La Slog 2020
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With lockdown restricting our rallying activities
for most of 2020, while many drivers have been tinkering with their cars
in the garage, navigators and co-drivers have had to find ways to keep
their motorsport brains 'ticking over'. Thanks to Neil & Claire Raven, the
IDMC 'Virtual' Scatters provided a good challenge and great entertainment
for many of us, other clubs have been organising similar events thanks to
the world-wide-web and the technology now available to most of us in our
Table-top rallies have been around for many years, so with no 'real' rallies to compete on, it is no surprise that there have been a few over the Summer via Facebook, etc. Some Ilkley & District Motor Club (IDMC) members have competed on Ray Crowther's Internet Table Top Rallies in the past, so when Ray (aka 'Crow') announced a marathon virtual recreation of LEJOG, five of us (completely independently) decided to take up the challenge. Ians Canavan & Mitchell only completed 10 legs between them, but Francis Tindall, Henry Carr and myself were among the 50 or so competitors who went 'all the way' (Apologies if I missed any other IDMC members who competed).
'La Slog' would consist of 100 separate route cards, taking competitors from Land's End to John O'Groats, but definitely taking us into different territory to the HERO event which has run in early December since 1993. One route card would be published each day, starting in April and finishing in August, with a couple of weeks additional time allowed after the last card was published to ease the time pressure slightly. Like the event it was loosely based on, it would be a test of both navigation and endurance.
The navigation mostly used known techniques, e.g. spot heights, grid lines, vias and avoids, but there were a few more cryptic ones from time to time. Some of them took a while to work out and one or two you either got or you didn't. Overall I thought the standard was pitched about right and there were people new to both table tops and rallying having a go.
One aspect that makes the ITTR system different from traditional table top rallies is how you plot and submit your route. You click on the OS map on screen and the 'AutoP(i)lot' system uses google mapping to follow geo-coded roads (and sometimes paths and tracks) to connect one plotted point to the next. You have to check that the route created follows the requirements of the particular card you are on - e.g. 'all roads' or 'coloured roads only', but you also have to use the built-in measuring tool to make sure you are taking the shortest route, as google favours the quickest route, which isn't always the shortest. On many cards this was more time consuming than solving the plotting.
Other things you have to watch out for are 'straight-liners', where two points are joined directly if the google server can't be reached to follow a road (for example if your internet drops out) - Crow came up with some clever software to alert you about these - and 'off-routers', where the point you click may be partly up a side road or a driveway - you had to check your route carefully at 'street view' (the highest zoom option) before submitting.
When you do submit your route, it is marked automatically, with penalties applied for missing or wrong direction at secret passage controls, like a traditional rally, plus time penalties if your route is shorter or longer than the master route, a bit like regularity. The maximum penalty on each route card is 600 marks, so if you missed two passage controls (300 each) or made a major detour (120 seconds per mile, with measuring done to 0.01 of a mile) you could easily get a maximum. Cards were anywhere between 10 and 40 miles long, some had as many as 7 PCs.
The simpler route cards only took a few minutes to solve and plot, but the trickier and longer ones could take several hours. My average was around 45 minutes per card. Most competitors would have been stumped by at least one of the cards somewhere along the way - there were a couple for me, one of which took several days before a 'light bulb' moment when the route using the roundabouts of Inverness suddenly made sense. There were also a few cards where it was easy to mis-interpret the route instruction, number 8 for example, where we had to follow a cycle route, caught out all but five competitors - well done to Henry Carr who was among these few to get it exactly right.
A daily dose of plotting became part of my furlough 'routine' along with a fair bit of cycling in April and May and I found myself leading the results table at the half way stage. However I then had a break of a month from mid-June, finding and starting a new job having been made redundant by M-Sport. When I resumed on 15th July, I had dropped down to 49th place with a lot of catching up to do! Even going back to one card a day wasn't going to be enough, so there were a few weekends when I spent all day glued to the computer to catch up. In the end I completed the route with a week to spare, then had a nervous wait as the reigning world no 1 ITTR champion, Marcus Duyzend, made a late charge. He fell just short, leaving me in top spot. Henry had a bad run in the 60s and 70s, by his own admission, guilty of 'over-thinking' some of the cards. After being in the top ten for most of the event, he finished 11th. Francis didn't have the best of starts and was down on the 40s after 25 legs, but steadily worked his way up to 19th.
As a retired software developer, Ray has put a huge amount of work into his website and route-plotting software, which has been used for his Internet Table Top Rallies since 2012. Towards the end of La Slog he introduced some further developments, which are interesting for those with the technical knowledge but well beyond me!! However they do mean that the next championship events - probably over the Winter - will be even more user-friendly.
As well as months of entertainment, La Slog also raised nearly £7,000 for NHS Charities Together, with many entrants donating more than the £50 entry fee (sounds like a lot but only 50p per card really!). All the entry fees went to the charity fund, Ray doesn't take anything out for his time or event costs. Over the years ITTR events have raised over £26,000 for various charities, including the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Many thanks to Ray for the huge amount of time and effort he put into the event, he's already talking about putting on a 'return' event at some point in the future. His website is well worth a visit even if you don't want to compete, there are lots of useful links and interesting items on there.