Friday, 9 December 2016

The Full Monty

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'The Full Monty'
(The lot, the whole lot, and nothing but the lot)

Ride report by Mark Fowler

In 2015 I contacted the IBA UK President with an idea I had for a new certificated ride. I'm not a fan of riding for hours and hours around the UK motorway network for the sake of it so remembered back to 2012 when I rode my first 4 Corners ride.  

Those that have not ridden a 4 Corners ride may want to give it a go as the nature of the locations means there's a bit more variety in the roads ridden, plus it takes a bit more planning so you can get receipts when you arrive at each place.

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In the rules for a 4 Corners ride there is some leeway given if a rider isn't able to get a receipt from either Land's End or John O'Groats if they arrive outside normal working hours.  A receipt from Penzance will be accepted but when the ride is verified 20 miles and 30 minutes are added, likewise a receipt from Wick will add 32 miles and 40 minutes.  

My idea for this new ride still encompasses the 4 Corners but has a few subtle differences:

1. A rider may start their route from any location they wish. Currently the clock starts for a 4 Corners ride with a receipt from the first one.  This means riders often have to ride many miles and hours before even starting the ride.

2. A rider must visit each corner in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction once the first corner has been clocked. Currently you can ride the corners in any order you choose. I know some riders start at Lowestoft, head back west over to St.Davids in Wales then go down to Land's End before blasting north up to finish at John O'Groats.

3. A rider must get a receipt from every single corner location. As mentioned above you can currently get away with a receipt from Penzance or Wick during a normal 4 Corners ride.

So after creating my own rules for this ride I sat down and worked out how far I would ride and how long it would take.  I did a few random routes starting from different places around the country and discovered that regardless whether you live in Birmingham, London, or Edinburgh if you start your ride from where you live,  then go to your first corner, ride in either direction from there on and come back to where you first started you will always ride well over 2000 miles. So that fits nicely with the current 48 hours for a Saddlesore 2000.

I then sat down and started some serious number crunching to calculate what time I would need to start from Norwich near where I live to get me to three out of the four corners that don't have 24 hour receipt options.  I also wanted to build in a rest stop half way round and this also helped me to be at every corner during normal working hours.

Next I looked at when to do the ride.  Nearly two and a half years after my serious bike accident and I still struggle riding long distances due to niggling pain in my hip joints. Probably an after effect of my Pelvis almost being split in two! Despite this year's mishap after the Brit Butt Rally I find the planning and riding in rallies more rewarding due to the stop start nature so I knew I was in for some pain with this ride.

Early September therefore looked like a good time to do it.  The weather is still usually very good and it's my birthday on the 9th so a weekday ride looked like a sensible choice with the ride taking place on a Thursday and Friday.  This also meant I would have the weekend to recover before going back to work.

I took the Wednesday off work too and took time to prepare and load the bike, get some rest and try and relax.  I ended up going to bed a bit later than planned at 7 p.m.  My alarm then quickly went off again at 01.15 and I was on my way to a nearby 24 hour Esso garage ready for my start receipt.  At precisely 02.00 hours I was off and heading to my first corner which handily for me is only 40 minutes down the road at Lowestoft.

I pulled onto the petrol station forecourt and brimmed the tank. When I checked the receipt the bloody time was wrong by exactly one hour.  It said it was 01.39 not 02.39!  Their clock setting must have still been on winter time.  Hopefully as I can't ride to Norwich from there in 21 minutes I hoped this would still be accepted when verification checks were done.

I never usually use the A12 when heading south as the first part to Ipswich is slow single carriageway but at three o'clock in the morning there was virtually no traffic apart from the odd lorry and van.

I reached the M25 and intended to go south over the bridge round to the M3.  Shortly after joining though there were signs up saying the M25 was closed ahead! I did a u-turn at the next junction and headed off anti-clockwise instead.  As I passed Heathrow more bad news came in the form of warning signs that the M3 was also closed between junctions 2 and 4a.  I turned onto the M4 then headed south to Basingstoke to rejoin the M3 then A303.

My first fuel stop after Lowestoft was at Wincanton in Somerset. I was now 10 minutes ahead of schedule so nipped into the Morrisons store to use the toilet and grab a hot sausage roll for breakfast. It then got light and my mood improved.  The further I headed into Devon and Cornwall the sunnier it got.  Unfortunately the dualling road works the other side of Bodmin slowed things down and on the approaches to Penzance the traffic brought things to a standstill.  I eventually reached Land's End 30 minutes behind time and only had a short stop for my receipt and food/water.


Next fuel stop was at Oakhampton and there were no more delays on the A30 or M5.  I got held up a bit waiting for the queues at the Severn Bridge toll booths and around Cardiff.  By the time I pulled into the Texaco garage on the outskirts of St.Davids I was now an hour late.

The route north through Wales was a wet one and I was thankful to follow a fast van driver along the winding roads on the approaches to Oswestry where I could join familiar roads once again up to Chester and across to the M6.  

I'd previously booked a cheap Travelodge at the Lancaster M6 Forton Services but by the time I arrived I was and hour and a half behind schedule.  I decided to have an extra hour here and was in bed at eleven and up again shortly before three o'clock in the morning. I did a another fuel up and was heading north again with all the lorries at just after 03.30 hours.

My original plan was to take the scenic route via Fort William and come down the A9.  I knew the A9 should be quicker so changed my plan and did a quick fuel/breakfast stop at Pitclochry.  It was still raining.  The A9 north of Inverness is one of my all time favourite roads and it was virtually dry so made good progress. I got my John O'Groats receipt from the Post Office at just after 11.30 which was now only 30 minutes behind my schedule.  

The A9 up to Inverness had been dreadfully slow though because of all the average speed cameras and road works.  I'd quickly calculated that the journey south via Fort William was only a few miles different so thought I could make some more time up going that way back instead - WRONG!!
I ran into rush hour traffic crawling into Fort William and the rain had set in once again.  I did a short stop at the Esso garage and decided to put my over suit and winter gloves on as I wouldn't be stopping again until Gretna Services. The traffic continued to be busy but now the wind and rain picked up.  Going up Glencoe and across Rannoch Moor was dreadfully slow with gusts of wind and rain.  To cap it all a traffic warning pinged up on my Zumo 590 through my phone app and heavy traffic had added 19 minutes onto my arrival time at Gretna.  I took a gamble and headed down to Glasgow via Calendar instead of Loch Lomond. Mistake number two.

I hit the tail end of rush hour and joined 8 miles of gridlock on the M80.  I managed to filter for 5 miles before it slowly picked up and then I joined the M74 South.

The next few hours were the most nerve racking I've ever spent on two wheels.  The weather worsened considerably.  The daylight went, the winds became gale force and blustery, the rain became heavy and don't even get me started on standing water.  Cars continued to wang along at 70-80 but I had to slow to more like 50 or 60 to keep the bike upright.  It was at this time I seriously considered binning the ride, especially as my arrival time at Gretna had slipped by 2.5 hours.  I only had a 3 hour fiddle factor time for the whole ride so thought the game was up.

The one good thing about very long rides is you have time to re-calculate and think about what to do to improve things.  My fuel up distances were around 270 miles which were nice and comfortable as my GSA has an easy 300 mile range.  After Gretna though I was planning another fuel stop at Kings Lynn but calculated If I pushed on to Penrith I wouldn't need to stop any more and would still be under the 350 mile re-fuel limit.

So I pushed on and got my last fill up in Penrith and headed over the still wet and blustery A66 to Scotch Corner.  My finish time at Norwich was now 01.45 so only 15 minutes to spare which was never going to happen considering you only lose time and rarely make it up.  I then had a panic thought. They close the A1 at Scotch Corner for more road works.  This would scupper me, having to divert over onto the A19.

When I reached Scotch Corner there were no signs about closures so my morale went up a gear as I headed south on the A1.  The weather also improved and the further south I rode the warmer it got.  The finish time also started ticking down too.  I had a quick stop south of Doncaster somewhere and removed my over suit and changed my wet winter gloves and neck tube for thinner and drier ones.

By the time I reached the A17 turn off I actually thought I might do it.  I know the A17 like the back of my hand, even in the dark and the later the hours got the lighter the traffic became.  It was a dream riding back the last 100 miles and I even took great delight in flashing my Clearwater Krista's at anything that thought they were bright when on dip beam and at their lowest power setting.  That usually shuts them up :-)

By the time I got back to Norwich I knew I was easily going to make it and got my finish receipt at 01.14 hours. Yippee! I took a leisurely ride the short distance back home and crawled into bed at two in the morning.

Later that day when I eventually rose from my pit I reflected on what I'd just done.  I ached all over, especially my knees hips and shoulders.  The sat nav had said I'd ridden 2174 miles. My maximum speed was 82 mph, moving average was 56 mph with overall average at 53 mph.

The bike went like a dream although I think I might have a tiny leak from a seal on the bottom of my final drive unit, but it was only a black mark and not wet with oil so I'll see how that goes.
It's only when we ride these sorts of distances in the time we do that we truly appreciate just how congested and roadwork ridden this country has become.  This certainly makes riding the plan far more difficult to achieve, and it was certainly the hardest ride I've ever done. From now on I'll mostly stick to rallies I think.

'The Full Monty'

2127 miles in 47 hours 16 minutes

8 - 9 September 2016

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