mac 2014 report
Macmillan 4x4 Challenge

This year was expected to be special, as the running total raised by the event was expected to (and easily did) top 1million. As such there were 4 days of competition (rather than the usual 3) and there was much speculation as to where we would all be going.

The Basics
Driver: Anne Jalonen
Navigator: Andrew Marchant
Vehicle: Andrew's Discovery 1 Tdi auto
Where: England and Wales
Placing: 2nd overall (out of 83 teams) - Over 935 raised!

(Photos below by Anne Jalonen and Andrew Marchant except where credited)

As with every Mac, vehicle preparation is very important - loosing stage time through mechanical failure is not ideal. So a lot of time was spent checking over the mechanical aspects, and giving it a good clean!

Thankfully the Discovery needed little modification as most of the work was done 2 years ago - sleeping inside the vehicle avoids the worst horrors of camping, so the sun loungers and tent heater were re-fitted - and the Mac Rack on the roof stores all the various fuels away from where we sleep.

But there was still plenty to check and tweak. A new internal frame with luggage net to hold suits and dresses flat was built, while little adjustments were made to the position of the night stage lights.

Day 0 - Getting to Ludlow (Wed 5/3)
Packing and loading takes time, making sure everything needed is on board and in its place - but you're not weighing the vehicle down with the kitchen sink et al. Experience helps knowing what you need and what you don't - yet still you take too much! But everything fits and after a quick stop for fuel (including the jerrycan) we can be on our way.

As we drive, the car gradually gets more noisy, sounds like something from the back axle. When we arrive at the Travelodge car park in Ludlow, we are the first there - where is everyone? Telltale oil spots on the back of the car suggest all is not well, and there is a drip from the rear diff. Damn, looks like the pinion seal has failed.

What's the best solution? Nothing for it but to head to the pub and eat with the other competitors, as everyone soon arrives. Deal with it tomorrow...

Day 1 - The start at Britpart and East to Lutterworth (Thur 6/3)
Our first port of call is the motor factors in Ludlow. More oil for ourselves, glass fuses for Car 27 (Simon & Mike) and a cigarette lighter splitter for Car 32 (Pete & Sue). A quick check of the diff shows... it is still full of oil! So what are the oil spots then? Hmmn, looks like power steering fluid, as that does need topping up.

The first proper stop is the Station Cafe in Craven Arms for breakfast, as is now traditional. Mac competitors completely fill the place, and the proprietor does a roaring trade.

We meet other competitors at the fuel station in Craven Arms, then head to Britpart to sign on. As usual it's a case of hurry up and wait - but meeting up with friends old and new is part of the experience. We put the Discovery to good use helping Car 29 (Drew & Richard) fit and load their winch cable.

(Photo above left: courtesy of Ben Parfitt)

(Photo above right: courtesy of Ben Parfitt)

Finally the drivers briefing arrives and Selwyn begins his entertaining tale of misinformation. Soon we are lining up at the start, it seems there is no Car 9 or 10 so we line up behind Car 8, Team Spirals. Then we are off!

(Photo above left: courtesy of James Addy)

The first stage is on the road - and it's a long one. Odd numbered and even numbered competitors go different ways - odds like us head north to Telford and then east along the A5. Clues are rapidly answered - some are easy to find, others less obvious. The stage ends around 4pm at our evening's campsite between Lutterworth and Market Harborough. We are told that's it for the day and we have a free evening, which seems odd. No night stage? This seems very relaxed for the Mac. Most marshals deny there was anything planned (and subsequently cancelled) but apparently it's admitted to a couple of teams that something was indeed planned for the evening but the wet conditions mean it could not go ahead. We choose to believe this, as there's no other explaination for the early finish.

We choose to cook at the campsite, finding the first (and thankfully only) equipment failure. The pump on the cooker will not build up pressure, so Bryan (Car 17) very kindly lends us his. We get the truck sorted for sleeping as the weather worsens and it begins to rain. We are glad of the tent heater in the truck as the temperature drops.

Day 2 - Bruntingthorpe and back west to Britpart again (Fri 7/3)
We break camp after breakfast and are soon ready for the off.

The first stage today is apparently in a scrapyard - and one with high security? A quick drive up the road (with no clues to answer) takes us to Bruntingthorpe Airfield, home of one of the MIRA proving grounds - and a large aircraft scrapyard! A codeboard searching section it is, with a course set out between the various aircraft in differing states of dismantlement. Some are historic and near complete, some are not far from being in parts.

We round one corner and are all parked up. We are going go-karting! This is rather different to what we do on most Macs... Slick tyres, a fast track and wet tarmac mean soon those of us with more ambition than talent run out of opposite lock and are soon spinning off. Too quickly it's all over and we are back on the course looking for more codeboards. Apparently there was one out on the kart track, but hardly anyone noticed!

RIGHT: Andrew attempts to overtake Anne on the outside of a bend - probably resulting in yet another spin! (Photo above right: courtesy of James Addy)

We approach the edge of the airfield, and at last there is some offroading, A simple and not too taxing course laid out in the trees, and with a lot of codeboards to find in a short distance. We take it carefully and note all we see, hopefully we found enough.

LEFT: Spot the codeboard! RIGHT: Simon & Mike (Car 27) take on the offroad stage

(Photos above left and right: courtesy of Ben Parfitt)

We reach the end of the stage before lunchtime - and again this is it for the day. The marshals do at least admit there was an offroad stage planned but it is too wet to send nearly 90 vehicles through. This seems all very relaxed as the Mac goes, and to be honest the first two days stages could have been fitted into a single day... But no matter, because we have all afternoon to head west again - back to the start at Britpart!

(Photos above left and right: courtesy of Ian Parsons)

We make use of the time, trying to find a shop enroute selling parts for our cooker (and we fail - mail order seems the only way). Heading along the M6 we see Car 2 (Team Chaos - Tom & Colin) stopped on the hard shoulder. We pull over to assist - strangely they have had a glow plug blow out of the engine. By sheer luck they have a spare - and we have the tools so they can fit it. Both teams are soon underway again.

We take the scenic route back to Britpart, heading over the hills. The evening is spent relaxing with friends (well, as relaxed as you can be while camping in an industrial estate car park). Again the tent heater is needed...

(Photo above right: courtesy of Ben Parfitt)

Day 3 - Proper Mac Day and Aber again! (Sat 8/3)
The first stage of the day sends us on the road heading west and into Wales. A road section leads us to the marshals, with some questions for Anne that the navigator is not allowed to help with. We are on the edge of the Clun Forest for a codeboard section - mist at the start makes it hard to see the boards, but it soon clears.

LEFT: Yes, we are going down there... RIGHT: Some codeboards aren't so hard to find

Bryan and Ben (Car 17) pass us and park up in Bryan's TD5 90... I navigated for Bryan in 2010 and 2011 (Photo above right: courtesy of Ben Parfitt) we stop for a brew and a chat! (Photos above left and right: courtesy of Ben Parfitt)

We then head south with a new challenge - to name "the types of animals on the plates". A white number plate saying "Skippy" opposite the finish point gives away what we have to do, so Kangaroo gets written down. We miss only one plate, right at the end of the stage - and there's some debate about one of the answers. 8 out of 10 is a reasonable score though!

The next stage is familiar - I've been here before, in fact we start in exactly the same location as the night stage last year. Radnor Forest is always good, and the marshals have set out a long stage. The route is not entirely obvious, so we are grateful when marshals stop us all a distance into the stage to revise the route (and check what we've already plotted). Many more codeboards are spotted, but as we approach the "optional offroad section" we are stopped again. Something has gone wrong and the marshals are having to winch a vehicle. Car 40, a blue 110 from the Aber Mac group jumped out of gear and has rolled onto its roof. No-one is injured, the roofrack is ruined but the vehicle gets repaired and is back in the event the next day.

At the end of the stage an old Mac question returns: place the pictures of locations from the first day in the right order. We think we remember about half of them, so the rest have to be guessed.

More instructions send us on the road to the next section, via the beautiful and scenic Elan Valley.

(Photo above left: courtesy of Ben Parfitt)

We arrive at a location familiar to me. The Arch near Devils Bridge I know not from the Mac but from a Free Spirit 4x4 Treasure Hunt - it is here we will do a night stage looking for codeboards in the forest. As we plot the route I realise also the forest is familiar - this is the location of my first ever Mac night stage, back in 2010 with Bryan, as again we will be driving under the Wind Turbines at night. Here our all-round lights become very important - and they do not let us down.

(Photo above: courtesy of Ben Parfitt)

Our final instructions take us to another familiar place - the football field behind the Aberystwyth Park Lodge hotel. You can forget the north pole - based on my experiences in 2010 and 2013, this is the coldest place on earth to camp. Yet tonight is relatively warm, and we do not even need to use the heater. Perhaps this time we were on the right side of the field!

Day 4 - Aber to the finish at Daresbury (Sun 9/3)
Camp is broken early in the morning, to be ready for the drivers briefing.

(Photos above left and right: courtesy of Ian Parsons)

Selwyn tells us all another bunch of half-truths...

(Photo above left: courtesy of Ian Parsons)

Instead of a nice orderly start, leaving the campsite is a free-for all!

We are heading back to the same forest as last night, to continue driving under the wind turbines. Yet more codeboards are to be found - on the section common from last night, some are in the same places, some have been moved. The stage is long and many of the boards are very well hidden indeed.

(Photo above: courtesy of Ben Parfitt)

The final stage of the event puts us back on the road, for a mammouth drive north up through Snowdonia to yet another familiar location - yes the event is to end at the farm shop on the Rhug estate, the same location as it did last year. But this is a long drive and there are many clues to find. Unusually for the last stage, nothing is said to indicate the clues may not be in the right order. After doubting for a moment and turning us round, I make a brave call and say they are - although other teams disagree, all the clues "flow" for us and we have a great last stage, only struggling towards the very end, making a few u-turns to catch the last clues.

Hand the paperwork to the marshals and that's it, the event is over. We join the Aber Mac group to convoy to the hotel. I'm grateful for their navigation, as I'm by now extremely tired.

The gala meal is the usual late affair, plenty drunk and eaten, maybe it seems to go on a little longer than usual, or maybe I'm just tired and not as young as I once was! The awards begin, and we are very pleasantly surprised to find we've come top in our Land Rover club, BHCLRC. That's my name on the trophy for a second time, as Bryan and I won it on our first time out in 2010 - and a brilliant performance for Anne's first year. Given how well the club normally does we realise we've done pretty well, but are surprised to be the only club team in the top 6. Coming second overall though? That'll do!

Return from Daresbury (Mon 10/3)
Strictly not a Mac day, but after breakfast at the hotel the truck gets us home quickly and with no issues. Using the jerrycan also means no more fuel is needed - we pause at one service station on the A50 but leave again in disgust at the price!

Footnote - Thank You to our Sponsors!

Many Thanks to FCX Offroad Innovations for their generous donation to Macmillan, via Russ Brown.
Many Thanks also to Upknowledge Inc. for sponsoring us.

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