What is the BBR?
In case you don’t know, the Iron Butt Association (IBA) is a long distance/endurance riding club which originated in the U.S. and now has representation in many countries. They hold periodic scatter rallies where the rider is given a list of locations, each worth a number of points. The rider has to choose which ones to visit to gain the most points. A minimum number of points and miles are set, failing to achieve either one means a ‘did not finish’ (DNF).
Iron Butt UK has the 36 hour Brit Butt Rally. A Bonus Book and a flag showing the rider’s number is given to every participant. The Bonus Book shows bonus locations and what evidence is required to prove the location was visited. Proof always includes a specific photo which must also show the rally flag. Some locations require rider and/or bike to be in the photo, others don’t. Some locations are time bounded so can only be visited within a specified time window and other evidence may also be requested. A photo is taken when the rider arrives at Rally reception and another when (if!) he or she finishes the rally. All evidential photo’s have to be between those two photo’s.
The rules are strict. Make an error – wrong photo, wrong people in the photo, wrong time or a mistake in the photo log which shows location, time and odometer reading – and all points for that bonus location are lost.
Fuel during the rally also has to be logged and verified with a receipt showing amount of fuel pumped and garage location. Once again, if there is an error in the fuel log or a problem with a receipt points are lost.
Finally, arriving back after a set time will cost points for every minute the rider is late. Arrive back an hour or more later than the prescribed time and the rider is disqualified.
To ensure people aren’t daft enough to ride for 36 hours straight, which could be dangerous, there is a large rest bonus for which it is necessary to prove that no riding was done for 3 hours in an overnight window; it’s pretty much impossible to win without the rest bonus.
It’s tough but that’s what makes the rally what it is and every year far more people apply for entry than there are places available. Rally participants are picked via a draw on Christmas Eve and this year we were lucky enough to gain an entry.
How does it all happen?
As you can imagine, there is a huge amount of preparation involved.
A suitable venue for 50 odd (and some would say very odd!) motorcyclists plus the Rally Team needs to be found. Somewhere that will provide comfortable accommodation for the nights that people stay, and flexible enough to accommodate one night on, one night off and another night on without charging a fortune. The food has to be good as the rally competitors are not going to be eating much over their 36 hours; a good meal either side is essential. The Cheshunt Marriott was selected and it was excellent all round. The staff were polite and attentive, the food was plentiful and tasty and the beds were really comfortable (not that we spent much time in them!).
Once that’s all sorted, the Bonus locations have to be found and marked. I’m not sure how they did it, but certainly the points we stopped at had wonderful roads between them and that can’t have been total coincidence. The Bonus Books were superbly crafted and were a credit to the team.
Last but not least, a small army of volunteers carried out all the necessary tasks such as checking over the bikes, supervising the odometer checks, photographing the riders and handing out the Bonus Books and further instructions. During the rally they take the panic calls such as “I can’t take a photo because of the policeman with his gun”. As the rally finishes they check the riders in then check over the paperwork and finally add up the scores, print off the certificates and let the riders know how they did.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than the obvious points I’ve mentioned above, but organising the rally seems to be like a swan swimming – very graceful on top but their little legs are going 20 to the dozen underneath!
I have to say the organisation was superb – it all went very well from our point of view and I hope it did from the organisers’. A BIG THANK YOU to all involved.
Friday afternoon, 21st May, at the Cheshunt Marriott and the time for the 2010 Brit Butt Rally was finally here. We’d waited nearly a year for this and suddenly it was upon us, ready or not!
After an odometer check and a short meeting, at around 20:30 we were given our rally Bonus Books and number flags and told what the minimum requirements were – 1206 miles and 28000 points. We had to return by 17:00 on Sunday, 100 points lost per minute if we were late. Arrive after 18:00 for a DNF. We then headed to our room to plan a route selecting locations from the 67 that were offered. These bonus locations covered the entire country from Duncansby Head lighthouse, Llanfairpwllg …(yes, that one!) Station, The Lizard in the south west and Sandwich on the south east coast. By around 00:30 we had a route we thought was workable and retired to bed having set the alarm for 04:45.
Being Rally Virgins and having no experience of this sort of event we didn’t really know what to expect and were armed with all sorts of paper, pens, maps, etc. but in the end we did all our planning using the two laptops we had with us and didn’t open a paper map for the entire weekend. With hindsight an A4 print-out of our route and waypoints would have been beneficial but lugging a printer to the hotel may have been a bit OTT!
It was now Saturday morning and the alarm went off indecently early so we could have a quick breakfast. We had been told to be in the car park ready to roll by 5.30. Anyone who knows Kevin can imagine that he was keen not to be last out so we were in the car park nice and early, together with the other lucky 40 riders and two pillions waiting for the off. Kevin and I were waved away at 06:04.
It didn’t start very well – we took the wrong turn off the roundabout outside the hotel and Kevin was so eager not to have to go back past the hotel again that I thought we’d spend the day driving round Tesco’s car park! (I wonder how many laps we’d have had to do to make up the 1206 miles required?).
In the end he had to give in, we rode back past the hotel and on to our route. After a short hop up the motorway we were driving over our first bonus location, a bridge at Stoke Bruerne, [distance covered 63 miles, time 07:07] where Kevin had to take a picture of the canal museum with our rally flag and me clearly visible. Pillions have to be in every photo, I guess it’s something to do with making sure we don’t have it too easy on the back and fall asleep!
We had planned to go to Donington Park to grab our next bonus but on re-reading the Bonus Book we realised there was a time restriction we’d missed the previous evening and we would have been there too early. We had another quick blast up the motorway to get to Nottingham where we were able to grab a passing delivery man to take a picture of both of us alongside the Robin Hood statue [132m, 08:15]. Warming to our theme we then found the Robin Hood and Maid Marion statue in Edwinstowe [153m, 8:58] where we were cabaret to a small bus queue. One chap commented that he thought I’d need a ladder to get off the bike. Cheeky wotsit! Little did he know that a Zimmer frame would be more appropriate by the time we’d finished! Three Bonuses in three hours – we were cooking! (or, looking at some of the other competitors’ reports, merely simmering).
Even though going back to Donington [192m, 09:57] was going in the ‘wrong’ direction we decided that it would be foolish to miss out on the points, and the extra miles were good too, so off we went. Telling the guy on the gate that we were on a rally and needed to take a picture of ‘the statue over there’ didn’t seem to be enough of an incentive for him to let us in but he seemed happy enough when we said we also needed to go to the Gift Shop and let us through. He wasn’t to be our last brush with security…
A few hours later we’d left the motorway safely behind us and were now on ‘proper’ riding roads. On the horizon we could see the rather oddly shaped radar station at RAF Fylingdales [326m, 12:17] we were aiming for. The Bonus Book said ‘take a picture’ but the Policeman on the security gate, armed with a very business-like automatic pistol, advised me that was a very bad idea… After a quick call to Pete the Rally Master an alternative shot was agreed (photo, not the other type) and we clocked another one. We were just about to leave as Michiel, another rally competitor, turned up. He rode up the road to the security booth and got out his camera… but that’s his story.
As we were riding along towards our next waypoint Kevin, who’s not used to being the photographer, said he wasn’t sure he liked being responsible for the camera. Prophetic words!
We arrived in the picture-postcard village of Ryedale [345m, 13:02] where we were to get a photo of the folk museum and, upon presentation of our rally flag and a small donation, a ticket for entrance to the museum. The day was really hotting up now and we made this stop our ‘let’s get rid of our liners and fleeces’ stop and, joy of joys, there was an ice cream shop calling our names. Despite the time restrictions we always like to have time for an ice cream. But…”Where’s the camera?” “ I don’t know, you had it last…is it in your pocket?” “No.” “Tank bag?” “No. I’ve had everything out of it…I must have left it at our last stop. Well, that could be the end of our rally. We’ll have to try to find the exact spot where we stopped and see if we can find it.” B**r.
Gutted that we had only just got into our stride and it seemed like it would all be over because we’d lost my camera (a camera that has been to the other side of the world without getting lost), I started to pack away our hot stuff – ready to put my jacket back on and, voila! under Kevin’s fleece on the seat was the camera! Phew! (in more ways than one!). So, picture taken, receipt obtained, and quickly off to our next bonus. No ice cream as we’d lost too much time already :(.
At our next stop (the Lion Inn on the North York moors [351m, 13:28]) we saw Michiel again who was just about to leave as we arrived. At Banburgh Castle [471m, 15:43] he was there again and I offered to do a photo-swap as the rider had to be in this one but he’d already had his taken. Nice guy, he was happy to take our picture and, again, he moved off ahead of us.
Guess who we saw at Jedburgh? [516m, 17:01] Yes, you’ve got it, Michiel. I hope he didn’t think we were following him! This time I was able to oblige with his photo and we moved off at about the same time. He went left and we went right as we headed off to our chosen next location; that was the last time we saw him on the ride.
Carters Bar [526m, 17:15] on the English/Scottish border has fabulous views and, equally important, a handy snack van where we were able to buy some cold water to wash down our sausage rolls (I know it’s not nuts and raisins, the food of the rally veterans, but they definitely went down well!). We took the shot – the large rock saying ‘Scotland’ then had a bit of a rest whilst we ate and re-hydrated. Just as we were going we decided to double check the Bonus Book. It said ‘northbound’ rock and we’d taken the wrong one! Luckily this was easily rectified and we moved off just as a large group of bikes turned up. At first I thought the guy on the leading GS was ‘one of us’ and was bemused at how many people had followed him but soon realised it was a club run.
Another short ride to our next shot in the village of Haltwhistle [537m, 18:20] – what we’d noted as the ‘Centre of England’ post. Kevin wondered how anywhere 20 miles down the road from Scotland could be the Centre of England. My skip read in the few seconds it took Kevin to take the picture informed me that a calculation from topmost points at Scapa and various other points made this tiny village the centre of mainland Britain.
Our next stop was an archway in Whitehaven [631m, 18:55] and Kevin had to be in this picture as well – under the arch. Unfortunately we’d left our Gorillapod camera tripod behind (we couldn’t remember how to do timed shots anyway!) so we had several goes at taking this picture. In the end we decided that as the rider should be under the arch, Kevin could hold the number and I could take the picture. I was rather pleased with the outcome although when it was blown up it didn’t look so good!
We then had a brilliant ride to our next stop, Wasdale Head [654m, 19:33] in the Lake District. The light was that lovely end-of-day light and we had the roads to ourselves. It was at this point I commented to Kevin that even if we had a DNF for the rally this had been one of the best days riding I could remember – the Zumo seemed to have a motorway-aversion which meant we were riding lots of ‘B’ and small ‘A’ roads; not good for rally timing but fantastic riding so we were happy! It didn’t stop there either. As we worked our way along the eight miles or so of track leading to the pub we needed for our next bonus we were treated to the most glorious sight of the lake with the hill behind it bathed in the evening sunshine. It really was beautiful and I was glad I had Kevin’s camera to take some ‘non-rally’ shots.
We were happily riding towards Blackpool when Kevin realised he’d put in the wrong waypoint so we took a circuitous route back to the correct stop. It was getting dark and Kevin’s visor was covered in flies so we slowed down somewhat as we rode the twisty and narrow road towards the Kirkstone Pass Inn [733m, 22:46]. We saw a bike outside as we approached and were surprised to see Rob Roalfe (rally veteran and winner of the previous 2 BBRs). We had a quick chat to him – an unusual event in itself as the rumour is that he does fly-bys to get his photo’s and doesn’t stop for anything. Well boys and girls, newsflash – he does! Even Rob has to stop to change his black visor for a clear one when it’s really dark! Just before he rode off Steve Eversfield came into view and we had a quick chat before he rode off into the night leaving us to our sandwiches and cakes.
Blackpool ‘illuminations’ [795m, 00:18] were next except they weren’t on so our photo just showed the two aircraft warning lights. But at least they were lit! We saw another rider – Soji – and chuckled as he was accosted by one of the numerous drunks around. I don’t know what advice the guy was giving but it seemed to involve getting into a taxi. Not sure that’s quite the spirit of the rally!
Our last stop before our rest stop was the Chain and Hook sculpture [847m, 01:23] outside Trafford Park in Manchester. Very close by was a Premier Inn which luckily had space for us and we had a few hours of kip. First task though was to fire up the laptop to revise tomorrow’s route as we were behind schedule.
It’s amazing how much better you can feel after such a short sleep and three and half hours later we were back on the road (I didn’t know there was a 5 o’clock A.M. until this weekend and here I was on my 2nd!) and en route to our first stop of the day, the Beresford Tea Rooms [896m, 06:17] in the Peak District. Then on to Mow Cop Castle [919m, 07:00] in Staffordshire. Kevin commented he was surprised they needed a castle as no-one would have been able to find it! I expect the view from there would have been terrific before all the houses were built as it really was in a commanding position.
Still before all the crowds were awake we found ourselves having our picture taken with Charles Darwin [961m, 08:01] in Shrewsbury. Another one of those stretch your arm and pray that the camera can do short- and long- distance focussing at the same time. It could…sort of! We’d now moved towards Wales and our next stop, ‘Monnow Bridge (fortified)’ [1034m, 09:45], according to the Bonus Book. I renamed it ‘Monnow Bridge (wrapped)’ as it was undergoing major re-building works and much of it was covered in plastic.
It was getting hotter and the next stop -the George Inn in Norton St. Philip, [1087m, 11:00] Somerset, was the designated ‘take it all off’ stop. We rode through the village and approached a crossroads. In front of us was a lovely old building. I commented on it to Kevin who said “That’s the stop” – the Lat/Longs on the Sat Nav were metre perfect.
I was really fed up with Kevin and was delighted to be able to put him in the village stocks once we reached Keevil [1100m, 11:41], our next Bonus stop. No, I’m only kidding, we’d had another lovely morning of riding, albeit with sleep in our eyes and creaks in our bones. A couple sitting by the village green obliged us by taking our picture by the stocks.
The traffic was waking up and we had quite a busy ride to Salisbury [1135m, 12:32] to capture the Poultry Cross. I need to look up what a Poultry Cross is for other than to give a shady spot for weary Sunday shoppers!
Back onto the motorway for a blast to Southampton and the Maritime (Titanic) Museum [1158m, 13:16]. I’d told Kevin that I was hungry and we’d decided to stop here for some grub. Unfortunately it was on a no-parking main road so we couldn’t. As we were pulling out of the town I spotted some rather nice shady trees and we pulled up and tried our nuts and fruit mix. It was OK but the Eccles cakes went down better!
We were looking at the time and assessing whether we should do our last few stops – the ones in London. We decided that we would definitely do the Emirates A380 at Heathrow [1224m, 14:41] and reassess there. We had a quick stop on the lay-by behind the aircraft and managed to get going again before the police arrived.
By now I’d probably had enough, although the food at the last stop had helped keep Dragon Lady at bay. The quickest route back to Cheshunt would be through London so we decided to do the Cenotaph and then review again.
We got to the Cenotaph [1242m, 15:23] and I jumped off to have my picture taken hoping that we wouldn’t be arrested (we weren’t although there had been some consternation caused when a group of BBR riders turned up on Saturday).
The traffic was terrible and I was convinced we’d not make it back in time. All that work for nothing (well apart from the great riding of course!) but Kevin showed me on the Sat Nav that attempting to do the Greenwich Clock would only add 4 minutes so the decision was taken to try because it was worth a lot of points. It proved not be one of our best decisions. We took a wrong turn, got stuck in a traffic jam and every traffic light was against us. We arrived at the bottom of the park to find the gates were across the road [1251m, 16:01] so we couldn’t ride up to the clock and didn’t have enough time for a detour – valuable minutes lost with no gain. Then we took another wrong turn and got stuck in another jam with time running out…
As we were stuck in the traffic a couple of young lads came alongside us. When they went past the lad on the back swivelled round and started to try to talk to us…they were laughing and pointing. Eventually when we stopped he asked “Is that a bike or a fly catcher?”. The front of the bike (and our helmets) was just covered in dead flies.
Knowing that we were on a very tight timetable and being stuck in the traffic, in the boiling hot (remember this was the hottest weekend since records began [well at least in my mind anyway!]), feeling thirsty and tired, this was a very low point. It was now I realised that I really really wanted to finish this rally and sitting on the back there was absolutely nothing I could do to influence things, other than think “I mustn’t be cross” and I need to help Kevin by thinking positive thoughts and keep my eyes peeled for the cameras and cars as we weaved through the traffic and …and…well… it can be hard being a pillion at times!
Suddenly we were 10 minutes away! Amazing, we were nearly there but still had to cope with the A10 which had been like a car park on Friday. Luckily it wasn’t like that on Sunday and we rode in with about 15 minutes spare [1280m, 16:43].
So…we had done it!! All that was left was the paperwork.
One thing we hadn’t checked was our mileage. We thought it was OK but in the rush to finish we didn’t actually check. In the evening the results were read out. The first finisher was 25th so there must have been 15 DNFs. We waited…and waited…and waited. Kevin said to me “The longer this goes on the more concerned I get”. “Me too!”. Finally our names were called – we’d got 7th position with 1280 miles ridden and 35364 points!
No one was more surprised than me! Well, maybe apart from Rob Roalfe (who won again – this time by a country mile) who had seen us hanging around eating sandwiches and chatting the night before 😉
Would I do it again? You bet!
But maybe not this weekend!
For anyone who’s interested, our route is below: Yellow – what we did, Black – what we originally planned.