6th April 2009
Rowena Hoseason had never been a passenger in a trials sidecar outfit. There's only one way to learn how to do this, apparently: in at the deep end...
Being upside-down came as something of a surprise. It was worse for Celia, who was doing the actual riding of the Wasp outfit, because she was somewhere under the bike and probably upside-down to boot. I suspect that the reason we were upside-down was because I'd been in the wrong place at a vital moment but it seemed more appropriate to check whether Celia was actually drowning in mud or laying head first in a badger's sett than hold a committee meeting to see how we'd got into the predicament. And even inverted, the bike's engine was, of course, resolutely still ticking over… that's Honda power for you.
The outfit was righted in a matter of seconds - which seems fitting cos it turned turtle in a heartbeat, too. We'd been bounding up a steep shale slope, with me wondering whether my eyeballs, spine and frighteningly expensive dental work would all survive intact when we hit a particularly big rock (possibly an entire mountain; that's what it felt like), and I suddenly understood what the instruction 'go to the highest part of the outfit' meant. It meant I should have been using my body weight to stop the wheel of the chair rising up in the air, exceeding the height of my head, and thus hurling the pair of us into the hedgerow.
Celia was right. It's SO much easier to learn by actually doing it than it is to try to explain it…
When I agreed to passenger her outfit on the Land's End Trial I had a very woolly idea of what I was getting myself in to. I suspect I thought it would be something like the National Rally - a tarmac-based navigation trial - with maybe the odd bit of green-lane thrown in. That was fairly stupid of me, given that I've seen the display boards on the Motor Cycling Club's stand many times, and they are filled with photos of people, bikes, sidecars and four-wheelers smothered in mud and (surprise!) occasionally upside-down. You can see exactly those sort of photos for yourself here. in the MCC's gallery. Scroll down to find entrant 84, and that's Celia with her previous victim - sorry, volunteer, Sarah.
It transpires that I'm not just needed to read the route but actually have to do some work here. Erm, quite a lot of work. My latest role in life is that of mobile ballast: urgently needed in a slightly different place on (or off) the platform, depending on the obstacle we're attempting to traverse. When the rear wheel loses traction, I apply my mass to the back of the bike so it can grip. When the sidecar bounces wildly high then I need to be nears its apex to stop us flipping over. Hmm. I've been doing a lot of swimming recently but it's still touch-and-go whether I've got enough strength in my arms to haul myself back on board at the most extreme moments…
Celia had wisely arranged for us to have a practice day before attempting the Land's End Trial proper. We'll be starting the Trial at around 6pm on Good Friday, riding through the night from Gloucestershire to finish near Rudruth in Cornwall around lunchtime on the Saturday. That's some 250 miles with 13 or so off-road sections to complete and some special tests thrown in for good measure. So how does one practice for that?
Easy. You find four friends (luckily, Celia has plenty…) and all three outfits then set off together for a day on and around Dartmoor, sneakily zigzagging back and forth between the off-road sections in the area which the MCC uses for the Exeter Trial earlier in the year. In at the deep end for me, then: tackling exactly the kind of off-road sections we'll be doing on the LE Trial. No wonder we went awry to start with…
Initially, I couldn't believe the obstacles which the outfits were capable of dealing with. Rocks, ruts, shale and branches; impossibly steep climbs; horribly tight hairpins; even the odd tree trunk or two. On a couple of sections I was gasping for breath by the end - not just with the exertion of holding on and moving around, but because the air was being rattled out of me as we bounced along. My admiration for the robust construction of the sidecars grew throughout the day - although I am somewhat grateful that Celia's Wasp isn't fitted with a heavyweight Norton twin engine. It was hard enough to get out of the mud-sink with the weight of its single-cylinder 650 motor against us…
We had another couple of 'moments' that morning, but as the day wore on I became marginally less terrified and started to understand how the outfit felt when it was working right, and where I needed to be. All through my learning curve Celia was laudably unflappable, coping with all the complicated path-finding, riding, steering and stopping, and finding time to offer advice in a reassuring tones. I learned to understand that when Celia suggested I should lean 'quite a way off' then she really meant I needed to be in the next county!
Eventually, I could even take an interest in what was going on around us. We met plenty of ramblers and horse riders, plus a bunch of cyclists and a trail rider or two. We exchanged pleasantries and swapped smiles; consideration for all users of the byways was a high priority.
The route which Andy had scouted and planned for us was an enormous treat. It took us to high hills and moors which we couldn't have seen any other way, and revealed the wild landscape of Devon in its early spring glory. We were on top of the world - challenged only by a free-running, frisky Dartmoor pony who galloped alongside us to prove that he was the faster across this undulating land. He was right: we were just visitors to his homeland and when the shadows grew longer we had to leave.
Without that day of practice I would have been hopelessly ill-equipped to tackle the Land's End Trial. Even now, I'll be delighted just to get to the end of it without causing Celia major embarrassment (or myself some kind of physical mischief!). I've learned that I'll need my big moto-X boots and waterproof socks. I'll need a torch to read the route and a whole heaps of food to keep my energy up. I may also lay in a stock of Deep Heat, if the condition of my leg muscles from the practice day was any indication of how tired they'll be after the real event…
Right. Four days to go. Just time to highlight my route and make sure I have half a clue about where we're supposed to be stopping to do 'untimed restarts' and 'observed tests'. At least I know which bit of the sidecar to hang on to now!
Join the fun!
The Land's End Trial is a reliability trial which starts up country (we'll be departing from Michaelwood Services) on Friday 10th April 2009 from 5pm, and finishes at Scorrier in Cornwall from 11.30 the following morning. The 350 mile route includes observed sections and tests which appear to involve quite a lot of zigging, zagging, stopping in boxes, starting on hills and getting very muddy.
As there are plenty of RC readers based in the West Country, you might well want to come along and offer some support to our endeavour. The prime points for spectators include Blue Hills near St Agnes; 'the most spectacular setting of any trials hill anywhere in the UK' and Crackington Haven which according to Celia is 'the most muddy'. Hoskin, near Bodmin, 'provides a serious challenge for most competitors, particularly those who have to restart on the teflon-like stone surface'.
Entries for the Land's End Trial have now closed but the MCC's Testing Trial takes place on July 12th 2009 and the Edinburgh Trial is on October 3rd 2009. Rowena reports that all MCC officials were really helpful sorting out her membership and getting an appropriate ACU licence (one form to fill in, cost just a tenner, no needless faffing). It's fun to get a weekly email from the club, too, which slowly reveals just what you've let yourself in for.
If you've been tempted to get involved in an event like this then give it a crack of the whip - start the paperwork straight away and come along to the Land's End event to smell the petrol. And burning clutches…
Info from www.themotorcyclingclub.org.uk
THANKS TO Andy, Anita, Julia and Mike for their patience and support while I learned what to do. And special thanks to Andy for organising a cracking ride in the countryside!
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