The 88th Exeter Trial 6th – 7th January – Ed Wells
Well we finished – and there is a very real disconnect between my head and my current reality, it’s rather like jet lag combined with the phantom motion that stays when you get off a bumpy boat trip. Sit in a Dutton Melos with no sleep, climb 14 hills and do a couple of special tests and you will know exactly what I mean.
You may recall my appetite for the long distance MCC trials started to emerge after I rode as passenger with Richard Andrews in his Dellow on last year’s Land’s End Trial. I subsequently entered Class O on the Edinburgh Trial in the Dutton just to see if I could deal with an entry level version. We came away with no award simply because I fancied doing restarts when I clearly wasn’t supposed to – my fault (note to self -read the instructions). In truth I found that driving without enough seriously challenging hills didn’t really do it for me. So it was time – I entered the 88th Exeter Trial. And now I have learnt that there are five things that you really must get right – Preparation, Scrutineering, Navi- gation, Timing, Driving and Climbing… And all of those elements caused us some problems.
I had rarely been so cold and wet as I was on that Land’s End Trial so I went for multiple layers (and lots of them) topped off with water proofs. The summer modifications to the Dutton altered the rear springs, weight distribution and the final drive and these changes have combined to deliver a couple of Classic Trial class wins (I just need to be care- ful when attacking bumpy steep hills as the front has a nasty tendency to go airborne). The only other bit of additional prep was that MCC scrutineering on the Edinburgh had told me my auxiliary lights on the rear must be wired into an illuminated switch so that I never accidentally leave them on. No problem, apart from I should have done that well in advance – you will see why. My preparation also included a detailed Exeter hill briefing from Richard Andrews – so I thought we were ready, and with my passenger/navigator Stan Howitt we headed off for our allocated start point – Harebushes Services, Cirencester. The real deal had started – The 2017 Exeter.
The weather forecast for 6th and 7th January looked ok. Unseasonably mild with a slight chance of some rain, that very mild forecast then turned into the possibility of fog. We set off from my house on May Hill around 19:20 PM in drizzle for our allocated start at Cirencester. Standard start time was issued as 19:30 PM. I was running number 110 so our actual start time is 110 minutes after standard time – 21:20 pm. Given the timings we had plenty of time to spare for scrutineering, fuelling and warming up with a cup of coffee. We got there and straight into the queue for scrutineering, everything had been fine – except we failed because the brake lights had stopped working. I carry a lot of tools with me on classic trials, but circuit tester, brake switch and all the other possibilities were a problem – the clock was ticking and the drizzle had now turned into light rain. We tested the rear lights and bulbs – no problem. We bypassed the brake switch – no problem. So it was somewhere between front and back in the rats nest of a very tired 1970s Ford Escort wiring Loom – now I was sweating! I decided to make and break all the electrical connections I could. Meddling around in the wiring entrails behind the dash did something – a minor miracle occurred – the brake lights started working. We quickly loaded all the kit away, blast the left rear light had stopped. A quick fix, a badly seating bulb – all now working. Five minutes from our start time with fingers crossed we passed scrutineering. Stan my passenger asked –“Do we need fuel?”. I said I had loads but as we had a full two minutes left I thought I’d fritter that time with a top up – and thank god I did. Over £20 of petrol tells me we were down to the last 5 litres – so the final drive change now equals a seriously thirsty Melos (50 mph on the road now equates to over 3500 RPM). Still we got away on time and headed out into the night, peering through my creaking wipers with what little could be seen through my 1970s Ford headlights – well, it stopped me driving too fast! We were finally heading in the right direction for some hills whilst I was marinating nicely inside all my protection layers. Onwards…
Effectively, despite the multiple start points (Cirencester, Popham and Sourton Cross) all the competitors congregate for the proper start at the Haynes Museum, Sparkford based on 00:00 standard time which adjusted for us meant 1:50 am Saturday. All we had to do was navigate cross country where the MCC club had already stated there were no road markers. To ensure a sat nav was no good we had a special test to find, in the dark, in the rain, on a public road in the middle of nowhere with no road signs. So again a tad stressy – the route instructions were wrong at one point where traffic lights had turned into a roundabout so we sailed on oblivious looking for instructions to match what turned up in the headlights through the rain and now fog – yes fog had arrived as forecast. After four or five miles we decided we were wrong – I pulled over. Five other trials cars went by so we decided we were right after all, so we followed them. Little did I know they had been following me (tail-gating in the gloom). My wiper motor was sounding terminal now so I decided to flick the wipers on and off only when I thought absolutely necessary – so we then lost our fellow competitors as well. And without a road atlas we had no idea where we were, where we were going or how to get back to wherever we had come from… A 24 hour petrol station supplied a road guide for £1.99 and we decided to return to the obvious route problem point, which we did finally manage – all alone, late and in a state of damp despair. We found the special test (eventually) and finally arrived at Haynes Museum around 40 minutes behind our time – but still early enough to comply with the compulsory one hour’s rest break and make our original start time of 1:50 am. Deep joy, in the dry, in the warm – and back on track hoping the wiper motor would last or the rain would stop.