hours of work…

Validating the Route using Google Earth

A lesson learnt from last year was to avoid the need to refuel as this wastes time and compromises your route – filling stations are few and far between in these parts of rural Spain. I had managed to obtain a second hand larger tank for my bike (20l) which was a direct replacement. Dougie had tasked his Durham engineering students with developing a solution to gain fuel capacity on his KTM Freeride (standard tank size 5.5l), but he ran out of time to implement this and in the end just carried additional fuel in panniers strapped to the bike (total 19.5 litres) – like a bouncing bomb along the trail.

Big tank and A4 map board fitted.

The final marked-up maps were printed and laminated – Dougie preferring A3 format, but me sticking with A4 (I like to be able to see where I’m going). In addition we each had a crib sheet for each day. Mine was quite simple as my job was simply to navigate and find the CPs. Dougie had a running order sheet with the distance and time between each CP, together with our expected arrival time and space to fill in the actual arrival time. This meant that as the day went on he was able to keep a track of progress against the plan and to think about rescheduling/rerouting if we started to fall behind.

My crib sheet for one day showing CP Number, Map Number and notes on locating the CP.

Dougie drove down from Yorkshire to my place in France and after some final tweaks to the bikes and maps we were ready for the off…

Van loaded, ready to go…

We arrived at the venue in Spain and set up a base camp in the car park. Gradually the other competitors arrived with a wide variety of machinery from Honda Monkey Bikes through to big KTM Adventures. The Honda CRF 250L seemed to be a very popular choice and is the bike Austin uses himself. As usual I was the only idiot riding a two stroke… The clouds circling around the surrounding mountains looked very threatening and the forecast didn’t promise anything better over the next few days – it seemed that getting a good soaking was going to be unavoidable.

The evening before the event Austin gave his usual entertaining briefing. However, he suprised everyone by announcing some last minute changes to some of the CPs – some had been deleted altogether and others had been relocated. This was a huge issue as we had already defined our routes and there was no time to do any replanning – this would be a real test of Dougie’s on-the-run rescheduling abilities. The only consolation was that this setback was the same for all the competitors.

Day 1
We set off on the dot at 8am after having forced ourselves to eat the high protein breakfast provided by the hotel – and realising that there would be no time for a lunch stop.


El Jou Breakfast


Conditions were dry and looked promising. We made a good start as we had spent some time rehearsing the route to the first few CPs to ensure we made good initial progress. It wasn’t long before some navigation errors started to creep in, but it was very useful having us both navigating using the same maps as we could quickly agree on where we had gone wrong and how to get back on track. In the morning Austin had handed out some notes on the CP changes, which was fine until the rain started and washed the notes away…

Then the heavens opened – Austin himself described the rain as biblical – it was impossible to go on in these conditions and it was necessary to stop and shelter – but there was no shelter….
The trails that had been easily manageable became very slippery in no time and visibility was drastically reduced. My goggles misted up and this together with the dark cloud and tree cover made the trails treacherous and we had to stop with no shelter until the storm had passed – or at least eased off a bit.
I was confident in my goggles as they are “double glazed” and don’t normally steam up. I didnt realise until I got back to base that the water had penetrated between the two lenses…
Another issue with the rain was that the “sharpie” we were using to record the CPs would not write on the laminated sheets when they were wet. The intercom we had setup was a great idea and worked well at very short range but was soon abandoned as it couldn’t cope with more than about 50m of separation and struggled with background noise from the bike and wind.
We didn’t complete all of the planned route and Dougie had to work hard to replan our route on the fly. But we got back just in time having covered 250 Km for the day.

Day 2
Slower start today – Dougie overslept and once we got out to the paddock it was pouring with rain which delayed things and we were about half an hour late starting. It was obvious that the conditions had taken their toll as not many other competitors were there for the early start.

Day 2 start delayed by heavy rain

Day 2 was the mountains for us and although the rain was not too bad the mist made visibility poor.

Fist CP of Day 2, up in the mountains

CP at one of the many abandoned farmhouses…
Another amusing CP tag…


On Day 2 we managed 200Km and fewer points than the first day.

Back at base in time we were asked to hand in the completed CP book (which we didn’t have) and could only offer our laminated score sheet. The stewards (Austin and co) went away to deliberate and the results were announced after dinner that evening…. And we won ! But were disqualified for not completing the CP book… No hard feelings from us as we were really pleased that all the preparation had worked and our plans had more or less come together.

The Twinshock class was won by a father and son team on a pair of old road bikes – and they posted better scores than some people on dedicated “dirt bikes”.

We are entering again next year as “Team Disqualified”….