Trials and Tribulation
As the last two rounds of the HRCR Clubmans Championship were
approaching I craved for an alternative event which would still keep my
mind active, but without the pressure that trying to win a Championship
Twenty or so years ago I was a great enthusiast of Night Trials or Scatter events. They provided the less stressful navigational fix I desired and I ended up organising three of them for West Essex Car Club: War of the Worlds, King Arthur and Albedo all based upon music albums of the day.
I wondered whether any club ran them these days and after a deep Google search came across just one coming event the Hunter's Night Trial organised by Middlesex County Auto Club. The perfect bonus was that the date was exactly one week after the Regis and would be just the tonic I needed if my HRCR Championship aspirations went pear shaped.
When competing on a Night Trial (NT) you need to have a crew whose main objective is to have fun, so when I contacted two past night trialers about doing something interesting on a Saturday night they jumped at the chance.
And so it came to pass that courtesy of George driving his Nissan Xtrail, Ken as secondary navigator and your columnist as primary navigator, we assembled in a woodland car park just outside Maidenhead on the night of October 21st.
The first shock was the entry a mere five crews. In their heyday NTs would attract 50+ crews and I was saddened that the organising team's effort would be so poorly rewarded. Still, with two novice crews on the entry list at least we would have the satisfaction of scoring a podium wouldn't we?
We collected our route instructions at eight o'clock and the format was much the same as I remembered from distant events. Solving each route card would yield the location of a codeboard. The ten easy route cards were worth five points each and clued by just map references ; the 15 of medium difficulty were worth ten points and the hard ones fifteen points.
My master plan was that we would plot for an hour, work out an optimum route between the locations and then spend the rest of the event dashing around the Berkshire countryside. We had until 01:30 to finish our task of acquiring 20 codeboards, plus visiting four manned controls (where we had to solve another route card against the clock) for extra points.
I tackled the hard route cards, left the medium ones to Ken, while George ate mars bars and became impatient. As you might expect the navigation on a NT is not straightforward, and some of the sections had me questioning the organisers' parentage, just like competitors question mine on Internet table-top rallies. We were stumped with one clue based upon the twelve days of Christmas, but George sought outside assistance by phoning his wife to enquire of the number of maids-a-milking, geese-a-laying et al.
Here's an example of another which foxed us:
What six-figure map reference does the following represent? (Answer below)
Seventy-eight, twelve, eighty-nine, six, five
An hour into the plotting and we only had five hard clues cracked and nine medium clues. Maybe this master wasn't right after all, so a hasty plot of the ten easy map references and we were on the road.
I navigated us between plotted codeboards while Ken persevered with the unsolved navigation; George periodically leapt out with his aircraft searchlight to look for small pieces of wood containing the names of chemical elements.
On this event the codeboards were easy to find: often on obvious roadside fence posts, stiles or footpath signs. On other events easier plotting is sometimes coupled with map references in woods or along footpaths, which makes the location of codeboards or hidden marshals a more difficult exercise.
NTs are easy to organise. Because there is no fixed route, virtually no PR is necessary and a simple permit is required from the MSA. Usually only a few marshals are required. NT's can be family affairs too. Driver and navigator in the front, and quiet wives or offspring in the back having extra bodies when searching for codeboards can be an advantage.
On the "Hunter's", we had six hours of entertainment necessitating problem solving, map skills, route planning, navigation, searching skills and a competitive driver. All for an entry fee of a mere £8.
How did we fair? One of the crews suffered Mal de Nav, so there were only four finishers and we weren't on the podium!
Why not organise a NT for your own club and revive this fun and forgotten form of motor sport?
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You only consider the Roman numerals (v-i,lv,i-i,ix,iv) embedded in the clues!