Driver: Colin Batchelor
Navigator: Tom Hyde
Vehicle: 1995 Discovery 300 tdi
Leading up to the event.
Apart from the usual copious amounts of form filling vehicle preparation plays a major role in this event. The Team Chaos Discovery has now clocked up approx 250,000 miles, many of which have been in aid of fundraising events for Macmillan Cancer Support and also taking hospice patients and their carers, family and Macmillan nurses on off road day experiences. As a result the vehicle needs a bit more maintenance than newer vehicles and this was entrusted to Autoland 4×4 Services based in Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire. Apart from the usual fluid changes and general adjustments all was found to be well and all that remained was to sort out the supplies and other bits and pieces that we would need during the event.
Wednesday 5th March.
We left for Ludlow and took a slow relaxed drive enjoying the scenery and generally relaxing before the off the following morning. We arrived at the Travel Lodge and saw there were quite a few competitors vehicles in the car park already. We quickly unpacked and headed off to Ludlow to find a nice quiet place to eat which turned out to be a very nice pub/restaurant where the floor sloped so much you had to walk uphill to your table. The staff were very friendly and the waitress even gave us £5 for Macmillan. We returned back to the Travel Lodge and popped next door to have a quick beer and say hello to the other teams that we knew from previous years on the Mac.
Thursday 6th March…Day 1 – Britpart to Lutterworth
First things first and its off to Ludlow again for breakfast in a lovely old fashioned café for a hearty fry up that should keep us sustained until the evening. Then it was off to the Britpart compound at the Craven Arms where the vehicles would be checked over to make sure that they complied with the event requirements and our competition numbers and other documents would be sorted. We wait a few hours whilst the other vehicles are checked over (there are 83 this year after 7 dropped out at the last minute for one reason or another) and it is another chance to catch up with old friends AFTER giving the Team Chaos Discovery another quick check over.
Finally it is time for the drivers briefing which, as usual is quite an entertaining event in itself as Clerk of the Course Selwyn gives us lots of misinformation and general red herrings. We are always car number 2 and we line up for the off.
Stage one is an on road stage and competitors with even numbers go one way and those with odd the other. It was about 15 minutes into this stage that the fog decided to come in which made finding the clues somewhat difficult but we think that we did quite well. The stage ended at Market Harborough at around 4.15pm and we were then informed by the marshalls that this was day one finished. This seemed very strange for the Mac as there are usually night stages so we were twiddling our thumbs until the next morning which was a disappointment to say the least. Some of the Marshalls told us that a night stage was to follow but had to be cancelled owing to the flooding and that damage so many vehicles would do to the ground, we understood this but it was disappointing to say the least, and it was the right decision.
We were told to set up camp in a field at a local campsite and as one of the first teams to arrive we literally had the choice of where we wanted. The field we were told to pitch a tent in was waterlogged and as we stood in the mud we could feel ourselves sinking. We decided to sleep in the vehicle as it would be a lot more comfortable and besides that we didn’t want to ruin our tent by getting it covered in mud on the first night. One modification I made years ago was the fitting of a Coleman cooker which is attached to the rear door of the vehicle and just folds down and is ready to use in seconds. We enjoy a chicken curry followed by steamed treacle pudding and custard…just what is needed to ward off the cold night ahead.
Friday 7th March…Day 2. Bruntingthorpe and back to Britpart
After the usual bacon and egg sarnies we pack everything away and make our way to the driver briefing. Again more red herrings and we are told we are being given access to land where there is no photography allowed owing to the sensitive nature of its contents. We are intrigued. We are given instructions to follow and end up at Bruntingthorp Airfield, and we find out we are again looking for codeboards which are hidden among the various aircraft and locations around the site. We found a lot of boards but you cannot help but marvel at the historic aircraft they have there, it is a plane spotters paradise. When we finish this stage we are in for a surprise, we are going to have a try at Go-Karting, now for those of you who have not tried this before 20 stone men do not fit very well into these things. Getting in was hard but getting out required the help of a marshall and I am sure I left a kidney behind. I managed to lap one competitor twice but on the very last corner I was lapped myself. It was fun but I wont lose any sleep if I never do it again. Whilst others were racing the more experienced of us were scouring round the site for more marker boards and we did indeed find another 5 located near the go-kart area.
Finally we manage to do some offroading in our continued search for codeboards round a very easy course which is no challenge but fun all the same. We again find plenty of boards. We finish this section at around midday and yet again we are told the off road section planned had to be cancelled due to the weather…we accept the decision but wonder why the two stages we had completed could have not been staged over one day instead of two. We head back to Britpart but along the way we suffer a mechanical failure which took place along the M6. We were travelling along at about 60mph with Tom driving. All of a sudden it sounded as though a piston had come through the side of the engine. We pulled into the hard shoulder and I jumped out and looked underneath to see if any oil or water was leaking but could not see any. I Opened the bonnet and straight away noticed that the glowplug in No1 cylinder had blown out, a total fluke and something that you could never imagine happening. Call it luck but I had a spare one and just as I got it out of the box Andrew Marchant (Team 11) stopped to see if we were ok. He quickly got his socket set out and I fitted the new plug, FANTASTIC, we were back on our way.
We arrive at the Britpart compound and made camp, there is a hog roast set up and we spend the evening socialising. On the event we have AA support vehicles following and these are staffed by patrolmen who do this for no pay whatsoever, in fact they have to take annual leave to attend. They spend the evening fixing a TD5 Discovery which had decided to trash its waterpump. Great guys.
Saturday 8th March..Day 3 Britpart to Aberystwyth.
We are told there will be a driver briefing at 8am and so we are up around 6am. The smell of bacon cooking is glorious and gradually the campsite comes alive. Another briefing and we are off towards Wales and the Clun Forest. This is where the Viewranger App comes into its own. We are given co-ordinates and told which way to enter and leave them, eg: enter SW leave NW, now this sounds easy but when you have a great number of these it can get a bit confusing to say the least. With Viewranger it made the task a lot easier and gave us the ability to track ourselves to make sure we were on the right route which was a godsend especially as there was heavy mist during the early part of this stage.
Before we even started the stage the starting Marshal asked the drivers a number of questions that the navigator wasn’t allowed to help with. Tom was driving and was asked
1: Are we in England or Wales to which he correctly replied “Wales”
2: What was the name of the pub you passed earlier? This was when he had doubts, even though we had been spotting things like this just in case we were asked. Sheepishly he replied “The Bell?” and he was relieved when the Marshal said “Correct”.
One team were adamant that they knew where they were and we were going in the wrong direction, so much so that they got quite indignant when we pointed out their error and off they drove (in the wrong direction) only to catch up with us and follow us for the next few miles (With Viewranger you cannot get lost).
The next stage is to head south and find marker boards with the names of famous animals on them and write down what species they are..we manage 8 out of 10 in this part.
Then its onto Radnor Forest which is usually great fun but very tiring as you have to keep your concentration up for hours at a time whilst searching for boards. We are stopped by Marshalls who check our plotting on the paper map, they say we are the only team so far that has got the plotting correct for that stage so we are pleased, we need no changes and are let on our way. There are optional more severe offroad sections which we drive with ease, however one vehicle ended up rolling and had to be winched upright, luckily no people are injured but the vehicle suffers some damage but they are back competing the next day.
More questions and then we are off to the night section which means even more code boards, this was when we suffered another vehicle failure. The lights that have been on the side of the Team Chaos Discovery for years and that were working when checked in the morning suddenly decide to stop working. There is no time to fix them as we are now at our start line and told to move off for the night section, it is a major blow as these lights are vital in seeing marker boards that are hidden in difficult and inventive places. We use a hand torch and a headlamp, its not perfect but it is all we have and we make the best of a bad thing. The front light bar and rear work lamp kindly provided by Custom Vehicle Lighting do not let us down, in fact they are so bright we think they even helped the vehicle in front of us even though he was a long way away.
Eventually we complete the night section and head to a football field in Aberystwyth next to the Park Lodge hotel. I have been here twice before and it is cold, the coldest place imaginable and a scene of sleepless nights and miserable teams. However, this year it is warm (by comparison) and we enjoy a healthy meal in the local McDonalds which is just across the road. I feel sorry for the morning shift as there could be up to 166 people wanting to be served but more importantly use the toilets..we get there early.
Sunday 9th March…Day 4 Aberystwyth to Daresbury and the finish line.
After a pretty good nights sleep we wake early and beat the rush to MacDonalds for one of their Michelin star breakfasts that have no taste but fill a hole. There is another drivers briefing but at the end of this one it is a free for all to start the stage, not a good idea when you have 83 4x4s all trying to get out of a single lane exit….
We return to the previous nights stage where we find boards have been turned round, and generally moved into some very ingenious, or should that read devious places. We found this particular part of the event very tiring as you cannot get any kind of speed up as you are constantly straining to see into every nook and cranny to try to see a board for that extra point.
Eventually we begin the final stage which sees us travel through Snowdonia all of the time looking for answers to questions along the way. We think we did very well on this section and although long, we were happy we had done our best. Many teams struggled with this section but we found this one of the easiest.
We pull up and have some well earned refreshments after handing in our final paperwork to the marshalls and we then begin the journey to the Daresbury Park Hotel for a Jack Daniels or two (well a few more than that).We are exhausted and enjoy a good meal at the presentation dinner. Sadly we did not win a trophy this year and finished joint 38th our worst ever result which we put down mainly to the lighting failure during the night section.
We tried our best and that was all we could do. On a happier note, since the event started it has now reached over £1,000,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support, a fantastic total of which we were proud to have been a part of.
I must thank all of you who have sponsored Team Chaos not only for this event but also in previous events and years, our families for putting up with the tantrums when things don’t go right and also my Navigator Tom Hyde, without whom I would probably still be somewhere in Wales totally lost.
Best wishes & thank you all