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MACMILLAN 4X4 CHALLENGE 2007

By Mike Stapleton and Paul Ferrie

It’s nearly time for the next Challenge and so it’s definitely time to put fingers to keyboard to carry out my report of last year’s event. I always have the best of intentions to write these reports in the days or, at the very least, in the weeks shortly after the event, whilst it’s still fresh in my mind. But I don’t! It’s not until I start seriously thinking about the next event that the need to get the report finished and out becomes a necessity.

In the year leading up to the 2007 Macmillan Challenge several of my regular sponsors had suffered bereavement, due to cancer, as indeed I had with the death of my sister Jayne in October 2006. So the sides of The Muddy Blues Two/Too commemorated some of the people who’d died. As you won’t be able to read it, it reads: ‘Doing what we can for Jayne, Georgina, Sue’s dad Jess, Tony, Jackie Styles, ‘Trigger’ Bird and Joan Greaves, all the families and friends, and all those helped by Macmillan Cancer Support’.

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The Muddy Blues Two (Too) posing with his/her new graphics on the 8th March 2007, the day before the 2007 Macmillan Challenge.

Friday the 9th March 2007 – 11.45
Location: Cambridge – Milometer 98288.3 (In 2006 the reading was 77737.0) Trip 005.9

Left Cambridge at 11.45, en route to Kidderminster to pick up Paul, once again my co-driver for the 2007 Macmillan 4x4 Challenge. I arrived at Kidderminster at 14.20.

Friday the 9th March 2007 – 15.30
Location: Kidderminster

We left Kidderminster at 15.30 and arrived at Craven Arms on the A49 near Ludlow, at the factory estate of Britpart (Quality parts for Land Rovers) at 16.50. The Britpart estate is an ideal rendezvous and start point for the event, plenty of space for the 60 or 70 vehicles – competitors and organisers, not to mention the obligatory burger van, which I’m told even had veggie burgers on hand for the likes of Paul and I. However, we chose to eat a proper meal at a local hostelry.

The parking areas were full of various 4x4s and we soon met up with many of the people we see only once a year, at this event. Principal amongst these are Peter Rowland, who is the amiable face and hard working organiser for Macmillan, and Selwyn Kendrick, the ever jovial evil genius who does all the hard work of setting the route and all of the devilish challenges we undertake along the way.

Our usual running partner (Team 4) Dave Ridout in Lucy (The Muddy Blues One) was with new navigator, Mark Saville, the Features Editor of Land Rover Owner magazine, guaranteeing good coverage in at least one magazine. Janet McPherson and Graham Waring (Team 29/The Muddy Blues Three) were running late.

We signed on and collected our bag of ‘goodies’ – now I don’t want to complain about freebies, but it seemed strange to me that there was only one of everything in the carrier bag for teams of two – one hat, one mug … and so on.

Mild panic was the order of the afternoon as the vehicle number stickers hadn’t arrived so sorting out the order of departure was going to prove a headache for someone.

As we had some time to kill and didn’t know when we’d next get a hot meal, we headed back into the town of Craven Arms for a very good and reasonable meal at a local pub.

Friday the 9th March 2007 – 20.05
Location: Craven Arms – Milometer 98449.5 Trip 167.1

We were, as you will be only too aware, Team 5, so working out our position at the start was not difficult. We dropped in behind Dave and waited, nervously, for the off. We left at 20.05 with two pages of directions to follow and questions to answer.

Friday the 9th March 2007 – 21.20
Location: Radnor Forest – Milometer 98488.4 Trip 206.0 (approx. as trip was zero’s at 170.9)

At 21.20 (one hour and 15 minutes to cover 39 miles) we arrived at Fishpools, a parking area on the Northern edge of Radnor Forest. We were given copies of OS maps (one A4 and one A3 sheet), some instructions and some map references to plot.

I still have the maps and instructions, so to give you a taste, I quote the instructions:

Fishpools to night halt

Turn left onto A488 to Penybont;

Turn left onto A44 to Forest Inn;

Turn right onto A481 to Hundred House;

Then via map references:

1. 1168 5374;

2. 1255 5155;

3. 1261 5045;

and so on, to 14. 2588 4844.

Turn right onto A438.

At Clyro 100m, past garage on Left, turn Right into Clyro Court. Turn left at end of railings to book in at caravan.’

We were of course also supposed to spot number boards as we travelled (and probably answer more questions but at this distance I can’t remember). I do remember that there was a number board at the end of the drive to the Hotel – not that we saw it, we just heard about it later. It was a typical Selwyn catch ‘em out trick! You’ve arrived, you relax slightly and take you eye off the hedges and trees for a moment and there’s a point – or five – dropped. That point might just have seen us in joint 10th place!

Friday the 9th March 2007 – 23.20
Location: Baskerville Court Hotel, Clyro – Milometer 98530.8 Trip 249.0 (approx.)

We arrived at the overnight stop – the Baskerville Court Hotel at Clyro (from where the event had started in 2006) at 23.20, the third car to arrive, and the 77 miles from the start had taken us just 3 hours 15 minutes!

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Very old Ultimate tent in front of quite old Land Rover, at the night halt Clyro.

I put up my ‘little tent’ – which I’d bought in about 1973 and which had been in storage since 1980 – amazingly the material hadn’t fallen to pieces, but as it didn’t rain during the weekend I can’t comment on it’s continued waterproofness. I waited for Dave (Team 5) and Janet and Graham (Team 29) to arrive, but gave up waiting and went to bed at 01.20. Apparently Dave had arrived earlier and was enjoying a few beers in the hotel bar and then proceeded to enjoy a night in a hotel bedroom (hardly challenging!).

Saturday the 10th March 2007 – 09.05
Location: Clyro Court – Milometer 98530.8 Trip 077.4 (Actual reading)

Up at 06.10 and breakfasted on fried egg rolls. We attended the driver’s briefing at 08.15 and at 09.05 we were away again. We actually spent all weekend in Wales, we used a few green lanes but mostly travelled on very minor roads with little real off roading – though some of the minor roads would have been ‘interesting’ in a car.

Not long after leaving Clyro, one of the other competitors flashed their headlights and when we’d stopped told us that the nearside rear tyre was deflating fast. Now, this is the first Challenge that I’ve done for a number of years where I had decided to take only one spare wheel. I’d got the second spare out of the workshop on Thursday, thought to myself – ‘Do we need this extra weight?’ and put it back. This morning I regretted my hastiness!

We changed the wheel and were on our way again, but stopped to refuel a few minutes later. With 44.05 litres of diesel on board (average consumption 27.3966 mpg) we were now way down the running order.

By midday we had arrived at the Brecon Beacons military training grounds, where David and I had spent many happy hours in 2004. This time we were only allowed an hour of fun as we had to be off the site for someone else to play. We were given ‘Tulip’ diagrams to help us navigate round this site, the second ‘figure’ after 4.02kms, represents a crossroads where we were to turn left, with the note: ‘Beware of troops’.

At a point after 24.99kms the relevant note reads ‘WARNING deep water If to deep (remember I am quoting here!) stay on tarmac’. It was here that two young men, taking part as one’s mother had recently died of cancer, drove a Volvo XC90, loaned by their local main dealer, through the water. Not the best of ideas as the air intake on these vehicles is relatively low. The engine sucked in water and that was the end of the engine and of the lads’ Challenge.

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The Muddy Blues Two/Too at the end of the Brecon Beacons play area, with most of the other competitors in the background. The Muddy Blues One (Team 4) is third vehicle from right.

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Paul getting instructions for the next stage of the Challenge from ever jovial, evil genius Selwyn Kendrick in ex-Paris-Dakar Rally support vehicle.

Having left the Brecon Beacons we drove in a northerly direction via the Elan Valley (fantastic scenery – in fact Graham, Team 29’s navigator, said that he’d never enjoyed a drive more) to Rhyader. We dropped out here at 15.00, for half an hour or so, to try and get the tube in the flat tyre replaced (luckily I had a spare tube). Two garages were unable to help, but, albeit rather unenthusiastically, a third could and £10.00 poorer but with a working spare tyre we were on our way again.

Saturday the 10th March 2007 – 18.35
Location: The White Hart, Bala – Milometer 98717.2 Trip 169.3 (Actual reading)

We went by way of Lakes Vyrnwy and Bala to finish at the White Hart Hotel in Bala, where we arrived at 18.35. We’d travelled just 186.4 miles in 9½ hours of driving, that’s about 20 miles per hour, which come to think of it, is not a bad average speed!

Apparently we were to have carried on driving to do a night stage in a forest, but someone competing in a rally two weeks before had been killed on the same stage and so it was deemed in poor taste for us to do that section. So we were free to sample the delights of Bala – which was surprisingly busy.

Needless to say Dave (Team 4) and the LRO guys had quickly booked rooms at the White Hart – wimps all of them! So we left them to their luxuries and once Janet and Graham arrived we had a pizza and then made our way to the campsite for the night.

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Sunday morning, The Muddy Blues Two and Three grabbing some well earned rest.

Sunday the 11th March 2007 – 07.05
Location: Camp site, Bala – Milometer 98720.2 Trip 172.3

Up at 07.05 we enjoyed some veggie sausages in rolls courtesy of Team 29 before making our way to the Bala 4x4 Centre for 09.00, where we had 30 minutes to go play in the mud – and if possible spot number boards.

After this we sort of retraced our tyre tracks of Saturday and found ourselves at Lake Vyrnwy again – and a strange rhythmic hissing sound alerted us to our second puncture of the weekend. This time it was the nearside front and as we were now so well versed in wheel changing, not even the huge mass of frog spawn I’d stopped right next to delayed our rejoining the event.

Sunday the 11th March 2007 – 13.00
Location: Ponderosa Café, Horse Shoe Pass, Llangollen – Milometer 98789.0 Trip 241.1

At 13.00 we were again at the Ponderosa Café on the Horseshoe Pass (scene of last year’s freezing conditions and deep snow).This time it was open and the car park was full of bikers, day trippers and custom car cruisers. I preferred it when it was closed and devoid of all but nutters in 4x4s! So sadly we had to accept that the event was over for another year and not being able to put it off any longer, we made our way to the De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel.

Sunday the 11th March 2007
Location: De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel – Milometer 98832.0 Trip 284.0

On arrival we found Dave Ridout’s Land Rover ‘Lucy’ jacked up with a dozen eager helpers trying to change a wheel bearing which was welded on to the stub axle. So once again Dave’s Challenge ended on the back of a recovery vehicle (now don’t laugh!).

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Lucy, aka The Muddy Blues One undergoing surgery, which was unsuccessful! Driver Dave is nowhere to be seen.

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The Muddy Blues Two and Three at the end of the event, Graham and Janet (Team 29) gesticulating.

That night at the Presentation Dinner we were officially presented with our missing ‘trophies’ for the 2006 event (you may remember that we came joint third in the Night Navigation section and as we’d tied each team were given only one of the two engraved whiskey glasses due).

Peter Rowland announced that Dave Ridout and I are the only people to have competed in five Challenges (apart from Russ Brown who, being one of the original organisers has done all six).

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At the end of the presentation dinner, Sunday evening. Note the lack of anyone else sitting at any other table and the number of bottles on ours!! Actually the white wine in the ice bucket remained untouched all evening. The smart chap in the striped tie is Paul, that’s me on his left (pale tie) and Janet on my left, Graham, on the right, won’t thank me for pointing out his bald patch!

We enjoyed the evening meal thoroughly – our table had the most empty wine bottles on it at the end, though I’m sure several of them must have been planted on us! As a result of the evening, one team who sat with us changed their minds from not doing it again next year to doing it. We were still there chatting long after everyone else had gone to the bar or to bed.

Monday the 12th March 2007 – 11.30
Location: De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel – Milometer 98832.0 Trip 284.0

So after waiting a whole year it was all over again – until next March. After the usual excellent Daresbury Park multi-course breakfast and having said our farewells it was homeward bound, back to Kidderminster to drop Paul off, and then to Cambridge.

Monday the 12th March 2007 – 18.30
Location: Cambridge – Milometer 99067.3 Trip 215.2

Home. I’d driven 779 miles (940 miles in 2006) since leaving Cambridge on Friday and we’d done 382.5 miles (544 miles in 2006) on the event itself. And that was the end of another fine weekend!

Trivia

Overall – Cambridge – Macmillan Challenge – Cambridge:

In 2007 we did 779 miles, 382.5 on the event; in 2006 we did 940 miles, 544 on the event; in 2005 we did 869 miles, 500 on the event; in 2004 we did 1228 miles, 810 miles on the event; and in 2003 we did 1298 miles, 881 miles on the event. So a definite trend towards a greener Macmillan Challenge can be seen!

On the events we’ve driven a total of 3118 miles, and we’ve raised at least £8986.00 – so that works out at about £2.88 raised per mile (up from £2.55 per mile in 2006).

And even more trivia

So that was it for another year. Not that we are in it for the ‘pots’, but I’m pleased to say that we finished in 11th place overall (250 points) just one point behind Dave (Team 4) in 10th place, with Russ Brown in 9th place (257 points). The winner scored 311 points and the highest sponsorship raised by one team was a staggering £8000.00!

Please do visit the Macmillan 4x4 website to look at the photos of each year’s event – my Land Rover is on the ‘Home’ page, top left.

Not so trivia

We raised £345.00 (+ £97.31 Gift Aid) donated on-line; and £1150.00 (+ £294.00 Gift Aid) off-line, so the total is £1886.31. Actually Peter Rowland, the Macmillan organiser, tells me our total was £1888.46 – not sure where the extra couple of quid came from. The total raised by the 58 or 59 teams who took part was £110,000.00, which I’m sure you’ll agree, was, to say the least, a magnificent achievement.

Mike Stapleton and Paul Ferrie

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The Muddy Blues Two/Too, home again, with Macmillan Challenge history proudly on show.