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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Northern trial

I've just returned from the Fell Side Auto Club's Northern Trial.

For my second year competing in the Northern Trial the weather forecast predicted a cool sunny day which for the Lake District seemed impossible. However I understand that for the last 7 years the FSAC have been blessed with dry weather for this trial. They, or at least the marshals, must have friends in high places. This year I had mixed feelings about predicting my performance in the trial. On one hand I thought that my skill level had improved over the year but conversely I felt fairly low as I was suffering from a horrible cold and had slept badly for most of the preceding week. So that’s the excuse in right at the beginning!
As previously, the entry and joining instructions were clear and well managed and I received an email of the route in advance so it could be set up in the route roller. This only needed one minor correction on the day, presumably due to a change in the field where the second special test was to take place. Admirably the written instructions were correct suggesting that the club only copies these once every detail is correct. I suppose that is possible with a smallish entry.
Saturday morning was brighter than I could have hoped and the journey to the first special test gave ample opportunity to get accustomed to the cool and damp air. At the first special test there was a little confusion as to whether motorcyclists were allowed, or required, to foot whilst stopped astride line B, but by placing the 3 lines in a curve the test presented some challenge. Although the sun was developing some strength Black Hole lived up to its name, you couldn’t see into the woods beyond the 11 marker. The section looked muddy but this was deceptive as in reality there was plenty of grip. Nonetheless I nearly spoilt it as the restart marshal fidgeted and made me wonder if I should have stopped. No surely not…Ouch! That was a lesson not to look at my route instructions whilst on a section. Luckily I fell off after sections ends, although unluckily the previous 6 riders were waiting to descend the hill and found some humour in my mishap. I should have remembered, and learnt from, this event until the afternoon as it happened.
The Cockups didn’t quite live up to their name. Big Cockup was firm and straightforward whereas Little Cockup had a loose rutted beginning where I managed to slide and foot in equal measure. It finished easily enough though and had I mastered the first half a clear would have been in my reach. The approach to Routen Romp afforded lovely views over the northern lakes but then there was the debate of whether the central grass or edge ruts offered the best route. A bit of both got me to the very short restart box and although the hill progressively steepened there was enough grip.
I recalled Falcon’s Crest from last year. The stony first few yards are easier than they luck and the last bit steeper. So I set off with a little caution and tried to gain some momentum over the roots to have a chance at the ascent. My success was achieved in part by technique and in part by the drier conditions. A few riders went missing in action on the exit from Falcon’s Crest as the continuing path looked so welcoming. I hope they managed to get back to the Stocksman.
Lowry’s and Ladyside posed similar hazards, the major one being restart boxes in damp mossy areas. Aren’t the organisers cunning? Luckily the bikes could ride through Ladyside and otherwise I don’t think the final ascent would have been possible for me. With a handful of throttle it passed easily enough.
So until lunch things had gone pretty well for me and after an excellent sandwich and cake I set off feeling pretty confident. Lord’s Seat started solid enough but the slime got thicker and my forward speed got less and less as the engine speed increased. These weren’t good signs and. I slithered to a halt by the 9 marker. There was some grip as after a little paddling I restarted; perhaps a slightly better line or a little less throttle and I could have cleared the section?
Ullister hill is long, straight and the only catch is a sudden lump at the top around the 2 or 1 markers. Unlike last time I kept my bottle and saved some valuable points. This saving was crucial as I was to lose 7 on Sheepfold. What an easy section! It was a fairly smooth soil-covered loop with a teeny-weeny lump at the 7 marker where I managed to take a complacent and totally unnecessary dab. At least I watched another rider do the exact same thing and the score sheet showed that others had been equally daft.
The restart on Forest Yump was slippery but I believe I maintained forward motion and things felt good. Perhaps the cake or my blocked sinuses were weighing me down but Darling How became my nemesis. It’s a firm, albeit rutted section with a tidy restart box that I totally ignored even though the marshal stepped out with his flag. Having not learnt my lesson from Black Hole (had you remembered?) I rechecked my route and ended up cross-rutted and most decidedly stopped. Just a few yards along the track Widow Hause can cause problems as the start is wet and slimy and the finale steep and cambered. Actually, for me, the descent is the hardest part!
By now the sun and exercise had got me pretty warm so I removed a layer before setting off on the 20 mile road journey to Sandale. Once again an example of muddled thinking. Sandale is notoriously muddy and lacking in grip, but this year it was firm enough for the best riders to clear it. Of course that wasn’t me and I did worse than last year as I persisted in riding on the right even though the left of the track, I discovered after stopping in the quagmire and getting pulled out by helpful hands, was relatively firm. Quite simply I was tiring and lacked the stamina to focus on the section.
Special test in a big field
The second special test was laid out in a stubble field close to Wigton. Line B was a fair distance away and offered the opportunity to gain considerable speed. It was apparent that the test would determine the rankings at the top of the motorcycle class as a few had managed to clean every section. Speed was of the essence; but so was stopping on the line as overshooting it would lose you everything…
Of course, that wasn’t me; I was the slowest!
I am very grateful to the members of FSAC and the marshalling teams for setting such an excellent trial once again and inviting MCC members along. I promise that next year I’ll have learnt from a few mistakes, even if I make some fresh ones.


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