The Great Drumtochty Challenge 10th May 2009
The day dawned overcast and damp and conditions looked uninviting as I set off on the 40mile drive to the event at 8.30am. The map reading for the last five miles to the start was the first challenge of the day as the this was located well inside the forest. As usual I was one of the early arrivals, this suits me as I like time to get myself dressed and organised and to settle down before the start. I’ve always been a nervous starter and if I feel rushed I tend to forget things and am not focussed when the event starts. At this event I had to copy information from a master map onto my own map accurately as controls were placed on tracks that weren’t shown on the Ordnance Survey maps. After a short welcome and some last minute instructions the event got underway at 11.00am. I chose to hang back and let the bulk of starters get away before I started my timer chip. There were basically 2 options for a route, the first was to concentrate on the controls in the centre of the map nearest the start/finish and pick additional points from an area to the north east. The second was to head down to the south west of the map, picking up some points from the central area on the way out and on the way back. As the controls to the south west generally scored higher and were fairly close together I chose that route.
However, things started to go wrong for me pretty much straight away. I took a wrong turning shortly after the start and had to retrace my steps, couldn’t find the next control and then missed the next 2 controls. After 30mins I was at a track junction that I couldn’t recognise on the map and was, to all intents and purposes, lost. It took me 10mins to locate myself – I had ridden off of my map (it was double sided). I gave myself a good talking to and a quick analysis of what was going wrong before I set off again. There were 2 things at work here, 1. I had anticipated a Trailquest event where controls are placed obviously and map reading with an accuracy of about 20 metres is usually sufficient to locate them, this event was more like a mountain bike orienteering event which demands map reading to within 5 metres or better to locate controls. 2. I was a lot fitter than I had been when I last competed and I was covering the ground a lot quicker which was throwing my navigation out, this was compounded by the fact that my bike computer wasn’t working and I didn’t have accurate information on the distance I was covering. More speed and less haste was the answer. At this point I had missed 3 controls and a potential 80 points and over half an hour had passed.
Setting off again at a slightly slower pace I located the next 2 controls easily. Then a stupid map reading error lost me another 20 minutes, I really needed to concentrate better. Thereafter things went much better as I worked my way around the controls in the south west corner of the map, only a single poor choice of route that meant I had to double back to get the next control spoilt this section. After 31/2 hours I had cleared the controls and needed to head back into the central portion of the map for the second part of my strategy. There were two options here – back up through the forest or out of the forest onto tarmac roads and then back into the forest again. The second option was a bit longer but I reckoned on it being substantially faster so I headed out of the forest on a marked track. However, the track wasn’t good on the ground and I found myself having to get off the bike and force my way through areas of thick gorse. Eventually I got to the edge of the forest and found myself literally in someone’s back garden, a quick scuttle out onto the drive and on the bike and I was away. It was about a 7km ride on the road back round to the forest, so it was head down and get to work. The tarmac section was fast as I anticipated but I had lost a lot more time getting out of the forest. By the time I got back to the forest I had about 1/2 hour left but I took a chance and set off on a 7km loop of track that would pass 2 controls with 70 points available. This went well as the the track was fast and the controls easy to locate. I made it back to the finish with 32 seconds to spare. All in all I scored 510 points and covered 55km in the five hours. This was disappointing – I would have reckoned to cover 70 – 80km in the time and could have scored around 700 points. My route finding and map reading were obviously rusty and it really showed. However, as ever it was enjoyable, I didn’t crash the bike and it was a creditable performance.