In October 2000 I took part in my first LDT after a year of anticipation. I first heard of them over the summer of 1999 but it quickly became apparent that participating required a fair bit of paperwork. Thanks to the WWW I tracked down Mike Furze and after a lengthy telephone conversation, which felt rather like an interview, I was on my way to MCC membership. When I received my pack the plethora of SSRs and introverted club atmosphere of ‘Triple’ were a little disconcerting.
Over the year I received a couple of issues of Triple and gradually gained an insight into the workings of the club, the complexities of organising the events and the history and ethos behind the Trials. In July the application forms for the Edinburgh arrived and I quickly obtained a place.
Over the months before the event there seemed to be a lot to organise; tyres, number supports, illuminated route roller and the worry about what to wear, spares to take along and all the things one can worry about. Naturally I decided to get new tyres just as the petrol 'crisis' started! I found the tyre issue confusing at the outset but now I think I’ve understood it a little.
The initial check-in was easy and like the rest of the event, well organised. There was a cursory check on lights, horn and MOT and time to see some of the other bikes, ranging from elderly CZ to R100GS. Smallish Japanese 4 stroke trail bikes were the most plentiful though. At the appointed minute I crossed the departure line and we embarked on the first 65 miles to formal scrutineering. My companion was excellent at reading the route and kept up a fair pace. After tyre check and receiving updated instructions we had another 35 road miles to the first observed section near Ashbourne. So we had gone 100 miles in the cold and dark - just to wear us out!
Tyres were deflated and off we went. The marshal checked my number and waved me off when the section was clear. Along the way were other officials checking for toe dabs. This was just to warm us up and easy enough for me to clear. The second section was far worse and a queue developed. I got up but there were feet everywhere. Darkness adds another dimension to the sections, as does a critical audience. The smallest lumps cast a big shadow and you can't see beyond the limited throw of the headlight.
Soon it started to rain but it wasn't long to hot breakfast and a compulsory hour of rest at Bentley Brook. The heavy rain was to last the rest of the day and I hear that it always does. How does the weather know? As morning approached the frequency of the sections increased. This was a good thing as I was getting cold and losing heart a bit. Some sections were OK and feet were either up or very nearly, other were nasty and showed I needed a lot more practice. At Litton Slack I had my only get-off in the thick mud. As the section was excluded from the results I assume the marshals decided too much damage was being done to land and riders. Some sections have a restart - just as you've got your balance you must stop between the lines and then start off again - all under the eyes of the marshals. There were also 2 special tests: the basic framework was to set off from a line, stop on a lump over another line and then go to next line, all as fast as possible. Points are lost for feet down and lines missed. I watched a few very fast fails as locked tyres slid across lines and so decided (on an expert's advice) to complete them slowly - no points lost and I'd never be the fastest anyway. At every section the marshals were approachable and helpfully explained what was expected of me.
My companions graciously dragged me along, and without them I'd probably have gone home due to the rain. Over the day I’m sure I learnt a lot watching the other riders and following them along non-observed parts, such as Stanage. As the end approached I really did feel to be getting into the swing of it and it almost seemed a pity to be stopping - however I could tell I was tired after 17 hours of activity and the end at Buxton was welcome. Here we met other riders and their machines. After a hot snack there was just the journey home in the rain.
I was very pleased to receive my Finisher’s Certificate in the post and found the collated results an interesting read. Would I do it again? Yes, but I don't think I want to do the Exmoor and Land’s End Trials as they are too far from home and I have other things to do. The high road mileage (nearly 300) with only 15 short trial sections will put many off - as would the strict rules and regulations. The latter are vital for a competition in a sensitive area with so many participants, but I think the club's non-event processes could be a bit more new-member friendly. Although the SSRs and event instructions contain everything you need to know, might I suggest the construction of a checklist for new-competitors?
‘Triples’ have carried comments that new MCC members are not competitive enough. I have to admit that I have very little competitive drive and that the nature of LDTs seemed to allow me to take part without worrying about positioning. I suspect that many off-road motorcyclists with plentiful competitive spirit also require large adrenaline rushes and find their way to enduros or rallies.